Category: Sustainability Stories

Sustainability Stories: Bethan Spacey

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

My name is Bethan and I’m a 20-year-old English student from Wales. I’m vegan and I like fitness and dance.

What does sustainability mean to you? 

To me, sustainability means ensuring the world of my children and fighting for the future of the human race. It is not something that I take lightly, and I feel a responsibility to do what I can on a personal level to ensure this future. On a spiritual level, I also feel like people are really disconnected, so I welcome the idea of living symbiotically with nature.

How are you getting involved and taking action on sustainability and the climate crisis? How can others take action on these issues?

I eat plant-based and try to shop without plastic where possible: this looks like getting a veg box each week and buying things like nuts and grains in bulk at a zero-waste store. Activism has also played a key role in my sustainability, as it is key to notice the massive impact that only a small number of corporations have on the planet. On a university level, joining eco-conscious societies is the perfect way to introduce anyone to climate activism; I went to my first XR march with KCL XR. My advice would be to acknowledge your personal impact (your carbon footprint and way of life), whilst remembering that no one can be perfect – especially living under capitalism – and to lobby the government and big corporations.

How do you think we can bring more people around these issues? 

I think we need to get rid of perfectionism – the idea that some people cannot partake in sustainability because they insert behaviour’. Sustainability looks like different things for different people.

Where are you hoping to go next?

I would like to work in a social justice orientated NGO, like Choose Love, perhaps in a role like project management. Ideally, however, I would like to be on the front lines and conversing with the people that are affected by these issues. A particular interest of mine is the intersection between social injustice and the climate crisis, in climate refugees. So, a job working with people affected by this issue would be perfect!

Can you recommend a resource, book, inspiring individual/activist for anyone who’d like to learn more?

I’d have to recommend ‘Earthrise’. They have a lot of great resources on their Instagram account, and I have followed each of their journey’s individually – all are very inspiring people.

Thank you, Bethan! The ‘Sustainability Stories’ series seeks to highlight the work and passion of individuals from across the King’s community. If you would like to get involved, get in touch with us.

Sustainability Stories: Anna Peran

Hey guys! My name is Anna and I’m here to talk about my views on sustainability and my experience of it at King’s. Originally, I’m from France and moved to London in September 2018 to start my BA in Geography. I’m now graduating from King’s, and these past three years have been such a time of growth for me. There are so many things to be said, but here’s a short selection.

When I first got here, I knew as much about climate change as your average French high schooler, that is to say: not much, and not nearly enough to start caring. That said, I was already vegetarian, and had made that choice for environmental reasons, about a year prior to coming to London.

In my first semester at King’s, I took a compulsory module on the changing natural environment that ended up changing the academic and career path I had envisioned thus far. Learning about the science of climate change, its societal causes and consequences, and the intricacies in between simply became fascinating to me. The more I learnt, however, the more the lack of political action surrounding environmental issues became frustrating.

I went to an event at the beginning of the second semester, where the guest speaker was a representative of COP24 who came to discuss the decisions that had been taken in Warsaw that year. I expected a lot from this event. It was after all about the institutions that were meant to actively be solving this issue. I distinctly remember the emphasis that was put on the framework developed and agreed upon at the COP for ‘future policy-making’, introduced as perfect to tackle the ‘future realities of climate change.’ To say I was disappointed would be the least. I remember thinking to myself, what about present realities? I realised how inadequate our current institutions were to answer the environmental challenges we now face. For one, they worked on different time scales and levels of complexity. From a mainstream perspective, climate change sounds simple: too many carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming with downsides to nature and society. That simplicity is deceptive. Reducing emissions is a given, how to do so is another story. Socio-economic and political dynamics must be considered, touching upon so many other issues, and making it all the more complex. Questions asked by a worried audience that day remained unanswered.

From this point on, making sense of governance to solve our contemporary challenges, especially from an environmental perspective, became the focus of my human geography degree. One thing about me though: I am deeply passionate and simply cannot let go of the causes I care about. I get that from my mum, who always reminded me that my voice matters, by listening and using her own. When it came to climate change, the situation was and remains so pressing I could not learn about it in class without taking any action in return. My thought process was simple: who am I to complain about people not taking action with the platform they have if I myself do not use mine, however small it is. I also thought: how am I going to react when I’m 50 and teens ask me if I knew what was happening and if I did anything to prevent it? I chose to take action so that one day I could say, no matter the outcome: I did everything I could. And that’s how KCL Climate Action society started, with the help of my wonderful friend Poppy who also studies Geography.

I believed that like me, once people would get a better understanding of climate change, they would start to care, and take action. Climate change remains very abstract for many people, as a global issue that expresses itself in local ways, as a natural phenomenon that results from societal doings, as human-induced but not human-controlled. The idea behind the society was thus to provide a platform for students to take action, in a context where we often feel powerless as individuals. The two courses of action were (1) organising events to be more aware and knowledgeable when it came to the many facets and issues related to climate change, from food and energy production, to fast fashion and waste pollution; and (2) campaigning at King’s to make and see some actual changes within the institution. As founder and president, it required a lot of work, motivation and organisation to start and get the society known, among students, academics and staff members alike. It taught me more than I had hoped for and in a year, KCLCA’s community grew from a couple of people to 900 students, with guest speakers from all over the world. Seeing so many people coming together and ready to put in the work gives me hope for the future.

I must say, however, that my vision of taking action has changed between the start of KCLCA and now. When I was president last year, I poured all of my energy into the society, but things take time and sometimes the results weren’t there, because not many people showed up to events at first, and there were many small initiatives here and there from other groups but it was hard to rally everyone and join forces. Halfway through the second semester, I was exhausted and let’s be honest, a bit depressed. I was drowning under alarming news, reports, and documentaries and I felt like things were staying the same, that our species was simply running to its end. And taking so many others on its way. I looked around me, looked at London, and how everything seemed so unsustainable, everywhere. It was a very oppressive feeling, and one I still get often.

I think there is a point, for everyone that cares about the situation and tries to do something about it, where you ask yourself: what’s the point? You don’t eat meat, you buy second-hand clothes or from sustainable brands, you buy local, you cycle everywhere. You look around: nothing has changed. That’s when community matters. That’s what KCLCA is here for, and so many other groups elsewhere. You can rest, and you need to. And if no one has told you yet: you’re doing a great job. We cannot change the past, we can only do something about now and the future. But this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Yes, the situation is pressing, but sacrificing your health and wellbeing won’t help. And that’s true of any other situation.

I think in these moments where things get overwhelming, it’s important to focus on the present reality, on what you physically have around you rather than everything happening elsewhere. Put your phone down, try and have a chat in person with a loved one, pick up a book you like, have a nice workout, take care of yourself in whichever way you can or like. Sometimes we need to anchor ourselves for a bit in order to stay afloat. That’s what I did this year and the committee did such an amazing job. They got things done, they made the events happen, they got the campaigns going, kept our social media active. And I am so grateful for this. Sigrid, our president this year, has been fantastic. The whole team really. I wish I could have done more, but I did what was best in that moment. The society will keep on going, and that’s quite something. Because so many students are going to learn so much from it and take it to the ‘real’ world after that. I intend to do so now, as I graduate.

In short, it’s about balance and community. That’s the essence of sustainability. For ourselves, for our society and for the environment.

That is one of many things the Western world notably needs to understand from Indigenous communities at the forefront of climate action.

 

For anyone interested, easily accessible resources include:

On our relation to nature:

Readings:

Videos and Documentaries

On the natural world itself:

Documentaries

  • Our Planet (2019). Available on Netflix.
  • Chasing Coral (2017). Available on Netflix.

On the science of climate change:

 

Thank you, Anna! The ‘Sustainability Stories’ series seeks to highlight the work and passion of individuals from across the King’s community. If you would like to get involved, get in touch with us.

Sustainability Stories: Abigail Oyedele

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I’m Abigail, and I have just finished my BSc in Global Health and Social Medicine.

My journey here was a bit unexpected. I originally wanted to study Medicine, and Global Health was my backup choice. Not getting into Medicine was a huge disappointment, but I realised pretty early that I was meant to be in this degree programme. I really enjoyed learning about global health and social challenges, and more generally, I was excited just thinking about the possibility of learning something new.

My journey to more practical engagement with social issues started when I joined the Civic Leadership Academy (CLA) in my second year. Before that, I had read a lot about historical issues and social inequality, but I always felt like there was nothing I could do. These problems were simply too significant for any of us to solve – it was quite a depressing view of the world! But through CLA, I heard about community organising and all the practical ways people are bringing about change in their communities. This was a pretty profound shift for me – to see that you don’t have to be passive about things. So I joined Citizens UK and founded King’s 4 Change, and my time at King’s became pretty much all about community organising.

What does sustainability mean to you?

My thinking around sustainability definitely didn’t start with the environment or climate change. Climate change was actually relatively low on the list of things I cared about because there are so many other pressing issues.

Initially, I was drawn to sustainability in the context of development, specifically the progress of lower to middle-income countries. I am interested in improving the sustainability of their institutions and services and disrupting cycles of dependency on foreign aid. My dream is for these places to have more sustainable institutions and be able to stand on their own feet and show the world that, in fact, they can provide for themselves.

This links to why I love organising. In organising, we talk a lot about agency and power – feeling that you can bring about change and act for yourself rather than depend on other people to do things for you. This is what I first think of when I think about sustainability.

Could you tell us more about King’s 4 Change?

We’re now an official society at King’s! Our aim is to train students in community organising methods and act as a bridge between them and the wider Lambeth and London Citizens alliances. We want to give students the tools to get involved in community organising on a larger scale and make a change at King’s.

One of our campaigns was called Just Transition. In the first stage, we did a lot of listening. We wanted to hear about people’s experiences of climate change and the main problems impacting their lives. When you hear about global warming, it can seem quite abstract, especially in London, where we’re not experiencing floods or extreme weather. But it is impacting us in various ways. For example, people living in poorly insulated homes waste a lot of energy, which is obviously bad for the environment, but they also spend more money on energy bills. Through the work that I’ve done around climate change, I’ve realised that the solutions and options to become more sustainable are often catered to people who are maybe quite well off. So, a big part of our Just Transition Campaign was thinking about how we can make climate action more inclusive.

The campaign we’re currently running is called Fair Energy. The aim is to combat both climate injustice and economic injustice by encouraging people to switch to cheaper, fairer and more environmentally-friendly energy providers. This is what really brought me into the environmental side of sustainability – realising that many of these issues aren’t just the big sensational ones we always hear about in the news but are actually really close to home.

We’re now working on a mental health campaign with the aim of understanding the impact of COVID-19 on students’ mental health and improving services at King’s, so stay tuned for more on that.

During your time in community organising, what has been your greatest learning?

I have learned about the power of relationships. I used to think of relationships solely in the context of my family and friends. But you can have relationships that are meaningful, effective and useful that go beyond your circle of friends. Through organising, you get to meet so many people from so many different backgrounds and find common interests with people you never expected. For example, the life of an older white, middle-class person feels so far from my lived experience. By just talking to them and getting to know them, you realise that, in fact, we do care about the same thing and we can work together. This is something I’m going to take forward because it shows you should never assume that you will have nothing in common just by looking at someone. You just have to take that first step and talk to them.

Where are you hoping to go next?

As I mentioned, I’m really interested in development. I have an offer to do a masters in Development at LSE but have deferred it for a year.  I would like to pursue development as a career, and from what I’ve learned, it is the kind of career for which you can gain experience in lots of different places. So I’m pretty open – maybe I’ll work in government or for a charity, in policy, research or consulting. Nothing I’m doing now was in my original plan – plans change, but you always end up in a good place! Development is what I’m most passionate about, so hopefully, I’ll end up there.

What gives you hope for the future?

In the same way that I fell in love with organising, when we do teaching or workshops, people are like, “Wow, this has been so great, this is the kind of thing I’ve always wanted to do”. Knowing that there are students and staff at King’s who have really enjoyed learning about organising and will take King’s 4 Change forward when I leave King’s gives me hope. As long as people want to organize and want to deal with the issues that affect their communities and not admit defeat in the face of these substantial problems, then hope is not lost.

Can you recommend a resource for people who would like to learn more?

I recently read Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington. Washington was born into slavery in America, but emancipation happened when he was quite young, and he made it his life’s work to educate and bring up the black race in America. I found the book hugely inspiring! These days, the political divide can be full of friction and quite tense, and people aren’t very willing to listen to the other side or think through their ideas. However, I found his perspective on race relations between black and white Southerners very harmonious. He really considered the point of view, needs and thoughts of white Southern Americans. I found that really inspiring – for someone born into slavery to be so forgiving and so patient – and it very much applies to our current situation and reaffirms the importance of organising and listening.

Thank you, Abigail! The ‘Sustainability Stories’ series seeks to highlight the work and passion of individuals from across the King’s community. If you would like to get involved, get in touch with us.

Sustainability Stories: Thomas Eve

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

My name is Thomas, and I’m a 2nd-year neuroscience student and Sustainability Champions Assistant. I come from rural Dorset in southwest England. I enjoy most things that involve food, particularly cooking and gardening.

What does sustainability mean to you? 

Sustainability is simply about making the world a better and fairer place for everyone. This includes future generations, all countries, and every aspect of life to a certain extent.

How are you getting involved and taking action on sustainability and the climate crisis? 

I’ve made big changes in my life, particularly focusing on what I eat – I’ve almost gone vegan but not quite there yet. I try and research more sustainable options for anything I need to buy, but at the moment, it’s mainly looking at what I can recycle. I began to make these changes a couple of years ago, so I’ve tried to engage my family and change some of the ways they do things (to differing degrees of success).

Being a Sustainability Champion Assistant was an opportunity to have a wider impact and work with people who share my enthusiasm. It also allowed me to learn about sustainability in labs specifically, so I’m aware of what I can do in my career. I hope to continue taking opportunities like these to help others and contribute more widely to improving sustainability, alongside gaining new knowledge that I can use and share with others.

In what ways does sustainability link to your degree?

Sustainability is engrained in most things we do, perhaps not explicitly, but it’s always something that can be considered. In terms of my degree, most biological research is done so that things that benefit living things can be developed, be it drugs or GM crops. In this way, it directly contributes to our health, food and other topics which intersect with sustainability. Labs are also very wasteful places, so more sustainable practices need to be implemented.

How do you think we can bring more people around these issues?

Climate change is a massive issue and something that needs to be addressed by everyone in the near future; it’s not enough to simply wait for the effects to be visible because they’ll be irreversible by then. If you took all the effects climate change will have and told someone they would all suddenly happen next year, they would take immediate action. But because the effects slowly develop over time, people don’t see it as something that requires anything major. Systematic changes are needed in how we currently live. Of course, such massive changes scare many people, but I believe they’ll be worth the effort, and we’ll be much better off afterwards.

It’s difficult to make people aware whilst not appearing to go overboard and make people tired of hearing about climate change. Making the knowledge accessible and specific to people’s interests could help, e.g. giving science students ways to be more sustainable in the lab. Some things need to be made compulsory, but they can’t be too much effort for people or else it turns them off. Being more positive always helps, focusing on how the environmental issues can be solved by being proactive rather than simply trying to avoid disaster.

Can you recommend a resource, book, inspiring individual/activist for anyone who’d like to learn more?

To be honest, I haven’t watched or read a lot of sustainability-related things. But anything by David Attenborough gives you an appreciation of nature and why you should actively work to preserve it. My advice would be to look into anything you’re particularly interested in or enjoy and how you can make it more sustainable. For example, I love cooking, so I’m always on the lookout for new vegan recipes. There’s information on anything on the internet and a growing amount of documentaries on sustainability issues, so a little bit of research can help you find interesting resources to teach you more. I’d also recommend looking at the UN Sustainable Development Goals because I wasn’t aware of these and everything they encompass until a few months ago. Sustainability is about more than just plastic and carbon dioxide.

Thank you, Thomas! The ‘Sustainability Stories’ series seeks to highlight the work and passion of individuals from across the King’s community. If you would like to get involved, get in touch with us.

Sustainability Stories: Emilie Vandame

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

My name is Émilie, my pronouns are she/her and I am originally from Lyon, France. I graduated from King’s in 2020 after completing a bachelor’s in human geography. Currently, I’m doing a master’s degree in Innovation, Human Development and Sustainability at the University of Geneva, on my way to professionalize my passion for gender+ equality. Parallel to my master’s degree, I’m interning at the Women’s Human Rights and Gender Section of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

What does sustainability mean to you?

Doing our best to fight against the exploitation of resources, people and living creatures and working towards guaranteeing human rights, equality and inclusivity for all.

Can you identify a specific moment or turning point in your life that sparked your interest in sustainability?

It’s been a long process through which I’ve learned to become more aware and critical of my surroundings, the systems we are in, and what’s going on around the world.

In high school, I started to learn to make parallels between wider global processes and the experiences of people every day and what that meant for the future. During my time at King’s I was able to learn about sustainability theoretically – specifically environmental sustainability. I was also able to conduct research on the ground and always in a very humanizing perspective which was really thought-provoking.

Though I’m still passionate about environmental sustainability today, my focus is more on social sustainability, specifically equality, inclusivity and visibility of women, non-binary persons & LGBTQIA+ individuals and communities.

In what ways did your experience at King’s and in London shape your understanding of sustainability?

Being in London was a big part of my sustainability journey. In my opinion, having the privilege of living in such a big city and studying at such a prestigious university comes with the duty of being aware and doing what you can to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. The opportunities to learn more and be more active are there, I felt like I just had to make the effort. That definitely pushed me in terms of my own behaviour and habits.

Studying geography at King’s, sustainability was always in the background of everything, if not the main topic. But I would say that the most useful skill I was able to hone was how to be critical; I’ve learned to question everything from the ways things work at different scales to the systems we are implicitly part of.

Tell us more about your master’s degree – why did you choose it? What has been your greatest learning so far?

I wanted my postgraduate studies to leave behind the theory and research that made up a lot of my undergraduate degree. I wanted to complete internships, learn skills to professionalize my knowledge and be able to get a job straight after. Though I definitely wanted a human/social focus, at that time I wasn’t set on one specific topic but wanted to work at the intersection of everything sustainability encompasses. This really reduced the number of masters I could apply to.

My master’s degree focuses on finding innovative solutions for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It’s anchored in the International Geneva system of international organizations and partners working towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which means we have many guest speakers who share about what they do and how we can help, and we also have access to internships within this network.

The best way I’ve found to really explain what this degree is like is to say that it’s like an MBA but for sustainability and development solutions. The focus is on practical skills rather than theory. This means that there is a huge diversity of people, backgrounds and interests within it, not all from the social sciences. 98% of my assignments are group work and we learn so much from each other.

I think my greatest learning so far has been understanding that anything can be observed through the sustainability lens. Sustainability can take so many different forms and each person can contribute in their own way.

How do you take action on sustainability? How can others take action around these issues?

As a 20 and so-year old, I feel like I have a responsibility to embed sustainability in my life the best I can. I have studied it, I hope to link my career to it in some way, I let it influence the way I advance through life and my habits. Yes, sometimes it gets tiring and I feel hopeless; yes, governments and big corporations should take more radical action. But if not us, who? And if not now, when?

The most important step I’ve taken in my everyday life is trying my best to be vegan. In my opinion, it’s the step that makes the most sense in terms of environmental sustainability. Once you develop new habits and master some favourite recipes, it becomes easier. And it’s not about being perfect! Another step is to buy as little fast fashion (and from Amazon) as possible, secondhand stores and apps are the way to go! And finally, voting and attending climate protests, if you are able to.

How do you think we can bring more people together around these issues?

I actually just had a conversation about this with a friend. We were talking about the fact that in the field of sustainability, the focus is often on environmental sustainability. People often miss the human rights focus or forget people and social issues when talking about sustainability. This really makes it more difficult to promote the concept and get people on board with it, because they don’t realize how it includes so many diverse areas of life and how heavily they are linked, for example not recognizing how environmental degradation will hurt the most vulnerable or how women’s rights deeply impact every aspect of society up to environmental degradation.

Can you recommend a book, resource or activist for anyone who’d like to learn more about sustainability?

I recommend watching the mockumentary called Carnage, directed by Simon Amstell and available on the BBC website. It’s set in 2067 and looks back on today’s society from the perspective of veganism as the norm – it’s fun and thought-provoking!

Thank you, Emilie! The ‘Sustainability Stories’ series seeks to highlight the work and passion of individuals from across the King’s community. If you have a story to tell or would like to get involved, get in touch with us.

Climate change, sustainability and narratives

“The truth about stories is that’s all we are.” (Thomas King, 2003)

“Data and factual information are crucial, but not enough to bring down the walls of numbness and indifference, to help us empathise with people outside our tribes. We need emotional connections. But more than that, just as we need sisterhood against patriarchy, we need storyhood against bigotry.” (Elif Shafak, 2020)

Climate change is often constructed as a purely physical phenomenon defined through metrics and targets, and requiring that we all reduce our emissions and limit global temperature rise. While understanding the physical processes of climate change is undeniably crucial, in the 60+ years we’ve been measuring atmospheric CO2 levels inaction has remained the norm, and many people continue to resist caring about an abstract and intangible phenomenon (particularly those who remain largely un-impacted by climate change). Indeed, these framings simplify complex realities by telling only half the story: climate change has both physical realities and cultural meanings and, to better engage people around this issue, we need to reframe it as such.

Climate change is an issue through which a plethora of “values, discourses and imaginaries are being refracted” (Mahony and Hulme, 2016: 395). Not only is it a manifestation of patterns of development and particular socio-environmental relations, but how we respond to the crisis is intimately linked to perceptions, understandings and ideologies. It is a social justice issue, linked to questions of gender, race, inequality, power and health (and the list goes on). It is therefore critical that we ask who creates mainstream knowledge (and by extension, who does not) and “what sorts of realities they aim to engender” (Castree, 2005: xxi). As with many crises, the climate crisis is destabilising the status quo and creating space for transformation and we must harness it as an entry point to understand and address this host of implications.

These ideas have long been echoed by activists, communities and social scientists around the world. Climate researcher Mike Hulme (2020: 311) argues that climate change “governance […] emerges best when rooted in larger and thicker stories about human [experiences].” Indeed, stories have the power to convey culture, history, values and emotions, and forge connections between people. Through storytelling, we have an opportunity to engage in wider and deeper conversations, to make sense of and reconcile differences, and to “[search] out meaning in a conflicted and contradictory world” (Cronon, 1992: 1375). Stories can also “counterpoint […] totalising, ‘grand’ narratives” (Cameron, 2012a: 580) and “re-situate hegemonic habits of mind” (Magrane, 2018: 167). In this sense, stories offer agency. Finally, as put by climate activist Alice Aedy, “storytelling can […] paint a picture of a better world [and] we have to visualise the world that we’re moving towards.”

Let us use this ‘wicked problem’ as an opportunity to question how we relate to each other and how we relate to the natural world, to consider which stories we choose to tell, as well as to recognise the stories of others and what we can learn from them.

Building upon these ideas, we will be sharing  ‘Sustainability Stories’, highlighting the work and passion of individuals from across the King’s community. If you are passionate about any aspect of sustainability and would like to share your story, get in touch with us.