Welcome to our 2020 MScR cohort in Global Environmental Challenges!

September 2020 saw the arrival of the latest cohort on the MScR in Global Environmental Challenges. This year, we have students representing four Faculties, and six Schools; each with a unique independent research project that focuses on some of the most pressing challenges faced today.

With projects ranging from using chemistry to create clean air to artistic expressions of activism in Chile, we are delighted to introduce to you some of our new students below.

Harry Forrester

Can glacial flour stimulate N cycling in croplands? – School of Geographical Sciences

This research involves an investigation of the effects of glacial flour as a stimulant of microbial nitrogen cycling in cropland. Through this study, I aim to establish myself as a well-rounded Biogeochemist and explore interdisciplinary collaborations throughout the academic community. I hope to gain insight into environmental policy making, preparing me to enact effective change.

Lauren Prouse

An analysis into the ability of CMIP6 models reproducing the Sahelian droughts and what impact this has on their future climate predictions – School of Geographical Sciences

After completing my undergraduate dissertation here in the Geography department, I wanted to continue working on something similar. My undergraduate dissertation investigated the climatic impacts of the Great Green Wall of Africa – a forestry initiative implemented following the droughts across the Sahel region. Working with my supervisor Paul Valdes, we devised an idea of examining the ability of CMIP6 models to represent the Sahelian droughts of the 1970s and 80s, and whether their ability to do so affects their future climate change predictions for the Sahel. This is particularly important because the IPCC has recognised this region as a hotspot for the impacts of climate change, so researching potential future impacts will be useful for mitigation planning.

Dora Young

What would a “just transition” in Bristol look like? – School of Geographical Sciences

I’m a geography graduate from the University of Manchester. My academic interest areas are critical cartography and public participatory GIS. My experience studying Indigenous research methodologies in Australia and environmental humanities at undergraduate level also inspired me to develop research techniques that demonstrate a multiplicity of situated, embodied knowledges for democratic land use planning.

I’m excited to join the City Futures theme and its inspiring cohort. I hope to build on my skills of research design to produce a useful map-based participatory planning tool for Bristol and, potentially, other urban areas. It’s my intention map and visualise qualitative and quantitative spatial data, gathered as a collaborative community project, in order to inform both academic institutions and political governing bodies as they embark on ecological transitions and actualise shared futures.

I’m also interested in the diverse ways that people ‘read’ the messages expressed by their landscapes – natural and built – and how we form ‘cognitive maps’ of our surroundings. This is particularly interesting to me as we navigate radically shifting environments. I have some (limited) experience working across disciplines; my sister – a neuroscientist at the Charité University, Berlin – and I hosted a virtual spatial navigation workshop earlier this year. We explored the impacts of lockdown and modern life more generally on our spatial navigation capacities, cultural histories of navigation and how they relate to neural development, and how navigating can help combat eco-anxiety. We are currently working on a collaborative book chapter exploring the latter theme with two German authors; one GIS specialist and spatial anthropologist from the Universitaet Goettingen and a futures studies master from FU Berlin.

Fanny Lehmann

How is the global water cycle responding to climate change? – School of Geographical Sciences

I am a graduate mathematics student from the Ecole Normale Supérieure. I come from Grenoble, a city in the French Alps surrounded by mountains. I am naturally passionate about mountains, a place where climate change is so undeniable that it impacts our sporty lives. I see mathematics as a tool to model the world and help to predict its evolution. My Master’s by Research project focuses on the impact of climate change on the water cycle as part of the Global Mass project. I am delighted to start this year in such a vibrant community and hope to make the most of it to determine the research area of my PhD.

Helen Sheehan

Machine learning for wind flow modelling – School of Civil, Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering

I graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2016 with an MEng in Aerospace Engineering, and since then I’ve worked for a consultancy in Bristol as an engineer within the energy sector, primarily in nuclear power and offshore wind. I’m back at university to undertake Cabot’s MScR programme, with a project on “Machine Learning for Wind Flow Modelling”, which combines my interests in low carbon energy and software development. Although it’ll probably be a very different university experience for the first few months at least, I’m excited to take on this new challenge, gain new skills at the cutting edge of energy technology, and meet researchers from across the Cabot Institute!

Lauryn Jones

Eco-innovations for sustainable consumption: Bringing refill stations into leading supermarkets to reduce household plastic consumption – School of Management

During my time at Cabot I hope to gain lots of new insight into environmental challenges around the world and meet new people with innovative ideas. My personal research will be focussing on bringing refill facilities into supermarkets in order to reduce single use plastics, as well as looking at possible impacts the coronavirus pandemic may have had on people’s perception of the use of plastics.

Adam Chmielowski

Change: environmental, cultural, technological change and the stories of sustainable futures – School of Management

I’m thrilled to be starting my MScR at Cabot.  My research topic is “Change: environmental, cultural, technological change and stories of sustainable futures” and I’ll be exploring different ways of thinking about change, asking what forms of change are conceptualised in environmental campaigns and how effective they are in helping people transition to a more sustainable society.  I’m fascinated by the role of culture in enabling or constraining human behaviour, storytelling and the role of future visions to inspire action, and how you create change at a systemic or cultural, not just individual, level.  My research will run parallel to my day job which is running a strategy and insight agency called Starling (I’m awe-struck by murmurations!) where we help brands innovate and communicate better by analysing culture.  In the spirit of cross-disciplinary collaboration, I believe there is much more that the business world and academia can learn from each other to help tackle environmental challenges, so I hope I can help advance that effort.

Over the next year, we look forward to sharing their work and providing opportunities to mingle with the wider Cabot Institute community. Our very first cohort will also be graduating soon, so stay tuned to hear more about them and share in their success! 

This blog was written by Cabot Institute MScR Coordinator, Jo Norris. You can start the Cabot MScR at any time of year and there are plenty of incredible earth-saving projects to dive into. Find out more on our website at bristol.ac.uk/cabot/postgraduate-opportunities/cabot-masters/

Presenting at the Oxford Symposium on Population, Migration, and the Environment

In my last blog post, I mentioned that the Cabot Institute would be sponsoring me to present my master’s dissertation at the Oxford Symposium on Population, Migration, and the Environment. The Symposium took place on 7 – 8 December 2017 at St. Hugh’s College.

My dissertation (which I also summarised in the last post), focusses on compensation for individuals or entities who bear the uneven costs of environmental policies. A well-designed environmental policy creates benefits, such as cleaner air and water, mitigated greenhouse gas emissions, or protection of a limited resource or species. These benefits are vital, and I opine that the world needs more and better-designed environmental policies, not fewer. However, my dissertation recognises the uneven distribution of costs in environmental policies—the companies that must purchase abatement technologies, the low-income homes that must pay more for electricity and heat, or the resource-dependent livelihoods that may struggle to make ends meet—and recommends how to compensate those who bear higher costs.

At Oxford, I presented my premise, methodology, findings, and ultimate recommendations for designing compensation for environmental policies. The listeners gave positive feedback. They had all encountered the concept of compensating environmental policies’ victims, but seeing an in-depth study of the concept was novel. After my twenty-five-minute talk, I had five minutes for a formal Q&A.

In my presentation, I mention that one potential uneven cost is the creation of stranded assets. Companies might be left with technologies or whole plants they can no longer use given new, more stringent environmental regulations.

One university professor from the USA commented that companies in Appalachia have left behind old plants of their own accord, leaving an infrastructural scar and economic stagnation. While we consider compensating companies left with stranded assets by policy, we should also hold companies responsible for decommissioning the assets they abandon as a strategic choice.

Another researcher from Poland detailed the difficulty in compensating poor families pushed by policy to buy more efficient heating stoves that they cannot afford. Government could subsidise the purchases if it has sufficient funding, but often these stoves have higher lifetime operating costs as well. Should government permanently subsidise the energy costs of poor families who upgrade their stoves?

These questions challenged me and further emphasised the complexity of designing well-meaning environmental policies and compensation. The symposium was well-planned for these kinds of conversations. Presentations began as experts detailing their work, but finished in a seminar-style unpacking of how the work should evolve and improve. The list of attendees was small, in the 30s range, so the room felt warm and open for discussions. Although small, the symposium was quite international. Presenters came from the UK, the USA, Mexico, Chile, Spain, Italy, India, South Africa, Japan, and elsewhere.

I gained not only from presenting my own work, but also from listening to the presentations of others. The topics varied, all loosely-related to the symposium’s title topics of population, migration, and environment. I am very grateful to the Cabot Institute for making my participation possible. I plan to submit my full manuscript to the symposium, which will publish selected ones a few months into the New Year. The Journal for Science Policy and Governance has already accepted a version of my dissertation for publication, so I am excited to work with its editors to further disseminate my work.

This blog is written by Michael Donatti in October 2017. Michael is a Cabot Institute Masters Research Fellow.

Michael Donatti