Green criminology

Paul Stretesky is a Professor at Northumbria University where he specialises in green criminology. We talk environmental justice and environmental crime.

Both a crime and a created crime

Race to the bottom

The political-economic organisation of capitalism causes environmental destruction.

Capital will move where it can to create profit, but pollution knows no boundaries.

Sustainability: things we do today that don’t compromise what others can do tomorrow.

Success: Green Criminology. Increasing recognition of impact of extraction on communities.

Superpower: Connections between different fields

Activist: At various points. As a scholar supposed to be objective.

Challenge: A lot to be learned from community organisations

Advice: People may say you’re a little crazy, but find a person who is aligned and stick with it, it can make a big difference.

communication community computing participation

Empowering communities


Working with communities to empower them rather than to change them.

Rob Comber is a a Lecturer in Computer Mediated Communication based at Newcastle University’s Open Lab. With training in psychology, Rob has worked on the role of online communities and now is focussed on food, activism, urban space, and sustainability – all through a lens of civic engagement.

Talking points

How people construct, create, and maintain relationships with each other through some of the mechanisms of pressing buttons and friending each other

How can you create a community when all you can really say is “I like this person” or “I like this thing that they’ve said”?

“Do online communities have the same characteristics as real communities?” is where I started, but I found there’s no real difference between them – same values, people commit to them, spend time building relationships and doing things.

Online, digital, virtual isn’t replacing but augmenting what we are doing in our everyday lives.

Yes it is easier to press like…but you’ve done a lot of work to construct that community around you – so saying it is easier to press like is a bit like saying that if you are already a member of that club then it is easier for you to open the door and walk in.

So the idea that “slacktivism” is easy hides the work people have to do beforehand. It’s public too – you have to make a real commitment to say this is who I am. People can use that quite carefully to construct an image of themselves – this is the person who I am, and this statement is of value because I am making that commitment in front of other people

A challenge of looking at online communities is the romanticisation of offline communities.

Being exposed to poly-vocality, multiple voices and perspectives really enriches the way that we think about the world.

Why do we buy two to get one free, when we only need half?

Trying to find ways to connect communities together to improve the sharing of knowledge and expertise that they already have…inclusion and social sustainability.

Issues of resilience – looking at unrealised and under-realised capital that’s already there

We found a focus on behaviour change was quite useful if you wanted to stop someone from doing something, but very difficult to do if you wanted someone to try something new and to keep doing it.

Civic engagement: not saying “we know best we can tell you what to do and here’s how you can make your city better”, instead it’s “we know you know how to make your city better, we want you to tell us so we can help you do it”.

Working with communities to empower them rather than to change them.

Realise that we don’t have that power to magically change a community, it’s much more beneficial to work together with them.

Role of a Civic University means the local community is not just the place where we are, but it is the place that we are.

We have to engage with the issues that arise here, partly because it is a disadvantaged area, but also because it is fundamental to what a university should be doing.

We have to be really able to demonstrate value and if we can show that it is intertwined and embedded in the lives of the people around the university then you don’t have to struggle to find why you are doing what you are doing, it comes from the people who are there already.

Water, energy and food nexus – trying to understand how these resources come together…how they are connected as systems.

How do you know if engagement is doing good? You get a sense of it, do the people I engage with see value in that engagement? Do they see outcomes they might have otherwise not anticipated? Unlike behaviour change work where we decide what we will change and therefore can evaluate it…but with engagement…what has changed for you?

We try to activate the activists. Find people who will take on that engagement and take on the role of saying “we need something more here, we need something better here” –whatever they decide. It’s being able to say that when we have to leave, that it becomes sustained by the community.

What a community should be…agonism…continually questioning the world around us.

We’re good at looking at ourselves and asking “is it good now”, we’re not so good at asking “will we still be happy with this situation in 5, 10, 50 years?”

A sense of questioning the status quo, but also questioning the future of that

Questioning across scales, but identifying other communities where you might be having an impact is a significant challenge even before you think about what that impact might be.

A sense of belonging is important, place tied to history, but we rarely think of a sense of belonging in terms of future generations.

In the same way that we look to previous generations for our sense of place, future generations belong to us in that way.

People think of technology as the future, so let’s use technology to represent the future back to us now.

Engagement: there’s no simple message of how to convince people to change behaviour, the point is that you’re not really convincing them, they have to convince themselves.

The long term element of engagement is a time scale of 3, 10 or 50 years – compared to nice results after a year or six months or a year for publishing “this is what we did it was amazing”.

We recognise the easy life, but if that was an amazing future then we wouldn’t need to be subversive.

The questioning itself is an important part – we need to take this critical stance in designing technology, even if the response is that we won’t design technology. This is different from a basis (of computing) of selling more new stuff

It is important to say can we sell less stuff? Can we even ask that question?

(Sustainable Superpower): People to be able to see connections between the things that they do – spatially, temporally, socially.

(Success): Being and to work in a research lab that values engagement and in ten years time we might be able to say that we did some good in hat engagement.

(Activist): I wouldn’t see myself as an activist. I wouldn’t see myself as the person who has the responsibility as the person in the community who knows and who knows which action is best. Academic research, when it’s well intentioned, when it’s working best through engagement is facilitative – is the aim of that to facilitate activism? I think so. Am I a facilitator? I hope so.

(Motivation): People. Above all else, taking a humanist perspective, and saying people are good, we need to work from that as a basic principle of what we are doing.

(Challenge): Engagement – being able to demonstrate that engagement is useful.

(Miracle): 100% turn out in every bit of local, national government – for people to wake up in the morning and really think about the society around them and something that they are involved and not to just take the easy life of sailing through it.

(Advice): Think about the world around you, and the people that are in it, and work with those people.

This conversation was recorded at Open Lab in Newcastle in September 2015.

documentary participation

Participatory documentary storytelling

David Green

Ways of using the structures of documentary storytelling to bring user generated content together…interesting stories and broadening participation.

David Green is a researcher at the University of Newcastle’s Open Lab. His innovative Red Tales is an participatory interactive documentary.

Talking points

I wanted to be an architect, I can’t remember when I changed my mind, but I became interested in photography.

Wildlife photography got me outdoors

Best stories and most engaging stories come from a real heartfelt connection and appreciation.

That’s why I find myself drawn to telling stories about the natural world, I find that’s something I can connect with.

I’m interested in how technology can be used to support people in communities to produce documentaries. So often there are interesting stories that are not getting told because it’s not on the media agenda. Conservation groups working to replant areas on the outskirts of towns – this kind of work is really interesting, and the people doing the work are really interesting, but these stories don’t get told. There must be a way that recent developments technology can enable these stories get out there.

Youtube is good but stories get lost in the vastness of it all.

Ways of using the structures of documentary storytelling to bring user generated content together…interesting stories and broadening participation.

There is value in telling stories, even if no one is listening right now…telling a story to yourself is valuable…and the process is important community building.

The motivation for producing isn’t necessarily to connect with a massive audience.

There’s a complex relationship between storytelling and fact. So does a participatory approach mean letting go of factual basis? Good question, I’ve thought about that a lot. Documentary is a representational form, not fact. There are opportunities for fact checking, to minimise potential for mis-representation.

(Activist?) I consider myself to be a researcher at the moment. I’d love to be an activist, it sounds sexy. I’m doing what I can, I believe that there’s more power in collective action. I’m part of a movement that’s receptive to change. I’m trying to do my bit.

(Motivation?) I’m motivated by what I see are some big problems in the world related to wilful ignorance. I’m motivated by what I see as a serious threat to our existence: climate change; widespread destruction of environment; deforestation – irreversible damage that we’re causing to this planet just by being in it. I’ve come here this morning with a plastic coffee cup – even with the best of intentions it’s very difficult to live sustainably.

Things need to change in a really big way, but this can only start in really small ways. So I’m trying to do my bit, and helping others to do their bit – together we’re strong.

(Challenges?) Political change is afoot.

(Miracle?) Working together, collaboration.

(Advice?) Get out there and photograph things, you never know what might be useful.

This conversation was recorded at CHI 2015.

engineering geography water

Proactive natural engineering

Paul Quinn

A lot of people are uncomfortable with the term Engineering, and that’s understandable, we’ve spent a lot of time pouring concrete where it wasn’t wanted…but the kind of engineering we’re talking about, this working with natural processes – if water is flowing too fast, slow it down, if you can slow it down then other processes can kick in.

Dr Paul Quinn is a Senior Lecturer in Catchment Hydrology at Newcastle University. His work focusses on the future of landscape. The long term goal is integrated catchment management bodies capable of solving pollution and flooding problems. Paul calls his research “Proactive” – as in getting stuff done. And he has been proactive in creating systems of natural engineering in flood prone areas such as Belford.

Talking points

We’re pressurising systems – taking climate change as read, we’re moving into hotter, more drought, more floods, more landslides – we have to get the food for everyone on the earth, enough water for everyone on earth, and everybody needs a safe place to live.

We’ve spent a 1000 years getting rid of all the trees, now in the last 200 years we’ve been trying to exploit all our soil for food. I’m a big fan of food, but it has really changed our hydrological balance – our soil is not really soil any more, it’s just the place where we grow our food. When water hits the soil it mostly tends to run quite quickly off the surface -it doesn’t interact with the soil so much, we don’t get the recharge,

The fact that we’ve really changed our system everywhere…changing the whole world into a food factory. And it has these spin-off side effects that we get more floods and more droughts.

As one of my colleagues said, if you kill your soil you kill the world. And people haven’t realised how much we’ve changed the soil…and the rest of the world we cover with concrete.

If we look at nature it gives us some indication of how the world should be functioning, and the world system now is out of balance.

We’ve been compressing the soil for 200 years, it has no porosity any more, especially in the UK with so much clay, we’ve got a big block of plasticine. There’s no structure to the soil, the rain can’t get in, and kills all the worms and biology. So we cultivate and irrigate the top layer, but it doesn’t take long to overwhelm that.

It’s still a green and pleasant land…I’m a big fan of farming…but people haven’t noticed this big change in the water balance: both droughts and floods.

People always talk about this wall of water – so we work to slow down the water before it gets there.

Take all the opportunities that you can.

We can’t build the walls higher and higher.

The best place to store water is always in the aquifer

The old understanding that the water should be in balance with the soil, and the soil with the ecosystem – there’s some very basic natural concepts – and you break these rules at your jeopardy.

We need to chose what we want our landscape to look like and what we want it to supply to us. It has to provide us with clean water, it has to supply us with all our food, and it has to supply us with a safe place to live. So we’ve been looking at how much of the land do we have to give back to nature.

If we can use the main flow pathways that the water is following, then we can create corridors of green, where we can store water, we can strip out the sediment, we can accumulate carbon, we can let all the bugs come back…this corridor of green that will bring the whole catchment back into balance. We can mitigate for the farming, by getting the farmers to give back some land, and that land is best in the riparian area…maybe 5% of the land. Not abandoning to nature, but managing it to get all those things that we need – clean the flow, slow the flow, recharge the aquifer and create a healthy place for pollinators, birds and fish. In a way, to engineer the system back into balance.

It’s very different from the hydrophobic approach to water and land management – of paying to get rid of water then paying to put it back with irrigation.

(Is this the future of British landscape?) We’ve got to do something, we can’t just keeping pouring concrete around our towns, a bit of protection is good, but eventually it will be over-topped. We can build walls higher, but we can’t keep building them higher.

A lot of people are uncomfortable with the term Engineering, and that’s understandable, we’ve spent a lot of time pouring concrete where it wasn’t wanted…but the kind of engineering we’re talking about, this working with natural processes – if water is flowing too fast, slow it down, if you can slow it down then other processes can kick in.

We don want to make it clear that if we are going to build something then it’s got to work – it has to be engineered. So we have guidelines, you need to know hydraulics, you need to know how to build something that will last – it might be natural engineering, but it is still engineering.

The jury is out on cost, there are other options such as lower intense organic approaches to building up the soil, but can that feed everyone? if we are going to stay on the trajectory of sustainable intensification, then we have to increase crop yield and make the landscape safer at the same time.

The key to focus on soil health – not just soil productivity.

(Success?) Doing a whole catchment was pivotal. Not only the success of doing a catchment, but now it’s being taken up all over the country.

(Activist?) I’m passionate. I’m driven more by frustration than love. You see things going wrong and you think “that’s easy to fix” so you go and write proposals, and everyone ignores you for years, and laugh at you for years, and you say to yourself, “no, I’m right here”, so you surround yourself with like-minded people. We call ourselves the Proactive project because we say “let’s just get it done, and we’ll do it till it’s done”. And we’re back-fitting the science, we’re trying to invent something here…and the natural thing is back. I’ve tagged the term engineering on it, because engineering is doing things not just being inspired by it. If we can line up the funds, there’s no reason why we can’t bring whole landscapes back into balance.

(Motivation?) I’m paid quite well for what I do, so I always feel obliged to get some work done. But once I see that something can be solved, why wait for someone else to do it? Flooding is the most miserable thing, and it’s a no-brainer, if everything is running too quick, then slow it down a bit. Because it’s a system, the more good things you put into it, the system becomes more robust.

Stop observing, stop calling yourselves scientists and get stuff done.

(Challenges?) Getting other people to build these things.

(Miracle?) We need to work at much larger area and try this out. Healthy soils, healthy streams…do all this at a really big scale.

(Advice?) When I say go back to nature, don’t go too far, we’re not going back to the wild, but be inspired by nature and let it shape some of your thinking – if it’s too fast or there’s too much of a thing, it’s usually bad. So think about balance. Also, do you know where your local river is, if you’re in a city it’s probably buried or behind a fence. Reconnect with nature: find out where your food comes from, where your water comes from, find out why you were flooded, what the cause of the drought is – get to the kids and train as many people as you can to think that way.

This was conversation was recorded at Newcastle University in September 2015. It was published on World Water Day, 2016.

energy engineering oil politics

Fracking good science

Richard Davies

Fracking…hydraulic fracturing… but the term now encompasses the whole debate about the use of fossil fuels in the modern world.

Professor Richard Davies on how fracking has been such a game changer for the petroleum industry, what are its costs and benefits, and why it has become such a flashpoint for sustainability.

Professor Davies took up the post of Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Engagement & Internationalisation) at Newcastle University. He is a petroleum geologist, with a particular focus on hydraulic fracturing used to exploit shale gas and oil. Richard is an advisor to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Unconventional Oil and Gas. He tells us that he is agnostic about the issue of shale gas and oil exploitation but very outspoken about his commitment to expanding the evidence base in the European fracking debate. He is Project Lead of ReFINE.

We ask Prof Davies if fracking is inherently damaging – either in its own right or for its implications for climate change, and why it has become a poster child for unsustainability. But first, we ask him about his own voyage of discovery, and what led him to train as a petroleum geologist.

Talking points

My job in the petroleum industry was where to put the next well…but I found I was more interested in fundamental questions about geoscience

Fracking is an example of how technology has improved and allowed us to access oil and gas that no one thought we could get

The reason we stop getting oil and gas will because it is so damaging or because it becomes so expensive to get hold of it that no one would pay for it.

It may be that oil becomes a precious substance – no one would dream of burning it – that would be crazy…it would just be used for a select group of products or processes for which there is no alternative.

Technology may unlock more oil reserves in the future, but the key question is do we really need to burn it? Perhaps we shouldn’t be burning it and using it for something else.

Peak oil was turned upside down by fracking

Oil and gas companies are answerable to shareholders, and their shareholders are you and I.

A cup of oil contains a huge amount of energy, and it is difficult to replicate that and produce the same amount of profit from renewable energy…so unfortunately it’s an unequal battle

(Comparison of coal to renewable energy) I don’t believe a Russian man…in Russia mining some coal, putting it on a train to a boat, the boat coming to the UK, putting the coal on another train, to a power station, and thus burning it and then capturing the C02 at that point – because we haven’t captured all the C02 along the way

In a cradle to grave carbon footprint, that coal has come a long way…

Energy storage is so important for renewables

If we put the R&D spend in the oil and gas industry into other things such as energy storage…wow.

Fracking…hydraulic fracturing… but the term now encompasses the whole debate about the use of fossil fuels in the modern world.

The whole fracking process has a lot more intensity to it than drilling a normal well because of the need for fracking fluid, and the chemicals required, and the disposal of that

We come from an agnostic, neutral perspective – we’re not for or against fracking – and therefore we’re unpopular with both sides of the debate…we’ve positioned ourselves just right, we’re neutral, we’re academics.

The long term impact will be in looking after the bore holes…in 50 years time.

Every extractive industry has downsides…this isn’t rocket science, we need to understand the risks and manage them

This is a fossil fuel, that won’t do climate change any good. You can reduce it…but we haven’t got a replacement right now

Some of the reasons people don’t like fracking is because it is an extractive industry, it won’t help climate change and there is a level of risk

There’s a huge debate about renewables versus fossil fuels and fracking is right in the centre of that debate.

There’s the technical stuff and the social stuff, the two are very linked and it ain’t all about the science

We have a handle on the science…but not enough…lots of good questions we don’t have the answers to

In a way, industry has made this all happen, but the questions haven’t been solved at the same rate the industry has been deployed.

The questions have reached a bit of a crescendo, coming from all quarters, we have a handle on it, but we don’t know everything.

I’ve learned a lot in the last four years…firstly admitting we don’t have all the answers, listening to people, I’ve never thought “that’s not a good question”. Of course its a good question, I’ve huge respect for people who get involved and ask questions. That’s forced us scientists to look at things, it’s forced industry to look as well, and I don’t think industry knew the answers to some of the questions members of the public were asking.

Companies have got better at taking the public questions seriously, to research them and to provide good answers.

We’re often training someone to be highly specialised, but we also need more cross disciplinary people who can see energy from across the spectrum

We need a new breed of technical people who can see the world in a slightly different way.

We need people to be open and frank and aware of more than their own little postage stamp piece of the puzzle.

(Superpower) Think of the long term, not just the next five years.

(Success) changing the law in the UK so companies not allowed to frack with 1km or the surface, therefore protecting people’s water supplies.

(Activist) No. For me that is a personal question, personally about me living on my farm with solar panels, my two kids and my wife. I’m a scientist I come in to do this as neutral person. I don’t want to mix my personal views – my personal setting, my personal history, my background, with the science that I do – I thinks that’s an incorrect mixture

(Motivation) Discovery

(Challenge) Make the project more international, we’ve been a bit Europe-centric…continue the job we’ve done successfully but on an international stage

(Miracle) Long term independent funding, we’ve fought hard to be independent,

(Advice) Keep asking good questions.

Keeping the light shone on the fossil fuel industry will make for a better world.

This was conversation was recorded at Newcastle University in September 2015. The Framing Fracking paper mentioned is here.

electricity generation energy engineering

Civic science – what are you good for?

Phil Taylor

We sell electricity in units, rather than as a service – so the electricity companies want us to buy more. So the market is diametrically opposed to energy efficiency. Every time we use less energy they make less profit.

Prof Phil Taylor is Director of the Sustainability Institute at Newcastle University. We talk about his increasingly transdisciplinary career and the changes required for a transition to a decarbonised energy system.

Talking points

I was always searching for application domains, reasons for doing it.

My career has become more and more interdisciplinary….really stimulating and challenging.

The big question for me is about seeking sustainability, sustainable solutions. It’s about trying to understand complex systems.

I’m a systems thinker, I like to think of things as complex interacting, interdependent systems. I tend not to be a component person, or a siloized thinker, I always look for understanding the complexity and the interdependencies in a system – and therefore I try to solve sustainability problems but I’m always looking at the earth, or an engineered or a natural environmental system and that leads me to need to develop relationships, working partnerships with people in different disciplines.

Influences…Centre for Alternative Technology….Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful.

There was a gap in my career, my undergraduate training as an engineer – sustainability was never mentioned, early industry…before I came back to sustainability.

It wasn’t about new energy, at best it was efficient use of old energy.

The automotive industry…just felt like toys for burning petrol.

As soon as a saw a career opportunity in sustainability I jumped on it.

That’s how I got to interdisciplinarity, I realised that it didn’t matter how clever the piece of hardware or software was, unless the commercial and regulatory framework changed, and people’s energy practices changed, we wouldn’t get to the decarbonisation that we need to avoid catastrophic climate change.

The transitions required in each field are related but different.

The challenge in energy is to cut across the silos and stakeholders. You can’t make a case for energy storage if you are only looking at the wires, or only looking at the retailers, or only looking at the generators. If all these things are separate, you can’t make a compelling business case for something that is hugely transformative in just one of those silos – it takes an integrated approach.

We sell electricity in units, rather than as a service – so the electricity companies want us to buy more. So the market is diametrically opposed to energy efficiency. Every time we use less energy they make less profit.

Consumers need to be empowered to take part in the smart energy system. People and organisations – their choices about the energy they use and when they use it,are crucially important.

More diversity in when people use energy enables a more sustainable system.

We might chose not to drive across town in rush hour because we can see the congestion…but we don’t have the same visibility of energy congestion. We just flip the switch and the power comes through

It needs a mix of information provision, awareness and incentives.

You have to start with demand. If we continue to use energy in the way we are now, it doesn’t matter what we do with renewable energy, we’re chasing a moving target and we’re doomed.

We have to get demand down while we work on the technological breakthrough. But even if we get the breakthrough, it’s not going to make much of difference unless we get the regulatory, commercial and social changes to go with it.

Population change, and the thirst for growth in businesses will outstrip most, if not all, technological developments we’re going to make over the next 20-30 years.

Civics…means asking yourself what are you good for? as much as asking yourself what are you good at? So a goal of the Institute is to drive social impact.

One of the measures of interdisciplinarity is how early in the research process did that start? Did you actually frame the research questions in an interdisciplinary way. Not just the researchers, are the end users, the communities involved in this early framing process?

The research metric framework doesn’t favour interdisciplinary research.

Sustainability is now hard-wired into engineering courses.

Science Central…will become an exemplar of urban sustainability.

We want to make planning of cities more inclusive…in a “decision theatre”.

(Superpower) Bring about change – overcome social, cultural and organisational inertia.

(Success) Securing funding then running, the biggest smart grid project in the UK – Customer-led Network Revolution, done with industry it took a socio-technical approach to smartgrids. It took interdisciplinarity seriously.
People are flexible in time of energy use, and are willing and able to do that.

Tipping point is decarbonising the grid.

(Activist) If I’m in a romantic view about myself I would like to think that, but if I’m really honest I’d say no. I’m too part of mainstream academia and industry to call myself an activist. I’d have to be a bit braver.

I’m drawn to that quote – is it better to be on the inside, part of the establishment, be challenging person in that establishment – I think I am – is it better to be outside as an activist trying to get change that way. I suppose I’ve chosen the former as a better way to get things done, but it does mean you have to compromise to some extent.

(Motivation) Seeing real impact, working on genuine problems, working with people, enthusiastic about what they are doing

(Challenge) Realising the vision on Science Central.

(Miracle) Low cost, long life-time, environmentally benign energy storage. (how far away is that?) Not tomorrow, ten years at the very least.

(Advice) Be careful about listening to anybody. Be prepared to change your mind – revel in being proved wrong, see that as a positive thing.

development geography

Gendered inequality

Nina Laurie

That other form of development is what I’ve been looking at in the Andes in the context of what they call buen vivir or good living – which isn’t always about accumulation and excess.

Nina Laurie is Professor of Development and the Environment at University of Newcastle. Her roles include the founding director of the Developing Research Network and the Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Newcastle University. In 2015 she is Ron Lister Visiting Fellow in the Geography Department of Otago University.

Talking points

I’m interested in how inequality in the world is gendered in particular ways. How poverty affects men and women, boys and girls, differently. And different types of men and women, boys and girls.

Now I’m focused on different visions of development, how particular understandings of development are produced, and who gets marginalised in that process.

I’ve been working with returned trafficked women in Nepal – and I have to say is the most challenging work I’ve ever done…there is very little support for these women.

And (because they can’t get citizenship without a male family sponsor)…many of them are stateless in their own land

Now there are going to be very real issues in Nepal (post earthquake) of access to water and housing, and how the need will be not lose sight of the long term important agendas such as the issue of who has citizenship in the context of the very real everyday needs of suffering people.

Understandably meeting those basic needs take over, but the new constitution is needing to be ratified – that framework of rights for all is fundamental.

International development came post Second World War, the reconstruction of Europe. The Marshal Plan…if you give people money you are going to stop them becoming communist.

A lot of our understandings of international development are framed still through that old Cold War mentality of Eastern Europe contaminating the rest of the world. Cuba…Latin America.

Stopping poverty to stop the domino effect from Cuba.

We’ve gone through all sorts of different approaches to development: the big projects of the 1960s – dams and infrastructure; to a focus on grassroots, self-help; then the focus on governance issues in the 80s and 90s – particularly in Latin America return to democracy in countries like Chile and post civil war situations.

Now we have a different world. It’s not just a bi-polar world, not even north and south… and all of this has thrown uout what development means for me. I am happy to use the term Development Geographer, but I don’t see it in the same way as I used to.

I’ve been teaching a course Changing Development: Changing Actors…and what that is about is to think through the context in which development is not what it has been and who are the new actors who are shaping development.

Indigenous people…new actors in development. But we also have to recognise that some of the new actors that are getting power are some the very old actors, like, for example, the military. (Much of…) the UK aid money that has gone into Afghanistan under the development budget is in the control of the military…the reconstruction scenarios mean that the military are having a big role in development.

Development in the form of reconstruction has become a career path for ex-military…many areas are post-conflict zones, so you need that level of understanding, they bring a sense of logistics, of managing big movements of people or materials. Yet that reduces us to a very narrow understanding of development is about things, and not about people or ideas or different ways of doing things.

That other form of development is what I’ve been looking at in the Andes in the context of what they call buen vivir or good living – which isn’t always about accumulation and excess.

But you have to careful not romanticise indigenous development, it’s almost as if we’re looking for a hero and a perfect answer. Development is multiple, it’s always contested. We need to get away from the notion of development is always progress, and that’s where the tension is.

I think our understandings of development are broken, and maybe even the term. But what we replace it with is what I’m trying to work through at the moment.

The big institutions have been propping up a very particular understanding of development in which people get excluded from having a voice.

Good living could be in all sorts of directions, it could be about staying still.

Because racism is so strong, the assumption was that in order to progress socially, you needed to become socially whiter – you needed your children to be professionals.

When we say development is broken, that isn’t just about development, you need to understand long legacies of racism, the realities of post-colonial Bolivia, where modernisation is dream that was never completed but is still there and draws people to it – everybody wants their own big water project, their own infrastructure but it has never been completed. But they have these aspirations.

(Is a desire for growth an inevitable response to desires and aspirations?) I think that is a spiritual question. There are alternative models to that. But I don’t have an answer to that at the individual or community level. At a national level, what we have now is alsmot as if neoliberalism became inevitable – you couldn’t question it.

In Peru we’re seeing the inevitability of the extractive model… it is booming on the back of a mining concession boom. It is a complete return to an extractive model of development.

There are other models. We need to hear other voices about the other national development imaginaries that we can have. Where there alternatives to the modernisation through extraction agenda, or where people have said “no we don’t want that”.

Geographers are born not made.

Geography is the appreciation of the relationship between the physical and social environment.

I can’t go somewhere without wanting to know about it.

Increasing recognition of the big challenges – like climate change, water scarcity, broken understandings of development – geography has a core place for trying to come up with some of the ways for understanding what’s going on and maybe some of the pathways out of some of those things.

(On Peruvian fishermen/farmers making the best of a bad situation) Yes, but it is really interesting not just that we make the best of it in the here and now, but it becomes the foundation narrative, about their community, their story, their history. The narrative is constantly linked back to the collective memory about how we were and who we were, and how we came together and how what we did to that environment – how we interacted with it is as important as what everybody else has done.

Sustainability for me used to be about the physical environment…now it’s a lot broader, it’s about knowledge production – forms of producing knowledge where everybody gets a say.

Network of relationships between people and having access to voice and seeing things and making connections, verbalising one’s desires and hopes.

Those binoculars where a window in on the two parts of development, the shrinking snows, but also this woman that sees them (the glaciers) daily, but through the binoculars she saw them in a different way…the everyday life that goes on underneath that informs the dreams and the hopes and the aspirations that those communities have.

(Is sustainability a luxury?) It is contingent on time and place. I don’t think any of us have the luxury of not thinking about the long term future.

Sustainability is about using those binoculars to turn a lens on both the physical and the social as intertwined at any moment.

(Activist?) Activist academic. That is where my gifts lay. I go out on protests and things like that, but my gifts are in ensuring that the research projects that I do engage in ways that provide space for marginalised people to have voices.

(Does being an activist academic conflict with notions of objectivity?) Absolutely, but then I don’t think that research or science is objective.

(Motivation?) Passion. Passion for hearing voices that otherwise aren’t heard.

Not having voices heard is my take on injustice.

(Challenges?) Having had opportunity of fellowship, having reflected on contribution and where I’m going, I want the next stage f my life to not be something I sleep walk into.

(Miracle?) Pre-earthquake Nepal. It’s heartbreaking.

(Advice?)Take stock and think and listen before we speak.