MICHAELMAS 2019 | VOL. 05 ISSUE 01
NEW HEAD OF DEPARTMENT | HONG KONG | AUTOMATED JOURNALISM
MICHAELMAS 2019 | VOL. 05 ISSUE 01
Welcome to Compass! As we roll into our fifth year in print we’ve already seen some big developments: with a brand new website and magazine design to match, a new ‘photo-story’ feature celebrating some of our finest student photographers, and contributors from across the University we’re onto a winner so be sure to follow our social media to see what we do next!
EDITORS-IN-CHIEF Eliza Griffiths & Eswyn Chen
DESIGN Harriet Bradnock & Sophie Yang
DEPUTY EDITOR Joshua Paul
WEBSITE MANAGER Rosie Schofield
HUMAN GEOGRAPHY Ben Grogan & Sean Cobb
MARKETING Emma McDonald
PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY Ella Weston & Esme Atkinson
PHOTOGRAPHY & VISUALS Tomas Andre
TRAVEL Joanna Neve & Merryn Trevitt
SECRETARY Bridget Tiller
INTERVIEWS Zhanna Levitina & Belinda Ng
BLOG EDITORS Matilda O'Callaghan, Sophie John & Miriam Bengougam
Contributors Professor Bhaskar Vira, Dr Theo Hacking, Faith Borland, Max Klein, Zhanna Levitina, Belinda Ng, Linda Arroyo, Ben Somerville, Jack Curson, Etien Jasonson, Ella Weston, Joanna Neve, Hannah Badger, Ellie Fox Front Cover Polish Independence Day March, Linda Arroyo Inside Back Cover Red Screes, Wasdale, Harriet Bradnock Back Cover Sunset in the Teth Valley, Albania, Tomas Andre
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In the year of the ‘Greta effect’, climate change is finally receiving its due coverage as the crisis of our times, and we are following suit in this issue, with pieces interrogating the denial we may fall into when thinking about climate, and grappling with a cultural rather than scientific approach to the problem. Though it’s not all doom and gloom! We also have some wonderful pieces from celebrating the imagery and language of Bolivian indigenous cultures in La Paz; to musings on language learning by immersion. In our featured interview, the spotlight is on our new Head of Department, Professor Bhaskar Vira, who has shared some of his insights into Geography as a discipline, advice for students, and also his favourite places from his travels. Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to Compass, to the Department and to CUGS for their funding and support, and to the design and editorial teams for all their hard work behind the scenes! Thank you for making this issue possible! Eswyn and Eliza Editors-in-Chief cambridgecompassmagazine.wordpress.com email@example.com cugscompass compass_cugs
4 Hong Kong: from Tourism to Tumult
18 Sixth Form Essay Competition
29 Dr Theo Hacking
8 Automated Journalism
20 Urban Art
32 Travel and Colonialism
Making space for freedom
The collapse of the public sphere
What does the Anthropocene mean to you?
Language and identity in Bolivia
From the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership
The legacy of British travel culture
10 Introducing 24 Culture Professor and Climate Bhaskar Vira Change
34 Summer in Colombia
Interview with the new Head of Department
An alternative to the scientific approach
Reflections on an internship at the Centre for Tropical Agriculture, Colombia
14 Polish Independence Day
26 Divisions over Climate Change
36 Language Learning by Immersion
Photo story: a celebration of culture and unity
Interrogating our perceptions of risk
Getting past 'no hablo espaĂąol'
Disclaimer The views expressed in this magazine are those of the individual authors only and do not represent the views or opinions of Compass Magazine as a whole or the University of Cambridge Department of Geography.
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By Faith Borland, Geographer at Downing MICHAELMAS 2019 | COMPASS | 5
g et to the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery in Hong Kong, I walked past a shopping centre, a sports court and offices to get to a lush green hillside. As my family and I trudged upwards, on holiday in the city this summer, we passed a large office building with opaque glass doors and small, dark windows. At the time it appeared unremarkable but had significant meaning for the people of Hong Kong and would come to have the same for me.
This building was in fact the Immigration Department where huge protests would spring up just the following weekend about the controversial extradition bill tabled in Hong Kong’s legislature. If passed, it would have enabled people accused of serious crimes in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China. This law, now withdrawn, sparked a huge protest movement in Hong Kong which has continued over the four months. This was the people’s reaction to what they saw as a grab for power by
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the Chinese government, in a territory under the ‘one country two systems’ policy put in place in 1997. Anger over the law has morphed into a wider, more violent struggle for democracy and accountability on the island as millions of people have taken to the streets to fight back against what many see as an erosion of their freedoms by the Chinese government and a desire for the system to be reformed. Through this struggle, spaces and places in a city with little public space for protest and demonstration, have been totally transformed. Everyday spaces such as airports, shopping centres and streets have become sites of conflict, with violent clashes with the police occurring almost daily in the protesters' struggle for democracy. It is not only the streets that have been sites of conflict but also Hong Kong’s underground system - the MTR, which has been a particularly contested space. Previously used by protesters to escape the police, however as the clashes have escalated, riot police have been situated at stations, performing indiscriminate searches and at times the whole system has been shut down. It has also been one of the places where videos have emerged of brutal police violence towards the protesters, which has sparked outrage within the movement and in the wider world.
The protesters have been transforming familiar spaces that had previously been sites of business and consumption, dramatically remaking them into spaces of protest and rebellion through creation and destruction. The destruction of emotive spaces has been used in protest, with Starbucks coffee shops being targeted after the franchise’s CEO’s daughter spoke out against the protesters. In addition, the protestors have been claiming roads as their own by using street fences and bus stops to create barriers to hold the space and delay the police. In contrast, there has also been the creation of new spaces in previously unremarkable ones. For example, so called ‘Lennon Walls’ have cropped up over the city in bus stops and on the sides of buildings. These are walls covered in post-it notes and posters full of pro-democracy writings, inspired by walls in Prague that were covered in John Lennon lyrics after his death. I unexpectedly encountered one of the walls on a walkway high above the street, which had been transformed by the colourful calls for justice and representation. There are more than 70 walls across the city, many of which have been torn down by pro-government protesters and then rebuilt again and again. When reflecting on this specific encounter and on my experience in Hong Kong as a whole, after reading about
the conflict, I find myself recognising place names in news articles and remembering the happy memories of my holiday mere months ago. It is shocking to think how these places have been altered so dramatically, both physically and emotionally for so many people for whom they are now the site of a fundamental struggle for their rights and freedoms. People are reclaiming the space of the city for themselves and trying to shape it to help them advance their struggle.
'Millions of people have taken to the streets to fight back against what many see as an erosion of their freedoms by the Chinese government.'
My reaction to hearing about the protests and feeling a small sense of connection to the people and place has highlighted that as a Westerner, I often feel divorced from conflict and protest that is happening elsewhere in the world. Despite sympathy towards those experiencing there is also a sense of distance from the issues. The case of Hong Kong has highlighted that I too need to be more engaged, to take more notice and have more conversations about the issue, due to my subtle connection with the people and spaces being reconstituted and reformed. I have been forced to think more critically about the way that I consider and act with regards to oppression and injustice outside my familiar spaces and the need for me to use my privilege to try to engage, empathise and act more when it comes to the people and places that are struggling for their rights and freedoms. ■
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Automated Journalism and the Decline of the Public Sphere By Max Klein, MML Student at Trinity Hall
spectre haunts journalism: the spectre of automation. For quite some time now, press publications have been using computergenerated programs to write entire articles. While this was originally used just for topics like weather and financial information where the data is simple and straightforward, we need to imagine the not so distant future (or even present) where articles about almost all types of news can become automated. Now that the internet and social media have overtaken both television and newspapers as people’s main source of news, the effects of automated press will be amplified beyond just simple weather reports. Since the algorithms of automatic journalism will act according the logic of the media they circulate in, i.e. social media, then it is important to analyse the current state of online journalism to predict the impacts of possible future developments. Both Twitter and Facebook have upended the ways people interact with the public sphere. A very notable feature of social media journalism is that news is not conveyed through in-depth reading of articles, but rather through piecing together article titles and images. Rather than being viewed as mini-essays or brief reports to be studied in depth, the most important
thing today is the title and image that appears when the article appears on someone’s news feed. This trend has been empirically verified, with 59% of articles being shared without even being read beforehand. Furthermore (and perhaps less surprising), articles with images get 94% more views. Beyond the usual concerns of fake news and political echo chambers, it is also worth analysing how the new relationship between titles and content differs from traditional journalism. Previously, article titles would be shorter, only vaguely referring to the topic, and give just enough information to invite one to keep reading. To illustrate this, I chose a random date (July 10, 1973) and looked at the article titles from The Daily Mirror, Britain’s most read newspaper at the time. Titles inside include 'Prices Up and Worse to Come', 'Give the Workers a Say’ Plan', 'No Glory for the French', and so on. It is basically impossible to discern the main point of the story from the titles alone; they act simply as prompts to get people to read on. Compare this to The Times’ current (as I write this) online headline: 'Lorry driver arrested after 39 bodies found in container'. This title is longer, contains a whole detailed piece of information, and is not framed in a way so as to invite the reader to read further. What has begun to happen online is that we learn
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about news events by scrolling through Facebook, Twitter and news sites, piecing together the various headlines that appear on our feeds. The first may be something like, '39 dead bodies found in lorry in Essex', followed by, 'Man from Northern Ireland arrested in connection to bodies found in Lorry', followed by, 'Essex lorry victims were Chinese nationals', already, just by scrolling through enough titles, one can get sense of the story and share it on social media without having to click on the article and actually read it. Simply put, serious articles today function like comedy publications such as The Onion: a short little quip as a title to be reacted to and shared, where the content of the article is mostly just a formality. These semantics are relevant to journalism today as most online journalism reaches people by being shared through personal pages rather than through the original publishers. Though they have expanded so far in reach beyond their original intent, social media sites are meant theoretically to be an extension of the private sphere where we engage with friends. This function is still there, but it has expanded to a point where a Facebook page is the extension of one’s personal brand and the content of which is meant to have a specific impression on the audience, which now extends beyond just friends, but includes all sorts of
people, pages, acquaintances, and mutual friends, all of whom use Facebook more as a form of entertainment than for socialization; hence, Facebook has turned us all into entertainers for each other. What this means is that journalistic articles, even when concerning politics and matters of public affairs, function as a part of our social inventory of signifiers rather than prompting true public discourse; and it is no coincidence that this has arisen at the same time as the term 'virtue signalling'.
devoted to serious journalism have to resort to sexy and fashionable themes and framework to attract people, the most notorious case being VICE. Though a hip and edgy aesthetic does not necessarily impede good reporting, it creates an expectation that news should be flashy and entertaining, which is problematic; look no further than the Trump phenomenon for proof, where most news coverage revolves around his outlandish statements or scandals about his private life.
The fact that online journalism functions basically as something we use for self-marketing and networking is a testament to our declining public sphere. Beyond just titles, the nature of its content is responding negatively to social media. As social media is now just a form of entertainment, even serious news is often packaged in some sort of attentiongrabbing visual material. Such an example would be BuzzFeedNews’ headline from October 21st, 'The Parliament’s Battle With Brexit, Explained For Normal People', in which Brexit is explained as if it were a TV show, using gifs in between short paragraphs written extremely colloquially. Even new online outlets
This is what the algorithms of automated journalism will be based on: a public that shares articles without reading them to enhance their public image on platforms that steer serious journalism towards inane flashy images, on the same level as memes and comedy shows (which is another main source of news for people today). As people have rightly analysed the problems of power and ideology in traditional journalistic media (most notably Noam Chomsky), we must also
worry about what economic and political forces will lie behind this automated journalism. Whatever the implemented Artificial Intelligence programmes are, they would be geared towards generating maximum profits for privately owned corporations, which is antithetical to a free and independent press. Furthermore, especially in an environment where news functions on the same level as personal entertainment, the ideologies and power behind this may become even more imperceptible and therefore more dangerous. If social media indeed is causing journalism to take on forms that erode our public sphere and to create even more dangerous political propaganda, then the creation of a true public sphere needs to be through a political project. This phenomenon has become fully integrated into daily life. To combat it, we would have to face head on the platforms which have played such a role in eroding the private sphere and the political forces that are taking advantage of our personal lives and eroding our privacy. Such a political agency would need to be primarily public in its stress, but involve a rethinking of private sphere relations as well. To quote Slavoj Žižek from an article in The Independent on ecology, 'does such the need for such an agency point in the direction of what we once called ‘communism?’'. ■
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Introducing: Professor Bhaskar Vira Interview by Zhanna Levitina, Geographer at Homerton & Belinda Ng, Geographer at Christ's Professor Bhaskar Vira is the newly appointed Head of Department, Professor of Political Economy, Fellow and Director of Studies at Fitzwilliam College and Director of University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute.
What are you looking forward to doing in your new role as Head of Department? Being in a position of leadership allows me to think about our collective voice for the discipline of Geography. In the 21st Century, almost everything you think about has relevance to what we study, and so Geography can contribute to the current major discussions that are happening around the world. I have been thinking about something like 'Geography with Public Purpose' - the idea that the voice of geographers can contribute to the public good, and this can be a way for us to define so much of what we do as a Department. For me, providing education, such as the three year undergraduate degree, can be as important a form of public purpose, as contributing to debates on climate change, inequality and education.
At Cambridge especially, we have to recognise our privilege and then use it responsibly. What is your vision for the Department under your leadership? Changes can happen because you want to push reforms or because there is a need to do so. In any case, Iâ€™m carrying on a few things that have been introduced before my term of office. Firstly, the Department will be launching two new MPhil courses starting in October 2020; one on the Anthropocene and a second on Holocene Climates. This reflects our ability as a discipline to bring in people who are interested in long- term environmental dynamics and the human influence on the planet in the 21st Century. Introducing two new postgraduate courses in just one year is a very big change and an exciting opportunity. I also think
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current undergraduates will benefit from this as there are not currently very obvious MPhil degree options in the department that Geographers can stay on for. The other change that I think students may be aware of is that the University has decided to formulate how much each year counts across the three years of the Tripos for your final degree classification. As the weighting will be incremental, this means that there is less pressure in the first year exam, giving us the opportunity to be more experimental, perhaps to even break down the physical/human barrier in lectures in first year. What is your best memory from the Geography Department? I would have to say the field trips that the Geography Department runs every year are always memorable. I used
to run the field trip to Morocco, which is a really interesting place to take people. For some students this is often their first exposure to a non-European culture and I see that students get a lot out of these field trips. This was always a highlight as it allowed me to get to know more of the students outside of my college, and really get to know the students more in general. Geography is such a field-oriented subject and I like how field trips give faculty and students a chance to get to engage with each other as intellectual colleagues. If you could recommend one book to students, what would it be? Currently, I would recommend Naomi Klein’s On Fire - The Burning Case for a Green New Deal. She is talking about the climate crisis and the need for a structural transformation of our economic systems to cope with this crisis, which really brings the human and physical geographers into a conversation with each other.
Do you have a favourite place to have travelled to, and why? It is difficult to pick one specific place, since there are places that I keep coming back to, which could indicate that those are my favourites or it could be a place where I have had a unique one-off opportunity to travel to and is memorable. I go back to the Himalayas all the time, I went to school there, since I was born in India, and did a lot of research in the western Himalayan region. It is a place that I have a long association with and seeing the changes that occur over the years allows me to see things that intellectually interest me in a place of outstanding natural beauty, cultural significance that I love being in. Regarding one-off experiences, I recently had the opportunity to visit the Ol Pejeta conservancy in Kenya, since I am a trustee of Fauna & Flora International (a conservation NGO) and they have a long-term partnership with this park. It is a very unusual place, since it used to be a cattle ranch with 25,000 heads of cattle and has been transformed into a
classic Kenyan sanctuary and a tourist destination. It has the stunning beauty of reserve with East African wildlife, but continues to allow cattle grazing in the sanctuary. This makes it an unusual model of co-existence, balancing human pressures on nature with wildlife preservation. The beef produced in this place is still sold in the Kenyan market, but as ‘wildlife friendly beef’. It is a fantastic destination, you can be a mindless tourist or a thinking geographer and enjoy it! Where would you like to travel to that you haven’t yet been? I haven't travelled in Southern America at all. There is a part of me which is curious about the ancient civilizations and natural beauty of this region. However, all this raises a question about the future of travel. Geographers travel because of personal interest and because of intellectual curiosity; all the places I’ve mentioned are only accessible by plane, but there are questions around what is an acceptable amount of impact. I think that for so many reasons
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the ability for humans to travel and meet each other makes for better societies because we can appreciate other cultures. So, in a world where we travelled less, society would be worse off because there would be less inter-cultural contact. Equally, the way we travel now is clearly not sustainable in terms of environmental impact. Geographers are at the centre of this dilemma, since our work involves travel and we organise field trips. This is something the Department is taking very seriously, so we are exploring ways to have more sustainable field trip destinations whilst staying within the financial budget. We looked into this for some of the European field trip destinations, however for instance, taking a train to Berlin would cost a huge amount more both in terms of time and money than to take a cheap flight. This reflects the fact that the structural system that we inhabit is pricing things wrong. Operating within a budgetconstrained world, while the Department wants to reduce its footprint, we can't afford to reduce it. We need to find ways to travel better, since it is central to what we do.
political economy questions come into these discussions. I work in Asia (predominantly in India), where this dilemma is particularly acute, as countries are aspiring to improve developmental outcomes for their populations, and at the same time working in an increasingly fragile environment. The projects I am working on are supporting this in different ways. At the moment, Iâ€™m working with people who are displaced due to mining. How do you compensate them
adequately for the loss of livelihoods? What does fair compensation mean in that context? These are big dilemmas that you can also see closer to home in London, such as the villagers in the Heathrow What are you currently area who would be displaced working on in terms of because of the third runway. research? Iâ€™m also doing research in India looking at the future of A lot of my work looks at human agriculture and food. There interactions with the natural is a big intergenerational world and the way in which question going on with farming 12 | COMPASS | MICHAELMAS 2019
worldwide. Young people who have grown up in rural areas want to move into the city. This links to a larger question that I am continuing to work on, which is on the future of work and employment in the 21st century. What will work look like? For example, the kinds of careers that defined the 20th century were stable positions, often lasting 40 years. However, what will the opportunities for young people be like in the future, and how will those play out in different parts of the world? It is an interesting question to me. Lastly, an area of focus that brings me back to my economics roots is about how can we value the natural world. The economic approach is to put a monetary value on it, and as an economist, I can understand the cost-benefit analysis and the economic rationale behind this, but it does not go far enough. How can we reflect our broader spiritual and cultural values in the decisions we make around nature? The question of values is much more complex and is often based on our view of the world, and the roles and responsibilities of humans within this world. Some people believe there are tensions between geographers and economists in their approach to study. You work in political economy, which spans both disciplines, do you think itâ€™s important that these fields be reconciled?
Having trained in the discipline of economics and done it as my undergraduate degree, I can understand the inner workings of economic models, but I can also see their limitations. Economics as a discipline tries to model the world and assumes that it looks a certain way, however this is often artificial, since reality is different and more complicated - so sometimes these models fail to describe the real world. Economic models are based on assumptions about rationality, trade-offs and efficient calculations. However, from the disciplines of sociology and psychology, we know that human behaviour is more complex and decisions are more nuanced and sometimes emotional. This means that the economic model of a ‘rational man’ is fundamentally flawed. However, if we accept the assumptions of the models, the conclusions follow, since they are based on mathematical reasoning. At the same time, this does not always result in useful predictions due to the fact that the assumptions may not necessarily fit with reality. My background and training means I can to contribute to debates around such topics, for instance as a member of DEFRA’s Economic Advisory Panel. I am accepted within those debates because I understand the logic of economics but I also recognize its limitations. How do you decide upon an area to focus on in research? I’ve allowed my passion and curiosity to drive my research. My work has always been
focused on trying to build projects that are co-produced that we collectively want to take forward. A part of this is finding partners to work with who share my aspirations and my ways of working. I also try to work in places that I really understand, since I focus on the political economy and I really need to understand long-term change and cultural issues. You can't just ‘parachute in’ somewhere and do research. It is important to be respectful of a place and its people and for this you need to have invested time in your research. For this reason, I’ve worked mostly in South Asia and India because I understand the place, the people, the culture and the language well, which defines the art of a geographer to me.
'Geography can contribute to the current major discussions that are happening around the world.' Do you have any words of advice for students during term time with their academic work and during exam season? I've always suggested that people approach this in a balanced way; like the equivalent of a 9-to-5 job. We don't expect you to work at exactly those times - if you are a night owl, making up the hours at 11 pm is perfectly fine (but, make sure you don't neglect your sleep!). If you are regularly being able to dedicate 40 hours a week to academic
work, you should be able to keep up with our demands within the Department. Exam season takes on a different rhythm, but it helps that this is the summer, and we have lovely long days in Cambridge. Lectures ease off, so you have more control over your time. Schedule in breaks, and look after your personal well-being over the exam period - don't let the anxiety and stress take over, because, if you've done your 40 hours per week over the year, you should be very well prepared for the exams. What is your advice for undergraduates about to do their dissertation research? Choose a topic that really motivates you - this is very genuinely your work, one that you will live with for almost 18 months, and that you will look back on with a sense of pride and satisfaction. Plan carefully, and always have a backup plan, because things can (and do) sometimes go wrong. Think about safety, especially if you are overseas, and take advice from those who know your field sites, and locals once you are in the field. Think about the geography - why is this dissertation being undertaken in this Department, and why does it fit with what you have been taught over your time here? And, most of all, enjoy this process - this is your voice, your opportunity to engage deeply in one issue, and you will remember it for a long time as the real culmination of so much of what you have learned while you were here at Cambridge. ■
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100 Years of Independence Article & photography by Linda Arroyo, Geographer at Lucy Cavendish
The Palace of Culture and Science, a main Warsaw landmark. Constructed in 1955, it still provokes a great deal of controversy as it has become a reminder of Soviet influence over Poland. 14 | COMPASS | MICHAELMAS 2019
day was cold and cloudy. I was heading towards the direction of screams and smoke, following the waves of white and red flags carried on strangers’ shoulders. This day marks one hundred years of independence, one hundred years of this country’s existence – Poland. And this day will always be associated with pride as well as it will be with sadness and anger. Pride and joy, because after 123 years this country rose from the ashes, having existed only in people’s hearts; and anger, because regaining independence also meant its loss in the first place. It meant betrayal and occupation, from which Poland has not yet recovered economically or culturally, thus remaining on the periphery of Europe.
A man waves a flag on Marzałkowska, one of the main streets through the city centre.
A flag flying in the wind against the backdrop of the Polish National Bank. I cannot tell which of these emotions are better depicted in the Independence March. I cannot tell if the shouting I hear is an expression of happiness or anger. Streams of people of all ages passing me on the right an on the left, and I stand in the middle of this uproar and I cannot comprehend what the emotion saturating the air so densely actually is. I cannot even tell what I feel myself. I keep to the side, stepping quietly in the strangers’ steps. I follow the light and I follow the smoke, with an attempt to follow my own train of thought. I attempt to comprehend, what I feel. There surely is some pride and so too the pang of sorrow. I feel thankfulness for every single person that carried Poland’s tradition in their heart in challenging circumstances and I evermore appreciate the fact that I was educated to acknowledge it. MICHAELMAS 2019 | COMPASS | 15
A young girl carries a flag through the parade. 16 | COMPASS | MICHAELMAS 2019
Following the light and the crowd.
But my most distinct feeling is shame. I feel ashamed because the Independence Day March is nowadays associated with far-right politics and narrowmindedness. As a liberal, I stand for neither of those, yet I know that my appearance at the march will result in me being pigeonholed into either category. I will be judged by absentees for coming as much as marchers will judge me for keeping aside. So, I come in disguise, hidden behind my camera, to celebrate the triumph of my ancestors, but not to be associated with any political agenda. Independence Day is not a denial of Western values and modernity. It is purely a celebration of past events that allowed us to live in an independent country with its own language, culture and tradition. I am thus left to air my grievances here, that an event that is supposed to unify the nation has emerged as one which sharpens political and national divides. â–
Translation - 'the end'.
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Culture and the Anthropocene
"What does the Anthropocene mean to you? How would you define it?" By Ben Somerville, 2019 Sixth Form Essay Competition Winner Our Sixth Form Essay Competition has come around again for it's second year, and we'd like to thank everyone who submitted their fantastic work, tackling a broad spectrum of geographical issues. This year our winner is Ben Somerville, whose piece thoughtfully reflects on how our cultural differences may affect the way we conceptualise the Anthropocene. One definition for the Anthropocene is that it is ‘the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment’. The main reason for subjectivity regarding this definition is that never before have the actions of humans affected the physical world to such an extent, and with such differing consequences across the globe. There are two main approaches one could take when trying to define the Anthropocene – first, the physical approach: one which tries to determine when and how this epoch started and what geological evidence will be left as a result; or a more philosophical approach, exploring how individual thought on the Anthropocene can be altered by cultural colouring of perception. It is
the latter approach that will be the focus of this essay, to reflect the subjective nature of the title; for while this new age seemingly affects the entire world, there are many different meanings and beliefs that can be placed upon this concept. Before looking at what the Anthropocene means to me, as an individual who has lived only within a culture where my world view has been shaped by exposure to commentary and debate on scientific theories, experimentation, and data, I wish to approach the idea of the Anthropocene from the perspective of a faith-based culture. For this, I looked at Tuvalu, a series of islands that can be seen as a steppingstone for the Pacific, considering the rate that sea levels are rising and how low-lying the islands are (the highest point of the
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country being only 4.5m above sea level). In Climate Refugees, by Collectif Argos, we read that the inhabitants of Tuvalu are learning about the effects of anthropogenic climate change; ‘30 or so 12 yearolds listen to […] this course on global warming, a recent addition to the curriculum’. Knowing that sea levels are rising should strike fear into them, and make the Anthropocene seem a menacing concept. However, we learn that religion proves to be a comfort for Tuvaluans, with the belief that the current age is still controlled by a singular and benevolent (Christian) God, rather than humans. The book focuses in on a man called Elie, a Christian who says that ‘the pastor [keeps] saying that the Biblical flood had already occurred and that […] it would never happen
again’, showing that faith can have a significant effect on the meaning and perception of the Anthropocene, most notably that processes that are often associated with this geological age, like anthropogenic climate change, are in fact perceived to be in the hands of God, not man. Elie therefore, may fall into the category of people who believe that the Anthropocene concept is ‘the ultimate illusion of our mastery over nature’, as written in The Human Planet by Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin. Furthermore, as evidence of lived experience shaping the meaning of the Anthropocene, the Tuvaluan children seemed ambivalent to the effects of climate change, with their teacher commenting: ‘They were born here, and water is their element […] These floods are a new playground for them’. The sea is, therefore, an extension of the land that they walk upon; they are for the most part, blissfully unaware of the dangers it poses for their future. As a person living in the West, in an increasingly non-faithbased society, with access to commentary and debate on global issues, the prevailing meaning of the Anthropocene globally will be reflected heavily
in my own perception. Living in the UK, and constantly exposed to mainstream media coverage on global climate issues, with geography lessons exploring the effect that humans have on the climate, and internet and video access to the most recent global climate conferences, my personal interpretation of the current epoch will have been moulded by the opinions and data of others, as opposed to the primarily personal belief and lived experience-based perceptions that Tuvaluans and other citizens of less globalised countries might have. What perhaps creates a difference in my meaning of the Anthropocene in comparison to those with similar levels of understanding of our climate, is my age. The older generation has profited from the processes that have driven the atmosphere to be a concentrated mass of human energy waste products, and they may be long gone before the consequences of an industrial world can be truly felt. By contrast, as part of this younger generation, I can truly appreciate the angry words of Greta Thunberg addressing those with the power to influence the climate and environment, ‘how dare you
continue to look away’. As a young person, reading that we are the ‘dominant influence on [the] climate and environment’, should excite me. We are able to shape the world in which we live as we wish; we are such an intelligent species that our entire planet, atmosphere and global climate is ours to change. But instead, it scares me, to me the Anthropocene is the tipping point between a world in which I and many others globally live in utopian settings, and a world where a dystopia becomes the reality for the many, not just the few in peripheral islands like Tuvalu. The Anthropocene is supposedly ‘the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment’. I find this definition to be centred on current times, whereas it is the path ahead that should, perhaps more aptly, be the focus. I therefore propose, my definition of the Anthropocene to be ‘the current geological age, where the actions of humans bear the most consequences for the future of life on Earth’. ■
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One definition for the Anthropocene is that it is ‘the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment’. The main reason for subjectivity regarding this definition is that never before have the actions of humans affected the physical world to such an extent, and with such differing consequences across the globe. There are two main approaches one could take when trying to define the Anthropocene – First, the physical approach: one which tries to determine when and how this epoch started and what geological evidence will be left as a result; or a more philosophical approach, exploring how individual thought on the Anthropocene can be altered by cultural colouring of perception. It is the latter approach that will be the focus of this essay, to reflect the subjective nature of the title; for while this new age seemingly affects the entire world, there are many different meanings and beliefs that can be placed upon this concept. Before looking at what the Anthropocene means to me, as an individual who has lived only within a culture where my world view has been shaped by exposure to commentary and debate on scientific theories, experimentation, and data, I wish to approach the idea of the Anthropocene from the perspective of a faith-based culture. For this, I looked at Tuvalu, a series of islands that can be seen as a steppingstone for the Pacific, considering the rate that sea levels are rising and how low-lying the islands are (the highest point of the country being only 4.5m above sea level). In ‘Climate Refugees’, by Collectif Argos, we read that the inhabitants of Tuvalu are learning about the effects of anthropogenic climate change: ‘30 or so 12 year-olds listen to […] this course on global warming, a recent addition to the curriculum’. Knowing that sea levels are rising should strike fear into them, and make the Anthropocene seem a menacing concept. However, we learn that religion proves to be a comfort for Tuvaluans, with the belief that the current age is still controlled by a singular and benevolent (Christian) God, rather than humans. The book focuses in on a man called Elie, a Christian who says that ‘the pastor [keeps] saying that the Biblical flood had already occurred and that […] it would never happen 20 | COMPASS | MICHAELMAS 2019
again’, showing that faith can have a significant effect on the meaning and perception of the Anthropocene, most notably that processes that are often associated with this geological age, like anthropogenic climate change, are in fact perceived to be in the hands of God, not man. Elie therefore, may fall into the category of people who believe that the Anthropocene concept is ‘the ultimate illusion of our mastery over nature’, as written in ‘The Human Planet’ by Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin. Furthermore, as evidence of lived experience shaping the meaning of the Anthropocene, the Tuvaluan children seemed ambivalent to the effects of climate change, with their teacher commenting: ‘They were born here, and water is their element […] These floods are a new playground for them’. The sea is, therefore, an extension of the land that they walk upon; they are for the most part, blissfully unaware of the dangers it poses for their future. As a person living in the West, in an increasingly non-faith based society, with access to commentary and debate on global issues, the prevailing meaning of the Anthropocene globally will be reflected heavily in my own perception. Living in the UK, and constantly exposed to mainstream media coverage on global climate issues, with geography lessons exploring the effect that humans have on the climate, and internet and video access to the most recent global climate conferences, my personal interpretation of the current epoch will have been moulded by the opinions and data of others, as opposed to the primarily personal belief and lived experience-based perceptions that Tuvaluans and other citizens of less globalised countries might have. What perhaps creates difference in my meaning of the Anthropocene in comparison to those with similar levels of understanding of our climate, is my age. The older generation has profited from the processes that have driven the atmosphere to be a concentrated mass of human energy waste products, and they may be long gone before the consequences of an industrial world can be truly felt. By contrast, as part of this younger generation, I can truly appreciate the angry words of Greta Thunberg addressing those with the power to influence the climate and environment, ‘how dare you continue to look away’. As a young person, reading that we are the ‘dominant influence on [the] climate
and environment’, should excite me: We are able to shape the world in which we live as we wish; we are such an intelligent species that our entire planet, atmosphere and global climate is ours to change. But instead, it scares me: the Anthropocene, to me, is the tipping point between a world in which I and many others globally live in pockets of utopia, and a world where dystopia is the reality for the many, not just the few in peripheral islands like Tuvalu. The Anthropocene is supposedly ‘the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment’. I find this definition to be centred on current times, whereas it is the path ahead which is more aptly the focus. I propose, therefore, my definition of the Anthropocene to be ‘the current geological age, where the actions of humans bear the most consequences for the future of life on Earth’.
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Language & Identity, Urban Art in La Paz, Bolivia Article & photography by Jack Curson, HSPS Student at Magdalene
the summer of 2019, I spent just over a month working for a magazine in Bolivia, looking at stories and events across La Paz. One story that was of particular interest to me was that of Chualluma, a neighbourhood which has become the site of a large-scale urban art project and transformed from a typical collection of brick and adobe homes into the vibrant array of painted buildings that illuminates the city today. The community was a beneficiary of the ‘My Neighbourhood, My Home’ programme launched in 2018 to strengthen urban infrastructure across Bolivia, involving over 90 construction workers and a host of artists under the leadership of designer and artist Knorke Leaf. However, beneath the aesthetic renewal, the project has a more profound meaning in the context of social change in Bolivia. The community in Chualluma is mostly comprised of migrants from rural provinces who came
to La Paz to access the local economy. This phenomenon of urbanization has been the dominant trend in Bolivia in recent decades, with obvious economic benefits for Bolivians alongside inevitable consequences such as crime, pollution and congestion, but there has also been a hidden impact on the linguistic aspect of indigenous identity. Bolivia has huge ethnic and linguistic diversity, with the largest proportion of indigenous people in the entirety of Latin America. Alongside customs and traditions, the protection of these languages is crucial in ensuring that they are able to thrive in a new age of globalisation. However, there has been a worrying tendency towards monolingualism as an increasing number of Bolivians choose Spanish over their native language, a trend most extreme in urban areas. Aymara is the dominant language in Chualluma which designer Knorke Leaf chose to celebrate, adorning many of the buildings with Aymara lettering to represent
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the identity and culture of their inhabitants. Knorke commented: ‘It is a revindication. Visitors can come and learn. Yes, we are in La Paz, a multicultural place, but people here still speak Aymara. It is a beautiful and elegant language – it has a different way of thinking.’ Knorke also employed the use of symbols with specific significance in Andean culture in many of the murals. One house that had such treatment was that of Asencia, who makes the arduous trek down to the city centre at 5:30am to sell her food and climbs towards the altiplano at the end of her working day, having also faced the personal tragedy of her husband passing away and her son struggling with severe mental illness. Struck by Asencia’s story of hardship and resilience, Knorke decided she would embellish her home with a mural of a hummingbird, which represents ancestry and has a spiritual quality for Andean people. For Knorke, it was important that the urban art was not imposed
on residents, ‘All the murals, all the lettering that is here in Chualluma represents what they do, who they are and what kind of people live here’. Chualluma mirrors national moves towards indigenous empowerment. Whilst the presidency of Evo Morales is increasingly being undermined by his concerning disregard for Bolivia’s democratic institutions, his tenure has seen a focus on promoting the rights and prospects of indigenous peoples, having himself been elected on a wave of support as Bolivia's first indigenous president. In the Constitution that was introduced in 2009, Bolivia’s 36 indigenous languages were officialised alongside Spanish, and social policy has centred around fighting racism and giving more ethnic groups the chance of a university education.
It was Morales that gave a speech to the United Nations on the issue of language extinction for the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages, stressing the cultural importance of languages beyond their function as modes of communication. The crisis appears to be widely unacknowledged and 2019 is an important opportunity to understand and publicise what is a truly global issue. By looking at the case study of Bolivia, we can begin to understand some of the trends which drive language extinction today, such as urbanisation and globalisation, but also ways in which indigenous languages can be protected without resorting to combatting these social forces.
community. Brick and adobe have been replaced with cement blocks to strengthen the foundations of the buildings and has created the possibility for the development of a microeconomy based on tourism for the art and stunning panoramic view. Urban art has the power to democratize and decentralise, but in the case of Chualluma it goes further by representing the people whose homes act as the canvas. Knorke Leaf’s designs, with its use of indigenous symbols and language, can be seen as a symbol of indigenous pride and defiance against the homogeneity that appears to be threatening many languages and cultures today. ■
The urban art project in Chualluma has had many direct positive impacts on the
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Culture - An Essential Way to Tackle Climate Change By Etien Jasonson, HSPS Student at Fitzwilliam
would not be particularly enlightening for any reader if I were to reiterate poignant facts or figures that detail how devastating climate change is. The core issue is not that we do not understand climate change or how to prevent it, but rather that we are not changing our behaviours and beliefs. Whilst the need for action is obvious, how do we actually go about motivating sustained and effective change? I contend that approaching climate change through an analysis of our own cultural practices may be the most fruitful way to address global warming.
is used by people to live with their weather. As Mike Hulme importantly notes, climate is subject to both physical and ideological change, 'what climate means to different people in different places in different eras is not stable'. Humans created the concept of climate with the explicit purpose of ordering the natural world
our climate thus changes as our expectations of weather behaviour change. This change in understanding manifests itself culturally in various ways, from behavioural changes such as seasonal clothing choices, to political changes such as regulations to make buildings better withstand natural disasters.
'The need for proactive cultural change is clear, although this is of course not a simple task.'
The concept of â€˜climateâ€™ is understood first and foremost scientifically. In much of the Western world we discuss climate in ecological and meteorological terms, drawing upon empirical facts. For example the IPCC defines climate in terms of 'variable statistical descriptions' typically 'over a thirty year period'. What is absent from these definitions is how the notion of climate
and creating a sense of stability. This sense of order helps develop a culture through which we live with our ever changing weather. This can be seen in the fact that the British climate for instance, is considered consistent despite the weather always being in flux; our sense of climate grants us certain expectations about what weather may occur and what will not. Our understanding of
These examples make apparent the links between the cultural conception of climate, our perception of risk and our behavioural change as a result. Crudely speaking, moredeveloped countries make up the largest share of the global contribution to climate change, but are also typically the countries least affected by the consequences. As Ulrich Beck observes, understanding climate culturally allows us to see exactly why so many of the individuals, companies and governments within these countries are failing to act: because the localised sense of climate in these countries has yet to be affected, meaning cultural change in response to
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perceived risk has not been necessary. We are then left with the voluntary changes at the personal, political and corporate levels to respond to climate change which as it stands now, is too little too slowly. By the time that the cultures of higherpolluting countries are directly threatened by climate change, response out of necessity will be too late to save the global ecosystems that all countries depend on. The need for proactive cultural change is clear, although this is of course not a simple task. The perceived dilemma between development and environmentalism can be neatly summarised with the cognitive double bind concept put forward by Bateson in the 1970s. When someone is in a double bind, they are in a position where all choices are wrong in some capacity and they are cognitively trapped between two undesirable outcomes. On the one hand, people can sacrifice the environment in order to save a comfortable lifestyle that can
obscure the realities of its own contributions to climate change. Alternatively, people can dispel the reassuring illusion of domination over nature and sacrifice their lifestyle in an attempt to save the environment. Either way, they face an undesirable outcome. To cope with this double bind emotionally, most people block out the beliefs which are easiest for them to deny. The belief that we must sacrifice our lifestyles in order to save the environment is usually easier to deny than the belief that our lifestyles are entirely independent from climate change. This psychologically comforting denial provides a subconscious barrier to climate action, as climate disaster appears a more removed threat to our lifestyles than going green does. This is why, in an attempt to tackle climate change effectively, we should consciously try and confront this double bind decisionmaking head-on. We cannot continue letting ourselves take
comfort in the consistency of our localised climate. Instead, we should be acutely aware that we lead our lifestyles at the expense of global resources which we are both dependent on and have no higher claim to. On the societal level, this means recognising that our culture has a global impact, yet we justify it to ourselves and those around us based on a localised experience of climate. On the individual level, this means making an active effort to consider the environmental impact of any lifestyle choice to prevent comforting denial. Changes in the personal sphere - 'where the transformation of individual and collective beliefs, values and world-views occur' - can have some of the most powerful effects, in that they make possible a more environmentally conscious paradigm shift. Embracing these inconvenient realities presents an opportunity to create a lasting environmentalist shift in Western societies, but this has to start within the individual. â–
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Will we always be divided over Climate Change? By Ella Weston, Geographer at Newnham
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a physical geographer, climate change is the most complex issue I have ever personally tried to fathom. It somehow surpasses the academic concept of separated disciplines, since it is a scientific, psychological, social, political and cultural issue. Despite gaining everincreasing scientific and political weight, it is confusing to see people still so divided over the issue. You have opinions ranging from diehard activists, those that are deeply and unshakably convinced it is not happening, to those that simply do not seem to care much. The latter I recently encountered during a frustrating taxi ride in London as, weeks after I had written a threehour exam on how important the problem is, my driver told me that he ‘did not believe’ in climate change. I pitied him, as I gathered that he would actually care about the impacts if he were to see them, given that he spent the rest of the ride talking about his beloved young daughters and how much he cared about their future. I did not care to argue, as I understood how the numerous tariffs and economic hardships that had been placed on him by a climate-concerned government may have set his opinion in stone. Instead, I spent the following weeks wondering if the 38-degree heatwave in London had changed his mind or not, and how many more people like him remain in complete denial. Will we always be divided on this issue? Is there any way to change people’s minds?
Unfortunately, many people remain in denial for a specific reason: climate change affects people disproportionately. In the Western world, climate change has become an almost abstract concept: we see it in the news, in protests, in scientific reports and predictions, but rarely actually experience its adverse effects. In their Third Assessment Report in 2001, the IPCC predicted a climate warming between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees Celsius by 2100. This is a statement so scientifically loaded, yet one that feels very empty at the same time. For the UK, this translates to a vague prediction of increased intensity of floods and droughts.
However, in the Philippines these dangers are already being widely experienced, with 47% of the country’s population living in areas with high exposure to climate hazards. These are clearly two vastly different experiences of climate change. It is for this reason that the IPCC stated that they themselves are not in the position to decide what dangerous climate change actually is, and that this decision goes beyond their work and even beyond science itself. ‘Dangerous’ climate change can be both abstract
and real. What ‘dangerous’ means for us depends on our own experiences, and whilst climate change may not yet be considered ‘dangerous’ in the Western world, those in developing countries already experiencing its adverse impacts will see this entirely differently. Fortunately, personal experience may actually be changing some people’s opinions on the dangers of climate change. ‘Psychological shortcuts’ subconsciously shape our perceptions of climate change and thus will help determine our opinions. Sjöberg identified some of these shortcuts, one being the ‘availability heuristic’. This is essentially how easily an image of a risk can be recalled for an individual. If an individual has experienced a climatic risk, such as an extreme drought, a negative image of the risk will be more easily recalled and thus they will believe the risk is greater. This concept is been supported by several studies on climatic events, such as Spence et al.’s study on flooding in the UK. From their survey, they found that those who had experienced flooding in the UK had greater concern regarding climate change, compared to those who had not. However, was it only psychological processes that caused this effect? Did those with greater concern about climate change have beliefs that steered them towards attributing the floods to climate change in the first place?
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People are unfortunately a bit more stubborn than this, and whether they will change their minds due to experience will probably be restricted by their existing views to some extent. One particularly ground-breaking theory which highlighted this was that of Douglas and Wildavsky who identified four different cultural worldviews, in which nature was viewed differently. Douglas and Wildavsky believed that individuals would accept information only if it was coherent with their existing cultural beliefs, and this has been widely evidenced. For instance, a ‘fatalist’ would view nature as fundamentally random and is more likely to accept information that portrays flooding as natural and unpredictable, rather than caused by climate change. Therefore, personal experience may not increase concern for climate change in everyone. However, a study by Akerlof et al. did show that personal experience explained part of people’s risk perception which could not be explained by demographics, culture, or
political views. So, people’s ties to their initial views don’t leave us entirely stuck in the mud - personal experience may provide a small breakthrough for change that is not entirely restricted by other factors. It may be slightly twisted to hope that as more climatic risks happen, slowly people may begin to change their minds, but it has theoretical support! Adding more confusion to the mix, what Douglas and Wildavsky didn’t point out is that public opinion on climate change exists on a spectrum rather than as discrete categories, and the spectrum of beliefs is actually widening. In a 2017 study, Drummond and Fischoff found that, contrary to popular belief, increasing education actually makes people more polarized in their views. They suggested that because as people become more educated, their ability to find and dissect information coherent with their beliefs increases. So, this doesn’t look good for agreement on climate change given the recent global rise in education.
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Furthermore, globalization is having a complex impact on public opinion by making it more fragmented than ever, causing fewer differences between cultural groups but also more diversity within the same cultural groups, as argued by Oltedal et al. Yet also, it means that information can reach and influence more and more people, which can also mean a positive effect. For example when Pope Francis called for action on climate change, identifying this as consistent with Christian values. This had a powerful influence on the American public, and the number of Catholics believing in global warming showed a huge increase as found by Maibach et al. So, it seems what we can predict about people’s risk perception is absolutely nothing. The public is becoming more divided, more fragmented, yet there are instances where specific events have a massive influence on people’s opinions. Around every issue that gains momentum, there will always be those who resist it. There is, however, hope we can hold onto. There are some events, such as experience of climate change and the influence of important public figues, which have been shown to overcome the barriers of people’s initial beliefs. They will not be successful in every case, but may return with more force as voices are heard louder and consequences become more palpable. Maybe the heatwave did make my taxi driver rethink his views; or maybe one day somebody he looks up to will use their voice and influence thousands of people like him. ■
In Conversation with Dr Theo Hacking Interview by Zhanna Levitina, Geographer at Homerton & Belinda Ng, Geographer at Christ's
Theo Hacking oversees the development and delivery of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)’s portfolio of graduate programmes. Theo spent 15 years working in industry, mostly on the environmental and social impact assessment of major projects. His degrees were Civil and Environmental Engineering, and he is particularly interested in how sustainability can be incorporated into design and decision-making. Prior to joining CISL he was a Senior Research Associate at Cambridge’s Engineering Department, where he oversaw an industry-funded research programme into energy efficiency in the built environment.
What does sustainability mean for businesses and how can they adopt this in the 21st century? Sustainability is a shorthand that we use to refer to key pressures and trends that are shaping the world, hence it encompasses many key risks and opportunities for businesses which they should be thinking about if they want to be viable in the future. The term ‘sustainability’ is not always helpful to use in practice, and it can sometimes be preferable to refer to more specific themes like global warming. But overall the themes covered under ‘sustainability’ – as expressed within the UN’s SDGs, for example – are representative of the risks and opportunities that businesses have to respond to. At the leading edge, businesses are responding by reflecting on their purpose, incorporating sustainability into their business strategy, and ‘operationalising’ this through the organisation. Less ambitious businesses are
just focusing on putting in place good operational practices, such as environmental management systems, so that they abide by regulations and achieve higher performance standards. Looking back at your career so far, what path did you take and why did you choose to do so? My educational background is in civil and environmental engineering. I first became a practicing design engineer and project manager, since older and wiser colleagues advised that I first establish credibility by experiencing the traditional roles within the sector before moving into more emergent and advisory roles. On balance, I think it was wise advice since it allowed me to better understand how the world works before trying to change it! The downside of working in industry is that you seldom have time to stop and reflect on the work you are doing.
Is there a role for consumer demand in driving more sustainable business practices today? There is definitely a growing demand for more sustainable practice from consumers, but this is just one segment of the consumer population. Others expect companies to be responsible but might not be outspoken in demanding this or are – often for good reason – primarily concerned with affordability. If business focus solely on responding to voice of consumers today, they would not necessarily prioritise sustainability enough. Instead, businesses need to anticipate the voices of the customers of the future, which requires a higher level of proactivity. Looking at industry now, which businesses have first adopted sustainability practices and why? I can’t pinpoint an obvious pattern, but key triggers can include: inspirational senior
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leadership, such as Paul Polman, Unilever’s ex-CEO; campaigns driven by consumers or NGOs, such as Greenpeace’s with palm oil in supply chains of large businesses. In particularly high impact sectors, such as mining, contrary to expectation businesses can have high levels of awareness and proactivity amongst the sector leaders, because they experience firsthand the consequences of resource extraction. Notably, these tend to be large, established firms, and they may also suffer from ‘lock in’ where it is difficult to change direction even if they know they should. This is where SMEs and startups can be influential, since they can provide the disruptive innovation and radical solutions that we need for the future. It is easier for them, compared to large established companies, to do so because it can be risky for large companies to move money away from what is serving them well and adapt to new changes. There are many incentives for businesses to invest in more sustainable practices, such as consumer expectations, resource security, employee retention and maintaining reputation. Indeed, a host of blue-chip companies such as GE, IKEA and Toyota are reaping the benefits of offering 'green' products and services. Unilever has
purpose-driven brands that are growing at twice the rate of the rest of their portfolio, while GE’s Ecomagination growth strategy would rank as a Fortune 100 company if it were a standalone business.
'Unless there are radical technology breakthroughs, the industry as it stands today, cannot be regarded as a positive contributor to sustainability.' Is it possible for traditionally polluting industries such as mining, oil and timber to be sustainable? I believe so, if they are contributing meaningfully to sustainability. It is important to note that there is no such thing as a 'sustainable' company or project that can be determined in the level of a micro-system. Businesses work within a larger regional, national, or global level, and so it is more about how they contribute to the wider system in the interest of sustainability. With a growing global population and rising living standards we are likely to remain very dependent on the extraction of raw materials. Resource extraction in itself is not the problem; the real problem is the unintended consequences of extraction. Through technology, we could try to reduce the resulting harms, such as capturing the key minerals but leaving the ground more intact.
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Countries that already have abundant stock of resources in circulation should, of course, try to optimise their use of resources through striving for a 'circular economy'. Of the industries you list, oil is problematic because it is not compatible with our need for a de-carbonised future and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Unless there are radical technology breakthroughs, the industry as it stands today, cannot be regarded as a positive contributor to sustainability. Of course, it provides employment and revenues that are important for some countries; hence there is a growing discourse around the need for a ‘just transition’. You have previously worked on conducting Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA). What exactly does EIA involve? In a nutshell, it is about planning before acting. I would say that traditional EIA is necessary but is not a sufficient way to achieve sustainability. In most jurisdictions there are statutory requirements for regulatory approval in order to get approval to proceed with a project. As a minimum, it involves identifying and mitigating adverse impacts in comparison to what would have occurred – known as the baseline. It is hard to set a baseline, because the environment is dynamic, especially in the face of climate change. For sustainability, it is important to undertake more broad-scale planning in advance of certain projects. You might come across other forms of impact assessment, like
cumulative effects assessment, strategic environmental assessment, and other forms which may be labelled under the umbrella term of ‘sustainability assessment’. An important next step for EIA, is to better align itself with sustainability in general, and particularly the SDGs when it comes to how projects are being selected and approved.
'I am optimistic about the future of sustainability in Cambridge.' What are the limitations to Environmental Impact Assessments for industry projects? EIA is a statutory requirement and is often viewed as a regulatory hurdle or a 'box-ticking' exercise. Therefore, it may not really be useful when kept at arm’s length from the project planning and design – it should be integrated to have real impact. Traditional EIA is also focused on mitigation of adverse impacts in the field of biophysical environmental issues, hence it is quite limited in scope and does not cover any social issues. For high-income countries, focusing on the biophysical environment may be considered most important, since basic social issues are managed adequately. In contrast, in low-income countries, where there is a simultaneous need for social development as well as protection of the biophysical environment, EIA should aim to cover both issues.
From a sustainability point of view, it is also not aspirational since the focus is on avoiding harm, rather than aspiring to what needs to be achieved.
EIA, stakeholder may also be limited in scope. The solution is a more integrated study to optimally achieve the desires of the stakeholders.
It can be argued that environmental metrics offer a technical route to sustainability but do not engage enough with the politics behind inaction. How can Environmental Impact Assessment incorporate more stakeholders in the future?
What do you think is the next step for the Cambridge University to take to become more sustainable?
Effective stakeholder engagement has been a longstanding component of ‘good practice’ EIA. The challenge for this is that proponents of projects and regulators don’t always have the inclination and capacity to deliver this engagement, and it may be treated as 'red tape' which needs to be overcome. In line with the limited scope of many
We now have enlightened leadership from the top of the university with our ViceChancellor committing to the Cambridge Carbon Neutral Futures Initiative, and students are also increasingly being driven to speak up and act for the environment. I think the next step is for more joined up effort between the university and colleges to further galvanise student action, and perhaps a more city-scale collaboration involving the local authorities. ■
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The Colonial Legacy of British Travel Culture By Joanna Neve, Geographer at Fitzwilliam
you ever thought about contemporary travel through the lens of historic colonialism? While it’s a hard truth to swallow, some thinkers have highlighted the ways in which British travel and tourist cultures are a form of neo-colonialism, perpetuating an ever-colonial present as Derek Gregory suggests in his book The Colonial Present. First, let’s think about basics. When a British person emigrates to a new country, they often refer to themselves as an ‘expat’. But why not the word ‘immigrant’? There seems from my observations to be a double standard whereby a brit living abroad is an ‘expat’ but another passport holder living in the UK is an ‘immigrant’. The two words conjure different meanings and in doing so we differentiate the British person from the ‘other’, returning to the colonial binaries of ‘them’ and ‘us’. Aside from words, there are other more empirical lived experiences that we can notice, suggesting that travel culture is a colonially informed process. I hardly ever hear people in the UK discussing which countries are the easiest to travel to, they simply say ‘I would love to go to Bali’, or ‘I want to go to New York for my 21st’. When living at my mums' in Cairo and
working at an Egyptian lifestyle magazine, I soon found that the holiday discussion for other passport holders was very different. I was tasked with writing Travel Guides for the magazine, and copied the previous issues in including a ‘how to get a visa’ section. As my family hold dual nationalities, these impracticalities have never been visible to me, but I soon found it incredibly hard to condense the instructions into a brief magazine-friendly section.
‘Cultures of travel are some of the most commonplace means through which colonialism is abroad in our own present' Derek Gregory. Have you visited an assessment centre in central Cairo? Have you provided bank statements? Personality references? Have you undertaken your military service and received a letter from them? The list for some destinations seemed endless. This double standard in ability to travel is tracible to the colonial era, when the world was open to the colonial elites, but a harsh enclosed box for others. To a certain extent, this inequality still exists today. My family can move freely as dual nationals. Egyptian passport holders only cannot travel with the same ease.
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While it’s hard to put an empirical measure on the notion of a passport politics, the Passport Index has attempted to do just that, highlighting the differences in power of some passports over others. With a ranking of 6, the United Kingdom Passport has great global mobility. My family’s Egyptian passport by contrast ranks just 79 and at the bottom of the world ranking, Afghani passports are shown to be the least powerful, with the lowest rank of 164. Homi Bhabha has commented on the differences in global mobilities too, stating that ‘the globe shrinks for those who own it, but for the displaced or the dispossessed, the migrant or refugee, no distance is more awesome than the few feet across borders or frontiers’. When studying globalisation from the Cambridge lecture hall, it can often be easy to overlook this British privilege. The world is indeed shrinking in our hands. All places are accessible for us. One friend from Nepal told me, ‘Nepalese people like to marry westerners, it means that they can travel’. It’s a sad reality that due to passport politics, where you are born and what passport you own defines your ability to roam freely. Indeed, geography has revealed that not only can some bodies roam more freely than others, but in some circumstances, the British body is seen to be worth more
than others, as is exemplified by studies of British protective accompaniment. Whilst I could gather many examples of passport politics, it’s also worth highlighting the huge array of writings on British travel culture as a whole. Derek Gregory writes that British tourists are ‘accustomed to move from one exotic site/ sight to another, gazing upon the other but always able to withdraw to the security of the familiar. As the young British protagonist in Will Rhode's Paperback Raita puts it, 'Half the attraction of coming to India is the ability to leave it'. By observing the seemingly ‘exotic’ and then returning home, I can’t help but draw parallels to colonial exhibitions of the past like the World Exhibition held in Paris. As discussed by Mitchell, these exhibitions led ‘non-Europeans to be placed on exhibit, the object of European curiosity’. The Egyptian exhibit was built by the French to resemble a winding street of Cairo and ‘even the paint on the buildings were made dirty’. I question if the modern tourist who wants to see the ‘real Egypt’ is any different to the colonial observer of the past who conducted the same observations at empire exhibitions. Both place Egypt as the object of European curiosity and observation, a process indeed informed by colonialism. So maybe the time has come
to acknowledge the privilege of UK passport holders, as well as question our role in the perpetuation of the colonial present through travel cultures as Derek Gregory suggests. Seemingly innocent practises like voluntourism and gap years can indeed be linked to a perpetuation of the colonial present when you look close enough. As geographers, it’s also worth thinking about nationality in general, since we know that territorial lines were often constructed by colonial elites. As Russell Brand once famously said on a talk show, ‘A country is just a concept. Dinosaurs didn’t go, I’m a Belgium dinosaur’. Hence, the power of one passport over another and the ability of some nationalities to travel across borders which others can’t, is a process indeed tracible to a colonial past. ■
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Research Internship at CIAT Article & Photography by Hannah Badger, Geographer at Queen's
summer I spent a month living and working in the Colombian city of Cali, statistically the most dangerous city in the country. For many years Colombia has been stereotyped as a nation ravaged by drugs, guns and violence; if this is true, however, then my short experience of the country was highly unrepresentative. The city and its people are vibrant, creative and overwhelmingly friendly. Cali lies in the Cauca Valley, one of the most geographically stunning and fertile regions of Colombia, making it the perfect base for the headquarters of The International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) where I worked this summer. CIAT is an international research institute with more than 150 ongoing projects in tropical regions across Latin America, Africa and Asia. The research produced is used by policymakers to inform decisions regarding the efficiency, productivity and sustainability of the agricultural sector. This international outlook means that CIAT attracts researchers from around the world, with countless nationalities represented within the organisation. Each individual has their own research interest and unique perspective, but all share the common goals of CIAT: to ensure global food security and encourage rural development.
Whilst at CIAT I worked closely alongside a Colombian researcher named Andrea. We were investigating the success of climate-smart agricultural initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean. These initiatives aim to mitigate the impacts of increasingly uncertain climatic conditions on agricultural systems, help farmers to adapt to these changes and ensure that food security is sustainably achieved in the future. Before I arrived, Andrea and her colleagues had already collected the necessary data and begun to write the article in Spanish. My first task was to translate the existing paragraphs into English, before using an Excel matrix to produce the relevant data visuals and graphs. I then analysed the data and worked alongside Andrea to produce the main body of the article and ensure our report met the specifications of the selected journal. Our analysis showed that only 24% of the initiatives across the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region generated an impact. Although this figure is disheartening, the research can now be used to highlight to important organisations, such as the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation), that something needs to change regarding the ways in which these initiatives are implemented in rural communities in the region.
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Colombia itself had a high number of successful initiatives; this is a promising indicator of the improvements made to increase resilience in the country’s agricultural sector. Colombia has made significant advances in addressing its historical problems with violence and internal conflict. However, it remains to be seen whether the contemporary problems posed by climate change may be similarly overcome. Much of the positive change that has taken place in the country is due to the work of communities and individuals. I met with a young woman, Debaye, one such individual who is striving for real socioeconomic change in Cali. She is a key figure in a voluntary, non-lucrative organisation (La Asociación Casa Cultural el Chontaduro) that operates across the city’s poorest barrios. Founded more than 30 years ago and run
entirely by women, Debaye expresses an unbelievable amount of pride in the organisation. After a visit to ‘el Chontaduro’ it was easy to understand why - no challenge is too big for them, no matter how daunting it may seem. For instance, the higher education system in Colombia produces a trap into which many of the poorest students inevitably fall. Those that achieve high grades in secondary school can progress into the best universities in the city, which require no fee. For those that don’t achieve the highest grades, paid university is the only alternative to further their education. However, underachieving children all too often live in favelas, with limited parental support and no material supplies. These same children are therefore unable to attend the feepaying institutions. This system marginalises the poorest in society and heightens economic
inequality by severely limiting the chance for social mobility. Despite the magnitude of this issue, ‘el Chontaduro’ is tackling it head-on. Every Saturday the volunteers, including Debaye, provide extra classes for deprived students to help boost their grades. The classes are highly oversubscribed (testament to the success of the initiative) and I am certain that the organisation will continue to grow - an exemplary model of effective bottom-up development. Interning at CIAT, whilst living in a city with such a rich culture and history, was a huge privilege. Contributing to the work at CIAT was highly rewarding and it enabled me to meet countless amazing people. I hope to return to Colombia as soon as possible, and would most definitely encourage others to visit! ■
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Language-Learning by Immersion By Ellie Fox, Geographer at Fitzwilliam
hablo español', I don’t speak Spanish. This is all the Spanish I’ve retained from school, a short, simple sentence in the present tense. Such a wonderful linguistic experience left me a tad disheartened with language lessons, so instead of signing up for a Spanish course, I jetted off to Alcorcón, Madrid to stay with my friend Irene and her family. The three of them are Spanish but speak perfect English, so I knew I would have to be disciplined if I wanted to improve during my stay. It’s difficult to keep asking people to repeat something in their language in the hope that you finally understand, when often your mind is as blank the third time you hear a sentence as it was the first. But even by day two things had started to improve, Irene's parents only reverted to English if it was necessary and I began to recognise more phrases just through repetition. Nonetheless, there was one occasion early on where I thought I was keeping up well, only for Irene’s mum to tell her to stop speaking to me 'como una telegrama', as if she was writing a telegram. She duly switched to her normal
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style of speaking and even this became manageable after a day or two. Throughout the week I learnt a few hacks to help cut through the noise and understand the conversation, with neat ways of maximising the amount of vocab and phrases I learnt. At the Prado Museum I read the information next to each painting in both English and Spanish, comparing the two to see how certain words and phrases were translated. Of course, I also saw a wealth of paintings from the 15th – 19th Centuries, including Goya’s La Maja Desnuda and Velázquez’s Las Meninas. On another day we visited the traditional seat of Spanish kings and queens, El Escorial, in the mountains outside Madrid. We were accompanied by Irene’s grandparents Carlos and Maira, whose incredible knowledge of this palace-monastery-basilicapantheon-library-schoolextraordinaire, delivered entirely in Spanish, could easily put a tour guide out of a job. I was particularly impressed by the pantheon, where we descended a set of steep, narrow stairs which opened out into a circular room made of dark marble, to find gilded coffins of Spanish monarchs set into the wall from floor to ceiling.
I found that a great way to practice speaking was talking about something I knew well. Taking control of the conversation, whilst daunting at first, actually made life a whole lot easier. It meant that I knew the topic so could prepare in my head and direct the conversation towards something I knew how to say. Talking about Geography was actually a great way to do this, as often words which are more scientific or technical are in fact cognates – those that sound similar in two languages. This was evident when we visited the Madrid Botanical Garden and I picked up the free magazine, a special issue on climate change, which had articles on 'modelos para conservar', (conservation models) and 'las especies invasoras', (invasive species). Whilst difficult and at times controversial, talking about politics was also good way of practicing since it was rare that I awkwardly ran out of things to say, which is a risk when you’re less confident speaking a language. I pushed myself to challenge what someone was saying if I disagreed, even if I didn’t know the precise vocabulary or grammar structures. This also showed me a Spanish perspective on current affairs such as Catalan independence and the left-wing populist party Podemos.
One of the best things about going to a country to learn a language is meeting the people that live there. In addition to her family, I also met Irene’s uni and school friends. Initially I expected her grandparents to use confusing, outdated language and thought I’d have no problem talking to her mates, but in fact it was the reverse. Her grandparents spoke clear, slow Spanish, whilst people my age spoke at a mile a minute, blurring words and rapidly switching conversation topics. It was easier with Irene as I’d got used to her voice and it’s surprising how much of a difference this makes. So, was this trip better for my Spanish than paying for a conventional language course? Almost certainly yes. I learnt plenty of vocabulary which I could easily remember because I’d done so in context, often with a memory of a person or activity attached. I also learnt phrases which I could use in real spoken Spanish. Admittedly, my grammar didn’t improve as much as I would have liked, since it was hard for someone to correct me mid-sentence and I also lacked the writing practise that lessons give you. Nonetheless, my understanding of Spanish and ability to speak it improved more than they could have done in weeks of classes. So, if you truly want to learn a language, travel to where it is spoken and immerse yourself. Ahora hablo español, un poco. ■
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‘It is dynamic and relevant. For me geography is a great adventure with a purpose.’ Michael Palin
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