After the interview for the mood study and our qualitative methods class, I attended a talk delivered as part of the Linacre Lecture Series, as run by the Environmental Change Institute. It was given by John Gummer MP, of whom I had no prior knowledge, but whose presentation I found quite impressive. He managed to convey a great deal of useful information about environmental policymaking in a way that wasn’t obscured through the excessive use of jargon. While some of the solutions he presented may have been a bit over-simplified, his overall tone of optimism and humour was very much appreciated. Especially interesting was his mini-tirade at the end against an environmental perspective founded in what he described as a Puritanical ideal of misery and self-denial.
While the speech was heavily focused on domestic policy – in areas like energy, waste management, and transport – it nevertheless made points that were more broadly applicable. When I asked him afterwards about fisheries – having learned that he is Chairman of the Marine Stewardship Council as well having served as UK Environmental Secretary from 1993-1997 – he expressed both a severe concern and a realistic perspective on the prospect for improvement. Another international matter that came up a number of times during the questions was that of cheap airline flights. He made the strong point that taxing the fuel that makes up 10% of the cost of a £20 ticket isn’t going to change anyone’s behaviour. His long-term idea of a personal carbon allowance, which could be traded or used against things like such flights, was a more inventive answer that you expect to hear at the end of such a speech.
In summary, the speech was effective and humorous. Very well captured was the essential concept that it isn’t enough to make people aware of environmental issues – or even to make them care about them in a general sense. What is necessary is the creation of institutional and legal mechanisms that make it both easy and economically efficient to behave in an environmentally responsible manner and both difficult and expensive to do otherwise. That happens through things like internalizing the full cost of transport or waste production.
Afterwards, I found myself in a cluster of wool-clad Canadians, most of them doing Master’s degrees over at the Environmental Change Institute. That is to say, the degree that I sometimes wish I had chosen to do, particularly after spending whole days reading about elements of large-I large-R International Relations that are only tangentially related to my intended research topic. It was particularly interesting to meet Erin Freeland, from Yellowknife, who is doing a Master’s with the ECI and with whom I’ve agreed to swap notes on the respective programs. A bit more interchange between the Department of Politics and IR and the ECI would serve both quite well, I think.
Now I am off to try and convince a recalcitrant external hard drive (not mine) to exchange data with a computer that has so far proven unwilling to speak to it.
PS. Speaking with Edwina – a D.Phil student in the DPIR and friend and collegemate of Claire’s – and Shohei during the period between qualitative methods and the John Gummer talk was both intriguing and valuable.
PPS. I am buying a bike with my brain scan experiment money. Does anyone know which place in Oxford is best for getting a decent used bike, as well as lights and a helmet (to protect the brain for future scans)?