A Statement on Equity and Inclusion from the School of Earth Sciences

Statement by the University of Bristol School of Earth Sciences Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Community Committee, adapted from Head of School Letter for the Athena SWAN Action Plan (2018)

We are immensely proud to be part of a discipline based on understanding our planet, how we live on it and our shared future. We are likewise proud to be part of a discipline that is inherently global and international, that not only invites but demands collaboration with all cultures.  However, it is a discipline partially founded in 19th century adventurism and it has long struggled with the legacies of toxic masculinity, colonialism and exploitation. Few departments had female academic staff until the 1980s; and even when appointed, they had to navigate a frequently toxic environment of harassment, microaggression and often overt aggression. Women were only allowed to join the British Antarctic Survey’s field station from 1986, emblematic of being locked out from many opportunities and pathways to academic achievement. The discipline’s track record with respect to racial and minority ethnic diversity and equity is similarly flawed, with no significant progress in racial diversity over the past four decades.

Consequently, we are pleased to see recent progress in our discipline, making important steps in diversification and gender balance and evolving from exploitation to co-production.  And we are especially proud to be part of the School of Earth Sciences at Bristol, where we have supported women, at all stages of their career, through PhDs and PDRAs to esteemed Fellowships and into Lectureships.  We now have near gender-parity in every part of the professional, technical and academic part of the school, and at every career stage, from students to the most senior staff.  Nearly 50% of our Professors are women, a balance surpassing the vast majority of STEM departments in the country.  Similarly, we have a large and visible LGBTQ+ community, embraced by our colleagues, and transforming the image of our discipline.

However, the legacies of our discipline’s origins run deep; and, of course, gender diversity is only one aspect of a challenge that is profoundly intersectional. We refuse to be complacent and our successes in some areas highlight our shortcomings in others. We therefore commit to four main Themes for Action: Visibility, Equity, Agency and Anti-Racism.

Visibility: Our female staff are global leaders, serving as Presidents of international societies, winning accolades and advising governments. They are also visible in our teaching and leadership. But we must enhance the visibility of the specific issues they face; it is astonishing that only in the year 2019 has our discipline begun to publicly discuss the challenges of having periods during field work.  Similarly, we need to raise their profile amongst young people, ensuring that the Earth Sciences is seen as an inclusive destination for young women choosing their degrees.

Equity: Just because we have achieved gender diversity does not mean we have achieved equity. We recognise the unwritten hierarchies of academia and how that stifles debate, protest and progressive change. We will empower the voices of all staff and students in the School to advance their careers and safely advocate for change. Our governance will be open and transparent.

Agency: Intellectual freedom is often touted as one of the great benefits of an academic career, but true agency and independence can be reserved to the most senior and privileged of us. Early Career Researchers, especially in a highly competitive job market, feel that they have little power; even Lecturers feel compelled to prioritise some efforts over others in order to be promoted. We have created fora and representation for our PDRA community, helping them initiate change and create their own opportunities. And we have led in University efforts to reform the Promotions framework, such that it will soon recognise a wider range of contributions.

Anti-racism: Despite our gender and sexuality diversity, we have very low BAME diversity.  It is a well-documented problem for the entire discipline – as well as the wider environmental community. We have few BAME staff and no permanent BAME academic staff. Our support for BAME staff and students has been inconsistent. We are committed to engaging more broadly with society, diversifying our recruitment at all levels, and ensuring a safe and empowering environment for our students and staff.

The EDI Committee and the School are proud of what we have achieved, from developing the careers of many amazing women to creating a safe environment for our LGBTQ+ colleagues and collaborating with race equality champions in the city of Bristol.  However, we recognise that much remains to be done and we are committed to that positive action.

We will do this through culture and process, through training and policy change. Where we lack the power to directly change policy, we will advocate for that change with the University, government and funders. We commit to this as individuals and as a School.

What is Forceful Stewardship?

Since 2014 I have served on the Board of Preventable Surprises, a CIC devoted to challenging investors to better anticipate and address financial disasters arising from systemic risks such as climate change and biodiversity loss.  Founded by the inspiring Raj Thamotheram but supported by some of the world’s leading financial experts, it is dedicated to the concept of Forceful Stewardship, the active, disruptive and ethical (and occasionally radical) role that shareholders should take in their investments.  Crucially, we challenge large corporate and charity investors (including hedge funds and pension funds) to fulfill their legal obligations to their clients by adopting an active role in avoiding systemic risks either through shareholder engagement or divestment.  In doing so, we have widened the the ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) shareholder community.  But we also hold those investors accountable to their legal obligations and to their pledges, identifying patterns of inconsistent voting and problematic behaviour.

This is not an initiative I ever anticipated joining.  I am not an expert on finance and investment.  I am quite skeptical of the free market approach with which this project is inherently in dialogue.  I joined because it complemented the Divestment agenda of student colleagues at the University of Bristol and because it was an opportunity to modestly step into environmental activism and learn from that.

And it has achieved both of those goals.  Bristol was one of the first Universities to divest from fossil fuels, a journey bracketed by a 2015 pledge to carbon neutrality and the first academic declaration of a Climate Emergency in 2018.  Key to that was my involvement at PS and the insight it gave me into responsible investor behaviour. Organisations, including the University of Bristol, were countering the global divestment campaign by arguing, often cynically so, that more could be achieved by holding investments and serving as engaged stakeholders. However, few if any of them have the capacity – let alone the will – to act in such a manner. At Bristol, these discussions and an honest recognition of what we could achieve paved the path towards divestment as the ethical and appropriate alternative.

At the same time, Preventable Surprises helped me redefine the parameters of my own environmental activism, facilitating my shift from being a scientific expert politely contributing knowledge to policy debate but restrained from critiquing it to a far more radical view of directly challenging government failure to act on the Climate and Ecological Emergencies. In particular, it provided a gateway to activism because Preventable Surprises does not advocate for any particular solution or action, a more comfortable position for scientists who are reluctant to step outside of their area of expertise. Instead, PS advocates for investors to do no more than adhere to their legal obligations and their own pledges to ethical behaviour. My view towards activism has changed significantly over the past decade, and my involvement with Preventable Surprises has been central to that.

Below is some further information on Preventable Surprises and the Forceful Stewardship model it has championed for ethical investment.  And below that, some further personal reflections on what this approach can achieve and whether a more radical approach is needed. I think that I have probably given and learned as much as I can from this initiative.  I think that we are identifying the limits of what even the strongest free market interventions can hope to achieve.  I think I am ready for the next stage of my own social and environmental activism.  But responsible investment still has a crucial role to play.

From the Preventable Surprises website:

For many years, Preventable Surprises has been addressing financial disasters that investors could–and should–have seen coming. Concerns about BP’s safety record, the accounting practices of Tesco, sloppy mortgage lending–these were in the public domain for years before disaster struck. Preventable Surprises, a community interest company, is a ‘think-do’ tank that seeks to prevent, or at least mitigate, corporate and market implosions.

We work with a group of positive mavericks within the investment industry to persuade and cajole the financial sector to better address systemic risks. Using climate change as an example, we define systemic risks using three features:

  • They are pervasive and not confined to a sector or territory. The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board found that 72 of the 79 industries in the SASB classification system are affected by climate change.
  • They are non-linear with unpredictable tipping points. The long-term climate transition will almost certainly be volatile and messy. Global temperatures and rainfall may rise incrementally on average but extreme changes will be localised and deadly.
  • They are inter-related, making it impossible to predict the likelihood of Black Swan events.

While regulators, the media, NGOs and consumers each have a role to play in building a more transparent and sustainable market system, most of the power lies with corporations and their investors. Preventable Surprises focuses on institutional investors because, through the trillions of dollars in assets under their management, they have enabled corporate and market dysfunction. While this may be unintentional, the continuing damage caused to investors and to ecosystems in untenable.

Long-term investors cannot use stock-picking or hedging strategies to avoid systemic risk. In the case of climate change, institutional investors’ end beneficiaries will pay the price as the extent of portfolio risk is revealed. That is why investors must mitigate systemic risk through forceful stewardship. As fiduciaries, they must go beyond private engagement to publicly vote for resolutions at AGMs that force companies to align with the 2°C scenario envisaged in Paris.

Forceful stewardship complements the normal approach to responsible investing – in which traditional investment decision-making is overlaid with a filter for environmental, social and governance issues – by focusing on the rights that investors have as owners. But forceful stewards also go beyond private engagements with investee companies, which lack transparency and are hampered by conflicts of interest. Many of us and those we work with are deeply pro market. But as experienced insiders, we know there are many reasons why the financial industry ignores systemic risks, such as climate change, until it is too late.

“Forceful stewards” engage with companies, and use their full influence to make business part of the solution to address systemic risks. They vote for resolutions to send a public signal and thus to drive deeper and faster corporate change. And forceful stewards also engage with all the other players involved in investment – from research analysts to investment consultants to regulators – to ensure they, too, play their part in addressing systemic risks.

In summary, a forceful steward does three things:

  1. Indicates in advance a willingness to vote in favour of resolutions requesting action to address systemic risks, and to vote against management if the company has repeatedly failed to take action to limit systemic risk.
  2. Makes it clear in private engagements with board directors and senior executives that box ticking will not be sufficient; results matter and should match the urgency of the situation.
  3. Requires fund managers, sell-side research, credit rating agencies, and investment consultants to review corporate disclosures and advise on portfolio implications. And advocates for essential regulatory changes that align incentives in financial markets with risk mitigation and long-term wealth creation.

Why do I personally think that Forceful Stewardship is so important?

Forceful stewardship is not a participation prize for showing up.  It is not box ticking.  It is not about empty gestures, many of which cannot be evaluated. It demands action. It centres accountability.  I joined in 2014 but writing this in 2022, I look back on nearly a decade of Climate Emergencies, Pledges, Commitments to Net Zero – and despairingly little action towards those.  Words must precede action.

Our most successful campaign was the Missing 60, in which we identified the 60% of investors who had voted against climate risk resolutions for US companies but in favour of near-identical resolutions for European companies – simply because the former opposed those resolutions and the latter did not.  That is not leadership.  That is not accountability.  That is not the action of a fund manager acting in the best, well-informed interest of their clients.

Forceful stewards do not sit on the sidelines or follow the crowds.

But nor do Forceful Stewards dictate the nature of action.  Climate change is a challenge, but no one has a monopoly on the solution.  Arguably, inferred assumptions of what those solutions must be has been a major part of its politicisation – political divides around science have arisen not from the science itself (although it is not free from critique) but rather from ideological divides around free market vs government intervention.  I have my own opinions about what is needed to tackle a challenge of this magnitude and they do involve ‘big government’ interventions and multi-state coordination, but Preventable Surprises is not the forum for sharing those views.  It demands action but is agnostic to the political, behavioural, financial or technological action an organisation takes; it only demands that the action be legitimately engaged with the nature and magnitude of the systemic risks an organisation faces.

This approach has given Preventable Surprises legitimacy and influence in surprising places.

However, it also exposes the limitations of any approach that is embedded within the free market rather than challenging its existence. Corporate actions can be legitimate responses to the climate emergency but replicate other sector sins; copper and lithium mining and major hydro-energy projects can damage the environment and perpetuate inequality just a much as climate change can.

Their are limits to what the free market can achieve because the one thing it can never do is return power and wealth to others at its own expense. In fact to do so is in direct contradiction of the Preventable Surprises core approach – demanding that companies recognise climate change because climate change is a risk to the investment.

Those businesses might change but they will always extract.

Some final reflections

Many of my colleagues are very pro free market.   Or more precisely, they are in favour of the most noble possible vision of the free market.  Preventable Surprises aspires to make the most of our current socio-political system.  And inevitably, any solutions that arise from Preventable Surprises’ interventions will be market-driven ones.

I do not share that optimism. Those of you who follow this blog or my twitter account know that I am not ‘pro market.’  On some days I am quite skeptical of capitalism and other days I am anti-capitalist.

But I currently live in a capitalist country and capitalist forces shape the world.  Forceful Stewardship is about making that system work as ethically as it can.  Like the fossil fuel divestment campaigns, we understand that we are in the game and so we play the game.  I do not think that market solutions will solve the climate problem – and even if they did, I suspect they would give rise to an equally exploitative and colonial ‘green’ energy economy – but we do what we can within the constraints imposed upon us.

That is something.  We all do our best to make the world a better place. I am proud of what we have achieved.

But these campaigns have served another purpose – and this is why they are now serving as a springboard for a step change for my own environmental activism.  Divestment and shareholder activism are exposing the limits of what our current socio-economic system can achieve.  In striving to make the free market behave as ethically as possible, they spotlight its limitations.

When even best practice and the most well-meaning actors fail to create an environmentally and socially just world, then we have run out of excuses for avoiding far more radical change.

 

Complex Cities in an Uncertain World

My contribution to the Festival of Ideas sponsored Festival of the Future City 

Photo by David Iliff. License CC-BY-SA 3.0

Half of the planet lives in cities. By the middle of this century, that number will rise to nearly 75%, nearly 7 billion people. The decisions we make today will dictate whether those future cities are fit for purpose, whether they are just, sustainable, vibrant, resilient and pleasant. But those decisions must navigate an increasingly perilous web of urban complexity and global uncertainty.

The Nobel Prize winning physicist Niels Bohr famously said,  ‘Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future,’ a quote that recognises and subverts the very nature of the scientific endeavour. Scientists aspire to understand something well enough that we can predict what will happen under certain conditions in the future, whether it be a chemical reaction or nuclear fission – or administering a drug or raising interest rates. In fact, prediction is the basis for all decision makers, not just doctors and engineers but mayors, CEOs, teachers and you. Whether it is predicting when you will run out of bread or predicting whether a residential parking scheme will bring about a net positive change to a congested city, we all make decisions based on what we think is about to happen or will happen if we take an action. In a simple world, we barely need to think about these things because the pattern has been reproduced numerous times or the solution will clearly address the challenge.

But we do not live in a simple world. We live in a complex world – an astonishingly complex world in which the landscape is changing faster than our ability to map it.

People are complex: our emotions, motivations, desires and fears make us notoriously (and wonderfully) difficult to understand and predict. Society is complex: our communities, whether they be geographical, historical, ethnic or religious, interact in marvellously messy ways. And most of all, our cities are complex. Beautifully, fantastically, unpredictably, frustratingly and vibrantly complex. Cities represent tens or hundreds or even thousands of years of ad hoc expansion, destruction and redevelopment; the accumulation of technological and infrastructural strata, from ancient paths, to great roads, to modern electrical grids, to smart city digital networks; and vast demographic changes including an aging population, migration, globalisation and a frightening increase in social inequality.

That is just the complexity within a city, but cities are not isolated from the rest of the world. They are nodes within a vast and increasingly complex global supply chain on which we depend for everything from our food and electricity to our culture and entertainment.

And adding yet additional layers of complexity are our global environmental and societal challenges. We are warming the planet and depleting it of vital resources. Those would be challenging enough given the complex interdependencies that now define 21st century society. Unfortunately, global warming could change our planet in ways that are unique in human history and possibly geological history. We have not experienced and our models cannot fully constrain this uncertain world. Forecasts for rainfall patterns, extreme weather events or food production are fraught with uncertainty – and by extension, so are forecasts for political insecurity and financial markets.

How does the complexity intersect and overlap, how do these systems merge, either dampening or enhancing their collective impacts? How will climate change and food insecurity, for example, exacerbate inequality? We do have tools for navigating these complex systems – ranging from cognitive shortcuts in decision making to community histories to sophisticated models. However, those are almost all based on experience, and experience loses value when the ground rules are changed. Our vast experiment with the Earth’s climate and ecosystem – making our world not just complex but complex and uncertain – makes it harder for scientists to predict the future, decision makers to plan and individuals to act with creative and empowering agency.

Of course, complexity need not be bad. Complexity and change can bring about positive challenges, shaking us out of complacency and inspiring creativity. Perhaps even more inspiring, complexity could be harnessed as a tool for connection rather than isolation. Although our interdependence makes us particularly vulnerable to conflict or instability on the far side of the planet, it also makes us all invested in one another’s lives. This also applies to the urban scale as exemplified by Bristol is Open, in which an additional layer of complexity – a publicly shared digital infrastructure managed by a smart city operating system – could generate new platforms for social cohesion. It could be a new set of cross-city linkages, a digital commons, or a shared lab for city-scale experimentation in which all of us are the scientists.

Ensuring how our complex cities thrive in an uncertain world is a rather exciting challenge that will likely require a range of solutions. During the Festival of the Future City we will explore both what it means to be a citizen in a complex city, how we navigate that complexity both on a personal and societal scale, and the new technologies that create both new challenges and new opportunities. In some cases, we should avoid unnecessary uncertainty, such as potentially devastating climate change. In others, we should harness the social and economic opportunities it presents. But in all cases, we ourselves must change. A more complex world requires a more resilient citizen or community, one that is empowered to learn, to improvise and to create.

Promethean – the Power of Fossil Fuel

What is our insatiable lust for fossil fuels if not our own innate heterotrophy gone mad.  Its a societal scale expression of our own metabolism.

 

 

Work is the energy transferred to or from an object via the application of force along a displacement. It is represented by joules.

Power is joules *per second*, in other words, it is energy transferred over time.

You can cook that chicken slowly in the oven, transferring energy slowly. Or you can slap all that energy into a chicken instantly! That is power.

Coal, oil and gas store a lot of energy. But also, via combustion, that energy can be released fast.

That power is great for driving cars but also tractors, airplanes, massive shipping vessels. And for heating iron fast enough to melt it and to make steel.

The fossil fuel era must end. Urgently. ~4 billion years of life on Earth bequeathed us a fantastic source of energy and power.

But sucking it out of the ground or digging it up did not ask much of human creativity. We exploited it rather than leveraging it for tomorrow.

To move past fossil fuels, we must recognise that alternatives exist but not pretend they are easy. It requires creativity, ingenuity, investment and change.

We should have started long ago. We accelerate now. We can do this but we have to move with far greater urgency.

From Andrew Dressler: “Filling a 20-gallon tank in 4 min. corresponds to 2.6 GJ of energy in 240 sec. That means that, when you fill your car’s tank, you’re putting energy in at a rate of 10 MW!  Given that the fastest EV chargers provide energy at a rate of ~250 kW, this means that EV’s (at best) take on power at a rate around 1/40th as fast as you put gas in your car.  This might sound like an unbeatable advantage for gas, but it’s not for 2 reasons. First, cars are very inefficient — for every 5 J of energy you put in the tank, only ~1 J goes to drive the wheels. The other 4 J are ejected out the tailpipe as heat. For EVs, nearly 100% of the joules of energy you put into the battery end up driving the wheels. Thus, the real comparison is 20% of 10 MW = 2 MW vs. 250 kW. This might still seem like a big deal, but it’s not because … The second reason this is not a big deal is that (for most people): you leave your home every morning with a full battery and you recharge overnight (at around 10 kW) while you sleep. As long as you’re just driving around town, you never have to spend time refueling.”

The Environment Movement must centre equity, inclusion and our emotions (mainly love but not only love)

Weekend pondering at 420 ppm CO2 as COP15 starts and COP26 is on the immediate horizon. I’m  not an expert on theory of change, but here are my best guesses at tackling the #Ecological Emergency and the  #ClimateEmergency

1) If we do not centre equity, justice and decolonisation, our zero carbon lifestyle will be just as destructive as this one.

2) We will need to upscale current technologies and develop new ones; but it won’t be enough. Tech bro wannabe saviours need to check their egos.

3) Many of us must change our lifestyles; but we must ask that with empathy. It will be liberating for some and painful for others.

4) I trust communities more than politicians to lead the way. I trust cities more than nations. But we’ll need all of them.

5) I do not think capitalism can get it done. I don’t. But it’s the prevailing ideology now, so I expect those institutions to fucking try. Businesses.  Investors.  Political Enablers.  Media Enablers.  Educational Enablers.  If you are not ready to throw out the system, then you have the primary obligation to ensure the system does not kill us, does not destroy the environment, does not perpetuate racism.  We’re all locked into the system – for now – but we do not have to be complicit.

6) Even if you’re not protesting, thank those who do. The changes needed are too bold, too big to achieve without determined activism.

[I think there is much to unpack here with the word protest. But I would like to make one based on the theme of this entire list. There is no single solution. Similarly, there is no single form of appropriate protest. All protests have happened across a spectrum of disruption. Arguably, the most disruptive protests force the establishment to engage with the more polite ones. I do not know. But I think if our premise is there is a right and a wrong form of protest we do not understand how a movement collectively affects change. This is especially relevant given global efforts to criminalise and control protest, which is why we wrote this: theguardian.com/environment/20]

7) This challenge is so pervasive that everyone can contribute by doing what they love – science, art, journalism, politics, music, finance.

8) Love will be the most important driver. But we’ll often need to embrace the power of our anger and sorrow.

9) We’ve all got something to offer. Conversely, no one person or one idea will be the saviour. Set aside ego and embrace community and inclusivity.

An even 10: We cannot stop environmental destruction without a love for humanity. We are as much of nature as ants, trees, lichen & bacteria. Our lifestyles cause harm, but we’ve also created beauty and discovered wonder. All of us and all yet to be born are worthy of saving.

Image
Wildflower Meadow on the campus of the University of Bristol, specifically designed to support pollinator biodiversity. Beauty is everywhere, if we choose to see it, if we choose to nurture it.

 

How can Bristol lead on Climate Action after COP26?

In 2015, I joined the Bristol delegation to COP21 in Paris, where the world agreed to limit warming to less than 2C and aspired to limit warming to 1.5C.

Six years later, COP26 comes to the UK, and delayed by Covid, it comes in the aftermath of an IPCC report that starkly highlights how inadequate our efforts have been to meet those Paris 2015 aspirations.

The Step Change Yet to Happen

It would be a mistake to argue that nothing was achieved in Paris.  The agreement – and the subsequent increase in ambition of the UK Climate Change Act to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 – appears to have had an impact on governments and legal decisions. Although the declaration of Climate Emergencies, starting in Bristol and spreading widely, is largely symbolic, the political recognition of climate change and on-the-record commitment to decarbonisation exerts a pressure on policy.  Most obviously, it has (for the time being) prevented the expansion of both Bristol and London Airports.  These government commitments have also exerted pressure on energy infrastructure and contributed to the UK’s decreasing carbon emissions. Globally, even though CO2 emissions and concentrations continue to climb, they are ever so slowly bending away from the worst case scenario, which tellingly was once called the Business as Usual scenario.

Most importantly, however, the Paris Agreement has invited and legitimised a long overdue surge in activism.  Friday Strikes, marches, and rallies on College Green as well as the more disruptive interventions of XR have forced climate action onto the media and political agenda.  We also see this in the more activist intervention of climate scientists.  Our activism is not just driven by government inaction on our warnings for over 50 years, but also because those same governments have now established their objectives in law and international agreements. Is taking to the streets really ‘activism’ if it is just asking governments to do what they are legally as well as morally compelled to do – by their very own admission?

But let’s not deceive ourselves.  By necessity the Paris Agreement was non-binding.  Globally, emissions still increase; bending away from 5C of warming to perhaps 3C of warming is not reassuring.  Moreover, very little meaningful – transformative – change has happened. We have achieved a decrease in emissions and that is cause for some celebration.  But that has largely been achieved by switching from coal to gas,  but we still fundamentally rely on burning things to generate our heat, electricity and transport.  We have made incremental gains by grabbing the low-hanging fruit.  This is true of the UK and it is true of Bristol. And our delays mean that the window of time for driving emissions to zero has shrunk dramatically.  Even the most optimistic scenarios of the most recent IPCC report lean heavily on carbon capture.

Community Collaboration and Action 

As we approach COP26, therefore, where can Bristol lead? Are we powerless as a city if national governments fail to act?

In this it is worth reflecting why Bristol was awarded the Green Capital honour for 2015.  It was largely because of the number and variety of organisations, from volunteer groups of 2 to 3 people to civil society organisations and CICs to charities to businesses and to local government, united in their pursuit of an environmentally sustainable future.  Bristol cannot solve climate change but it can show the world that we are not powerless in the face of national government prevarication. Too often the climate debate is split between those arguing for individual action vs structural change at a national level.  Not only is this a false dichotomy (clearly we need both), but more importantly it misses the most important agent of change: communities.

Communities amplify individual action.

Communities create pressure for wider political change.

Communities come up with novel solutions and the solutions that will be most effective for them.  In doing so, they learn fast, learn hard, fail, learn again.  And then they share.

Climate Action that Centres Environmental and Social Justice

Community leadership and collaboration is also vital in addressing the other major theme that has emerged in the climate movement since COP21: It is not just about the climate.  Of course, we always knew this, but the past five years of Ecological Emergencies and Black Lives Matter have shown starkly that nothing exists in isolation.  We must not devastate nature to achieve our climate solutions, i.e. by taking land from wildlife and devoting it to the capture of carbon.  We must not ignore the injustices of climate change or the potential injustices of our environmental solutions; fossil fuel colonialism must not be replaced by green colonialism just so we can continue exactly as we always have, albeit in electric cars.

Bristol can do this.

Through the Green Capital Partnership but not only the partnership, we have the capacity to connect, cooperate and mobilise.  The Black and Green Ambassadors, for example, have challenged organisations to recognise their lack of racial diversity and inclusion as well as its consequences; and they have supported those organisations to become stronger by addressing those issues. Crucially, although the Ambassadors Programme was successful, we never forgot that it was not about our ego but about community, it was not about promoting itself but rather celebrating the fact that Bristol’s Black community was already active and engaged in environmental issues.  It elevated those groups and challenged other organisations, including my own, to recognise that the lack of engagement from the black community with our initiatives did not mean that they were not leading their own.

Photo of two generations of Black and Green Ambassadors!

I can give so many other examples: Voscur, Ujima Radio, Black 2 Nature, Avon Wildlife Trust, Locality, Babbasa, the Black Southwest Network, the Bristol Zoo, 91 Ways, the Bristol Energy Network, Bristol Ideas, Feeding Bristol…  I am so impressed by what they have accomplished, while being supported by Bristol City Council in concept but largely starved of funds by nearly a decade of austerity.  They have championed projects in a profoundly intersectional manner, decreasing carbon footprints while alleviating fuel poverty, growing food while creating green spaces in marginalised neighbourhoods. What could they achieve with empowerment and a sustainable budget?  What new transport schemes, community energy projects, car or tool sharing, allotments, youth training, community gardens and more could they bring to our city if they were supported with finances and freedom that matched their passion??

As COP26 approaches, I have expectations for our national government, our regional authority, Bristol City Council and the Mayor. But for Bristol as a city, my hope is that its citizens are afforded the opportunity to do what they have always done: argue but also collaborate; innovate and fail but also succeed and create; and then share.

 

Past Climates, Extreme Futures and Communication

Anthropogenic climate change will be devastating.  Devastating.

But I do not think scientists are communicating just how devastating it could be.  Typically, we communicate with an IPCC approach, in which scientists like me provide policy makers and the world our very very best understanding of what is likely to happen. On the other hand, there is a growing group of so-called “doomer messages” in which the worst scenarios are deemed inevitable.

Neither is true.

A few weeks ago, I got this draft for a press release on our paper exploring how Co2 decline caused cooling and growth of the Antarctic ice sheet across the Eocene-Oligocene boundary about 30 million years ago. The news item led with: “Scientists have discovered that a decline in CO2 cooled the Earth’s climate over 30 million years ago. However the Earth’s transition from greenhouse to icehouse could be partially reversed in the next centuries due to the anthropogenic rise in CO2.”

Oh, I thought. The word ‘could’ is doing some damned heavy lifting in that second sentence.

Our future climate forecasting tends to focus on the next 100 years, framed by IPCC, itself framed by timelines thought to be at least somewhat relevant to policy makers and the public.  On those timescales we expect minimal ice sheet melting (about 1 to 1.5 m) even under the most severe global warming scenarios. Moreover, the few studies that have projected the fate of ice sheets beyond 2100 generally show them to be persistent and sea level rise to be modest (2-5 m). There are solid scientific reasons to think this. Ice sheets, once built, are hard to melt, a concept called hysterisis; and ice sheet hysterisis could be particularly strong due to the fact that ice sheets are high (such that temperatures at their surface are lower than they would be at ground level), future projections suggest more snow accumulating at their surface, and the presence of the ice sheet itself cools the region and planet via its high albedo.

But.

They could melt in the coming centuries at very high CO2 levels.

They could.

They could.

At about the same time, I had written a twitter rant that was inspired by the same frustration.

“I’m done fucking about with climate change messaging. Action is going too slowly. Despite heat waves, wildfires, floods and death, our governments are strutting towards #COP26 with proposals that are insultingly incremental.  Not only is this a moral failure in light of what is likely to happen, it is an existential gamble given what *could* happen. The @IPCC_CH  report is imminent and it will outline both likely and extreme possibilities, but the Summary for Policy Makers will emphasise the likely rather than the low probability risks. As scientists, we are doing our best to determine what will likely happen given certain emissions trajectories. But as a communicator, I must become more assertive about what *could* happen. Extreme risks – possible and devastating even if unlikely – must dictate our urgency.

If playing Russian Roulette, you focus on the damned bullet; you don’t ignore it because it is only a 15% probability event.”

It could happen.

It could happen.

Three million years ago, the Earth’s CO2 level was around 400 ppm, levels similar to those of today. And sea level was perhaps 20 m higher, due to significant contraction of the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheets.

Prior to 35 million years ago, CO2 levels were around 800 ppm, levels that we could attain by the end of this century.  And sea level was about 100 m higher than it is today, in part due to the near complete absence of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

Rarely in Earth history have ice sheets been able to persist under the energy balance of a high greenhouse gas world.  And therefore, our continued injection of fossil carbon into the atmosphere will almost certainly bring about the demise of our current ice sheets and cause catastrophic sea level rise. The only question is when.  We think it will happen in a few thousand years.

It could happen in the coming centuries.

It *could* happen.

And of course that is not the only possible consequence of rapid global warming.  In the same twitter thread, I wrote: “As permafrost thaws, much of the released methane will be oxidised to CO2; much of the carbon will be washed to and buried in the Arctic Ocean. But there is a risk that much of it will be mobilised into the atmosphere ramping up warming not just by a little but by a lot. Polar warming could happen faster than forecast. Droughts and famines could be more widespread. Food security could disappear. Reefs are forecast to die at 2C warming, devastating fisheries.”

In the same week, another paper also drew on the geological record of Earth, exploring how the rate of climate change affected extinction rates.  They concluded that: “A temperature increase of 5.2 °C above the pre-industrial level at present rates of increase would likely result in mass extinction comparable to that of the major Phanerozoic events, even without other, non-climatic anthropogenic impacts.”

5.2 °C at present rates is rather unlikely, given trends in the economy, energy production and increasing costs of extracting fossil fuels.  But it could happen.  We could find ways to access other fossil carbon cheaply.  Climate sensitivity could be higher than we think.  Those permafrost and other carbon cycle feedbacks could be larger than we think. 5.2 °C of warming could happen.

We have not internalised these existential risks yet.

Instead, we are acting like global warming is something best to be avoided due to its catastrophic nature and to which we must prepare to adapt – because that is what the likely scenarios suggest.

We are not acting like this is an existential crisis, not necessarily one that will cause humanity to go extinct but one that is damn near that.  A crisis that will be devastating for our society, our civilization and our planet.

And these are not one in a million risks but one in a hundred or one in ten risks. Again, I say: “If playing Russian Roulette, you focus on the damned bullet; you don’t ignore it because it is only a 15% probability event.”

But that is a bad analogy; because with climate change every chamber has a bullet, just some are worse than others.

We are playing Russian Roulette with our planet.

We are playing Russian Roulette with our children.

With a loaded gun.

Our society must put down the fucking gun.

 

Working Class in Academia

A few months ago I wrote this, about the challenges of being working class and the obstacles we face in our careers. I wrote that with one purpose – to explain that those of us who have “made it” did so with some intelligence and hard work but mostly luck.  I wrote this to dismantle the flawed and perniciaous myths of social mobility and meritocracy.

Today I write not about how us lucky ones got to academia but how it treated us once we arrived, once we’ve “made it”.

That’s the other myth – you never “make it”.  The legacy of working class never leaves.  It manifests in all sorts of different ways – from overcompensation to forever feeling an outsider.   But it persists.

I need to be careful here.  The white working class male will certainly pass in academica, and our working class upbringing can eventually fade into an upper middle class income and lifestyle.  I might have dodgy teeth and be betrayed by accents or manners, but even working class social awkwardness can be disguised as academic awkwardness.

We can pass.

So let’s not pretend our burdens are the same as black scholars or women or any minoritised group who cannot simply change the nature of their ‘otherness’ in academic circles. Let’s not pretend that working class obstacles persist and shape our careers to the same degree as race and gender and disability, when many of our obstacles are eliminated with job security and a promotion. Let’s not ignore the intersection of those prejudices.

But nevertheless, no matter what happens in your life you never fully escape your origins.

Precarity

The academic career is unusually precarious.  Financial precarity amplifies that.  Dramatically.

But it is complicated. My meager PhD stipend was actually the most money I had my entire life; for the first time in my life, I had disposable income.  For the first time in my life, I could go out to eat and join in social activities.  Because I knew how to save money and knew how to get by on inexpensive food or cheap accommodation or was willing to house share, I knew how to make that stipend last.

I was also very lucky in avoiding the precarity of the academic bottleneck between PhD, postdoc and permanent job.  I had my post-doc arranged when I finished my PhD; I had procured an assistant professorship post before I finished my post-doc. But I was lucky.  I was lucky with those jobs and that job market.  I was lucky in that both my PhD and Postdoc supervisors were well-known, respected and well-funded – providing a financial safety net as I navigated the challenging job market. And also, let’s be honest, those academic pedigrees unfairly advantaged me in getting my job at Bristol.  I had lucked into the right choices that helped me win a rigged game.

But precarity is real.  And is worse now than ever.  It takes longer to get a job: more time living under a cloud of uncertainty; more time waiting to buy a home or start a family; more time doing more jobs, different jobs, learning group dynamics, maybe moving- often internationally – with financial and emotional costs.  And that means more work, trying to keep up, trying to maintain your ‘productivity’ while figuring out new personalities and friendships, how to order pipettes in a new lab, get a visa or navigate a new country’s rental market.  At the same time, contracts seem to be getting shorter, requiring more uncertainty, more movement, more working on papers while unpaid, more exploitation.

The lack of a financial safety net exacerbates all of that.  It is harder to move around and follow jobs.  It is harder to start a family.  It is impossible to wait around between postdoc contracts; instead of writing papers between contracts, you get a job at a cafe.  You pay rent rather than paying off a mortgage, ensuring that at least some of that financial precarity follows you your entire life.

But the worst part of that precarity is its emotional toll – the uncertainty, the fear and the fact that so many people in academia do not understand it.

Despite my good fortune, this uncertainty haunted my career.  I remember confiding in a trusted mentor, someone who I respect as much as anyone in my life, and they replied:  ‘If you’re good, you’ll get a job.’  And as much as I respected them, in that moment I knew there was one chasm they’d never understand, having come from a middle class family of academics.  They could have empathy but never truly understand 1st generation fear and 1st generation risk.  And they’d never fully understand the one thing that poor people understand perfectly: you can be amazing and still fail.

And whether intentional or inadvertent, whether individual or systemic, this means that academia exploits us.

The Academic System will never stop exploiting Early Career Researchers

I love this career.  I love discovery.  I love finding new molecules or biosynthetic pathways or microbial adaptations.  I love using those insights to discover something new about our Earth.  And I just love reading about and discussing other people’s ideas and discoveries.  And I love teaching and mentoring and supporting colleagues.

And when you love your job so much that it is a career, love your career so much that it is part of your identity, you will be exploited.  The system – employers, the sector, funders – cannot help it.  Even the kindest, most benevolent line managers cannot help it.  As a Head of School, I do it.  And it comes down to this:

In a market with limited opportunities, where success is 90% down to luck, where the competitors all have intelligence and passion, the only thing that you have any real control over is how hard you work.

You cannot change the results of your experiments, the capabilities of your instruments (within reason), the jobs available.  You cannot change your gender or skin colour.

But you can volunteer to teach one more class or serve on one more committee.  You can come in on the weekend to generate one more finding for one more paper.  If no jobs are available you can write your own Fellowship application.  And those all will help and they will give you a sense of agency in a world in which you have so little control.  And it is exploitation.  It is.  And I don’t know how to change it.

What I will say is this: If you get the job you dreamt of, you are brilliant and lucky; and if you do not, it is because you are brilliant and unlucky.  But also: that we have trained you to have limited dreams.  Perhaps the academic dream is your true calling, but know that your brilliance and skills are valued and will be valued in places and by people you have yet to dream of.

The academic system will never stop exploiting you and especially your need for validation.

Almost everyone I know has imposter syndrome.  It is worse in minoritised, women, working class academics.  But it is widespread.  We all doubt ourselves and our achievements.  When we are at the start of our career, we are desperate to prove ourselves.  In the middle of our career, we are anxious that our peers do not respect our achievements.  At the end of our careers, we worry about losing our edge, being washed up, old news.

Imposter syndrome is an anxiety disorder that most of us face because of the conflicts between our self-doubt and ambition.

But more fundamentally, it is a direct consequence of a system that wants us to doubt ourselves and wants us to continually seek affirmation.  Invited Talks, Fellowships, Prizes, High Impact Papers, Citations, H-indices.  So many metrics.  Most Universities literally have ‘Esteem Indicators’ as part of our Promotions criteria.  And this eats at all of us.  It makes us lose sleep and have anxiety disorders.  It makes us check Google Scholar or bristle with envy when our friends when a prize or get a high profile paper.  I’ve seen staff dangle the promise of jobs in front of ECRs and I’ve seen Fellows of esteemed societies dangle the promise of legacy and esteem.  I’ve seen an FRS threaten Heads of School and Deans if they fail to comply with their requests.

This all works.

Because we have drunk the Kool Aid of exceptionalism.

And it is bullshit because so much of it is out of our control.  Fellowships are ridiculously competitive, historically sexist, and still rather arbitrary (especially in who nominates us).  Many of our best discoveries are accidental.  Many of our most planned discoveries would have been discovered a year later by someone else but we got lucky and sorted it first. Yes, there is planning and vision and leadership.  But you can labour for years, building a team, an international consortium, to tackle a critical problem and still fail to get funding.  Or get the funding and just not find anything interesting.

So just like that postdoc desperate for a job, we do the one thing that is under our control.  We work harder.

Longer hours. Weekends. And our institutions happily accept the generosity of our donated labour.

And it is getting worse. Universities are now financially dependent on high fee-paying overseas students, making them financially dependent on global league tables, creating a continuous pressure on performance, production, excellence, and metrics metrics metrics.

My School does well in these tables.  We do not brag publicly about it, because we know that these are flawed and we won’t let our self-worth be based on them. Most of all, we refuse to treat the scientific endeavour – the collaborative quest for knowledge – as a competition.  But quietly, amongst ourselves, especially on difficult days, we do allow that success to tell us ‘We’re doing something right.  And that is nice.’  And even that modest acquiescence to be a ‘world-leading department’ puts a huge amount of stress on nearly every one of my colleagues.  And as Head of School, no matter how much I support and reassure my staff that we are doing okay, to be kind to ourselves, that we support one another no matter what – the relief I can provide from that desperate desire to be excellent is fleeting and incremental.

Because we’ve drunk the Kool Aid.  Even as I sit here, typing this, rejecting this narrative, I feel it.  What papers can I push out; what grants can I be writing; what more do I have to prove.  I can sit here writing that I reject this system and still feel bitter that I was not nominated for an award, recognised by some esteemed society, invited to give a talk by my colleagues.

So where does the working class academic (or racial minority or feminist) aspect come into all of this?

Because we have been programmed for this bullshit for our entire goddamned lives.

Working class kids have to put in long hours just so our families survive, creating working patterns that are then exploited by employers the rest of our lives.  I worked on the farm from when I was seven, and had a part-time job from when I was 16.

But of course, social mobility says that working at that rate is just baseline.  If you want to really succeed, you must work hard enough to be extraordinary.  Are you doing okay?  Work harder and be better than average.  Are you doing well?  Work harder and be the best.  Be better than the best. That is how you escape poverty – be the best athlete, pianist or scholar.  Win. Break records.  Never stop; never rest.  Or someone else will take your spot.

Fuck me, I have been living in this mindset for over 40 years.

You’ll never fit in

I’m lucky.  I’m a geologist and our discipline, even in the ivory tower, rejects most pretensions. We wear shorts and t-shirts.  We drink wine but also beer.  We understand that on a field course, all of us had to find a tree to piss behind.  I’m not sure I could have survived in a different discipline.

One of my favourite examples of this comes from my favourite Organic Geochemistry conference.  I was quite anxious about attending my first one as it was a small, intimate conference. Aside from the academic anxiety of always being ‘on’, with effervescing conversations about the state of the discipline at breakfast, lunch and dinner, I was anxious about whether this working class kid could fit into the social norms.  I was particularly anxious because at that time, a tradition was a wine tasting.  I was a beer-drinking wine illiterate (I’m now a near-teetotal wine illiterate).  But.  There were so many friendly layers of subversion.  The organisers were kind, patient and happy to teach.  They grudgingly accepted the insurrection from those who would try to win with the cheapest off-brand wine they could find.  Many opted out.  Of course, in later years, it faded as we recognised that alcohol-centrism was inappropriate.

But I look at those moments of understanding and insurrection as signs of hope and change. In other contexts, I did feel like a redneck and a fool; but I gained strength knowing that these were far from universal.  Being an American in the UK gave another line of protection, as my cultural ignorance was hard to pin down.  Mostly, I found oases of friendships, departments, research groups and disciplines where comportment, elocution, fashion and appearance (all part of someone else’s imagined ideal of etiquette) were just not that important.

And yet… I was also told not so long ago that I would have an uphill climb to become a Fellow of the Royal Society because I lacked a ‘certain gravitas.’  What the fuck do y’all think that was referring to??

So… we never entirely fit it.

And… most of us will never again fit in at home.  

Academia makes you move away from home. We have become so much more sophisticated in rejecting the narrative that postdocs must move every year or two years.  Nonetheless, the numbers do not work in your favour if you want a University or research institute job near your home town.  Most of us move across the country; many of us move to other countries.  We move away from home, from our friends and families, from the familiar places.  That is an adventure, but it comes with consequences.

Of course, if you are working class, you have not just moved far from home physically you have likely moved far, very far from your family culturally.  You have different life experiences, you often adopt different politics a different world view.  Often, you adopt different values.

The first summer after University, I returned home and my job as a stockboy in the local supermarket.  My family and friends jokingly called me ‘College Boy.’  It wasn’t mean; it was friendly and filled with pride.  Ten years later, our conversations had become reminiscing and awkward silences.  Twenty years later, we fight.

I’m glad that I have changed.  I am glad that I have awoken to the racism and bigotry that lurked in our conversations. I am glad that I now see the struggle of Black people and immigrants as different versions of class struggle, and I am glad that I consider this while understanding intersectionality and my own privilege.

But sometimes the disconnection that comes from moving so very far away, geographically as well as culturally and politically, is overwhelming.

Early career working class academics, I need you to understand this:  At times in your lives you will feel terribly painfully alone.  Not always; you will meet and love amazing people.  But there will be times.

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Academia isn’t special.  It is a business.  In a capitalist society, it exists to make money and it makes money by exploiting its work force and its customers.  I am grateful that I work in an institution where my bosses are kind. But they cannot change the fundamentals of a market-driven sector.  That sector exploits us.  And it especially exploits our insecurities, anxiety and fear. And given how anxiety and fear are inequitably woven through society, through class and race and disability and gender, Universities exploit unfairly and with discrimination.

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I’ve learned from speaking about climate change, that it is not enough to talk about problems without also talking about solutions.  I’ve got no easy solutions but here are some thoughts.

In building a career, build something more than a career. Build friendships and relationships, with peers and colleagues, those in other disciplines, your partners in society.  Build knowledge and wonder, learn, discover. But be careful.  Those approaches can degrade work-life balance. And they can create an even greater dependency on your career.  So do not spin a web that traps you but build relationships that support you and lifelines that can rescue you.

Do not work long hours or weekends.  Of course, do so sometimes, when running an overnight experiment or racing to meet the occasional deadline.  But do not overwork as a habit.  I understand the temptation. I do.  And resisting it is hard.  But it will not make a difference. One more paper will not make a difference.  It will not help you get a job, when luck is so important.  It won’t solve your anxiety or imposter syndrome.  And in all likelihood your overall productivity will be greater if you maintain a healthier balance of all aspects of your life.

What is far more valuable – and it is a quality that many working class people have in abundance – is persistence. I do not mean only the potentially toxic persistence of sticking with a career and precarious roles if the associated job uncertainty is undermining your wider life.  Instead, it is the persistence to re-run experiments when they fail, to resubmit papers that are rejected, to resubmit Fellowship applications that are declined.  Working class or not, academia is characterised by more rejections than successes, and our ability to take the hit, allow ourselves a finite period of justified sadness or anger, and then quickly getting right back in the game is essential. I cannot count the times my Mom either literally of figuratively made be get back on that horse. You can resubmit that rejected paper in a few days or a month or it can simmer on your laptop for three years, causing anxiety whenever you think about it.  (As a corollary and to *everyone else in academia* – be fucking kind in those rejections.  We are asking people to be persistent not resilient in the face of our toxicity.)

If you are going to work those extra hours, however, then damn it, put that extra labour into what you love, what you want to.  If the system is exploitative, at least the academic system is one in which you have some modicum of control over how you will be exploited.  If your desperation forces you to work weekends, work less on productivity, less on one more publication, but instead read a paper, discover or share something new, find or share some wonder in this collective endeavour of knowledge. It is giving in to the system, but it is also owning your agency.

To do this, you need to find the means to make decisions based on your values, not the values of everyone  and everything that surrounds you.

You must quiet that noise and discover what it is about your career that is really really important to you.  And you must not confuse that with what you have been taught is important, what societies and awards say is important, what appears important to your friends and colleagues and peers. What academia is continuously telling you has value and what does not.  If you know yourself, use that to dismiss all of the extraneous bullshit and centre what you value and enjoy; and then use that to prioritise your efforts, empower your decisions.  And do that at every single stage of your life.

And… seek help in navigating those decisions.  I’ve never had counselling despite guiding so many friends, colleagues and students in that direction.  I need to have some.  I should have had some in college, when I had anger issues, when I self-harmed through sports and fights.  I should have had some as a working class academic, whose marriage collapsed, who put my great capacity for love and compassion into projects rather than friendships.  I should have some now as a Head of School, dealing with multiple crises in our sector, distraught students, stressed staff and frustrations at an unfair world and incompetent leadership.  Writing this blog is a poor substitute for that.

But I never had the money, and when I had the money I “never had time”.  And talking to counselors is just not what we do, not us working class farm kids from Ohio.  So I’ll make you a deal.  I will find the time and reject my deeply ingrained biases to ask for help.  If you promise to do the same.

 

And finally: I love academia.  It is a great career, filled with intellectual flexibility, creativity, collaboration and the joy of discovery. These blogs are not meant to say otherwise; rather, they are a corrective to the myth that academia is an ideal career, based solely on merit and without flaw.  We can hold simultaneous truths, loving something while wanting it to improve.  Along those lines, I once promised a PhD student that I would never offer them advice about how to navigate a flawed and exploitative system, without also committing to change it.  And I do commit to changing this, to minimising exploitation and creating more oases where those who do not fit the typical academic profile can find homes.  And ultimately, I commit to destroying the very idea of a typical academic.  And together, we can commit to revolution and real fundamental change.

A message from a working class academic

Still a working draft, but thought I’d share anyway:

Friends, I think it is long past time for those of us from working class backgrounds but have been lucky enough to find success to start sharing our stories.

All of us have witnessed tragedy after tragedy after tragedy, with the poor always being most impacted. We know that most if not all of these tragedies could have been prevented.  And we know that prior to these tragedies, the concerns of the poor were ignored or mocked. From the lead-contaminated drinking water of Flint to the Grenfell fire to the devastation of Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria, poor suffer our society’s greatest tragedies not just because they have fewer resources to escape these conditions but because society has systematically ignored their concerns and actively failed them.

These examples are the norm not the exception, and in one form or another they impact every single person living in poverty – or trying to escape from it.

Those who have not experienced poverty do not understand the numerous ways in society holds back the poor.  How our systems exacerbate rather than ameliorate this inequality.  How talent and beauty thrives amongst all parts of society but is only uplifted for some, is marginalised for others and for many is ultimately snuffed out.

And when the poor go onto success in academia, industry, the media or politics we too often hide it.  Or we are held up as examples that ‘the system works.’

So I am going to share some of my own experiences with you.

I grew up on a farm and we were poor. We had third-hand clothes, second-hand cars and periods without hot water. To make ends meet, my dad also had a part-time job and my mom had a full time job. But – and this is so very very important – we had it better than most people living in poverty. On a farm, you have food. And long-term housing. We had some relatives who were better off financially and that helped (My Aunt Barb and Uncle Roy got my brother and me wonderful and essential winter coats one year…)

Also: I’m white.  And a male.  And straight. And grew up in the wealthiest nation on Earth.

In other words, these examples only scratch the surface of the challenges faced by many in poverty.  I had it relatively easy, had a lot of luck, a huge amount of support – and I barely made it.  And this is what I learned on the way.

 

Poor lives are expendable

Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in America.  While I was growing up, I knew an Amish kid who suffocated in a silo.  A family friend lost his hand.  The father of a friend lost his arm.  One of my brother’s friends died when his arms were torn out, caught in a silage shredder.

And once.

My mom’s hair was caught in the tractor’s power take off shaft.  She was working alone.  In a field.  A mile from home.  It pulled out all of her hair and separated her scalp from her skull.  It was a miracle she survived. I remember coming home from School and finding her alone in bed, the lights off, the window shades drawn… a bag of her hair on the dresser.  I made sure she was okay. And then I went to do my homework.

Small family farming is not a great career from which to draw examples of worker’s rights – on a small farm, you are CEO, foreman and labourer.  (But industrial farming certainly is – it is profoundly exploitative and hides behind the family farm myth to justify it.) But it illustrates that when you are poor, you live on a more dangerous edge.  You compromise on safety because if you don’t, you cannot pay your mortgage.

So when wealthy landlords or employers or city councils or politicians cut corners, exploit their workers, ignore contaminated water, or burn up health and safety regulations, I see people who put profit above lives.

Of course, they can only get away so much.  They can only get away with putting profit above some lives. Over poor lives, nomadic lives, black lives.  But trust me my privileged friends, they’d do the same to all of us if they could.

 

Health Care

Health care in the United States is a disgrace. But the government does have schemes to help farmers purchase health insurance, a small sacrifice to ‘big government’ in order to feed your population.  My Dad also had Veterans Insurance due to his service in the Army. And that health care was essential for my family to survive those numerous accidents.

That health insurance, however, is associated with large deductibles, large bills, often thousands of dollars, that you have to pay before the health insurance kicks in.  And this means you do not go to the doctor when you are in pain or have a lump.  Of course, you also do not go to the doctor because you cannot get off work or you have to work two jobs or you have to milk the cows. So you wait –  often until it is too late.

My dad waited when he had a sharp abdominal pain.  The family debates the history of that, my dad suggesting he went to the doctor after 2-3 weeks and my mom suggesting it was months.  Regardless, he waited.

He had gall stones.  Or rather his gall bladder had been nearly completely replaced by a single massive gall stone.  And infection had set in.  The doctors said that if he waited another day or so, it would have likely become gangrenous and infected the liver.

Poor people do not go to the doctor until it us sometimes too late. And afterwards live under a cloud of bills, anxiety and harassment.

 

Dental Health

The consequences of poverty on dental health is scandalous.

I had a few cavities as a kid.  Not too many – Mom taught me good habits.  But I had a few and that costs money and there was no health insurance for that.

One day, I was dropped off at the new dentist’s office after school.  I had an appointment at 3:30 to get a filling.  I sat in the office for hours. Patients arrived and left.  I was vaguely aware that the dentist was looking at me, there was a phone call, there seemed to be some tension.  Eventually my dad showed up, told me to come with him and we left.

We had not paid our bills.  We couldn’t afford it. I cannot imagine how difficult it was for my father, the embarrassment and rage, to have to go in there, pick me up, knowing that I would not get the treatment I needed.  At the same time, I knew that the dentist was a young woman, probably just out of school, trying to start a practice. She couldn’t afford to take on patients who could not pay their bills, and I cannot imagine how it felt to her to send away a 12-year old farm kid.  I’ve never felt more powerless and angry.

I never saw her again.  We went back to our older dentist, further away, but more established, more able to be flexible in billing.

I am now very well off financially, but some legacies never go away. My teeth are crooked. I lost a filling.  That led to an infection. Then a root canal. And then a deep extraction and implant. I get headaches most days, where the implant aggravates my sinus.  My second root canal failed, leaving a gap.

My parents lost most of their teeth.

 

Time

Poverty is not just economic, it is time.

One of the few times I saw my mom really angry was when she was called out for not contributing to the school bake sales. My mom, who was working in purchasing at a local factory all day, doing farm chores each night and on the weekend, and cooking, cleaning, doing everything else to keep the house functional did not have the time to bake fucking cookies for your fucking bake sale.

Fuck you for asking that and fuck you for shaming my mother.

Poor people are smart, creative, wise and beautiful.  But we do not have time for your shit. We do not have time for *your agenda*.  When you ask us to contribute, try to engage us, even try to help us, know what you are asking.  We don’t have time for your town halls, your focus groups, baking brownies.

This is also why poor people eat pre-prepared meals. It is why my mom had a crock pot, so she could start something cooking and leave it.  It is why we had mushy vegetables – she would bring them to a boil, turn the temperature to a simmer and then go out to do the evening chores.

Our time is precious and it is ours.

Remember that when you are engaging marginalised communities.

 

Fear

You can’t fuck up when you are poor.

I saw friends sucked into alcoholism and drug abuse (and this was before the current opioid crisis ravaging rural America).  More often, I saw friends, cousins, friends of cousins getting pregnant or knocking a girl up.

When you are poor, an unplanned pregnancy means that your hopes and dreams are fucked.

There are exceptions – lots of exceptions.  But in my world, when you got pregnant, that was it.  You tried to finish High School and got a part time job and that was the end of your dreams of college, sports or a band.

Everyone knows you live at the margins.  Don’t get knocked up.  Don’t get in trouble with the law.  Don’t take drugs. Everyone deals with it differently – some steer into the risk, some live large, burn out, burn bright.

I… I lived… I cannot really describe it.  It was a long time ago. Saying I lived in fear is over-stating it. But I just continuously – continuously – tried to avoid any possible mistake that could ruin my life. I was terrified of getting a girl pregnant.  I did not have sex until I was 20.  I followed all the rules.  I did argue – with everyone, all of the time – I’m rather proud of the fact that my desire to walk the straight and narrow did not stifle my activism or values. But I never took risks and I never broke the rules.

[As an aside, I did fuck up once.  And…. it was not the end of the world.  The point is not so much about the consequences but the fear.]

I guess what I am saying here is that when you are poor, you live in fear of fucking up.

Rich people fuck up all the time.

 

Education.

My parents did not go to college but they recognised early on that I was rather smart and studious.  And so they pushed me; Mom pushed me so hard, endlessly.  And then, when those good grades in year 1 stopped being a success story and started becoming the norm, they either got out of my way and let me excel or stepped in to support me.  Farm kids have to do LOTS of chores.  My brother and I had rather modest chores – my parents wanted us to prioritise our homework.  My dad drove me to debate tournaments on Saturday mornings, after milking the cows, before other chores and sometimes through ridiculous Northern Ohio blizzards.

So when I was thirteen and two of my friends persuaded me to apply for an elite private school in the area, my parents supported me.  The school was all about excellence.  They claimed that they were value-driven. They wanted to support the community and the best and brightest.

I had higher standardised test scores than my friends.  I had higher grades.  They went to the school and I did not.  I was admitted.  But when it came to the fees, their values disappeared. No grants.  No loans.  No advice on where one might get loans. They led my parents and me, naively perhaps, down a path suggesting that they would be supportive.  I suspect they never thought some poor kid could get the grades to get in.

Not going there was one of the best things that ever happened to me.  Fuck them.

Fortunately, four years later, I discovered that Universities, despite extortionate tuition fees in the United States, do their best to match financial support to need.  Every university I applied to provided an impressive variety of support.  I attended Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and they did right by me.

But:

College still cost my parents $3000 a year.  And when my brother also went to college, they had to sell the farm.

And I had to work part-time for my final three years.

And I still finished with $10,000 in loans.

And to get those scholarships, I had to have a 4.0 GPA in High School and the highest SAT scores in its history. (Not bragging; I am test savvy.)

So fuck ‘social mobility,’ where we claim to have an equal society just because a very few lucky, smart, hard-working kids can escape structural poverty, inequity and racism. If a society genuinely wants to excel, to thrive, to innovate, it invests in all forms of education at all levels for everyone.

 

Life Choices

I love the American liberal arts university system.  I went to CWRU to study Physics, aspiring to be an astrophysicist, but also loved politics.  Eventually, I decided to major in Geology, fulfilling my passion for science, but intending to go to Law School afterwards and become an environmental lawyer.

But law school costs money.  And PhD students get paid.  Not a lot – but a lot by my standards.

I do not regret my choice to do a PhD in geology.  I do resent the fact that it was not fully my choice.

At 22, after years of success after success after success. After years of hard work and sacrifice, after excelling in High School and University, after being Presidents of clubs and societies, after continuously working part-time jobs.  After doing everything right, it was not my choice.

 

Poor people do not like cops

Yes, even poor white people. Which is why it is so infuriating that some poor white people seem to “love the blue” when it is Black people protesting their murder by police.

As a teenager, my brother once got busted for blowing up mailboxes. It was a stupid thing to do – the kind of stupid thing that kids do in the boring midwest. But what was really stupid is that he did it in the posh township instead of our own. Cops do not like poor people coming into their towns and causing trouble.  So they did him for everything they could, including charging him with corrupting minors since he had turned 18 a few days before and all of his Senior classmates had not.

I have been pulled over for ‘looking like I was in a hurry.’ Our town set up speed traps to catch late-night commuters, factory workers driving to the night shift. My mom told me to hide my long hair in a hat.

During my Sophomore year at Uni, I got a job. So I needed to use the beat up and old family car that summer.  It was okay; my college did not care and it was in a pretty working class area. However, to drive home, I had to drive through the wealthy Cleveland suburbs.  And the cops always shadowed me in and out of them.  One time, they pulled me over and gave me a ticket for every. single. thing. they. could.  It was $500, more than I made the previous two weeks.  If my professors had not been supporting me with some part-time work, I would have had to drop out of college.

Lots of police are nice.  But the police as an institution exists to keep Black people and Latin people and poor people in their place. It always has. It exists to protect capital.  Police do not harass people because of irrational fears about the threats posed to the safety of those posh communities. That might be part of it. But mainly, they harass Black people and the homeless and those driving rusty cars to protect property values.

They are wealth protectors and they never let you forget it. And some of them will kill Black people because of it.

 

Poor people do not trust you. We especially do not trust the government.

And we have reasons for that. We’ve been let down and betrayed. We have been demeaned.

And until the well meaning left understands that, the far right will weaponise those experiences against the same poor people who need government support.

 

A lot of working class academics are alone

When I first posted this blog, a lot of us talked about this privately.  We talked about our disconnection with the academic world but also the world we have left behind.  We all know that academia makes us move about geographically.  It also causes us to move about culturally and politically.  And emotionally.  And that is not all bad but on some days it hurts more than you can imagine.  And I’m not ready to say any more about this yet.

 

So what do I think we should take from these stories?

First and foremost, I must again caveat this blog with the fact that I had it pretty good. There are so many people, even in my own High School, let alone in poorer parts of the country or from marginalised minorities, who had it and still have it much harder.

And I sure as hell am not looking for pity. I’m doing really well. And once you overcome the barriers that society puts in front of you, your working class upbringing makes you strong.  When my mom had her hair ripped from her scalp, she managed to climb back onto the tractor, drive it home and call the doctor herself. If I have one-tenth of that strength, then I am fine.

And of course, poor white people can get rich. Poor Black people can get rich but will always be black in a structurally racist society. Read up on intersectionality, y’all.

Second: Don’t you dare cast this as a narrative ‘that with a bit of pluck and hard work’ anyone can make it.  Fuck that.  I did not work my ass off because I am such a noble worker; I did it and my family did it to survive.

No, the real point of these stories is that I got lucky.  I am smart.  I am good at my job, have authored or co-authored hundreds of papers and taught thousands of students.  Science is better for having me participating in it.  I was the Director of a world-leading environmentally-facing research institute and am now the Head of one of the top Earth Science departments in the world. And the only reason any of that happened is that I got lucky again and again and again.

I got lucky being born white and male, and have benefited from that my entire career. I was adopted by parents who were supportive of my ambitions.  We might have been poor but we had food and shelter and stability. I happened to go to one of the top public schools in Ohio, by dumb luck of geography, and happened to have some of the most amazing teachers. I got lucky during my PhD and Postdoc, who I worked with (amazing supervisors, mentors, colleagues and friends), the lab equipment we had, the discoveries we stumbled on, the grant that barely got funded.

We pretend to live and work in a meritocracy, where everyone has a chance and excellence and hard work is rewarded. We especially believe that myth in academia. And I think we do so because we do work hard but also because we need that story to justify the sacrifices we all make.  But we do not work in a meritocracy. Some people are born into wealth and some into poverty.

And the success of a few poor kids does not change the truth of that injustice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Engaging Communities

‘The University always has to have its moment in the spotlight.’ Sarcasm dripped from every word, heard by me even though it was whispered only to his neighbour in the audience. His colleague laughed in reply.  I had just given a talk as part of a Conference on Bristol’s Resilience Strategy, on work we had co-produced.

On another occasion, after speaking about the racial impacts of climate change, a person who’s opinion I valued and still value above nearly all others cornered me and said, ‘If you care so much about racial inequality why is your audience all white? Why are your speakers all white?’

Co-production.  Participatory Approaches. Citizen Science. Co-creation.  Shared learning.  We now recognise that our research – maybe all of it and certainly aspects of it – cannot be conducted in the ivory tower but instead must be done in an engaged, equal and constructive partnership with the relevant communities.  Increasingly, however, the nature of that engagement is critiqued.  Who do we engage and why?  What are the implicit and explicit power imbalances and hierarchies? Even when we engage genuinely, are we still centering our agenda through our soft influence and power?

These are not new questions, but as researchers approach community engagement with new enthusiasm, they are re-discovered by new parts of the academic community and university leadership. The lessons have to be learned again. Our partners have to teach us. Again. And are exploited further.

Twenty years ago, it was thought to be enough to simply be seen to be engaging, so desperate were cities and communities for researchers to listen to them.  But engagement can reproduce the same inequities of the past.  In fact, given the greater emotional and labour investment of the partnership, the potential for exploitation is far greater.

Why must we engage?

I was asked this at a recent workshop, not because anyone there thought it was a contested question but rather to stimulate discussion.  Nonetheless, if we are to collaborate with communities with integrity, it is essential to understand not just why we are obliged to engage as researchers but why we choose to engage as people.

When I first started working more closely with communities – those in Tanzania as part of project to study past climate, with Bristol communities to explore local climate action – I was inspired by the classical reasons.  It is fun; I enjoy working with people.  And it is ethical; people have a right to know where and how their taxes, resources, or history are used and have a right to shape that research.

As I increasingly focused on the intersection of my work on past climate change with local and national strategies for climate action and resilience, my motivation became more pragmatic. If we expect our work to make a difference to society, then people need to have not just understanding but buy-in to that research. Where possible, they should be co-creating those solutions and policies, whether via Citizen Assemblies or involvement in technological innovations.  Too often, scientists, engineers and social scientists have envisioned solutions that have been met with apathy, indifference or even hostility by the citizens they’ve been meant to serve: nuclear power, pesticides and genetically modified crops. Vaccines.  And with communities, flood defences, wind farms, hazard resilience strategies, clean air zones, park restoration.  Co-production will never eliminate controversy, but it mitigates it.  And it certainly helps all of society anticipate challenges and create a more constructive path towards the implementation of solutions.  It will be especially important to implement the very challenging changes required to address the Climate and Ecological Emergencies.

Although I still embrace that pragmatic rationale and approach, it is too simplistic.

First, it is not enough to simply engage the usual, expected or obvious stakeholders.  Instead, we must ask challenging questions about who we are engaging and why, viewed through a decolonial lens and in a manner that challenges the prevailing conventions.  Failure to do so in a society with deeply embedded inequities – locally, nationally and globally – will likely replicate or even amplify the structural racism, sexism and classism of our world.

Take as an example the electric car, a critical part of decarbonising transport.  In the news, in policy, and in engagement by researchers, whose voices are privileged, whose have been centered.  Whose have been marginalised. Which communities do we challenge and which do we placate. I would argue that the entire dialogue centres the current car user – how to make electric cars affordable and comfortable.  How to build the enabling infrastucture.  Where to invest in charging stations.  The dialogue frequently fails to consider the non-car user or the impoverished.  It almost always fails to consider the resources to manufacture those cars:  The countries that still suffer from neocolonial exploitation; the people in those countries; the marginalised groups and indigenous communities in those countries.  Every pledge to invest in electrification of transport is a colonial claim to a finite resource, and yet these issues are almost never discussed in the race to innovate and invest.

The act of engagement is not a neutral one.

Second, we must complicate the personal dimension of the ‘why engage’ question by examining motivations and power inequities.  What are your motivations. Why are you doing this?  Was it necessary to the grant?  Is it necessary for your work to have ‘impact’?  Is it because it is what your employer expects of you in order to achieve the previous?  Engagement is necessary for the success of academics and the University, and therefore, it is always an act of institutional privilege, centering our agenda even when it is co-produced.

This is what sits under the simmering resentment of the anecdote I opened with.  That work was some of my most genuine and heartfelt; it was good work of which I am proud and it did involve multiple communities.  But in that moment, in that forum, I was speaking because I was expected to.  I had a platform not because of the work but because of my employer.  I had long ago understood my white and male privilege, but in that moment I understood my institutional privilege.  Just like I had initially resisted the idea of white privilege because I had suffered as a poor working class kid in rural Ohio, I resisted the idea of institutional privilege because I viewed myself as another proud Union member who loved the University of Bristol but still thought of myself as exploited by the neoliberal University machine as anyone else.

But it is not true.  I had and have the privilege of working for an institution that has nearly a billion pound annual turnover, whose decisions shape our city in profound and long-lasting ways, skewing property values, demographics and investment. I have no doubt that our University, as progressive as it is, brings not only income to Bristol but also inequality. I was leveraging that privilege for a spotlight.  And I would later be able to leverage that spotlight for recognition and promotion.

These complicated power dynamics are not an excuse not to engage, however; they are a lesson about recognising the privilege that is embodied in any interaction with our community.  A counter example is my involvement with the Bristol Festival of Nature.  For over ten years, the University and my research group has attended, bringing an interactive display about how molecular fossils can tell us about past climate and past human history.  It is sort of the most rudimentary form of community engagement. There is no co-creation.  It’s just scientists rocking up and talking to the public and answering their questions.  And no one has ever challenged my role in that or the University’s.

That is because this engagement, although it offers little, offers more than it asks.

Mireia on Twitter: "Paleodetectives ready to uncover the past at @AtBristol #BristolBrightNight @cpe_bristol http://t.co/KoDjvlwCOS"
Megan and Mireia showing the Palaeodetectives at the Bristol Festival of Nature
Deep, meaningful, long-term and honest engagement with communities is not necessarily “better” than rocking up and giving a talk but it is deeper, with greater rewards and also greater obligations.  In any interaction, but especially interactions involving the vast power disparities of Universities with their cities or UK scientists with marginalised communities, it is not enough to fixate only on the most effective mechanism but to understand the privilege we derive from those power differentials, the underlying transactions and the potential for exploitation.
Barriers to Engagement and their Solutions
The Barriers to successful engagement are extensive: finding common cause, a shared language and approach, agreeing mutually beneficial outcomes. There are questions of legitimacy and trust, especially when there has been a history of exploitation. When trust is built, there is the shared frustration of funding, with the options available to all of us limited to months or years, undermining the ability to develop the meaningful relationships to which we aspire.
Prosaically, the solutions are obvious.  Coming from a privileged organisation, can you procure more long-term investment? Given that engagement is part of our jobs, are we willing to transfer some of our academic privilege to our partners by volunteering our time?
But informing and underpinning all of that is the essential need to understand the transactions implicit or explicit in our partnerships.  I don’t want any of us to make our world any more transactional than it already is. But we are obliged to have an understanding of the transactions that are explicit and implicit in our partnerships – for us and our partners – and use that understanding to build a collaboration based on equity, honesty and empathy.
Researchers must be more honest with our partners about what we will get out of it – and sometimes that means being more honest with ourselves. Successful engagement will help us get a PhD. A job. A grant. A paper. A promotion. A pay raise.
Similarly – and in light of history and privilege differentials – we must create the space where our partners can also be honest about their needs, their research priorities, and how they need to have that knowledge returned to them in an actionable way.
And we have an obligation to understand what we are asking of them. Remember this: For a poor person, we can ask for few things more valuable than time. For someone from a marginalised group, we can ask for few things more valuable than their emotional labour, experience and re-lived trauma.
And most of all, understand the source of power imbalances in any interaction. Marginalised groups have power.  Growing up in a working class family, I was acutely aware that we did not have access to much financial, legal or political power; but we had other power that comes from closeness, resilience and lived experience. My community partners would say the same.  The Green and Black Ambassadors are powerful.  Ujima Radio is powerful.  The real question is the intersection of power and privilege.  What power (skills, knowledge, experience) is privileged in society?  And what power do we wield in a civic partnership that arises not from legitimacy but from our institutional and individual privilege.
What I learned about dismantling privilege and building engagement with the Green and Black Ambassadors
In 2015 Bristol was the European Green Capital and it was widely regarded as a successful year.  But it was rightfully critiqued for failing to be inclusive – despite well intentioned efforts to be so. Because of that, I partnered via the Cabot Institute with Ujima Radio, a community radio station, and the Bristol Green Capital Partnership to explore the lack of inclusion during the Green Capital Year and more widely in the environmental movement.  This was the Green and Black Conversation, and through its delivery we learned a lot of things that environmental movement should have known already:
– That the programme was shaped by and favoured the interests of the ‘in-crowd’; its focus and themes, the venues, the types of events all reflected the tastes, interests and convenience of the usual suspects.
– That they were invited to events and even to speak but only after the agenda was set.
– That individuals and groups that represented marginalised groups were being exploited for their time and labour. Moreover, they were not supported in leveraging the Green Capital accolades to win their own funding. It is not the same for the Director of the Cabot Institute for the Environment to sacrifice his day to attend a sustainability workshop than it is for the Director of a racial equity organisation.  Not only are there questions of alignment of responsibilities but also a chasm in resource.   Inviting them to attend was not inclusion.  Expecting them to attend was exploitation.
– That the language was exclusionary.  In particular, language about marginalised groups assumed a lack of interest – ‘How do we get more Black people into nature.’  ‘How can we ensure Black people have access to nature’ – without recognising that they already had their own initiatives and projects. That they had their own sustainability solutions.  That they were engaged just not with the ‘in crowd’s projects.
And so we launched the Green and Black Ambassadors with several goals and values.
– We would always pay our Ambassadors and our partners, compensating them for their labour and experience; and that we would use our privilege to demand the same from all future partners.
– We would invest in a new generation, recognising both the great capacity in Bristol’s African and Caribbean populations but also that this capacity had been undermined by decades of under-investment.
– We would give them a platform to promote initiatives from their own community; and eventually, we would cede our platforms to them.  I would no longer accept the invitations arising from my institutional privilege but pass those invitations to Zakiya and Jazz.
– We would be allies in challenging institutions, including our own. We advocated for their voices in our Board Rooms, classrooms, working parties, One City Plans and more.  We were their voice when they were not present but more importantly, we agreed to open the door and let them come in and have our places instead.
Related image
Roger Griffith and the Inaugural Green and Black Ambassadors, Jasmine Ketibuah-Foley and Zakiya McKenzie
In short, it was a political project to challenge the lack of equity and inclusion in the environmental movement, politics and industry.  And although that might seem far from how you might build engagement into a research proposal, it is not. The principles for all engagement must be the same because all interactions characterised by power differentials are political projects.
But moreso, this type of collaboration enriches and adds value to all of our scholarly endeavours.  Much of the Green and Black Ambassadors Programme was funded by my ERC project on The Greenhouse Earth System.  Centering racial inclusion in the environmental movement might seem rather removed from developing molecular tools to study Earth’s climate 50 million years ago.  Maybe.  But by building trust, relationships and credibility, I have been able to share my research findings with 1000s of people I might not otherwise. The palaeoclimate research was never centred, rarely prominent, usually never mentioned, because that would have undermined the ethos of the Green and Black Programme.  Instead our conversations focused on the air pollution and food poverty issues that our engaged communities had prioritised.
But here is the thing: I’d far rather have my work be a very small part of a large story shared by many than the central part of a small story heard by few. And I think that is a truth of the entire suite of global crises we face.  If we are to address the many environmental and social justice challenges of the future, we must embrace community while rejecting ego.
Addendum.  There is a lot of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in this essay.  Ultimately, we must get away from that.  We must avoid not just the language of we and them but the unconscious view from which that language arises. But I still believe that in the vast majority of partnerships, ‘we’ still need to do better by ‘them’; and pretending we are all in this together, that we all enter into a partnership with equal privilege and capacity is duplicitous.  So my final advice is recognise there is an ‘us’ and ‘them’ arising from differences in privilege, and do everything you can to dismantle that.

Addendum 2: Once you begin to explore power differentials, you unlock a range of challenging questions.  In particular, I find this short article by Farhana Sultana to be illuminating in revealing the power dynamics within the communities we engage.