Mya-Rose Craig is Bristol’s Youngest Recipient of an Honorary Degree for Championing Equity in the Conservation Sector

On 20 February, the University of Bristol gave Mya-Rose Craig, Birdgirl, an honorary degree.  It was a pleasure to nominate her with Amy Walsh and an honour to give her oration – shared below so that all can understand why she is so very deserving of this accolade.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor:

It is my great pleasure to introduce Mya-Rose Shanti Craig, a birder, naturalist, conservationist, environmentalist, racial equality activist, writer and speaker; the youngest person on whom the University of Bristol has ever bestowed an honorary doctorate degree; and one of the youngest to receive this honour from any UK institution.

You have all worked so hard to earn your place here today, 3 to 4 years for those of you receiving BSc, MSci and MSc degrees and a lot longer for those of you receiving PhDs. We are so proud of all of you and honouring your achievement is a privilege and it is an obligation.

To bestow a comparable honour on someone who is only 17 years old is not a decision we take lightly. It is reserved for those who are leading truly special projects. Courageous projects. Transformative projects. Mya-Rose is doing exactly that.

I have known Mya-Rose for five years, ever since she served as an Ambassador during Bristol’s Year as the UK’s first – and still the only – European Green Capital. If you drove here, you know that Bristol did not receive that accolade for its lack of cars and congestion. It was awarded largely because of its people and their thriving, grassroots initiatives that have made Bristol a centre of environmental and sustainability innovation and leadership.

Even at 13, Mya-Rose was one of those people. She had already achieved international acclaim as one of the world’s youngest birders (and in fact, this past year, she became the youngest person to ever see 5,369 birds, half the world’s species). And at 13, she was leveraging that acclaim to advocate for a variety of environmental, conservation and climate change causes.

Those are impressive achievements, but they are not why we honour Mya-Rose today.

We do so because of how she has used her platform to campaign for diversity and inclusion – and because she resolutely and bravely continues to do so, despite numerous racial attacks.

It is not uncommon now to highlight the lack of diversity in the environmental movement. Mya-Rose, in 2016 at an age of 14, was one of the first to raise this issue as the one major failure of an otherwise lauded Green Capital year. She used her various platforms – from talks to festivals to social media – to draw attention to this lack of diversity in the conservation movement, especially the dearth of visible minority ethnic members.

Many applauded her for calling attention to it.

But some dismissed it as imagined or irrelevant.

Others told her to be quiet.

Some told her that she was undermining her own beloved conservation causes by pointing out these concerns.

Some blamed it on the marginalised communities themselves.

Some went further, hurling vitriol at her, attacking her ethnicity and perceived faith, her family, her citizenship and her ‘Britishness.’

Mya-Rose met these attacks with bravery and fierce resistance. She continued to highlight those issues; she called out esteemed institutions including our wildlife trusts, the wildlife media and universities. She called out this University. She called out me as Director of Bristol’s Cabot Institute for the Environment.  She asked what we were doing or not doing; what implicit or explicit barriers had we erected; how were we going to tear them down?

But not only did she challenge, she created. She created fora where these issues could be shared, explored and debated. In 2016, she organised the Race Equality in Nature conference, to look at the barriers to VME people going out into nature, at what can be done to overcome those barriers and at our shared responsibility to create and provide platforms for role models. Including speakers such as Bill Oddie and MP Kerry McCarthy, it was one of the critical post-Green Capital conversations to explore the challenges of equity in environmental movements.

She hosted a second conference featuring Chris Packham, Bristol Deputy Mayor Cllr Asher Craig, and RSPB CEO Beccy Speight, in 2019. And she is now developing a third aimed at the Wildlife Media sector, focusing on how the conservation community is portrayed in magazines and on television.

Mya-Rose is not going to stop challenging institutions, but she does recognise that the lack of VME engagement is complex. And so, she has also organised nine nature camps, Camp Avalon for urban teenagers and Camp Chew for children, bringing more than 100 young people into our forests, wilderness and nature – often for the first time. She is organising more this year, even as she prepares for her A-levels.

Mya-Rose has formalised these efforts by creating Black2Nature, through which she has spoken on television and at numerous festivals. She speaks powerfully, directly and eloquently with intelligence and with wisdom. She does not hide behind social media but engages with groups and people directly. I am proud to know her.

Because of the unusual nature of Mya-Rose’s Honorary Degree, we’ve been asked a lot of questions. Does the University endorse everything she says? I’m not sure that can be answered unequivocally ‘yes’ for any Honouree, but the answer in her case is: ‘No. Of course not.’ The whole point is that she is provocative, challenging and bold.

We’ve been asked, ‘Is she just a symbol?’ Without doubt, she is symbolic of the need to tackle the Climate and Ecological Emergency, the vital importance that this effort be globally diverse, equitable and united, and the central role that youth have taken in demanding action. But no, we do not give awards for symbols. We give degrees to outstanding people like you who have earned them. We give honorary degrees to outstanding people like Mya-Rose, who have made great contributions to society.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I present to you Mya-Rose Shanti Craig as eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Science honoris causa.

 

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At the party afterwards! More official photos to come!

NOTE: This speech rightfully focuses on and celebrates Mya-Rose.  But her family has been a great part of her journey and all deserve to share in this celebration!

The Uncertain World Project – Engagement to build Action

The ERC-funded Greenhouse Earth System (TGRES) explored the climate, ecology and biogeochemical processes associated with ancient hot climates, potential analogues for our future. Ancient climate research contributes to public dialogue by reinforcing our understanding (or lack thereof) of contemporary processes and change. It is particularly powerful because it conveys such knowledge via narratives of past events that complement forecasts for the future (Pancost, Nature Geoscience 2017). Aspects of TGRES research that are critical to understanding our future include: (i) determining that pCO2 levels have not exceeded 400ppm for ~3 million years; (ii) further evidence that the current rate of climate change is nearly without precedent; and (iii) showing that rapid warming has dramatic but complex hydrological and biogeochemical consequences.

The goal of TGRES public engagement was to use past climate change research to curate a space for dialogue, thereby building public ambition for bolder climate action and more creative approaches to resilience.  Central to our engagement strategy was relocating discussion away from the current policy debate to ancient worlds, thereby creating a place of reflection – what we called the Uncertain World.  We collaboratively explored what we know or do not about our past and future, renewing motivation for climate action. Moreover, by focusing on the uncertainty in the Earth system, we explored the creative forms of resilience that will be required in the coming century.

It gained a large platform when Bristol became the European Green Capital, and TGRES PI Pancost became its Scientific Advisor. We co-curated the Uncertain World by writing Bristol 2015’s opening call for action and hosting one of the flagship Summits – a two-day forum with city, national and international stakeholders, informed by public contributions gathered through the year. The Summit’s conclusions were further explored with the public, including via a discussion with the Mayor. We also collaborated on ~30 other events, including contributions to 3 Festivals, 2 other Summits and the Green Capital Arts Program (with Pancost writing its Introduction, co-hosting talks with the Festival of Ideas, co-curating the Fog Bridge Installation, advising on @Bristol’s Blue Marvel movie and co-sponsoring Withdrawn with the National Trust). The Uncertain World’s images of Mesozoic sea animals swimming through the streets of Bristol are now a fixture of Bristol’s street art.

Collectively, these events reached >100,000 people; combined with the final report (Cabot Institute Report on Living with Environmental Uncertainty.pdf), they were a major part of Bristol’s public dialogue in 2015-2016 to build political action. Pancost attended COP21 with Mayor G Ferguson (the official UK City Delegation) and supported his commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050, a pledge repeated by his successor Marvin Rees and then enshrined in the One City Plan (on which Pancost was an official advisor and which was a 2019 finalist for the EU Capital of Innovation). Bristol’s decarbonisation target was accelerated to 2030, when we became the first UK city to declare a Climate Emergency. The Uncertain World was also central to Bristol’s Resilience Strategy (one of the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities); Pancost was invited to join the Resilience Sounding Board where TGRES research created a space of constructive uncertainty, contributing to the co-creation of shared resilience principles. Perhaps most importantly, the Uncertain World program changed scope to refocus on inclusion and equity in the environmental movement, leading to the Green and Black Conversation and Ambassadors Program.

This is adapted from the ERC report (ERC TGRES Engagement Report – Uncertain World and Green & Black) on engagement as part of the TGRES Project.

 

 

The Green and Black Ambassadors

Summary: The Green and Black Ambassadors project arose from a series of conversations during and after Bristol’s year as the European Green Capital 2015.  Although the year was lauded for numerous successes, including in public engagement, many (including the organisers) agreed that it failed to overcome barriers to inclusion, especially with marginalised communities. The G/B Conversation revealed many of those barriers and proposed ways forward, one of which was to properly fund members of BME communities to challenge and connect different groups. To achieve that we, launched the Green and Black Ambassadors Programme, to build bridges but also to challenge and provoke. To provide focus, we engaged with the African and Caribbean communities prominent in Bristol.  This work was funded by the Cabot Institute, NERC and the ERC.

NOTE: An inspiring and exhaustive collection of Green and Black Ambassadors multi-media resources are available at the website of our partners, the Bristol Green Capital Partnership.  This project has been an outstanding collaboration, including the University of Bristol, Ujima Radio, the Green Capital Partnership and of course the Ambassadors. Particular acknowledgment must be given to Ujima Radio, who initiated the Green and Black Project which was the foundation for much of what is discussed here.  Please also read the final report:

Green-and-Black-Ambassadors-Pilot-Report-2018-yo3y5k

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Background: In 2013, Bristol was announced as the 6th European Green Capital (for 2015) and the UK’s first. This award acknowledge a wide range of initiatives, success stories and ambitions, including significant waste reduction, widespread cycling, city-owned renewable energy provision, a rapidly growing green economy, and strong university partnership.  The year had a particularly strong focus on climate change, as it occurred during COP21. Crucially, the award itself as well as policy decisions made during and since the end of the Green Capital Year commit the city to a bold plan of leadership and social and technological innovation to become more sustainable and reduce its carbon footprint.  For example, representing Bristol at COP21 Mayor George Ferguson committed Bristol to decarbonisation by 2050, a pledge that his successor Marvin Rees has reiterated. Such an ambition requires widespread buy-in amongst formal and distributed city leaders as well as Bristol’s population.

The year was characterised by a range of Summits, lectures and festivals; a cultural and arts program; new public and private initiatives; and more. However, this engagement was incomplete. Throughout the year, many explored the social justice issues arising from climate change.  Echoing commentary by numerous international political and religious leaders, discussions at Green Capital events frequently focussed on the ethical dimensions of climate change, including those related to class, ethnicity and race. As such it was considered necessary to engage a diverse cross-section of society (and of course, this was also considered necessary to mobilise support for the aforementioned policy objectives). There were many efforts to achieve this.  The Year included a Neighbourhood Arts Progamme and a Primary Schools Programme, both of which were rolled out across the city. The Cabot Institute led several events in the poorest parts of the city, to complement those held on our campus. Nonetheless, poor inclusion was a persistent and legitimate charge (Pancost, 2015), as it has been for other Bristol activities. It was the disconnection between the Green Capital’s ambitions for inclusion and the lack of it that has proven to be particularly frustrating to many.

 There are vital lessons to be learned from this and there is a necessity to resolve it if Bristol – and other similar cities – are to achieve their desired transformations. Ujima Radio, recent winner of the UK’s Best Community Radio Station, initiated this effort in late 2014 and explored it throughout 2015 via the Green and Black Programme.  In late 2015, the Cabot Institute and the BGCP joined Ujima to explore this further via a series of workshops with BME leaders.  Two broad messages emerged, as summarised by our partner Roger Griffiths (Chair of Ujima Radio): ‘To many, the ‘green’ debate has hallmarks of being predominantly understood as a white, middle-class domain; moreover, there is a strong narrative of existing and potential engagement with green issues across BME communities that must be recognised and developed.’ Around these wider issues, a number of specific challenges were identified:

  • There was a widespread perception that formal activities – and especially the higher level decision-making – was led by an ‘in-crowd’ of established green activists, city leaders, and usual suspects (university and industry leaders).
  • Many venues were considered ‘off-limits’ to members of the BME community for a combination of issues related to perceived class bias, reputation or history (bearing in mind the role of slaving in Bristol’s history). Aside from that, many venues in the city centre, Bristol’s traditional focus for events (including the University), are not readily accessible.
  • Participation in events remains difficult for many due to childcare or work responsibilities. This reinforces the ‘in-crowd’ nature of activity and city planning, as many were able to attend as part of their jobs. Events were numerous and often organised at the last-minute, which further disenfranchised those with less flexible personal or working relationships.
  • Similarly, many were able to either volunteer time or were seconded from their businesses to participate; this puts particular stress on community organisations with limited resources.
  • BME leaders who were invited to attend workshops and planning meetings were often asked to attend or even speak but ‘rarely to help set the agenda.’

This is summarised with clarity and purpose by our partner at Ujima Radio, Roger Griffith in the Green and Black Conversation. The Green and Black Conversation 2015-2016-2f0l648

One of this consortium’s main conclusions was to launch a Green and Black Ambassador Programme, to pay, train and support (and learn from) a new generation of leaders who would: 1) foster dialogue among diverse groups, including showcasing examples of sustainability leadership arising from BME communities; 2) serve as a positively ‘disruptive’ participant on strategic boards (i.e. BGCP Board); 3) generate bespoke material on environmental issues and sustainability solutions for BME communities, some of which will be broadcast by Ujima Radio; and 4) conduct further research on the obstacles to BME inclusion in environmental initiatives. Given the diversity of Bristol with at least 91 languages spoken and 45 religions practiced, we have focussed on those communities of African and Caribbean descent, recognising that even that represents a great diversity of cultures, faiths and experience. Crucially, a goal of this initiative, directly identified during community consultations and reiterated by Mayor Marvin Rees, is to invest in the leadership skills of those bridging environmental and social justice ambitions.

 

Our events and networks forged

The Ambassadors have contributed to or led dozens of events, all characterised by their diversity and ambition, connecting people from a range of communities to one another and to natural resources. They have occurred across Bristol and the West of England, either in traditional locations with a specific aim to challenge and disrupt conventional approaches to engagement (i.e. Cabot Institute lecture in the Wills Memorial Building or the BGCP Board Meeting); in communities with large BME or otherwise marginalised communities (i.e. Hamilton House); or by bringing BME citizens out of the city to nature-rich areas (i.e Slimbridge).

Through Festivals, Workshops and Lectures, the Ambassadors have reached over 1000 people, and likely several 1000 more through their monthly radio shows. These events have included classical outreach activities, engaged workshops, field trips and knowledge sharing. Emerging from these activities has been sustained and deeper engagement, outlined below. This is critical.  During one presentation, while discussing the outcomes of the project, the PI was asked: ‘How will you measure how BME communities have adopted more sustainable practices?’ This is a critical misconception of the entire project of engagement and certainly a misunderstanding of the Green and Black Ambassadors Programme. The goal is to constructively change the scientists, the campaigners and the communicators alongside the public participants; the goal is for these leaders to listen to, learn from and better understand the initiatives occurring in and knowledge generated in marginalised communities so that the scientific endeavour becomes richer and stronger – and better connected to a wider variety of the public.  Therefore, the Ambassadors have devoted particular effort to engaging and collaborating with organisations.  These include:

Slimbridge WWT: The Ambassadors brought BME citizens to Slimbridge to stimulate a conversation around engagement with nature; they then collaborated on a workshop to address inclusion and diversity in their nature programme.

Avon Wildlife Trust: The Ambassadors are developing collaborations to address diversity in the AWT programme.

University of West of England and University of Bristol (including the Students Union): The Ambassadors have worked with the Joint University SU Skills Bridge team including advising the team’s inclusivity efforts and featuring individual researchers on their radio show and promotion of Photovoice (Drs Shaun Sobers & Ade Olaiya).

Bristol City Council and Mayor: The Ambassadors have met the Head of the Sustainable Cities Team, engaged with knowledge sharing / interactions with the Mayor on social media, and met with Cllr Asher Craig.  This is serving as the foundation for future projects focussing on air pollution and health.

Numerous connections and outputs have emerged from these events and activities, with highlights being: the embedding of diversity issues, awareness and responsibility across the BGCP network of over 800 organisations; a dramatically raised profile of BME-led initiatives in the city and a stronger dialogue between NERC researchers and marginalised communities; a website containing numerous blogs, commentaries and interviews (http://bristolgreencapital.org/category/green-black/); and a multimedia archive of the Ambassadors’ radio show on Ujima Radio.  These dynamic and interactive shows have featured leading scientists, campaigners and politicians can be found on Soundcloud, i.e.: https://soundcloud.com/ujimagreenandblackradio/green-and-black-radio-002.  Guests and topics have included: Fuel poverty in Bristol – Bristol Energy Network; What happens when you flush your toilet in Bristol – GenEco; Monitoring equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – Ade Olaiya, UWE; Focus on Guyana’s biodiversity (World Wetlands Day special); Exploring spaces outside the city – Imayla. This network and knowledge building will culminate during the 10th Anniversary celebration of the BGCP on 6 July, where the G/B Ambassadors will showcase their findings to hundreds of industry, civic society, public and political voices in the West of England sustainability movement, a conversation to be broadcast live by Ujima Radio – this will feature environmental research, showcase the need for a far more inclusive approach to outreach activities, and provide critical commentary on how to better engage with marginalised communities.

Other networks that are being developed include those with Black 2 Nature, Resource Futures, GENeco, Sustrans, Journey to Justice, Bristol Food Network, Up Our Street, Bristol Energy Network, Easton Energy and Lifecycle UK.  In doing so, the Ambassadors are facilitating a rich but challenging conversation among some of the city and region’s leading environmental and social justice networks.  Over 20 other organisations have expressed interest in engaging the Ambassadors to explore their own diversity and inclusion challenges with respect to public engagement.

 

The Reception

It is hard to convey the enthusiasm with which this scheme has been received.  Industry, government, civil society and public participants in environmental and sustainability issues are passionate about inclusion for its own sake but also because of its necessity to achieve the profound changes to which Bristol committed when it was the European Green Capital in 2015.  However, those organisations and individuals recognised that well-meaning efforts to engage and include failed because of a lack of common understanding, misplaced or insufficient effort, disparity of resources, and the lack of facilitators that could help navigate interactions among diverse communities.  Against that backdrop, the Green and Black Ambassadors Programme has been hailed by numerous citizens, lauded by some participants as transformative, identified by members of the BGCP as an exemplar project, and celebrated by civic leaders including the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees.  This is evidenced by a strong twitter following, hundreds of retweets, over 30 requests to engage with other organisations and the Ambassadors’ prominent role in the BGCP 10th anniversary celebrations.

Such enthusiasm and engagement must be met with some caution.  The goal of the programme is not to simply better connect environmental researchers and organisations to more diverse communities as a box-ticking exercise.  The programme is meant to be disruptive and challenging – leading to genuine transformation of organisations, practices and relationships. We do not aspire to ‘communicate better’ but to have a shared agenda for making the scientific endeavour, including its participants and users, more diverse. As said by Zakiya: ‘Our task is to build bridges. We are honest about the barriers within our own communities and will hold people to account. We are also here to challenge the environmental and science sectors to co-produce, consult inclusively and step outside of the pervading bubble of whiteness and masculinity as necessary for validity. We have a daunting task that will agitate people on both sides of the divide but as we say in Jamaica “one, one cocoa fill basket”; by using our skills to fill the void in conversation, Jasmine and I are making way for better dialogue and real, inclusive actions.’

There is strong evidence that the organisations involved have been transformed, with both the BGCP and Cabot Institute being recently celebrated for better showcasing BME citizens, putting visible effort into engaging with those citizens, and adopting more rigorous and challenging practices. A crucial research question if the programme continues will be to explore how deep, wide and long-term such transformations have been in those and in other organisations.

 

What was learned

During Bristol 2015, the profile of environmental research was dramatically raised; from climate change scientists to atmospheric chemists to biodiversity experts, our work was showcased at Green Capital Summits, married to arts exhibits, centred in citizen science initiatives (i.e. Urban Pollinators), and integrated to local and regional policy makers (i.e. Pancost was invited to accompany the Mayor and BCC to COP21 and has contributed to developing Bristol’s 50-year trajectory by serving on the Resilience Sounding Board).

This initiative has not raised that profile but changed it.

Through the Green and Black Conversation we facilitated a community-led dialogue about the limitations of previous outreach and engagement activities in Bristol – including our own. The Ambassadors Programme allowed us, our partners and our fellow citizens to put those lessons into practice.

The most important of these lessons was: “Do not assume that different communities are not engaged; assume that they are but are doing it separately or differently.  So ask them what their ideas are.”  Consequently, engagement must be co-designed, with joint agenda setting (‘We are invited but the agenda is already set.’), and a recognition of different forms of knowledge and a shared capacity to contribute.  Within this broader context, five key themes emerged: 1) Change or recognise the constraints of terminology, its culture and ownership; 2) Profile activity beyond that which takes place in white middle-class neighbourhoods; 3) Create a new set of green narratives that relates to different cultural perspectives and experiences; 4) Challenge leadership and decision-making, especially by developing new leaders; and 5) Fund and support active projects that make the difference rather than just well-meaning manifestos and statements of intent.  From these lessons derive some self-evident actions for future events and initiatives: a) engage under-represented marginal communities early and often, funding them as appropriate, while creating the space and open dialogue that encourages all to contribute their ideas; b) host events in a variety of venues and actively ensure that all feel welcome at all venues; c) depoliticise discussions by acknowledging and exposing their political dimensions rather than treating them as apolitical; d) challenge those with influence and position to ensure that BME citizens are given voices within institutions – and to ensure those voices are supported when they provoke and challenge; and e) guarantee representation.

This project also reinforced the challenges related to time and capacity to engage. Engaging the public but especially marginalised communities requires time to gain trust; but at the same time, the public can have limited resource or capacity to engage. For poor communities, time and resource issues are compounded. These are difficult barriers to overcome but can be mitigated by: longer lead-in times and earlier invitations; providing child-care support; and having fewer events but delivering them in a way that involves a wider cross-section of the city (including perhaps running the same event several times at multiple locations).

Crucially, it was argued and accepted that privileged leaders, including many in Bristol’s thriving green economy and HEI sectors, must both build structures and cultivate the culture change that allows inclusion to thrive. Liberating the strength of our diversity requires not just good will but the creation of structures that promote inclusion, including training and genuine financial support of community partners. It is illuminating that one of the Green Capital’s strong inclusion stories was the School’s programme, which essentially engaged every primary school child in Bristol.  Tapping into structures or networks – where they exist – can facilitate engagement; but where they do not exist, they must be built.

These issues affect everyone.  Class, race and gender need not be obstacles. This gap needs to addressed and acknowledged and realised by communities and organisations together if we want to move forward as a city.’ Jasmine Ketubah-Foley, Green and Black Ambassador.

Arguably, this investigation has moved into issues far beyond those that are the normal scope of engagement and outreach discussions: how to better communicate to diverse audiences, tailoring messages, choosing diverse venues and format. Nonetheless, valuable lessons were learned – derived from the above – that could be applied to nearly any NERC-based science outreach. The programme reinforced the lesson to connect research findings to the needs and interests of your audience; however, most audiences were quite receptive to a creative connection – linking palaeoclimatic events to air pollution challenges or past biotic change to current migration debates were welcomed. Other lessons were surprising – although not in hindsight.  For example, NERC scientists work all over the world or on samples collected from all over the world; BME audiences, perhaps due to a more recent immigrant past, wanted to hear more about this.  Who were the partners and collaborators?  What was it like working in these countries, especially for communities that have ancestral roots there?  And most critically, are these scientific efforts still informed by colonial biases – have we worked with, respected and co-authored with citizens from those nations?

 

Project Highlights

All of us involved have different thoughts: For some it is the disruptive presence of BME citizens in places that had seemed ‘off limits’ such as the University’s Great Hall; for others, it will have been the excitement of young people taken on a field trip to the wetlands.  More broadly, we argue it is the fact that the language of social justice and inclusion are now ubiquitous in environmental and sustainability conversations, exemplified across the manifestos of all major party candidates for Metro Mayor (we cannot take all credit for that but the Ambassadors Progamme has been a focus and distillation of numerous other conversations).  Personally, the PI of the project thinks that the best outcome has been the unleashing of Jazz’s and Zakiya’s talents.  We have given some training to these exceptional women, but the real benefit has been the commitment of the partners to give them a platform and show city leaders the skills, knowledge and passion they already had.

More fundamentally, it has changed perceptions on engagement between diverse publics, civil society organisations and universities. It is not enough to think about science communication as apolitical and in isolation.  If we want citizens to engage with scientists, then we must show that we have made commitments to their communities, that we are engaged in the challenges those communities face, that we are committed to addressing the flaws within our own institutions.  It is not enough to say ‘we wanted to have a diverse panel but there are very few black climate scientists.’  Of course, scientists should be very cautious about appearing partisan but nor can we ignore the challenges of those we engage, especially where it interfaces with our work.  Engagement is far more than ‘better communication.’ It is becoming constructive partners in our communities, of which science outreach is a small part of a wide portfolio.

 

Reflections

There is much that could not be achieved during a brief pilot project (even extended to 10 months by co-funding).  First, given the key outcome that engagement between researchers and communities must be protracted, allowing for deep, mutual, respectful and trusted collaboration, these types of initiatives must have long-term investment.  Building trust is always important but particularly so for marginalised communities with a history of being excluded. Second, we caution against extrapolation to other marginalised communities; our efforts focussed on BME communities of African or Caribbean descent (already a multitude of different voices) and that means that we have not probed a range of more nuanced issues related to religion, gender or class. Future efforts could widen this exploration; we doubt that the fundamentals will differ (diverse venues, family or worker-friendly times) but nuanced findings almost certainly will.  Third, we aspire to test the long-term changes these interventions have made.  Have AWT or WWT (or UoB and BGCP) embedded diversity in their practices?  Have they adopted new policies or practices?  Do they remain dependant on the initiative of marginalised groups or individuals, such as the Ambassadors, or have they taken on their own responsibility to support inclusive initiatives?  If these changes have occurred then these organisations, in partnership with NERC researchers, will be better poised to connect our research findings to a wide and diverse part of the UK’s population.

We collectively agree that we must challenge/re-imagine models of scientific ‘pubic engagement’ – and that therefore NERC should think about moving away from the kind of measures illustrated in this report (i.e. to be judged on number of events and number of people ‘engaged’) and towards thinking about ‘quality’ of engagement – long term meaningful relationships based on the sharing of knowledge and expertise.  Most importantly, however, the final reflections should belong to our two Ambassadors:

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Holding the green sector to account

Jasmine Ketibuah-Foley, Green and Black Ambassador

Being part of the activist movement in Bristol, something kept picking away at the back of my brain. After some time I realised I could find almost no black or brown role models to look up to. Where were the culturally rich BME communities of Bristol who have so much to say on the environment, environmental racism and sustainability? Why were they not thriving in this supposedly inclusive space?

Bristol’s year as the European Green Capital in 2015 had many successes but it failed to include BME communities. The community radio station Ujima ran a debate about the issue in 2015 and this project has grown from there. The University of Bristol Cabot Institute and the Bristol Green Capital Partnership joined up to continue to fund it along with the public engagement funding from NERC. Together they set up the ambassador programme to pay, train and support a new generation of BME environmental leaders – Zakiya and I.

We are trying to find out why inclusion has failed so far and we’re challenging Bristol’s research and BME communities to work together. We have a radio show on Ujima, we run workshops and we took a group of young BME people to a large wetlands centre outside of Bristol to explore why these nature attractions aren’t attracting diverse communities.

Zakiya and I come from community research backgrounds and worked as radio and TV broadcast journalists. Our passion to tell people’s stories and our brazenness in asking difficult questions with a healthy sense of justice fits well with the role.

 

Tackling inequality in Bristol

Zakiya McKenzie, Green and Black Ambassador

In March 2017, The Sunday Times named Bristol the ‘best place to live in the UK’. As a black woman, single mother and mature student, I cannot help but wince at this misleading accolade. The difference in life expectancy between the city’s wealthy and deprived wards is as much as a decade. I grew up in Jamaica, studied in NYC and worked as a journalist in Johannesburg and I absolutely love ‘ole Brizzle’ – but nothing prepared me for the city’s virtual segregation.

In one of our workshops people told us they found it difficult to get the time to attend research events, particularly if they worked for small organisations with limited funds. Participants also found that they might be invited to events, but not to help set the agenda.

Our task is to build bridges. We are honest about the barriers within our own communities and hold people to account. We are also here to challenge the environmental and science sectors to step outside of the pervading bubble of whiteness and masculinity as necessary for validity.

We have a daunting task but as we say in Jamaica “one, one cocoa fill basket”. By using our skills to fill the void in conversation, Jasmine and I are making way for better dialogue and real, inclusive actions.

 

 

Environmental Justice Must Recognise and Centre Social Justice

This is Bristol: Numerous green businesses and voluntary organisations, a multitude of cyclists, recyclers and circular economists; ethical banking and a local currency; a Council-owned windfarm, Energy Company and low-carbon investment strategy; local food production, community energy, sustainable housing developments.  The 2015 EU Green Capital and the owner of the most rapid and extensive decarbonisation ambition of any city or nation in the world.

This is also Bristol: Congestion, polluted air and a polluted harbour, heat-inefficient Victorian homes, fuel poverty and food deserts. Economic inequality magnified by environmental inequality.

Bristol has been a leader in the environmental movement for decades, and it has been a leader in tackling climate change. I’ve been studying climate change for 30 years but am still in awe of the Bristol spirit.  And since arriving in Bristol, I’ve tried to help my small bit: I was with George Ferguson in Paris when he pledged carbon neutrality by 2050; I also collaborated on the Council’s Resilience Strategy and, more recently, Marvin Rees’ One City Approach, and especially its environmental theme.

Consequently, I was enthused to see Bristol pass a motion of intent, declaring a Climate Emergency and a desire to become carbon neutral. Carbon neutral across all sectors. By 2030. This is the ambitious Bristol that I love.

And yet I am wary.  I am wary that in our fear of catastrophic climate change and in our urgency to declare a Climate Emergency, we fail to build a genuinely inclusive movement.  And such a movement is needed to achieve the tremendous change that is required.

We must drive our society towards sustainability, circularity and carbon neutrality. It is necessary to protect our civilisation, to protect all of us and our planet.  But most of all, we must minimise climate change because climate change is unjust.  It will affect all of us, but it will affect some of us more.  It will affect children more than their parents. The young more than the old.

And it will affect the poor, the vulnerable, the isolated – and it will do so not just because of the unfortunate coincidences of geography but because of the structural inequalities in that same society that we are fighting to save. Heat waves kill the poor, they kill outdoor labourers, the working class. Sea level rise will trap, drown and infect the poor, those without the means and wealth to freely move among nations. The volatility of food production will be particularly devastating to those who already struggle to feed their families, who already lean on food banks and charity. Hurricanes and storms will continue to devastate the communities with the least recourse to escape, who likely already live in flood-prone areas, who can be sacrificed, like those in Puerto Rico, with minimal political repercussions.

Climate change is an affront to our proc ideals of fairness and equality. It is classist.  It is racist.

But if climate action is a question of social justice, then those marginalised groups must be part of the movement.  They must set the agenda of that movement.  They must lead the movement.  And if they are not, those of us who claim the title ‘environmentalist’ cannot ask why they are not engaged, and instead must ask how we have failed.  We must challenge ourselves, our privilege, our dialogue and our institutions and understand how we have excluded them. Have we invited marginalised groups to participate in our events and our agenda?  Or have we honestly co-created an open space for multiple agendas?  Have we recognised that destroying inequality is a legitimate starting point for fighting climate change?  Have we recognised that many of our proposed solutions – entirely rational solutions – can be implicitly racist or sexist?

If we are going to prevent catastrophic climate change, then we must act fast and with unrelenting persistence. But at the same time, we must be patient, check our privilege and listen to those who have been marginalised by past environmental movements. This is especially true because it is those same marginalised groups who will most likely bear the greatest burden of climate change. We assault these groups doubly if we do not centre their voices in our common cause.  And because the environmental movement is unstoppable – technologically and socially inevitable and therefore economically inevitable – exclusion from these opportunities is yet a third assault.

I am by no means an expert on co-creating powerful social movements, fuelled by equality amongst the participants and effective in achieving change.  But I have been lucky enough to work and learn from those who do. They have shown undeserved patience and understanding and trust.

They taught me that it is vital to recognise not just your own privilege but the economic, historical or social privileges of the institutions one represents. In my case, a world-leading university.  In other cases, a business or a trust – even a small green business or cash-starved charity. And even a movement, especially a movement perceived as being by and for the white middle class.

Having recognised that privilege and in many cases the structural racism, sexism and wider inequalities that come with it, it is our obligation to decolonise those institutions rather than to plead for yet more labour from those our institution oppresses.  It is our obligation to do our own research and to commit our own emotional energy and labour. And when we do work with marginalised groups, we are compelled to respect their expertise by paying them for their services.  Major institutions will pay consultants 100s of thousands of pounds for a re-brand or governance review but ask marginalised groups to help address our diversity challenges by serving for free – by serving on our Boards, attending our workshops, advising on our projects.  It is insulting to imply that the privilege of entering our institutions and projects is adequate compensation for their time, their re-lived trauma or their expertise.

Of course, a recognition of the limitations of our institutions, our organisations and our movements is only the start. The next steps involve a fundamental reckoning with the word ‘our’ in those projects – who has owned these, who owns them now, who will own them in the future?  And given those answers, are they fit for the challenge at hand? Are they projects capable of becoming genuinely co-owned, co-creative spaces, where not just new members are welcomed but also their new ideas, challenges and perspectives?  Or are these projects that must be completely deconstructed, making way for the more energetic ones to come?  Do we ourselves have the humility to deconstruct our own projects and cede our labour to those of someone else?

Image from the PhotoVoice Project of the Green and Black Ambassadors

These are challenging questions and the answers are not as simple as I imply.  Those of us who have been fighting climate change, plastics in the ocean, toxins in our soil, pollution in the air, and the non-sustainable exploitation of our planet are deeply invested in the struggle and in the solutions we have forged. It is not trivial to patiently draw in new perspectives nor to have our ideas questioned – we have been fighting an establishment for five decades that has been guilty of predatory delay and manipulation of public understanding.  We are right to be wary of anything that delays action, right to be uncivil, impatient and intemperate.

But it is also time to concede that a thousand ripples have yet to become a wave.  Certainly not the wave needed to dismantle the environmental degradation that has become a near-inextricable feature of our society.

In Bristol, we have the potential to create this wave together.  We have a Partnership, a One City Approach and a cross-party ambition without precedent. This is the time to re-invigorate our environmental movement, to align it with our other challenges, to become genuinely inclusive and diverse.  It will not succeed with a simple majority, with a mere 52% of the vote.  It will have to be a new political project but with an apolitical community that rejects the discourse of division and embraces new and unexpected collaborations.

It will be a community that makes use of all of our talent and is united not with a single strategy or action plan but a common cause and shared values. It will be a community that thrives through a multitude of equally respected agendas.

I would like to thank so many people for inspiration, patience, passion and laughter: The original Green and Black Ambassadors Jasmine Ketibuah-Foley and Zakiya Mackenzie; and of course: Roger Griffith, La Toyah McAllister-Jones; Andrew Kelly, Sado Jirde, Paul Hassan, Ruth Pitter, Hayley Shaw, Kat Wall, Sumita Hutchison, Eric Herring, Karen Bell, Ian Townsend, Vicki Woolley, Marvin Rees, Stacy Yelland, Cllr Asher Craig, Zoe Banks, Mya ‘Birdgirl’ Craig, Peaches Golding and many many more. And associated organisations (Ujima Radio, Bristol Green Capital Partnership, Festival of Ideas and the Cabot Institute for the Environment) and funders (the EU ERC Programme and NERC).

Originally posted by Rich Pancost on the website of Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees.

 

The Green and Black Conversation – Exclusion and the Environmental Movement

This is a report from the very first event in the Green and Black partnership between Ujima Radio, Bristol Green Capital Partnership and the Cabot Institute.  Ujima had been leading on the Conversation for the previous year, and  this particular event was the catalyst for a three-year (and growing) partnership that was the foundation for the award-winning and celebrated Green and Black Ambassadors.

This Green and Black Conversation involved several members of Bristol’s Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) community and organisations. It was held in partnership with Bristol Green Capital Partnership (Gary Topp), University of Bristol (Hayley Shaw, Cabot Institute & Kat Wall, Policy Institute) and sponsored by the Cabot Institute whose Director Professor Rich Pancost addressed the group. The campaign has political support from Mayor George Ferguson and also Marvin Rees who attended the forum with European Member of European Parliament Claire Moody.  

Our new volunteer Helly Dudley, Broadcast Assistant on Ujima’s Old Skool Cruising Show (Monday 4-6) with Roger Griffith who was co-facilitator with Julz attended her first community engagement event and here is her blog. 

The Report of the Green and Black Conversation, written by Roger, can be read here.
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The Green and Black Conversation

Arriving at St Werburgh’s community centre I knew I was going to be getting involved in discussions about being ‘Green/Environmental’ and how this is linked to the BME community in Bristol. However, I wasn’t sure what would be discussed, how they would be viewed and spoken about.

From the get-go I realised that this is extremely important to many members of the BME community as there was enthusiasm for living in an environmentally beneficial lifestyle and also a feeling of a lack of support which members of the BME community feel they are receiving from the campaign. Although Bristol is European Green capital, there is a divide occurring within the city and certain communities feel they are being excluded by Bristol European Green Capital from this campaign.

We first looked at the use of language and the ways in which this can be limiting to people of all ages and ethnicities. Not only do language barriers prevent certain communities from getting involved but it also prevents them from knowing how to help and giving them a sense of self-responsibility. When one member of the group declared they didn’t know what ‘buying organic’ meant this created a murmur of agreement throughout the rest of the group as few of us were able to define what ‘organic’ meant. If you, like me, are unsure of the term ‘organic’ then the definition is – ‘(of food or farming methods) produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals.’

If the Green agenda wants to get all of Bristol’s residents on board to help the environment then they need to change the way in which they portray their methods of being sustainable and as we explored language is just one of those methods.

Another issue raised throughout the day was there was a belief that it was seen as an elitist campaign which directs its messages mainly to a white middle-class demographic. One attendee pointed out that, Gloucester Road is covered with Green campaign posters, Stapleton Road was left untouched. Why is it that the campaign is just aiming their agendas at the central zone of Bristol and neglecting the rest of its communities?

Kat Wall, who works with the University of Bristol and helped set up this discussion, mentioned that she had been to an environmental meeting and was shocked by the lack of BME members present. When she questioned the organiser of the event why this was the case they just replied that they had sent out the necessary invites but no one turned up. When this was put to the rest of the group there was an immediate response that the main reason they don’t attend these events is because they are tired of time and time again going to the same talks and making their input but never actually being heard or have their opinions taken on board.

There seems to be a lack of conversations between communities and those in power. To quote a member of Bristol’s Bus Boycott and activist and former farmer Roy Hackett ‘nobody ever asks me’ so if Bristol City Council and others don’t start listening to the ideas and needs of their own citizens  then how are we as tax-paying citizens  supposed to be able to get involved . One attendee mentioned that if her house was better insulated then she would be able to use less gas and her bills would decrease and she would be able to find the money to buy organic foods.

How can our city expect to stay regarded as a great city when we are cutting out members of our society from joining this campaign and others? We need to change our way of approaching the environmental issues and instead of forcing change onto communities we need to ask the residences of Bristol what they need for change.

We need to carry on having these discussions with each other, and those in power on what the people need in all communities not just the city centre. With the United Nations COP21 meeting taking place over the next 10 days in Paris, discussing climate change we need to now, more than ever, change our way of approaching this subject; and this can be done by including all members of our communities and tackling environmental issues together.

I really enjoyed attending this event and, by the enthusiasm and energy in the room, so did the other participants I believe that it was a conversation that was desperately needed so communities understand that this isn’t just an environmental issue but a social one that needs tackling. It is essential we work together and listen to one another to create new ideas of how to better enhance Bristol’s sustainability.

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This event took place at St Werburgh’s Community Centre in Bristol on 30 November 2015.

This blog was written by Helly Dudley, follow on Twitter @helena_dudley
Follow @ujimaradio.com @julzbrizzle and Roger Griffith @rogerg44.

The Green and Black initiative is a campaign ran by Ujima Radio to raise awareness within the Black & Minority Ethnic (BME) community about the environment and includes Bristol European Green Capital 2015 and beyond. The campaign has been led by Ujima presenter Julz Davis AKA Mistri and has included live broadcasts, debates, featured radio shows and ideas and brings people from marginalised communities into the discussions. This can include cooking tips, exercise and health, climate change across the African and Asian diaspora or heavy air-pollution from the M32 corridor that divides St Pauls and Easton.

Read more about how the Cabot Institute is working with the BME communities around the legacy of the European Green Capital year – see project Green and Black- An alternative green capital.

Most importantly, follow @ketibuahfoley @ZakiyaMedia, the Green and Black Ambassadors.  The issues raised by the Green and Black initiative and conversation led to a coordinate effort to create a new form of collaborative partnership and to procure funding to support our community partners (from the ERC and NERC).  It has been profiled by NERC and the final report from the Ambassadors pilot phase can be downloaded here.

Montage of some of the Green & Black Ambassadors