“Gatecrashing” a conference

It’s not often that I have to explain my presence at a conference. For most postgraduate students conferences are the perfect opportunity to learn about the current research in their field, and to build up useful working contacts. My attendance at this conference, however, was for very different reasons indeed.

Explaining that I came from a Psychology background, and was now based in the School of Nursing and Midwifery studies, I received many a puzzled look from the delegates at the Tyndall Centre “Climate Transitions” Conference. The conference was hosted and organised by members of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and postgraduate students from Cardiff University. I soon realised that I was the only individual attending who was not professionally linked to Climate Change, and this made me somewhat of a novelty. Many of the postgraduates attending the event were extremely interested in my own research, and I spent a lot of time talking to people about maternity care and midwifery (something I had expected to escape from for the week!).

My personal interest in climate change arose from a relatively “green” upbringing. Tips handed out from the government such as turning the tap off whilst brushing your teeth, using hot water bottles instead of the heating, and only filling the kettle with as much water as you need, have always been second nature to me. Showers had to be turned off whilst putting shampoo in, dishwashers and tumble-driers were devilish creations, and there would certainly be no central heating until you had 5 layers of clothes and a hot water bottle strapped to your chest. Being aware of the human impact on our planet became a part of my identity as I grew older; my housemates still suffer persistent nagging regarding correct recycling and minimising food waste. Added to a module on “Environmental Psychology” during my undergraduate years, my “climate curiosity” led me to this widely acclaimed “Climate Transitions” Conference, and they kindly accepted my request to attend despite being professionally unconnected.

The Keynote talk, given by Professor James Scourse, gave the perfect introduction for anyone interested (but not necessarily involved in) climate change research. The talk outlined the evidence for a climate transition over the last 5 years; including findings from research focusing on changes in CO2 emissions, temperature, sea level, and sea ice. The objective stance taken by Professor Scourse was extremely refreshing, and furthered my confidence that the conference would be an extremely interesting and insightful “catch-up” with the climate change evidence.

Throughout the course of the next three days, I was treated to speed talks and presentations regarding research encompassed by the themes “Land and Water”, “Energy and Emissions”, “Cities and Coasts”, and “Governance and Behaviour”. Although the seriousness of the evidence for climate transition remained clear throughout I was able to take a few amusing quotes and “lessons learnt” from many of the presentations. An interesting talk from Sarah Lee (Cardiff University) on the transformation of Cardiff Bay from estuary to lake taught me not to swim in the estuary during summer (due to high levels of phytoplankton relocated here from the bay). Laurence Smith from Cranfield University encouraged me to eat organically to improve energy efficiency (but not apples- organic apples are less energy efficient than regular ones, apparently!). Jonathan Kershaw’s (Coventry University) presentation on low carbon cars expressed claims from participants that “Going green is not sexy!”; a statement which I am inclined to disagree with – Bradd Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Pierce Brosnan included in the “Top 10 ‘Green’ Celebrities”. My personal favourite, however, was probably from William Lamb’s presentation on human development and carbon emissions; providing evidence that Costa Rica is one of the optimum countries for balancing high life expectancy with low carbon emission. Emigrate to Costa Rica, you say? Well…if it helps the environment then how could I say no?

A dinner debate on the role for shale gas in sustainable energy transition proved exciting as well as informative; strong opinions were assertively expressed with encouragement from a few glasses of wine.

One of the most personally interesting parts of the conference was the debate titled “Do climate researchers have a responsibility to live sustainably?” Ideas such as “Carbon shame”, “lock-in”, and “conference hypocrisy” were introduced and debated over amongst panellists and delegates. As always in these types of events each panellist had an extremely valid and persuasive argument, leaving me with more questions than answers concerning this topic.

As well as a wealth of new knowledge about how I can reduce my human impact on climate change, I came away from this conference with a new enthusiasm for inter-disciplinary research. It became obvious fairly early on that quite a lot of the theories and issues in this field of research were actually the same as those I had (and probably WILL) face in my own work. Psychological principles such as stereotyping and habit formation apply to so many aspects of human behaviour and belief systems, and recognising the parallels between research was extremely interesting. I also made a valuable contact through a delegate who had a friend doing very similar research to mine; proving that networking opportunities extend further than the delegates in the room.

All in all, I would strongly recommend that postgraduates attend the conferences that they have personal interests in, as well as those that apply to their work; you never know what you might learn.

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