School of Geography Climate Change Retreat

Apr 8, 2019 - 3:20pm

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Last Spring many of us were unsettled to read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report Global Warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty. This report highlighted the crucial importance of action to reduce emissions in the next decade for determining the options that will be open to communities to respond to climate change thereafter.

Members of the School of Geography (SoG) at the University of Melbourne had been discussing for some time how to be most effective in our climate change response. To try and leverage something as a collective that goes beyond our existing teaching and research contributions, we organised a Climate Change Retreat in Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges on 4-5 February 2019. The idea behind the retreat was to provide a time and place to reflect on, discuss and brainstorm responses to climate change, both as individuals and as a collective.

Kicking-off with our own in-house expertise, Jon Barnett updated colleagues with an overview of the latest key climate change science. In a sobering presentation, Jon reminded us:

  • We are now locked in for an increase in warming of earth’s climate of between 2 and 2.6 degrees Celsius.
  • The task is now to determine how we can live with this warming trend while slowing down greenhouse gas emissions. The more we slow emissions, the more we slow warming, and the greater chance we have to adapt to avoid catastrophic impacts.
  • Since the 1960s, the only times where there have been decreases in global greenhouse gas emissions has been during financial crises e.g. there was a slight dip in greenhouse gas emissions following the collapse of the Soviet Union, 1997 Asian financial crisis, and 2007-08 global financial crisis.

Further setting the tone for the two-day retreat, seven SoG members then provided one-minute reflections and/or provocations for retreat participants to mull over as the retreat continued.

One activity was a fishbowl exercise where we imagined we were 12 years in the future. We were asked to freely discuss all the things that had happened in the prior twelve-year period to have enabled the School’s (imagined) achievements with respect to responding to climate change. Anyone in the surrounding standing circle could join the discussion by tapping a participant in a chair and swapping positions with them. This exercise yielded around 23 imagined outcomes by 2031 and some of the steps involved in achieving them, a good outcome for a day’s work.

The second day of the retreat was spent developing working plans for six priorities plucked from amongst the 23 actions identified during the prior day of the retreat: 

  1. Changing the public narrative about climate change
  2. Developing a School of Geography ‘climate bus’ project
  3. Promoting interdisciplinary research on climate change at the School of Geography
  4. Building the School’s capacity in critical Indigenous studies
  5. Creating PhD scholarships for climate-affected applicants
  6. Focusing on ‘quick wins’ for climate change action and sustainable practices, including examining our purchasing, catering and air travel

Stay tuned throughout the year as I report on our progress on these goals. All-in-all the two-day retreat was a success, not least because it allowed staff to bond, share concerns and take positive steps forward in relation to an issue we often feel anxious about and overwhelmed by.

As one small step forward, a number of us joined students of all ages at the School Strike for Climate in Melbourne on March 15.


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