October 1991. Bryan Adams tops the charts (Everything I Do…) closely followed by The Scorpions with Winds of Change. I’m excited but nervous, in my flowery corduroy trousers (yes really). It’s Freshers week.
Roll on a few years, and here I am again. And while I may not be approaching the extracurricular side of Freshers week with quite such brio this time round, I’m just as excited to be heading back to university.
I’ve spent my working life trying to crack a series of knotty environmental issues, from climate change to chemicals regulation. What I’ve learned, above all, is that it’s not just about crafting the perfect policy or working on that technological breakthrough. What we’re really missing is politics: specifically, a politics that can take proper account of the environment. The main political debates – justice, redistribution, the role of the state and the market, health, education and foreign policy – are all about how humans relate to each other. The bigger issue, that all this human politics depends on a stable natural environment (and of course that we are endangering this stability), rarely surfaces.
That’s the problem that I want to get to the bottom of over the next few years, through a work-based PhD at the University of Lancaster – thanks to a studentship from the University.
The aim, in a nutshell, is to combine insights from my professional work with a hefty dose of theory and reflection, then add in some new research, talking to politicians themselves about their approach to environmental issues. (If you want more than the nutshell, you can read the research outline here; and if you’re interested in the work-based PhD idea, have a look at this article.)
I’ll head for the induction meetings this week in the company of my fellow PhD starters, mostly in their early twenties. It feels strange to be re-entering this world after such a long break. But I’m glad I’ve waited so long. It’s more of a two-way process. I’ve now got the luxury of stepping back and asking myself some questions about what I do, benefiting from the insights of those in the academic community who aren’t constricted by the here-and-now, daily grind of government and politics. And in return I’m sure I will tell them all how it is in the real world out there….
I’ll blog here, and wherever else will have me, as the research progresses. And I’ll still be working – for Green Alliance, on their Climate Leadership Programme; continuing my work on community energy; and for NERC, as a Council Member. I’m looking forward to an interesting few years. And before you ask, no flowery corduroys this time round.