Tag Archives: PhD

The long overdue “so how did the new year’s resolutions go?” postmortem post.

What do you mean I haven’t posted a blog post in over a year? Lies. I’ve just blocked you. That’s why you can’t see them. Yes you.

 

Well yes, obviously it didn’t go that well given that my secret extra resolution was to blog a lot more. In my defense though it’s extremely hard to motivate oneself to write after completing a massive soul-destroying project (now available for anyone to read here, should you dare) which crushed both my self-confidence and will to get out of bed in the morning. It’s also doubly difficult to blog when you’re technically homeless and sleeping in your boss’s garden like some sort of medieval serf (cheers though Tom!).

 

Still, let’s go through the list and see how I did shall we?

 

Resolution 0: No flights

Accomplished? Yes, easily. But to be fair, it’s easy to keep this resolution when you have no money for a holiday and work doesn’t require it. I’m going to try to keep up with this one though, I think it’s environmentally prudent.

 

Resolution 1: Sleep outside at least once a month

Accomplished? Hmmm, sort of. I definitely failed on doing this on a once a month basis – defeated in January by cold weather and a lost hammock strap. However, the logs I recently compiled for my Mountain Training logbook led me to work out that I spent 117 nights camping out this year either in a tent or bivy bag. I’d say that accomplished the spirit of the resolution, if not the letter. This year I’ll aim for 12+ nights out again, though I’m not going to hold myself to a strict monthly schedule.

 

Resolution 2: Practice some bushcraft skills

Accomplished? Oh yes, definitely. Spending the summer teaching Bushcraft skills to kids, lighting campfires multiple times a week, regularly field cooking and plenty of knife and shelter work mean that I’ve definitely had a lot of practice. Once again I’m going to try to keep this up this year, albeit at a probably lower intensity.

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Resolution 3: Experiment a bit with media

Accomplished? Not at all. About the most I managed in 2017 was to finally get an instagram account. Living in the woods really wasn’t conducive to this, and to be perfectly honest I’d pretty much forgotten about this resolution a week after I made it. This year I’ll take another stab at it, potentially trying to get some quality video of a couple of adventures I have planned.

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So what about this year then? Here’re the resolutions for 2018 (yes, I know we’re halfway through February already):

Resolution 0: No flights

Resolution 1: Sleep outside at least once a month twelve nights

Resolution 2: Practice more bushcraft skills

Resolution 3: Experiment a bit with media

 

Resolution 4: Complete Lowland Leader Training

This has been a back burner goal of mine for a while now – racking up a few outdoor qualifications. Outdoor ed/guiding is my dream “fallback” career from academia and I want to make positive steps to make this a reality. Plus, it doesn’t hurt when it comes to field teaching. I have a few more quality lowland days to rack up early on in the season, and then I want to at least get my training sorted this summer. In an ideal world I’d also get my assessment done this year – but it might take me slightly longer to complete enough days.

Resolution 5: Blog more!

I really need to get back into the habit of writing again. To this end I want to start using this blog a bit more. Progress updates on the above resolutions and a few random rants I’ve got stored up to begin with. Then we’ll see what else I feel like.

 

I have a few more goals, some work related and some financial – which I don’t really feel like going into here. But that’s where things stand at the start of 2018, hopefully it’s going to be a great year.

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Climate, travelling, and the ethics of the round the world plane ticket.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between climate change and travelling. Part of this comes from finally handing in my PhD. I’ve been cooped up behind my desk for a good few months, and it’s been a long time (barring a couple of weekends and field trips) since I’ve really had the opportunity to go anywhere or do much exciting. The last decent trip I did was a pre-conference field trip around parts of Australia, a week long road trip from Sydney to Melbourne two long years ago. Even though it was a work trip (and thus spent almost entirely underground), we had a fantastic time doing some quick exploration of the Blue Mountains and Kosciuszko National Park. Kosciuszko in particular was an absolutely stunning locale, true wilderness in places with stunning vistas and wild horses and kangaroos roaming freely. I would love to go back there (spiders aside) and spend a few days or weeks roaming around.

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That said, another visit to Australia isn’t on the cards for me any time soon. The last visit was only possible thanks to my research grant paying for the flights to the conference (thanks EU!), and a convenient talk prize paying for the field trip (suck it BP!). International flights simply aren’t available on my personal travel budget at the end of a PhD when I’m job hunting. I’m also starting to question the morality of it, to be perfectly honest. The carbon footprint of that journey, according to one calculator online, is apparently the equivalent of 4.96 tonnes of CO2 for the flights alone. Given that the average carbon footprint of a human globally is 4 tonnes/year it seems a somewhat excessive thing to so cavalierly dump that much more CO2 into the atmosphere. I can justify it to myself when I’m doing it for a climate change related conference (barely), but how can I claim to love the natural world and contribute to so much damage to it at the same time? How can I justify doing that damage in the name of exploring it? It seems an act of almost arrogant selfishness to consider making trips like that for my own gratification, knowing that climate change can destroy the very environments I’m travelling to see.

I got into climate change research to make a difference. I did a PhD to try and add to our knowledge of the climate system, and I even think I succeeded in doing my part to add that little tiny sliver of knowledge that the next person can build upon. At, more or less, the end of that journey I’m kind of unsatisfied with it. As much as I enjoyed that trip to Australia, as good as that conference was, did I achieve anything there? Possibly one day the proxy technique I discovered will lead to greater understanding of the climate system. But it won’t stop climate change. It won’t curb CO2 emissions. And it won’t make a difference.

So what can I do that will? I’m currently looking for jobs with a slightly more direct impact, perhaps not as global an impact, but something more measured and immediate. I’m pursuing something in the environmental sector (and hey, if you’re hiring and interested hit me up!), something where I can work on sustainable transport, or energy, or educating the public. But that’s a slightly different conversation for a different time. At the moment I want to talk about travelling, adventuring and the outdoors.

You don’t have to look very far on the Internet, or for that matter in a library, to find a philosopher (wannabe or otherwise) proclaiming loudly about the benefits of travel. They talk about self-betterment, of stress-relief, of broadening one’s horizons, of seeing the wonders of the world, and a whole host of other statements (for a typical essay on the form, try here). These statements aren’t necessarily wrong, or at least I don’t necessarily disagree with them. I think though, that in an age where we’re finally starting to realise the impact those travels have on the world a round the world ticket becomes something much harder to justify. It’s almost a statement, not of a desire to broaden one’s horizons, but of a desire to selfishly exploit them. It’s a display of wealth and privilege not available to most. John and Jane Smith, fresh out of university, flying to Africa on an organised tour to climb Kilimanjaro aren’t raising awareness of anything – and I have my doubts about the journey being all that useful for self-discovery. Meanwhile, they’re wearing another path into the hillside, taking another few flights and driving another few hundred miles in 4x4s.

So maybe, just maybe, it’s time for a new philosophy about travelling. After all, in a globalised and multicultural world we can experience other cultures in our own hometowns. You can watch a Mexican drama, eating Indian food, whilst sitting on Swedish furniture if you so desire. Other cultures are everywhere around us, and it’s a daily wonder. We haven’t yet found a way to bring the Grand Canyon into our own home, but Google are probably working on it.

So here’s a suggestion: let’s spend a bit less time on planning grand gap year adventures around South East Asia, and spend a little bit more time exploring our backyards instead. The carbon footprint of going for a bike ride a few miles up the road and then sleeping in the woods is a lot lower than an international flight. All of those truisms about travelling hardening you up or helping you to learn who you truly are (“The true quarry of any great adventurer. Is the undiscovered territory of their own soul” and all that) are just as true when you travel under your own steam. Maybe we can redefine ecotourism to mean something that is actually ecologically friendly. Is it eco-friendly to dump oxygen bottles at base camp? Is it eco-friendly to tramp large tour groups through sensitive environments? Let’s take fewer trips to raise awareness of problems (whilst contributing to them), and instead promote more low carbon journeys supporting local businesses, exploring local landscapes and keeping the wild actually wild. And hey, maybe while you’re camping in the woods pick up a few empty cans and bottles to dispose of huh?

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Disclaimer: It’s winter, I’m poor, and I’ve not been on holiday in a long time. Maybe this is all just sour grapes, and not high-minded environmentalism. Who can tell?