Priestley International Centre for Climate PhD researcher Claire Cooper writes about her first experience as a newly appointed Fellow for “Under Her Eye”
Very occasionally, in the course of our academic lives, we are given the opportunity to step out of our comfort zone and explore the questions we have been asking in our research from a different perspective.
The organisation is a unique, female-led organisation focused on creating collaborations between artists and scientists to produce new ideas on the environmental and social impacts of climate change. “Under Her Eye” is a new project, dedicated to promoting the voices of young female academics, artists, and activists, and investigating the role of women in climate change.
Recently, I spent four enlightening days with the other new Fellows in Scarborough, exploring the connections between us and our very varied projects, and preparing for an upcoming arts-science summit on 1 June at the British Library, organised by Invisible Dust.
The scope of the project is unlike anything I’ve previously been involved in, not least in terms of the breadth of subject matter; research by the Fellows ranges from my own work on volcano-climate interactions to the loss of archaeological sites due to coastal erosion, from the role of music and literature in reflecting cultural mindsets to the social and economic dynamics of refugee camps.
However, each of our platforms shares some common ground – all of us are interested in how human activity is affecting the environment around us, and how we, as women, can help tackle those changes.
A question I have been asked once or twice since accepting this Fellowship is: why focus specifically on women? Surely climate change is something that affects us all?
To a certain degree, that is true. Rising sea levels, more extreme weather patterns, and the destruction of fragile ecosystems are all universal problems. However, as detailed in a recent article by the BBC, women are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change. Disparities in socioeconomic power, and the traditional female role of being a home-based primary caregiver, leaves many women more vulnerable in the face of natural disasters, and often makes it more difficult for women to recover in the wake of such events.
Race and poverty also factor into this equation; the greater the social and economic divides in a society, the more keenly these disparities are felt.
It seems fitting, therefore, that the “Under Her Eye” Fellowship focuses on female voices in this ongoing conversation. And, I must admit, it was a very liberating experience to take part in a discussion led by non-male voices. Despite improvements in the figures in recent years, women still only comprise around 23-24% of the core STEM workforce in the UK. (I was unable to find any official figures on non-binary people in STEM.)
Claire Cooper (fourth from right) with the other “Under Her Eye” Fellows in Scarborough
This difference continues to a policy level. A recent UN report suggests that women have an average representation of less than 30% in climate negotiation bodies, from a local to an international scale. While in many ways public opinion has changed and advanced within the last few decades – both on environmental and feminist issues – some progress remains frustratingly slow.
For this reason, Invisible Dust takes a truly interdisciplinary stance to tackling climate change; within “Under Her Eye”, female creators and researchers from every academic and artistic background collaborate to help develop wide-ranging projects designed to tackle the environmental challenges we currently face.
At first glance, this may seem to be something of an over-ambitious mission statement. As scientists, we often take almost a delight in defining as many divisions as possible when it comes to our work. Geologists hold themselves apart from geophysicists, human geographers work separately to physical geographers, and almost all of us think of ourselves as being entirely distinct from artists, social scientists, and those studying in the humanities.
Yet each of these disciplines plays an equally important role in what is arguably the most important aspect of the climate change conversation – communicating the research, and ensuring its impact. Learning to view one’s own research or artistic work from a new perspective is a challenge, but it’s one worth taking. The spirit of this endeavour is not to focus on the differences in our approaches, but on their commonalities.
One of the greatest difficulties that climate researchers often face is how troublesome it is to disentangle the science from the social impacts. Perhaps the solution is not to further the separation between a work of research and its consequences, but to embrace the connections between the theoretical, the empirical, and the artistic exploration of the questions we ask.
Claire Cooper is a Priestley International Centre for Climate PhD researcher and “Under Her Eye” Fellow
See the Storify of the Fellowship weekend