Disenchantment can be a driver for change

Young people can create change (pc: School Strike
Climate)

I was led to believe by following your passion and getting a good education, success at changing the world would just happen. I remember picking up a handful of pamphlets at a university open day, which ignited an imagination of becoming a park ranger and saving endangered species from extinction. An environmental science degree was the pathway to protect the environment.

However, a few years after graduation, my position as a coastal professional positioned within the machine of coastal management led me to become consistently conflicted with the system. I would often express my frustrations regarding the lack of action for climate change or the approval of development in vulnerable coastal zones. Given the political climate at the time, I couldn’t even say climate change! This was of much disappointment given this was only a few years after the height of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, and the explosion of climate change discourse throughout my undergraduate degree.

Over the years I acquired a nickname as being a “disruptor”. However, what I had really become was an inconvenience. I was “that” or “one of those” coastal professionals asking questions and demanding accountability of the machine. I was an emerging product of this particular machine — was is an intentional past construction here.

This frustration was in fact disenchantment. What I saw with a critical self-reflexivity was what I could not deny. There are implications of maintaining the status quo and being a disenchanted cog in the machine, however, I was yet to know what they were. What I did know, was that I had become conflicted with this idea that the nature of my participation in coastal management was more than my job description, and it deserved a critical interrogation into the implications of toeing the line for the sake of status, career or financial gain.

Whether it has been out of stubbornness, a lack of fear or an inherent quality to strive for equality, I have become to realise that disenchantment can be a driver for change. It is in those (these) moments of disenchantment where we should question our own participation and reflect on our values, ethics and morals. I know that there can be another way, other ways of managing Australia’s coastal zone. This question has consumed my life since leaving the machine and starting a PhD about this disenchantment of the coastal zone.

If I could share some advice to my younger self (I am 32 years old), I would advise to understand and value the power of questioning, and with a critical self-reflexivity of pre-conditioned realities, we can also shift ideals to see another or other ways. This may not be written in the language for a younger self to understand, however, young people are incredibly intelligent and they will work out what I mean. The way the machine compromises the health, sustainability and ecology of the coastal zone needs bright, passionate young minds to continually question. ‘If we maintain the status quo, we will not realise the change we need for the environment and humanity’, words by Associate Professor Kerrie Foxwell-Norton, who continually reminds me as I navigate my own PhD.  And I agree with her.

This Friday presents a chance to challenge the machine, whatever side of politics you are from or whatever your age category. I will be joining the School’s Climate Strike to demonstrate my support for young minds to question and demand real action for climate change. 

Weird & wonderful ways to make things happen

 

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A humble group of committed professionals and citizens co-designing a coastal clean-up free future. 

While your news feed is being flooded with Trump news about him going down as the worst and most embarrassing President of the United States in history, there’ll be snippets of viral videos and humble updates about weird and wonderful ways that are making our world a better place, with less plastic too.

First off the rank is the 1 Million Women video about Boomerang Bags. The video went viral last week hitting 2.3million views and the ladies behind sewing the boomerang bags haven’t stopped responding to the calls to action to set up Boomerang Bags communities. Boomerang Bags is a national initiative that transitions communities to be plastic free, one hand-made, zero waste reusable bag at a time! I hope they haven’t missed Ellen’s email…

Next in line is Take 3 for the sea’s ABC News update about the hundreds of thousands of litter and marine debris items collected by everyday beach goers, where they collect three-bits for the sea, and then share their plastic bits on Instagram and hash tag #PICKITUPSNAPITSHAREIT. It’s a simple solution to raising awareness about plastic pollution. I recommend getting involved in this solution and it makes leaving the other 1000s or so littered items left on the beach seem OK! You’ve consciously made a difference, right?

Boomerang Bags and Take 3 for the sea are two great examples of the weird and wonderful ways that are making our world a better place with less plastic too. Keep in mind neither of them could happen in isolation. If anything the media have significantly contributed to their calls to action in the last week, almost as impactful as the Huffington Post and other campaigns that is currently slaughtering and scrutinising Trump. However, above all their impact couldn’t be possible without dedicated and committed citizens – keep this in mind too. It’s as if Margaret Mead is still trying her best to drown out the banging and destruction in our world – and this literally happening outside my office! Construction works for progress, meh.  

A much more humble yet equally weird and wonderful call to action is being crafted by the institutions responsible for managing our natural resources. Yes, finally! As I write the Queensland Government, City of Gold Coast, Commonwealth Games Goldoc and Healthy Waterways and Catchments and the community (Gold Coast Marine Debris Network), have come together to revolutionise the way we track, monitor and report, and intercept litter and marine debris to protect our waterways. We sat around the table yesterday to break free of the institutional norms to co-design a better world with less plastic and perhaps a coastal clean up-free future. This is a major breakthrough that the community have been seeking for many, many, many years, ultimately a marine debris monitoring and management plan. Such a plan seems like a no-brainer, especially when the Gold Coast is world-renowned for its beautiful beaches and waterways. However, the mechanics of the disintegrated institutions have limited any possibility thus far (and this is despite having a water economy worth over $5billion!).

The catalyst this time round is a major grant we are collaborating on, and if it gets up, not only will Gold Coast’s waterways and beaches benefit, the international community driven to have a world with less plastic will sleep better at night too.

The drivers that have influenced this possibility to be a possibility is inclusive of the exogenous influences playing a part in the negotiations with media, community leadership, cultural expectations, economies and civic ownership (plus many more).  

Then there are the agents… and in my opinion it’s the community leadership and civic ownership, which have finally tipped the negotiations to get a plan!

Above all, this wouldn’t be possible without the level of negotiation I (and others) have incurred for many, many, many years. Such negotiations have almost sent me to the crazy house, especially in some meetings where I had to spell out what marine debris is, and why current ‘solutions’ are not working… I am serious, and these institutions are responsible for managing our natural resources! Please note: there are good people inside the institutions, however, we can not turn a blind eye to the fact that they have failed to successfully negotiate inside their own institutions to have marine debris as a key component in their waste and water management plans – some are better than others. [This consistent failure inspired me to take on a Phd in institutional leadership and change to understand how those in institutions can influence decisions, or really influence their higher officers].

While this is being played out on the inside my local community haven’t stopped coming up with innovative solutions I bet they wish they could coin (e.g. Boomerang Bags is a Gold Coast export!). Such solutions are solutions because they do more than just ‘manage’ the issue, they actually stop the symptom in the first place. “If we only ever clean up, that is all we will ever do”, I quote Heidi Taylor, who is an Australian-based international expert on marine debris and citizen science from Tangaroa Blue Foundation. Move over Margaret Mead and everyone hail Heidi, who in my opinion is a key change agent at the heart of the progression on marine debris monitoring and management in Australia. With inspiration and guidance, my community have self-organised without the institutions (or in some incidences been drip fed with small grants and donations), and the meeting yesterday proved just how sophisticated citizens and citizen scientists have become when it comes to action on litter and marine debris.

To be honest I wasn’t entirely convinced on going to this meeting because I have spent hours and hours, goodness knows how many hours, sitting around tables, under fluorescent lights and contained within four walls meeting with clueless institutionalised bureaucrats about the plastic epidemic choking our waterways (I should also add the millions of dollars costing rate and taxpayers every year in clean up costs, and I better not forget the life threatening impacts on the 100,000 or so known wildlife too). That sentence was suppose to make you go out of breath, because I was almost out of breath – before yesterday. I had almost given up on trying to convince the institutions to invest in designing a monitoring and management plan for marine debris on the Gold Coast. Fortunately, a smarter than usual bureaucrat twisted my arm to attend that I thankfully attended…

Throughout the meeting I was in two-minds. Equally frustrated and equally thankful. Frustrated because the community, who are highly skilled, educated and experienced have been pitching such a project for many years. However, I was thankful that someone else was taking the minutes, someone else was responsible for writing the grant and I sat their gracefully sharing my ideas on how the community could be meaningfully involved. We are more than volunteers doing the dirty work!

As I drove home I gracefully smiled thinking, you know what, as much as the institutionalised bureaucrats and ‘science researchers’ in the meeting were frothing on the possibility of this project. None of it could be possible without the decade/s of community action already achieved. Today, my other frustrated self is thankful for being part of an incredible community that doesn’t stop until we get the outcome we know is the best-outcome for the environment. That is the ultimate goal!

If you have attended a clean up event on the Gold Coast I want to thank you because without your action I could not be in such positions (as much as they might seem frustrating) to put forward your ideas that add bucket-loads of soul to pivotal projects that will make our world a better place, with less plastic too.

I hope this tangent gives you some idea on what happens behind the scenes of cleaning up our waterways and beaches, inside the institutions that manage our natural resources. 

This tangent is part of a reflexive journal for my Phd (these are my opinions and ideas about institutional leadership and change). Enjoy, and credit where appropriate. 

URGENT // need portion control: the dilemmas of protecting the coast

URGENT // need portion control (pc: Photograph: Randy Mayor, Illustration: Brett Ryder)

URGENT // need portion control (pc: Photograph: Randy Mayor, Illustration: Brett Ryder)

This tangent is part of a private journal I am writing as part of my Phd. I don’t intend on sharing this journal (to often), however, today is one of those Phd days where I have realised that I am going to mad, I have put too much on my plate and need to go back to the beginning for some portion control. I wrote this motivation-journal-entry a few months ago and I don’t think I have progressed… mmm.


When your passion is your work and your work is your passion, negotiating the conflicting terrain between your passion and work will send you mad. I’ve spent hours, days, weeks, months and years trying to figure out the best way to negotiate conflicts. Conflicts that limit my passion and work to make a difference for Australia’s coast.

It is like being on a mice-wheel going around and around, going nowhere until the wheel falls off or I fall off.

I fell off a few years ago and now I find myself back on but on my own wheel. I didn’t want to be like the others and stay on the system’s wheel going nowhere. Instead, I signed up to do a Phd to understand why some stay on the wheel, why others fall off the wheel or how others find another way while on the wheel to make a difference. My motivation behind my Phd is part selfish, part selfless, because I didn’t want to be like those that stay on the wheel and go nowhere. I want to one of those that find the other way to make a difference.

I know that I am passionate about the coast and that I want to make a difference. But I am yet to know how and where I want to make a difference other than the entire system! I know I can’t research or make a difference to the entire system of coastal management. I have ideas (obviously) which have led me to begin a Phd in coastal management, and I am now at the crossroads of how, where and ultimately why I want to make a difference (and why bother at all).

I intentionally say difference rather than change because for my Phd what I do know thus far is that it is about being a difference maker. It is important to recognise this early on as the difference between difference maker and change maker is that difference makers focus on systemic change. Change needed for institutional-transformational change. Changing the institutions of coastal management is where I believe we need to make a difference (or at least make a dent in it), especially, to be able to address the unprecedented impacts that climate change poses on the coast. It’s a big statement and deserves critical attention (and has), and will seek the attention of many other Phds… not just mine.

Remembering that I am one of many who seeks such systemic change I start this Phd journal with asking myself, am I naive to think that a Phd on the cultures and conflicts of the coastal professional working in coastal management will answer the question we seek to know – how to influence systemic change to protect Australia’s coast?

The short answer is yes. So what, yes I am naive.

Anyway, it has now been 4 months of trailing through Google Scholar, attending conferences and symposiums, talking with coastal professionals, colleagues, students, friends and mentors. Each paper, experience and conversation has and will continue to shape my Phd. A Phd that will offer new insights before my (and other’s) passion turn into a nightmare, and have national and international significance. I also know the writing process (beyond my tangents) will help me document, scrutinise and re-imagine what could be possible to inspire myself, and perhaps other coastal professionals, to be difference makers to influence systemic change.