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. 

Undercurrent conflicts to saving the coast

Dune vandal

Another dune conflict, who is the council spokesperson, and what are their conflicts?

I have been enjoying the freedom and luxury of reading, writing and thinking about my Phd. It sounds luxurious to be spending quality time on something you are deeply passionate about, however, the sitting duck mentality does do my head in. When you identify with being a hungry person for change, perhaps a change agent, it’s intellectually challenging, as much as it is frustrating to wait for the thinking process to think-up a grand theoretical way of informing the creating change process.

In real world, I use my networks, experience, knowledge and passion to convey the best message for media to run the story that will publicly probe politicians to do something that their institutions haven’t been able to do –  “we don’t have the resources”, which is a no balls approach to saying no. While in my current Phd world, I use my scholarship to engage ideas, theories and other knowledges to better inform my interpretation/s of the world – why does it occur this way, and not that way?  

The context for understanding how to better create change that I am referring to is how do coastal professionals negotiate personal and professional conflicts (if any) in their management of the coast? I see conflicts played out everyday, and it’s frustrating. I question, why should professionals have to deal with institutional no sayers or dictators? For some, people survive by being a good public servant (e.g. imagine being the coastal professionals who had to remove sea level rise from coastal hazard maps when the Queensland Neumann Government was in?), while others just do what they are there to do (and not ask questions, imagine approving the Adani Mine?), while others, like me, don’t survive (they quit and let fate create a new path for change?)

In a self-reflexive peer-reviewed paper titled, ‘the secret life of a land-planning professional’, Joel Russell shares his insights and frustrations of finding the balance between human settlement and ecological principles with being a land planning professional. ‘It’s finding the balance’ where Russell experiences conflicts within the institutional frameworks he is conditioned to negotiate and suggests that, I quote, ‘the planning process itself just fans the flames of social, economic and political conflict, and rarely resolves anything’, unquote (Russell, 2000: 318).

Similarly, I experience conflicts with balancing inherent professional obligations with being a coastal professional in coastal management. I was confronted with a conflict experience in mid 2013, when I visited my local beach, Surfers Paradise, to witness my local council’s efforts in response to the coastal erosion in the wake of ex TC Oswald.  At the time when I approached the beach where the coastal erosion works were being carried out, I could see heavy machinery among the narrow, fragile dunes. I stood there alongside a growing crowd of onlookers in disbelief, confusion and conflict. Here was a local council that boasts clean beach and coastal management solutions, yet, I knew that extracting sand from vegetated dunes and placing it in front of an at risk coastal development was not sustainable. At the time, I was a coastal liaison officer between the local council, community, and university where I was employed, which meant continuing my day, returning to the office, and maybe talking about my conflicting experience with colleagues was the most appropriate action despite my conflicts.

And these dune conflicts never seize to go away, even though, I am institutionally positioned outside and have the luxury of blowing off my horn, or tweeting about it when or if I want to.

My colleague, Daniel Ware from Griffith University discusses this conflict experience as an undercurrent to the issues of coastal management. In his more recent work, he suggests that such personal and professional conflicts exist when ‘coastal managers’ are committed to the principles of sustainable development, which underlines the theory of integrated coastal zone management (Ware, 2017).

Alongside these ideas I question the construction process of these conflicts, and how historical, social, environmental, economics, institutional, cultural, political and institutional ideas have constructed the coastal professional, the phenomena of the coastal professional and coastal management. It is a cultural process as this phenomena is always in a state of flux, and I am pretty sure (hopefully) that my research can offer understanding and acknowledgment to the experiences of being a coastal professional, and dealing with conflict.

For instance, it is the juxtaposition between self and coastal places, the spaces where people experience the coast that draws my attention to question how do coastal experiences construct individual and personal identity and their individual ideas of the coast. Additional to this is the extension of inquiring into why people take up a professional role in coastal management. Is it to perhaps make a difference, protect their ideas of the coast, or they’ve just fallen into it?

I am at the stage of knowing (and believing) that my theoretical framework (I think of it like a coat hanger) will better inform (hang) my ideas to question and answer, well, how the bloody hell can we live, work and play along the coast without inherent conflicts? Or, perhaps what I am super pumped about at the moment is gently knowing where, when, why and how do these conflicts emerge given inherent conflicting professional identities and the spaces we engage… watch this space.
References:

Russell, J. (2000) The secret life of a land-planning professional, Bulletin of science, technology and society, Vol 20 (4), pp: 318-320.

Ware, D. (2017) Sustainable resolution of conflicts over coastal values: a case study of the Gold Coast Surf Management Plan, Australian Journal of Maritime & Ocean Affairs, Vol 9 (2), pp: 68-80.

Change begins with rethinking

Change begins with rethinking

I have recently returned home, to the sunny Gold Coast on the east coast of Australia, after a 5 week tour riding the mountain motorable pass in the world in India, and engaging in thought-provoking conversations with coastal colleagues in Perth (Western Australia) then Airlie Beach (North Queensland). Back to back conferences after a lifetime adventure, hell yeah, my thoughts are flowing.

To kick start some tangents, here is a keynote speech that I was fortunate to share with colleagues at the Western Australian Natural Resource Management and Coastal Management conference, held at Curtin University (they have awesome coffee and hammocks to chill out on).

As the keynote is well over 5,000 words you can download it here –Change begins with rethinking

Here are some thought provoking quotes:

As a disruptor of institutions that is passionate about action and change, I would like to see more of us take risk whether you are an insider or outsider of the dominant institutions of our practice. Because whether we plan our practice with the best knowledge we have, in most cases that I have been engaged in it still doesn’t make a difference when it comes to getting others onboard. And in many cases it wipes the adventure, creativity and adaptability out of our practice.


I’ll quote Charlie Veron, which his new book, A Life Underwater is a must read…

… Most professionals today, whether they be in the sciences, arts, education, even sport, work within the cage of bureaucracy that controls most aspects of their working life. For most this works for them to ensure their needs are met… but for those that need time and headspace to think, something needs to change… and this change is being led by technology and the younger generation…although the scary part is that the younger generation are being bred to accept what to work on, when to work and how to work…

Unquote.


This failing technocracy-approach that scholars like Shelia Jasnaoff theoretically describes helps me to unpack the decay and almost U-Turn on historic environmental justices. In our world this has seen the dependency on specialists with the result of our institutional departments specialising to the degree which then can’t respond to widening issues, especially when departments are chewed to the bone.


Enjoy – Change begins with rethinking