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

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.