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Microphone magic

Updated Tuesday 5th October 2010

Emily Benson talks about her role in the Stakeholder Forum organisation and how she brings together stakeholders across sectors with the simple use of a microphone


Copyright open university

Please note: This interview was recorded in a noisy environment, which may affect the clarity of the contributor's words.


Presenter:  So the first thing is can you say a little bit about how you’ve ended up thinking about environmental issues, where have you come from?

Emily:  Well in terms of kind of professionally I first started working in television actually as a producer, and I worked on a number of different sort of documentaries for British television, from ones about stem cells to ones about UFOs to ones about terrible buildings.  And through the work I began to feel just increasingly sort of despondent about the content of television, and the fact that it really, it has a very kind of transitory life and really it wasn’t dealing with any of the issues that I felt were important.

So I went back to school to do a Masters in International Development, and from there through the process of studying I actually began to recognise how important climate change is, and environmental security more generally in all development prospects.  So as a result I’m sort of now combining my media experience with NGO work and trying to capture some of the stories of people who are affected by climate change, and communicating that to Western audiences as well.

Presenter:  Can you say a bit more about that one?

Emily:  So my organisation is called Stakeholder Forum, and the essence of that actually goes back to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and the premise that environmental decision making needs to involve all of the stakeholders, so any one who has a stake in the outcome.  So what we try and do is ensure that whether it’s business and industry, whether it’s indigenous people, whether it’s trade unions, whether it’s NGOs, all are able to, the relevant stakeholders are able to actually influence, or at least inform the decision-making process, so that’s the heart of our work.

And one of those, one of the ways we can do that is actually to reach out to those groups, and create kind of multimedia platforms for them to share their opinions.  Because one of the problems with particularly this kind of forum is that sectors tend to work in silos.  So you’ve got your indigenous people, you’ve got your water community, you’ve got your energy community, and they’re not actually all talking together.  So what we do is we hold kind of radio round table discussions, we hold, we do kind of features, we sort of lots of different kind of multimedia projects, to try and get those different sectors talking to one another, and really using the microphone as a tool to do that.

Presenter:  That’s very interesting.

Emily:  Thank you.

Presenter:  And how do you see that developing over the next decade, what are your hopes over the next decade that you might be able to achieve them? The ambition?

Emily:  Okay, in the macro, well I don’t know whether we can do this and whether we’re getting anywhere, but I suppose what we do need to shift is, I feel at the moment that we’re working in a kind of cognitive dissonance.  There’s an understanding of climate change, there’s an understanding of environmental security, but there’s not a willingness for anyone to change their behaviour, and the root of that is our kind of consumption levels and the path that we’re choosing to develop.  And I think that if we can begin to communicate that actually heavy industrialisation and the way that we’ve done in the past isn’t necessarily the path for the future.  And that there are alternatives; there are choices to be made about the ways economies are developing, both in the North and in the South.  And I think that that could really begin to generate an exciting future rather than quite a desperate future, which I think it is at the moment.

Presenter:  So bringing it back a little bit, a bit closer, what about your personal organisation or even you personally over the next one year or a shorter period of time?

Emily:  Well I guess there are two ambitions that I have particularly in the next year.  The first one is that as well as the media stuff that we’ve been working on we’re also working on a, we’re looking at the role that water has in climate change, and the fact that, so instead of focusing on the mitigation side, which everybody has focused on, the carbon, what we’re saying is that climate change is already underway and how we’re going to adapt to it, and what we really want to make sure is - water is the main medium through which climate change is going to make itself felt.  And yet amazingly in the adaptation nexus there is actually, there are no references to water or water management, and that has to change, we have to make sure that society is more prepared for water scarcity, unexpected rainfall, extreme weather patterns, and that’s not the case at the moment.

So that’s my first, that’s our first kind of policy goal.  And the second one I think is to really start through some of our kind of media work, through reaching out to different stakeholder groups, to try and make sure that all of the relevant stakeholder groups in this climate change context are actually talking to each other.  So that you don’t get this situation here, you know, at COP15, where you’ve got little tables all next to each other, but no one is actually talking to each other.

So however I can open up the channels of that over the next year is what I’m really looking forward, looking to try and do.  And also, you know, the climate change community doesn’t talk to any of the other communities like the biodiversity community, for example, like the oceans, like the water community.  So how can you make sure that also within UN intergovernmental processes that the climate change community is also talking to other intergovernmental processes that will all impact like the trajectory for climate change?

Presenter:  I think those are excellent aims.  Final question, deceptively simple perhaps, where would you base yourself on a spectrum between optimism and pessimism?

Emily:  A cynical optimist maybe.  Or an optimistic cynic.  So I think from my interviews here at this conference, the one thing that I’ve been really struck by is underlying most people’s responses for why they’re here.  It’s because they believe that things can change, and they believe that humans are capable of quite rapid change.  And I’ve, through those interviews, I actually feel the same.  But I think that at the moment we are in a political bottleneck, and until that bottleneck begins to shift, I think that the energy that humans have, the capacity that our funny old world population has to really put those changes into effect is being stunted.

So it’s, once we can begin to shift the political cogs, which I think are beginning to shift, I think we’ve seen amazing change over the last five years.  Climate Change, carbon footprinting, nobody even thought about it, now everyone knows what a carbon footprint is in the UK for example.  That’s changed, that’s what’s happening, and I think that if we can, I think that things are snowballs, and I think they will, it will, this will begin to really collect speed and collect momentum.  And that’s something to really look forward to, instead of just feeling sort of disenfranchised and frustrated with the lack of political will.



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