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A burst of energy

Updated Tuesday 15th June 2010

From COP15: Energy researcher, Catherine Bottrill, talks about her work to help the UK music industry cut carbon emissions.


Copyright The Open University

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


Interviewer: Catherine, what brought you to environmental issues?

Catherine Bottrill: It’s certainly, I’ve had a kind of deep desire to be engaged in this issue from when I was very young, probably through elementary school and then from high school I was in the, I ended up being president of the environmental club, very kind of proactive within my school. And I think a lot through the conversations I had with my parents about sort of some sense of civil responsibility and citizenship, and then also just a fascination with the natural world and looking at the humans’ relationship in that world and being very conscious that we do all sorts of things that are unnecessarily negatively impacting on the world we live around us, and also conscious about the inequalities. You know, I’ve had a very privileged life but also worked with less privileged people and also been to many places that have less privilege, and so conscious that need for social and environmental equity. And then sort of developed and studied and then actually whilst I was at Yale originally I was going to do conservation biology and development studies, and then I thought actually the most exciting space is energy. Energy being just a part of our everyday lives, the fabric of our society and just the way we use energy in sort of irrational ways and feeling very disconnected from energy.

So then a friend of mine, [unclear] and I both very active in the climate change and energy during graduate school but then deciding that actually quite interested in behavioural change and how we use energy less so than the supply where we get our energy from. And so that developed my kind of professional interests and decided to become an energy researcher. I moved back to the UK after doing graduate studies in the US and become an energy researcher at Oxford University. And there I was working a lot on the built environment, energy efficiency in the built environment, behavioural change policies, and also, very interesting, kind of quite radical policy idea of personal carbon allowances, and I think it’s really, although, it was an interesting space to be working on that policy at the time because there was a quite serious interest from the Government, the UK Government to at least explore that policy, and I think in the climate change space it’s important to think about the unthinkable policies and how they might work because I do think we need sort of quite fundamental shifts.

So although personal carbon allowances might not be the right policy I think I really valued that kind of exploration of something quite different. And then my current work is like a sort of continuing on with the research theme and then ended up doing a fascinating project with the UK music industry who was deciding to really understand their mission. They raising concern by business leaders that they’d powered their responsibility both from a business practice but also a moral kind of imperative to use their leverage in the climate change space, but didn’t quite know how best to approach this and came to the Environmental Change Institute where I was working and said could you help us. And so I got involved in the study that’s become quite kind of important study for them that looked at their emissions over the course of one year across the live and recording sector, helped set priorities of where to focus attention of how the industry could proactively reduce their emissions. And I’ve continued in that space since then, working in the cultural sector, so it bridges, you know, very pragmatic kind of emissions reductions in business but also partners with this behavioural change in mindset and how we as a community respond to climate change.

Interviewer: Can you tell us where you think that you personally will be thinking or working across the next one year, five years, ten years? And maybe some guesses as to the industries and research activities that you’re involved in more generally are going to be across the next one year, five years, ten years?

Catherine Bottrill: So in the next one to two years I hope to have completed my doctorate work and that work, that doctorate work is looking at the role of the music industry and to reduce its emissions. What are the limitations and opportunities that this lifestyle industry has to really engage with audiences and their supply chain on emission reductions. So I hope that will be done at a personal level. But then very interestingly in parallel to doing to my PhD work I co-created some energy management software (web based) with a colleague from Oxford called Russell Lavery, and we’ve developed the software for home but also for small and medium-sized businesses.

Because there’s all sorts of interests, you know, new technology, new, you know, capacity building around it, so both Russell and I are very interested in whether we could really take this software to market, and so I think in the next two to five years I might explore that. But also see how to take forward my research work in the cultural sector, I’ve really enjoyed working with the cultural sector and hope to in some way continue to engage in that.

And then the next ten years I think it will probably depend on how the next five years progress, but I don’t necessarily anticipate myself remaining in the research area. I like the kind of intellectual pursuit of knowledge in academia, but I also like the quite practical solution taking, and I sort of see myself more in the practice of the kind of low carbon solutions, so maybe in the next ten years not in academia.

Interviewer: And the last question, in one sense easy, in one sense difficult, do you consider yourself more optimist or pessimist?

Catherine Bottrill: I want to be an optimist. So I’d say sort of in the 8th, from a 1 to 10, an 8, and I think, you know, we are starting to see governments take a more serious response to this issue, still remain concerned that they’re not going deep enough and not ambitious enough to really solve the climate change challenge and then its linkages with all the other sustainability issues, biodiversity, water, very concerned about ocean acidification, and so I think I want to be optimistic because I do feel we have the capacity to solve this issue, but I think this is where the cultural industries and relationships and dialogue between peoples is really important because I think government need more support to leverage the level of ambition that’s needed.

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