Skip to content
Health, Sports & Psychology
Author:
  • Video
  • 45 mins

The climate change policy makers of tomorrow

Updated Saturday 1st May 2010

In this extended discussion, Caili Forrest, Simone Haysom, Venkat Ramani and Leony Silalahi discuss the work they are doing as part of an MPhil course in Environment, Society and Development at Cambridge University

This page was published over five years ago. Please be aware that the information provided on this page may be out of date, or otherwise inaccurate due to the passage of time. For more detail, see our Archive and Deletion Policy

Video

Copyright open university

Text

Interviewer
OK, so the first question is about sort of where you come from geographically and idealistically and academically and so on, and particularly maybe thinking about what sparked an interest in environmental change.  So if we can do the same order, if we can go around in this order.

Caili Forrest
Well I'm from Durban, it’s on the east coast of South Africa.  I studied my undergrad there at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.  I did four years of geography, and before that I took geography at school.  From an academic point of view, I'd say the reason I got interested in environmental change was because I think obviously it’s the big thing we've got to deal with, I think that, and I think that everyone’s starting to realise that and I think being the age that we are, we are the ones that are going to mainly be going into business and government and NGOs and all those kind of things, and so we’re going to have to the be the ones to make the big change.  Idealistically, I'd say that before I came here, I was a lot more from the kind of science background, so more environmental management, that kind of thing, and after doing this degree, I've got a much more kind of like development background and I think that a key thing is going to be education.  So that’s the kind of, it’s not really a shift, it’s just acknowledging the different ways of probably looking at something, so instead of the scientific like technical do the water pollution or whatever, more the education and getting people behind something will make a big difference.

Interviewer
Great, thanks.  Simone?

Simone Haysom
I would describe myself as a reluctant geographer, I suppose.  I came late to geography.  I originally studied History and English Lit and then did an honours in Geography and then came here for a Geography masters.  And I couldn’t give you a neat narrative of how I came to be interested in environmental issues, I think if you'd spoken to me as a teenager I would have, that wouldn’t have been something that came up.  I think it has a lot to do with coming from Cape Town in South Africa, which is a city which has a mountain in the middle and an ocean all around it, and is incredibly beautiful but also incredibly unequal.  And I think that really meant I grew up around a lot of the contradictions that come with development.  And studied History out of interest in how the world works, and in the course of I suppose that degree and just events that were happening in the world, came to very much believe that addressing environmental concerns was a key part of addressing injustice I suppose, and development, which sounds very serious but was very interesting I found along the way.  Yeah.

Interviewer
Ven.

Venkat Ramani
And I'm kind of a rootless Indian, because I belong to the south of India but I spent most of my time in other parts of India, and I speak my own language with an accent so most people who, I mean in my hometown people find it very difficult to accept me as a Tamil.  But the fact that I travel so much around the country also kind of I’m spreading interest in environmental change.  I think the spark was actually more academic.  When I was doing my undergraduate studies I happened to read a few books which influenced me greatly, and these were books which dealt with indigenous communities and their environment, and this was something very new for somebody who had grown up in an urban environment throughout.  So I think the interest began there, and as I travelled I also, I think I was curious to see how different kinds of people deal with their environment.  And also the period of time in which I grew up, especially the late ’90s and the early part of this decade was a period of rapid economic growth in India, and you actually saw a lot of change in terms of lifestyles happening.  And it suddenly seemed that people just didn’t care about the environment, and there was this huge divide between the urban middle classes and the poor in the cities, and also rural Indians.  I think that’s something which really kind of intrigued me and made me want to explore environmental change in the way I do.

Interviewer
Very interesting, thank you.

Leony Silalahi
Well my undergrad was civil engineering, so actually I wanted to go to study environment but I didn’t get accepted, sadly, a sad story.  But then afterwards, well I should say that afterwards I get accepted but then I was having too much fun in my previous university.  Anyhow, the bottom line is I didn’t study environment, and then I became a journalist for six years, but I've always been interested in environment and AIDS.  I don’t know why these two areas just interest me.  But like the last three years, I covered energy, well actually more, three and a half, four years I covered energy, and it’s very, very much linked to environment, and at that time the issue of climate change actually start coming to Indonesia, where I come from, because previously due to protocol we couldn’t get anything from it, but then, you know, little by little.  And then the thing that basically cemented my interest was when I went to COP 13, was it, in Bali, and it was really, it was very exciting.  It was exciting to see an issue that is first of all it’s really, it is really something that can't be solved by one single country no matter how powerful you are, it’s really a universal, and it is also I think in a way something that can be, it may sound naïve, but something that can be created with more equal bargaining power.  Of course like a lot of developing countries don’t have the, you know, in the negotiations they are like far more disadvantaged, but in another sense we have a lot of power as well, because of the forests, because of population, etc, etc.  So it was, and also there was this sense that everybody was getting together to try to solve this, and it was this sense of togetherness that is also interesting for me.  So then I thought I would get, I would learn really and think about the environment and about development, because I really believe you can't ask people to just pay attention to one thing and forgetting the, you know, other people are still, still need to live, so yeah.

Interviewer
Great, thank you for your introductions, a bit of history as well.  So the next question is about what you're doing at the moment.  Obviously one of those answers will be common for all of you in one sense that you're all here at the University of Cambridge doing geography in some form or other and all doing MPhils, so if you'd like to talk a little bit about what you’ve been doing, what you’ve been specialising in your work, that would be interesting to know.  But also if you have other non-academic work or projects or interests that relate to your interest in environmental change, then also we’d like to hear about those.  So if we go around the same way, but feel free to chip into each other’s conversations.

Caili
Well from this year’s point of view, outside of the whole academic Cambridge thing, I joined quite a few of the groups, but probably the one that I've done the most stuff for has been the Stop AIDS students’ group, and I'm not, I don’t know, I wouldn’t say it link, it does link to environmental change but this was not environmental in the strict sense.  But like Leony, I also think that that’s a big issue that has to be dealt with in conjunction with all these other things that would be considered environmental change normally.  Then from my, what I'm doing here, my dissertation actually has very little, my dissertation is very social sciencey, so it’s kind of like I'm doing the post-colonial cities, so that’s less environmental change and more understanding how people negotiate the identity and power in that kind of city, and using Durban as an example.  But outside of that, I did actually choose between coming to Cambridge and studying another degree in environmental change in Oxford, and I decided to choose this one because this degree is more broad and I don’t, like I wanted to do something that was really broad and then specify down, down, down, going into it.  And then just, yeah I'm hoping, well I don’t know if we should talk about the future but obviously all the, because we’re finishing in like two weeks so that’s what’s on my mind, and I think that the thing I probably should do and will do is go back home and try and get a job in either the municipality that I live in or in another provincial government department, because if there’s anything I've learnt here it’s that governance is a very good thing, so if I can help in that way then that will probably be very good. 

Simone
I think this has been exceptionally interesting for me in terms of reaching out to other people who were grappling with the same issues as me within the course and outside of it.  I ended up going to the COP 15 in Copenhagen during my break, which was a huge adventure and, despite the very disappointing results, disappointing but they were predictable, this was very motivational, also very inspirational, and really gave me a sense that sort of things were happening and there was a lot to be excited about.  And in a blatant ploy to just turn all my recreational reading into something useful, ended up writing my dissertation on that, which has been great and very interesting and has allowed me to interview post-autonomous activists from Berlin and career bureaucrats in the UN, and ask all sorts of questions that I think are the most interesting ones raised by climate change about distribution and institutions and democracy.  And that’s what this year has been about for me.  I also started blogging for a South African newspaper which was interesting because, when I was in South Africa I had very much of a sense what was recently, before I came, that there was very little discussion of environmental change or sort of the challenges posed by climate change and linking those two other social issues.  And I almost feel like since I left, all the stuff that’s been coming out the woodwork and there’s actually a lot happening and it’s really exciting and really interesting, and writing that blog has been a way of kind of keeping in touch with that civil society movement, well not movement but developments, and I've enjoyed that.  And looking forward, I don’t know what I’ll do when I graduate, but I found a co-conspirator in the last few months that’s going to be working with me on sort of an internet project that we have around mobilising people and setting up some kind of interesting offline-online dynamic with climate change protests.

Interviewer
Interesting, I might ask you more about that in a second.

Venkat
I'm just trying to recollect the situation, I got really carried away with that.  I'm doing a dissertation on the post-tsunami reconstruction process in India.  My approach to environmental change is more through social change.  So for example I have been very interested in the social changes that were produced by all the aid that came in as part of the post-tsunami aid process, brought through Indian central government.  And in this case I'm arguing that the enormous volume of aid is actually changing people’s relationship with their environment.  So these are very small tropical islands, very isolated, and previously before the tsunami they lived lives which were, which drew mostly from the resources that were available on their islands, but now the aid is, I mean there’s so much conspicuous consumption that henceforth they will be dependent on stuff coming in from outside, and that really poses questions of survival and sustainability.  But apart from the infill, I've just been trying to enjoy the summer and the spring, neither of which you have in India, we hardly have spring and summer is, I mean if you think of summer, I think of temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Celsius, so to have a summer which, I mean the maximum temperature in Cambridge is 18 or 19, and this is hardly summer for me, at which we start bringing out our woollens and we try very hard to feel cold, so that you can say that, you know, we have winter in the south of India.  So I think it’s more been about trying to understand the way people lead different kinds of lives in different parts of the world, the way people live in a certain part of Britain or, and comparing it with the way people live in different parts of India has been a very interesting experience in itself.  So to look at the bruise that Caili has, I mean it reminds me of the Amy Brett novels that I used to read where bruises seem to have gone from black, brown and different colours.  I could never understand that because every time I got a bruise it was only one colour. 

I mean what I want to do, I would like, I applied for a PhD and I’m waiting to hear about funding on it.  If I do that, it’s a topic which is very closely connected to environmental change in the Himalayan region in India.  And I chose the Himalayas because at that point of time, the IPCC had not made its correction, so the Himalayan glaciers were scheduled to melt in 2035, and it’s a matter of great sadness for me that they will not melt in the year 2350 now.  But nonetheless, I'm looking at community managed natural resources in the western Himalayan region.  Again, these are institutional mechanisms which have evolved over a very long period of time, and they're very much in tune with the resources that are available locally, and with the kind of development that we are now pushing for has very serious repercussions for Afrogenic ecological zones such as the Himalayas, also the islands that I'm currently writing about.  But my approach to environmental change is not through the environment per se, and this is something which I find very surprising, the attitudes to the environment in the west, where man has treated as distinct from the environment, which has never been the case in, at least if I look at my own upbringing, one has always considered oneself as part of the environment.  But the kind of development that one is pushing for, even in developing countries, is very much influenced by western cultures and it is forcing the separation between human attitudes towards themselves and human attitudes towards the environment, so there is this separation which is coming into being, and that is something which I hope to study in the course of my PhD.

Interviewer
Leony?

Leony
Well, being a former journalist, my interest is in the media, being here even like six months later and learning about a whole lot of stuff I find that I'm still very interested in the media.  So, and another thing that I was also very interested is forests, because Indonesia boasts the world’s third largest tropical forest, and that’s where Indonesia comes in in the international talk I think, in climate change.  And so I combine these two and I'm looking at how deforestation is presented in Indonesia’s biggest newspaper over the past decade, to see how the people view forests, do they change or, you know.  So other than that, one thing that is really great about being in Cambridge, it was I got pumped with so many ideas and like all these theories and it’s sort of like making you rethink about a lot of stuff.  And I write little things, just, and but it’s interesting to see the discussions that are being, that’s being put out in my little Facebook notes or my blog posts.  I don’t, I'm not entirely sure what I want to do after this, whether I'm going to development or I'm going back to being a journalist, but the one thing I think I'm quite interested in is like to bridge between these scientists and these laymen.  There has to be a bridge and there has to be something that interests laymen of the knowledge that these scientists have, and I think that’s sorely lacking, and there are so many things that these, one side can say that will be really useful but also that’s far less boring and far less convoluted, so I think that is also another place that I'm interested in, to be the bridge or to be sort of like a translator for that.

Interviewer
I'd like you all to say a little bit about where you think you'll be going in the future and what you think you'll anticipate doing, and also what you think the world will be like over the next decade.  I want you to think about this in terms of the next sort of year or two years and, but also over five years and also over ten years, so try and think in that sort of long term.  But I also want to, because you all have this one thing in common, I want you to also talk a little bit about how you think what you’ve been doing here for the last year might prepare you or has informed you about things that we’ll be doing in the future or how do you think you training as geographers may or may not aid you in thinking about and working on environmental change in the future?  So I’ll ask you all to say a little bit, but I’d also like you just to discuss amongst yourselves how you see the next sort of decade panning out.

Caili
I was trying to work out how old I’ll be, I was like oh God.

[laughter]

Leony
Sore subject.

Caili
Well let me think.  Well one to two years, I think that the reason that I would like to go into government first is because I'd say that right now I'm probably quite idealistic, because I don’t have any other work experience and everyone says oh, you know, the government in South Africa, terrible, so I want to go into that first so that I can…

Simone
So that it can make you cynical.

Caili
No, no, I don’t want it to make me cynical, because I don’t want to, I don’t want to work in like a private company doing environmental consulting or something, sitting typing reports and then get so over it and then try and go into government and make a difference.  So while I've got the sense that I can make a difference like going in there and trying to do something like really positive, because the one thing I really want to do in the ten years that are going to happen is try to make a difference in something.  Like I don’t know if I’ll be able to see that difference or not, because sometimes you make a difference without knowing it, but definitely that’s one of the things that I want my career to be about.  And then in, if I'm hating it then in two years I think I might consider doing a PhD and going into academics, because I also think that that’s another way, that’s another important way that you can inform people and you can be a, you know, a profession that can make change and like, you know, you don’t have to be confined to different things.  So I think in academics, you can be a very active academic that does make differences. 

Interviewer
We've got some very different, I would imagine here that we've got some very different ideas around this table about what the best avenue for making a difference is, already from what you’ve said about where you might be going in the future.  It seems like maybe academia is one way of making a difference, maybe the media is a way of making a difference, maybe politics is a way of making a difference and possibly activism.  So there might be around this table four, I'm guessing, but there might be four attitudes quite different about the way that we can make a difference.  Can you…

Leony
I don’t think there is a best avenue to make a difference.  First of all like you said the difference that you make you may not see, and I think what matters is the attempt, you know, like not just total complacent and just everybody else is not doing it, why should I?  Although I can understand that kind of frustration, I really do understand, and actually learning this year, that’s what taught me it’s like anything you're doing, there’s bound to be something wrong in what you're doing, but you can't just start with that attitude.  I've had a lecture actually that was like, really like journalism, they do this, they don’t, they misrepresent that climate change, they don’t report it and I really felt defensive, and it was like being sad but I was like okay, but you know, there will always be something.  There is no best avenue, you just have to make where you think you're going to fit best and where is that fit with your heart best.  I mean I like writing, and so that’s where I'm going, you know.

Caili
Yeah, and I think it’s like, the whole thing of the group, one of the group jokes was that everything’s deeply problematic, because I think the, I mean even in some of the classes we were having like counts for how many times they said something was problematic, or deeply problematic, and so I think that one of the things that often, like discussing that kind of feeling with the class afterwards and, you know, just interacting with each other there was kind of like the sense of yes, okay a lot of things are wrong but, at the same time, a lot of things go right.  So say you get an NGO that, you know, is trying to do good work and perhaps 70% of the time they really are making a change and educating people or whatever, 30% of the time someone’s being a bit corrupt in the thing and taking some money, but does that 30% make the 70% invalid?  No, it doesn’t, it’s still 70% good.  So I think for me there’s things, you're going to have limitations because of the person that you are, because of the job that you decide to do or whatever, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it.  I think it’s too easy to say but if I try this, it’s still not enough, or that’s a bit of a lame excuse I think.

Leony
And also, we like set up this best avenue and then we start, oh you're going to oil industry, you're working for the enemy, and I'm like no, what kind of an attitude is that, you know.  It’s like, if you are treating already like discarding people, of course you're not doing anything good because you're working for the enemy.  It just doesn’t make sense.

Interviewer
So to go back to sort of looking into the future, where, open question, anybody who wants to chip in, where do you see either yourself or all of us in, over the next decade?

Simone
I think it’s going to be hugely unpredictable and interesting.

Interviewer
And deeply problematic, right.

Simone
Deeply problematic, it will be.  I think one of the conversations I remember having with someone else in our classes after we’d had one of these lectures where everything had been deeply problematic, we both kind of said we really want to be the people that are deeply problematic like.

Caili
I think that was Aaron, it must have been Aaron.

Simone
Yeah.  I think that for me, I agree, I don’t think there’s a right way, there’s what you're inclined to do and what makes sense to you.  Someone, I read a quote about hope that I really liked the other day, which was that hope isn’t the confidence that something will turn out right, it’s the confidence that it’s worth doing anyway, or that it makes sense to do, and I think that that’s true.  I suppose I think it’s very likely that the next ten years will be very conflictual.  In some places resources have become so scarce, whether those are environmental or they're institutional, that those fractures are emerging.  I think South Africa is facing that at the moment, there’s a lot of strikes, a lot of protest, people are running out of patience with what they’ve been given.  So I think the next ten years will probably be conflictual, and I think that there will be a lot to be pessimistic about.  I personally feel optimistic in general.

Caili
But I think also, like I think the next ten years, I kind of feel like of all this time with the environmental movement and with other social justice issues and that kind of thing, it’s been like this long like, you know, going like this, and I think the next ten years is going to go up like that.  I think all the issues are really, you're going to, you're not going to be able to not deal with them any more.  Like, for example, the South African government and the HIV AIDS, you know, they haven’t really dealt with it and in the next ten years they're going to have to.  There’s no option of being like oh well we’ll sort of put some kind of, you know, bad policy together.  It’s going to be, it’s all going to come to the fore, so all the climate change stuff, the HIV AIDS stuff, the, you know, the divisions in the society and people, like you were saying, people getting, you know, people want to make a change for the better, and so hopefully I think it will be.  I think there will be lots of conflict and that’s going to be sucky, but I don’t know.  I think, I don’t know, I think people are too reactionary and not everyone’s proactive enough, but I think the next ten years there are going to be lots of crises, so probably good things will come out of it but it’s going to be done in probably a very, not the best way, probably a horrible way where you have some kind of crisis and then people come out of the crisis, so.

Leony
What do you think Venkat?

Venkat
Actually I think, I'm very pessimistic about the future, and this pessimism has actually grown in the last few months, ever since I arrived in the UK. I feel, I mean the - and this is very personal in the sense that I'm sure the others maybe will not agree with me, but there is no attempt to fundamentally rethink the way that we lead our lives.  It’s like let’s have growth but let’s not have more carbon emissions, but they aren’t questioning growth itself.  And I cannot see how you can have the kind of growth that one identifies with economics, with a certain teleology without actually causing damage to the environment.  In the specific case of climate change, it’s a very scary prospect for somebody who comes from a developing country with a population of more than one billion, but 70% of the people in my country are extremely vulnerable to climate change.  Even a small increase in temperature will lead to, say for example, a huge rise in the cases of malaria for instance.  And having suffered from malaria myself, I know what it means.  If you don’t die, you will still live, but you won't lead a full life.  And the outcome of the Copenhagen summit was really very disappointing in that respect.  I really don’t expect much from governments or from people in power.  The only hope in my opinion is in people like us, who care to think about what’s going to happen and who try to make a difference in certain small ways.  So I'm very, very pessimistic about the world in the next ten years, but having said that there is always this innate hope that comes with human life, and this sense of optimism I hope, I hope, sincerely hope will counter the pessimism that I carry.

Leony
I think one of the things that occurred to me in doing the research for my dissertation and reading so many excellent critiques of the problems, so many excellent analyses of why we are in the situation that we’re in is that in so many ways the problem is that the analyses are so much better than the solutions that have been put forward.  People can say very clearly what’s wrong, but what can replace whatever we have now is very uncertain and untested. 

Caili
Well it’s kind of like that Mike Gomez book, why we disagree about climate change.  Like he was saying, you know, one of the things he was saying about climate change is that it would, you can use it as an imaginative resource, so it can be used, the fact that we've got this issue that’s got like physical and social attributes because it’s got like meanings attached to it now or whatever, we can use it to re-ask the questions of how do we want to live our lives, how do we want to distribute things.  Because that’s the thing that’s coming up with this climate change debate, all those kind of things, that kind of restructuring, so you can use this process and all the science and all the issues that have formed around this phenomenon and kind of use it to question like I mean should we just be growing for ever.  But then the issue comes in how down in the day to day, how do you, you know…..

Leony
Yeah, that’s the thing, remember I asked the question like should you try shrinking income and the consumption.  At that time when we were talking about income, but income is very much linked to consumption, if you shrink income, consumption will probably shrink as well, and the lecturer’s answer will be well who will win an election by campaigning for zero growth, you know, progress is measured by growth.  And what I hope in the next ten years, because we start seeing like more and more people talking about, I don’t know if it’s just me starting to read more about it particularly, [laughter] everything has to be proven to us through research, but I do feel that there are more and more people questioning this kind of, you know, assumption that growth is always a good thing.  And I was like maybe the measure of a country’s success or the world’s success is not growth in economy but, you know, the diminishing gap of inequality or something, you know, we need another benchmark.  And I think like a lot of people are starting to think that way.  However, having said that, maybe in the next ten years what needs to be done is if people are start to think about cutting consumption what are the practical things, aside from recycling or reuse your bag twice or whatever, you know, but like real measurable and really like, it will be something that we have to get used to more than just carrying around another plastic bag.  And I hope - because that’s something that I'm struggling with as well, you know, like it’s not as if I'm very energy efficient or anything, but you know, there will be like more movement in that area to cut consumption, because that’s the core problem of the whole thing.

Caili
Well it’s because, it’s like that one transport lecture that they were saying that instead of like, so living in Australia and South Africa, coming overseas, so coming here, has become like a once a year thing for people who are very wealthy, and they were saying that maybe one of the things is that that has to become like a once in a lifetime thing, for once in a lifetime you fly like across, you know, one of those vast distances.  But it’s interesting because this whole consumption thing is happening at the same time that people have, if they have the money, they can lead like the very destructive lifestyles and fly all over the show and fly to America every week and like just use so much because everything’s just come to a head, you know.  We've just been able to get more and more and go more places and do more things and everything has to be more, more, more.  So it’ll be hard to change people’s mentalities but I agree with you, like I think that that’s one of the key things you have to do.  And it’ll be a sacrifice I think.

Interviewer
To bring the question back to, not that I mind at all you going off on tangents, that’s not what I mean to imply, but there’s…

Simone
But you're digressing.

Interviewer
There was one part of the question which maybe I didn’t make clear enough.  I'd be quite interested to know where you feel you personally will be in ten years, what you might be doing that…

Leony
Can you ask me back in like a week or something?  No, no, no, no, three weeks, like two weeks, dissertation time when I'm like soul searching.

Interviewer
This is the perfect time to ask you really.  So imagine ten years out from now, what might you be doing around the topic of environmental change, from a sort of, you know, on a sort of day to day level, what might you be doing?

Leony
For me I generally think I will be writing about, because that’s what I love to do and that I feel you have to do something that you love to do.  So for me, it will be that writing or taking pictures or doing something, but like communicating and inviting people to think, to be inspired hopefully.  For me, that will be I think.

Caili
Yeah.  I think, I don’t know, I'm not quite sure where I'd be, but I think probably now with the, like the feelings that I have now, I’ll probably be working in some kind of government department and…

Interviewer
What would you be trying to achieve?

Caili
Well I think ideally right now my thinking is to, a better education.  Because I think because South Africa has such a high illiteracy rate, and I mean for a lot of people the issues that are spoken about here are just non-issues, you kind of, there’s so much that has to happen before that and I think a key to all of that is education.  So I would hope that by being a positive force in that kind of way, you would be able to get an active, you know, active, civil society that will take, really take hold of democracy and use it properly and grapple with these issues and change lifestyles and that kind of thing.  So that’s what I'd hope to do, and if I do that for ten years, hopefully I’ll be somewhere high up where I can make strategic decisions and not just be a lackey.  And I think outside of that I think I would like to be involved, I've always been the kind of person who does a lot of volunteering, so I would like to be involved in activism like, you know, doing protests and lobbying for things and being just a very active citizen and also really critical of my own life.  I'd like to lead a green lifestyle so I'd hope that, you know, cycling and all that in Cambridge is so much better than driving around in Durban where you drive every day and just you in the car, and so I'd hope that I'd also like to be positive change in that way as well, try to change my own lifestyle.  We’ll see.

Leony
Are you ready?

Simone
Well in ten years’ time I will be celebrating my 34th birthday in…

Leony
What?!  Who?

[laughter]

Caili
She had to do it.  She had to do it.

Leony
She had to do it.

Simone
I'm just subtly reminding you all to wish me happy birthday.  In Cape Town, I'm pretty sure, I ultimately see myself working on urban environmental justice issues.  I think that a lot of countries are in the situation which South Africa’s in which is of, it’s really quite an urbanised country and it’s becoming more urbanised.  Urbanisation’s happened very rapidly and cities are incredibly unequal but also incredibly vibrant.  I think I would disagree slightly with Caili when she says that education needs to take place before a civil society, because I think there are already a lot of organisations and civics and social movements around these issues in South Africa, and I would like to be involved with those in Cape Town because I love it and I hate it and I love it, and that’s where I’ll end up.

Venkat
Well ten years from now I'm attending Simone’s 34th birthday party in Cape Town.

[laughter]

Leony
Yeah.  Flying there.

Caili
Cycling there.

Venkat
Well I, and I just take life as it comes, I really don’t want to say what I will be doing in ten years’ time.

Leony
That should be my answer.

Interviewer
Basically where you would put yourself between optimism and pessimism, simply that.  You can answer that either by just giving me a number from one to ten or you could give me a slightly more lengthy spiel about where you put yourself.

Caili
Well who wants to go first, on the scale?

Simone
I think my optimism and pessimism is like an onion.  It has many layers.  I struggle to reconcile the fact that sort of I think philosophically I'm quite pessimistic in that I ultimately have kind of a nihilistic world view and it’s all random and chaos and nothing has any meaning, but on an individual level, a personal level I have a lot of faith in humankind I suppose and in people’s ability to cooperate, which is maybe I think a result of coming from a country like South Africa where we had a social transformation that was not entirely successful but compared to how things turn out in a lot of places in the world, quite successful.  So I would say that I'm maybe foolishly optimistic.

Caili
Foolishly optimistic.  It’s interesting because I'd say the same thing.  Like I'd say like for a lot of things in the more you learn, like the more knowledge you gain it just, it does kind of encourage you to be more pessimistic about the human condition and the way that we are and the things that we do to the world and to each other.  But at the same time there’s just, you can't deny the amazing things that have happened too, things that people never thought would happen.  And so it is probably from coming from a place like South Africa where, you know, you’ve got this…

Simone
Like if we came from the Congo we’d probably be more pessimistic.

Caili
Probably, yeah, probably, although not, like South Africa’s a success story, but you know, you just, although there’s all this bad, you get a lot of glimpses of good and you just can't ignore those and they're so important.  So I would say that I'm optimistic, and I'm also optimistic in, I think I kind of have to be optimistic going forward because, like I was saying earlier, you just, to be pessimistic is too easy, to just lie back and be like oh well it’s going to happen anyway.  I mean what’s the harm in trying to lead a good life and trying to make a difference and then if it doesn’t work in the end, you know, once you die everything goes, you know, the world ends or whatever at least you tried, rather than the people who just say ah well, I don’t know, I just think it’s such a, you know, you have to be optimistic and like try and do something about it.  I don’t know.

Venkat
I agree with Caili, I think there is an inherent optimism which is why we’re doing the things that we’re doing, which is why we live, which is why we pick up and look over to tomorrow.  So I think that that’s what gets me by.

Leony
I think like, well considering that our year in Cambridge is almost done, all I learned basically made me more of a pessimist, but these people and the other ten, in our, 11, 11 in our group, and also other people that I met here, they make me feel optimistic, you know.  I mean in a way you can say that okay, all the things we've learnt here, it’s been taught to many people and look at the world, it’s still like that, you know, but yeah, maybe in ten years I will write about them and I’ll say OK, these are the people I believe in because I talked to them.  That’s my optimism.

Interviewer
It sounds like all of you have hope in people, I might summarise it that way, but there’s maybe a pessimism about its use geographically, physically, but that your hope resides in people’s ability to do things.  Would that be a fair synopsis?

Leony
Yeah.  Well other than people, who else can you, well you can't stamp out God, I mean if people want to go religiously.  But you, my friends, you bring heaven to earth, you don’t, you know, you have to make the attempt.

Caili
I would say that was a fair description.  But I think, yeah, I think that that’s, that definitely is the way to go because people can be really amazing and people can really come out on top.

Leony
But if I was just like just reading all the stuff that I learnt in Cambridge about meeting new people, I would be like in my room like turning the light off and just cry every day without all of you, you know.  Yeah, it’s people.

Interviewer
Brilliant.  Well I think on that note, we’ll leave it there.  Thank you very much all of you for your time.

All
Thank you.

45’25”

Become a Creative Climate diarist

 

Author

Ratings

Share

Related content (tags)

Copyright information

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?