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Culture and climate

Updated Friday 18th June 2010

Sarah Chadwick, who works at the Woods Institute for the Environment, talks from COP15 about what motivates her interest in both the environment and music, and how, in addition to her day job, she works towards getting the message across through music festivals.


Rothbury Music Festival [Image on Flickr by jvh33 under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence] Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Flickr // CC2.0

[Rothbury Music Festival on Flickr by jvh33 under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence]

Copyright The Open University


Interviewer: Can you think back to a time in your life when maybe a changing point in your life where climate change or the environment suddenly became more important to you?

Sarah Chadwick: Sure. I always had this feeling and I recognise it probably from my teenage years that life should be lived differently than it was, where I was from. I was from an urban community and I went to a public school, very middle class, but I felt like there was so much going on and just time management and consumption, and everything just seemed a little off to me. So then I went to school and that was in California in the Bay Area, and I went to school in Colorado and I remember being in the mountains and seeing the damage done by the Pine Bark Beetle. And realising the big ecological impacts and starting to really realise the ecological impacts that man has on the environment.

So during that time, was probably between 18 and 22, I started you know having this inner feeling and really recognising it within myself but I wasn’t very vocal about it. I was busy being a soccer player and being in college, so studying a lot, but I decided to stick with biology because of my inner interest. After college I went and worked in an immunology lab and I remember the entire time I was focused on the materials I was using. Of course I cared about the actual science that was going on, but I kept counting the numbers of materials I would use throughout the day, realising that I’m using all of these petri dishes and I’d have to throw one away if a smear or something got on the wrong thing. And I just realised all the material consumption, and the same thing I carried with me when I became a chemist at a winery in California. And the materials I used there, and of course they’re much harsher chemicals used in chemistry than in immunology, and the disposal of the materials is what started to strike me and how we got rid of things. I was working a very natural environment, I felt, at a winery in the vineyards with the grapes and then making the actual wine. Then I realised we were using these heavy chemicals that could be damaging to myself and the environment.

So I got a real interest in the environment and I started looking into working for environmentalists. And I found the Wood’s Institute at Stanford University, which does environmental research and for nine months I looked for jobs there. I’d look online weekly, at least, to try and find jobs with professors and research all the professors, and after a while I found a job with Dr Steven Schneider was in need, so I decided to apply. I applied and the process was very strenuous it took three months for him to do all the interviews of all the people interested in working for him. But I was definitely dedicated, and I stuck with it and I kept pressuring their office to let me know when our next interview would be, if I got one, let them know I’m still interested. And I got the job in… I was told in April of 2007 that I received the job and then in June I started. And I’ve been working with him for the last two and a half years.

Interviewer: Can you maybe talk about some of the work that you’re doing with the music festival?

Sarah: Sure. Parallel to my love for the environment I have an extreme affinity for music and its value in my life. I’ve found over the years I’ve had a strange connection to a lot of artists, and I’ve really appreciated that, and I’ve gone to a lot of concerts and a lot of festivals, and enjoyed that. And my family is somewhat musical, my father plays the guitar, he picked it up – he played it a long time ago but he picked it up again a few years ago and is just magic on it so that struck me.
So I got very interested in this and working for Steven Schneider, about six months into my job, the Rothbury Music Festival contacted us and said they have this idea for an environmental music festival, and could we help them and sort of the environmental side in consulting. So Doctor Schneider came on and became the curator of the first Rothbury Music Festival, and I was along the entire way, and I got to go to the festival and work in assisting it.

The second year was 2008 and with the downturn in the economy the festival was really hard strapped for money. So they couldn’t afford to bring in Dr Schneider’s expertise and a lot of the other experts they had. But they asked me to come, as a producer, so I got to work on the second year. I produced the second think-tank and we worked on changing ideas and I worked with that year round, and now I’m working on the next festival, which will be in 2010, and just the voice that the music community has and the number of people we can reach is, it’s just immense. So I think we should really encourage artists to have a responsible voice in that way.

Interviewer: What do you see yourself working on in the next one, five and ten years?

Sarah: That’s something that I grapple with every day. I’ve actually grappled with it, with three different ideas today. I definitely am going to be in the climate arena, my gut is in development and justice and climate justice. And I’ve really grappled with the idea of making the crossroads of climate and culture my actual career, and I haven’t seen the teeth that it has or would I be wasting my time, you know, would it be like oh I work with these rock stars and they say I’m for the environment but then the public doesn’t listen, so I’ve just been trying to learn.

But coming to Copenhagen and realising all the people I’ve met here, and met in the past that have been involved in the culture and climate community, I’ve realised how strong it actually is. And I’m really feeling if I just sat back and followed my heart I think that’s where I’ll be as in culture and climate.

Interviewer: Okay. Where do you see yourself on the scale of optimism and pessimism around environmental change and climate change?

Sarah: Yeah. I think I’m a realist. I think that if you listen to the scientists it’s hard to dispute the numbers and the IPCC and all of these peer reviewed papers and journals and things like that, I think that I’m closest to optimistic in my position, as having hope for a better future, better than worse I guess. I don’t think it’s going to be great; I don’t think we’re going to clean up the world and we’re going to go back down to 1990 levels and below, you know. I think that we are going to have, you know, a temperature increase. We are going to have a loss of species, and there are going to be some climate issues that we will have to deal with. So I’m more towards the adaptation and mitigation side. But I do believe that as a culture we are prepared to deal with it and, as long as we can get the general public educated, I’m pretty hopeful that we will have a better than worse future.

Interviewer: Okay I’m going to leave it there, thank you very much.

Sarah: Okay.

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