103. Iain Stewart: Empowering communities to adapt to climate change

In this episode, Professor Iain Stewart, an expert in geoscience and sustainability, highlights the need for the scientific community to communicate differently to engage communities in developing sustainable climate solutions, learning to move away from the ‘tell and sell’ approach, to one of ‘sense and respond’ in order to build trust.

Iain explains to host, Sue Stockdale about his latest project in northeastern Jordan, where a wetland has dried up due to climate change, and what he has learned in getting the project off the ground in the desert landscape, a new environment for him.

Iain Stewart is the El Hassan bin Talal Research Chair in Sustainability at the Royal Scientific Society (Jordan) and Professor of Geoscience Communication at the University of Plymouth (UK). The founding director of the University of Plymouth’s ‘Sustainable Earth Institute’, Iain’s long-standing research interests are in disaster risk reduction, climate change, and Earth science communication. His Earth science communication work has built on a 15-year partnership with BBC Science television presenting popular documentary series, such as ‘Earth: The Power of the Planet’, ‘Earth: The Climate Wars’, ‘How Earth Made Us’, ‘How To Grow A Planet’, ‘The Rise of the Continents’ and ‘Planet Oil‘.

Iain was also academic advisor on David Attenborough’s acclaimed BBC series ‘Seven Worlds, One Planet’. Awarded an MBE for his services to geography and geology education, he was President of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, was the Communications Lead and Evidence Chair for the Scottish Government’s Climate Citizen’s Assembly, and is the UNESCO Chair for Geoscience and Society.

Connect with Iain Stewart on Twitter and find out more at the Royal Scientific Society (Jordan).

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Key Quotes

  • “Water scarcity is the number one problem here in Jordan. And I think you can’t really be a geoscientist working on sustainability here and not have a project on that.”
  • “One of the solutions is empowering communities to be able to make their own adaptations.”
  • To be able to cope with the effects of climate change I think adaptability and flexibility will be absolutely the key”
  • “The only way you can approach the complexity from a science point of view is where you simplify things. As soon as you simplify things, it’s too simple.”
  • “Authentic listening, where you’re genuinely shutting up, is something that scientists and experts don’t do very well.”
  • “Some people would argue from a sustainability perspective that we should effectively stop traveling.”
  •  “The worst people for traveling in terms of flights are academics and the worst academics are climate scientists.”
  •  “We need to show leadership here. We need to show the motivation, the sense of purpose to be doing this.”
  •  “One of the unpalatable messages is that the low carbon green energy economy is going to need more stuff. And that stuff is going to have to come from somewhere, and the place it’s going to come from is the ground. And therefore, a future with less carbon in it is a future that’s going to have a lot more mining in it.”

Time Stamps

[00:04:12] Community-based climate solutions.
[00:05:39] Climate Storylines.
[00:08:45] Transboundary water systems.
[00:13:33] Skills for coping with climate change.
[00:15:43] Choosing geography over acting.
[00:19:35] Wonders of the planet.
[00:22:32] Reducing carbon footprint.
[00:27:51] Humans changing planetary climate.
[00:29:20] Capitalism with a well-being twist.

Transcript: Iain Stewart

2.04 Sue Welcome to the podcast, Iain. It’s fantastic to speak to you today.

Iain Thanks very much. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Sue Now, I know, Iain, that you know all things about geoscience and sustainability. And I was thinking about how to start off this conversation. And I was reading that you had abseiled into a live volcano in the past. And I thought maybe this conversation is a bit like that, that we’re abseiling into the live volcano of Iain Stewart’s brain to find out what’s in there and what can help us understand all about climate solutions.

02:33 Iain One of the things you have to learn about television pretty quickly is you abseil into everywhere, even if there’s steps going there, because it’s much more dynamic and much more dramatic. So it’s probably a spiral staircase into my brain.

02:45 Sue Well, whether we were stepping down the stairs or diving in with abseiling, what is in there just now? What’s top of mind? What’s keeping you awake at night?

02:54 Iain Keeping me awake at night. So I’m in Jordan. I’m based in Jordan now, in Amman. And we’ve got a big project in northeastern Jordan, a place called Azraq, a big wetland that’s now dried to basically a puddle. And then there’s a big fear of climate change in the communities living around it. And yesterday, the day before, particularly yesterday, there’s huge flooding. You know, it’s the classic things in the desert of not enough rain. And suddenly when the rain comes, it just dumps it down. And so as one of the locals said there, it was raining cats and dogs, he said. So I’ve been out there literally trying to get this project, off the ground in the eastern desert. Not an environment that I know very well, both geographically in terms of desert landscapes are not necessarily my thing. But I’m in Jordan. Water scarcity is the number one problem here in Jordan. And I think you can’t really be a geoscientist working on sustainability here and not have a project on that. So yeah, project on sustainability and climate change and disaster risk are top of my bill at the moment.

03:54 Sue And that is obviously very topical, given that our podcast series is on climate solutions. So given that you are seeing things firsthand about the effects of climate change, what do you think are the solutions that our listeners should be having top of mind, regardless of where they are in the world?

04:12 Iain I think when we turn to solutions, I suppose a few years ago, and sometimes these days, you tend to move to technical solutions, particularly in terms of the mitigation, climate mitigation area, stopping those emissions getting up. And so there are areas that I’m interested in terms of energy there. From a geological perspective, the ins and outs of carbon capture, or more importantly, carbon storage permanently away from the surface, in the deep geological environment. But actually, what I’m doing more of my work now is on community-based work, actually. So trying to go to the frontline, so frontline communities that are dealing with climate change and how you get the science to them, but actually, more importantly, how you can learn from them about their experience, their memories. And so a lot of my work now is about community-based communication. So very much different from what I guess I’m known for. But it seems to me, one of the solutions is empowering communities to be able to make their own adaptations. So just on a general scientific note, the global climate models are very robust now, we know pretty well what we think is going to happen from a physical, atmospheric kind of climate, oceans point of view. The regional ones are okay. But when you start to extrapolate those into the local, they just fizzle out because the errors are too great. So you need a different approach. So we’re part of a group that’s trying to look at what we call the climate storylines. So how do you take the potential scenarios for climate and embed them in community narratives, and really get the community to understand where their strengths lie in terms of addressing climate change. So it’s a different kind of communication problem from the one that I’ve been wrestling with really for the last 20 years. But that’s the reason I’m doing it. It’s fun. It’s pretty important, I think.

02:57 Sue Well, there’s going to be so much to talk to you about, Ian. And I guess where my head is going from what you’ve said there, is it seems to me there’s a little bit of a connection between the previous models of aid into the developing world, where rather than what was previously done many years ago was going and trying to change their situation. Now it’s very much about working with local people to help them to take responsibility and ownership for change, because they know best what needs to happen in their environment. Is that what I’m hearing you saying here around climate as well?

04:30 Iain Yeah, and also because you know, we live in a complex, wicked, multifaceted world of environmental change. So, the example in Jordan is a classic example of that. There’s water security concerns in the sense of most of the water comes from the subsurface and it gets pulled up by wells, it gets used for agriculture, so food, generating food, and also for drinking water for some of the big urban centres. But we’ve also, the area I’m working in is about 40 kilometres from the Syrian border, so there’s a huge influx of refugees, there’s climate change and security. Just up the road is Iraq, across the other side is Saudi Arabia. So what you end up getting is a complex socio-ecological web of interconnections and interdependencies. So the only way you can approach that from a science point of view is that reductionist things where you simplify things. As soon as you simplify things, it’s too simple. So you can tackle one little bit of the problem in an academic sense, but the reality is that the problem persists in a real sense. So there really only is one way, and that is to embed yourself into these communities and to try and understand them. And the area we’re working in, the Azraq Oasis, for example, is interesting because it’s not just one community. There are three very proximal communities. There is a Druze community that lives in north of Azraq in the wetland. There’s a Shishan, or a Chechen community in the south, and then there’s a Bedouin that comes and goes. And then you’ve got the kind of Jordanian, Jordanians that maybe come from the city and open up farms. So you’ve got this environmental degradation, the loss of this great wetland, that’s actually gets seen through the lens of four or five multiple different communities, each of which have got their own take on it. And then you’ve got the uncertainty of climate change, the uncertainties of the geopolitical situation with the refugees. It’s a mess, but it’s symptomatic of the complex problem. So this is, for example, an environmental problem entirely within the borders of Jordan. And yet we’ve also got transboundary problems. Jordan and the other side shares water with Syria in the north and obviously with Palestine and Israel. So these are really loaded, very, very complicated. So if you can’t even solve a problem like Azraq that’s entirely within a country, it’s even harder to take those things and solve it elsewhere. And a lot of our big climate issues, particularly related to water, are transboundary river systems that move through multiple countries with dams and demands on water for drinking water, for energy, etc. So I think that trying to pull apart some of these complicated problems by being up close and personal to them is really important.

09:15 Sue So given that you are doing that, what do you think is most important that you’re bringing to the conversation? Is it your geoscience skills or is it your communication skills?

09:08 Iain Oh, it’s definitely more the communication skills than the geoscience. The geoscience is there, but it’s kind of more likely really because, you know, one, they know what’s going on. Environmentally, they’re quite savvy. They don’t know the words for it,  so they don’t know the geoscience terminology and things, but they kind of know what’s going on. I think the communication from a slightly perverse way. So most of the communication I’ve been doing, I call make and sell communication, and it’s very much an academic thing. So we make science and we sell it to the public. You know, we create a science article or a science report or whatever, conference proceedings. The public haven’t asked for it, but we sell it to them and say, this is amazing. You got to know this is really important to you. So my whole career has been kind of selling the planet. The audience says, I haven’t asked for it, but here’s a great program about the planet. So that’s one aspect to the communication, which is kind of journalistic media. It’s thinking about narrative and storytelling, imagery and metaphor and engaging people and entertaining. But that’s not the skill set that’s needed front line. Maybe there’s bits of it, but I think there’s another mode, which is sense and respond, which is understanding who’s your audience, what are they interested in, how do you twist that. So there’s definitely an element right now of me trying to understand who these communities are. And obviously I’m working with colleagues that are Jordanian and from that region things like that. It’s not me from East Kilbride wandering into a Bedouin community and telling them what to do. But then there is another space beyond the sense and respond communication, which is guiding and co-create. And the guide bit is quite important. That’s about showing a sense of purpose and leadership about where we think things are going. But the co-create bit, as it suggests, is saying, hey, we can’t go on this journey alone. We have to do this with you. So it’s about trust and empathy and bringing people on board. So what you end up with is the skill set that you need at the community level for all of that. It’s a completely different skill set to the ‘make and sell’ skill set that we kind of evolved into. And indeed we’re training scientists in. So we’re constantly training young scientists and PhD students in how to communicate. But it is in that media journalism, how to sell a story type communications. And what I’ve really learned is that that skill set that I honed reasonably well over two decades is now peripheral really. There’s a whole different set. It’s mainly around trust, trust building.

11:52 Sue  And to that end, as a coach myself, Ian, as well as hosting this podcast, I would say that listening and understanding can build that trust.

12:05 Iain Well, it’s authentic listening because you get instrumentalized listening. And then so often you’ll have these public participation things where you go in and you listen to the community. But actually you’re only really listening often in order to either tick boxes, which is really bad, or else listening so that you can work out how to more cleverly get your message across. You’re not listening to think, ah, actually we need a different message. This is completely wrong. So I think you’re absolutely right. Authentic listening, where you’re genuinely shutting up, which is something that scientists and experts don’t do very well. Shut up and listen to these people who know nothing about what your specialism is and tell you what to do. And that is definitely a lesson and experience.

12:44 SueSo given that you were previously the president of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and have obviously a detailed knowledge because you’re a professor at the University of Plymouth, I understand as well. Is that right?

12:54 Iain Yeah. So I’m kind of dual role really. So yes, I’m still on the staff at Plymouth, but my 100% of my time really is going to be spent at the Royal Scientific Society in Amman.

13:00 Sue So given that you have that academic background and we’ve now started to talk about some of the skills of those studying these days may need to be different in the future around communication. I’m wondering what else do you think is important? If we look at the young people coming through who will be the ones who will have to survive whatever happens in relation to climate change, what do you think are the skills that they will to develop to be able to cope with the effects of climate change?

13:32 Iain need  I think adaptability and flexibility will be absolutely the key ones really. And I think in terms of the learning that university needs to be training people in now, that also needs to be front and centre because we really don’t know what’s coming. We can project things and some of it will be right, some of it will be wrong. But the ability to move your perspective, move your lens around, to look at problems from multiple angles is going to be absolutely key. And I think geography is a great discipline for that. I mean, it’s the great interdisciplinary discipline. And in that sense, it gets some flak for that. So people can think about it as a very soft discipline or easy discipline, because it’s got a bit of physics and a bit of science in it, but it’s also got social sciences, got humanities, the arts. But I think that’s its huge strength, because that’s the kind of breadth that we’re going to in kind of option space that we’re going to need. We’re going to need people who are not afraid of the numbers and the science and getting into that old stuff. But actually, yeah, who can walk in and start to have a conversation with communities about what they understand. We’re going to have to have a real understanding of power relations and governance and the system if you like, but also about the sensitivities, thresholds and rhythms of the natural system. And so I think that the one difficulty I think we have with geography is that although geography should be all of that, it tends to end up channeling people down either a physical geography route or a human geography route. And that advantage gets diluted because it gets split up. But I think geography as a whole is a great way to do that because it has that flexibility. It has that adaptability.

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15:28 Sue So I’m hearing you speak with enthusiasm, Iain, and now that we’ve taken the lens and turned it onto geography specifically, let me take you back to the wee Iain in East Kilbride. Did you want to be doing geography when you grew up? Was that a lifetime ambition? How did it happen?

15:43 Iain No, How did it happen…It’s a good question. No, I wanted to be an actor when I was young. So I think in the end, standing in front of an academic group was just me acting but getting paid for it regularly. You know, all of my friends are actors, aren’t getting paid very much. So I liked that. But geography was my favourite subject at school. I really liked it. And I didn’t understand why. I talked to people afterwards and a lot of people say this. They say, oh yeah, geography, wow, that was my favourite subject at school. But they say it in a way as if, but I never thought it was a serious thing to take at university. I always guess I was too naive. I just thought, wow, it’s my favourite subject at school. I have to say in 1980, so I finished my school and went to university in 82. But 1980, May was when Mount St Helens blew up in Washington State. And that was when I was probably going from O grade to Higher. And I think that made a big impression. I did a spent of my six year study. So I kind of really get into that. And I was sensible enough to realise that I wasn’t a very good actor and I was probably a better geographer. So I went to university and took the safe route. But I think the performance side that I enjoyed, you know, all joking aside, I think I did get it actually from lecturing and seeing the lecture as a performance much more probably than my colleagues, which was much more about erudite exposition and making sure that you were passing knowledge on to the next generation.

17:06 Sue So given that you have seen lectures as performance, and there’s no doubting your enthusiasm for anyone that’s watched any of those documentaries that you’ve presented for the BBC and other programmes that you’ve done, Iain. I’m wondering, how do you generate enthusiasm for something that perhaps you find that you’re less passionate about and yet have to deliver?

17:22 Iain I think it’s about connecting to people about that. So before I came here, I ran an institute at Plymouth University called the Sustainable Earth Institute. And that was great because I was a geoscientist that was director and started and director of this institute. But the institute was across the whole university. So we had to go and do things with the business school, go and do things with medical school, go and do things with IT and all the rest of it. I think you buy into other people’s passion and enthusiasm. So when it’s dropping a little bit for you, it’s other people that pick you up and you and your support and them. So I ran a project on environmental futures and big data. You know, anyone who knows me knows I do not know big data, but I could see the utility and the value of this. I could see there was people around that thought this was really fantastic. And it was a great project. We worked with the Met Office, I learned loads. So I think it’s a case of building these trusted relations with people around you and then supporting them by hardwiring into their enthusiasm for it. And then some of it rubs off on you. And that’s the only way I can think of kind of going through those.

18:16 Sue So it sounds almost like the foundations, the rocks are your knowledge of geoscience. And then how you then are able to communicate that is back to our point about listening to understand, engaging, connecting with others, building trust. And then from that, then it’s co-creating a solution.

18:33 Iain Yeah, it’s funny, people think of geology as rocks. And of course, they are at one level, but I’ve never really thought of it as rocks. I told you, geography is a lot of jobs. But it’s the planet. It’s the planet how it works. And it’s how the planet means to people. So rocks often don’t mean very much to people, but the planet does. And the planet’s an amazing narrative. And that’s what I’ve spent 20 years using that narrative. So I usually fall back on the planet rather than particular rocks. But absolutely, that’s the key foundation of what I do is the interest in how important the planet is and how we communicate that importance to people because we think it’s vital, it’s crucial for them.

19:18 Sue Given that the planet is the thing that excites and enthuses you out of this career that you’ve had, I’m wondering out of all the research that you’ve done, the information that you’ve learned, what are perhaps some of the most important things that stand out for you about the planet?

19:35 Iain I mean, it’s so saying really cliched and obvious, but there are the most amazing places on the planet. I mean, I gave a talk yesterday at the university and I was saying, it is the most special place. It’s the only place of complex life that we know of anywhere. And then it’s wondrous. And you go to places and I’ve been lucky enough to go to all the corners apart from Antarctica. And every place surprises you and is wonderful whether it’s going down into the amazing Crystal Cave in northern Mexico or going up to Siberia and lightening up methane lakes in the Siberian tundra or lava lakes in Africa. I mean, they’re all spectacular and you learn loads not just from the actual place, but often with the people you go with because you meet these experts. So that’s amazing. And I think one of the things, funnily enough, I was lucky enough to do a lot of work in the UK and particularly in Scotland. And you sometimes come back from those places and then just get blown away by the places on your doorstep. And I remember going over the lip once and going into Glen Affric just beautiful sunset and just being astounded and thinking this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I think you kind of have to see the breadth and richness of the planet in order to really appreciate the breadth and richness of where you are, wherever it is and wherever you live. But I definitely think travel, it’s all a bit broadened in mind, but I think it also brings home, home.

20:55 Sue So I’m really interested in what you’re saying there. Given that some people would argue from a sustainability perspective that we should effectively stop traveling. What do you say to that?

21:11 Iain Yeah, it’s a tricky one. It’s a really difficult one. In terms of the contribution to climate change, there’s no doubt that air travel is a big part of it. It’s not the biggest part. It’s a relatively small part compared to agriculture, which we never say, how do you feel about eating less or something? We kind of do with meat, but diet and agriculture tends to be a bigger one. But it’s still whatever way you rationalize it, we should be traveling less. I am traveling less now, but I’m still in Jordan and I still come back to the UK. And I think that when I do travel for science purposes, you’re trying to think about this idea of carbon for value. Why am I doing this? And if it’s about trying to either elucidate something to do with climate, so if I’m going to film something that relates to climate, I flew to Saudi Arabia last month to look at the water scarcity in Saudi Arabia for a filming program. So you can justify it on the sense about trying to spread that message. But I think every single one of us needs to be thinking about carbon footprint and to be reducing that carbon footprint. And so now, I don’t know any academics that’s not really thinking it. I have to say – the worst people for traveling in terms of flights are academics and the worst academics are climate scientists. So as a community, I think we do have a responsibility to be really thinking about this. How important is it for us to do this work? And so it’s an ethical, moral dilemma that we all are kind of really struggling with at the moment.

22:37 Sue It’s a lovely segue into thinking about change, because I guess for any of us recognising that we all have a responsibility to look after the planet, we may have to accept that our lives will have to change and sometimes not for the better, or they will change to be different than what we’re used to, which then requires us to come out of our comfort zone and accept that change. I’m just wondering if you have any thoughts on that, given that you are a communicator, how can we inspire people to change their behavior as opposed to shaming them into changing their behavior?

23:04 Iain  It’s funny. I was the communications lead and the evidence chair for the Scottish Citizens’ Assembly, the Climate Assembly, and that was a great experience. Six months of being involved with a hundred, a mini Scotland, hundred people that were drawn demographically to be very diverse and different views, some against climate change, some very for, most, vast majority in the middle, just kind of confused, you know. And it was really interesting some of the discussions, because one of the interesting ones were when we were going on to things like recycling and renewing and things like that, you would have these groups where there were young people talking about the importance of this, and some of the older people said, oh, that’s the way we used to be. There was a great conversation once where they talked about radio rentals and they were telling these 18-year-olds how they used to rent their television, because it was this thing about tool libraries, that we should set up tool libraries, just like a book library, because you don’t want to have an expensive drill, so you buy a cheap one, you buy a cheap drill and it breaks and you throw it away and you buy another one. But go into a tool library, spend a fiver and borrow it and take it back, and people said, no, that’s the way we used to do that. We used to do all the white goods, we would rent them and televisions. So it made me realize that over the course of a generation or two generations, we have gone that. So I can’t help but think that that’s reconcilable. We’ve not gone drifted too far that we can’t go back to that. So I think a lot of what we’re talking about, about living a simpler life, the idea of having a lot of what you need within 20 minutes or 15 minutes, 20 minutes of where you live, the idea of local neighborhoods. A lot of this is kind of common sense. It will have an economic bite for some people and the people who will complain are the ones whose lives are now benefiting from the way that the world is going to set up. But I think in particularly in UK and particularly in Scotland, I think where there’s a very social context to development and to climate change, I think that the idea of social equity, social justice is really an important one. And I do think that we obviously in the West have benefited, Scotland’s a country that benefited a lot from both industrialization and from oil and all the rest. But I do think, I do buy into the idea that we have a moral requirement in order to put our house in gear before we demand it of the rest of the world. Because people are going to say, oh, what about China? And think, well, yeah, exactly. But we need to show leadership here. We need to show the motivation, the sense of purpose to be doing this. And I think in a way, like Scotland is one of these countries, there’s six now, I think, the countries that have put well-being at the center of what they want to do. So not just GDP that measures the progress of a country, but economic well-being as part of a broader social well-being. And I definitely think that that is something that will encourage people to see that it’s not just about wealth creation and profit maximization. It’s about having a good life and that we can have a good life in different ways. And part of that is living and in some ways a simpler life. It will be very hard and there’s large pressures that will be up against that. But I think that we can do it. I’m very optimistic that we can do that.

26:02 Sue It’s good to know. I’m pleased that you’re in a position of having the knowledge to be able to bring that optimism to the story here. For those that haven’t got such a depth of knowledge and understanding as you have, Iain, on the whole climate reality and the facts and data that you have access to, I’m wondering if there are any sort of key bits of information that you think are important for people to know about just to hold in their mind?

26:02 Iain So the thing is there’s a lot of climate facts out there and what we know is that humans are absolutely changing the planet’s climate and pushing the planetary climate system to a place that humanity hasn’t really experienced before. And we can see places where there’s potential system breakdown on the planet. But there’s huge error bars in that from a science point of view. So we may have over judged things and underjudged things. So there’s some error there. But they also the reality is that the implications of what kind of future comes are not really from those, but they’re from the socioeconomic, the societal, they’re human. So that means that we’re in control of it. It’s a good thing because if it was just the planet was changing, there’s not much we can do with the planet changing. But it’s us that’s the driving force of all of this. So that means we can change. So I think this puts it back into the power of the individual, the community, the organization and society as a whole as we make those changes. So I think that there’s lots of climate facts that we can talk about. But I think that there’s definitely a sense of we’re moving to a renewable future. That’s across the board. I don’t know anyone I worked talked to a lot of people even in energy companies, oil and gas companies that, you know, they might argue about how long we’re going to need fossil fuels for. But there’s no doubt that down the road, that’s where that’s where we’re going. I think there are some unpalatable truths that we need to tackle. And one of them is the low carbon green energy economy is going to need more stuff. And that stuff is going to have to come from somewhere in the place it’s going to come from is the ground. And therefore, a future with less carbon in it is a future that’s going to have a lot more mining in it. And that’s something that’s very distasteful for the public who wants to do it all by kind of recycling things. So there are difficulties. But I think the trajectory is unstoppable now in terms of where we’re going. And I think that the idea also with this well-being economy is that I think we don’t know to overthrow capitalism to do it. I think what we can see ways of people clever and me in terms of ecological economists can see ways that we can use capitalism with a twist, with a well-being twist, to actually reset the system. And as I say, countries like Wales and Scotland and Finland and Iceland and Canada and New Zealand are starting to do that. So I get a feeling that all the bits are in place. That absolutely we need the political will and the political will will only come by the people on the street will. So there is a big selling job still to be done on that. But that’s why I’m hopeful, you know, because it’s in the hands of people.

29:03 Sue As we just round off our conversation then, and given that you are somebody who does like to study the world and the planet, I’m wondering what do you have as a future ambition for yourself? If you were to be thinking about your next adventure, what are the things, places that you still want to discover or that you would like to learn about?

28:13 Iain Well, I’m fascinating. I mean, I’m really getting into the Middle East, actually, always strangely. And I’ve been here for two years now. This part of the world, I think, is a pivotal part of the world in the way that it’s going. We’ve got Jordan as part of this set of difficult countries, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, all sorts of listeners when thinking about all the problems we associate there. But then you’ve got the Gulf States, these really super rich gas-fueled states. And then you’ve got Saudi Arabia with that political regime that’s very problematic. But it’s been hugely transformative in what it’s trying to do with these massive environmental ecological ambitions. So it’s been a quiet place for a long time in the sense of environment. It’s not really been doing very much apart from pumping carbon into the atmosphere. But I get the feeling that this is quite an exciting frontier. So I’d like to stay for a couple more years there. And then I think the UK and Scotland is still a really important part of things. I think there’s still things that I could do back there. So I’m interested in that. But at the moment, I don’t really have that much of a long term view. I’ve been lots of places. I don’t feel the need to go travel into the corners of the world. But I think it’s that business of trying to root myself more in a community where I can be useful. That’s what I’m learning here, is the importance of that intimacy with a community about being changed, rather than darting in and darting out, which is what I’ve spent most of my life doing. So maybe settling down in a place where I can make a difference would be the useful one.

30:52 Sue So it seems like we go from the big scale and to make a big impact at a big scale is going to the small scale and doing it over time.

31:07 Iain Yeah, so I live in Plymouth and just up the road is the Schumacher College. And Ernst Schumacher is the great ecological economist, but they wrote the book Small is Beautiful, Economics is that People Matter. And that was exactly what he said in 1973, is we’ve got this colossal machine that’s going as a planet. What we need to do is get small, get connected again, and live at the scale that we need. And so I think that that’s maybe it’s taken me all the time to come across to a place like Jordan to really understand that. And so I think once I’ve got that understanding, who knows what the next vista will be.

31:37 Sue Brilliant. Well, I wish you all the best whatever your next steps are in your adventures, Iain. It’s been fantastic to talk to you today. If our listener wants to find out more about you and the work that you’re doing, how might they be able to do that?

31:47 Iain Well, the Royal Scientific Society has a website, the projects just started, so we haven’t done the website yet. But yes, again, so it’s a bit of a watch this space.

31:55 Sue And for you personally, I know you’ve got quite a social media following. Where can people find you on social media?

Iain So I’m on Twitter at prof Ian Stewart, prof Ian Stewart comes up. So that’s probably the easiest place.

Sue Fantastic. Well, we’ll certainly put links to those things in the show notes as well Ian. Fantastic to speak to you. And I wish you well in the future.

Iain Thank you very much. So it’s been lovely.


Sound Editor: Matias de Ezcurra
Producer: Sue Stockdale