I am an environmental scientist whose research focuses on the social dimensions of environmental problems. Basically, this means that I focus on how humans interact with their environment, rather than studying ecosystems or ‘the environment’ as a separate entity. I have great admiration for the environmental scientists who are very passionate about a particular topic within the broad field that is environmental science, such as wetlands, forests, water, birds, etc. However, I have always found myself more engaged in the human elements, e.g. deforestation, urban sprawl, environmental justice, risk perception, psychology and behaviour. After working for nearly a decade after university, I returned to do my PhD. My research focused on understanding the institutional aspects of biodiversity conservation. When I say ‘institutions’, I basically mean the rules and norms (both spoken and unspoken) that drive behaviour of organisations and individuals. Institutions are part of governance, which is basically who decides, why, and how. People think institutions and governance are obscure, but they really do touch our daily lives. We govern our households. Marriage is an institution. We make decisions, and how we approach those decisions is in the realm of governance.
In addition to my research, I spend much of my time thinking about science, skepticism, and critical thinking. I am particularly interested in why we behave in the ways we do, and how we can change behaviour at the individual and organisational level to reduce our impact on the environment and improve environmental management. I was fortunate enough to work for an amazing mentor whose PhD is in cognitive psychology, and doing so helped solidify the importance of understanding human beings if we are to change the way we interact with our environment. I feel incredibly fortunate to be doing work that is intellectually challenging and personally satisfying, so the line between what I think about for “fun” and what I think about for “work” is a fuzzy one.
I am an American ex-pat with dual (Australian) citizenship. I moved to Perth, Australia because I was offered a job opportunity with the aforementioned mentor. I had been working in a more typical environmental consulting firm, doing things like sampling soil and water and digging up contaminated soil. It felt good to be doing hands-on work that had tangible results, but I found the intellectual challenge to be lacking and the focus on moving contamination from site to landfill to be frustrating. When one of the most intelligent professors I had in University offered me a job in Australia, I seized the opportunity. I then met another amazing mentor, Professor Sue Moore, and did my PhD with her from 2012-2016. You can read more about her amazing life and work here and here.
I have since moved to the United Kingdom, and I am a full time faculty member at the University of Liverpool. You can find out more about my current research here: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/environmental-sciences/staff/sarah-clement/
The project I am most excited about at the moment is my book. I am currently under contract to write a book for Palgrave Macmillan to be published in 2019. The book is called Governing the Anthropocene: novel ecosystems, transformation, and environmental policy. It examines the ecological, cultural, and governance dimensions of environmental change, with a particular focus on novel and hybrid ecosystems, where new species, interactions, and ecological functions are creating landscapes unlike anything seen before. The book is global in scope, and and the intentional transformation of ecosystems (e.g. rewilding) to address environmental challenges. In many countries around the world, a novel ecosystem that cannot be restored to its historic state presents a whole raft of challenges – moral, legal, cultural, and practical. Governing the Anthropocene covers these challenges and suggests potential solutions to them. The subject of novel ecosystems has generated debate in the ecological literature, but this debate is often not about ecology. The fact that ecosystems are transforming raises normative questions about decision-making, responsibility, and social desirability that cannot be answered by collecting more scientific data. All of these questions are in the realm of governance, and are dealt with in this core text on conservation governance in the Anthropocene.
This book captures the core strand of my research, which is focused on investigating where governance is and is not fit for making decisions about how to deal with this unprecedented era of environmental change, both at present and into the future. I am particularly interested in making a practical contribution to policy and the practices that help organisations and communities deal with the ecological and social challenges of the Anthropocene, and in helping to modernise the way society approaches ecosystem management.
I spend most of my free time exercising (running, weight lifting, yoga), trying to find natural areas, hiking said natural areas, reading, writing, and cooking. Lots and lots of cooking (and eating, of course).
I am absolutely, 100%, without a doubt…obsessed with wombats. I think they are the greatest animal on the planet. The two wombats on my header were photographed in Maria Island by my friend Suzie. You can see more pictures of wombats and of one of my favourite places in the whole world in my bucket list tour of Tasmania album here.