Transition People, Transformation People

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Sustainability degree
Students (Photo: Anna Cooke-Yarborough)

Helen Kennedy, a student on CAT’s new MSc in Sustainability and Adaptation masters course reflects on her experience of the first module.

A fortnight ago, I was preparing for my first week away, holidays discounted, for many years. I’ve been 22 years out of my own academia, and 22 years in the world of education as a teacher. Certainly, my career involved the odd training day, but as educational policy changed, so did the nature of these training days, and what had started out as my choice of training in areas which interested me and influenced my individual style slowly but surely became training in managing policy change and accommodating the latest dogma. I felt the real world was getting lost somewhere. Moreover this Real World was something I was becoming increasingly concerned about. So, it was with a huge amount of excitement that I packed my bags in readiness for something I really want to be involved in; something which will influence and educate me massively and hopefully as a product, influence others too.

I was not disappointed. Amongst the aims of this first module, it is stated that whilst getting an overview of the implications of transformational adaptation for social structures, land use, energy provision, economics and governance and its impact on the environment, we should also appreciate the interconnectedness of these things. As the week’s lectures progressed, this became increasingly apparent and it was interesting to hear about sustainability and adaptation from such diverse angles.

Student project
Bird hide (Photo: John Butler)

Each and every one of us took something important away from the many lectures and seminars, and for me, every lecture prompted the recall of the sort of things my partner and I would discuss over breakfast, and left me feeling that maybe I could make some sort of difference.

Adam Tyler’s “Energy Now” brought home perfectly just how big the gap is between the energy we use every twenty-four hours , and how much we could physically make ourselves in that same twenty-four hours, (41 days of cycling being equivalent to one day’s energy use).

Cath Hassell’s lecture on Water Security changed completely the way I think about expanses of lush green lawns in Spring and Summer, in terms of the water needed to maintain them, and the discussion regarding bottled water consumption brought to mind an article I had read about the terrifying “gyres” of plastic bottles floating in the middle of the world’s oceans.

The three lectures given by Tom Barker, Environmental Change, Biodiversity Changes and Ecosystem Functions were for me a brilliant introduction to a huge and complicated subject, and underlined how even gradual changes in complex systems can have far-reaching consequences. The phrases that stay with me are “keystone species”, “Snowball Earth” and “tipping points”. These lectures particularly affected myself and others in quite an emotional way, and I think it’s fair to say that we all came away feeling a sense of urgency, a purpose.

Lectures about Politics, Economy and Sustainability prompted discussions about what alternative models might look like, and a consideration of their advantages and drawbacks. The notion of negative interest is one example of a few concepts which have never occurred to me, and despite thinking that these might be dry areas for me, I have become excited to find out more.

fantastic location
University in the mountains (Photo: Helen Kennedy)

Lectures given by Bryce Gilroy-Scott and Tim Coleridge on Sustainable Cities and the Built Environment, coupled with Adam Tyler’s reprise to talk about Energy Futures were a positive force in strengthening our belief that change is not only possible, but that there are also a plethora of ways in which it might be accomplished. The challenge of designing well, from the outset, from the inside-out; in choosing suitable and adequate energy supplies, using materials innovatively and considering how settlements are organic and might successfully operate increasingly as a more closed cycle, is an exciting one.

This was a very full week, where time was most definitely not linear, and friendships were forged, through discussion, group work, room-sharing, over mealtimes, drinks and dancing. That this took place, and will continue to take place in such a special setting, surrounded by four decades of experimentation which has seen sustainability move from the fringes into the mainstream, made it even better. The Scottish Referendum was an inevitable backdrop for the week, and in spite of the result, the Friday night Ceilidh celebration was a wonderful and rather sweaty (for me!) end to the week’s events, organised brilliantly by Kirsty Cassels and the musicians Geoff, Matt and Roddy. I reckon they only did it to avoid the half hour long dances that left my face looking like a beetroot.

I came to this course as an introvert, and that is something that will not change. Snatched moments in the morning were precious, and found me mostly mountain-gazing into the morning mist, watching goldfinches and listening to their bell-like tinkling, finding the cherry tomatoes in the poly-tunnel and just eating one, and wondering in the stillness of the morning at the one beech tree that shook its leaves whilst the others remained motionless. Yes, it was a real challenge for me to meet so many new people all at once, to share a room, to speak out and to survive such an intense time of immersion with so little time for contemplation. What made it possible was the quality of the people – the MSc students from such diverse backgrounds, the Architecture students who put on such a stunning exhibition of their work for us and studied alongside us, the course leaders, my patient and very lovely room-mate.

The people who arrived nervously at the beginning of the week were not quite the same people who left the following Saturday. We are arming ourselves with knowledge that will empower us and others. We are changing. We are people in transition; Transformation People.

By Helen Kennedy

Also read Helen’s blog about her open day experience at CAT.

Student life
Friday night knees up (Photo: John Butler)