Marginalised voices are often excluded within the climate justice movement, a movement that is in itself often ignored when it comes to the unfolding Climate Crisis. In this episode, Craig Poku (he/they) is joined by Dr Salma Sabour (she/her) to discuss research, and more specifically, the steps she’s taken to ensure no voices are left out of the picture when it comes to one of the biggest challenges facing humanity today.
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00:00:01 Craig Hi, I’m Dr Craig Poku, and you are listening to the Pride in STEM Podcast, a series that explores the different barriers faced by members of the LGBTQIA+ community. As scientists, we are always taught that numbers and objectivity are the solutions to address problems faced by society. However, storytelling is just as important, especially when it comes to ensuring equality for marginalised communities. Through this series, I hope that you, the listener, will come away with a new insight into what these barriers are and discover pragmatic ways to help us overcome them. In today’s episode, I’ll be talking with Dr Salma Sabour about the work that she does to ensure that the voices of marginalised communities are included within the climate change conversation. Climate change is happening, and the impacts are not felt evenly across the world. However, those from the global South are regularly excluded from key conversations with examples of this happening within mainstream media. Should we want to ensure climate adaptation is suitable for all, the main narrative must change. Here we spoke about Sam’s career journey, the barriers that she’s faced along the way in her work and what she’s learned from her experiences.
00:01:08 Craig I have the utmost respect for you in terms of the work that you do. SAMMA is just excellent. So, Salma, could you give a introduction about who you are?
00:01:21 Salma Yes. So I’m Salma. I’m queer postgraduate researcher at University of Southampton. I’m bisexual. I’m half Moroccan, half Belgian by heart because my adoptive father is fully Belgian. But, and I grew up in Morocco for the first sixteen, seventeen years of my life. And then I lived in different countries. I travelled a lot, which I’m not proud of it now. [laughs] I’m struggling to fly now, than before. I studied engineering, environmental engineering, physical engineering in France and, Belgium. And I wanted to move a bit from the engineering perspective and open myself to a bit more social science and the mixture of books. This is why I decided to do a PhD and also to deepen my understanding of climate change, impacts, adaptation. I’m mostly interested in heritage, either cultural, natural heritage sites. It’s adaptation and resilience to climate change. And I love the word heritage because for me personally, it means everything. It’s the culture, it’s the history, it’s the—it can, you know, there’s so much, in it. And yeah, I am, I—when I was in Southampton, I was, when I’m still, but I’m less active as an equity and diversity and inclusion p g r officer. I’m passions about collective political actions, how they shape the story of postcolonial societies, women empowerment, queer, LGBTQ movement. Yeah. The fight against corrupted governments and towards climate change resilience, because at the end, all these things are connected, you know? And, we come at, you know, this important notion of trust and hope that needs to grow, you know, in societies and in the world.
00:03:23 Craig Before I get to go into the conversation, you spoke about a few terms. So we’ve obviously mentioned climate change. We’ve mentioned colonisation, we’ve mentioned heritage. What do we mean by heritage?
00:03:37 Salma Heritage can be anything that’s part of who we are. So, it can be cultural, it can be knowledge, it can be, natural. So for instance, for all the natural heritage sphere that I work on, most specifically, it’s actually the heritage of Earth to us. You know, what has been given to us or what we received from older generations from our ancestors. And it’s part of our identity. When we talk about cultural heritage, they can be tangible, but also intangible. So it can be buildings and sites, but it’s can be cultures, rituals, anything that can be linked to cultural values, but also to natural values. So it can be rituals that happen in specific water sources or specific natural areas. When I talk about heritage, it’s really a combination of everything that make us how, who we are. But most, when we talk about it in the heritage sector, for instance, cultural heritages can be sites, monuments. And natural heritage is protected areas, but now we talk more about the intangible heritage and the values that are non-spoken, non-visible, that are part of who we are without expressing themselves easily in a way that our senses can get them.
00:04:59 Craig Mhm. From my perspective, my background in climate sciences has been more from a kind of like physical physics perspective, whereas the work that you do has a more kind of like social science aspect of it. Could you explain what we mean by climate change and how does heritage and climate change link in the context of the work that you’ve done?
00:05:21 Salma So climate change, as we hear it today, refers to long shifts, long-term shifts in temperature and weather patterns. So this shifts can be natural or anthropogenic, Natural shifts. It’s can be linked to, so cycles, for example. But from the eighteen hundred, the climate is changing link to human activities and mainly burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas, which creates greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And these greenhouse gases are acting as like a blanket around the earth. So it’s like holding the heat and inducing an increase of temperature of global temperature. This increase of temperatures is affecting, the global patterns, but also regional patterns and local patterns. In some areas, climate change is not the first driver or the first driver of vulnerabilities of risk of loss, for example. But most of the time, climate change increase the importance of other drivers. I just give a simple example. In some areas, the fact that climate change is affecting mangrove, coral reefs, and, seagrass in ecosystems, it’s, changing the patterns of erosive and creative processes in some areas. Indirectly, you have erosion links to climate change effect on ecosystems. Heritage and climate change. It’s like an aspect of the climate change impacts and adaptation actions worldwide. So when we think about heritage, we consider natural cultural heritage. There is lots of discussion about some heritage that are, you know, colonial heritage. So do we want this heritage to say, so there is a whole subject in relation to colonisation and heritage, but at the same time, we see it as a way to raise awareness about climate change impacts. For example, in relation to natural heritage, it’s the most protected natural areas worldwide. So the effects of climate change on them affect our relationship to nature. You know, our relationship to the going to a beach that we love. This beach is completely eroded because of increased storminess and the intensity of the storms. So we don’t have this beach anymore. Our connection to this area, to where we lived can change. Which is also linked to our livelihood. But then it can also impact heritage as when we think about buildings or monuments that are in some areas that are, vulnerable to climate change.
00:08:09 Craig We speak about the way in which you phrased heritage. You phrased it in the perspective of colonialism. We are aware that climate change will impact different communities differently. Also when you look at the intersections of these communities in relationship to say, heritage, and in relationship to climate impacts, there’s probably a big overlap. How would climate impacts differ for different communities around the world? Because I know they don’t impact everybody exactly the same rate.
00:08:41 Salma Mhm. I just want to bring one, notion that is used by the IPCC. yes. The risk to climate change. Yeah.
00:08:47 Craig Before we continue. What is the IPCC?
00:08:50 Salma The Intergovernmental Panel Of Climate Change. [laughs] Sorry about that. So it’s a group of researchers, that’s work on climate change issues. Who gather and collect most of the information about the impacts about, policies of how to respond. And it’s the, most, holistic document we have about how climate change is affecting us and the whole humanity as a whole, as a global community. So they, there is the dis definition of risk to climate change. That I find it’s really interesting to look at climate change risk from this point of view, because it’s make it easier to see why some communities are more at risk than others. So there is four elements to it, the vulnerability, I’m talking like from ecosystems. You have an ecosystem, if the temperature increase, it’ll not survive. And other ecosystem, if the temperature increase, it can survive. So this one is more vulnerable to another. You have exposure. The exposure is whether the hazard will affect this ecosystem or not. So, maybe, we have mangrove forests that are not let’s in the waves or the sea level, such the land. So it’s protected, so it’s not exposed. So whether you’re exposed or not. And then the hazard, the intensity of hazard, which now, we know that with climate change, for example, storms are getting more intense, but also more frequent. Cyclones in some areas happen five time more than the years before. And then the coping capacity and the responses, you know, how do you have capacity, financial capacity, human capacity, to respond to the impact, but also to how this hazard is affecting the vulnerability and the exposure. So in the global south, for instance, there is first a significant gap in research. Scientific research links to climate change. So in order to respond to an impact, we need to understand it’s a bit and know, which communities it’s affecting, and, what are the capacities we have to respond to it. Just for the heritage sector, there is less than one per cent of global literature on climate change and cultural heritage, mainly buildings that has been attributed to African continent. This is from, a research done in 2017 by fact and Sea Camp. In the same time, for instance, the African continent, if you look at the African continent changes, so increase to one point five degrees Celsius. So between the eighteen hundred and now the global temperature has increased by one point one degrees Celsius. The Paris Agreement wanted to stop this increase at one point five, but today we’re not sure whether we’re going to get to the one point five Celsius or to degrees Celsius or more so, for instance, increase to one point five degrees Celsius in African, continents will increase the heat waves in Africa by twice in 2050. This means that, for instance, the demand for electricity will increase, the demand for water will increase, and there will be more debts in a country. For example, if we look at Lagos in Nigeria, thirty per cent of the population don’t have access to water now. So poorer countries with, not, well established, for example, health infrastructures and institutions are more vulnerable to climate change impacts on their health, for example. This is why the communities are different because of their exposure. So their exposure, their vulnerability, the hazards they face are different. I’m talking about the African continent because I know more about it. But there is not enough research to know actually how are the impacts, how we know there’re going to be impacts, but we don’t know exactly how we can respond to them.
00:12:55 Craig Yeah.
00:12:56 Salma I want to bring the example of remote communities. So in remote communities, it’s really interesting because the narratives are in extremis. Remote communities, demonstrate significant sense resilience to climate change, because they are remote, they don’t have access to, so they need to develop the resilience to be independent and to survive, and to with whatever is happening around them. So they’re the best equipped to adapt to climate change. However, because they’re chronic, chronically disadvantaged, and therefore they’re actually among the most vulnerable, to climate change impact. So while they are the most, equipped to adapt to climate change, at the same time, they are the most the advantage to climate change impact. And there is a really interesting framework that was developed by a researcher in Australia who tried to merge these two notions for this specific, you know, remote regions, remote communities. And I’m really in—I think it’s really interesting to maybe, learn more about this, you know, contradiction between adaption and resilience, being resilient and vulnerable. And how you can transform the vulnerability into strength. And also how to scale up, you know, the indigenous knowledge. So indigenous knowledge is also part of heritage. When we talk about any indigenous knowledge, ancestral, rituals, cultures and knowledge, they are part of our heritage.
00:14:29 Craig So you’ve drawn on some really interesting points there. So we’ve spoken about the fact that climate resilience within smaller communities in the African continent are actually a lot more resilient than people give credit for based on the work that you’ve done. And in addition to that as well, the research that I’m aware that happens within the African continent. So, for example, when I think about the work that was done in my previous department, it was primarily conducted by people from the west who would then come into these regions, and then afterwards they’d speak to people within the community. But these voices or the communities that they were speaking to, were affluential. And so I guess for me, what I’m really interested in is that, are you finding that these smaller communities are being excluded from the research based on biases? And if so, why do you think that could be the case? So by that I mean, so for example, whether or not people’s gender or sexuality or, disability, for example, it’s not allowable for their voices to actually be accounted in The research that has been done.
S 00:15:37 Just before going directly to smaller communities. I think just in generally in research, climate change research, there is more awareness about decolonising climate change research. In a projects I worked with for e-commerce, which is one of the global institution for cultural heritage in the world, and UNESCO as well, in writing a white paper about climate change impacts on heritage, worldwide so doing. I worked with a group of people from all over, researchers from all over the world, and not just researchers, but also research journalists. It was challenging actually to be working with so many diverse views, you know, a little bit more activism view, more, structured research methodologies. So just this variation of perspective is more and more encouraged. The issue is that the funding is not available in a lot of, places, even nationally. For instance, in Morocco, when you’re a PhD, you can’t live alone. You need to live with your parents because you don’t have enough money to be able to rent your house, you know. So it’s really, the funding’s not available and most of the time, so the funding, for research in Africa is coming from other places where people are either interested or they find like some really interesting subject or they want to support. So I think there is, lots of intentions on when white researchers are funding or collaborating with African communities. Then how you do the research, because of the way the research protocol, which is really strict in comparison to how things happen here, you know. Like, yeah. You know, to have your, to have a document from specific ministry here, you know, sometimes you need to wait one week, you know, while you just need to print some, like the way things happen here is less, kind of, clear and transparent.
00:17:45 Craig Yes.
00:17:46 Salma So it’s all these things I think also on the sociocultural norms in a specific country or community. Personally, the researcher I met lately and discussed with everyone was much more aware about decolonising research and empowering local communities.
00:18:05 Craig What do we actually mean by decolonisation and how that relates to climate change?
00:18:10 Salma Yes. If I can actually read one little text from a research paper done by Sophie Chao about decolonising climate change. I think the way she put it was so good. I really would like to read. She says that it’s the need for radical forms of imagination that are grounded in an ethos of inclusivity, participation, and humility. Such imaginations must account for the perspectives, interests, and stories existence of both human and beyond human communities of life across their multiple and situated contexts. Along with the co-constitutive relationships, it’s respectful cross-pollination across indigenous epistemologies, secular scientific paradigm and transdisciplinary methodologies in putting such an imagination into practice. And it’s a way to destabilise the prevailing hegemony of secular science over other ways of knowing and being in the world. And I think this is really, you know, the way research happened. No, it’s not the way research happened before, you know. All the indigenous knowledge, the knowledge that our ancestors created, they didn’t do it the same way we are doing research. No. But they did it, you know. And I think it’s remembering that even if I’m not doing this specific methodology, and I’m not following it in this way, and there is like some issues here and here. But just acknowledging the different issues and how we arrived, that, but also actually just trust in other ways. And I think like building the trust on other ways is really difficult. Especially when we’re thinking about beyond human communities. Yeah. So how can we harvest and learn from the resilience of birds, for example, when they’re nesting areas are for example, islands in the [inaudible 00:20:07] Mauritania, birds lay their eggs in the, sandy islands in the sand. This is how they do it. If the sandy island disappears, they’re going to try to look for another place. And this links also to human to migrations. You know, we are somewhere, it doesn’t work anymore. We try to go somewhere. But how making this migration safe, sustainable, and, but I’m not creating issues in the future.
00:20:36 Craig Yeah. And I’ve noticed over the last maybe two, three years since the Black Lives Matter protest in 2020, that a lot of people are now taking into account, “Well, we need to decolonise this. We need to decolonise that.” The problem I’m noticing, however, is that a way, the way in which they’re trying to decolonise still comes from a very colonial perspective. It’s not also taken into account knowledges from indigenous people or knowledges from indigenous tribes, where actually the way in which they’ve been addressing climate justice and the way in which they’ve been trying to get their voices heard is so different how we do research. What are your thoughts on that? Like do you agree on that point?
00:21:22 Salma Yeah, it’s different. I think there is one thing is like bringing your voice into the conversation and then bringing your voice into the action. And it’s like two different elements, you know, of decolonising. At the same time, I agree with you that’s maybe there are other, ways of solving, things locally. But if we want localised experience to be scaled up or to be, shared, you know, you need to have a kind of protocol for sharing like the what’s actions work, how did you assess, whether they worked or not. And we also base that on, you know, indicators, this, this. But maybe there are other ways to do that. But I think otherwise, other ways to do that, that are not numbers, that are not, you know, like sensation you feel, you know, like all. I think it’s bringing back that this to us, you know, like, yeah, the intuition, the learning that is inside us that we are sometimes even not aware of it, you know, like.
00:22:28 Craig Yeah. And that’s really important as well, because I think that, especially with climate scientists, there is this sort of assumption that even when you talk about stories, there is this thing of a story has to have a metric to it. And that’s not how it works, because you can’t account, or you can’t put a number on how somebody’s feeling about a situation. You can’t speed that process up. The way in which we have to learn has to be done in a way where you are really deepening that learning. And that’s something that’s really important when it comes to climate change. Because the reality is, is that a lot of these communities have been doing this deepening of learning. I’ve been doing this deepening of learning myself through looking at decolonisation practices. And what I’m finding sometimes is that a lot of organisations, when they say they’re decolonisation experts, firstly, how can you consider yourself a decolonisation expert within climate change when you’ve been part of the academy of the entire time? That for me is a big question mark. And a lot of the times when people talk about colonisation or decolonisation practices, they don’t also take into account that colonisation is still very prominent in large parts of the African continent. And as a result or as a consequence rather, communities who are still practicing indigenous practices aren’t still being taken into account in the work that has been happening within these. So you’ve got two big barriers that we’ve kind of discussed here. Where we tried to talk about de equalisation and marginalised communities. The first one was the funding, which is a bigger structural societal issue, because obviously there’s a discrepancy in funding and wealth on that front. But then when you then look past that stage, you are then finding that that wealth is then not actually taken into account the voices that are doing that work. I guess for me, what I’m interested in knowing is why do you think that the way in which decolonisation practices within climate change is still taking this narrative of we need to get a solution now as opposed to understanding and deepening of learning?
00:24:34 Salma Yeah. I think there is this urgency about climate change is that we need adaptations. Like there is this, I had this discussion about solutions. Like the word solution is, you know, you can have an action that works temporarily. But it’s temporary. Like there is no one solution that will work forever. You know, it’s like this, and it’s, it’s linked to the transformation and transition, you know, of adaptation. Personally, I feel it’s be, first just for the research, decolonising climate change research as a researcher. If from the beginning I am within a structure that tells me to publish your paper and need that, and that and that. And so I’m already within a structure that’s don’t allow other ways of, sharing knowledge to be shared. Actually, that’s maybe it’s happening within other circles, you know, within documentaries, films and, like other, outside of research. There’s lots of things happening that are maybe not linked to research, and maybe we should link research, you know, the activism. What’s, you know, most of the time when I hear about climate activists in Africa, most of the time when you have like this ten young climate activist, young, young, young people, you know. Yeah. Yeah. And you can feel how, actually it’s really rare to hear, okay, this person, you know, he’s [inaudible 00:26:06] years old person climate activists in Africa, or like, you can hear it when a lot in, indigenous communities in South America, but less, less here. So I think the priority of climate change on the livelihood and the life of people here, it’s not felt the same way because of, the, differences and the between communities within Africa. You know, within, countries, there is much more inequalities between people in one country here than in other countries. Like I hear, I feel, I see less inequalities in Belgium when I’m walking in the streets and going around than when I’m here in Morocco, I’m walking on the streets and go from, I see the inequalities that are more presence, you know, so the priorities of eighty per cent of the population is eating, you know, having enough, money to, you know, live, have, be able to educate their children or. Ao it’s also the priorities of having space to think, “Okay, climate challenge is affecting me. You know, maybe not right now, now, but it’s going to affect my children.” And having the space to think about di you know, and to, to, to go deeper in, It’s a privilege for me. I see it as a privilege to be able to discuss climate change issues and to be able to find the space. So at the end, I feel like any solution to, or, you know, adaptation action to climate change, you need to pass by social justice. You don’t need to pass by allowing people to have space to be able to join the conversation. If like decolonising in research, I think it’s really going towards creating collaborations that are based on trust and that’s also, are based on, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Like, I think, taking the risk, I think, researchers in the richest countries when you are doing research, I think taking the risk of collaborating, trustfully and, and the being aware that it’s, it may not work, you know, it may not happen as you were planning to—for it to happen. And that’s, it’s okay if it’s not, going as you want it to go and as—and you need to be resilient to that. Like, personally, I had an experience where I, we did a collaboration where I didn’t collect the data. So all the data collection, I, we did like, trainings with the collaborators there who were not researchers, you know, community people working in the management of the sites who were trained to collect qualitative data who organised the focus groups and everything. But then, you know, we had lots of issues in getting the data, in translating them because, you know, everyone had different issues in their lives or. And then instead of taking three months, it took, you know, much longer, you know. And you need to like go beyond the frustration and see what did you bring really, you know, in collaborating by taking risk. Because when you go there and you can collect your data yourself, you have, you know, this is the thing, it’s less risky in relation to how your research will go. And I think it’s just trusting that things go differently, but it doesn’t mean that it’s always bad.
00:29:45 Craig Definitely. And I think that one of the things to also take away from that is the idea that [inaudible 00:29:51] spaces have access to communities that you may not necessarily have as a researcher. So that is one way to be able to bring in marginalised communities into the conversation and ensure that the voices that are being heard in the work that you do. If you could provide one solution to ensure that marginalised communities are accounted for, because you’ve given many solutions. But if you could just give one key solution for our listeners in terms of ensuring that marginalised voices are being accounted in climate change research and ensure that there are no barriers to these communities. What would that solution be and why?
00:30:29 Salma It’s difficult to think about one. But I would say, you know, slowing down, taking the time to hear. Taking the time to, we are working on a project, we have some funding for some research, thinking about, maybe who can give you insight from, you know, from a living experience about what you’re working in. And starting from that, not waiting until the data collection to contact, you know, with whom you’re working. But maybe starting the discussion, the collaborations, at early stages in the research and slowing down the process. But I think this is the difficulty. Slowing down processes means need more funding because it takes longer, it’s more efforts. But at the same time, the quality of the results and the quality of, the impacts of whatever you are doing, you know, has more value for the communities with whom you’re working for, yourself. And also deciding that sometimes you’re not the best fit, you know, in working in somewhere.
00:31:43 Craig It’s okay to know that you are not the right person to do a certain job. That is perfectly fine. It’s good. It takes a level of humility for you to be able to understand that. And I think that’s something that’s really important. Thank you so much for joining us. And again, thank you for the insight with regards to everything we’ve spoke about today. The final question I have to ask you is, where can people find you?
00:32:04 Salma Yes. So to find me, like especially when I’m talking about research and stuff, it’s, on Twitter, it’s at, Salma, S-A-L-M-A, Sabour, S-A-B-O-U-R, G. And I would like to promote just some projects I’ve been working in lately. It’s a paper, decolonising Climate heritage research. And it has been a collaboration with researchers all over the world in relation to how can we decolonise climate change, heritage research specifically to heritage. Right now, now I’m, I’m applying for jobs and work in some projects, that I started. But just, you know, it’s my free time, but it’s nice, you know, when I submitted, it was nice to have something to do and not having just like this empty space. [laughs] directly in. So I had like some little things that keep me a little bit going, you know, let’s my brain just slow down slowly, not quickly. [laughs] And I also had a friend here with whom, we wanted to do a project as well in relation to how can, he’s an artist and we wanted to do something in relation to climate change and marginalised communities, but through other things than, words or writing. So engaging maybe sounds, it’s still, we applied for a funding for it and we see how it’s going to go.
00:33:39 Craig Well, I hope that you get that funding. Because I think that art-based approaches are definitely required, especially when it comes to engaging people through mediums that aren’t necessarily like what we see as traditional. And I think that’s very important. Thank you so much Salma, for joining me and being able to have this conversation. And that concludes this episode of the podcast.
00:34:03 Salma Thank you very much for creating this space and for making this happen and for the conversation.
00:34:12 Craig I would also like to thank Pride in STEM for providing us with the space, for having these conversations, as well as to our lovely production team, Matthew Young, Alfredo Carpineti, and Shani Dave, who have been brilliant in putting this podcast together and making it come to life. If you can, please rate your podcast wherever you get your podcasts. And finally, if you would like to find out more about Pride in STEM and the word that we do is an organisation, you can follow us at Pride in STEM on both Twitter and Instagram. I’m your host, Dr Craig Poku, and I hope to see you soon.