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Aiming for a good life – thoughts about Paris, good food and wine

After five years in Lund, Kimberly Nicholas has grown roots here. She comes from a family of turkey ranchers and wine-growers in California, and food has been with her for her whole life. Her research at LUCSUS, Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies, deals with food, ecosystems and land-use. Kimberly is trying to understand how farming can be more sustainable, especially in a changing climate. She was in Paris during the climate summit, a meeting that gave hope for the future, but also reflections – for the direction of research and how our everyday choices are affected.
Kimberly Nicholas
Kimberly Nicholas is a researcher at LUCSUS, Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies. Her work deals with food, ecosystems and land-use.

– What nature gives us is what makes life worth living – including food and wine. My inspiration is nature, and people and their ingenuity. The aim for my work is a healthy planet, and we could definitely do much better!

Paris brought the world together

Together with seven other researchers from Lund University, Kimberly Nicholas attended the 2015 United Nations Paris Climate Conference, COP21.

– Paris felt like a big step forward, and it was very exciting being there. I was lucky to be there at this watershed moment. It was really amazing to see the whole world there – representatives from 195 countries. You see how diverse the world is.

Kimberly compared the climate conference to a county fair. Every country had their own booth at the conference area, showing off the personality of their country. The impression from physically seeing representatives from the whole world at Paris was powerful, says Kimberly.

– Paris was one of these moments bringing the whole world together. It was really inspiring to follow the process that ended in the final climate deal. It gave me the feeling that change is possible.

The representatives from Lund University attended as part of one of nine observer groups at COP21, called RINGO (Research and Independent Non-Governmental Organisations). During the COP meetings, the observer groups organized discussions about the developments of the negotiations.

 – The non-governmental organizations (NGO´s), including the environmental and gender NGOs, are like the moral compass of the negotiations, says Kimberly. It was impressive to see the results arising from years and years of mobilization.

Twitter från Parisavtalet 2015
Kimberly Nicholas (right) with Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations climate convention, just after the Paris climate agreement was reached on December 12, 2015.

The outcome of COP21 surprised Kimberly in a positive way.

– In the final text it says that the world will aim at limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, which is a big challenge. As I see it, the researchers now have been given the political mandate for doing science to support this goal. We must also be part of the solution.

Taking personal responsability

Will the Paris agreement change Kimberly’s research? Definitely, she says.

– Everyone has a role to play in meeting the Paris climate targets. Scientists can direct our research to help inform how to implement this goal. And everyone is part of a community at work or school, lives in some kind of house, where we can do our part to meet this challenge. We must ask ourselves: “Hey, what can I do to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions?”

Kimberly Nicholas
Everyone has a role to play in meeting the Paris climate targets. Scientists can direct our research to help inform how to implement this goal. And everyone is part of a community where we can do our part to meet this challenge. Photo: Gunnar Menander.

Kimberly has been thinking a lot on how to achieve change, and what motivates engagement with the environment.

– There are two major things individuals can do, I think. First is to take personal responsibility in our own lives, through making choices about our lifestyles. A recent report showed that 50% of emissions come from 10% of individuals, so our lifestyles really do make a difference. A paper I’m working on now, led by my former master’s student Seth Wynes, shows that the individual decisions with the biggest climate impact are how many kids we choose to have, how we get around (flying has a huge climate footprint, followed by driving), and what we eat (a plant-based diet is significantly better for the climate). I try to take this into account in my choices, for example by traveling exclusively by train within Europe and aiming to limit myself to a couple of flights per year. It feels good to align my research results and my values with my actions.

– The second is to be part of a group working for a better world, by supporting organizations that you believe in. For example, I’m active in the campaign to get Lund University to divest from fossil fuels. Science says we must rapidly transition to zero-carbon energy if we want to meet the new climate targets and limit the risks of climate change, so this is an urgent issue.

But what about everyone occupied with their own lives and personal problems – who have other priorities than the climate and other environmental issues? How do you reach these people?

– I think more and more that it is a better strategy to meet people where they are. Not everyone is of course as passionate as I am about climate issues, says Kimberly with a laugh. If people don´t like the proposed solutions, we must try to find solutions that are in line with their way of life or the politics of the leading parties. I also believe that ethical arguments are very powerful and ought to be used much more. Science is essential to inform policy, but at the end of the day, science is not what motivates people to act – values do.

Being active in social media

Social media has become an important way of communicating for Kimberly. She is very active on both Twitter and her own website.

– In the last year, I’ve developed the goal that every time I publish a new scientific article, I write a popular science article about the key findings, which I post on my own blog or on other websites. If you just see this as some extra work, it will be a certain recipe for failure, says Kimberly. But I enjoy doing this, and my research benefits from thinking about what we’ve really discovered and why it’s relevant to a broader audience.

The trick is to find a way of outreach that you feel is meaningful, she explains.

– You spend perhaps a couple of years in total with a study ending in an article – from design to the finished work. Seeing it like this, the few hours it takes to write a blog post is not much. I have been thinking more and more that I should do it while the article is still under review. Often when I write the popular science article, I find a better way to write my scientific article as well. It is so easy to use specialist jargon or assume certain background knowledge. I definitely benefit from trying to make my work make sense to a bigger audience. In the long run, broad communication of research is also better for your academic career.

Text: Nina Nordh

Photo: Gunnar Menander, Lund University Magazine

A crash course in Twitter for researchers from Kimberly Nicholas:

  • Set up a Twitter account. It takes just 5 minutes! Upload a picture and write a short profile text highlighting your interests. Use a short handle for your username – you don´t want it to take up too much room in your tweets. A tweet may be maximum 140 characters.
  • Look for interesting people to follow in your field. Among for example the ten biggest names in your field, you are quite certain to find a few that are active on Twitter. Also look at who these people follow.
  • Use Twitter at conferences. It makes it possible to “be” at many sessions at the same time, and meet new people in your field. TweetDeck is a tool you can use to make a dashboard of several Twitter-columns on your computer where you follow conference hashtags. These are labels that can help others who are searching for similar tweets or making comments during an event. For example, search #CFCC15 on Twitter to see Tweets from the Our Common Future under Climate Change scientific conference in July 2015.
  • If you want to organize Tweets or other social media posts, you can use Storify to collect and order posts as you like. You can see my Storify of my time at the Paris climate conference:
  • Use pictures or film in your tweets from time to time to make your Twitter account more attractive to follow.
  • A good way to get started on Twitter is to read what others post – there’s no obligation to post yourself before you’re ready. The next step can be to retweet interesting tweets from others to share news and opportunities with your network. Be generous with tips about others’ work –  a good rule of thumb is that less than 10% of your posts should be promoting your own work.

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