What’s he building in there? What the hell is he building in there?
Tom Waits, Mule Variations
The last month has been busy. Insanely busy. I haven’t been sleeping well. I wake up with my heart racing, thinking about all the things that need to be done during the upcoming day. I run around the department with weird requests that make everyone suspicious as to what I’m up to. But finally we are just about there – because on Sunday I head off to Japan for two months of fieldwork.
I want to be clear that this busy-ness is completely of my own doing. Nobody is forcing me to do this, and if truth be told I thrive on the adrenalin in any case. Plus it is super, super exciting work and I want to be sure I make the most of it. Two projects will be running concurrently while I am there – two months of social science research into the Tomakomai CCS project funded by the UK CCS Research Centre’s International Collaboration Fund, and also a Scotland-Japan Workshop on Consensus-Based Environmental Governance at Hokkaido University which is possible due to the generous support of the GB Sasakawa Foundation.
Going away for a period of research necessitates a lot of planning in advance, which is why my colleagues must be wondering what on earth I am doing most of the time. Stressing out about booking flights that aren’t for three months, scouring booking.com for cheap hotels in the Japanese equivalent of Burntisland, and crunching the algorithms on the online rail planner to work out how to get to research institutes that are way out in the sticks (why to do they always put energy research centres way out in the middle of nowhere?) Thankfully if you like planning ahead – which I really, really do – Japan is a great place to do fieldwork. What has also helped no end is that our research support staff here at RGU have been so helpful behind the scenes sorting things like travel bookings, cash advances, insurance, collaboration agreements and all the other indispensable things that need to be in place for research to happen.
Now, a bit about what I’ll actually be doing. Formalising and building on a collaboration that was initiated back in 2011, the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth in Kyoto are going to be hosting me for two months thanks to the support of the UK CCS Research Centre. Together with them I will be working to assess the social and governance dimensions of the Tomakomai CCS project, Japan’s first large-scale carbon dioxide capture and storage venture and one of the very first examples of an integrated offshore storage project anywhere in the world. This is a terrific opportunity to get some data on a real-world initiative, one that can build a comparative element to my research in Scotland and also expand the scoping study I did in Tomakomai in 2014. I first got to know Dr Jun Kita and his colleague Dr Ryozo Tanaka when they came to Scotland to collaborate with the QICS trial over in Argyll – Ryozo actually ended up getting stranded in Oban during one trip because of Hurricane Bawbag, but that’s another story. Since then we have kept in touch, so when the UKCCSRC call came up it seemed like an ideal opportunity to formalise collaboration. It is also going to be a very interdisciplinary piece of work, because Jun and his team are nearly all physical scientists and I’m, well, not. Nonetheless, two of the RITE staff are going to come to Hokkaido (Japan’s northern island where the town of Tomakomai and its project are located) to join me for some of the interviews with stakeholders, and when I get back to Kyoto thereafter I’ll be showing them some of the black arts of qualitative data analysis. Of course interdisciplinary research has to be two-way, which is why a couple of environmental science textbooks are going in the suitcase. Seriously, they are.
While I am in Japan another ultra-exciting initiative is going to come to fruition – a GB Sasakawa Foundation-funded meeting of the Scotland-Japan Network on Consensus-Based Environmental Governance. This will involve three days of intense presentation, dialogue and discussion between UK- and Japan-based researchers working in the field of decision-making for environmental issues, with a few stakeholders (including the RITE scientists!) chipping in for good measure. This again is the next step in a collaboration I’ve been developing with Professor Taisuke Miyauchi at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, which coincidentally came about during a previous UKCCSRC-funded piece of travel. Four UK-based scholars from Edinburgh, Newcastle and RGU (including our very own Dr Natascha Mueller-Hirth) are flying out to Sapporo from the 7-9 May to participate in the workshop, whereas I will join them by making the rather shorter journey by train to Sapporo from Tomakomai, which is just half an hour away on the coast. I’ve always approached my CCS research as a ‘case study’ for refining and developing my environmental sociology thinking, so my work in Tomakomai and also in Scotland will form the basis of what I present at the governance workshop.
I remember about ten months ago, when I got the award letter from the GB Sasakawa Foundation, sitting down and thinking ‘yikes, now we actually have to do this and arrange to get four people to Japan at the same time!’ Then, when the award email came through from UKCCSRC, my thinking turned to ‘double yikes! Now I have to make this big piece of fieldwork happen around teaching, supervision and the rest of my life!’ There have been a few stressful moments since, but thanks to a lot of help from folk behind the scenes it’s all come together. And as my line manager reminded me a few weeks back, actually getting out there and doing the research yourself is the reward for all the thinking and admin that goes in beforehand.
Oh, and once all of that is in the bag I’m planning a wee self-funded detour on the way home to take in a new country, new collaborator and completely new research direction. More on that later…
We will be live-streaming the talks from the GB Sasakawa Foundation-funded workshop through UStream. Links and information will appear on the CSR at RGU blog and Twitter feed nearer the time!