Scotland-Vietnam collaboration on climate change and coastal communities – Hanoi Workshop Day 5

20170519_153504.jpg

The final day of our British Academy International Partnership and Mobility Scheme-funded Hanoi workshop! This was very much a wrap-up day, hence the blog post will be a little shorter than usual. We started 9am to make the most of the day, and spent the first part of the morning finishing off the clustering and initial thematic analysis from yesterday (to know more about what we found out, you’ll need to wait for the paper to come out 😉 )

Before and after lunch, Chris and I led a session on writing for publication. Chris talked more generally about tips and tricks for publication based on his experience overseeing the British Sociological Association journals. Then I used my own policy-focused research papers to discuss how to write up environmental social science for publication. Much to our surprise, we were told that having two international publications (or at least one publication and one international conference paper) is now a requirement for getting a PhD in the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences. This seems a very high bar, but one that interested and impressed us in equal measure.

In the interim, over lunch we had a meeting with Mr Ha, the head of International Cooperation and his colleague Kevin from Scientific Cooperation. Mr Ha was a huge help to me when I was preparing the proposal, so we were delighted to have the chance to drop by his office and say thanks for all the support.

As a wrap-up we did a lengthy Q&A with the PhD students on how to write for academic journals, as well as bouncing round a few ideas on how to move our findings towards publication that I will keep under wraps for now. We then got taken on a tour of the Institute of Human Geography, complete with its lovely little library (will show the photos to our students next time they complain about books being spread out over several floors!)

20170519_153705

Study room in the IHGeo Library

20170519_153803[1]

Books!

20170519_154116

Human Geography Review journals and world map

Before we left, all the students and most of the staff emerged in traditional Vietnamese dress for a group photo. This also involved Natascha and I being (wo)man-handled into position forcefully by our colleagues to ensure good colour coordination among their outfits, for which we were ultimately grateful when we saw the photos.

As a final surprise, Dr Tung had arranged for us to have a tour of the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology – showing us her traffic negotiation skills in the process. There we found out about the different groups living in Vietnam, trying our best after a week of hard work to leave our critical social science heads at the door and enjoy the exhibits and information. Despite being rather tired by this point, we enjoyed very much and picked up plenty of food for thought from our guide.

20170519_164645

Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

On that point, we need plenty time to digest everything that’s happened this week. Dr Tung, Dr Dung and Dr Tram are going to join us in Aberdeen in September for the return visit. We’re hugely excited to welcome them and show them the work that’s going on with Aberdeen’s climate change planning and the climate and environmental protection issues being addressed in Aberdeenshire more widely. As coastal regions with big rivers, significant climate impacts and (relatively) marginalised sections of the population living within them, we’ve come to realise there might be more in common between Nam Dinh and north-east Scotland than we thought. At the same time, there’s lots we know we need to do before then – not least thinking through how we can reciprocate for all the amazing food we have been fed here in Vietnam. We return to Aberdeen tomorrow, but this very much feels like the start of something much longer-term.

This is a really good point to say thanks to Dr Nguyen Song Tung, Dr Nguyen Thi Kim Dung, Dr Pham Thi Tram, Dr Tran Ngoc Ngoan and everyone else in the Institute of Human Geography at the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences who has made us feel so welcome this week. We look forward to seeing you all again soon!

IMG_1047

Advertisements
Posted in British Academy International Partnership and Mobility 2016-17 | Leave a comment

Scotland-Vietnam collaboration on climate change and coastal communities – Hanoi Workshop Day 4

There is not much to write about today – which is a good thing as it was a productive day where we worked intensively on one task for a prolonged period. That task was starting to try to understand, at very accelerated speed, the significance of what we had learned during yesterday’s field visit to Nam Dinh. When we put this proposal into the British Academy, our two key aims had been to get to know how each other worked better, and to work towards a common methodology for understanding coastal societies in changing climates across very different contexts. On both of these counts, it has been hard work but we are getting towards our objectives.

Start time was supposed to be 9.30, but there were a fair few tired folk after the long journey to the coast, and it was nearer 10am by the time we got underway. Today’s topic was principles of data analysis and theorising, with an emphasis on rigorous qualitative research (although the underpinning principles of what we discussed are equally applicable to qualitative work).

20170518_095735[1]

Chris Yuill talks about themes in data

First interesting discussion point about grounded theory – if we did that in Vietnam, we would fail our project report. This was a point of departure for us to talk about rigour, and about how to balance up the challenge of not closing down the research question too far with the very pragmatic need to understand sample sizes, techniques and theoretical/scholarly underpinnings as part of the academic process.

Our discussion was then cut short by a bizarre yet happy series of events. It transpired Dr Tung – who earlier in the day had been wearing traditional Vietnamese dress and carrying a large bunch of flowers – had been awarded a major science and technology prize. A cameraman came to film her speaking in our seminar. Several terrifying minutes of confusion followed from our end until someone explained to us what was going on.

20170518_145800[1]

Afternoon task

After that it was time for lunch, and then the fun began. Fun involving writing ideas, points and observations from the field on Post-It notes, at least. Our objective for the afternoon was to do a kind of accelerated trial run of developing themes and ultimately codes from the data, with a view to understanding how one can start to make sense of complex data in a flexible yet semi-systematic way. Two hours of chaos followed, during which we all stuck our observations up on the walls and then worked together to group the individual observations – of which there must have been a good few hundred – into themes.

20170518_153259[1]

Working towards themes

By 4pm (when we stop so everyone can beat the Hanoi traffic home), it was a bit rough and ready but we were starting to see some ideas emerging. Health issues, gender, knowledge, biodiversity, community. There is clearly still some way to go to refine these and focus them in, but the key point for all of us is to start to think through how we might go from describing what we saw in Nam Dinh – or indeed anywhere else we work on climate change and coastal communities – to trying to understand what the social dynamics are. Tomorrow, the last day, is when we’ll try to work towards refining these themes and seeing if we can think about where some concepts or future research directions might come from.

20170518_144549[1]

I don’t know why, but I love this photo. Really sums up this afternoon.

Thanks are extended to the British Academy for their support through the International Partnership and Mobility Scheme.

Posted in British Academy International Partnership and Mobility 2016-17 | Leave a comment

Scotland-Vietnam collaboration on climate change and coastal communities – Nam Dinh Province field visit

Today started early – a 5am alarm call to be picked up at 6am. The three of us heading off unaccompanied into early-morning Hanoi in a silver people carrier with a driver who didn’t speak any English was a little disconcerting, but we soon stopped to collect Tram (once she’d found somewhere to park her scooter) and Dung. We joined the motorway south of Hanoi, destination Nam Dinh Province about two hours’ drive away.

The less said about some of the driving we saw around us on the road the better, but by eight o’clock we had reached Nam Dinh, a small leafy green city with a visibly slower pace of life than Hanoi. There we met the rest of the group, who had arrived in two other cars ahead of us and had already parked themselves at a roadside cafe. Squatting on the little red plastic stools one sees all over Vietnam, we enjoyed a morning coffee of the hot variety with condensed milk, and – for those who had not had breakfast – egg rolls.

20170517_082137

Breakfast briefing from Dr Tram in Nam Dinh

It was then a short walk to the first interview stop of the day, the Nam Dinh Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development offices. Now most interviews I have done have involved two or three people, six at most. Today we had almost twenty. Five representatives of DARD, led by their Director-General, had arranged to be available – and from our side there were the twelve IHGeo researchers plus ‘Team RGU’. In case you are wondering what a twenty-person interview looks like, it goes something like this. The various team members give us an overview of their policy frameworks and activities for climate change adaptation and socio-economic development. We than ask questions in a rather haphazard manner, picking up on things that interest us and chipping in by using the desk mic that is at each of our seats. The relevant team member then provides an answer, which is translated back to us. In Japanese social science research I have heard different words used for different types of interviews, and this was definitely closer to what would be called a ‘hearing’. Still, the data we got was useful, and when we debrief tomorrow and Friday we will talk about the importance of being able to make-do, adapt and think on one’s feet when in the field.

20170517_110417

Meeting with Nam Dinh Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

This process continued for nearly two hours until our time is up, but it was good natured with healthy discussion emerging the more we spoke. What was clear is that climate change is a very serious issue for Nam Dinh Province, which is low-lying and right on the coast. Sea level rise, deposits of salt in soil and increased storms are all posing a serious risk to the region, and there is a real awareness at municipal government level of the problems. This is supported with attempts to respond to the challenges via adaptation planning at provincial level, and also training and skill-building among government officials.

The morning ‘interview’ was followed with a typically extensive and sociable lunch (including the delicacy of snails) before we loaded back in the cars and moved onwards to Xuan Thuy National Park, a further hour and a half away from Nam Dinh. The Deputy Director and his team took our questions, during which it became apparent that climate change is a major risk to both biodiversity and people’s livelihoods, and that finding ways to conserve biodiversity in the face of climate change is crucial for continued social and economic development. All of this was conveyed without anyone one using the term ‘ecosystem services,’ for which I was rather grateful.

20170517_161443

Interview with resident of Xuan Thuy National Park area

Then came the rewarding part. We broke into three groups, each with one RGU researcher and 2-3 of our IHGeo counterparts, and spent an hour interviewing local residents whose lives had been affected by climate change. ‘My’ group had come with their interview schedule prepared and translated into Vietnamese (bearing in mind that at the end of the workshop yesterday we had some bullet points on flipcharts in English). Our IHGeo colleagues led the interview, and a full hour’s discussion followed with only minimal translation and input from me. The three groups heard – in different ways – how climate change was having negative effects on people’s lives in Nam Dinh right now, contrary to the discourse of ‘far away’ climate change we often get in the UK. Having to work longer to catch seafood, needed to change the type of produce farmed or caught, suffering stress and similar health effects.

18485882_10102172968740631_5433761190784117030_n

Xuan Thuy National Park – far right is Co-Principal Investigator Dr Nguyen Song Tung

Last stop of the day, after loading up on honey from the Xuan Thuy National Park office shop, was the coast of the park itself for a bit of field observation. Some of us climbed the crumbly and rather rickety concrete observation tower to look at the encircling rain, others stayed around to watch a boat unexpectedly coming in and landing a catch of oysters. Much shouting among the IHGeo contingent, followed by the production of plastic bags. About half the group had decided to buy some oysters and take them back Hanoi. 10,000 Dong for a kilogram. That’s about 40p for a kilo of freshly-landed seafood.

20170517_173003

Buying oysters

The three cars set off, first under a sun making a good effort to put on a glorious sunset behind the passing rainstorm and then under deepening darkness, back towards Hanoi. We stopped off again in Nam Dinh to hunt for tea, a process that caused much frustration as it transpired the three team members from Nam Dinh knew nothing about their hometown. Tomorrow we will work towards techniques for drawing themes out from our initial reflections on the fieldwork (plus from IHGeo’s findings in Nam Dinh to date), and in the afternoon the RGU researchers will be giving a seminar on their own latest research.

Our activities in Vietnam are supported by the British Academy International Partnership and Mobility Scheme.

20170517_082148

Nam Dinh City

Posted in British Academy International Partnership and Mobility 2016-17 | Leave a comment

Scotland-Vietnam collaboration on climate change and coastal communities – Hanoi Workshop Day 2

Today may best be titled ‘When Epistemologies Collide’. We came to a consensus in the end, but it was a full-on day.

Natascha started us off with a rich and theoretically-driven lecture on the social dimensions of science and the positionality and values of the researcher. Thomas Kuhn, Karl Popper, Science and Technology Studies. Now when I was taught this kind of stuff at uni it tended to be done in a fairly abstract way, with a big pile of theory and some historical examples. Those that got it got it, and those that didn’t went on to have fruitful and meaningful research careers (just to be crystal clear, that is intended as a joke).

20170516_103715

We, by contrast, decided to go from the super-theoretical to the hyper-empirical by then launching straight in preparing the interview schedules for tomorrow’s field trip to Nam Dinh Province (the location Dr Nguyen Song Tung and Dr Pham Thi Tram told us about yesterday). Our visit will have something of a dual purpose – one, to build the RGU team’s familiarity with the field site as preparation for comparative case study-based work in the future; and two, to give some of the younger researchers in IHGeo experience in interview techniques.

20170516_113256

Team making good progress

Now it may be considered folly to attempt such a wide-ranging plan, but there was method(ology) in our madness. Namely, to work together and use the preparation of an interview schedule as an end goal to think through what kinds of social issues around climate change we want to understand, what sort of data we need to do so, and crucially what the questions are we need to ask of our participants and of ourselves to get this.

20170516_121653

By lunchtime the two working groups had made good headway, and we enjoyed a filling lunch of meat, greens and rice in the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences canteen, a notably healthier and more reasonably-priced eatery than its RGU counterpart. Then we returned to the meeting room and creative chaos ensued. How can we focus in from social impacts of climate change in coastal communities? How can we start to make questions when we don’t know exactly what social factors we want to look at? But can you think of a way to phrase that so that you get a deeper response? We were, in short, coming at the problem from very different methodological traditions – the three sociologists from RGU approaching from a tradition where one approaches the problem in an open-ended way and, guided by underpinning theory, draws themes out of the data; and our IHGeo colleagues thinking more in terms of interviewing to extract information towards the purpose of understanding problems and serving particular policy goals. The reason I write this is not to say that one of these approaches is ‘right’ and one is ‘wrong’, but again to raise the point that making space at the start of a collaboration to understand each other’s approach to ‘science’ is just as important as knowing the techniques we can use and the data we can generate.

This discussion lasted the whole afternoon, and whilst it had tired us all out we all agreed it was productive. Once everyone had got over the hurdle of realising that even within the confines of the term ‘interview’ there were wildly differing understandings, it was plain sailing towards coming up with a topic guide that balanced our different ways of thinking and will (hopefully) give us a line of enquiry that allows specific insight into climate change within Nam Dinh and the responses across levels, but at the same time doesn’t close down the line of questioning too much or make too many assumptions about what we think is going to be important to our respondents. Interdisciplinarity is never easy, but when you do have moments of understanding each other it is very rewarding.

Tomorrow we head to the field, with a 6am departure from Hanoi to reach Nam Dinh Province by 9am. Given the energy required for today’s work and the early start tomorrow, my Wednesday post just might be a little more photo-based…

20170516_150459

Thanks again to the British Academy for their generous support!

Posted in British Academy International Partnership and Mobility 2016-17 | Leave a comment

Scotland-Vietnam collaboration on climate change and coastal communities – Hanoi Workshop Day 1

This week Dr Natascha Mueller-Hirth, Dr Chris Yuill and myself are in Vietnam for the first workshop of our British Academy International Partnership and Mobility Scheme-funded project into climate change in coastal communities, for which we have partnered with Dr Nguyen Song Tung and her colleagues in the Institute of Human Geography in the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences.

It has been nearly two years since I first visited the institute, when we sat and discussed how we might collaborate and agreed that climate change in coastal communities could act as a broad-based entry point. After much filling in of funding application forms, exchanging of emails and planning of logistics in the interim, it was very satisfying to be able to return to Hanoi with two of my colleagues this week to really begin the next step of our collaboration.

20170515_105200

Dr Nguyen Song Tung discusses biodiversity and climate change

Despite the common theme, I know from experience that bringing two different institutions and two different research cultures together can be challenging, so one of the key objectives of this first workshop is really to get to know what each other does and how we work, with a view to laying a solid foundation for future collaboration. And as useful as emails and conference calls are, sometimes there is still no substitute for getting everyone together in a room talking with each other.

20170515_110922

Dr Pham Thi Tram tells us about impacts of climate change on coastal communities in Nam Dinh Province

With that in mind, after a welcome from the Director General, Dr Nguyen Song Tung opened with a presentation on her research into management for biodiversity conservation in Xuan Thuy National Park in the context of climate change. Dr Pham Thi Tram then told us more about the impacts of climate change on the livelihoods of coastal communities in the same area – a part of the country about which we are going to be learning a lot more over the course of this week. For the three Scotland-based academics, these talks were hugely useful not only in giving us an understanding of the contexts in which our IHGeo colleagues work, but also in sparking ideas about areas of possible commonality and collaboration. For instance, although the problems faced in north-east Vietnam differ greatly from those faced in north-east Scotland in terms of nature and magnitude, Song Tung’s concluding points that ‘it is necessary to develop a suitable mechanism for collaboration amongst the authorities’ and ‘there is an overlap in tasks and responsibilities in different organisations’ could equally summarise for some of the Aberdeenshire challenges I’ll speak about later in the week.

20170515_145117

Group discussion

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. After an extensive and thoroughly enjoyable lunch we started the first workshop session, ambitiously titled ‘Climate Change and Social Research’ but rather more earnestly intended as a springboard to get us thinking about the different ways in which we can research the social dimensions of climate change and to what effect. This is something we will develop in more depth tomorrow, so for this afternoon I set the scene by talking through the different techniques I’ve used for some mixed-method research I’ve been doing into heat and greenspace in Taipei, using this as a lead-in to discussing the links between theory and methods. We then broke out into groups, and followed the time-honoured academic tradition of having a good long chat over some flipchart paper and pens.

20170515_160627

Methods, techniques and justifications

Seriously, though, experience has told me that when one is starting out in interdisciplinary collaboration like this (in the room we had human geographers, economists, environmental scientists, soil scientists and sociologists) it is really crucial to spend time properly understanding not only what we do, but also why we do it in the way we do. The fact both groups’ charts filled not only with techniques – GIS, interviews, remote sensing, statistical analysis, desk research – but also different drivers and motivations – influencing policy, data availability, personal skills – hopefully reflected the value of mapping out this bumpy terrain right at the start of collaboration. What we do once we’ve started to map this out will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.

20170515_144435

Certainly a different view to the one we have from RGU

Posted in British Academy International Partnership and Mobility 2016-17 | 1 Comment

On Fukushima Dai’ichi, radiation, and trust in data

Yesterday a friend on Facebook tagged me into a post linking to an article claiming that the meltdown at the Fukushima Dai’ichi nuclear power plant continues unabated. My friend tagged me in because he knew I did research around Fukushima, and though I might be able to comment accordingly. The article in question is quite clear that the recent observations of high radiation, the ones which have garnered media attention, are due to extension of observation to previously un-accessed areas rather than a sudden spike in on-site radiation. In other words, the reason we are getting these readings now is because no readings have previously been taken at those locations.

As a social scientist, I believe it is important to show respect for – and take seriously – different conceptions of what constitutes an acceptable level of risk or uncertainty. The author of the linked article offers one such interpretation, which they are well within their rights to do. However, in response to some of the points in the article about ‘contaminated’ land, ‘radioactive’ produce and effects on the sea, in the interests of balance I offered links to some scientific actions being undertaken in Fukushima and beyond to assess radioactivity levels. What is crucial, I think, are actions coming from inside Fukushima Prefecture by people who themselves bear the ‘risks’ of radiation and do not stand to make significant financial or political gain from decisions taken on the basis of the monitoring data they collect. I spent the best part of an hour typing my response, so in the interests of sharing more widely have pasted below.

The first thing to be absolutely clear about is that the situation at the Fukushima Dai’ichi nuclear power plant is going to be of concern for some time. There is still a lot of work to do to decommission the site completely and a number of issues which need to be resolved long-term around storage and disposal of waste. It would be disingenuous to say there is no radiation or that it is not a concern.

However, I think it is too much of an overstatement to say there has been a ‘cover up’ in Japan. There is a lot of citizen science monitoring being undertaken by people living in and around Fukushima Prefecture to assess radiation levels. For instance, UmiLabo catch fish from the sea and screen for radiation, publishing their results online (http://www.umilabo.jp/ – in Japanese), and Safecast are helping the proliferation of DIY Geiger counters (http://blog.safecast.org/). Plus there is a peer-reviewed paper that Prof Ryugo Hayano (Tokyo Uni and CERN) wrote with a group of high school students to assess external exposure in Fukushima Prefecture – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/articles/26613195/ If you’re interested to know more about what daily living is like in Fukushima Prefecture (which is half the size of Belgium), look at the #life_in_fukushima hashtag on Twitter which is being run and populated by citizens.

The linked article also talks about contamination of the sea outside of Japan. This is precisely what University of Victoria (fukushimainform.ca) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (http://www.whoi.edu/CMER) have been measuring in the Pacific – again with support of citizen scientists as well as academics and public health officials. They are quite open about the fact that Fukushima radionuclides have been detected on the Western seaboard, but at levels they believe are *far* too low to pose health risks.

For a slightly less taxing take on the situation at Fukushima Dai’ichi itself, there is a manga which was written by a former worker at the plant which has just been translated into English (full version out soon). The writer, who goes by the pseudonym Kazuto Tatsuta, is very balanced in his assessment of the situation at the plant – see https://www.facebook.com/ichiefu/

So in sum, whilst it is true that Fukushima Dai’ichi itself has a long way to go, there is a broad range of monitoring, screening and observation that is assessing living, health and produce in Fukushima Prefecture and beyond. The key thing, in my view, is to keep in mind what the values, objectives and motivations of the people making the different claims are (which is where social scientists like me come in!), and to look at the evidence base they use to make these claims.

As a footnote, I’d like to point out that although I am not an environmental scientist, I have published peer-reviewed work on the social dimensions of risk communication in Fukushima. Please do get in touch via email – l.j.mabon@rgu.ac.uk – if you would like access to any of my papers. 

Posted in Comment | 1 Comment

Society and green space in Fukushima’s cities post-disaster

Originally posted on urbangreenadaptationdiary.wordpress.com, a new collaborative venture I have with Dr Wanyu Shih of Ming-Chuan University.

For the past few years I have been undertaking research in Fukushima. This does not mean I have been doing work at the Fukushima Dai’ichi Nuclear Power Plant. Rather, my ‘field sites’ have been two cities in Fukushima Prefecture – Iwaki and Fukushima – each with a population of around 300,000 people. The purpose of my research has not been to form a judgement on nuclear power, but rather to understand what environmental change might mean for daily living. In this post I’m going to focus on one aspect of this work, the effect of the triple disaster on green spaces in Fukushima and Iwaki, and draw out some implications for the role of green spaces under conditions of major environmental change.

p1010641

First, though, let’s take in a bit of context. On March 11 2011 a very large earthquake and tsunami hit the north-east coast of Japan. This claimed the lives of over 15,000 people. It also set in motion a chain of events that lead to a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Dai’ichi Nuclear Power Plant, and triggered hydrogen explosions which carried radioactive material over Fukushima Prefecture and beyond. The levels of radiation that reached Fukushima City and Iwaki City were not high enough to necessitate any evacuations, but there was a need to undertake decontamination to remove some of the radioactive matter from the environment. This was especially true for Fukushima City, which because of the wind direction at the time of the accident received more radioactive contamination than areas to the south. From what my interviewees and subsequent collaboration with scientists has told me, the green spaces within cities – parks, forests at the urban fringe, roadside greenery – have been some of the more challenging areas to decontaminate. These findings can tell us much about the social dimensions of urban green space under environmental change.

The first thing my Fukushima fieldwork has told me is that access to green space matters. Or, more precisely, what matters is having green space that people feel is safe enough for them to want to access. Back in 2014 when I was doing my first round of fieldwork, municipal officials I interviewed told me they were getting a lot of questions about the radiation levels in the parks and forests around Fukushima City. In particular, there were very legitimate concerns from mothers with young children about the heterogeneity and indeterminacy of contamination over short distances, and from citizens who enjoyed getting out into the hills at weekends to exercise about whether radiation would be higher than in the city centre. I remember seeing some workers nailing a small sign onto a piece of grass to say there was a patch of higher-than-average radiation, which gave me quite a fright.

p1000432

This situation – of not facing formal restrictions on activity yet not being able to live daily life fully – was described by Japanese environmental sociologist Akihiko Sato as being ‘evacuated in daily life.’ The psychological implications of not feeling able to access meaningful green spaces within the city are clear. When we talk about ‘accessible’ green space in the context of urban environmental change, then, perhaps we need to think not only about physical access in terms of distance, entrance points, ease of mobility, but also about accessibility in a social and cultural sense. Does the park, forest, garden or whatever feel accessible? Could changes in the climate somehow make a green space feel more or less accessible over time? And how might one go about assessing this? If the more vulnerable members of society are to be able to derive the psychological and health benefits that being within urban green space provides (and that might help to build resilience to environmental changes), then they have to feel welcome and safe in that space.

How one goes about creating those conditions is my second point. The small ‘hotspot’ sign I saw was just one of a number of ways in which the prefectural and municipal governments in Fukushima and Iwaki are working to raise citizen awareness of radiation levels and decontamination efforts. There are the ubiquitous radiation monitors, online real-time data, and daily measurements broadcast on television and in newspapers. Perhaps because of the concerns I mentioned above, open spaces have come to be a key site for the radiation monitors. My colleagues Prof David Sanderson and Dr Alan Cresswell at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, who do very fine-scale measurement of radiation levels in Fukushima, like to regale me with anecdotal tales of how they’ve been able to use their results to show citizens that radiation levels are declining over tens of metres as a result of decontamination work. And then there are the excellent citizen science efforts for people to monitor radiation in the environment for themselves.

monit

But how does all of that relate to climate adaptation? Well, the work going on to monitor radioactivity in Fukushima and Iwaki’s open spaces is a good example of risk communication for urban green space, providing reliable and timely evidence in a manner understandable to citizens. What lessons might we learn about communicating the environmental conditions within green spaces, so that people can modify their behaviour accordingly? If information about the heterogeneity of hazard across a green space can be communicated, then it may be possible for people to alter their behaviours to reduce exposure, and/or to make an informed decision about what they do in that space. For example, we might be able to visually represent differences in temperature across a park through maps (Wanyu, I’m looking at you here…), provide temperature readings, or draw attention to areas less susceptible to flooding. Finding channels of communication, and voices who are respected and trusted enough to deliver the message, is of course a massive challenge going right to the heart of my own research.

The last thing I want to touch on is the value that protecting or restoring green space has in sustaining resilience before and after a disaster. Fukushima has long been famous for its delicious peaches, which have come to symbolise recovery after 2011. Right outside the NHK Fukushima headquarters, there was a big line of trees, each of them bearing scores of round pink-orange peaches. The message seemed to be that if the trees are once again producing delicious and edible fruit, then the environment and the people within it are on the road to recovery too. Indeed, many of the physical scientists I’ve interviewed and collaborated with openly admit that it is worth spending money to decontaminate green spaces where radioactivity is relatively low, because of the symbolism of moving towards recovery it represents. With a critical eye one could dismiss this as being a bit tokenistic, but I still think it tells us something important about the role that conservation or restoration of urban green space can have in motivating wider resilience and recovery. And then, of course, there are all the opportunities for interaction and ‘social capital’ building that urban green spaces bring – Misaki Park in Iwaki contains a Shinto shrine, for example.

p1010651

Iwaki and Fukushima’s recovery after the 2011 nuclear accident tells us a lot about what green space means to a city. Environmental radiation is a very different phenomenon to climate change, but from a social science perspective it tells much about what major environmental change might mean to our green and open spaces. The challenges of decontaminating urban greenery through taking off topsoil, scraping away leaf litter, and removing vegetation show us just how complex the urban ecosystems on which we rely are. Likewise, the risk communication work that is ongoing post-disaster reminds us just how complex people’s relationships to green spaces are, and how far-reaching the consequences can be if these relations are changed. As such, limiting the harm and damage we cause to urban ecosystems in the first place seems a vital part of climate adaptation.

Read more about the empirical research on which this post is based here: Mabon, L and Kawabe, M (2016) ‘Engagement on risk and uncertainty – lessons from coastal regions of Fukushima Prefecture, Japan after the 2011 nuclear disaster?’ Journal of Risk Research DOI: 10.1080/13669877.2016.1200658

p1000485

Posted in Comment | Leave a comment