'My name’s Gina Lovett. I come from Dublin. After a meandering journey, I realised that environment was where I wanted, needed, to put my energy. During this time, my desire to learn more about environmental issues became harder to dismiss, and after 17 years in London, I moved to Amsterdam to start Environmental Geography at UvA.' Read what Gina has to say about Environmental Geography.
Before moving to London, I lived in Dublin until I was 19. My background is quite diverse, I did a BA in Cultural Studies at the London College of Fashion, part of University of the Arts London. After that I trained as a journalist, subsequently working for design, fashion, marketing and new media magazines. It was during this time that I inadvertently became interested in sustainability. I was increasingly encountering start-up businesses and leftfield thinkers creating initiatives and services through co-design, social innovation and social entrepreneurship. This was a catalyst for me thinking more critically about the consumption-production paradigm that so many magazines – and their associated industries – are tied to.
After a meandering journey, I realised that environment, rather than fashion or new media journalism, was where I wanted, needed, to put my energy. I began work at the Royal College of Art in London, in a tiny department set up to tutor design students, providing a non-formal but vital aspect to their education around social and environmental issues. A lot of people find it difficult to make the connection but design is a huge part of the consumption-production paradigm driving environmental change. It’s important designers, architects and makers are aware of the consequences and possibilities of their work. During this time, my desire to learn more about environmental issues became harder to dismiss, and after 17 years in London, I moved to Amsterdam to start Environmental Geography at UvA.
As I’m in my mid-thirties, I am on the more mature end of the age scale of this Masters – the average age tends to be around 25. Students come from all over the world and there is a diversity of backgrounds, which enriches the learning process. You learn from each other. It was the Environmental Geography Master programme’s unique focus that caught my attention when looking for programmes. Most environmental geography courses sit within earth science, while environmental governance tends to sit within political science. A social science context, however, is crucial to understanding the largely ignored role of paradigms, framing, values and norms in shaping environmental issues.
The content of the Environmental Geography programme is particularly fresh and relevant. For example, the UN COP21 was taking place in Paris as we did the environmental governance module. We could see the application of all our learning about the global climate regime in the major political debates and academic discourses surrounding the negotiations. The vibrant and relevant content is, of course, down to the programme’s world-class academic staff. You will not learn from anyone more dynamic, knowledgeable or dedicated than Professor Joyeeta Gupta and Dr Eric Chu. Their combination of real-life professional insight and pioneering environmental research expertise makes for a very intellectually stimulating experience. Their expectation of students is particularly high, and this manifests in both unwaivering support – and critical honesty. Geography, as a discipline, often has a reputation for being too broad and general. Most people have difficulty in describing what a geographer actually does. I would argue that geography is perhaps one of the best approaches to studying the complexity of environmental issues and their governance possibilities. With emphasis on interaction, interconnectivity, scale, place and spatial relationships, geography is well placed to explore modes of governance – adaptive, interactive, hybrid – or to assess local-to-global, “glocal”, challenges such as climate change, water scarcity and land-use change.
What makes Environmental Geography unique is that it also demands understanding of the interactions between geography sub-disciplines such as economics, politics and urban studies. It’s not enough to know ecosystem related challenges. Economic and political theories – collective action, common pool resources, free riders, institutions and path-dependency, for example – are synthesised to understand the relationship between development and environment, or the role of policy and institutions in determining access to natural resources.The programme has a strong academic focus and prepares students in everything from learning how to identify gaps in knowledge to applying knowledge and theory. For me, it has so far been hugely valuable in developing my critical thinking. I am more confident in my ability to critically analyse problem-framing and policy options, as well as the discourses and goals of environmental governance from sustainable development and green economy to ecological modernisation and inclusive development.
My tips for future students would be to aim to really bring your study to life. When you look around, you can see the everyday application of what you learn. Be prepared to work hard. The best learning experience is not comfortable, nor easy. This is a programme that demands students be ultra-organised and dedicated. It’s extremely demanding and intensive but this is what makes it so rewarding.