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Expanding & diversifying environmental research: Needs for urbanizing coastal regions exporting fossil fuels

The Qatar Peninsula with adjacent Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, along with the Arabian Gulf, on December 30, 2001.

notes of presentation: ingram-2013-nov-29-expanding-diversifying-the-work-of-environmental-research-centres

PowerPoint graphics of presentation: ingram-2013-expanding-diversifying-environmental-research

This conversation in Qatar represents my first set of notes reflecting on the legacies and continued importance of a global movement, or rather convergence of movements, over the last half century: environmental centres that have often linked universities with community activism and initiatives in public policy. After five decades of various kinds of “environmental studies” and research centres, it is a good time to begin to take stock and learn some lessons for better linking scientific research to grassroots movements to land and water stewardship as often as mediated by universities and their academic frameworks.

In the case of the Environmental Studies Center of Qatar University, the group was formed in 1980 just three years after the University, itself, was established. While this group has been more professionally and academically oriented than grassroots based, the QU ESC has had a crucial intersectional position, within Qatar and in the Arabian Gulf region, for bringing together a broad set of stakeholders and economic sectors to better inform environmental decision-making. Much of this work has involved studying, advising and the management of the great number of operations for the export of the countries fossil fuels.

The notes below are the beginning of a conversation with administrators on possible options and principles for further supporting the work of well-established scientific groups and laboratories, including a marine science group with new 150 foot research vessel ‘The Janan’, while expanding the overall research programme to better reflect global trends and local problems, including around urbanizing, while involving and serving more government offices, economic sectors, and university departments.

This presentation also touches on the current debates in another region that is increasingly exporting fossil fuels: Pacific Canada where I grew up and often advise. While the number of environmental researchers in British Columbia is perhaps ten times that of Qatar with only a permanent citizenry of 250,000. But even with all of the capacity for data collection and public debate on the West Coast, the intellectual and leadership challenges in study of and response to various global trends and local problems remains daunting. So I came to Qatar University to learn about the remarkable resilience of their research groups as much as to share approaches for supporting environmental studies centres that have worked in other parts of the world.