Meet the man tackling the climate crisis head on
24 January 2020 at 2:24 pm
As Oxfam Australia’s climate change advocacy coordinator, Dr Simon Bradshaw is fighting to protect the world’s most vulnerable communities from the devastating impacts of climate change. He’s this week’s Changemaker.
Bradshaw’s love of the natural world from a young age meant a career in the environment sector was inevitable.
It was during his time in the Tibetan Plateau that he witnessed the incoming challenges that climate change was presenting, not only for our natural environment, but for humanity, global politics and the economy.
Over the span of his career, Bradshaw has worked with the Australian Conservation Foundation, authored papers on international climate finance and how Australia is measuring up on international responsibilities for climate change, and he is a Climate Leader with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project.
Working closely with Oxfam’s partners in the Pacific, he is now fighting to find clean solutions for finance and technology to aid humanitarian efforts for the communities that will be hit hardest by the effects of climate change.
In this week’s Changemaker, he talks about what inspires him, what we can learn from the people around us, and how to stay grounded in times of crisis.
What drew you to working in the environmental advocacy space?
I grew up on an island on the other side of the world called Guernsey and was lucky enough to spend a lot of my young days sailing and kayaking and exploring, and that gave me a love of nature and travel from a very young age.
One of the most formative experiences I had was the months I spent in Tibet when I was doing research for my PhD. At that time I was becoming very alive to the realities of climate change and environmental degradation. This really sparked my interest in wanting to understand how people could live so sustainably and so successfully for so long in such challenging environments.
I started out in my career as a passionate environmentalist, but my visit to Tibet really showed me that we can’t think of environmental challenges as separate from social justice and human rights issues and politics, and the fact we need much greater respect for indigenous knowledge and practices, understanding how people have lived sustainably prior to the industrial era.
What does an average day for you look like?
It normally begins with a quick scan of the news to try to get a handle on what’s unfolding today, including any good opportunities to react to the day’s events. Being a big global organisation, I have colleagues all over the world to catch up on whatever people have been working on furiously overnight. We’ll then have a quick team meeting to plan our priorities for the day and then we’ll get down to work, which might mean writing some media lines or calling politicians offices. It might mean turning off all distractions for a few hours to try and get into a big, exciting piece of research and writing. Or it might be that I link up with colleagues in the Pacific to plan together for upcoming opportunities. Every day is very different and rarely does it play out the way you expect when you get up in the morning. But it’s certainly always exciting.
How do you keep yourself motivated and positive about the work you’re doing?
I’m lucky to be in a very privileged position in that my role is very much about dealing with these challenges. I’m very lucky to be able to come to work every day and be squarely focused on dealing with the climate crisis and other big challenges. I draw a lot of inspiration from the many partners we have in the Pacific and in remote Indigenous Australia. The determination, resolve and wisdom is of strong contrast to a lot of the perennial political fights that infuriate us in Australia.
On a personal level, I’m very lucky to live in one of the beautiful parts of north Sydney, surrounded by some wonderful bush land and close to the water. I spend as much time as possible going for runs in the bush, tending to the garden, getting to know the local wildlife.
That’s been a great source of comfort through this year.
I also have a young daughter and for anyone lucky to be working in this space, your mind is inevitably sharpened when you think about the trajectory we’re on and what sort of world my daughter will be living in in a few decades time. I’ll be honest, like so many of us at the moment, I’m dealing with a lot of climate anxiety and grief, particularly in the wake of the extraordinary events over this past summer with the bushfire crisis. It’s a very difficult time for almost all Australians at the moment but having those things that ground you, give you hope, focus and joy are so important.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to make a career change into this space or a young person who is looking at a career in environmental policy and advocacy?
It’s a challenging and terrifying time in many ways, but it’s also an exciting time. The climate crisis is the defining challenge of our time and we will have to reinvent so much because of it. So if you’re considering building a career in any way to do with environmental protection, social justice or human rights, then you’re guaranteed a fascinating, rewarding, exciting path.
Firstly I would say that you shouldn’t hesitate to go down such a path. Secondly, it’s really important to connect with places and things that you love, be it the ocean or the bush or garden, and feel good because the years ahead are likely going to be tough for anyone working in this space, and you’re going to need a good source of strength and inspiration and find yourself some good mentors.
How would you say the experience of working across various roles in the sector has changed your outlook on the world?
I’ve been lucky to visit and learn about so many different places, different communities, and different perspectives on the world. I’ve been fortunate to spend time in some of the Atoll nations of the Pacific, and I think more than anything that connection with the Pacific is something I’ll always cherish. My time in India and Nepal, and the Torres Strait Islands have all been amazing places to spend time in and learn.
The thing it also drives home is how, wherever we are, we’re all pretty much the same. We all have so many of the same aspirations and challenges in life. Of course, some of us have a great deal more privilege than others, but what it’s taught me more than anything else is the common humanity and how much we can learn from each other.
Ultimately, when it comes to climate change and other great challenges, we’re all in this together.