One regret, one hope with Elizabeth Bomberg

Reading time: 3 minutes
In this series, Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, chats to members of our community to find out more about them. Each fortnight she’ll be asking, what is the one regret that has shaped their past, and what is their one hope for the future.

This week Mona’s guest is Elizabeth Bomberg, Professor of Environmental Politics and Deputy Head of Politics and International Relations in the School of Social & Political Science.

Mona Siddiqui: Elizabeth, let’s start with your research. Tell us a little bit about your work?

Elizabeth Bomberg: As a professor of environmental politics I’m interested in a wide array of environmental and climate policies and politics across the globe, although I focus specifically on environmental politics in the US, here in Scotland and within the European Union. But what interests me most is why people engage with environmental issues or climate issues in the way they do, or why they don’t engage. What motivates them, what explains why sometimes an issue might galvanise a community and other times, even though the issue might be equally as important to our survival or to our quality of life, it doesn’t mobilise in the same way.

MS: On that point Elizabeth, have you noticed from your own work that there has been a dramatic shift, or do we think there’s been a dramatic shift, in the way people think about environmental issues?

EB: It’s not very exciting but my answer lies somewhere in between. By that I mean that on certain issues, and climate change is the most obvious one, the level of awareness has increased significantly in the last, even just five to ten years, and by that I mean awareness of citizens, policy makers, NGOs and, of course, businesses.

We can be lured into thinking that because there’s an increase in awareness then that means we’re taking this issue seriously and that the correct action will therefore follow. That second question you asked, whether it just appears that we’ve become more interested, there I think we still have quite a long way to go to turning an increase in maybe superficial interest into actual actions that are meaningful and can address some of these issues.

MS: Do you think that in the last 15 months with the pressures of Covid-19 that environmental issues have taken a bit of a backseat? Or do you think that actually we should be recognising the urgency of environmental issues precisely because of the pandemic?

EB: While one might assume that Covid-19 would have sort of pushed out, as it were, concern about other issues like climate change, in a series of public opinion surveys and some literature out recently, we found that concerns over climate change, biodiversity loss, and other environmental issues have not diminished. The pandemic has made us all stop and think again about what we value in life, what matters, it’s our family, it’s our health, it’s our wellbeing so that has cast new light on the importance of climate and environmental issues.

MS: So Elizabeth, if you can think back to your recent or distant past, what is one regret you can share with us?

EB: I’ve given this, perhaps, too much thought and it made me reflect on the notion of regret. I’ve come to the conclusion that regret and ruminating on regrets is not very helpful, unless you can turn that regret into positive action. So that’s the way I’ve been viewing this. I was thinking more about collective regret and leap to what we were talking about earlier. We knew the damage of greenhouse gases and the impact it would have, we knew that decades ago and a regret might be why didn’t we take action then, we could have made such a difference.

But again, that doesn’t mean that we need to give up hope or lapse into despondency and it doesn’t mean that it’s too late now to avoid or to limit some of the effects of climate change and environmental destruction. I’ve taken that regret to be a further motivation to engagement and getting others engaged and facilitating engagement and studying it and saying given that we are where we are what can we do to make the best of this situation and how can we not give up hope.

MS: And what is one hope that you carry forward?

EB: That is very much linked to my regret and that is the hope that we can take action if we can realign our values. A real source of hope for me, and I think for you as well, is our students, and teaching, and young people today – they give me hope. Even though we’re studying something as despondency-causing as climate change, the students’ energy and their innovation and their willingness to think in exciting and abstract ways gives me hope for the future.