Royal Geographical Society Annual International Conference 2018
I recently attended RGS in Cardiff, Wales, on behalf of Nature Energy and Nature Climate Change.
The last time I was in Cardiff it was a Sunday in December, the streets were deserted, and I ate a Nutella crepe for dinner alone in an abandoned Christmas village while they played Saturday Night by Whigfield (true story). Turns out Cardiff is much more lively and a lovely place to walk around in the summer!
But I digress.
Whenever I attend a conference, I wish I could add a catchphrase to my business card that reads: "Nature Energy & Nature Climate Change: Just because we haven't published it yet, doesn't mean we aren't interested." Yes, it is good advice to look at what a journal has published before to determine whether your work fits the journal scope. But, given the exceptional breadth of the social sciences relevant to energy and climate change, and the even greater disciplinary scope of these journals (which span the social, physical, and life sciences), this can often discourage submissions we'd love to see.
At RGS I saw excellent talks that examined climate mitigation and adaptation policies, how they are conceived, and limits to implementation from the policy-maker perspective. For example, Joanna Pardoe (London School of Economics) provided an overview of climate policy evolution in the food, water, and energy sectors in Tanzania, and then used interview data to reveal how the lack of coordination across sectors hampers implementation of climate mitigation action; Jessica Hemingway (TU Dresden) used a combination of informant interviews and online surveys with government workers to identify barriers to planned adaptation in New York state. Studies like these that examine policy-maker attitudes and the factors that influence policy development would complement the strong body of research Nature Climate Change has published on attitudes and action in the general public.
I also really enjoyed talks that adopted a social practices approach, which make it very clear that technological innovation on its own will not reduce energy demand or carbon emissions. For example, Mary Greene (NUI Galway) used the case of Ireland to examine how social institutions that are not on the face of it energy-relevant (for instance, financial credit systems) shape energy demand and consumption, effectively serving as "invisible" energy policies. The unintended consequences of energy interventions and transitions was a major theme in the "Gender & Energy" sessions. Ramazan Sari (Middle East Technical University) gave a charming talk (that featured photos of his mother) about energy transitions in rural Turkey and the complexity of shifting away from self-produced biomass energy sources; Harriet Larrington-Spencer (Manchester University) used ethnographic research in Shanghai to argue that targeting households as the unit of intervention for energy reduction programs will be ineffective and unjust because this neglects critical differences in consumption needs between household members (I think it's safe to say that this was the best talk about laundry I will ever see). In general I left RGS with a deeper appreciation for the importance of qualitative approaches to understanding the lived experience of energy use that I hope to soon see represented in our pages.
What we publish in Nature Climate Change and Nature Energy doesn't necessarily reflect the full scope of our interests in the social sciences, because it is limited by what is submitted: if we get a lot of submissions on Topic X, we will publish a lot of Topic X, which will encourage more submissions on Topic X, and so on. I look forward to receiving more submissions representing the kinds of research questions and approaches I saw presented at RGS.