Highlights from the YESI 5-year anniversary event

News | Posted on Monday 12 November 2018

On the 8th October 2018 around 200 delegates came together to celebrate five years of YESI achievements and to discuss our current human dominated era that is the Anthropocene. We reflect on the events of the day.

Proceedings began with a welcome address from Professor Deborah Smith, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research who outlined the University’s research strategy, highlighting the environmental sustainability and resilience research theme, and recognising YESI’s key contributions to interdisciplinary research at York.

In the morning session, journalist, author and broadcaster Gaia Vince took us on a journey through the Anthropocene, introducing us to the innovative ways that humans are adapting to the environmental changes it has produced. We learned about humans painting mountains to increase the albedo effect and how sheeting is being used to collect moisture in the atmosphere. Professor Chris Thomas then explored impacts of the Anthropocene on biodiversity. He explained that ‘certain species are thriving in an age of extinction’ as they evolve in response to their changing surroundings. He remarked that the Anthropocene is different and that ‘we should just get used to it!’ Sue closed the session by exploring YESI’s work over the last five years and its strategy for the future.

A lunchtime exhibition provided an interesting break for our visitors. With demonstrations of the SkyLine technology, and the Digital Creativity Labs games in action, delegates could see some of York’s innovative approaches to addressing the challenges of the Anthropocene and speak to YESI collaborators.

After lunch a range of projects from the three YESI themes of Sustainable Food, Resilient Ecosystems and Urban Living were celebrated by a showcase of YESI supported projects. The researchers presented projects including IKnowFood, Socially and Environmentally Sustainable Oil Palm Research (SEnSOR) and the York City Environment Observatory (YCEO).

The next session focused on meeting the challenges in the Anthropocene. During an interview between Science Editor for The Times, Tom Whipple, and Founder and Chair of BLOOM, Claire Nouvian we were provided with a fascinating insight into Claire’s tireless environmental campaigning efforts. A key message she left the audience with was that ‘we need extensive preparation with lots of robust data to get taken seriously by policy makers.’

The day concluded with a panel discussion reflecting on the main challenges and opportunities in the Anthropocene. In response to the audience’s questions the panel, consisting of our keynote speakers and academics from the University of York, explored an array of topics including politics, morality, education and power. Professor Jean Grugel from the Department of Politics claimed that we need to better understand the political challenges surrounding climate change and that ‘we need to understand some of the resistance to the changes necessary to address climate change.’ She also pointed out that ‘geopolitics matter’ and that we need to incorporate voices from the Global South into the conversation. Gaia Vince said that we need to stop assuming that politicians are not listening and understand the complexities of the decision-making process. The discussion even went as far as exploring whether the term ‘Anthropocene’ is correct. Dr Mark Jenner asked whether it should really be called the ‘Capitalocene.’

This lively discussion was a suitable point to close the day, with Prof. Sue Hartley thanking the participants and audience for a stimulating and thought provoking event. Sue and the YESI team then cut a birthday cake which was shared with the delegates.