"Civic engagement is one of the greatest levers for crisis resolution"

Anne-Sophie Roux is a student in the Master of Political Science programme at the Sciences Po Doctoral School. She has decided to take a gap year to pursue a unique personal project: in July 2016, she is leaving on an extended humanitarian-focused trip with the aim of reporting on populations affected by climate change.

You will be travelling from New Zealand to Bhutan via Cambodia and Thailand to report on the effects of climate change. Why did you choose these particular countries?

I want to present the perspective of those most affected by climate change by showing how diverse their situations are. I chose these countries so as to reflect this variety, from the small Pacific islands affected by rising sea levels, to the Himalayan populations threatened by melting glaciers, to the village communities of Asia threatened by urban sprawl.

You have been nominated for Sciences Po's Max Lazard award, which involves a report of your trip being published in the journal Sens Public [an international social science journal]. How does your project relate to your research Master's programme at the Doctoral School?

I see this project as a large field study. For my Master's thesis I want to work on the status of indigenous peoples in the Anthropocene. I intend to take a cross-cutting, transnational approach concentrating on certain focal points, such as the Maori in New Zealand. This year-long trip will allow me to expand my theoretical knowledge and to meet the populations directly involved in change "on the ground", so as to better understand their various perspectives.

What are your career plans after your Master's degree? Is this gap year also intended to help you make choices in this regard?

Totally! I would like my career to combine academic research and work in the field, so that I'm always in touch with both theory and practice. I'm still not sure, but I'd like to work for an NGO or an international institution such as Unesco.
With this project during my gap year, I'll get to try my hand at the practical side of research which I haven't experienced yet, and put that into perspective with the theoretical courses I take at Sciences Po.

The aim of your trip is to show that "environmental, democratic and economic crises can be much more than unavoidable disasters; they can be catalysts for innovation to find new models of alternative development". What might these alternative models look like? Do you think that climate change can bring about positive developments?

The Western view of climate change is very pessimistic and alarmist, whereas for island and mountain populations in developing countries, environmental crises are already part of everyday life. So much so that they've become catalysts for innovation, in terms of people taking responsibility. Some communities are energy self-sufficient for example, while others protect marine biodiversity; I'll be observing very diverse projects! My goal is to shake off my Western perspective in order to see climate change from a new angle. The people most affected by the climate crisis in Oceania have more to teach the Western world than the reverse.

During COP21 you volunteered for UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) at the Rio Conventions Pavilion. In what way do environmental issues touch you more than others?

The environmental crisis is not the only humanitarian issue that interests me. I also spent a lot of time on the Sciences Po campus this year working to help refugees. The thing is that climate change is the main subject of my Master's thesis on the Anthropocene. By changing the perspective from which this subject is viewed, we can change the way it is apprehended and taken into account. What I want to do first and foremost is raise awareness: helping to get global visibility for projects that work locally, a bit like the movie Demain directed by Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent.

Before committing to this humanitarian project, you volunteered in several associations, from retirement homes in Lyon to helping refugees in Paris. In your opinion, why is it important nowadays to work for the common good?

Because the most effective action against social, democratic and environmental crises comes from citizen mobilisation—from people who, at their own level, try to initiate change. I really like the Native American metaphor of the hummingbird that Pierre Rabhi talks about: during a huge forest fire, all the animals flee from the fire in terror and then helplessly watch the disaster unfold, except for a little hummingbird who gets busy throwing a few drops of water on the fire with its beak. The bird is aware that it will not stop the fire but wants to "do its part".
I think citizen engagement is one of the greatest levers for crisis resolution and more powerful than state action can be.

Useful links
●      Find out more about the Master of Political Science (research) at the Sciences Po Doctoral School
●      Anne-Sophie Roux will publish articles throughout her trip, then a 30-minute video documentary. You can follow all this on her website.
●      The Ulele project to help fund her trip.

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