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Meet our Visiting Scholar Aletia Dundas

Aletia explains the climate justice research she’ll be undertaking & what she’s reading on the weekend

Aletia Dundas is a Visiting Scholar of the Sydney Environment Institute and holds a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Sydney. She explains how she became interested in climate and social justice, what research she’ll be undertaking and what you’ll catch her doing on a weekend.

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What is your position at the Sydney Environment Institute?

I am a visiting scholar. I was selected as part of the Sydney Social Justice Network’s Fellowship program, which seeks to provide mentorship to social justice professionals and strengthen links between academia and civil society. I work for UnitingJustice Australia, and will be at the Sydney Environment Institute one day a week for six months conducting research into climate justice.

Give a brief history of your studies/work history.

I began my tertiary studies with a Bachelor degree in Psychology. After a brief foray into the corporate sector where I tried my hand at human resources, I realised that my goal of “helping people” would be better achieved in the community sector. I completed a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney in 2006 and have worked in the areas of social justice advocacy and international community development ever since.

When working with communities in the Pacific I was confronted with the reality of how climate change was impacting people day to day, and how little they had contributed to this situation. I began to explore what mitigation and adaptation would mean in practise for people who rely mainly upon subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods, and whose access to education, healthcare and paid employment is limited. I was working a lot with strengths-based approaches, which recognise the capacities and assets that already exist within a community and ensure genuine participation of people in decision-making that affects them. Through my involvement in the union movement, I became interested in the idea of “just transition” – a fair and sustainable shift towards a low carbon economy, and wanted to explore how this might be possible for more vulnerable communities such as those in the Pacific.

In 2014 I joined UnitingJustice as Policy Officer, and spend my working days on national justice issues that I care about: the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, care for the environment, justice for First Australians, peace and human rights. Climate change and the environment have begun to take prominence in our work in the lead up to the climate action talks in Paris in December.

Describe your research topic as part of the fellowship.

I plan to explore how climate change disproportionately impacts already marginalised and vulnerable communities in Australia, looking specifically at the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. I want to identify what the Australian Government, and the wider Australian society, can do to enable meaningful participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in conversations about how to address inequalities in experiences of climate change, and also explore the capacities that exist in being able to adapt and build resilience.

What drew you to investigating this topic?

I was particularly interested in working with the Sydney Environment Institute on the topic of climate justice because this is an area of my work with UnitingJustice that seems to be more and more relevant in the lead up to the Paris meeting on emissions reduction targets, and as there is a growing understanding generally of the urgency of needing to reduce our emissions. I didn’t want the justice and inequality aspects of these conversations to be ignored.

What changes do you hope can occur from your research?

I would like to see a greater awareness amongst politicians and the general public about the inequities in how climate change impacts different communities, and a greater understanding of what could be done to address these inequities.

What are your passions/interests?

My particular passions to do with social justice are Peace and the Environment. I grew up amongst hippies, and so these values were instilled in me from a young age. (I also blame my hippy upbringing for my interest in alternative and folk music!!) I can remember refusing plastic bags and wanting to recycle everything back in the 1990s when people had very little awareness of what our consumer lifestyle was doing to the natural environment.

Other interests include bushwalking, playing my ukulele, meandering the organic markets, and political conversations over a mug of chai.

Social justice appears to be your keen interest, how does this relate to environmental studies?

There is a growing awareness that care for the earth is a social justice issue. While the richest people on the planet continue to exploit the earth’s resources for their own gain, the poorest are the ones forced to adapt to rapidly changing environmental circumstances.

Where can we find you on the weekend?

I am an inner westy, so you’ll likely see me out at a café in Newtown, or at the Markets in Marrickville. Otherwise, I’ll be getting out of Sydney, enjoying time in the National Parks or reading by a quiet river somewhere.

What are you currently watching?

I don’t have a television, but have been getting into “Orange is the New Black” recently. I find QandA on ABC Iview is good for both work research and entertainment!

What are you reading?

I am in a bookclub that reads only women authors. We recently read “Go set a watchman” by Harper Lee, and “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell.

Have you only just lived in Sydney?

No, I lived in Geneva about 8 years ago when I was at the Quaker United Nations Office, working on disarmament and peace building research and advocacy.

Follow her on twitter: @aletiadundas