Q&A

Introducing the Environmental Justice Project: RMIT Research Team Lauren Rickards and Oli Moraes

SEI researcher Hannah Della Bosca introduces our RMIT partners on the new ARC-funded Environmental Justice research project.

Gariwerd (the Grampians). Image by Gagandeep Singh on Unsplash

In October 2020, Director of the Sydney Environment Institute David Schlosberg launched a new three year ARC-funded Environmental Justice research project in conjunction with Australian National University Lecturer Rebecca Pearse and RMIT Associate Professor Lauren Rickards. SEI researcher Hannah Della Bosca anchors the Sydney team. Joining the team as a Research Officer at RMIT is Oli Moraes, and Hannah sat down with Oli to talk about his work on climate justice, his research activities with Lauren, and what brought him to this project.

RMIT Associate Professor Lauren Rickards is a prolific researcher, author and activist around issues of climate justice, with an interdisciplinary background in human geography and ecology. Lauren is the co-leader of the Climate Change Transformations research program of the Centre for Urban Research and lectures in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT. Her work spans theoretical and practical conceptions of humanity, the planetary system, urban futures and resilience. Oli has been working with Lauren for over 12 months at RMIT on a range of sustainable development and climate change research projects. When she mentioned she needed someone to join the Environmental Justice project he didn’t hesitate to jump on board.

Oli Moraes

I was born to an Australian mother and Brasilian father on a small island in the south of Brasil, Florianopolís. After relocating to Australia, I grew up in the outer suburbs of Melbourne but spent a great deal of my childhood camping in Gariwerd (the Grampians) on the lands of the Djab Wurrung and Jardwadjali Traditional Custodians, which is now where I live. It was in Gariwerd where I became deeply connected to nature and interested in understanding ecosystem dynamics and how people manage the environment. Part of that was also falling in love with rocks, which is why I decided to study geosciences in my undergraduate at Monash University, where I graduated with a double Bachelor’s degree in Arts (International Studies) and Science (Geology)

It was during my time at Monash, spending extensive amounts of time looking at rock formations in the field, learning about planetary formation and geological and climactic change where I began to become seriously concerned about climate change. Through opportunities at Monash, I had the privilege of studying part of my degrees in South Africa and Brasil where through extensive community-development work it highlighted to me the way that environmental issues impact people and communities from the Majority World in disproportionate ways.

From then, I started looking for creative ways and approaches to create systemic change as someone interested in the intersection between physical sciences and the humanities.

This led me to volunteer and subsequently work for several community-groups and NGOs in the climate movement and working in Yosemite National Park in California as a Biological Field Technician in 2016 with the US National Park Service looking at the impacts of climate change and forest management on Giant Sequoias.

After living in Yosemite, I decided to complete a Master of Environment (Climate Change & Conservation) at the University of Melbourne, which I completed in 2019.

My Master’s research involved fieldwork to Fiji where I worked with local NGOs, researchers and communities to understand how blue carbon (carbon stored in coastal ecosystems like mangroves and seagrasses) could be incorporated into localised and community-based coastal resource management. Since then, I have published in academic journals and The Conversation, and presented this research at the 2019 Victorian Biodiversity Conference in Melbourne, on public radio and podcasts. I also produced several related outputs including a summary report that was translated into Fijian.

Outside of my research work at RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research, I maintain focus on supporting climate resilience and elevating Pacific stories and experiences of climate change in the region as co-director of the small volunteer run NGO, Climates. We collaborate with civil society and communities in the South Pacific islands on climate resilience, climate justice and capacity building projects and initiatives.

What I want to achieve as part of this team 

I want to develop my research skills and learn from the rest of this incredibly experienced and influential team. I’m also very interested in this project’s potential to improve collaboration and align strategies within the global and Australian environment and climate movements particularly through emphasising the need for and benefits of diversity.

I think this is an incredibly important project for building impactful and collaborative partnerships between EJ researchers and practitioners (which include NGOs, community groups, and activists). As humanity stands on the precipice of climate, ecological and societal breakdown, it’s projects like these that could have significant influence on the people and groups pushing for the transformational change required to avoid such collapse. So, I see this project as incredibly timely and important in pushing the decision-makers and implementers of environmental solutions to include diverse perspectives and voices.

What brings me hope 

Every article and piece of work I read, analyse and collate as part of this project is giving me hope for a better future. The resilience and power of so many EJ activists around the world, particularly young people representing culturally and linguistically diverse communities and First Nations gives me hope that a more just, equitable and sustainable future is not only possible but will positively transform our societies substantially.

What I would change (in work and the world) 

Diversity in academia. We need more opportunities for younger and more diverse scholars in the academy.


Oli Moraes has a double Bachelor’s degree in Arts (International Studies) and Science (Geology) from Monash University and a Master of Environment (Climate Change) from the University of Melbourne. He has worked for a range of NGOs on Climate Change, Biodiversity Conservation, Sustainable Development, and Environmental Education across Australia, South Africa, Brazil, the U.S. and Fiji. He has published social-ecological systems research on blue carbon (mangroves and seagrasses) and community-based approaches to sustainable coastal resource management and climate adaptation in the South Pacific region. He has presented this research at the 2019 Victorian Biodiversity Conference in Melbourne, on public radio and podcasts, and has produced several related outputs including a summary report that was translated into Fijian. He is currently co-authoring research on conservation and climate issues related to Giant Sequoias (Redwoods) in Yosemite, California, in collaboration between the University of California (UC) Merced, the U.S. National Park Service and Yosemite Conservency.

Hannah Della Bosca is a Research Assistant at the Sydney Environment Institute. She contributes to two projects centred on community experiences of extreme events in the Sydney region, Resilient Sydney – Insights into Urban Community Resilience, and Sites of Violence. In addition, she has co-authored papers on generational coal mining identities and energy transitions, as well as the role of place-making, disruption, and emotion in resilience policy adaptation. Hannah holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from the University of Sydney, and has a strong research interest in the nexus of environmental law, policy and place. In 2016, Hannah completed a first-class thesis examining the efficacy of decentralised governance mechanisms in NSW planning policy. Her case-study research on the Springvale mine extension combined environmental justice analysis within a Legal Geography framework.