Working for a healthy planet

Kimberley Nicholas is a researcher from California who came to Lund with a passionate commitment to climate issues and strong interest in food and wine.
“What nature gives us is what makes life worth living”, she says.
She was in Paris for the climate conference that generated hope for the future, and she is successful in sharing her thoughts and research through social media.

Kimberley Nicholas LITEN

Kimberley Nicholas loves what comes out of our planet.

After five years in Lund, Kimberly Nicholas has begun to really feel at home. She comes from a family of turkey breeders and winegrowers in California, and food has always been an important part of her life. Kimberly Nicholas’s research at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS) is on food, ecosystems and land use. She is trying to understand how agriculture can become more sustainable in a changing climate. The climate conference in Paris did not only instil hope but also food for thought – about the direction of research and how our everyday choices are affected.

“Nature, people and their ingenuity inspire me. I work for a healthy planet – something we can definitely do a lot better!”, she says.

She attended the Paris conference with seven other researchers from Lund University, and is very pleased that she went.

“I was fortunate to be there for this historic moment. It was truly amazing to see the entire world – 195 countries – gathered in one place and clearly showing the diversity of our world. This was one of those moments that bring the world together. To follow the process towards a final agreement and feel that change is possible was inspiring”, she says.

Kimberly Nicholas has given much thought to how to bring about change and what motivates people to become environmentally committed.

“First, we must take personal responsibility for our own lives through our lifestyle choices. A recently published report showed that 50 per cent of emissions come from 10 per cent of the population, so our lifestyle has a real impact. I try to think about that in all my choices, and for all my trips in Europe I only travel by train, and try to limit my flying to a few times a year. It feels good to have my actions correspond to my research and my values”, she says.

Kimberly Nicholas also thinks it’s important to be part of a group working for a better world. She, for instance, is active in the Fossil Free campaign that urges Lund University to stop investing in funds linked to companies that extract coal, oil and fossil gas.

“We don’t have much time. Research indicates that we must rapidly reduce carbon dioxide emissions to zero if we are to achieve the new climate goals and decrease climate change”, she says.

But how do you get through to people who have completely different priorities than the climate and other environmental issues? Is it at all possible when so many are busy with their own lives and personal problems?

“I believe a better strategy is to approach people where they are. Everyone is obviously not as passionate about the climate as I am. If people don’t like the proposed solutions, we have to try to find solutions that are in line with their lifestyle or the policies of leading political parties. I also believe that there are strong ethical arguments and they should be used much more. Research is needed to support regulations and policies, but when it comes down to it, research isn’t going to motivate people to take action – our values will”, she says.

Social media have become an important way for Kimberly to communicate. She is very active on both Twitter and her own blog.

“Last year, I decided that every time I published a new research article, I would also publish a popular science article about the main findings, either on my blog or on other websites. Really thinking about the things we have accomplished, and why this is relevant to the wider public, is also beneficial to my own research. In the long term, broad research communication also benefits your academic career”, she says.

Text: Nina Nordh

Photo: Gunnar Menander

A crash course in Twitter for researchers, by Kimberly Nicholas:

  • Create a Twitter account. It only takes 5 minutes! Upload a profile picture and write a brief text expressing your area of interest. Give your account a short name so as not to take up too much space in your entries – so-called tweets. A tweet may be no more than 140 characters.
  • Find interesting people to follow within your field of research. Among the 10 or so biggest names within your field, you can be sure to find that some of them are active on Twitter. Then see who they have chosen to follow.
  • Use Twitter at conferences. That way you can participate in several sessions at the same time, and meet new people within your field. TweetDeck is a tool you can use to create a panel with several Twitter columns on your computer or tablet, where you can follow the hashtags of the conference. A hashtag is used to mark keywords to help others find similar tweets or comments at an event. Example: On Twitter, search for #CFCC15 to see tweets from the research conference Our Common Future under Climate Change in July 2015.
  • If you want to organise your tweets or other social media entries, you can for instance use Storify. Example: Here you can find Storify from my visit at the climate conference in Paris: https://storify.com/KA_Nicholas/paris-climate-summit-2015-cop21/preview
  • Every now and then, add pictures or videos to your tweets to make your Twitter account more interesting to follow.
  • A good way of getting started on Twitter is to read what others write – you don’t have to write your own tweets until you’re ready. The next step could be to retweet interesting tweets from others to share news and opportunities within your network. Be generous in providing tips about other people’s work – a good rule of thumb is that less than 10 per cent of your tweets are to market your own work.