Future Cities PhD student and recent Advanced Earth Fellow at the Edinburgh Earth Initiative Henry Ibitolu shares his experiences and aspirations for creating more energy efficient homes.

Central, Hong Kong 24 September 2019: Top view of Hong Kong city

Central, Hong Kong 24 September 2019: Top view of Hong Kong city

Can you tell us a little bit about how you became an Advanced Earth Fellow?

I’m currently a joint PhD Scholar in Future Cities Engineering at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and my research is focused on ways to mitigate the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effects by making our cities of the future more sustainable and energy-efficient. I was working with the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute and through them had the opportunity to connect with the Edinburgh Earth Initiative.

What drove you to focus on climate and sustainability research?

‘Every person has the responsibility to make the world a better place.’

Wherever you are based, whether it’s America, Thailand or the UK, we’re still all sharing the same planet – and it’s the only one we have. It’s up to all of us to make a difference, and I don’t mean that figuratively. If you decide to pollute or destroy your own environment, you’re affecting everyone else’s too. We’re all in a closed loop.

You might ask what difference you can make but when it comes to my own research, I’ve had an attitude change since starting the PhD. I used to be worried about how small my contribution to human knowledge might be, I’m not Albert Einstein after all, but now I understand the value of taking part in the conversation. Exploring one small avenue can pave the way for the next big thing. Every contribution has value.

What did your time as a Fellow look like?

There were two Fellowship streams, one for undergraduates and one for PhD students like myself. I was an Advanced Earth Fellow, which meant I was given a project to lead and help from undergraduates in setting it up.

The project I was in charge of was a Data Hub. We’re developing an online platform to showcase Edinburgh’s research output in climate and sustainability and to also streamline access to climate satellite data, and every form of climate data, so that students and external researchers can access it. Happily, I was offered an extension of my contract and we are going to be continuing the project from October.

What was working with Fellows from different disciplines like?

We had Fellows from all kinds of different backgrounds, there were people studying everything from computer science to international law. Everyone was connected to tackling climate issues in some way or another, but the angles were broad and the team we had was truly holistic.

Not only was it great to get their perspective, but it was amazing to be working with people who were even more passionate about the climate than myself. It was a learning experience both inside the office and out. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with the team and it’s also been amazing to be put in touch with stakeholders around the University of Edinburgh who have a huge wealth of knowledge to share.

What is SustyClimate Hub and how did it come about?

This was a bit of a pet project for me, something I started before my PhD. Basically, I realised that while there were lots of online platforms for finding jobs, even ones with a sustainability focus, there wasn’t a place to find other opportunities. I set about seeing if I could make a space to share calls for papers, volunteer positions or research positions too, and Susty Climate Hub was the result.

It’s taken a backseat while I work on my PhD but I want to cater to young people who don’t know how they can use their skills to help tackle climate change, whether you’ve got a scientific background or not.

What can we do to make change happen?

‘As researchers and academics, our job is to find new ways of solving the problems we have created.’

If we removed humans from the planet, it would be in a better position. It’s up to everyone to find ways to innovate and tackle the various ways we impact our environment. And for researchers, part of that is looking for ways to translate our outcomes and modelling into solutions that can be picked up and put into use. Not just for individuals, but for the government and people in power.

Universities are breeding grounds for innovation, companies and ways of looking at things. Ideas come up in dormitories or cafeterias that, with the right support, can change the world.