A postgraduate student of Environmental Sustainability and an Edinburgh Earth Fellow, Elizabeth tells us about her interest in climate change and her motivations for joining the Edinburgh Earth Initiative.

Edinburgh Earth Fellow Elizabeth Simmons

Coming from a small island nation in the Caribbean, Elizabeth experienced nature much more than she would have if she had grown up somewhere else. She grew up around the ocean and enjoyed the complex beauty it brings.

These experiences formed the bedrock for an interest in the environment and prompted her to undertake a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental and Natural Resource Management at the University of the West Indies. Still wanting to learn more, Elizabeth pursued a Master’s degree in Environmental Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh.

The experiences of an Islander

The beautiful experiences of growing up on an island started to change as Elizabeth grew older. There were increasingly worse droughts, hurricanes and storms that threatened her home. These experiences were drastically different from her memories as a child exploring nature. Elizabeth grew up to discover this was a result of climate change caused by human activity.

Her determination to be involved in climate change and climate research stems from these experiences growing up in the Caribbean. She says: “A large portion of the local economy relies on fishing and tourism, making our coral reefs habitats very important. With climate change, what we have noticed is that our reefs are dying. We are having a lot of coral bleaching because of increasingly warmer temperatures in our seas, thereby impacting the people and economy of the entire island.”

An opportunity for practical climate research

Upon joining the University of Edinburgh, Elizabeth seized the opportunity to get involved in practical climate research: “Witnessing how the climate crisis is already affecting my island and my people, becoming an Earth Fellow seemed like a great starting point for my career in climate change research.”

During her fellowship, Elizabeth will be working on the Fossilfuel.Ed project, looking at the University of Edinburgh’s historic involvement with the fossil fuel industry. The project aims to acknowledge the negative impact of the University’s relationship with the fossil fuel industry and to allow students and staff to discuss their thoughts about the relationship between the University and the fossil fuel industry.

Elizabeth is also working on the Audio-Visual Media project which harnesses a network of the University of Edinburgh’s researchers and academics using audio-visual media to address climate change. In her quest to learn new skills through her fellowship, Elizabeth is also a member of the Earth Initiative communications team and getting involved in content creation.

Why is the Edinburgh Earth Initiative is so crucial?

To Elizabeth, the Edinburgh Earth Initiative is critical for bringing researchers and academics working on climate change together to focus on reaching one common goal. She believes that universities and teaching institutions exist to propel society forward by teaching their students about climate change.

Talking about the Earth Initiative she says: “You’ve got all these different people doing all this great work, but often it’s hard to communicate that across such a big organisation like the University of Edinburgh and beyond. The Edinburgh Earth Initiative is significant for bringing all of this together.”

A learning, challenging and intercultural experience

In her time at the Earth Initiative, Elizabeth is most excited about the opportunity to learn, research, meet new people and ultimately, be in a space where she has never been before.

“The experience I am getting here is different. I’ve learned a lot about the admin side of research which I am being grateful for. I’m also excited to be in a new space, working as a fellow and meeting new people from different places. It’s always so fascinating to learn about other people’s cultures and to see the similarities between cultures.”

She also wants to work with the Earth Initiative to raise awareness of the importance of including and prioritising the Global South in its work.

“It’s really important that the Earth Initiative focuses on building more partnerships with the Global South when it comes to research and project funding because it’s there that is feeling the impacts of climate change more than the Global North.”

What’s next?

In the short term, after finishing her fellowship, Elizabeth hopes to work as a consultant in sustainability and environmental management, particularly in construction. In the long term, she would like to pursue a PhD.

When Elizabeth is not busy thinking about research, she enjoys watching Chinese historical dramas and reading fiction.