“The Future Of…” series asks a variety of UOW experts and researchers the same five questions, to provide insight into the potential future states of our lives, communities and world.

Professor Chris Gibson is the Executive Director of UOW's Global Challenges Program and is a Professor of Human Geography within the School of Geography and Sustainable Communities

What are you (or the global challenges team) researching or working on in 2019/2020?

We’ve launched a new Global Challenge, Building Resilient Communities, which brings together researchers to improve the resilience of communities amidst inequality, discrimination and vulnerability. This challenge supports research projects enhancing community resilience in an era of growing uncertainty. Transformational change in thinking, policy, infrastructure and everyday practice will be necessary in order for communities to adapt and flourish amidst a changing climate, and other socio-economic and environmental challenges.

We have also funded four major projects called Keystones – two last year and two this year – which bring together researchers from all UOW faculties to address big global issues such as antimicrobial resistance, the blue economy, promoting the maker economy, and improving our communities for people with dementia.

We are also very excited to launch a new philanthropic opportunity for researchers, the Olivier Ferrer Fund, which has been established through a generous gift to the university, to resource bold research that seeks to instigate change to address the need for leadership on climate, and addressing social inequality.

In regards to your field of expertise what are some of the most innovative or exciting things emerging over the next few years?

I’m a big believer in the unique skills, methods and conceptual insights brought to problems from disciplinary experts. We need specialists now more than ever. But at the same time, we need researchers connecting together as coalitions of experts, to address urgent problems. The declaration of the Anthropocene as the new geological epoch for the earth is perhaps the biggest challenge, and also an exciting prompt for new research.

The Anthropocene recognises the irretrievable imprint of humans on earth systems (including but not limited to climate change). It is also a profound challenge to human society, to comprehend that the climatic stability that characterised the Holocene (the previous epoch that has lasted about 10,000 years – exactly the time period in which human societies developed intensified agriculture and urban settlements) is likely gone. As we move towards a more volatile planet, environmentally but also socially and economically, matters of life, work, community and economy will necessarily shift in ways we can only now barely comprehend. Specialists alone cannot equip society to adjust to these planetary shifts. We’ll need new forms of integrated knowledge, and have to accept (and celebrate) differences in knowledges and cultures of expertise, including better recognition of and learning from First Nations.

In your field of expertise what are some of the things readers should be cautious/wary of over the next few years?

I think it’s very important for university researchers to not isolate themselves in labs or offices, and to not take for granted the conditions of our work and research culture. We all have to work hard, every day, on building relationships and enacting our values in our university work places. That encompasses issues such as gender equity and diversity, but also humility in recognising the limits of our own expertise, and listening to others with ideas, methods and approaches different to our own.

Where do you believe major opportunities lie for people thinking about future career options?

The great transformation towards a decarbonised economy has already begun, even if governments around the world (including our own) drag the chain on the policy front. Challenging but exciting careers are already being generated by the transition to the post-carbon economy: in new zero-emissions technologies and industries, in community sustainability initiatives, indigenous land management, carbon finance, organisational transition management, disaster preparedness and response. These are careers that don’t map onto traditional disciplinary categories or professional identities, such as social workers with disaster management training, who understand for example the mental health effects of drought; humanitarian engineers; accountants driving the decarbonisation agenda; and Indigenous experts in science and conservation. I also detect a strong commitment among young people graduating from our degrees to drive change through their own career choices and decisions, including which organisations they elect to work for, and whether those organisations share the same values. A new generation is shaping careers in their own vision, not necessarily in the traditional format.

In regards to your field of study or expertise, what is the best piece of advice you could offer to our readers?

Beware comfort zones, and only ever reading news articles or tweeting with others who have the same worldview. It’s becoming an age of extremes, but also one in which people seem to increasingly interact within limited ideological circles, creating an echo chamber effect. Some degree of collaboration and consensus is going to be necessary to respond to problems such as climate change, of our own making, but we can’t achieve either without speaking across worlds and generations, and having our presumptions and political positions challenged.


Chris Gibson Side

  • PROFESSOR CHRIS GIBSON

    For more from Professor Chris Gibson you can visit his UOW Scholars profile, which links to his papers and publications.

  • GLOBAL CHALLENGES

    For more from Global Challenges you can visit here