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Starting out in the world of climate research- an undergraduate’s perspective

We interviewed Matthew Ball, an undergraduate Geography student at Durham University in the UK, to learn more about the experiences and aspirations of someone setting out in their career in climate science.

What attracted you to study geography and climate change?

I was initially attracted to my area of study through one of my secondary school Geography teachers. Discussions surrounding the promise of geoengineering schemes in relation to climate change action specifically piqued my interest. Through my undergraduate studies so far, this has developed into a more nuanced focus on climate risk management, as well as how an understanding of past climate change can aid in identifying future climate hazards.

I believe I became so interested in the environmental sciences as a whole because it serves as a crossroads between many of the core sciences. Climatology specifically requires an in-depth understanding of a range of different contributing factors, and I believe this natural complexity and intricacy is a key part of what makes the environmental sciences such a rewarding field to study and work in.

What are your views on the scientific and societal challenges posed by climate change?

I would currently consider one of the biggest societal challenges to be the short-termist electoral politics that form the backdrop to the discourse around climate action. A short-term outlook inadvertently forces climate action into the box of a political ideology rather than a fundamental humanitarian obligation. We need only look at the growing trend of more extreme weather events across the world, as just one example, to understand the cataclysmic consequences of a lack of long-term climate action, starting now.

What are your hopes for the future- for you and your generation?

For my generation, I hope that we unite to tackle climate change, taking meaningful action as soon as possible to limit the devastating potential impacts of climate change. I hope that the actions we take are swift but given due scientific and ethical consideration. For example, geoengineering schemes show considerable promise for the future and could quickly combat climate change impacts, but I believe that many of the schemes proposed to date are too experimental to ensure that large-scale implementation would be entirely safe and wouldn’t cause unintended global impacts.

On a personal note, in the future I’d like to work on creating meaningful change in relation to climate change risk and solutions. In the short term, I’m looking to focus on climatology and environmental change in my second and third years of university study – particularly starting to look at climate risk management and paleoclimatology in greater depth. I’d like to become more familiar with proxy records and past climate data, while also looking at the significance of current anthropogenic climate change and its impacts. In the long-term, I’d like to study for a Master’s and then potentially a PhD on a topic related to climate change management or environmental management, as I’d like to end up working in in one of these fields.

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