Oliver Scanlan

Visiting Researcher Oliver Scanlan
PhD candidate at Dublin City University’s School of Law and Government

CSD: A home away from home

Having worked as a volunteer in Bangladesh for two years (2008 – 2010), I was no stranger to the country, but just as no one is an island, I was anxious to develop a relationship with a Bangladeshi institution that could help me maximize the potential for my research, and also allow me to interact with leading scholars on issues of environmental sustainability. The Centre for Sustainable Development exceeded every expectation on both fronts, and provided a fantastically warm and welcoming environment for me while I was based in Dhaka; it truly did feel like a home away from home.

The CSD provided outstanding logistical support every step of the way; I had my own desk in the office, together with internet access and use of the library. On its own, this was a major support to my activities in the country, and my time would have been far less productive without it. But more importantly, the office environment was buzzing with shared scholarly endeavor, with researchers operating and the cutting edge in their respective fields, all passionate about how academic efforts can provide essential advice to policy makers in addressing crucial environmental issues that will come to affect all of us more and more in the near future. The ability to bounce ideas off my Bangladeshi counterparts, receive feedback on my research design and methodology, and to have such a wealth of knowledge and insight at hand as a sounding board was instrumental in keeping me on the right track.

What remains particularly striking is the sense of purpose driving CSD’s work, a purpose that flows from the complete absence of the complacency that currently typifies attitudes to climate change back home in the United Kingdom. As one esteemed panelist put it at an international conference on sustainability organized by CSD, “there are no climate change deniers” in Bangladesh. The poorest farmer can describe how the rainy season comes later and is more erratic with every year that passes. It is this insight that is so vital to capture, and relay to western policy makers still living in a state of denial about the fate of the planet if we continue in our “head in the sand” approach.

My own research concerns forestry and indigenous peoples’ knowledge, focusing on the Garo community in Modhupur, Tangail district. One of the very last forests in Bangladesh, in Modhupur donor policy has been typically erratic in terms of community based approaches, with the current paradigm clearly failing in its goal of achieving the “active participation” of the indigenous community. With effective approaches to community inclusion a demonstrable essential ingredient to sustainable conservation of the world’s rapidly vanishing forestry stocks, once again the trick is bringing decision makers’ attention to the views and experience of the world’s most vulnerable forest communities. They truly do know best when it comes to the management of their own ancestral resources.

With such a positive experience of working with CSD behind me, I very much hope to continue to collaborate with this excellent institution, and following the completion of my PhD will be looking to foster more permanent institutional links between it and my own university. Only through such effective North-South collaboration, and pooling the enormous experience and insight available at different universities, are truly global solutions to global problems possible.