Children playing and swinging from cable by a gate in Nairobi slum. Life Solved logo and title

What are the “wicked problems” facing our planet, how are they connected and how can we address them?

  • 28 October 2021
  • 16 min listen

Ahead of COP 26, the UN’s Global Climate Change Conference, Dr Cressida Bowyer speaks to the Life Solved podcast about insights The University of Portsmouth will be sharing.

Community resilience

The University has been working with communities in informal settlements around Nairobi, Kenya, in order to tackle issues of air pollution and poor lung health. Creative methodologies have provided a rich source of information and insight into specific problems.

Cressida says that by working with ‘community champions’, researchers can learn vital contextual information from local people and find out how work is having an impact there. These community champions also work as a trusted conduit of information from international research projects to the local people.

People really need to understand what's going on so they're not suspicious about the project and to give consent for their children to be involved.

Dr Cressida Bowyer, Senior Research Fellow

One such project is the Tupumue project. Tupumue means ‘let’s breathe’ in Swahili and is gathering data from schoolchildren in two areas near Nairobi: the informal settlement of Mukuru and the wealthier area of Buruburu.

One of the reasons air pollution is such an issue in the Global South is the vast amount of plastic waste. The burning of plastics, in addition to carbon-emitting cooking and heating fuels, can mean that lung health is impacted long-term, especially in urban areas. Tupumue has been working with community champions to explore how the respiratory health of children living in these Mukuru and Buruburu is affected. The children have been creating artworks that express their experiences of lung health, which adds unique and insightful qualitative data to the study.

In addition, the University has been looking at urban plastic pollution in the Sylhet region of Bangladesh.

We, the Global North, export the most difficult to recycle waste. 50% or more of our plastic waste is exported to countries in the Global South. They don't even have the infrastructure to deal with their own plastic waste, let alone out of plastic waste.

Dr Cressida Bowyer, Senior Research Fellow

Cressida says that the adaptability of the community to change and external stresses are vital in helping people survive the impacts of world problems. She calls this ‘resilience’ which can be used as an indicator of the health of a local population and its environment.

Wicked problems: climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss

Whilst understanding and implementing changes to tackle pollution on a local level is one vital action, the other side is in solving the global problem.

Cressida says that the global crises of climate change, plastic pollution and biodiversity loss must be addressed on the international level and that all three are interconnected.

For that reason, she’s been working with the University of Portsmouth’s Revolution Plastics Initiative on an ambitious agenda for COP26.

The UN’s Global Climate Change Conference will take place in Glasgow this November, and in addition to presenting a Community Participation approach, the team will be pressing a multi-level approach to tackling plastics pollution.

Addressing plastic waste is climate action. A community-based participatory approach uses creative methodologies to research community resilience and adaptation to climate change. This could be utilised to motivate climate action.

Dr Cressida Bowyer, Senior Research Fellow

Cressida’s hope is that by gaining insight into communities, local-scale solutions can be implemented to ease the impacts of plastic waste and climate change whilst at the same time work takes place on a global level to address the causes of these problems.

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