Blog Contributor: Kaitlin James
For our second instalment of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Blythe, an Assistant Professor at the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) to learn more about her new role at the Centre, and the journey she took to get to where she is today. Her research engages in issues related to resilience, climate change adaptation, and transformation. She is particularly interested in how societies both create and respond to change. Her numerous publications demonstrate her immense contributions to the field of sustainability science. It was a pleasure to interview her to learn more about all of the great research she does!
Photo: Dr. Jessica Blythe, Assistant Professor, Environmental Sustainability Research Centre
Q1: What excites you most about working at Brock University in the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre?
Everything! But honestly, I’m really excited about two big things. First, the research going on at Brock was the biggest draw for me. Faculty within the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre are engaged in research at the frontiers of sustainability science. It’s the kind of solution-oriented research that gets me out of bed in the morning. Second, I find the applied, experiential nature of research and teaching at Brock really inspiring. From the innovative partnerships with municipalities and parks in the area to the co-op options for students, Brock is leading the way building healthier, happier, and more sustainable futures.
Q2: What are your research areas of focus?
Broadly, my research tries to understand how communities experience global environmental change and what explains their different capacities to respond to this change. Specifically, I use a social-ecological systems perspective and resilience thinking to think critically about vulnerability, adaptation, and transformation. I also examine how processes like decentralization and place attachment shape people’s relationship with their environment.
Q3: What was your journey like in getting to your current research area of focus?
I grew up in Newfoundland during the collapse of the Northern cod stocks. I think that watching how the moratorium impacted coastal communities around the province influenced my interest in becoming a researcher that focuses on coupled social-ecological systems. It also sensitized me to that fact that vulnerable systems – that are close to a tipping point – can appear strong from the outside. This experience drove home the fact that for me, sustainability has to be equally about healthy biosphere and thriving human communities.
Q4: How are you complementing the existing strengths of ESRC faculty members?
We all approach sustainability research through a social-ecological systems lens and draw on resilience thinking to frame our questions and analysis – so in that way the fit is really seamless. My research explores adaptation in coastal systems and transformation in social-ecological systems, which will hopefully some new focal area to the ongoing research at the ESRC.
Q5: As a sustainability scientist, how do you view the world?
For me, being a sustainability scientist and being a parent go hand in hand – I’m constantly thinking about what the future holds and how we can find sustainable pathways. Fortunately, I get to work along side some of the world’s leading climate change and sustainability scientists and I am happy to report that for the most part, the scientists I know are optimistic. The Paris Agreement was a huge step for us as a global community. I draw comfort from the fact that so many engaged and innovative scientists and students are tackling our big sustainability challenges from so many different angles. From where I’m sitting, the future of sustainability looks really bright!