Dichotomy of worlds sparks environmental passion

14 December 2023

Yamini Changananthara has just graduated with a Master of Environmental Management and Development from the Crawford School. We sat down with her to hear about her experience at Crawford, her passions, and how her background influenced her path in life.

Yamini, tell us about yourself.

I have always struggled with this question. It puts me in a limbo of belongingness. I am two people. Firstly, I am a daughter of emigrant parents from India who instilled their cultural and social values in me, along with their nostalgia for the luscious rain-clad greenscape of Kerala. Secondly, I was born and raised in Abu Dhabi, UAE- a city with an ambition to ‘green the desert’. I was taught to conserve the native species in the country while respecting and protecting every tree that thrived in the city. Between a nature-infused origin from Kerala and the Emirati aspiration of nature, I created my own identity that was heavily grounded in the preservation of the natural environment. This motivated me to pursue a career in climate change and environmental policy.

Why did you decide to study this course, and study at Crawford more broadly?

I was always passionate about the environment. After working as a Planner in India for a while, I wanted to steer away from the technocratic development design and understand the socio-ecological aspects of the wicked problems plaguing cities in the Global South. Plus, I was angry and had a case of eco-anxiety! I was disappointed at the pace of sustainable development and at the climate inaction, which was mostly at the cost of the vulnerable and poorer communities. While looking for useful solutions and a productive outlet for this, I came across the IPCC and climate policy work carried out by the faculty at Crawford. I was excited at the possibility of learning from some of the best minds in the field. This made my move across the world to Canberra a no-brainer.

What topic sparks your interest the most at the moment?

As an Urbanist and an environmentalist, I have always dreamt of living in cities where nature runs parallel to the urban form. I want the cities of the future to be robust and thrive in harmony with nature. My interest mainly lies in striking the balance between the natural and the man-made. Having said that, I am particularly keen on addressing water availability and water-related issues in urban areas.

How would you describe your experience at Crawford?

My experience at Crawford has been rewarding academically and personally. My journey with Crawford started in 2020. With me deferring my program due to the pandemic, attending courses online, taking an academic break to work, and finally moving to Canberra in 2022, Crawford and the professors have been nothing but supportive. I have enjoyed the open learning experience and flexibility offered at Crawford. This facilitated me to tailor a program suitable to my interest that helped me get closer to my professional goals. I was able to layer on my prior experience while developing complementary skills. I am grateful to have had the flexibility to make these choices as it permitted me to attend classes on campus and meet my cohort in person. It has been an exciting and insightful journey so far, especially to have had the opportunity to learn from the international cohort and find solutions to very similar yet different environmental issues in our home countries. This peer learning and open discussions helped me develop a safe space within the walls of our lecture halls to cope with my eco-anxiety and find hope for our collective future.

Can you share your thoughts on how your experiences in local policy issues have shaped your perspective on global policy challenges?

Environmental and climate policies are an interplay of multiple stakeholders on the local and global levels. Efficiently manoeuvring through the stakeholder demands and on-ground realities is often riddled with trade-offs. If those trade-offs are constantly unfavourable towards a particular section or group of individuals in society negatively, it would imply the policies are biased. Many times, on a local level, there are ‘elite interests’ that are favoured over the common good. On a national level, this would mean politicians under the influence of businesses and corporations making decisions promoting personal growth. On a global level, this translates to the vested interests of fossil fuel giants and corporations on the global level who stall transformative change.

While this is one side of the reality, there are many positive implications of going ‘Local to Global’. In terms of emissions-reduction commitments and sustainability, it is truly encouraging to see cities like Melbourne and Canberra acting to achieve Net-0 emissions by 2040 and 2045, respectively. This translates to local initiatives and policies that reduce the overall emissions of Australia on a national level. With other countries layering on their emissions reduction targets, it is possible to stay within the temperature limits. Not all countries have the same priorities in similar timeframes, but this brings in opportunities for partnerships, investments, mutual learning through best practices, and exchange of indigenous and traditional knowledge. I believe the key learning here is that of balance. Balance is what I would like to focus on in my future endeavours with policy.

What is the most memorable experience from your time at Crawford?

Personally, it is hard to choose one experience that stands out. But the first image that popped into my head was that of me and my course-mates sitting in our International Climate Change Policy and Economics class with Professors Steve Cork and Wendy Conway-Lamb. While we learned about the complex and nuanced climate realities of our present and the challenges of the future, Steve and Wendy reminded us to not take things so personally. Steve always ended the lectures with a joke or two, making sure we did not leave the lecture hall with a heavy heart but with an objective reflection of our learnings and hope for the future. I deeply valued this practice, and I picked it up as a life skill because I believe it helps me stay more perceptive about policies.

Another fond memory I am grateful for is that of Dr Bec Colvin giving me the opportunity to attend a meeting with the Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation, H.E. Reem Al Hashimy, hosted by The ANU’s Centre for Arab & Islamic Studies (CAIS) and Institute for Climate, Energy, and Disaster Solutions (ICEDS). Having taken an academic break to work for the Sustainability and education at EXPO Dubai, it was exciting to hear insights about UAE’s priorities from H.E., the CEO and a woman in power, whom I admire and respect. This is what I would like to think was a ‘full circle moment’ in my life.

What advice would you give to prospective students considering studying this course at Crawford?

If you have a passion for preserving the environment and a desire to uplift the under-represented in development, I recommend pursuing the Master of Environment Management and Development program at Crawford. Personally, it has been a very stimulating journey to learn from professors and peers about the ways environmental issues manifest in different degrees around the world. Finding solutions to the different puzzle pieces has been empowering and given me the confidence to take my learnings to environmental practice.

What is next for you now that you have graduated?

I am currently on the hunt for a job as an environmental consultant or policy officer. I am excited to put the knowledge and skills I have developed at Crawford into practice and continue my journey.

Congratulations on graduating, Yamini! We can’t wait to see where your journey takes you next.

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