We spoke to recently appointed Nuclear Policy Advisor and Founder of Climate Bites, Aman about his experiences navigating through the industry mid-pandemic, his MSc climate adaptation research in Punjab and more
What is your ethnic and academic and professional background?
Hi, my name is Aman Grover, and I’m a Policy Advisor for the Nuclear Directorate at the UK Civil Service (Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy), where I contribute towards overseeing the new nuclear build power stations as part of the government’s energy infrastructure and net-zero commitments. I’m also a recent Master’s graduate in Climate Change: Environment, Science & Policy from King’s College London, having specialised in climate adaptation within the Punjab regions.
I wanted to use this background with my experiences as a public speaker, poet and facilitator to empower and engage with my local communities and networks. So I recently founded Climate Bites, a new educational platform designed to make climate science accessible, engaging and easy to understand for young people, through concise digital content and workshop programmes.
Away from environmental discourse, I co-founded the Two Rupees Podcast, a platform that discusses issues surrounding the South Asia diaspora here in Britain.
What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?
I don’t have a groundbreaking story to be honest. Like many graduates, I wasn’t sure where my career would take me and chose to pursue consulting and the technology sector after leaving university. I was building applications for clients to transform their business, and it was definitely worthwhile, but I found that I was lacking internal satisfaction towards the work I was doing. It didn’t feel like there was a bigger picture. And when looking at my options, I realised that I had been keeping up to date with articles and books around various aspects of climate science. So I went back to university, choosing to immerse myself in climate policy and environmental change.
I strongly believe robust policy serves as a catalyst for environmental change. And I hope to use this aptitude and drive in my current policy role, to utilise nuclear energy in supporting the UK’s drive towards net-zero and improve how climate change is communicated to the public.
Can you tell us about your MSc research? What were your findings and has it had any significant impact beyond academia?
Sure! I studied the effectiveness and role of climate adaptation strategies in the province of Punjab in Pakistan, and the drivers and barriers affecting local capacity to build resilience towards climate change.
Both of the Punjab regions represent an important case study in this field, due to their high physical vulnerability and economic significance as an agricultural hub, as well as significant for me since it’s where my family stem from. My research found 4 key themes based on primary research of climate adaptation contributors within the province:
Adaptation strategies in Punjab were difficult to differentiate with other development efforts. Climate adaptation was essentially ‘pasted’ onto bog-standard agricultural irrigation by international donor agencies, and promoted as climate adaptation for appearance and reputation purposes. Respondents from the study implied a disconnect between stakeholders on the ground and external organisation with their climate initiatives.
Coordination and collaboration amongst local stakeholders is key to the successful implementation of climate adaptation in Punjab. Where there has been buy-in and participation from farming communities at all project stages, climate adaptation is largely successful in improving resilience. However, limited communications between departments, as well as external funding being withdrawn when projects finish, threaten the sustainability and longevity of climate projects.
The bureaucratic systems in place are the biggest contributor to the effectiveness of climate adaptation. This includes power relations between province and district level on who is responsible for climate change management, climate change priorities changing with government transitions, and even corruption.
Farming communities use very different terminology to that within climate policy, with some communities not even acknowledging and attributing the environmental changes within the region to climate change. The discourse around climate change is written predominantly in English and by external agencies, with little discussion in native dialects and factoring in localised impacts and vulnerability. This weakens attempts to build resilience, since these attempts do not factor those communities that they are trying to help.
The aim of this research was to explore what defined effective climate adaptation in relation to Punjab, which could inform policymakers and international agencies on how best to formalise adaptation and account for vulnerable communities. I presented these findings at a Sikh Research Conference in December 2020 and hope that these efforts lead to more focus and literature on climate change with Punjab.
Being South Asian, did you face any backlash about your career choice from family, friends or society at large?
No backlash from my immediate family and close friends, they are very supportive and know enough about me to know that I enjoy my work most when I am creating change and trying to make a difference.
I think I experience ignorance mostly, from people who are distant or don’t know me as well. Sometimes it is frustrating, when you get lots of questions or off-handed comments, or where it’s difficult to engage and have conversations with others because they make no attempt to understand other career paths outside of the orthodox ones. But I believe it’s part of the role, to raise awareness of your career, crucial challenges you’ve faced, etc. Since you’re the one engaging with environmental activities, when you speak about it, you are in the best position to articulate this in a concise and engaging manner to others.
How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?
I definitely acknowledge that I have a long way to go in order before I can classify my lifestyle as sustainable. But there are ‘quick wins’ which I think anyone can do, and build the momentum to make small changes that feel relatively easy. I don’t eat meat very often anymore, maybe once or twice a week maximum, which has taught me to be more conscious about my dietary choices. I’m a big fan of the variety of plant-based milk available, and have switched between soya and oat for my cereal, coffee, etc. I’m conscious about my shopping habits, and try to make fewer purchases and purchase quality clothing that I can make last much longer, as well as thinking twice before making a car journey.
I see my role primarily as having a voice and being able to articulate myself, in order to project and champion causes and hopefully inspire, so I’ve embraced that as my contribution towards social action.
Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?
As a community, we have placed our trust in education and believe it to be an empowering platform across all aspects of our lives. Education provides the refinement and the tools to contribute to society, shape our future and live meaningfully. It is what has allowed South Asians to succeed in many fields. But, when it comes to environmental concerns, I’ve found my communities to adopt a ‘someone more specialised or knowledgeable than me will fix it’ type mentality.
Fighting the climate crisis is a continuous learning process, both on a deeply personal level and on a large international scale. And in order to empower this, the technical and policy knowledge on why we need to tackle the climate crisis and tangible strategies that we can all align with needs to be easily available and digestible.
Climate Bites does this through informative weekly videos on a range of environmental topics, from sustainable behaviour to new technologies. I hope to use my experiences, of seeking this knowledge out myself, working in the education sector and being a public speaker, to make this process easier for others. And in turn, with the right information delivered through an approachable medium, we as individuals feel a greater competence, and can support and align ourselves with local organisations that are doing the hard work. Whether that’s holding our local authorities and governments accountable, tree-planting in your town, community-clean ups or pushing for changes in our school curriculums.
What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment?
The largest barrier I’ve seen when working with young people is the belief that one person alone cannot make a difference. It causes us to question whether our voice and the value we project out into the world is worth listening and watching. If we are heard, we feel as though we are unworthy or a fraud. I continue to experience it myself regularly. I felt it when I left my job to pursue a Masters degree, and questioned whether I’d be able to keep up with everyone due to my inactive study skills. I experience it when I run workshops with young people, and wonder if I even have anything valuable to pass on. Experience is the best teacher. Planning and strategizing is useful, but it can be debilitating as well.
My advice would be to pay attention to the causes that mean something to you, that bring out real power and passion when you speak about them. Then, throw yourself wholeheartedly into them and ask questions later. I have a favourite quote that I fondly remember when someone asks what impact one person can make. ‘Those who question what difference one alone can make, have obviously never been trapped in a room with a fly’. That keeps me smiling.
Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?
The entire process of public speaking for me has been defining. I’ve always loved speaking and narrating from a very young age, but I found myself gravitating at it towards university. I thrived in situations or scenarios where I could influence and inspire simply by using my presence and voice. That realisation was incredible. I feel very complete on any ‘stage’, whether it’s performing at poetry slams, at the front when delivering a workshop or keynote speech, or on a screen presenting to clients and stakeholders in my career. It’s a very grounding feeling, and it’s one I want to continue building towards and pursue every opportunity to do so, as I champion the causes I care about – including education reform, climate and sustainability, creativity and the South Asian arts, etc. So that’s where I hope to end up, with a microphone in my hand, creating change and opening minds.
What was it like trying to find a job in the industry during challenging COVID-19 times? Do you still think you made the right decision to choose this industry?
It was immensely difficult, for a number of reasons. Like other graduates across multiple sectors during this tough time, there was a lot of self-doubt and internal turmoil that comes with job searching. I think that there is less awareness about the environmental and sustainability sectors overall, so I definitely found it harder to seek career advice and expertise, both from close family/ friends and professional contacts.
Whilst there are people to connect with on LinkedIn and aspire to reach a similar position, I feel as though the options for resources, job boards, forums, etc are all fewer than more orthodox pathways e.g. Finance, Consulting, etc. But I don’t regret aligning myself with this industry, and I am so pleased I am now contributing meaningfully to our government and low carbon energies.
I found the feeling of continuing to contribute whilst job searching kept me going, through volunteering, speaking at events and raising awareness, as well as creating educational resources. Climate change represents a substantial challenge spanning across all sectors, so all of us have a role to play.
How do you feel about the UK government’s TCFD & 10-point climate change plans?
I think the greatest aspect of the 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution is what it represents. It shows initiative and intent, and a degree of gravity about achieving net-zero. Better yet, it incentivises green jobs and community involvement.
Economic gains will always generate the most interest in the current society and systems we operate within, especially to large investment organisations, so stressing that environmental measures can also be economically viable is definitely the way forward. So it is definitely encouraging. But it just represents the beginning, and an opportunity to demand more from the organisations that we interact with, for increasing environmental transparency, accountability and action at every stage of their processes.