Environmental Research Network: An interview with Dominic Boyer and Maria Dolores Sanchez Galera by Camilla Carlesi
This is part of our special feature, The Frontlines of Environmental Politics in Europe.
The environmental research network is a new opportunity for CES members to further discussions on the topic of the environment and its inextricable link with the areas of politics, science, technology, economy, sociology and law. I was glad to interview its co-chairs, Dominic Boyer and Maria Dolores Sanchez Galera to dive into its origin, membership and engagement. Drawing from the main academic interests of its founders, this interview particularly focuses on the connection between environmental problems and the fields of law, the economy and energy transition. Ultimately, it aims to inspire new members to join this community as a way to collectively find more just and sustainable solutions to solve environmental problems.
—Camilla Carlesi for EuropeNow
EuropeNow Could you give me a brief introduction of what the Environmental Research Network is?
Dominic Boyer The environmental research network is a new initiative working within the Council for European Studies, attempting to respond to the many urgent social, political, and institutional issues that the world is facing today, which are mostly related to environmental problems. We are aware of the surging interest in environmental studies among students and institutions affiliated with CES. Thus, we believe it is a good time to focus this attention and create a platform for people to share research and enhance conversation on the topic.
EuropeNow Why did you decide to take the lead on it?
Maria Dolores Sanchez Galera Since I was a student, I have always been involved with environmental law. Interest in this topic has grown so much over the years—it has become related to almost every field. As a lawyer who is currently working in the areas of economics, sustainability, energy, and transformational trends, I witnessed how the consensus of the majority has come around environmental concerns. Just by looking at the new metrics of governance, at the global level, it is clear that climate change has taken upon a new role. For me, this research network represents a space to communicate and learn from. Taking the lead on it is simply a way to preserve more room to be engaged with a topic that is extremely simulating on an intellectual level.
Dominic Boyer What brings me to this role are both my academic and professional backgrounds. Environmental issues have been part of my research for fifteen years now. Over the past decade, I have tried to help shape the conversation in environmental humanities, in particular, energy humanities. I have a long-standing connection to CES, since I was member of the board in the past. After a period of absence from the center, I thought leading this network could be a terrific opportunity for me to reconnect with CES and continue nourishing my interest in the topic.
EuropeNow The network has six areas of focus, “Populism and Environmental Security,” “Climate Change, Resilience and Infrastructure,” “Energy Transition and Climate Mitigation,” “Food and Water Security,” “Emerging Technology and Environmental Sustainability,” and “New Economic Models and Practices.” Among them, which one aligns more with your research interests? Is there any area whose research should be prioritized because, in your opinion, is more relevant to face environmental challenges?
Maria Dolores Sanchez Galera I have been researching on this topic for some time. While at the beginning I focused on educational and cultural challenges, I realized that my interest revolves more around the economic aspect linked to environmental issues. Currently, I am working on normative arrangements towards common good and I am exploring the idea of economy as an outcome that can be changed. In particular, I am coupling this notion with Generative Economic models and other theories, such as the Civil Economy Tradition, the Buen Vivir, the Degrowth movement, and Happiness Economics. Of course, I am looking at it from a legal perspective, without abandoning a multi-disciplinary approach.
To answer to the second question, I believe that working on new economic models is essential to face environmental problems. As a society, we are embedded in a financial system where we mainstream traditional economics into sustainability. With my research, I attempt to make plausible the possibility that unconventional economic models, which focus on non-extractive practices. It is also relevant to include legal theories to achieve a better normative framework, rather than leaving a hegemonic presence to economic models.
Dominic Boyer I tend to not hierarchize the importance of environmental topics because they are all relevant to me. However, in terms of my own research, I mainly focus on energy transition and, to a lesser extent, on climate adaptation. The reason behind this choice is that energy touches upon all of the other areas in one way or another. The primary problems linked to energy are its magnitude and growth in use, together with the type of energy resources that are dominant today, notably, fossil fuels. For me, it is hard to think to solve other environmental problems without managing the energy transition in a just and sustainable way. This is the main motivation behind my research focus, even if I also acknowledge the relevance of other matters, such as water and food.
EuropeNow How does research link to action? In other words, how do you think a vivid activity of networks like this one could link to the mitigation of environmental problems?
Maria Dolores Sanchez Galera I believe that this network constitutes a way to inspire each other to start doing things. At the moment, we have to build networks instead of being bystanders. Collective research always ends up being more effective and positive.
Dominic Boyer I also believe that we are stronger as a network. In particular, I think that Europe is a positive example, generally speaking, since it is where the models of a sustainable modernity are being pioneered and institutionalized more vigorously. Studying such field provides us with an opportunity to compare, contrast, engage and learn from the best practices, encompassing legal frameworks and political movements. Within this context, academic research has an important role to play in terms of understanding what is happening in the world. However, none of these changes will occur strictly through research, since a political momentum is necessary. We appreciate this also in CES, since there is a lot of participation coming from people in political science and sociology.
EuropeNow How does the network engage with its members? Being a fairly new one, how do you plan to expand it?
Dominic Boyer Because it is very new, we are still gathering our members. Some people already registered, but the first official meeting will happen at the Lisbon conference. We will use this event as an opportunity to encourage more people to come, but this interview will also be helpful to gather more participation. Our development will be highly based on the proactivity of the members themselves and my role will be mainly to guide and sculpt the interest of people who come to the network.
EuropeNow How can someone who may be interested join this network?
Dominic Boyer and Maria Dolores Sanchez Galera You can join by directly registering through the website. All Research Network members must be individual members in good standing. If your membership has lapsed or if you are not yet a member, you can register to the network through the membership page.
EuropeNow Are there specific characteristics that you look for in an ideal network member?
Dominic Boyer Enthusiasm for both environmental research and European research.
Maria Dolores Sanchez Galera An interdisciplinary background, together with a willingness to change the mainstream and be an activist.
Maria Dolores Sanchez Galera is a research fellow member of the “Pascual Madoz” Institute of Land Urbanism and Environmental Law of Carlos III University (Madrid), specializing in Energy Law and the Social aspects of sustainable development, and is part of the Scientific Committee of the Economy of Francesco. She is a Member of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) (Spain), engaged with energy poverty and cooperation issues, and cultural and educational issues for the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. She has extensively taught in European Energy Law, Environmental Law, cultural heritage, and sustainability, and she has recently published a monograph focusing on educational and cultural challenges of the EU Sustainability Model. She has published extensively in International journals on different environmental and energy law topics.
Dominic Boyer is an anthropologist and environmental researcher who teaches at Rice University where he also served as Founding Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (2013-2019). His most recent books are Energopolitics (Duke UP, 2019), which analyzes the politics of wind power development in Southern Mexico and Hyposubjects (Open Humanities Press, 2021), an experimental collaboration with Timothy Morton concerning politics in the Anthropocene. With Cymene Howe, he made a documentary film about Iceland’s first major glacier (Okjökull) lost to climate change, Not Ok: a little movie about a small glacier at the end of the world (2018).
Camilla Carlesi is a 23-year-old Italian student of the Master in Security, Intelligence and Strategic Studies offered by the University of Glasgow (Scotland), the University of Trento (Italy) and Charles University of Prague (Czech Republic). She holds a BA in International Relations from John Cabot University in Rome, with a minor in Communications. She is currently working as a Digital Fellow in the Council for European Studies. Previously, she also worked in the US Embassy to Italy, the UNESCO Chair of Bioethics and Human Rights and the Italian Ministry of Youth and Civil Service. Her interests range from environmental security to peacekeeping, conflict and terrorism studies. Her academic work has been recognized in the COP26 research challenge and in the Growing Thought Leadership Award.
Published on May 18, 2022.