SEI News: Meet 2018 Honours Research Fellow Patrick James Cain

Patrick’s research focuses on the capacity of cities and municipal governments to contribute to the public debate on climate change and the environment and aims to shift the discourse towards one more amenable to their interests and to the achievement of action at the state and federal levels.

'Skyscrapers with flowers and vegetation along balconies' by Pisaphotography. sourced via Shutterstock, stock photo ID: 558629329

We are happy to welcome Patrick James Cain to the Sydney Environment Institute family. Patrick is one of three students to be awarded an Honours Fellowship at the Sydney Environment Institute in 2018 and is undertaking Honours in the Department of Government and International Relations. Get to know Patrick, his research, and interests.










What are you researching for Honours?

My research project is focused on the capacity of cities and municipal governments to contribute to the public debate regarding climate change and the environment, and shift the discourse towards one more amenable to their interests and to the achievement of action at the state and federal levels. The wicked problem of climate change demands responses at all levels, as its impacts are pervasive and universal. Cities all over the world are forming networks with each other, and are responding to this challenge with passion, innovation, and vigour, particularly in comparison with sometimes-hesitant national governments. Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, renders it most clearly, tweeting that “when nations talk, cities act.” My research aims to interrogate this claim in the Australian context in particular, where cities have a number of constraints regarding their legislative capacity; ultimately, this project will identify why and how different cities project narratives that differ from their hierarchically superior governments, aided by external networks such as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and the Rockefeller Resilient Cities initiative.

What are the key environmental issues your research aims to address?

My research aims to address two interconnected environmental issues. First is the question of truly engaging with the aims at the heart of the goal of sustainable development. This aspirational goal is predicated on maintaining three aspects of the socio-economic system in concert with each other: the economic, the environmental, and the social. Traditional attempts have generally privileged the economic elements with some reference to environmental conservation, while neglecting social equity aspects entirely. This research aims to address this by identifying how cities can, and are truly developing into green, healthy, and resiliently liveable spaces, that can exist as commercial centres while maintaining environmental needs and ensuring a healthy social fabric.

The second environmental issue that I wish to address is the necessary inclusion of urban spaces in environmental politics. Urban areas are unique ecosystems in their own right, and the interaction between the people who live there and their environment is necessary to explore more thoroughly. Further, the world is becoming urban; according to the UN Development Program, by 2050, 66% of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas. As a result, it is contingent upon policymakers to account for this shift and ensure that all people can live healthy, fulfilled and dignified lives wherever they live.

What led you to your research topic?

I became deeply interested in environmental issues and this topic area in particular after a semester-long exchange in 2016 to Sciences Po in Paris. While on this exchange, one of my courses was called Sustainable Development Pathways, taught by Professor Christine Alfsen. This class galvanised my interest in environmental issues, and particularly the universal challenges that climate change poses, particularly to those marginalised due to poverty, race, or gender. When I returned to Australia and began preparation for my thesis, these topics kept on returning to me, eventually leading to my development of this project.

Apart from research, what are your passions and interests?

My driving goal in life is to leave the world in a better place than I came into it. I am deeply passionate about helping others, particularly those who are less fortunate than I am. I am exceptionally lucky to be granted the opportunities that I have been, and I aim to repay this debt. In my spare time, I am obsessed with running, reading, watching plays and movies, eating and drinking (I’m an intolerable coffee snob!) and discussing difficult ideas with people, particularly those I don’t necessarily agree with. I love understanding how people come to their conclusions!

What about SEI made you interested in an Honours Fellowship with us?

The SEI caught my eye because of its explicit interdisciplinary focus. The problems of tomorrow are multifaceted and require a broad base of knowledge, and that includes within academic disciplines. Climate change is a problem that is going to have a serious impact on every facet of life, from economic opportunities to social interactions. Being able to work in a multidisciplinary environment like the SEI was the perfect opportunity to improve my research options and to be exposed to a variety of academics with diverse and varied approaches to the world. In order to help solve wicked problems like climate change and poverty, it is most effective to build bridges, not walls. As an academic, the SEI is important and necessary to those solutions.