The Fossil Fuel Curse: a project by two students: Sandeep and Savannah (India and Canada '17)

October 9, 2018

The MESPOM program offers different modes of support to students who have ideas for initiatives and projects related to their special interests. Savannah Carr-Wilson (Canada, ’15-’17) and Sandeep (India, ’15-’17) are classmates currently in their second year who are working together on a book project based on their mutual interest in global energy transitions away from fossil fuels. The book is tentatively titled “The Fossil Fuel Curse” and features untold stories of the uncertain future of people in India and Canada who are impacted by fossil fuel extraction.

Savannah and Sandeep met in the MESPOM program in autumn 2015 and began to discuss fossil fuel dependency and the impact on their home communities in Canada and India. Their discussion transformed into an idea to do community-based field research and write and publish a book, which they knew required both financial and academic support. The first financial support came from the family of Lydia Press, who offers scholarship support to MESPOM students interested in field research. This initial investment helped the two students believe it would really be possible to raise enough funds to travel to both their home communities in the summer and capture stories of local people in vulnerable communities affected by fossil fuel extraction. From there they started a Kickstarter online campaign to raise the remainder of the necessary funds and they were heartened to see who donated money. Many who pledged funds were their classmates, professors and administrators at MESPOM and CEU, and others were family and friends at home. However, there were many people who gave money who didn’t personally know Savannah and Sandeep, which inspired the students that people out there liked their idea. 

The two students were active in making their project happen, and were passionate about their vision. They approached lecturers and professors from their classes, and sought feedback for their book proposal from several key people within the CEU Environmental Sciences department. The professors helped them in various ways, from putting them in touch with academics in the field to helping them shape their academic coursework to complement the work on their book. Their classmates were curious about how the two students managed to do an extra project on top of the normal coursework, and they said it was because they managed their time well and spent their free evenings and weekends working in cafes and passing drafts back and forth. They often sat over coffee discussing chapter summaries or organizing the upcoming summer. One of their most useful courses in their second semester was in Sustainable Energy Transitions, in which they were able to combine several assignments to work on one large research paper together which contributed to the research needed for the book.

As is typical with MESPOM students, Savannah and Sandeep come from different disciplines and academic backgrounds and brought different skills to the project. Savannah has a legal background and is great at doing in-depth research and managing long-term project planning, while Sandeep has a background in journalism and is great at establishing contacts and finding untold stories. These skills helped them make plans, apply for visas, find contacts in the communities they visited in the summer, and of course organize their research and writing. They learned from each other and learned new skills which would be valuable both for the eventual thesis semester in the fourth semester of the MESPOM program and for their professional futures.

They believe one of the best parts about the project is that it’s ground-up research rather than desktop research, while still being scientifically sound. The theories and concepts they learn in the classroom during MESPOM carried them into the field where they took a human-centered perspective. They found great synchronicity between their classes and the book, in particular through the Sustainable Energy Transitions and other courses in the new ‘energy stream’. The author of one of the most influential academic articles they read during the course gave them an interview and expressed his encouragement for their work, and his ideas will now be incorporated into the book.

Savannah and Sandeep took the opportunity to get into the field as soon as possible, and apply theory from the classroom. They think their thesis research, which will begin in February 2017, will be somehow linked to the research area of their book. The two students are aiming for publication date of 2018. 

Sandeep and Savannah are inspired to someday fund a program for innovation scholarships for current students in MESPOM to do real-life projects, especially in the summer between the first and second year of study. They want to contribute to the cycle of encouragement that they received, and further formalize the support so that students are enabled. Sandeep said that finding the funding to do a project can be a barrier but with creativity, initiative and a supportive base it is possible. The two students hope that future current students in MESPOM will find inspiration and encouragement in their story and follow through on their own ideas and initiatives.

More details on their journey can be found on their Kickstarter campaign page.

On their Facebook page, “Upcoming Book: The Fossil Fuel Curse”:

*This 'student story' was written based on an interview with Savannah and Sandeep (October 2016) during their third semester based at Lund University, IIIEE.