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British Science Week | Meet Jonathan Slessor

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To celebrate British Science Week, we sat down with members of the UKStratCom Climate Change and Sustainability Team (CC&S) to learn a little more about their careers, their motivations for working in CC&S, and the importance of understanding our connection to the environment. We also asked them for some of their top tips on how we can be more sustainable in our day-to-day lives.

Meet Jonathan Slessor – UKStratCom HQ Climate Change and Sustainability Advisor

Jonathan on site in Svalbard, Norway, while researching the impacts of climate change on melting glaciers.

Jonathan, thank you for taking the time to speak to us and for helping celebrate British Science Week 2023. To begin with, would you mind sharing some information on your background? In particular, what have you done in the past and what does your scientific background look like?

My interest in the environment stretches back 30 years to when I left school and studied forestry for 3 years. Although my career took me in to the RAF I was always interested in environmental and ecological issues. So, when I left the RAF Reserves in 2010, I went to university full time to study environmental conservation, environmental communication and specialised in peatland ecology, although I retained an active interest in sustainability and the wider environment. I have volunteered for the Wildlife Trust, the Woodland Trust and other environmental charities while studying. I then worked as an ecological consultant for a time before joining the Civil Service and finding my new home in the CC&S team helping UKStratCom on its sustainability journey.

So, with that background and wealth of experience in a whole host of different areas, I think it’s fair to say that you could have ended up focusing on anything. What made you choose to work in Climate Change and Sustainability?

It sounds cliche, but it has been a long-standing interest and it is how I try to live my life. As an ecologist I have developed a deeper understanding of the connections between our actions and the world around us. I am also from a military family and served in the RAF, so my identity is intrinsically connected to the MOD. I can see how the world is changing and I want to be part of helping the MOD and UKStratCom evolve with the changing world.

Was your military background, both in the context of your family and yourself, a driving factor in you pursuing this career path at UKStratCom. Was there anything in particular that attracted you to working in the Command?

UKStratCom offers a unique set of challenges in the CC&S space, but with that comes a unique set of opportunities. Each one of our HLBs has a reach across the full breadth of Defence and the Overseas bases just add to the complexity. We are, at the same time, a microcosm and macrocosm of Defence. Looking inwards you will see the whole force and Civil Service represented while looking outwards we have touch points in everything that Defence is and does.

Let’s change track slightly now and move into the present day. Could you explain how your background and the experiences you’ve already mentioned, influence how you approach your current work in CC&S?

My environmental communications, academic and ecological background has certainly influenced the areas of the CC&S space that I have been drawn to. It has also influenced my approach by introducing scientific method and academic rigour to establishing an evidence base for any needs case. For example, drawing those connecting lines through the CC&S ecosystem of training, communication, culture, our physical environment, emissions and the causes and effects of those things to create a complex web and then using those connections to articulate risk and benefit – just as I would an academic report or ecological survey report.

The theme for British Science Week 2023 is ‘Connections.’ I think, we’re all increasingly aware of how we contribute to climate change. Can you tell us why it is so important that we understand how our actions affect the climate & environment around us?

So, first of all, the complex nature of our interactions with our environment makes understanding the connections critical to improving that environment. It is not just cause and effect – flash-to-bang – it is a complex chain and interconnected web of causes, effects, feedback loops and co-dependencies. For example, we are often asked about coffee cups. It is something we, in the MOD, will recognise as a ubiquitous piece of our day-to-day kit. It is easy to see disposable coffee cups as a simple waste issue, but it extends so much further.

There are supply chain emissions, production emissions, energy emissions and materials consumption. It is then used for 15 minutes before it becomes ‘waste.’ There are then transportation emissions and costs, environmental issues from the material, the impact to the natural world of introducing ‘alien’ material. This is just a top-level outline, without going into detail. Understanding those connections and how the utilisation of a reusable cup reduces the impact significantly, in so many areas, may help nudge the change in behaviour that will not only help reduce our waste, but do so much more.

Finally, and I think you touched on it briefly at the end there, but how can we be more sustainable in our day-to-day lives? Do you have any top tips you can share with us?

Sustainable solutions can often feel like an extra burden or a chore – we understand that. it can for us too. So maybe you can re-frame some of your choices by thinking about the connections in your own life. For example:

  • If I use a reusable cup, I don’t have to find a bin for the disposable one.
  • If I choose items with no or reduced packaging I don’t have to bother with the waste.
  • If I use public transport I don’t have to worry about driving, filling up the car, servicing, new tyres etc.
  • If I get my food shopping delivered, I have more time to relax and don’t have to worry about going to a busy shop, or remembering to bring my bags!

Each of these will make your life a little bit easier and more relaxed however, they will also have a significant impact on reducing your impact on the environment.

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