Ghent University / Geomorphology
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Becoming a geographer was mainly motivated by the willingness to contribute to solving issues of unequal development worldwide. Our current research is related to land degradation and land rehabilitation. For instance, in Ethiopia we monitored how large tracts of land could be restored thanks to the conservation activities of millions of farmers. With colleagues, we support also reforestation projects, leading to a yearly 10,000 tonnes of additional carbon storage. In Europe, we study the effect of renaturing on the hydrology – for instance, we showed that the re-introduction of beavers in the Ardennes has led to less flood risk.
As said, my aim when entering academics was not to go for prestige; rather I kept the same house, and same type of small car as before. Just like many people, throughout the years we learned to buy local products. I commute by train, and then further on foot to the office – good for the earth and the heart. As much as budget allows, we buy organic food – for instance milk from cows sustainably grazing hilly grasslands, without involvement of the industrial cattle chain.
A big challenge when trying to keep low footprints, is that the “system” does not support or encourage it. For instance, I try to buy “green” but am not always sure if it is successful – you can’t always read the small letters. I need to take two buses just for covering the 7 km up to the railway station. I see lots of unnecessary energy consumption that is stimulated by the authorities (the numerous tax-free company cars; subsidies for fuel; or airport expansion plans). Finally, one gets the feeling that ‘Big Oil’ lobby is so strong, can we have an impact at all?
So, yes, key changes are necessary. If the polluter-pays principle is really adopted, energy consumption will go down. What is negative for the environment and for the producers should be regulated or forbidden, and not left to the individual consumer to try to find out from small letters on packages. One could think of substituting VAT by a carbon tax that translates emissions during production and unsustainable transport (e.g. shrimps that are flown overnight from Ostend to Morocco and back, just for sake of peeling). Society should switch from fossil-fuel based growth to socially-adapted green shrinking, which is possible if the economy does not need to sustain corporate greed.