Enabling change in our Society, Environment and Economy (SEE)

“Sustainability expert” Q&A

From student Minister to “sustainability expert”: Q&A with Ali Carrera

Parliament of Youth Project Officer Sarah Dickson-Hoyle caught up with former Parliament of Youth participant  Ali Carrera to discuss her journey from student Minister to soon-to-be Fenner School graduate and “sustainability expert”

 

Q: You first took part in the Parliament of Youth on Sustainability as a student back in 2014. Tell us a little bit about your experience as a “Student Minister”?

I was involved with the Parliament of Youth as a Year 12 student at Merici College. I decided to focus my proposal on food waste, as that’s something I’ve always been interested in. I was brought up with my parents composting, it’s just been in my life, I’ve grown up with it, being environmentally conscious. Then I looked at other people, and I thought “how is there so much waste that I wasn’t really conscious of?”

On the day I was elected as “Minister for Food” and presented in front of the whole Parliament. I also got the chance to meet with ACT Ministers to talk about our sustainability proposals. Even now it’s something great for the resume, to be able to say “I developed this project, I spoke in front of all these people”, it was such a fantastic experience!

Q: Were you always interested in sustainability and the environment? 

I’d always had an interest in it, but I think it came to light in my final few years of school when I realised “I’m really passionate about this, I really care”. So many opportunities suddenly opened up to me. Going to the Parliament of Youth was actually a really big spur, it really twigged with me that sustainability was something I really wanted to focus on.

It’s really hard when you’re really passionate about something, about the environment and caring about how much waste you produce, to see so much apathy about it. But then going to the Parliament of Youth, I saw that there were other kids my age that did care, and there were younger kids coming through, making songs up, saying things like “I went home and told mum and dad off for not turning the lights off”. And that really warmed my heart. It was great to realise that I was part of a community with a really growing awareness.

Q: And now you’re part of an even broader community of environments students at the ANU Fenner School! What made you decide to pursue a degree in environmental science?

When I was looking at my university choices I knew I wanted to do science, but I didn’t want to do chemistry or biology, and I’ve always had a passion for the environment, so I thought “let’s go down that field and see what I like”.

I’ve had a lot of really great experiences at the Fenner School, it’s been really comprehensive. I’ve had to do a policy course, right now I’m taking a class on ‘weather, climate and bushfire’, which is something I would have loved to have taken further. There’s biodiversity, conservation, climate change and policy, forest science…I’ve also had a lot of field-based opportunities, which really cements your learnings. I’d love to be a ranger, conservation is my thing, and I’m also really interested in sustainable development and sustainable buildings…I’m still trying to find my niche!

Q: This year you’ll be returning to the Parliament of Youth on Sustainability as a “sustainability expert”, providing support and advice to students as they debate their sustainability proposals. What was your motivation for signing up to volunteer?

I’m just interested in seeing what new ideas are coming through and trying to encourage a new generation of students. And I think it’s really good to have someone to look up to – I remember as that younger student coming through and seeing these older university students that I could look up to, it really made an impact.

In engineering, they’re talking about how we need to get more women into this field, and that we need to start young. It’s the same with any field – if you have people to look up to from a young age, you can get the idea in your head that “this is something I can actually do – it’s not just something that I’m interested in, it’s an area I can pursue and find jobs in, it can become my life”.

Q: The question for this year’s Parliament of Youth is “What is one action we can take to make Canberra more sustainable?” If you were taking part as a student this year, what do you think you would focus on?

Looking at sustainable cities, I would definitely be taking a more technological approach. For example, looking at something as simple as smart lights that already exist in buildings, and thinking “how could we apply that more widely, to street lights and outdoor lights?”. We’d not only save energy but address issues like light pollution. Or “let’s install anaerobic digesters across all supermarkets”, where people can dispose of their waste. And thinking about who can drive this change – even with Government-led initiatives like “Smart Cities”, it’s often technology companies leading innovation, working together with governments and communities.

Looking at the topic of food waste when I was in Year 12, it was very much a behavioural issue of people not thinking about the waste they’re producing. But behaviour is so hard to change, we need to be thinking about technological solutions as well. And potentially technology change can be a driver of behavioural change! We need to be thinking about what can make a change now, but also to be thinking about things that will be a long term solution that will help us provide for ourselves and for future generations. That’s really what sustainability is about!

Ali Carrera is a fourth year Bachelor of Science (Environmental Science) student at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University.

 

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