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Fellow Spotlight: Monika Dos Santos


Dr. Monika Dos Santos is a 2015 Climate CoLab Fellow in the Adaption Contest. Monika was also a 2013 Popular Choice Winner with her “Steps to an Ecology of Mind-Climate Change Impact/Adaptation Strategy in Africa” proposal for the shifting cultures for a changing climate contest. We had the opportunity to speak to Monika about her work with the CoLab.

Dr. Monika Dos Santos at MIT Crowds and Climate Conference in 2014. Her proposal was a Popular Choice winner in 2013 for the shifting cultures for a changing climate contest. 

Q: How did you hear about Climate CoLab and what inspired you to get involved as a Fellow?

I first heard about MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence Climate CoLab project in 2013, through a ISSC notification.  I discussed the possibility of a healthcare/climate change adaptation strategy for Africa with Saul Kornik, the CEO of Africa Health Placements,  and we co-developed a concept related to this for the ‘Adaptation and Civil Society’ category – we were fortunate in winning one of the awards that year.  Since then my interest has kept me involved with MIT as a Fellow, something I am really enjoying.

Q: What’s your background?

I am a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of South Africa.  Prior to this I worked as a technical advisor and research specialist at the Foundation for Professional Development, a private institution of higher education started by the South African Medical Association.  During my time there I also liaised and worked with Africa Health Placements, a human resources in health organisation that strives to place (mainly foreign) healthcare workers in under serviced areas in Africa.  Both organisations work extensively in the public health/HIV sector throughout Africa.   I hold doctoral degrees in psychology and clinical psychology, and I am now embarking on an MSc in Sustainable Urban Development at the University of Oxford, Harris Manchester College.  

Q: What do you see as the greatest challenges of climate change and what solutions do you find most important?

Human nature is a complex system with many components – it comprises mental faculties that lead us to violence and destruction (one only has to think back in recent times to the Holocaust, and currently to anthropogenic factors in climate change)…  but it also possesses faculties that pull us away from violence and destruction, such as empathy, self-control, and a sense of fairness.  Sometimes the dissonance between reality and false beliefs reaches a point when it becomes impossible to avoid the awareness that the world no longer makes sense.  Perhaps only then is it possible for the collective mind and consciousness to consider what may initially seem like radically different ideas and perceptions.… and we need large scale sustainable solutions that intersect practically every discipline.

Q: Outside of Climate CoLab, what climate related work have you done and are you part of now?

Together with Africa Health Placements and Buffelshoek Trust we have commenced a healthcare/climate change project in the Kruger to Canyons region, which is a UNESCO biosphere, in the Bushbuckridge area, Mpumalanga province, South Africa – this project stems from the initial concept submitted to the Climate CoLab in 2013.   It is envisaged that proof of concept will be obtained from this pilot, which will set the foundation for expansion.   We view this as an evolving and dynamic process.   

I am also collaborating with the School of Psychology, Cardiff University, on a 5 year European Research Council (ERC) ‘Low Carbon Lifestyles and Behavioural Spillover (CASPI)’ study which explores  sustainable lifestyles across different cultures, and in particular investigates how people understand environmentally friendly behaviour in different countries, and whether/how behavioural spillover (i.e., when changing one behaviour leads to further behavioural changes) works in different cultures  and contexts. The project is outlined on the website; and involves interviews,  surveys, and experiments with members of the public and environmental activists in seven countries,  namely, the United Kingdom, Brazil, China, Poland, South Africa, Nepal and Denmark. 

Q: What climate change-related quote, graph, image or fact do you find most compelling?

I’m inspired by Stephen Hawking’s thoughts on this topic:

“The danger is that global warming may become self-sustaining, if it has not done so already. The melting of the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps reduces the fraction of solar energy reflected back into space, and so increases the temperature further. Climate change may kill off the Amazon and other rain forests, and so eliminate once one of the main ways in which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. The rise in sea temperature may trigger the release of large quantities of carbon dioxide, trapped as hydrides on the ocean floor. Both these phenomena would increase the greenhouse effect, and so global warming further. We have to reverse global warming urgently, if we still can. 

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”

Submit your proposal for the Adaption contest before June 13th for the possibility to win a cash prize and present at MIT this fall!