Mihai Sarbu – Feature Profile

We introduce you to:

Mihai Sarbu, Ph.D. Sociology Candidate, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario

How did you become interested in environmental sociology?

Chance was an important part of the process. While studying for my Master’s degree at Brock University I was fortunate to work under the supervision of Professor John Novak who thought I might enjoy studying some of the work of Thomas Homer-Dixon; indeed, Homer-Dixon’s interdisciplinary approach suited very well my learning style. The themes of environmental degradation and climate change emerged as the ones I was most interested in and my final work for the degree was a thesis on educating for community resilience in the context of the ecological and social challenges of the 21st Century.

What are your research interests?

The sociology of climate change; environmental sociology; qualitative methodology; critical theory; production and consumption of energy; public perception of risk; complexity. While environmental sociology and climate change are at the forefront of my preoccupations, I feel I need to also investigate areas such as education, consumerism, globalization, economic growth, and new technologies. Besides the fact that sociology itself cuts across many disciplines, these are all factors that contribute to the definition of the context in which we currently are and upon which we need to act. While many of the factors mentioned are determined to a large extent by individuals and the societies they live in, the biosphere is not. Climate change is probably the most politicized—and therefore ubiquitous—environmental issue these days, but it may only be one of the symptoms of a more significant disharmony: humans appropriating a lot more than their fair share of the resources of the planet.

What would you like to pursue with your research in the future?

Should we believe the legend, cutting the Gordian Knot was an easy way out for Alexander the Great, but no such simplistic solutions can apply to the problems of understanding and changing the relationships between humans and nature. In my future research I plan to examine if and under which circumstances Canadians are likely to re-examine their consumption patterns, their relationship with nature, and what would be the consequences of such inquiries upon changing the societal patterns that contribute to exhausting natural resources and worsening the global warming.

What are some of your more interesting findings that you would like to share with us?

I find it surreal that in spite of the dangers posed by our high-speed blind journey toward what promises to be a very challenging future, we rarely pause to think what that future may look like and if—provided we still can—there is anything we would like to change about it. Unfortunately it appears that the abundance of objects surrounding us—or merely the temptations they offer—is taking an ever more important role in determining how we live our lives, individually and collectively. The reasons for such misplaced priorities are complex, as they reflect the functioning of our society and its interactions (or lack thereof) with nature. While a “silver bullet” solution to our problems is unlikely and probably even undesirable, we need to make these problems the focus of individual and societal inquiries.

What is your favourite place in Canada to spend time?

It is very difficult to make a choice because Canada has so many beautiful places—and therefore so many more reasons to reconsider our relationship with nature. Killarney Provincial Park is one that comes to mind, with the delicate reddish hues of the rocks reflected by the still water; and the scenery around Vancouver Island, with the extraordinary views of the snow-peaked mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

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