Bridging science and activism

Daphne Pleace / 5 min read / Inspiring Activist
26 May 2023

Next up in our Inspiring Activist interviews is Abi Perrin, a research biologist, climate activist and educator. She’s Dr Abi Perrin, in fact. Through a chance introduction, With Many Roots met Abi back in 2020 and has been following her journey ever since. It’s inspiring and humbling. Daphne Pleace interviews Abi to find out more.

Dr Abi Perrin

What concerns you about the world today?

As a scientist Abi says she tends to think about the ‘big picture’ of the earth’s systems, and she is concerned that we don’t understand the enormity of the scale of what is happening with those systems; how big the problems are, and how fast they might get worse. She worries too about the level of disconnect between human beings, and how people might act towards each other as the problems increase.

What positive contributions are you making?

Abi explained that she experiences being a scientist as a fundamental part of her identity, and that one contribution she is always making is to continually ask herself two questions: “what are the roles for science and scientists in a changing world…?”; and “what is the role of the scientist in environmental activism?”. And then to act appropriately on the answers. 

She added that “science is a machine which moves slowly” and hopes that both her more mainstream science at the University of York working with very tiny algae that are really good at capturing carbon dioxide and – in different mode – her activist work in climate education are serving the planet at the current time. 

Abi is very good at sparking people’s enthusiasm for science: she didn’t say this, but as one very non-scientific person whose enthusiasm she did spark during this interview, I’m saying it! For example, I learned from her that thanks to those tiny algae, there’s approximately the same amount of photosynthesis happening on land as there is in the oceans. 

She’s also a member of XRScientists and was arrested and later acquitted for her part in the April 2022 events. You can read more in The Conversation here.

Have you had to make any sacrifices?

Abi gave a direct yes to this, though added that she doesn’t necessarily see them as sacrifices any more. She explained that there have been the small-but-big-at-the-time personal behavioural changes around flying, or eating cheese, or similar, but that the main impact for her has been in her scientific career. She’s constantly aware of the balancing act between academic scientist and climate activist: 

“To judge how successful I am in my life as a scientist, I have to use different metrics than the traditional ones for career scientists,” was her smiling response.

How do you stay motivated?

As with many others of our Inspiring Activists, Abi mentioned the importance of what she described as “understanding the weight of networks” ie, other people keeping her motivated. She also emphasised the importance of channelling creativity. Currently, for her, that involves investigating the science of social movements, and how to apply that to activism.

Abi at the science stall at The Big One – with Sophia – April 2023

What gives you hope?

Abi’s answer to this question was the flip side of the first part of her answer to the concerns question: that we do know there are solutions to at least some of the problems, and – in terms of reaching a social tipping point – we don’t know how quickly things might change for the better.

“We’re more powerful than we think we are,” Abi commented. And she was smiling again, so that gave me hope! 

Abi with some of the XR Scientists following their acquittal for charges related to a peaceful protest action. Credit: Vladimir Morozov

What if…we make the changes needed, what will your world in 2030 look like?

Abi used her learning from Kate Rayworth’s book Doughnut Economics to answer this question, saying that if we completely re-imagine our systems of distribution – as that book describes in detail – there is enough to go round, there is enough for everyone to have everything… and that is what the world could look like… 

A book that has helped you grow

Abi explained that she struggles to read fiction, but has recently enjoyed Resist: stories of uprising edited by Ra Page: fictionalised accounts of historical challenges to the status quo.

A song that keeps you going

Not a particular song for Abi here but rather her own genre… one she calls her “angry music”… something loud, crashy and discordant that she will listen to whilst running for half an hour. When we forced Abi to pick one to add to the playlist she suggested:

A quote that lifts you up

Those with the privilege to know have the responsibility to act.

attributed to Einstein.

Your message to the world: imagine we gave you a microphone and every person on the planet can hear you, what would you say?

Abi told me she’d want this to be something empowering. Something that emphasises Now… something like this:

“By what we do, and don’t do, Now is the time that we can make the most, the biggest, difference.”

Avatar photo Daphne Pleace Yorkshire, UK Daphne is our well-being director and in-house writer. She has over 50 years’ experience of ‘people’ work in a range of contexts. She has been, or still is, an English and drama teacher, a counsellor in educational and relational settings, a psychotherapist, and a facilitator and mentor in both personal and professional developmental contexts. She chooses now to devote her time and skills to individuals and organisations working with the climate crisis. View all posts
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