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Staff Profile

Dr Joe Smith

Dr Joe Smith
Faculty of Social Sciences
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes
United Kingdom

Senior Lecturer in Environment



All of my work seeks to promote better understanding of - and action on - global environmental change issues. This breaks down into three linked areas of research and commentary: public engagement and the media, the politics of consumption, and contemporary environmental history. My research practice across these areas tends to be collaborative, interdisciplinary and experimental. In much of my work I have sought to combine thinking and writing about these issues with direct engagement and impact.

My research portfolio includes a long running strand of work on media decision-making and environment (1996-), the experimental public engagement and research project Interdependence Day (2006-) and the broadcast and online learning and research project Creative Climate (2009-). All of these seek, in different but related ways, to advance public understanding and debate about environmental change, and to place these issues within the context of wider political, social and cultural change. Together these strands of research contribute to an understanding of the dynamic relations between media, publics, institutions and environment. My work on the politics of consumption has included research on mobility and food systems, recently in the form of research into the high rates of food self-provisioning in Central and Eastern Europe (2004-). I am currently developing a new project that seeks to extend contemporary environmental histories by working with broadcast archives.

I teach environmental communication, policy and politics at both undergraduate and Masters level, and have supervised five PhD students. In addition to my academic research I write popular and policy materials on environmental issues and have consulted on over thirty hours of broadcast projects on BBC1, BBC2, BBC4, Radio 4, BBC World TV and BBC World Service Radio, and directly commissioned short films and documentaries for the Creative Climate project.

My research directly informs my media work. You can hear my podcast Letter to a Climate Sceptic or the Culture and Climate Change podcast series via iTunes U. A podcast of the Interdependence Day project ATLAS launch event podcast is here and the online version of the ATLAS here. As part of the Creative Climate project we co-commissioned the BBC World Service Climate Connection series and BBC World Earth Reporters documentaries and OU- BBC online short films.


BA in Social and Political Sciences (Cambridge, 1989), PhD in Geography (Cambridge, 1995)

Professional affiliations

Fellow of the Institute of British Geographers
Elected Visiting Fellow, Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Cambridge (2008-2009)
Elected Visiting Fellow and Life Member (2003) Clare Hall, Cambridge

I'm a member of the OpenSpace Research Centre.

Course development and teaching

In step with my research interests, my teaching focuses on environmental policy and politics, as well as the join between media production and public understanding and debate of global environmental change issues. Since 2000 I have contributed to and chaired courses from entry level to Masters. While I love to be involved in the teams that produce the OU's innovative interdisciplinary textbooks I have a particular enthusiasm for working on media and interactive projects. For three years (2009-2012) I was seconded to devise and lead an innovative approach to environmental learning, outreach and debate through the Open University's (ongoing) Creative Climate project. The project has demonstrated major opportunities for major quality and efficiency gains in the production and application of OU broadcast and online media, as well as the potential to bind together research, learning and public engagement goals.

Most recently I've edited the 'food' themed block for Environment (DST206), a second level environment module. I have also led the making of a body of media and environment related materials, including work with the BBC environment archive as well as working with online and social media content, including material I commissioned through the Creative Climate project. I was on the team that made Environment: Journeys Through A Changing World (U116), where I contributed to the first and second parts, with materials on the concept of sustainability and greener buildings and cities (block 1) and on the practice of interdisciplinarity, looking at the Arctic region as a case study (block 2). This included commissioning an interactive Arctic museum cabinet. I continue to contribute every year to the third level course The Environmental Web (U316). I was one of the small team that made this innovative and successful module back in 2002/3. My main job on the course now is to host an environmental journalism Masterclass, where each year we have an online seminar for a week with leading environment journalist (e.g. from the BBC, Guardian, Independent, Times and Irish Times). I chaired/co-chaired and contributed to a number of courses in the Environment Policy and Society Masters courses in the social science faculty (primarily Exploring Sustainability (D836) as sole author and Environmental Negotiation and Conflict Resolution (D832).

I have been awarded three teaching prizes for my work on  Environment (U216), The Environmental Web (U316) and Environment: Journeys Through a Changing World (U116). Two PhD students (Liza Griffin, awarded 2007, and Poshendra Satyal, awarded 2009) researched aspects of the politics of natural resource use (fisheries in the EU; forestry in Nepal). Two current students (Pavel Antonov and Kellie Payne) are working on aspects of cultural work on climate change and a third (Robert Chris) is researching aspects of geoengineering, ethics and politics.

I am the OU's representative on the management and exam boards of the Joint Distance Learning Masters in Planning, and serve as external examiner on University College London's Environment, Science and Society Masters Course, based in the UCL Geography department. I have acted as PhD examiner at: University of East Anglia, 2008 & 2012; London School of Economics, 2005; University of Cambridge, 2004 and the Open University 2003; 2010; 2012.

Research interests

1 Mediating Change

Mediating Change is the umbrella for a bundle of loosely related projects, comprising events, media outputs and publications. They have been rooted in very productive partnerships, including with the School of Architecture at Sheffield University (primarily Renata Tyszczuk) and the new economics foundation (Andrew Simms, Vicky Johnson). Other valued partners and collaborators have included the Geographical Association, BBC Comedy (Jon Plowman), BBC World Service, BBC World, the IBT (Mark Galloway), the Ashden Trust (Robert Butler), Cape Farewell and Tipping Point. Funders of the work are acknowledged in a later section.

1.1 Interdependence Day (2005-2012)

A research and communications project which seeks to provoke new thinking about how we should act in our interconnected world. The project is based around collaborations between researchers, publics, artists and performers, NGOs and media. The project binds together debate, new knowledge and public participation with the goal of feeding fresh ideas back into policy and political arenas. The project aims to refresh jaded debates about sustainable development, globalization and environmental change through an integrated body of activities comprising: academic work, such as the ESRC/NERC funded interdisciplinary seminars and related publications; direct public engagement, e.g. through the Interdependence Day public events and workshops, and a reach to wider publics through broadcast and webcasting. Nef and OU geography produced three reports which won national print and broadcast media attention: Interdependence, Chinadependence and the Consumption Explosion. We also published an approachable summary of a positive account of a sustainable world: Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth, which included contributions from leading politicians, designers and authors. The project culminated in a sellout event at London's Southbank Centre, a web ATLAS of Interdependence and a printed ATLAS. These concluding publications and events brought together many of the contributors to the project, drawn from the natural and social sciences, arts, media and policy.

1.2 Media, environment and development (1996-ongoing)

For over a decade (1996 - present) I have designed and facilitated strategic level seminars aimed at improving coverage of complex environment and development issues, working with the BBC and other partners. This work has been devised and implemented in partnership with the BBC's Environment Analyst Roger Harrabin. It has been shaped by insights from contemporary social science, and is integral to a programme of action research resulting in academic and policy publications. In the tradition of action research my findings are feeding directly back into decision-making within media and related organisations. The seminars have been publicly credited with catalysing fresh thinking in BBC outputs across platforms and with leading directly to specific and major innovations in programming, including Africa Lives on the BBC 2005 and the Climate Chaos season 2006, as well as other environment and development related seasons and projects.

Together with OU colleague George Revill and the Knowledge Media Institute's Zdenek Zdrahal I am developing a new digital humanities project. We seek to extend contemporary environmental history by working with the BBC's environment archive. But at the same time we want to engage with media users to consider the tools needed for the co-creation of new media histories that draw on archive content.

1.3 Creative Climate (2009-ongoing)

Creative Climate is a ten-year media, participation and research project. It aims to offer a diverse online account of how societies learn about, respond to, and learn to live with global environmental change. The design of the project is informed by my own and other social science research relating to public engagement. In its tone, dynamism and interactivity it seeks to overcome some of the weaknesses of prominent representations of environmental change. The project presents and archives a body of stories of people's experiences and experiments with environmental change. It seeks to express understandings of these issues as dynamic and plural. The emphasis in the early years of the project has been on developing high quality learning resources and a platform that can hold expert and lay accounts side by side. Creative Climate is founded in partnerships within and beyond The Open University, most prominently with different branches of the BBC.

2. The politics of consumption
2.1 Governance, sustainability and consumption in Central and Eastern Europe: (2004-ongoing)

The project, developed in partnership with Open University colleague Petr Jehlicka, looks at the unfolding politics of consumption and sustainability through a study of the changing food politics and culture in Poland and the Czech Republic. We believe that Central and Eastern European countries are distinctive and revealing places to try to make sense of globally significant questions about consumption, development and quality of life. We established baseline qualitative and quantitative data in 2004/5 and conducted another round of interviews in 2010/11 in Czechia and Poland. We anticipate continuing this to develop a long time series of data, and are keen to respond to requests for wider international collaboration in coming years.

2.2 Culture and politics of consumption

I am in the early stages of developing a monograph that draws together previous empirical work on food and mobility with new work on the changing nature of everyday life. This continues a long-running strand of my work that considers critically the meaning of the phrases 'sustainable communities' and 'sustainable consumption'.

Research funding

AHRC/DCMS (2011/12, £68K, PI): Climate Change Fellowship, held by Bradon Smith

The Frederick Soddy Trust (2011, £7.5K, CI): ATLAS publication, Southbank launch event and website

The Geographical Association (2009, £7.5K, PI): Interdependence reports

Ashden Trust (2009-2012, £28K, PI): Culture and Climate Change, PhD studentship; Podcast series; Book series

ESRC/NERC (2006-2008, £20K, PI): Interdependence seminar series

DETR (now DEFRA) (1996-1999, £200K, PI): Sustainable Communities Project

ESRC PhD studentship 1991-1994

I have consulted for, among others, the BBC, the European Environment Agency, the International Broadcasting Trust, Reuters, the NHS and the Sainsbury Family Trusts. I have had outreach / Knowledge Exchange projects supported by the Bowring Trust (£5K), BG Group (£15K), Vivendi (£20K), WWF UK (£15K), Dept of Environment (£15K) and the Tyndall Centre (£15K).

PhD supervision

Joe Smith is interested in supervising PhD students in the following areas: media/culture and environment; politics of consumption; contemporary environmental history and politics

Recent publications

A selection of my research publications can be viewed at The Open University's Open Research Online.


Tyszczuk R., Smith J., and Clark N., and Butcher M., (2012) ATLAS of Interdependence: Architecture, Geography and Change in an Interdependent World, London, Black Dog Publications

Butler, Robert, Eleanor Margolies, Joe Smith, Renata Tyszczuk, (2011) Culture and Climate Change: Recordings, Cambridge, Shed

Simms A., and Smith, J. (eds) (2009) Disfruta la Vida sin Cargarte el Planeta, Barcelona, los libros del lince

Peake, S. and Smith, J. (2009) Climate Change: From science to sustainability, Oxford, Oxford University Press (also Indian edition 2010)

Smith, J., Brandon M. and Kurtz, M. (2009) Arctic Approach: Journeys Through A Changing World part 2, Milton Keynes, The Open University

Blackmore R., King M., Roy R. and Smith, J. (2009) Setting Out From Home: Journeys Through A Changing World part 1, Milton Keynes, The Open University

Simms A. and Smith J. (eds.) (2008) Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth? Constable and Robinson

Smith J. (2008) Vihreät, Keuruu, Otava

Smith J. (2007) In cosa credono gli Ecologisti? Milano, Avallardi

Smith J. (2006) What Do Greens Believe, Granta

Smith J. (ed.) (2000) The Daily Globe: Environmental Change, the Public and the Media, London, Earthscan

Book chapters

Smith J (2012 in press) Media trends, early warnings and knowledge transmission, in Gee D. ed. Late Lessons from Early History Part 3, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen

Smith J. (2012 in press) Mediating tipping points in O'Riordan et al, (British Academy / Royal Society, outcome of a joint workshop: invited contribution)

Jehlicka and Smith (2012) Sustainability and the 'Urban Peasant': Rethinking the Cultural Politics of Food Self-provisioning in the Czech Republic 82 – 100 (pp. TBC) in New Perspectives on Consumer Culture Theory and Research, Pavel Zahrádka and Renáta Sedláková (eds), Newcastle on Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Smith J., Clark N. and Tyszczuk R. (2012) Introduction in Tyszczuk R., Smith J., Butcher M., and Clark N. (2012) ATLAS of Interdependence: Architecture, Geography and Change in an Interdependent World, London, Black Dog Publications

Smith J. (2012) Road Maps: Auto-mobility in Tyszczuk et al

Jehlicka P. and Smith J. (2012) Shelf Life in Tyszczuk et al

Smith J. (2012) Interdependence Day in Tyszczuk et al

Smith J. (2011) Why climate change is different: six elements that are shaping the new cultural politics, in Butler et al, pp. 17-22

Boykoff M. and Smith J. (2010) Media, in Handbook on Climate Change, London Routledge

Smith J. (2009) The Great Global Warming Swindle – What does Ofcom's decision mean? British Film and Video Council Handbook

Blackmore R and Smith J. (2009) Life in a changing world, in Blackmore et al, Setting Out From Home: Journeys Through A Changing World part 1

Smith J. (2009) Building towards sustainability, in Blackmore et al, Setting Out From Home: Journeys Through A Changing World part 1

Smith J. (2009) Imagining the Arctic, in Smith et al, Arctic Approach: Journeys Through A Changing World part 2

Smith J. (2009) Ofcom and the Great Global Warming Swindle, British Film and Video Council Handbook

Smith J. (2009) Listening out: climate, politics, philosophy in Peake S. and Smith J

Smith J. (2009) Climate change and sustainability: Inseparable, in Peake S. and Smith J

Smith J. (2009) Changing the world, in Peake S. and Smith J. pp. 207-242

Simms A and Smith J. (2008) Introduction, in Simms A. and Smith J. (eds.) (2008) Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth? Constable and Robinson

Smith J. and Simms A. (2008) Conclusion, in Simms A. and Smith J. (eds.) (2008) Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth? Constable and Robinson

Smith J. (2003) Making Environment News, in Bingham N, Blowers A. and Belshaw C. Contested Environments, Wiley / The Open University, Chichester, pp 289-328

Smith, J. (2000) After the Brent Spar: business, the media and the new environmental politics, in Smith, J. The Daily Globe, London Earthscan

Refereed journal articles

Smith J. (2012): Public geography and geography in public, Review article. The Geographical Journal (in press)

Jehlicka P. Kostelecky, Tomas and Smith J. (2012) Food self-provisioning in Czechia - Beyond Coping Strategy of the Poor: A Response to Alber and Kohler's 'Informal Food Production in the Enlarged European Union' (2008), Social Indicators Research, DOI 10.1007/s11205-012-0001-4

Jehlicka P. and Smith J. (2011) An Unsustainable State: Contrasting Food Practices and State Policies in the Czech Republic, Geoforum vol. 42, no. 3 pp. 362-372 ISSN 0016-7185

Tyszczuk, R, and Smith, J. (2009) 'The Interdependence Day Project: Mediating Environmental Change' The International Journal of the Arts in Society, Common Ground Publishing May 2009 (volume 3, issue 6): 37 - 42; ISSN 1833-1866

Smith J. and Jehlicka P. (2007) Stories around food, politics and change in Poland and the Czech Republic, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers vol. 42, no. 3 pp. 395-410 ISSN 0020 2754

Jehlicka P. and Smith J. (2007) Out of the Woods and into the Lab: Exploring the Strange Marriage of American Woodcraft and Soviet Ecology in Czech Environmentalism, Environment and History vol. 13, pp. 187-210 ISSN 0967-3407

Smith J., Clark N. and Yusoff K. (2007) Interdependence, Geography Compass vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 340-359 ISSN 1749-8198.2007.00015.x

Smith, J. (2005) Dangerous news: media decision-making about climate change risk, Risk Analysis vol. 25 no. 6, 1471-1482 ISSN 0272-4332/05/0100-1471

Smith, J., Blake, J. and Davies, A. (2000) 'Putting sustainability in place: Sustainable Communities Projects in Huntingdonshire', Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, vol. 2 no. 3, pp. 211–223 ISSN 1523-908x

Other works

Smith J (2010-) Regular blog on environment, politics and media at

Smith J (2011) (commissioner) Creative Climate short films

Tyszczuk R. and Smith J. (eds) (2010)

Smith J (2010) (producer, commissioner and contributor) Culture and Climate Change podcasts

Smith J (2010) (writer and presenter) Letter to a Climate Skeptic

Smith J. (2011) IBT submission to the BBC Trust Review of Impartiality in Science Coverage (submitted without name credit)

Smith J. (2010) ATLAS of Interdependence, field: 4 Ecology Issue, December 2010

Simms A., Johnson V., and Smith J. (September 2009) The Consumption Explosion: The Third UK Interdependence Report, London, new economics foundation and Open University Geography Discipline

Simms A., Johnston V. and Smith J. (2007 forthcoming) Interdependence Report 2007, new economics foundation / The Open University Geography Discipline

Smith J (ed.) (2006; 2007) Interdependence Day website articles. Available from: (Accessed 15 October 2012)

Smith, J. and Tyszczuk, R. (2007) Life's ephemera, in You Look Well (chemical warfare): 2004-2007 Paintings Prints Drawings Steve Russell, Exhibition catalogue, ed. Russell, D., Cambridge, Russell Studio, p. 45

Smith J. (2006) Real World Television, The Development Education Journal, Vol 12.2 February, pp 24-25

Smith J. (June 2006) What Should We Tell the Children About Climate Change. Available from: (Accessed 15 October 2012)

Smith J. and Brandon M. (June 2006; reprint January 2007) What Can We Do About Climate Change? Leaflet supporting BBC One broadcast, more than 120,000 requested plus online downloads

Smith J. (2006) A global declaration of interdependence, Open Democracy. Available from: (Accessed 15 October 2012)

Smith J et al (2005) Coast, BBC/Open University print and web supporting text and interactive materials. Available from: (Accessed 15 October 2012)

A repository of research publications and other research outputs can be viewed at The Open University's Open Research Online.

Other interests

Academic advisor on over 30 hours of TV and Radio programmes on BBCOne, BBCTwo, BBCFour, BBC World Service Radio and BBC World TV.

Co-Director and initiator (With Roger Harrabin, BBC Environment Analyst), Cambridge Media and Environment Programme (CMEP) (1996 – ongoing): designed and implemented seminars aimed at improving coverage of complex environment and development issues, most recently the Real World seminars in partnership with BBC television, BBC News and IBT equipping senior media decision-makers with state of the art knowledge of emerging issues. The project relates to an ongoing programme of action research on media and environment.

Consultant to BBC Vision and News on climate change: advisor on editorial and strategy in relation to climate change 2004 - , including co-programming internal communications event featuring Al Gore, and others, and advisor to production teams for Live Earth 7/7/07; BBC Comedy climate change project 2005 – 2007 and BBC Wales project 2009.

Pro bono advisor

To diverse NGO and international bodies: Invited peer reviewer, complaint to Ofcom relating to Channel 4 The Great Global Warming Swindle programme; Jury Chair, Oneworld media awards 2008, Environment prize; Judge, British Environment and Media Awards: 2003 – 2005 Best Journalist & Best Newspaper awards; 2006 Best documentary award

Facilitator / event designer

In addition to CMEP seminars (above) e.g. assisted in the development and implementation of workshops at EU sponsored international meetings on environmental problems on the Black Sea 1997, Danube 1999, Adriatic 2002, Baltic 2003 and Amazon 2006 (also assisted with communications and VIP speechwriting); Southbank Shift Festival ‘Ten’ event designer and facilitator, January 2010; Invited contributor / chair / facilitator for events by Siobhan Davies Dance Company;

Chair and / or keynotes

European Broadcasting Union Science and Education section conference session on climate change and the media, Lucerne May 2007; Chair and introductory lecturer: EU DG Research Science Journalism conference session on climate change and the media, Barcelona December 2007; Geographical Association conference keynote address 2008; British Council Wildscreen conferences Delhi and Guwahati 2009 – lectures; Eden Project; 2010, Biotik Stage compere; Presentations to Ecomuslim meetings, House of Lords, 2011 & 2012; Panel contributor British Chamber of Commerce Conference, 2012; Presentation on communicating climate change to UKCDS closing session, Planet Under Pressure, 2012; Lecture on Taking Care to Common Dance event, 2012

Talks and training

Regular contributor to both journalist environment training programmes (e.g UNEP/Guardian Foundation in Albania, 2004; REC/Netherlands Foreign Ministry in Montenegro 2004) and environment / geography student seminars on media and environment, e.g.: Cambridge and UCL Geography MA 2004; Middlesex Forum for the Future MA 2006 and 2007; Oxford Reuters Institute 2007; Session chair, Climate change reporting; Imperial College 2012 panel on reporting climate change;

Other appointments and awards

Trustee, Tipping Point (appointed May 2012)

Director, Smith of Derby Group Ltd. and non-executive Director, Smith of Derby Ltd. (tower clockmakers est. 1856) (appointed June 2011)

Awarded AICA (International Association for Environmental Communication) Beppe Comin Career Prize, 2009

Appointed to a Visiting Fellowship, Centre for Research in the Arts Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASSH), University of Cambridge, 2008-2009

Appointed to a Visiting Fellowship, Clare Hall, Cambridge, 2004-2005

Last updated: 18 February 2013