Ariadne's Thread

Environmental Studies at the University of Essex

Month: November, 2012

Beyond the Bubble – Lessons from History

by jacobbhunter

Soap Bubble with Sky by Brocken Inaglory

Image: Brocken Inaglory, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0.

This week has seen a great deal of rain and flooding across the UK, and inevitably these extreme weather events stimulate discussion about the reality of our changing climate. Certainly I have perceived an uptick in flooding reporting over the last decade, but I’m cautious to draw conclusion from that, as we’ve become more aware of the other effects we’re having on the world, and hence such stories are bigger news. Certainly a bit of searching around the web didn’t uncover any really convincing statistics, has anyone else had more luck?

The Xingu River From Space

The Xingu River from space, 1997. At this point deforestation was just encroaching (top right corner). Source.

I was emailed an interesting story by one of the other students on my course this week (thanks Leticia!) about the construction of a huge system for producing hydroelectric power using the water of the Xingu river, in the Amazon rainforest. The story isn’t about the construction per se, rather the indigenous people affected by its construction, and their attempts to prevent the project going ahead. There has been a bit of a back-and-forth in the courts, mainly dealing with the effectiveness of the consultation process, but it seems that the project is now set to continue.

I realise I’m supposed to be rounding up the week’s environment news, but I’d like to digress slightly to mention an episode of ‘The Long View’ I happened to hear on the radio this week. It looks back at the Dutch elm disease that struck trees in Britain in the 1920s and draws comparison with the recently emergent ash dieback fungus. A nice gentle discussion of the issues involved, but I will admit that every story I hear like this makes me a little more afraid that increasing globalisation means increasing transport of unwelcome biological material.

Scarlet Waxcaps in a lawn. Image by ceridwen, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

With all this talk of fungi as the enemy, it’s important to remember their integral role in our ecosystems from the mycorrhizas that make up the ‘wood-wide-web’ of nutrient assimilation and transfer, to their value as foods and decomposers. Knowing that it’s hard to hate something attractive, the BBC have put-together a gallery of really beautiful fungi, well, their visible bits!

To round off with one more bit of old stuff (sorry David) the BBC have a new series ‘Attenborough: 60 Years in the Wild’ which looks like it will be really interesting, reflecting on how the planet has changed during his long career. Given that he’s seen more of it than anyone else I can think of, it promises to be a really interesting watch (… though I’ve not got to it yet! Something for the weekend I think).

Chances of urbanization

by sabrinakuehn

Alex Steffen addresses an interesting aspect when talking about urbanization. Some of the projects mentioned are already established in several places of the world. Anyway, in our last Natural Resources class we covered “sustainable behaviour” – and especially from this point of view, these projects seem to be an important part of future urban development: “enormous amounts of our energy use are predestined by the kinds of communities and cities, that we live in”. Therefore, it probably makes a big difference in future urban planning, when people are made “surrounded by places, that make them feel at home”.

Upcoming events week 9

by sabrinakuehn

Environmental Protection Society in conjunction with the Essex Sustainability Institute (ESI) Film Screening: Who Killed the Electric Car? It begins with a solemn funeral…for a car. By the end of Chris Paine’s lively and informative documentary, the idea doesn’t seem quite so strange. As narrator Martin Sheen notes, “They were quiet and fast, produced no exhaust and ran without gasoline.” Paine proceeds to show how this unique vehicle came into being and why General Motors ended up reclaiming its once-prized creation less than a decade later (2006, 93 min).
LTB 6. Tuesday 6.30pm with follow up discussions in Top Bar.

Cycle maintenance on Wednesdays: Square 5 between 9am and 3pm every Wednesday in term time. The service offers help and advice to cyclists and can do a free cycle maintenance check on your bicycle. Other services offered, please see price list.

Essex Sustainability Institute Seminar – Alison Acton: ‘The Lies of the Land? Foxhunting, Landscape Policy and the Cultural Appropriation of Space’. Room TC.2.10. Thursday 12.30pm-2.00pm.This event is free to attend and no prior registration is required. For more information on the talk and the speaker please visit:

Summary: Week 8

by jacobbhunter

Bike, Jakarta Indonesia. Picture taken by Jonathan McIntosh, 2004. cc-by-2.0

The purpose of this series of posts is to provide an accessible reminder of the week’s compulsory classes. As such it’s of most interest to current students on one of the environmental master’s courses.

Disclaimer: as I’m writing this week do watch out for clanging errors!

Read the rest of this entry »

Visiting and Volunteering

by jacobbhunter

A hoverfly on Sisyrinchium flower at an RSPB Garden.

Some of us have been talking recently about visiting interesting places and doing some environmentally-oriented volunteering. Although I’m not an expert on either subject, I do think that there’s little more inspirational than people actually DOING SOMETHING GOOD, and being one of those people is great fun. Hence, I thought I would take a moment to pass on my experience of these things and maybe in the process encourage others near and far to share their favourite green spaces and fun places.

So, I’m going to start by talking about my own voluntary work, because it’s what I know best.

Read the rest of this entry »

Beyond the Bubble – Climate Change and Corals

by jacobbhunter

Soap Bubble with Sky by Brocken Inaglory

Image: Brocken Inaglory, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0.

I’ve decided to have a look at climate change stories this week, partly because we are discussing it as a class, but mostly because we’re only a week away from the 2012 UN Climate Change Conference in DOHA.

Aside: Before we begin it might be worth reacquainting yourself with the soon-to-expire Kyoto protocol, as it gets brought up whenever the possibility of international agreement on climate change arises. Fortunately the Guardian have a brief and handy guide as part of their ‘ultimate climate change FAQ’  it reflects, sadly, that “the two biggest emitters of all – the United States and China – churned out more than enough extra greenhouse gas to erase all the reductions made by other countries during the Kyoto period. Worldwide, emissions soared by nearly 40% from 1990 to 2009”. There is more information here and a brief article on criticisms of the Kyoto Protocol here.

Construction in Doha

Image of Doha, April 2009, by Amjira, sourced from the Wikimedia Commons under the creative commons attribution share alike 3.0.

Climate change is undoubtedly the biggest collective action problem of them all, and this Reuters article outlines some of the problems facing this round of negotiation, and this Guardian piece includes some more, while arguing that a global treaty is still worth fighting for. The Guardian’s catch-all-page on climate talks will be worth checking over the next couple of weeks to see how things pan out.

What would it mean to give up on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, or to just not do enough? Surely not coincidentally there have been various reports issued this month, including one by the World Bank reported in The Independent and an analysis by PwC – a huge accountancy firm – neither are exactly positive.

A Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata) resting on hard Acropora coral. Lighthouse, Ribbon Reefs, Great Barrier Reef

Image of a section of the Great Barrier Reef including some Acropora coral. By Richard Ling, sourced from Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 licence.

I included FOX news in my search for climate-change related stories, and while I didn’t find anything of interest on that topic, I did find a story on human influence upon the Great Barrier Reef.   To (mangle) a quote from the paper on which it’s based:

“[the authors] report a previously undocumented historical collapse of Acropora assemblages at Pelorus Island central … this collapse occurred between 1920 and 1955 … [p]rior to this event, our results indicate remarkable long-term stability in coral community structure over centennial scales”

The paper demonstrates much of what was discussed in one of our recent classes, it’s well worth at least a glance!

On the subject of Proceedings of The Royal Society B you’ll find the current issue useful for its review of the methods by which climate change causes extinction. Even if you only read the abstract it still highlights the complexity of ecosystems, and the inherent difficulty in predicting how such systems will respond to change.

One final thing – a design competition “High Line for London”  released its results recently. It aimed to stimulate green infrastructure ideas along the lines of the Manhattan High Line park, which was converted from a disused railway line. I really like the idea of bringing innovative green spaces into cities, for all kinds of practical reasons, but also because bringing people into touch with green and pleasant land is key to encouraging people to care about nature, and the spaces can be real sources of community well-being.

What do you desire?

by ariadnesthread101

I must warn you that this is an irritatingly happy post in which I attempt to make you feel positive about not knowing what to do for a job. Please bear with me.

We started to look at this question the other day at Ariadne’s Thread: What do I desire? There were about 8 people in the room, and we (okay, you) spent ten minutes writing down what we thought we would like to do after the Masters. I’ll only be able to get to the promised individual responses and suggestions in a couple of weeks, but until then I thought I’d address a theme that came up again and again:

Everything is interesting / I don’t know.

You know what you’ve done before. You know you want to do something different. Exactly how, and what, are where? Who knows. This is fine.

In the next post, I’ll put up a few pointers that can edge you along the path from ‘This is what I already have or can do’ to ‘I have some experience.’ That part is actually incredibly easy. The world is waiting with arms wide open for people to do something, anything. And you’re all here, so you must want to 🙂

But over the longer term, you have two options. You can either just go where the wind blows you, and take the first thing that comes up after you graduate. Whether it is aligned with your imagination or not. Or you can dig a little deeper and find what kind of sustainability-related challenges really interest you.

As I said in a previous post, environmentalism and sustainability span


That makes picking one thing even more challenging if you’re not already drawn to something.

How do you start? (If you do in fact wish to pick that is.)

Here’s 3 things you could try to answer. Answers to these questions can give you important clues as to what sort of work would make you happy.

1. What did you like to do when you played as a kid? Did ever choose to do anything ‘environmenty’ in school or just by yourself? What was it?

2. Fast-forward to now. When you think of all the stuff you could do for the environment, what makes you feel like this:

Is it finding the answer to a problem? Is it communicating with other people? Teaching others why they should care? Helping to plant a forest? Diving in an ocean? What would make you want to hug the planet? (The stoniest troll has this feeling sometimes 🙂 )

What would you do if you felt free to choose?

I’ve fallen a little bit in love with this video where Allan Watts asks: What would you do if you had no money? Which is one way of asking (since money is usually a big constraint). I’m not posting the video to advocate a cashless life, or to eclipse the difficulty between desire and getting paid to execute it. I’m posting it because I believe that challenging as those issues may be, the alternative – (doing something you don’t really like) – is difficult and very uncomfortable.  And I believe it’s incredibly important to live a happy, fulfilled life. People do stuff they hate every day because they ‘have to’ (real or imagined). Imagine for one second that there are no  have-tos in your life. Anything is possible. Imagine that scenario again and again and again, do you return to the same sort of answer again and again (or do you want to do a bunch of things? That’s cool too.) If all you can think of are the limits, write them down and place that list to one side. And forget about them for one minute.

Academic skills: Referencing!

by sabrinakuehn

Let’s have a look at what is essential for essay-writing!

Though most of us probably have already written some academic stuff in their lives, it’s good to have a look at the basic principles of referencing again.

Do you need a guide on how to reference, what to reference and the different types of referencing? The I’d recommend this booklet, which is quite large, but this shouldn’t keep you from having a look at it, since you can find a lot of examples in there, too. An alternative is this more interactive website run by the University of Leeds.

Even if you’re already familiar with referencing, you should try out these exercises: the first one is on how to reference in general, the second one is about plagiarism.

You can’t get enough? There is more on the lovely LearnHigher website, which I almost know by heart by now 🙂


Picture by Durova (Wikimedia Commons) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Upcoming events week 8

by sabrinakuehn

Environmental Protection Society in conjunction with the Essex Sustainability Institute (ESI) Film Screening – Energy Crossroads (2007, 56 min). LTB 6. Tuesday, 6.30pm with follow up discussions in Top Bar. Energy Crossroads exposes the problems associated with our energy consumption. It also offers concrete solutions for those who want to educate themselves and be part of the solutions in this decisive era. The film features passionate individuals, entrepreneurs, experts and scientists at the forefront of their field bringing legitimacy and expertise to the core message of the piece.

The 5th Interdisciplinary Essex/Writtle College Conference. This year’s conference is on the theme of ‘Food’ and topics covered include ‘The Obesity Epidemic’, ‘Local Food Systems’, ‘Aesthetic Foodscape Design’ and ‘James Bond: International Man of Gastronomy’. A coach will be leaving the University (from the Podia entrance on Boundary Road) Friday at 7.50am. To book your place on the coach or to see the full programme, please contact Jeanie Armstrong ( or Kristina Newbatt (

by sabrinakuehn

As we are now getting started on our presentation about Climate Change, here’s something to get inspired (or depressed?!)! Two videos with Al Gore speaking: the first one – in which he presents his new alternative „brand name“ for global warming – showing different areas of action, which everyone should address.


The second one talks about the latest climate trends and shows interesting, but shocking slides about the melting of the ice caps, droughts and the coal industry in the USA.


Enjoy your week!