Ariadne's Thread

Environmental Studies at the University of Essex

Month: November, 2012

Feed the good stuff

by ariadnesthread101

The following parable has been used again and again, in self-help books (don’t let that distract you :P), popular psychology magazines, leadership seminars and parenting classes. It’s about how, if we want to bring about positive outcomes, we need to nurture ‘the good’ and make it stronger.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.” 

I think this is incredibly important for environmentalists of all stripes.

We can either keep our fingers on what hurts (e.g. focus our analytical and emotional attention on the scale and dynamics of the crisis). Or we can acknowledge that there is a crisis, understand it, and pay analytical and emotional attention to what pushes us in the other direction (pushing the curves downwards if you remember Rockstroms’ talk from last week). This doesn’t mean we stop analysing why and how things got to the state they’re in. It just means that we make it our fundamental and primary aim to really push well-considered solutions out into the world. We don’t present problems and hope that politicians and economists will dream up solutions.

Related to this is the idea that  environmentalism can be about creating better lives by engaging with people’s ‘good wolf’. Showing that sustainability doesn’t have to be about fear (we’re all going to die horribly because of climate change!!!) or about arrogance (I’m green, and better than you!!!) or about sorrow. It can be about engaging with the best of human instincts, building them up and using them to build better human lives in a sustainable way. More and more environmentalists are turning to this idea. At the bottom of it is the idea that we really need to know what makes life worthwhile, and feeding that wolf. And, we think, doing so also improves sustainability. Something to think about, an idea to feed, maybe?

Here’s one example. Nic Marks from the New Economics Foundation talks about the Happy Planet Index.

Inspiring stuff. Feed your good wolf this week 🙂 (Start with giving yourself breakfast :P)

[Image by Gunnar Ries (Own work (own photo)) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons]

Summary week 7

by sabrinakuehn

This week’s lecture in Politics and Society was about the effect of democracy on sustainability. A question that’s actually not that easy to answer. Conclusions were drawn with reference to two different measures of sustainability – Genuine Savings (a weak measure) and ecological footprint (a measure of strong sustainability). Rather than discuss conclusions here you may prefer to have a read of Hugh Ward’s paper, on which the class was based.

Any environmental resource will have multiple stakeholders. The process of finding an appropriate solution that is reasonable now, and in the long run, therefore requires compromise. All of the systems we have discussed recently from watershed management to coral reefs need wise but pragmatic and engaging management solutions for the systems and the communities that rely on them to persist.

Of course, to build a wise and engaging solution it’s key to understand the community of people, organisms, and physical features that you’re trying to manage. On a local development basis in the UK, that might mean undertaking an environmental impact assessment, part of which would be an ecological impact assessment (see this). It’s really interesting to read, for example, this publication and find that the same issues of natural capital’s substitutability or lack of it come up, as we discussed above (see page 264 ‘Natural Capital’).

And what about the upcoming week? Well, there is more to learn about SPSS and public opinion concerning the environment, and “how to motivate sustainable behaviour” (here’s an idea). But despite the loads of work, we shouldn’t forget to get outdoors, no matter how much reading there is to do! 🙂


Global Resource Politics: What does US energy independence mean for the rest of the world?

by ariadnesthread101

US reliance on the Gulf for its oil – and its consequent need to maintain a dominant presence in the Middle East to keep the oil flowing – has been one of the constants of the post-1945 status quo. That could be turned on its head…

… The reason is simple. The US is the home to vast shale oil and gas deposits made commercially viable by improvements to a 200-year-old technique called fracking and by the relentlessly high cost of crude.

Exploitation of fields in Appalachian states such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and further west in North Dakota, have transformed the US’s energy outlook pretty much overnight. Professor Dieter Helm, an energy expert at Oxford University, said: “In the US, shale gas didn’t exist in 2004. Now it represents 30% of the market.

If all the known shale gas resources were developed to their commercial potential in North America and other new fields, production could more than quadruple over the next two decades, and account for more than half of US natural gas production by the early 2030s, according to recent study by the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Centre.”

Read the full article on the website of the Guardian here.

What do you think this means for the environment? For world affairs?

And on a related note, if you’re interested in learning more about Fracking: See here.

[Image here]

Looking up!

by ariadnesthread101

Rob Hopkins blogs (amongst many many other things!) on Transition at Yesterday, he posted this great post, asking people to help him identify positive trends in a transition to sustainability. He posted seven examples. And then opened the conversation to Twitter where people can give the examples they know, using the hashtag #transitiontrends.

I thought this would be a super super super thing to keep an eye on and contribute to – what do you think?

Are there examples you can think of yourself?  Would you like to search for some?  Do you think there is anything promising out there (or should we just get into bed and never get out again?!)

Come up with something! ‘Submit’ your responses via the comments function on this blog or on the original post at Tweet using #transitiontrends. Share on Facebook.

Let’s shine a light on things that are looking up!

[Image unattributed online: if it’s yours, please get in touch!]

Beyond the Bubble – US Election Special

by jacobbhunter

Soap Bubble with Sky by Brocken Inaglory

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

“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened up by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

President Obama, Victory Speech, November 2012

Time seems to move fast these days, and already the US election has almost fallen off the news agenda, but it’s important to reflect on what Obama’s re-election means for global environmental challenges.

The USA is second only to China in the amount of carbon it emits (figures), indeed, as a nation they emit more CO2 than all the states of the European Union combined. As one of the world’s great powers they also have the potential to lead the rest of the world to a sustainable future, if they chose to do so. It’s therefore easy to see how the views of the President matter to the world. There is a lifetime’s worth of information on the candidates’ views on the environment and obviously I can only include a few below.

If you’re interested in making a comparison between the Obama and Romney positions on environmental issues there are a number of pre-election sources including a UK perspective which concludes that while both candidates appreciate climate-change is an issue, Obama is probably somewhat less keen on hydrocarbons-as-usual.

Perhaps the most interesting comparative piece I’ve seen is of the candidates’ answers to 14 science questions aggregated from scientists and citizens. Question 2 is about climate change and question 6 discusses energy policy. Obama’s answers are mercifully short, and well worth a read. There are also questions about food and biosecurity.

President Obama Returns to the White House after a Burger Run

Generally, the post-election consensus seems positive, USA Today for example has a few reflections, as does the ‘Environment News Service’  though the Guardian is more balanced in its analysis.

Whatever the candidates’ positions on environmental policy were, it seems sadly likely that they weren’t the first thing on many voters’ minds going to the polls with this survey demonstrating that, for their sample of voters, environmental policy was the least important of ten policy areas. That climate change was not mentioned in the presidential debates cannot have helped matters and is a worrying sign that economic concerns have distracted from other important issues still, at least Al Gore is pushing for it to be foremost in the agenda.

After all that text it’s only fair that I share a few videos and a podcast!

Anyone who attended the seminar today (Tuesday 13/11) will have heard John Burton make reference to our changing approach to nature over the last 50 years. In particular he mentioned the work of The World Land Trust patron, Sir David Attenborough. In the UK Attenborough has achieved ‘national treasure’ status for his decades of wildlife documentary making, and rightly so, but of course with a career so long committed to film he’s also inadvertently documented our changing approach to nature, and to some extent, habitat change and loss. There’s an excellent collection of some of the early work here and much of the more recent material is on YouTube, including the amazing Lyrebird which is an environmental story in itself.

My job for this week is finding a good, regular environment podcast. Today’s suggestion – at the risk of being a bit BBC-centric – is ‘Costing the Earth’. Scrolling through the available episodes I see several that are of relevance to our current classes, including one on salmon farming and several on various energy forms. If you’ve any better or alternative suggestions please do leave a comment!

Academic skills! Today: questionnaires and introduction to SPSS

by sabrinakuehn

Zareen already introduced this homepage to you, which is pretty useful once you found your way through it:

In this week’s Research Analysis lecture, we will get an introduction into SPSS and here are some links that can help you get started. For example, you can watch explanatory videos on how to perform particular tests like the t-test:

For an overview of data collection and questionnaire design (which might not only be of interest when you want to do the first part of the assessment) I recommend this page:

Try it out! 🙂

Upcoming events this week

by sabrinakuehn

Tuesday 13 November

Essex Sustainability Institute Seminar

John Burton (The World Land Trust): ‘The World Land Trust: International Conservation and the human element’. Room 5.3.2. 12.30pm-2.00pm. All welcome.

TUNA! Who Cares?

“A presentation about the current state of the tuna fishing industry and a discussion to have the University SU switch to a more sustainable fish. Some of the year three marine biology and ecology students have teamed up with the Food Ethics Society in order to bring more sustainable fish onto the campus. We have organized a presentation which will be followed by an open discussion.”
LTB 3, 6 pm, University of Essex

Environmental Protection Society in conjunction with the Essex Sustainability Institute (ESI) Film Screening

“Created, produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, this documentary takes a look at the state of the global environment and includes visionary and practical solutions for restoring the planet’s ecosystems.
The 11th Hour (2008, 92 min). LTB 8. 7 pm with follow up discussions in Top Bar.”

“Let the environment guide our development”

by sabrinakuehn


Here’s a video that touches several of the topics we already discussed in our lectures and sessions. Human pressure on the planet is increasing, scientists are talking about the „anthropocene“, which leads us to a threshold beyond which we are in a danger zone and have to expect nonlinear change. Johan Rockstrom indeed shows us boundaries of the planet that can help us understand how we can keep a balance. ‘The drama here is in fact, it may show, that the climate challenge is the easy one“. Anyway, for a shift in the mindsets of the people, the almost 200 countries of the world have to move silmuntaneously.

Have a nice week!

Outside the Bubble: News from the Great Beyond

by ariadnesthread101

Yay to another contributor on Ariadne’s Thread! Jacob will be writing us a regular post on news relevant to the Environmental Masters courses at Essex. Without further ado – here’s the first! 
There’s a vast array of sources of stories and information relevant to the Environmental Master’s courses. I thought it would be really neat to bring a few of these together for us all to peruse, particularly as we each have our own favourite websites with unique slants and coverage.
If you have a new story, podcast, or programme to share, or would like to make a comment, please use the system at the bottom of this post. Alternatively, feel free to email me for inclusion in the next roundup.  
Best of luck for the week!

C. A. M. Lindman (1856–1928)

‘Are Europe’s ash trees finished?’

Print News / New Scientist 
A fungus deadly to ash trees has just reached Britain and Ireland, after emerging 20 years ago in Poland. Already it has devastated ash trees in mainland Europe, sweeping through more than 20 countries powerless to prevent its spread. How did this fungus develop? And what, if anything, can be done to stop it in countries like the UK, where ashes account for around a fifth of all trees? By the sound of it, the outlook is not good. New Scientist investigates.”

The full story here.

This story has been worrying me this week, as I love ash trees. They have a fairly open canopy and so other plants can survive underneath. They also can grow to be quite old and gnarly providing, for example, nest holes for birds.
We’ve imported the fungus that’s causing this disease through the movement of saplings, but now it seems the spores have also blown over from Europe naturally; demonstrating that nature rarely respects borders.
The New Scientist article is very matter of fact, but as ash trees make up a key part of the English landscape I’m sure many people will be terribly sad if they are badly affected, not to mention the loss of biodiversity entailed. I wonder if losing ash trees would make the UK’s landscape any less therapeutically valuable? [See below]
‘Health Check: Eco-therapy’
Audio: (only 17 minutes 30 seconds)
Available on iPlayer here.
This radio programme from the BBC World Service discusses our connection with nature and focuses specifically on the value of natural environments as “Green Therapy” – treatment for mental illness. There are contributions from the hugely respected writer Richard Mabey and also Rachel Bragg, whom I’m sure you’ll all remember from her lecture last week on the value of nature.

Sandy from the International Space Station. 29th October, 2012.

‘It’s Global Warming, Stupid’

Print News / Business Week.  
Yes, yes, it’s unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change. Men and women in white lab coats tell us—and they’re right—that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode. Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater.”
The full story here.
The other big environment news story this week has been Hurricane Sandy, which as well as causing huge amounts of damage and disruption across its path from Jamaica and into parts of Canada, also stirred up the debate on the nature and reality of climate change. The Businessweek article to which I have linked is interesting because it discusses not only our perception that extreme weather events are becoming more extreme/worse because of anthropogenic climate change, but also links that change to our economic and political systems. Ultimately the article inadvertently highlights our own power to make a difference: “In truth, what’s lacking in America’s approach to climate change is not the resources to act but the political will to do so.”. You don’t have to be an engineer or scientist to have a will, and exercise it.
The debate in the comments after the article offers an interesting/horrifying contrast to the piece itself.
‘Discovery: The Age We Made’
Audio: (also 17 minutes 30 seconds)
Available on iPlayer here.
Another BBC World Service programme, so also rather low-budget! But I found this to be a rather interesting discussion of the way our activities are actually changing the rocks that are being laid down now, and that these changes may be sufficient to produce a new geological age, the Anthropocene. 
And… just for fun, if you’ve got some free time and would like some more TV:
Human Planet: Surviving the Urban Jungle
Video: (58 minutes 13 seconds)
Available on iPlayer here.
This is an episode from one of the BBC’s hugely expensive documentary series. This one is an interesting look at our coexistence and conflict with the nature within our cities. It’s full of amazing footage, but it also encapsulates the way we as a people think about wildlife. Oh, and there’s a bit about the global market, food, consumption and waste too.  The first section is mostly conflict, and the second bit deals (ok, superficially) with sustainable cities and bringing urban populations into greater positive contact with nature.

Events @ Essex this week

by ariadnesthread101

A quick post to flag a couple of free events (overlapping, unfortunately!) tomorrow which will be of interest to everyone on the MEG!

Essex Sustainability Institute Seminars: Tomorrow (6th Nov): A seminar on Corporate Environmental Reporting by Idlan Zakaria of the Essex Business School. Room 5N.3.2; 12:30 – pm. This will be of interest generally, but especially to people on the MEG with an interest in researching / working in the private sector in general or CSR in particular. More information on the seminar is here. More on the seminar series and the full programme of talks is here. Come along, meet the speakers, ask questions and get stuck in! This is a good chance to meet speakers from outside the University who are working on different aspects of ‘Sustainability’.

Centre for Theoretical Studies and the Department of Government Political Theory Seminar: Sheldon Leader (University of Essex): ‘What happens when you have to choose between two competing human rights’. Room 5S.4.11; 11 – 1pm.  As you will know (or soon find out), human rights, development and resource management are tightly intertwined. Hence the link to the MEG.

And finally:

Sharing Our History: 1953 Essex Floods. 2pm-4pm. Clifftown Theatre, in Nelson Street, Southend   As part of the Festival of Social Science, the University of Essex is hosting an oral history event next month in advance of the 60th anniversary of the floods, which took place on the night of 31 January 1953. Chaired by Martin Astell, Sound Archivist at the Essex Record Office, the event will feature a short film about the floods and will hear from a local author, Patricia Rennoldson Smith, whose book on the floods: The 1953 Essex Flood Disaster: The People’s Story will be published in November by The History Press. Two survivors of the floods will also share their memories of the night, and members of the audience, if they like, are invited to speak about what happened to them and their families.   This free event is open to all, for people wanting to find out more, as well as for those who can remember what happened or who had relatives who were involved, to share and record their memories. Entry is free. To book please email or phone 01206 872400.