Ariadne's Thread

Environmental Studies at the University of Essex

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!

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! 🙂