Ariadne's Thread

Environmental Studies at the University of Essex

Tag: Climate Change

Beyond the Bubble – Ice, Shale and Raindrops

by jacobbhunter

Soap Bubble with Sky by Brocken Inaglory

Image: Brocken Inaglory. License: (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Today, while taking a moment away from listening to deadlines crash about my ears, I watched an episode of the Simpsons. In it, Lisa turns to the internet to research her latest school report ‘Springfield, 50 years from now’ and becomes utterly despairing at the dire predictions she finds. Unable to live with the vision of environmental apocalypse now filling her mind, she submits to mood-altering prescription drugs.

Hopefully nothing I pull from the big cabinet of news this week will cause quite such disquiet for you, but there’s nothing quite like a crisis to focus the mind.

Vincent van Gogh - Wheat Field With Crows (1890).

Vincent van Gogh – Wheat Field With Crows (1890).

Reports that British flour mills are importing around 2 million tonnes of wheat, more than double last year’s figure, certainly provide food for thought.  A dire harvest naturally follows a very poor growing season and we were gripped by unfavorable weather for much of the year. As climate change alters global rainfall and temperature patterns I’ve often wondered what that will mean for our monoculture-based agriculture. This collection of articles from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research is full of interesting stuff, including a discussion of food security in the face of changing climate (page 63).

Arctic ice by Pink floyd88 a, licensed under  (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Arctic ice by Pink floyd88 a, licensed under (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The first liquified natural gas transport ship to pass across the Arctic region on its journey from Norway to Japan did so this month, and its progress had a somewhat chilling effect on me. Reduced ice cover and the changing gas market has made the trip viable. It’s not the only way in which the polar region has become relevant to fossil-fuel exploitation – rising prices and thinning ice have presented opportunities to exploit the Arctic’s large reserves, despite the risks. Hunting around, I also came across this article which while a little old touches on some of what this new Arctic usefulness might mean for its indigenous people.

Citizens of the UK too have hard choices to make about the way they choose to exploit their fossil-fuel reserves. Growing support for fracking, rising prices and significant reserves in Lancashire mean that the chancellor is poised to ‘put shale gas on a fast track’. Who knows what his constituents will make of that.

Beyond the Earth, there has been a bit of excitement from NASA’s newest and most impressive Mars rover. Curiosity appeared to find organic compounds in a recent soil sample, which could have come from life on Mars. Or it could just be contamination left on the rover from closer to home. We won’t know for a while, sadly.

Not the fossil raindrops in question. Image by Verisimilus. License: (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Not the fossil raindrops in question. Image by Verisimilus. License: (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Before I sign off I think I will mention one further story, simply because it amused me. Often, great scientific progress comes about because of what in retrospect seems like beautifully simple insight or experiment. I’m not sure if estimating the density of the atmosphere from the impressions left by raindrops some three-billion-years-ago counts as beautiful insight, but it’s certainly a neat idea.

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!

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.