Networks while networking, and motoring on the microscopic level!
Waves in water
|Trypanosomes in human blood.|
Credit: University of Bristol
"I knew that some of my research might be usefully applied in developing countries, but the complex challenges and the feeling that I lack a track record in 'development research' put me off. Through the forum I am learning about that world, and it has been a real eye-opener. I had no idea that so much was going on across the University in this area, nor that my naivety would be treated so generously in the friendly and open discussions that we've had so far."
"As a scientist I want my work to be "useful". However, translating knowledge into effective and successful, practical outcomes takes more than just generation of that scientific knowledge. This is being increasingly recognised by funders, many of whom now have a focus on interdisciplinarity, particularly for delivering outcomes that can make a difference to people living in developing countries (e.g. the Newton Fund, but also some Research Council funding calls). While the topic of this workshop was not within my scientific field, it was fascinating, and gave me insight into the realities and difficulties of implementing change that really does require the bringing together of many different aspects of knowledge. I met some colleagues that would be great to collaborate with in the future in order to better deliver effective outcomes."
Dr. Jo House, Geographical Sciences
|Dr Elizabeth Fortin|
|From left, organisers Minoru Tamura, Antony Dodd, Simon Hiscock |
and Hiroshi Kudoh
|Professors Tamura and Hiscock sign the botanic |
gardens partnership. Image credit: Botanic Gardens
|Image credit: Botanic Garden|
|University of Bristol, credit UoB|
|Prof Guy Orpen, Deputy Vice Chancellor|
at the University of Bristol.
“Bristol European Green Capital 2015 is a great opportunity for the city and the University of Bristol. We are centrally involved as a University, and as part of the city more widely, to show the world what can be done, and what we can do, to make cities happier and healthier places to live and work, throughout 2015 and far beyond.”Cabot is excited to be part of this and we hope many of you are also keen to participate.
|Michael E Mann at the Cabot Institute, 23 September 2014.|
Image credit: Amanda Patterson.
Former environment minister Owen Paterson has called for the UK to scrap its climate change targets. In a speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, he cited “considerable uncertainty” over the impact of carbon emissions on global warming, a line that was displayed prominently in coverage by the Telegraph and the Daily Mail.
Paterson is far from alone: climate change debate has been suffused with appeals to “uncertainty” to delay policy action. Who hasn’t heard politicians or media personalities use uncertainty associated with some aspects of climate change to claim that the science is “not settled”?
Over in the US, this sort of thinking pops up quite often in the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal. Its most recent article, by Professor Judith Curry, concludes that the ostensibly slowed rate of recent warming gives us “more time to find ways to decarbonise the economy affordably.”
At first glance, avoiding interference with the global economy may seem advisable when there is uncertainty about the future rate of warming or the severity of its consequences.
But delaying action because the facts are presumed to be unreliable reflects a misunderstanding of the science of uncertainty. Simply because a crucial parameter such as the climate system’s sensitivity to greenhouse gas emissions is expressed as a range – for example, that under some emissions scenarios we will experience 2.6°C to 4.8ºC of global warming or 0.3 to 1.7 m of sea level rise by 2100 – does not mean that the underlying science is poorly understood. We are very confident that temperatures and sea levels will rise by a considerable amount.
Perhaps more importantly, just because some aspects of climate change are difficult to predict (will your county experience more intense floods in a warmer world, or will the floods occur down the road?) does not negate our wider understanding of the climate. We can’t yet predict the floods of the future but we do know that precipitation will be more intense because more water will be stored in the atmosphere on a warmer planet.
This idea of uncertainty might be embedded deeply within science but is no one’s friend and it should be minimised to the greatest extent possible. It is an impetus to mitigative action rather than a reason for complacency.
There are three key aspects of scientific uncertainty surrounding climate change projections that exacerbate rather than ameliorate the risks to our future.
First, uncertainty has an asymmetrical effect on many climatic quantities. For example, a quantity known as Earth system sensitivity, which tells us how much the planet warms for each doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, has been estimated to be between 1.5°C to 4.5ºC. However, it is highly unlikely, given the well-established understanding of how carbon dioxide absorbs long-wave radiation, that this value can be below 1ºC. There is a possibility, however, that sensitivity could be higher than 4.5ºC. For fundamental mathematical reasons, the uncertainty favours greater, rather than smaller, climate impacts than a simple range suggests.
Second, the uncertainty in our projections makes adaptation to climate change more expensive and challenging. Suppose we need to build flood defences for a coastal English town. If we could forecast a 1m sea level rise by 2100 without any uncertainty, the town could confidently build flood barriers 1m higher than they are today. However, although sea levels are most likely to rise by about 1m, we’re really looking at a range between 0.3m and 1.7m. Therefore, flood defences must be at least 1.7m higher than today – 70cm higher than they could be in the absence of uncertainty. And as uncertainty increases, so does the required height of flood defences for non-negotiable mathematical reasons.
And the problem doesn’t end there, as there is further uncertainty in forecasts of rainfall occurrence, intensity and storm surges. This could ultimately mandate a 2 to 3m-high flood defence to stay on the safe side, even if the most likely prediction is for only a 1m sea-level rise. Even then, as most uncertainty ranges are for 95% confidence, there is a 5% chance that those walls would still be too low. Maybe a town is willing to accept a 5% chance of a breach, but a nuclear power station cannot to take such risks.
Finally, some global warming consequences are associated with deep, so-called systemic uncertainty. For example, the combined impact on coral reefs of warmer oceans, more acidic waters and coastal run-off that becomes more silt-choked from more intense rainfalls is very difficult to predict. But we do know, from decades of study of complex systems, that those deep uncertainties may camouflage particularly grave risks. This is particularly concerning given that more than 2.6 billion people depend on the oceans as their primary source of protein.
Similarly, warming of Arctic permafrost could promote the growth of CO2-sequestering plants, the release of warming-accelerating methane, or both. Warm worlds with very high levels of carbon dioxide did exist in the very distant past and these earlier worlds provide some insight into the response of the Earth system; however, we are accelerating into this new world at a rate that is unprecedented in Earth history, creating additional layers of complexity and uncertainty.
Increasingly, arguments against climate mitigation are phrased as “I accept that humans are increasing CO2 levels and that this will cause some warming but climate is so complicated we cannot understand what the impacts of that warming will be.”
This argument is incorrect – uncertainty does not imply ignorance. Indeed, whatever we don’t know mandates caution. No parent would argue “I accept that if my child kicks lions, this will irritate them, but a range of factors will dictate how the lions respond; therefore I will not stop my child from kicking lions.”
The deeper the uncertainty, the more greenhouse gas emissions should be perceived as a wild and poorly understood gamble. By extension, the only unequivocal tool for minimising climate change uncertainty is to decrease our greenhouse gas emissions.
Richard Pancost receives funding from the NERC, the EU and the Leverhulme Trust.
Stephan Lewandowsky receives funding from the Australian Research Council, the World University Network, and the Royal Society.
|David Attenborough at the opening of the University of |
Bristol Life Sciences Building.
Image by Nick Smith/University of Bristol
Best SDA pic too RT @Fionabelbin: Best day ever. Sir David Attenborough opening our new building #BristolLifeSciences pic.twitter.com/qMtB3hdCC5
— Bristol Uni Library (@BristolUniLib) October 6, 2014
“There can be no more important area of knowledge for humanity at the moment than the life sciences. It has never been more important, ever, that human beings should understand the workings of the world”. Sir David Attenborough.The Life Sciences building is set up to do just that. The meeting areas and large research offices and laboratories mean that scientists are already communicating with colleagues with other research interests far more often than they did in the long corridors of the old Biological Sciences building. I think this will prove essential for developing a deeper understanding of how the world works, which should help us to solve some of the problems we face. Of course, undergraduate students are an important part of the University and as such their new teaching lab is amazing. It can hold 200 students, either as one large class or broken down into separate areas. Screens connected to cameras allow the demonstration of fiddly techniques or show what sort of result the students can expect to see from their experiments. Also, each group has a tablet computer in their work area to augment their learning. Almost makes me wish I were an undergraduate again, until I remember the exams!
Our 1st yr students were so excited that David Attenbrough came to say hello in their practical #BristolLifeSciences pic.twitter.com/YGxvjFJxI8As a plant scientist, I can’t talk about the new building without getting excited about the GroDome, the hi-tech glasshouse on the top of the Life Sciences building. It can recreate the perfect conditions for plants or experiments, with automated temperature controls and lighting to give researchers much more control. Each of the six chambers can be regulated separately, and negative pressure systems on the doors to each chamber prevent plant material or diseases from accidentally being spread to other parts of the building.
— Ed Drewitt (@eddrewitt) October 6, 2014
The GroDome can recreate tropical conditions as part of the pioneering #BristolLifeSciences plant research pic.twitter.com/0b1oAftP8ZWe were pleased to learn that the building has been rated Excellent in the BREEAM sustainable buildings assessment. Rainwater collected from the roof is used to flush the toilets, heat from the laboratory ventilation systems is reused and the building is air conditioned using chilled beams, with cold air passively sinking from the beam to cool the rooms below.
— Bristol University (@BristolUni) October 2, 2014
Have you seen the #BristolLifeSciences living wall? It’s home to 11 different species of plant, bat and bird boxes pic.twitter.com/yDYKJX7jrSOne of my favourite features of the building is the green wall. Eleven species of plants are included in the four storey high vertical garden, apparently arranged to depict a cell dividing when they flower. The green wall houses bird and bat boxes to promote biodiversity, while also providing an attractive front to the building from St. Michael’s Hill. As Sir David said, it’s important for us to engage with the public, and I think that a building that outwardly tells the world that we are keen to encourage biodiversity is a great starting point.
— Bristol University (@BristolUni) September 30, 2014
“It’s places like this which will spread the understanding to the community at large, the world at large, of how important it is for us to do something”. Sir David Attenborough.The new facilities of the Life Sciences building are world-class, so I believe we’ll be able to help to fulfill Sir David’s dream of using a deeper understanding of biology to solve the big problems we face today. The building promotes collaboration and public engagement, making it a fantastic place to work and conduct research. Check out the #BristolLifeSciences TagBoard for many more photos of the opening ceremony and the Life Sciences building.
#cakefriday in the sun! Thanks @emilyfbell for the delicious cake & cookies. #tweetingforgary #LifeScienceBuilding pic.twitter.com/f9TDrnto9s
— Anna Tiley (@tileyanna) October 3, 2014
|97% of climate scientists agree that humans are responsible|
for climate change. Image credit: Skeptical Science
is working to improve public understanding of |
the scientific consensus around global climate change.
Image credit: Skeptical Science
|Cabot Institute Director Professor Rich Pancost was a featured |
climate expert in the 97 Hours of Consensus project.
Image credit: Skeptical Science
Brief compared UK participants’ opinions on what |
causes climate change. Image credit: Carbon Brief