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Showing posts from February, 2014

The planet in our hands: Bristol talks climate change with Sir Mark Walport

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a round table discussion at At-Bristol with Sir Mark Walport, the UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser.  It was part of his tour of UK Science and Discovery Centres, during which he has been summarising our understanding of climate change science: The Planet in Our Hands – Responding to Climate Change.

The round table that preceded his talk was initiated and chaired by Dr Penny Fidler, CEO of the UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres.  It was an invigorating conversation about what Bristol is doing to transition to a greener, more resilient and sustainable economy.   I have lived in Bristol for thirteen years but my research leans toward the global and it is easy to lose sight of the bold initiatives and grass roots campaigning occurring in our city.  We live in a city that thrives on a cocktail of technological innovation, thriving digital and creative industries, artistic multiculturalism and political radicalism…

The fraud factor: Why a changing environment might mean more food scandals in the future

Horse meat in burgers, melamine in milk and shark labelled as swordfish…as our urban lifestyle brings us further from our food sources, there are more opportunities for dishonesty along each link of the food production chain. Whether it’s a matter of making a good quality oil stretch a little further by adding cheaper oil or labeling something falsely to appeal to current consumer trends – it’s all fraud and it costs the global food industry an estimated US$10-15 billion each year [1].

While there is evidence that the incidences of food fraud are on the rise [2], consumers have been swindled by food producers since…well, since there have been food producers. Indeed food fraud in the 18th and early 19th century was so widespread and involved such toxic substances that it’s surprising that the citizens of industrialised nations managed to survive to their next meal [3]. Pickles were turned an alluring bright blue-green through the use of copper sulfate, children’s sweets were colored wit…

Enabling the future we want: A manifesto on Education for Sustainable Development in the UK

What is the future we want, and what role does education have to play in its development?  
The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC) has gone some way toward answering these questions by way of a Manifesto for dialogue, collaboration and action Post Rio+20.  Following its UK-wide consultation held between November 2012 and May 2013, the EAUC has released a Manifesto in response to the Rio+20 outcome document, ‘The Future We Want’.  The Manifesto serves as a call to action across the UK, seeking cross-sectoral collaboration for the strengthening of education within sustainable development.
The Manifesto suggests seven mechanisms for government and civil society by which they can strengthen UK delivery of educational commitments towards The Future We Want.  These are proposed within four areas:  governmental responsibilities, formal learning, informal learning, and emphasising the connection between ESD and the economy. Most focus on improved dialogue, collabor…

Climate lessons from the past: Are we already committed to a warmer and wetter planet?

Last September, the Cabot Institute and the University of Bristol hosted the 2nd International Workshop on Pliocene Climate.   Following on from that, we have just  released a short video describing what the Pliocene is and its relevance for understanding climate change.



The Pliocene is a geological time interval that occurred from 5.3 to 2.6 million years ago.  This interval of Earth history is interesting for many reasons, but one of the most profound is that the Earth’s atmosphere apparently contained elevated concentrations of carbon dioxide – in fact, our best estimates suggest concentrations were about 300 to 400  ppm, which is much higher than concentrations of 100 years ago but lower than those of today after a century of intensive fossil fuel combustion.

Consequently, the Pliocene could provide valuable insight into the type of planet we are creating via global warming.  Our video release happens to coincide with pronounced flooding across the UK and focussed attention on our…

AGU 2013: The importance of 400 ppm CO2

On 1 June 2012, a concentration of 400 ppm carbon dioxide was measured in air samples in the Arctic.  On 9 May 2013, Mauna Loa, the longest recording station, measured a daily average of 400 ppm carbon dioxide. Next year we may see the global average concentration reach 400 ppm and the year after that 400 ppm could be measured at the South Pole. The 400 ppm number is arbitrary, but it is a symbol of the anthropogenic climate change that scientists have been talking about for many years.

Here at the University of Bristol, the upcoming 400 ppm epoch prompted the question of what do we know about 400 ppm CO2 climates and how  could it be used to galvanize action on climate change?  But 400 ppm and climate change is a bigger issue than one University can take on, so we took our idea to the American Geosciences Union Fall conference.  With more than 24,000 attendees each year, AGU is the perfect place to talk about what 400 ppm CO2 means in a scientific sense and what we as scientists sho…

How the UK government is tackling climate change – a good plan or on course for disaster?

Steve Smith, a researcher working for the government’s independent advisors, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), came to visit the Cabot Institute on 7 February 2014.  His talk was about whether the UK is on course for tackling climate change, or rather, the UK is on course for meeting its 2050 target of 80% reduction in carbon emissions.  It was a real eye opener.  Here I summarise the talk and the main points made by Steve.  All figures taken from Steve’s talk.
Background
The CCC consists of several high profile board members, including Lord Deben, Sir Brian Hoskins, and Lord Krebs amongst others.  As a group, their role on the mitigation side is to independently advise the government on UK emission targets.  The UK is legally bound to meet the 2050 target of 80% reduction of CO2 emissions below 1990 levels.  Being legally bound to this commitment means the government has to meet this target.  Steve wasn’t quite sure what the implications would be if the UK government broke the law…