Cabot Institute Blog

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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

People, planet and profit - connecting local to global

In attending the Cabot Institute Annual lecture with Professor Peter Head CBE presenting on some of the big ecological issues – and novel solutions – facing the world, it struck me that ‘big data’ and its innovative applications being put forward during the lecture provided a clear example of an older adage much loved by the green movement “think global, act local”. This is particularly important to Bristol as the city closes-in on 2015 – its year in the limelight as European Green Capital.

Moving the situation on

Although we of course had to endure the oft-used explanation about the dire situation we humans have got ourselves into – with good reason, now that there is over 90% scientific certainty in accepting that human-made CO2 emissions are causal in climate change – there was a concise set of information on how we might do something positive to self-help our way to a better future.

The valid point was made during the lecture that we are living at the most exciting and critical time in our history, in that we now know the problems we face and we actually already have the tools to do something about them, but that we aren’t connecting the problems with the solutions yet.

Connecting Communities

Professor Head sounded the clarion call to begin to use the many sources of data out there to start to enable communities to plan their own future scenarios. Sounds woolly and technocratic? Well, maybe, but I have always expressed a viewpoint that technological approaches alone cannot ‘dig ourselves out of the hole’, and that we need a social science and societal (read: community) input to these problems to begin to make the positive changes we all now clearly need to see to our dominant paradigm.

This is in fact what was being proposed in a refreshing way. Out there, in our every day lives and all around us are millions of sources of data – from pollution sensors to cameras, mobile phones to heart rate monitors, sat-nav systems to weather sensors, seismic monitors to traffic management or motion sensors – generically known as the internet of things. There are forecast to be over 30 billion internet connected devices by 2020.

There is a huge amount of data that is useful but kept separate for no good reason, and the idea postulated by Professor Head was that this can and should be integrated to allow a whole view of our local and global environments.

An example is shown in the image below, which is a city region expressed in a 3D map showing energy, water, transport infrastructures, population density, land use and land quality, geology.
To this can be added limitless other sources and layers of data. This “map” can then be used by the local community to show what effects would be experienced by making a change to the physical environment.

For example, if a city centre motorway were to be replaced by a series of tram lanes, cycle and pedestrian ways and a canal (as was done in Seoul, South Korea), what effects would this have on the local and regional economy, on travel times, health, pollution, community cohesion, education etc.

Image from Resilience.io

Solar PV is a game changer

It is hard to do justice on paper the depth of possibilities as communicated by Professor Head but I can draw it down to my own community and my own area of business.

Solar PV has apparently the highest level of public acceptance of any renewable energy source, and the sort of visioning exercise outlined would be hugely useful to planning how much deployment could or should be undertaken in any given local community and in what way. Should it be solar farms where biodiversity can be seen to increase, or building-integrated power that melts into its environment, and would the community like to own that energy source themselves, or simply have access to the outputs – there’s a whole series of interactions that this kind of mapping would enable to permit community energy and perhaps even larger ambitions such as the West of England Solar City Region to take flight rather than trundling along at ground level.

More information can be found at the following sites:

www.resilience.io
www.icesfoundation.org
www.ecosequestrust.org

This blog has been reproduced by kind permission of Kerry Burns, Your Power UK.
Read the original post on the Your Power UK website.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Environmental comms: The power of emotion, non-stories and…Air Wick?

Communicating is what I do in my job, I’m the Cabot Institute Coordinator and I have a responsibility for looking after the website, blog and Twitter account, creating the weekly newsletter and running the Cabot Press Gang – a group of postgraduates at the University of Bristol who are keen to improve their communication skills in the context of environmental research by blogging and writing press releases.

A week ago I had the pleasure in attending Communicate, an environmental communications conference run by Bristol Natural History Consortium.  I always look forward to attending Communicate and this year has to be one of the best years yet proven by the emotive tears, the curious addition to the goody bags and some excellent talks by some of the best environmental communicators in the UK.

The non-story of climate change


George Marshall.  Image credit Rutgers
One of the first speakers to take to the stage at Communicate was George Marshall, a fantastic speaker and co-founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN).   George said that we need data, graphs, numbers and logic to help demonstrate our social values, metaphors, experiences and stories.  Stories are socially conveyed and climate change is conveyed by members of the public from narratives that they have heard.
  
However there is the idea of a non-story, stories we haven’t perceived to be stories, but they exist in their own right.  Climate change is full of non-stories as it is a subject that is outside the boundaries of what is appropriate to talk about.  If you mention climate change to Joe Bloggs on the street, how long does that conversation last for?  Probably not that long.  George pointed out examples like people who have children are less likely to talk about climate change and young women are less likely to talk about it than young men.  

George asked how we challenge the non-story or ‘the silence’?  Unfortunately climate change narratives compete with each other. Climate change is the perfect problem as it is distant in time and place, uncertain, costly and unprecedented.   

One of the things that stood out for me in George’s talk was when he asked if the perfect problem is a generated narrative? When looking at a list of who or what will be harmed by global warming, people always put themselves at the bottom of the list and put future generations and plants and animals at the top.  George said that climate change is cognitively and emotionally challenging so we generate and share narratives that enable us to reject it, ignore it or shape the issue in our own image.

Image from Collateral Damage
George also pointed out that the most compelling stories contain enemies with intention to cause harm.  For example, if you put North Korea as the sole causers of climate change we would look at this issue very differently.  The story of climate change is in search of an enemy.  Environmental organisations are guilty of blaming ‘enemies’ such as oil companies and Rupert Murdoch for climate change.  But climate change doesn’t have an enemy, we’re not deliberately setting out to destroy the planet, we just want to ensure we can live and our families can survive.

George asked if we could write a new narrative and stated that we need stories about empathy and cooperation, positive visions, reinforcing shared values, identity and most importantly love.  Doing something for the love of it is a valuable lesson in environmental comms.  We may not love the same thing but we have a shared value of loving. So we should probably target audiences based on the things they love and care about most.

Emotive tears – when communicating gets personal


After hearing George’s talk about the importance of love and empathy and personalising an environmental message in communications, I was reminded again of this importance during a very special talk by Steve Micklewright of Birdlife Malta and the very brave Ruth Peacey, who has worked on a variety of nature programmes for the BBC but had travelled to Malta to film a campaign against spring bird hunting.

During their talk titled the ‘Massacre of Migration’ they showed several films, featuring Chris Packham, of the devastating effects of hunters on Malta who shoot down migrating birds.  The films were heartbreaking and those involved with the films were brave when up against some very threatening behaviour. One film featuring Chris Packham crying because he was so distressed at the awfulness of the situation he had found himself to be in, was so emotive that the whole conference room started welling up.  Even the chair of the conference shed a tear as he too was touched by this emotively communicated message.  


We all felt something in that room, because we all love nature and the environment.  We were all touched by Chris Packham’s tears because he was communicating about something he loved.   Ruth summed up the talk by saying that there is always an excuse not to do something and sometimes you have to be brave and take a risk when communicating.  She also pointed out that there are lots of media channels out there to get your message across including TV and online and not to limit yourself to the big four (BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4).  What I learnt was to communicate with heart and soul and I hope we can start to embed some of this into some of Cabot’s communications outputs during 2015 when we celebrate Bristol as European Green Capital.

The curious incident of the Air Wick freebie


The Air Wick in my goody bag...
One last thing that really stood out at the conference was a peculiar freebie in my goody bag.  An Air Wick.  I was perplexed.  I looked at this and my first impressions were ‘well that’s not very environmentally friendly is it!’.  What was this plastic container of chemicals doing in my bag?  It was a good icebreaker at the tables, we all came up with theories ranging from ‘maybe we smell’ to ‘it must have something to do with National Parks’.  That last comment was as close to the truth as we could have got.  Kathryn Cook of National Parks UK took to the stage and told us it was their Air Wick product.  So how and why does a nature based organisation team up with a big brand?

Kathryn explained that collaborating with brands can help raise money to do the things that will help the environment.  Engaging with brands who are already affiliated with what you do only lets you target your usual audience.  However, engaging with new brands helps you to reach new audiences who don't engage with you normally.  Kathryn found it challenging to convince her Board to link with a brand and that it was also difficult to manage expectations; adopt a truly collaborative working process; and keep up with the pace of working with a commercial company.

By working with Air Wick, the National Parks UK have had an income valued at £100,000 and outreach has been three quarters of UK adults who would have seen the TV ad campaign amongst other communications outlets.  Since working with Air Wick, numerous organisations have approached them to collaborate including Halfords, Biffa, Esso, BP, Cotswolds and Disney but whichever organisations they choose to work with must convince them that they meet up with their ethics and be as sustainable as possible. 

Kathryn finished by saying that environmental communicators won’t speak to new audiences through fluffy nice organisations because they don't communicate to other larger audiences.  Kathryn felt that you need to engage with the more corporately inclined companies to reach those new audiences who won't usually engage with you.  

Although I wasn’t sure how I felt about National Park’s affiliation with a chemical group, I was impressed by their bravery and tenacity to do something a little bit different to save themselves and the natural beauty of the UK.

One quote stuck in my mind during that conference.  Environmental comms guru Ed Gillespie said that if we're not p*ssing anyone off then we're not changing anything.  

Too true.

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This blog was written by Amanda Woodman-Hardy, Cabot Institute Coordinator, University of Bristol.  Follow @Enviro_Mand

Further reading

You can read more about George’s thoughts in his recent book Why are our brains hard-wired to ignore climate change.

Watch all of the Malta Massacre on Migration videos by Ruth Peacey and Chris Packham




Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The conference “crashers”: What are a geophysicist, a climate modeller, and a geochemist doing at a Social Sciences conference?

On 5th November 2014 the South West Doctoral Training Centre organised their third annual conference for postgraduate students at the University of Bath. Students and staff from the Universities of Bath, Bristol and Exeter filled the conference venue with a vibrant atmosphere throughout the day, giving great insight on different methods of collaboration. The theme of the conference was in fact “Integrating Perspectives”.

Alice, Jan Peter and Dirk
The three of us – Jan Peter, Dirk, and Alice – are three PhD students part of an EU-funded Marie Curie Training Network (MEDGATE) and within our project collaboration is key. Dirk, normally based at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, is currently visiting us in Bristol to make this collaboration even more active. Even if we are not exactly social scientists, we thought that this conference would represent a great occasion to introduce the dynamics of our interaction to a broader audience. We presented a poster (“How did the sea get so salty?”) outlining the collaboration within the MEDGATE project, but we were also selected for an oral presentation. This was centred on the collaboration between the three of us and we performed it as a three-person act. Preparing and rehearsing it together was actually great fun! The presentation was then followed by a lively panel discussion and a very active Q&A session.

Even though our own climate-related disciplines may seem far away from the Social Sciences realm, we had great interactions with the other participants and this proved to be a very interesting day. We all definitely got something useful out of it!

A multidisciplinary approach


"The collaboration between us and other scientists consists of social interactions and we want these cooperations to be as rewarding as possible for both parties. A great aspect of this conference was the major focus given to the benefits that collaboration and dialogue can bring to research in every discipline. Professor Hugh Lauder (University of Bath) and Professor Stephan Lewandowsky (University of Bristol) also found the time to actively participate in the meeting and they gave two inspiring keynote speeches. The first keynote focused on the deveopment of graduate wages in the context of a high unemployment rate. This structural problem will continue to concern future generations unless an efficient solution can be found. The second keynote dealt with the perception of climate change in the general public. Despite the general consensus among scientists on the evidence that climate change is happening, how can this still be widely perceived to be a hoax in some parts of public life?" --- Jan Peter


Interaction and discussion


"The day set the scene well for interaction and discussion on three levels. (1) Each of the student presentations were actively put into perspective by the keynote speakers and the audience. (2) The poster display allowed time for more in depth discussion. (3) Personal experiences could be shared over coffee, lunch or evening drinks, but were, further, successfully enforced in the so called “fish bowl” discussions. During these, the participants sit around an inner circle, in which the discussion takes place. All members can drop in and out of that inner circle, depending on whether they want to contribute to the current discussion topic or not. This gave the opportunity for almost the whole audience to be involved, but in a very casual environment".  --- Dirk


Make it happen!


"Most people seemed intrigued by how the interaction between the three of us (and the rest of the project) happens and one of the main questions that was raised was “Do we need facilitators to make these collaborations happen and how do we find the time to make them work?”. These and other aspects were also tackled during some final Skills Workshops. Representatives of the Career and Graduate Development at the University of Bath reminded us of the importance of keeping an open mind during the PhD, be ready for whatever gets thrown at us, and find a way to turn that into what we want it to be. This was defined as “Planned happenstance”, which on our side involves five main steps: curiosity, persistence, flexibility, optimism, and risk taking".   --- Alice

A common language


The final panel discussion, including the keynote speakers and Professor Anne Barlow (University of Exeter), summarised the main themes of discussion that emerged throughout the day and gave rise to more interesting reflections from both the panellists and the audience. One key issue that immediately became clear to all of us is the need for a “common language”, which is fundamental to improve interdisciplinary cooperation. The MEDGATE project is specifically based on multidisciplinary collaboration, so we have been tackling this challenge from the very beginning. Throughout the duration of the project, skill-specific workshops were organised by the participants specialised in each of the different disciplines. This allowed us to train each other and therefore create a background understanding, in order to facilitate communication.

The importance of pushing these interdisciplinary boundaries is of key relevance in the context of collaboration between the social and natural sciences, which need each other to convey their respective messages to the society.

From the conference twitter feed:

So maybe we didn’t crash this conference after all?
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This blog is written by Alice Marzocchi (School of Geographical Sciences), Jan Peter Mayser (School of Chemistry), Cabot Institute, University of Bristol and Dirk Simon, visiting from Utrecht University.
Alice Marzocchi
Jan Peter Mayser
Dirk Simon

Report from a (slightly less-depressed) climate scientist on the All Parliamentary Climate Change Group meeting on “stranded assets"

Synthesis Report of the IPCC. Image credit IPCC
Lets face it, it’s fairly depressing being a climate scientist.  The Synthesis Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was adopted by the world governments last Sunday (2 November 2014). This report drew on the three individual reports published over the last year on the Science, Impacts and Mitigation of climate change, all of which I was proud to contribute to.  Yet apart from a few comments from the global great and good on the urgency of the situation and the need to move away from fossil fuels to avoid changes that will be dangerous for mankind and nature alike, it made relatively little headlines. I was wondering if it would really make any difference to anything that anyone does. I will still dread Daily Mail-reading cab drivers asking me what I do for a living, as it’s disheartening to try and explain the science to someone who has far more pressing and immediate concerns and would rather not think about, let alone believe, what we scientists repeatedly say, stronger, louder, and with far richer detail, but basically unchanged over the last 20 years.

So I was really encouraged, if not elated, after attending the All Parliamentary Climate Change Group meeting on “Stranded Assets: How can policy makers act to ensure economic stability while reducing emissions?”.  It wasn’t just that it was fun to be at the Houses of Parliament on the 5th November.  It seems that certain parts of the financial sector are taking climate risk extremely seriously and advising that investment in the fossil fuel industry (where 15 to 20% of UK pension investments are placed) is no longer the safe bet it used to be, that the risks are too high and that investors should better put their money into “clean” alternatives such as renewables.

What are ‘stranded assets’?

These are assets that succumb to unanticipated devaluation due to technology change, consumer change, regulatory change etc.    In other words, investments in large infrastructure fossil fuel projects could become devalued in the future due to factors such as increasing capital costs of fossil fuels (e.g. due to extraction, regulation, carbon pricing, costs of using carbon capture and storage technology), decreasing costs of competitive renewables, and increasing direct physical risks to the industry from climate impacts.  Thus investing in them is more risky than many investors take account of, as such risks do not currently have to be disclosed.  The Carbon Tracker Initiative have published reports on this, managing to take the science and talk in the language of the financial industry to present a convincing argument for why and how to reassess business models and investment portfolios.

One may easily argue that the Carbon Tracker Initiative was set up to solve the challenge of moving away from fossil fuels through actions within the capital market, so they are bound to say this. But it seems some very established Institutions feel the same.  Just a few weeks ago the Rockefeller Foundation, that initially built their fortune on the back of oil, announced that it was going to move away from investment in fossil fuels and switch to clean technology investment.  Last month at the World Bank, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England warned investors to avoid the “carbon bubble” of stranded fossil fuel assets, as many governments (e.g. Norway and Sweden), businesses and individual wealthy investors commit to divesting away from fossil fuels. The organisation 350.org, having successfully persuaded many companies in the USA to divest, is putting pressure on UK businesses. Edinburgh University has signed up...take note Bristol - is this something we should do?

As Tim Yeo, Chairman of the Energy and Climate Change committee put it, the science is accepted.  The fact that we have to keep within the trillion tonnes of CO2 emissions to avoid “dangerous” changes above 2 degrees seemed to be widely accepted among the various political and financial bodies represented at the meeting.  Cost is now the issue, and those countries (and businesses) that reduce early will have enormous economic benefit.  Is everyone else as convinced? Well sadly not everyone, but at least if enough investors start to move they can lead the governments, which is more of an encouraging prospect than holding out for global agreement and strong action from the governments in Paris next year.
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This blog is written by Dr Jo House, Cabot Institute, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol.  Jo is a Leverhulme Research Fellow looking at the role of the terrestrial biosphere in climate change and climate mitigation.
Jo House

Friday, 7 November 2014

Are you a poor logician? Logically, you might never know

By Stephan Lewandowsky, University of Bristol and Richard Pancost, University of Bristol

This is the second article in a series, How we make decisions, which explores our decision-making processes. How well do we consider all factors involved in a decision, and what helps and what holds us back?

It is an unfortunate paradox: if you’re bad at something, you probably also lack the skills to assess your own performance. And if you don’t know much about a topic, you’re unlikely to be aware of the scope of your own ignorance.

Type in any keyword into a scientific search engine and a staggering number of published articles appears. “Climate change” yields 238,000 hits; “tobacco lung cancer” returns 14,500; and even the largely unloved “Arion ater” has earned a respectable 245 publications.

Experts are keenly aware of the vastness of the knowledge landscape in their fields. Ask any scholar and they will likely acknowledge how little they know relative to what is knowable – a realisation that may date back to Confucius.

Here is the catch: to know how much more there is to know requires knowledge to begin with. If you start without knowledge, you also do not know what you are missing out on.

This paradox gives rise to a famous result in experimental psychology known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Named after Justin Kruger and David Dunning, it refers to a study they published in 1999. They showed that the more poorly people actually performed, the more they over-estimated their own performance.

People whose logical ability was in the bottom 12% (so that 88 out of 100 people performed better than they did) judged their own performance to be among the top third of the distribution. Conversely, the outstanding logicians who outperformed 86% of their peers judged themselves to be merely in the top quarter (roughly) of the distribution, thereby underestimating their performance.



John Cleese argues that this effect is responsible for not only Hollywood but the actions of some mainstream media.

Ignorance is associated with exaggerated confidence in one’s abilities, whereas experts are unduly tentative about their performance. This basic finding has been replicated numerous times in many different circumstances. There is very little doubt about its status as a fundamental aspect of human behaviour.

Confidence and credibility


Here is the next catch: in the eyes of others, what matters most to judge a person’s credibility is their confidence. Research into the credibility of expert witnesses has identified the expert’s projected confidence as the most important determinant in judged credibility. Nearly half of people’s judgements of credibility can be explained on the basis of how confident the expert appears — more than on the basis of any other variable.

Does this mean that the poorest-performing — and hence most over-confident — expert is believed more than the top performer whose displayed confidence may be a little more tentative? This rather discomforting possibility cannot be ruled out on the basis of existing data.

But even short of this extreme possibility, the data on confidence and expert credibility give rise to another concern. In contested arenas, such as climate change, the Dunning-Kruger effect and its flow-on consequences can distort public perceptions of the true scientific state of affairs.

To illustrate, there is an overwhelming scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions from our economic activities are altering the Earth’s climate. This consensus is expressed in more than 95% of the scientific literature and it is shared by a similar fraction — 97-98% – of publishing experts in the area. In the present context, it is relevant that research has found that the “relative climate expertise and scientific prominence” of the few dissenting researchers “are substantially below that of the convinced researchers”.

Guess who, then, would be expected to appear particularly confident when they are invited to expound their views on TV, owing to the media’s failure to recognise (false) balance as (actual) bias? Yes, it’s the contrarian blogger who is paired with a climate expert in “debating” climate science and who thinks that hot brick buildings contribute to global warming.

‘I’m not an expert, but…’


How should actual experts — those who publish in the peer-reviewed literature in their area of expertise — deal with the problems that arise from Dunning-Kruger, the media’s failure to recognise “balance” as bias, and the fact that the public uses projected confidence as a cue for credibility?



Speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner admitted earlier this year he wasn’t qualified to comment on climate change.

We suggest two steps based on research findings.
The first focuses on the fact of a pervasive scientific consensus on climate change. As one of us has shown, the public’s perception of that consensus is pivotal in determining their acceptance of the scientific facts.

When people recognise that scientists agree on the climate problem, they too accept the existence of the problem. It is for this reason that Ed Maibach and colleagues, from the Centre for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, have recently called on climate scientists to set the record straight and inform the public that there is a scientific consensus that human-caused climate change is happening.

One might object that “setting the record straight” constitutes advocacy. We do not agree; sharing knowledge is not advocacy and, by extension, neither is sharing the strong consensus behind that knowledge. In the case of climate change, it simply informs the public of a fact that is widely misrepresented in the media.

The public has a right to know that there is a scientific consensus on climate change. How the public uses that knowledge is up to them. The line to advocacy would be crossed only if scientists articulated specific policy recommendations on the basis of that consensus.

The second step to introducing accurate scientific knowledge into public debates and decision-making pertains precisely to the boundary between scientific advice and advocacy. This is a nuanced issue, but some empirical evidence in a natural-resource management context suggests that the public wants scientists to do more than just analyse data and leave policy decisions to others.

Instead, the public wants scientists to work closely with managers and others to integrate scientific results into management decisions. This opinion appears to be equally shared by all stakeholders, from scientists to managers and interest groups.

Advocacy or understanding?


In a recent article, we wrote that “the only unequivocal tool for minimising climate change uncertainty is to decrease our greenhouse gas emissions”. Does this constitute advocacy, as portrayed by some commenters?

It is not. Our statement is analogous to arguing that “the only unequivocal tool for minimising your risk of lung cancer is to quit smoking”. Both statements are true. Both identify a link between a scientific consensus and a personal or political action.

Neither statement, however, advocates any specific response. After all, a smoker may gladly accept the risk of lung cancer if the enjoyment of tobacco outweighs the spectre of premature death — but the smoker must make an informed decision based on the scientific consensus on tobacco.

Likewise, the global public may decide to continue with business as usual, gladly accepting the risk to their children and grandchildren – but they should do so in full knowledge of the risks that arise from the existing scientific consensus on climate change.

Some scientists do advocate for specific policies, especially if their careers have evolved beyond simply conducting science and if they have taken new or additional roles in policy or leadership.
Most of us, however, carefully limit our statements to scientific evidence. In those cases, it is vital that we challenge spurious accusations of advocacy, because such claims serve to marginalise the voices of experts.

Portraying the simple sharing of scientific knowledge with the public as an act of advocacy has the pernicious effect of silencing scientists or removing their expert opinion from public debate. The consequence is that scientific evidence is lost to the public and is lost to the democratic process.
But in one specific way we are advocates. We advocate that our leaders recognise and understand the evidence.

We believe that sober policy decisions on climate change cannot be made when politicians claim that they are not scientists while also erroneously claiming that there is no scientific consensus.
We advocate that our leaders are morally obligated to make and justify their decisions in light of the best available scientific, social and economic understanding.

Click on the links below for other articles in the series, How we make decisions:
The Conversation
Stephan Lewandowsky receives funding from the Royal Society, from the World University Network (WUN), and from the 'Great Western 4' (GW4) consortium of English universities.
Richard Pancost receives funding from RCUK, the EU and the Leverhulme Trust.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Energy supply: Experiences of traditional and environmentally conscious growth models

This September, I travelled to Tohoku University, Japan, to take part in the RENKEI summer school programme on the theme of Energy Supply within Traditional and Environmentally Conscious Growth Models. RENKEI is a Japan-UK collaboration and six universities from each country participate in pilot projects in three key areas: technology and knowledge exchange with industry, student mobility, and universities’ social engagement. Early career researchers, PhD students and taught postgraduates work together within a supported framework to develop critical skills in a dynamic environment.

In my role of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Coordinator, I was interested to see the teaching and learning applications of this theme in an interdisciplinary context. I am forever indebted to the University of Bristol for supporting this extraordinary opportunity (thanks to PVC Nick Lieven for funding provided and for accepting my application).

The international contingent visit the Toyota factory.
Image credit: Aisling Tierney
Fieldtrips were an essential component of the experience. At the Sendai municipal incinerator plant we learned how household waste provided energy for the city. I was surprised to hear that the household waste in Sendai is not segregated into recycling and non-recycling. When asked, the lead incinerator engineer commented that this situation was not ideal, but until recycling became widespread, incineration provided an energy benefit to the waste problem. The Miyagi Province Toyota Factory demonstrated how surplus heated water from the manufacturing process could be channelled into community-run glass houses to support local agricultural production. Factory workers were also encouraged to explore sustainable projects on the company’s grounds, for example, planting tree grooves that would serve as a relaxing space for future generations of workers. The implication was that the children of the factory workers would continue to work for Toyota and Toyota would continue to support the community.

The interior of one of the few buildings left
standing after the tsunami.
Image credit: Aisling Tierney
The last fieldtrip of the week was to tsunami-devastated regions to the north of Sendai. The ravaged coastline and high death-toll (estimated in the region of 16,000) three and a half years later was still in the process of recovery. Plant regrowth disguised much of the damage. Construction workers showed us models and videos of the reconstruction plans, including: moving rail lines; flattening hill tops; building sea barriers; and rehousing thousands of displaced families. A boat-ride along the coast showed how the fishing industry was slowly recovering, while the tourism industry, once flourishing, was now in shambles. Over 3,300 locals are still homeless, living in pre-fabricated buildings that are quickly disintegrating. While the press criticises the speed of rebuilding efforts, speaking to the construction team showed that every effort was being made but the scale of the work was a huge undertaking.

Talks and workshops engaged with the theme of energy supply, focusing on applying interdisciplinary knowledge to create "Sustainable City" solutions. Prof. Nakata of Tohoku University acted as our lead academic for the week.

Prof. Bahaj (Southampton) was the first of the week’s speakers. He explored contrasting ideas of refurbishment of cities vs green fields, the consumer society vs equity, and that city planners must consider the ecological footprint, not just carbon. A basic tenant he offered was “everything is driven by money”.  Prof. Nakata (Tohoku) wanted us to think about cities, towns, everything, not just government systems. He noted the importance of economics, resource constraints, environmental constraints, technological systems, and energy system components. The idea of community energy systems that are small scale and less dense in their demand was proposed, summarised as “Global + Local = Glocal”. He also highlighted how a low carbon society leads to sustainable and resilient business.

Mr. Suzuki (Fukushima Prefecture Government, business creation division) spoke on the importance of collaboration, including local company support, collaborative R&D, university support, and human public relations.  Mr. Tsuruoka (HOPE - Higashimatsushima Organisation for Progress & Economy, Education and Energy) startled the room with the shocking facts surrounding the tsunami disaster. Fishing was reduced to 60% of before, tourism was down to a third of pre-disaster, 65% of the city went underwater, resulting in a loss of life of 3% of the population. Simulations of potential tsunami damage were twenty times smaller than reality, meaning that there was a lack of preparation and proper evacuation when alarms were raised.

Discussions continued at break times.
Image credit: Aisling Tierney
Dr. Kunimitstu (NARO - National Agricultural & Food Research Organisation) introduced us to the Japanese concept of Hosaku Binbou, which is the impoverishment of farmers because of a bumper harvest. This relates to market equilibrium and the optimisation of producers. Prof. Shukuya (Tokyo City University) explained the low energy system design and its application to sustainable city design. Dr. Barret (United Nations University) discussed energy equity on a global scale. Prof. Kurokawa (Tokyo Institute of Technology) showed how 10 countries are using 50% of world's capacity for carbon and what this means for future sustainability planning. Shuichi Ashina (National Institute for Environmental Studies) discussed planning for future energy demands, adaptation models, and low carbon society scenarios.

The majority of students were from Engineering, with a handful from the Sciences, while I was the only collaborator from an Arts background (Archaeology). This difference was particularly noticeable during questions and discussions, and within the group work sessions. Many students commented on how the Arts approach to problem solving and systems thinking was quite different, but proved beneficial to broadening their perspective.

As I stated, my aim was to see what teaching and learning elements I could take from the experience, and one that stood out was how interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving could be developed much further. In the future, I hope that RENKEI will open itself more to contributions from the Arts and other subject areas to encourage broader views.
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This blog is written by Aisling Tierney, Education for Sustainable Development Coordinator, University of Bristol.
Aisling Tierney

Friday, 31 October 2014

Frontiers of Science: Stimulating conversations between scientists

It’s been a fantastic start to the UK-India Frontiers of Science meeting in Khandala, India. The Royal Society organises Frontiers of Science meetings to stimulate conversations between scientists of different disciplines, and between scientists from different countries.
Bringing together people who don’t normally talk to each other is key: you have no idea until to you talk to them that there are other scientists out there who, for example, have developed a method that does exactly what you want to do, but in a different context. Or, equally, would benefit from your analytical method or computational model.
It’s also just plain refreshing to hear about subjects that you don’t study, and how different people tackle problems.

Networks while networking, and motoring on the microscopic level!

Today, there were two sessions: one on statistical models and one on cellular motors. We heard about how to use networks to figure out flavour combinations in cookery (bring on Heston Blumenthal…), and how extraordinary molecules “walk” through cells, carrying cargo around that is essential for our bodies to function. And all the time, my mind was buzzing with ideas and inspiration.
We then had a policy session, based on the use of biotechnology in agriculture, which was a lively discussion with lots of excellent ideas about how we, as scientists, can contribute to the subject and (probably most importantly) to the communication of the relevant science to society.

Waves in water

Jal Tarang bowls
Jal Tarang bowls
All of this is going on in the magical surroundings of Khandala, in a hill top retreat just over an hour away from the bustle of Mumbai. After the excitement of the science, we had an opportunity to relax with some traditional Indian music, a form called Jal Tarang meaning “waves in water”, which consists of carefully tuned ceramic bowls of water (tuned according to the amount of water in each bowl), struck with drumsticks to produce a clear, ringing tone, accompanied by Indian drums such as the tabla.

And finally…

Other than having the opportunity to take part in such a wonderful meeting, my other piece of good news this week was that I received a Royal Society research grant to fund a new piece of laboratory equipment, which will mean I can measure a lot more samples than previously.
All-in-all, not a bad few days!
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This blog has been reproduced with kind permission by the Royal Society.  You can view the original blog on their website.
This blog is written by Cabot Institute member Kate Hendry, School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol.
Kate Hendry

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Fostering interdisciplinarity in sustainable development

On 15 October 2014, we had a fascinating talk from Prof. Wendy Gibson from the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences launching the University’s ‘Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction: Capacity Building in the face of Environmental Uncertainty’ network.

The Cabot Institute is supporting a number of ventures to foster an interdisciplinary network of academics across the University, whose work can be included under the broad 'development studies'/'international development' umbrella, due to its direct or indirect impact on sustainable development and poverty reduction in the Global South.

Uniquely, at Bristol, this includes academics working in the social sciences, but also in Physical Geography, Earth Sciences, Public Health, Engineering, Biological and Veterinary Sciences, to name but a few.  This 'International Development Discussion Forum' will have a regular monthly slot and it is therefore hoped that participants will come regularly, not because they may be specialists in the topic of that month's presentation, but in order to hear the kinds of questions that parasitologists, or engineers, or lawyers, for example, raise for development research; questions that they can, in turn, contribute to from their own discipline.

Coping with parasitic diseases in Africa


Trypanosomes in human blood.
Credit: University of Bristol
The topic of Wendy's talk was the extensive research she has undertaken as a parasitologist on the tsetse fly as a vector for trypanosomes, parasites which cause African sleeping sickness, or HAT - Human African Trypanosomiasis.  In light of the global media coverage of the Ebola outbreak, Wendy's measured reminder about the ongoing impact of a lower profile disease such as HAT, on people and animals in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, was sobering.  Not only does the disease have a devastating impact on affected communities, but diagnosis and the treatment of the disease are extremely unpleasant and involve protracted intervention.  In situations in which people are coping with a range of daily hardships that impact upon their livelihoods, including drought, poor forage and a range of different diseases affecting human and animal populations, disease-focused approaches often fail to recognise this reality.

Interdisciplinary challenges in rural healthcare


After the talk, participants were asked to focus on three specific challenges identified by Wendy:

  1. How to maintain momentum in control programs as we move towards disease eradication.
  2. How to prioritise disease risks with a finite health budget.
  3. How to get different government departments to co-operate on shared goals.

Given that the subject clearly raised so many issues relating to the challenges of public health care in sub-Saharan Africa – including issues relating to rural (as opposed to urban) poverty, governance and the state, aid and non-governmental organisations – discussions were wide-ranging.  Rather than proffering standard academic critique of the material presented, participants were asked to focus on what they, positioned as they are within their own discipline, could bring to the table.  Consequently, it was fascinating how different tables touched upon similar issues but nevertheless raised specific insights depending on the differing make-up of the tables and the expertise included on them.

Specific challenges identified included:

  •  ongoing problems with top-down interventions, 
  • the forging of rural (and regional) networks, 
  • the difficulties in specifying the costs of such a disease, 
  • raising the profile of a such a low-profile disease when its symptoms may take some years to become manifest, and 
  • the difficulties of co-ordinating NGOs, aid, and governments in relation to healthcare priorities, particularly when healthcare demands are seen to ‘compete’ with each other.  
And discussions continued into the networking drinks as participants identified a number of practical and funding obstacles in undertaking the kind of real interdisciplinary research that could be of such value in responding to some of the challenges relating to a disease such as African sleeping sickness.

Quotes from participants


"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." 
Dr. Eric Morgan, Veterinary Parasitology and Ecology

"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

Future discussion


On 11 November 2014, the Cabot Institute will be supporting the next discussion forum in this series in which Prof. Thorsten Wagener will be giving a talk on his ongoing work in the field of sustainable water management.  His research focuses on a systems approach, which he argues is needed to adequately understand this dynamic physical and socio-economic system with the goal to provide water security for people and nature.

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This blog has been written by Dr Elizabeth Fortin, Cabot Institute, University of Bristol Law School.
Dr Elizabeth Fortin

Kyoto and Bristol: Working together on plant science

Last month Bristol’s plant scientists were pleased to welcome visiting researchers from Kyoto University, one of Japan’s leading universities.

The two universities have a strong partnership, which led to large cross-disciplinary symposia in 2013 and 2014. As Dr. Antony Dodd explains, the popularity of the 2014 plant science session led to the emergence of the latest workshop: “The second symposium included a large plant science session that attracted around 50 scientists. Following this, it was decided to expand upon this success and hold a focused three-day plant sciences workshop in the University of Bristol’s new Life Sciences Building”. Bristol’s Dr. Dodd and Professor Simon Hiscock and Kyoto’s Professors Minoru Tamura and Hiroshi Kudoh organised the event, which took place on 23-25 September 2014.

From left, organisers Minoru Tamura, Antony Dodd, Simon Hiscock
and Hiroshi Kudoh

Academics, post-docs and (I was pleased to see) several PhD students from Kyoto’s Department of Botany and Center for Ecological Research made the long trip to Bristol. During the talks and poster presentations given by researchers from both Kyoto and Bristol, I was amazed by how similar our research interests were, for example in the areas of circadian rhythms (nature’s body clock), plant shade avoidance and the environmental regulation of the growing plant.
Botanic garden partnership

Plant science at both universities is enhanced by their botanic gardens. During the workshop, visitors from Kyoto had the opportunity for a guided tour of Bristol’s Botanic Garden by its director, Professor Hiscock. Many of us think of the Botanic Garden as somewhere pleasant to spend an afternoon, but it is an important resource for researchers at Bristol and further afield and as Dr. Dodd explains, “Both Kyoto and Bristol have long-standing interests in plant evolution and taxonomy”. At the end of the visit, Professors Hiscock and Tamura, the Director of the Kyoto Botanic Garden, signed a formal partnership between the two botanic gardens. Dr. Dodd expands on the importance of this agreement: “The new partnership between our two Botanic Gardens is very exciting because it will allow us to share good ideas and good practice in curation, cultivation, science and education”.
Professors Tamura and Hiscock sign the botanic
gardens partnership. Image credit: Botanic Gardens

Benefiting from international collaboration


The main aim of the workshop was to form collaborations between Kyoto and Bristol scientists. “The portfolio of techniques, ideas and approaches to academic research varies considerably between countries. International collaboration forms a brilliant way to accomplish science that would not otherwise be possible, by providing access to new techniques, facilities, and ideas”, says Dr. Dodd. The end of the meeting gave researchers a chance to meet with others with similar interests and discuss new ways to work together. Dr. Dodd and Professor Kudoh also announced that they had just won a funding grant to investigate circadian rhythms in the field in Kyoto, which sounded like a fascinating project. One of the aims of the project is a short-term graduate exchange programme, which will give the students a unique chance to learn new techniques and experience international research, forming new collaborations of their own.


I really enjoyed the workshop. It was fantastic to hear about the research underway in Kyoto University and to discuss my own work with people in related fields. It was also interesting to hear about the similarities and differences in academia half the world away. Thanks to the organisers, and I look forward to hearing about the international collaborations that come out of this event soon!
Image credit: Botanic Garden
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This blog is written by Sarah JoseCabot Institute, Biological Sciences, University of Bristol

Sarah Jose

Guest blog: Let’s reach the Size of England

The Size of England is an amazing new charity working to raise £13 million to safeguard 13 million hectares of rainforest, which is the size of England, and coincidentally the area of rainforest that is cut down every year globally.

To us, safeguarding is not about owning land - it’s about encouraging those who need the land to use it sustainably and to empower local people and indigenous communities. It’s about establishing local rights to the land and providing alternatives for fuel and initiating tree planting programs to restore habitats.

We know that Size of England can be successful. Last year, the Size of Wales team reached their target of raising £2 million to safeguard 2 million hectares of rainforest. But as you know, we want to raise the game. However in order to do this we need help.

At the moment we are raising money for a start-up fund via a crowdfunding webpage. This is so we can register as a charity and start doing amazing things for the rainforest and the local community. We already have support from brilliant organisations such as Cool Earth, the Prince's Rainforest Project, WWF and the Crees Foundation, but we can never have enough! We hope, through communication that we can raise the sum whilst also spreading the word of what we want to do, and getting people to 'like', 'follow' and 'friend' the project as it develops.

There are currently three of us, all volunteers with big ideas and ambitions. What we’re asking is can you help the Size of England campaign in other ways? Are you a great fundraiser? Could you improve our website? Have you got legal experience? We'd love to crowd-source skills as well as cash.

Check out our Facebook and Twitter pages. Also take a look at our crowdfunding site if you fancy and pass it on to anyone else who may find it interesting!

Feel free to message me if you have any questions or email me at olivia@sizeofengland.org.uk
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This guest blog is written by Olivia Reddy of Size of England.
Olivia Reddy

Friday, 17 October 2014

Bristol 2015 - European Green Capital from an academic perspective

Two weeks ago marked the start of a 100 day countdown until Bristol becomes the European Green Capital 2015.  Associated with that, the University of Bristol announced its support for the city, describing how it would contribute to the Green Capital events, build on its existing foundation of green activity and make a step change in our partnership with Bristol.  These contributions span the entirety of the University, from its educational and research missions to its role as one of the largest businesses and employers in the city – and both of the University’s Research Institutes will be major participants.

As such, I wanted to offer the Cabot Institute’s perspectives on the Green Capital and the wider University’s engagement with it.  And how you can become more involved.

We have been involved in Bristol Green Capital from the very beginning, dating back to Philippa Bayley’s (Cabot Institute Manager) role in the Bristol Green Capital Partnership, first in helping with the bid and then serving as co-Director.  Amanda Woodman-Hardy (Cabot Institute Coordinator) serves on the Partnership’s Communications Action Group, Mike Harris (Cabot Institute Knowledge Exchange Manager) serves on the Industry Action Group, and Cabot academics populate many of the other Action Groups: Kath Baldock (Biological Sciences) on Nature, Wildlife and Green Spaces, Jonty Rougier (Mathematics) on Research and Evaluation, Chris Preist (Computer Science) and Caroline Bird (Law) on Energy, Trevor Thompson (Social and Community Medicine) on Health and Wellbeing and Sue Porter (Policy Studies) on Inclusion and Communities*.

We are deeply involved in this exciting event!  And we are committed to making it a success.  We have already committed over 5000 hours of service to the Bristol Green Capital effort and plan to increase that significantly over the coming months.  We want to work, learn and innovate with people from every part of this fantastic city. And we want 2015 to only be the next step in a growing partnership.

University of Bristol, credit UoB
One of our main commitments must be and will be educational.  Nearly 20,000 students attend this University and they go on to important careers all over the globe. The University has signed up to the UNESCO Global Action Programme commitment, in advance of the launch of the next UNESCO strategy for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), and I applaud Chris Willmore’s and Judith Squires’ vision and drive to secure this commitment.   This education is already underway in many areas, including student engagement projects such as the University of Bristol’s Students’ Union Get Green, which has so far inspired over 800 students to take part in environmental projects.  And even though we are a Research Institute, we will use this framework to expand our engagement with the undergraduate experience over the coming years.  We have put on several events aimed at our student population but we want to do more; in particular, I hope that we can work with aspiring student leaders to make a difference both in Bristol but also across the country and the world, during their studies and throughout their lives.

A particular commitment from the Cabot Institute is to work with the Centre for Public Engagement and the wider University to host or co-host a wide range of events during 2015.  From Julia Slingo’s Cabot Fellowship acceptance talk in February to a major lecture during alumni weekend to a workshop and public debate on the Uncertain World, we will continue to invite inspiring intellectuals from across the globe and engage with local innovators.  But we will also use the numerous opportunities and the thriving creative energy in Bristol to showcase our own academics.

We have been approached by artists (such as the amazing team behind In Between Time), private organisations, businesses and clubs asking for academic perspectives on our changing world, our changing cities and thriving in them.  We are also looking forward to working with the Bristol Festival of Ideas which is taking the lead in organising much of the formal 2015 schedule, including a series of debates focussed on Youth, Business, Faith and Future Leaders. I hope that many of you will be keen to engage with these opportunities – opportunities to share what we have learned but also to initiate new collaborations.  Please contact us if you are interested in partnering or if you have your own ideas!

Finally, it is on this deeper level of collaboration that 2015 has the potential to make a real difference to the city and this University. The Green Capital Year must transcend the lectures, exhibits, debates and other events and serve as a launching point for innovative ideas and new models of working together. The sustainable and smart transformation of the World’s cities is essential to addressing many if not all of the environmental, food, energy and water security challenges we face. Much of the 2015 activity will reflect on the climate change negotiations culminating in Paris at the end of the year; this is also our chance to show that regardless of the outcomes of those negotiations, innovative cities and educational institutions can and will take the lead in transforming our world.

In 2015, the Cabot Institute and its Future Cities initiative will launch a new framework that will allow research to be conducted in partnership with groups from across the city and the world.  This will promote innovations in education, sustainability, creative technology and low carbon energy. Moreover, it will put many of our best students at the heart of the City-University relationship. Cabot and the Centre for Public Engagement are connecting community organisations to academics in order to craft novel masters and final-year undergraduate research projects. This is just one exciting way in which we can work together – our researchers, our students and our city partners – to co-produce new knowledge.

On a final note, I am particularly proud, as an employee of the University, that we have made our own pledges.  Our commitment cannot solely be research and education; we are too large a part of the city, too embedded into its fabric and infrastructure.  The University has already received national recognition for its sustainability work with a Green Gown Award in 2013 for Continual Improvement: Institutional Change and a Times Higher Award for Education for Sustainable Development. But these new pledges will take us further.  They include aiming to become a net carbon neutral campus by 2030; decreasing the University’s transport footprint; and ensuring that every single one of our students has the opportunity to undertake education for sustainable development.  Some of these will be hard to achieve. Others are only a start.  But our commitment is genuine.

Prof Guy Orpen, Deputy Vice Chancellor
at the University of Bristol.
As Professor Guy Orpen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol said in our press release:
“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.

*In addition to those mentioned above, many Cabot academics and partners of the Cabot Institute have played major roles in winning the Green Capital Award and shaping the current programme. For example, Karen Bell of SPS helped shape the the Inclusion and Communities Action Group.
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This blog is by Prof Rich Pancost, Director of the Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol.

Prof Rich Pancost

Michael E Mann: The climate wars

Michael E Mann at the Cabot Institute, 23 September 2014.
Image credit: Amanda Patterson.
As Professor Michael E Mann said at his Cabot Institute Lecture on Tuesday 23 September, you won’t find scientists at conferences or in peer-reviewed publications debating whether or not global warming is happening. Professor John Cook’s recent talk highlighted the scientific consensus; 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is mostly man made. Despite this, Mann’s talk focussed on his experiences in the centre of “the climate wars”.

Mann is well-known in climate science for producing the “hockey stick” graph, depicting the mean annual temperatures over the past 1000 years. The graph is pretty flat until 1900, followed by a very sharp increase in global temperatures to a peak in the late 1990s when the report was published. The recent IPCC findings suggest that if we carry on as we are, we’re looking at a ~4°C increase in global temperature, which could have devastating effects all over the world. As Mann said, that describes a very different planet to the one we know today.

We need to act now, but what Mann calls the “scientisation of politics” is holding back policymakers around the world. He has personally been the target of a few politicians and other groups hoping to discredit the science by casting doubt on his work. In the 2009 ‘Climategate’ scandal, over 1000 e-mails from the University of East Anglia climate scientists were hacked and published online, just before the important UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Words and specific quotes were taken out of context and spread through the media, which Mann believes was timed to distract delegates in Copenhagen from the major issue of mitigating global warming. In total, 17 climate scientists were caught up in Climategate, but several investigations found that their science was sound and none of the scientists had been fudging their data or misleading anyone about their findings.

Mann has been under attack for many years, which scares me as a scientist. Calls from politicians and other groups have led to him being investigated several times, however he has always been found innocent and his science is sound. Several scientific groups have criticised this intimidation tactic of climate researchers. I cannot imagine spending several years having my name dragged through the mud for no reason just to further someone else’s political agenda, but I am grateful to Professor Mann for standing up to the climate bullies and continuing to push the important findings of his work. The planet is warming and a big part of it is our fault. The sooner the public comes to a climate consensus, the sooner we can move forward, and if we want to keep the temperature increase to below 2°C, we’d better act now.

Please watch the recording of the lecture to learn more about the Climate Wars.

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This blog is written by Sarah JoseCabot Institute, Biological Sciences, University of Bristol

Sarah Jose