Cabot Institute Blog

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Friday, 19 December 2014

Two weeks in the ‘Avenue of Volcanoes’

Tungurugua  volcanic eruption on 1 February 2014.
Image by Cedancp 
Workshops, conferences, field work – national and international travel is an essential part of many PhD programs. I’ve been lucky enough to see numerous new parts of the globe during my studies, and, less luckily, numerous different airport layovers (I’m currently writing this post from a corridor between terminals at Washington airport…!).

I’m on my way back to Bristol from a workshop in Ecuador on volcanic unrest, which culminated with an eruption simulation exercise. As my PhD is focused on unravelling the science behind volcanic unrest, these trips (this is the second of three with this specific aim) form a main focus for the real-world application of my research.

This workshop was split into 3 different parts. The first was a series of lectures on how volcanologists, social scientists, emergency managers, civil protection officials, and the general public interact during volcanic crises. Each specialist contributed their individual expertise, in my case as a volcanologist interpreting the signals that the volcano gives off, but the main message was that communication at all times between all parties must be especially clear. As with almost all lectures though, this part of the workshop obviously wasn’t the most exciting – especially with the inevitable jet-lagged tiredness kicking in for the first few days.

The second part of the workshop took us out into the field to explore two of Ecuador’s most famous volcanoes: Cotopaxi and Tungurahua. This was my favourite part! These are two quite epic volcanoes with the classical conical shape you imagine when you think of a volcano. By examining them in situ we learnt about the hazards they pose today to many nearby towns and cities. This really helps to put my research into perspective, as I know that by contributing to a better understanding of how volcanoes work I am helping to protect the people whose livelihood’s depend on the benefits the volcano brings them (for example, the more fertile soil).

Cotopaxi volcano, summit 5897 m ASL
The final part of the workshop took us to the Ecuadorian national centre for crisis management in Quito (cue vigilant security checks!). Here we conducted the volcanic unrest and eruption simulation. This is similar in some ways to a fire drill but a whole lot more complicated. Simulated monitoring ‘data’ from the volcano is fed to a team of volcanologists who have to quickly interpret what the data means and feed that information in a clear, coherent and understandable way to emergency managers, politicians and civil authorities. Upon the advice of the volcanologists, the decision makers can then choose how best to respond and mitigate a potential impending crisis. As this was just an exercise, different stages in the unrest crisis were dealt with all in one very busy day, with ‘data’ from the volcano arriving every couple of hours but representing several weeks or months in simulated time.

The final ‘update’ from the volcano: BIG eruption! I think we all could have predicted that – everyone likes a grand finale.

Despite the Hollywood firework finish, these exercises are crucial to prepare those individuals who will actually be in positions of responsibility when a true volcanic crisis develops. By playing out the different stages in as close to real-life as possible, strengths and weaknesses were highlighted that will allow for improvements to be made in the future. Improvements that may just save extra lives or livelihoods, and foster improved relationships between the public and the scientists trying to help them.

As one of those scientists, I was just happy enough to be able to take part.
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Cabot Institute member James Hickey is a final year PhD student in the School of Earth Sciences. His research is focused on unravelling the mechanisms that cause volcanoes to become restless prior to eruptions. Ultimately, the aim is to improve our understanding of precursory signals to enhance forecasting and mitigation efforts.
James Hickey

This blog has been republished with kind permission from the Bristol Doctoral College.  View the original blog post.

If you would like to study a PhD at the University of Bristol, please visit the Univeristy's scholarships page

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Do people respond to air pollution forecasts?

In 2010, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee published a report on air quality in which they concluded that “poor air quality probably causes more mortality and morbidity than passive smoking, road traffic accidents or obesity”. Concerned that the Government was still not giving air quality a high enough priority, the Committee published another report in 2011. To date, the Committee’s main recommendations have not been implemented. Amidst new evidence on the negative effects of air pollution on health and a court case that found the UK Government guilty of failing to meet EU air quality targets, the Committee published a third report on air quality last week.

One of the Committee’s recommendations is that the Government works more closely with the Met Office, the BBC and other broadcasters to ensure that forecasts of high air pollution episodes are disseminated widely together with advice on what action should be taken. The Committee’s rationale is that information about air pollution allows individuals to take action that reduces exposure. However, avoidance behaviour, such as staying indoors, imposes a cost on individuals that might exceed the perceived gains.

A BBC weather forecast for Bristol showing the commonly
encountered “green” air pollution forecast. 

In a paper published this month in the Journal of Health Economics (Link with free access until 22 January 2015) I investigate responses to air pollution warnings in England. I obtained data on the air pollution forecasts issued by Defra from 2002 to 2008. During this period the daily air pollution forecast was freely available via the internet, a Freephone telephone service, Teletext and with the weather forecast on the BBC website. The forecast was disseminated using traffic light colour-coding, with green indicating low levels of air pollution, amber moderate and red high levels. “Red” forecasts were extremely rare (3% of forecasts) and “green” forecasts very common (70% of forecasts), so a change from “green” to “amber” (27% of forecasts) was akin to an air pollution warning. Hence, I define an “amber” or “red” forecast as an air pollution warning.

Air pollution warnings and hospital emergency admissions


First, I looked at indirect evidence of avoidance behaviour by estimating the relationship between air pollution warnings and hospital emergency admissions for respiratory diseases in children aged 5 to 19 years. I controlled for actual air pollution levels and therefore essentially compared days with a certain level of air pollution for which an air pollution warning was issued with days with the same level of air pollution for which no air pollution warning was issued. If parents and children do respond to air pollution warnings by reducing their exposure or taking other preventive measures, we expect fewer emergency hospital admissions on days for which an air pollution warning was issued compared to days with the same level of air pollution but no warning.
Image from medicaldaily.com

Looking at all respiratory admissions I found no effect. Looking at a subset of respiratory admissions - admissions for acute respiratory infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis – I also found no effect. Only when I examined another subset of respiratory admissions, namely admissions for asthma, did I find that air pollution warnings reduce hospital emergency admissions, by about 8%.

Presumably, it is less costly for asthmatics to respond to an air pollution warning. Standard advice for asthmatics is to adjust the dose of their reliever medicine and to make sure they carry their inhaler with them. Other types of respiratory disease require far more disruptive preventive measures such as staying indoors, making the cost of responding to air pollution warnings larger than the perceived gains.

Direct evidence of avoidance behaviour: visitors to Bristol Zoo


To find direct evidence of avoidance behaviour, I examined daily visitor counts to Bristol Zoo Gardens. Zoos are attractive destinations for families with children. Even with some animal houses under cover, most people will consider a zoo visit to be an outdoor activity and therefore susceptible individuals might adjust their plans to the air pollution forecast.  I found that lower temperature, more rain and higher wind speed reduced visitor numbers but found no effect of air pollution warnings on visitor numbers. Only when I looked at members – visitors who have an annual membership that entitles them to unlimited visits for a year – did I find that air pollution warnings reduce visits by about 6%. For members it is less costly to respond to air pollution warnings as they tend to be local residents who can just drop in for a quick visit. Thus, the perceived gains from postponing a visit are more likely to exceed the cost of postponing than for day visitors.

This graph shows monthly means of visitors to Bristol Zoo Gardens, daily maximum temperature and monthly total of air pollution warnings. Day visitors (grey bars) are far more responsive to temperature (yellow line) than to air pollution warnings (purple bars). Members’ visits (green bars) seem to be fewer in months with more air pollution warnings (purple bars).
Overall, my results show that whether individuals respond to air quality information depends on the costs and benefits of doing so: where costs are low and the benefits clear, responses are higher. This finding suggests, that wider dissemination of high air pollution forecasts as recommended by the Commons Environmental Audit Committee may not bring about the desired prevention of adverse health effects from air pollution. The Committee’s other recommendations aimed at lowering air pollution levels are more likely to succeed in preventing ill health.
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This blog is written by Cabot Institute member Katharina Janke, Research Associate in Applied Microeconomics and Health Economics at the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at the University of Bristol.
Katharina Janke

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

A N-ICE trip to the North Pole: Understanding the link between sea ice and climate

Imagine. It’s the bitter Arctic winter, it’s dark, cold enough to kill, and your ship is stuck in sea-ice.  There’s nothing you can do against the heave of the ice, except let your ship drift along. Out of your control. This seems like a difficult prospect today, but then imagine it happening over a century ago. 

This is exactly what did happen when Norwegian explorer, Fridtjof Nansen, intentionally trapped his ship, Fram, in Arctic sea-ice in 1893 in an attempt to reach the North Pole. For about three years, Fram drifted with the ice until finally reaching the North Atlantic. Whilst a main motivation for their extraordinary journey was to find the Pole, they also made a number of scientific observations that had a profound influence on the (at the time) young discipline of oceanography.

Scientists led by the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) are now – pretty much on the 120th anniversary of the original expedition – repeating the journey, this time purely in the name of science.  I’m a member of the international team, meaning that the University of Bristol gets to play its part.

View from near the Norwegian Polar Institute, Tromsø, at about
2.30pm in the afternoon! Tromsø is on a small island,
surrounded by beautiful mountains, but has very long, dark winters.
The group I’m working with are investigating the role of newly formed sea-ice and freshwater on the flow of heat and nutrients through Arctic oceans, which plays a key role in regulating climate both locally and on a global scale.  The sea-ice in the Arctic is diminishing at an alarming rate, with between 9.4 and 13.6% decline per decade in the perennial sea-ice from 1979 to 2012 according to the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report [1]. If we are to understand how the sea-ice might change in the future, and what impact this might have on other systems, we have to be able to understand the physics of the system today.

Lance during a scientific cruise in Svalbard.
Photo: Paul Dodd / Norwegian Polar Institute 
My role is to help to chemically analyse the seawater, in order to trace the freshwater input to the oceans.  The amount of freshwater will determine the density of the water, and so will control the degree of stratification or sinking, which will be important for the transport of heat.

In November, I went to visit the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromsø in the very north of Norway for a pre-cruise workshop.  I got to meet a number of the Norwegian Young Sea-Ice (N-ICE2015) team, and visit Norway – a place I’d never been before as Antarctica is my usual stomping ground! We had two days of learning about the scientific interests of all the group members, and finding our way around some of the high-tech instrumentation that we will have at our disposal. I also got a tour of the ship that N-ICE2015 will use: the R/V Lance. By the end, everyone was keen to set off – although everyone will now have to wait until January…

This blog is written by Cabot Institute member Kate Hendry, Earth Sciences, University of Bristol.

Kate Hendry

Further information

You can find out more about N-ICE2015 at the project website.

[1] Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group 1 Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2013.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Why forests are about more than just climate change

It’s National Tree Week, and there is a plethora of talk about all the great things that trees do: encouraging biodiversity, providing a pleasant space for humans, and providing numerous ecosystem services. As well as this, there is some reference to how trees take in carbon dioxide, and the benefits of this for helping to prevent climate change. But what if trees didn’t help prevent climate change? What if actually, they increased climate change?

Afforestation (planting forests) is one of many suggestions as a way to deliberately change the earth’s climate to attempt to reverse the effects of climate change (known as ‘geoengineering’). Planting more trees seems like a an obvious, natural solution. Carbon offsetting, RED+ and lots of other schemes around the issue of climate change have been based on the preservation or increase of forests. But does it work?

We've known for some time that boreal forests contribute to climate change rather than help prevent it, because of changes in the surface reflectance (the albedo). But thus far, forests in other places have been thought to be beneficial, storing up carbon and not affecting the albedo so much.

But our recent study suggests that globally, preserving and expanding forests actually causes a net global warming. We used the Met Office's latest climate model and did simulations of future climate change, with and without afforestion/forest preservation, and we found that though the deforestation has no discernable effect on the climate, the afforestation does.

Does this mean that we are advocating chopping down forests? No. As National Tree Week says, forests are about more than climate change. However much climate change is a key challenge for the future, we can't forget that other things are important too. The climate effect of the forest preservation and expansion is small - only about 0.1 °C. How do you value that against the mass loss of biodiversity, irrelplaceable ecosystems and ecosystem services that would be lost?

Saving or planting forests is not a panacea for climate change, but neither is it the enemy. Conserving forest is worthwhile for lots of other reasons, but we shouldn't kid ourselves that there wont be difficult decisions to make about protecting the unique forest habitats, especially tropical forests like the Amazon, and preventing climate change.
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This blog was written by Cabot Institute member, T Davies-Barnard, University of Exeter.
T Davies-Barnard

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Could retaining old coal lead to a policy own goal?

A large painting and an imposing statue of the former Speaker of the House of Commons Betty Boothroyd overlooked a busy Boothroyd Room at Portcullis House in Westminster.  Members of parliament, journalists, academics, NGOs and Third Sector organisations gathered to hear the reporting and discussion of a new report from Imperial College on the future of coal power in the UK as part of a All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group meeting on 20 November 2014.

This report was commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund to give an idea of whether the continued operation of the eleven existing coal-fired plants in the UK is compatible with the UK’s targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Coal-fired power stations in the UK still generate approximately 36% of the country’s electricity (WWF briefing data). I was personally amazed how large this figure is and underlines the relevance of this type of economic modelling to the future of the energy mix in the UK.

The panel was chaired by Lord Oxburgh and consisted of Dr Robert Gross (Director, Imperial College Centre for Energy Policy and Technology), Tim Yeo MP (Chair, Energy and Climate Change Committee), Baroness Bryony Worthington (Shadow Spokesperson, Energy and Climate Change) and Jessica Lennard (Head of Corporate Affairs, Ovo Energy).

After the report had been summarised by Robert Gross, each member of the panel had a chance to speak before the discussion was opened to the floor and this is where opinions and politics began to show their faces. 

The first panel member to speak after the introduction of the report was Baroness Bryony Worthington, an enthusiastic environmental campaigner who was appointed to the Labour benches of the House of Lords in 2011. Her opposition to so-called “unabated” coal power (generation without measures to capture emitted carbon) was clear and unambiguous, describing coal power stations from the 1960s as unreliable, inefficient and polluting. Political and economic realities were also introduced when she noted that “old coal” will tend to squeeze out “new gas” due (at least in part) to the large infrastructure costs associated with building a new gas powered facility, in spite of its better environmental credentials. Baroness Worthington’s short response (panel members were only given 5 minutes to initially respond to the report) was enthusiastic and pulled no punches.

The next panel member to speak was Tim Yeo MP (a former Minister for the Environment and Countryside in John Major’s government in the 1990s). He openly stated that he shared Baroness Worthington’s concerns and that he supports “full decarbonisation”, although the details of this wish (commendable as they may be), were lacking. He criticised the “20th century energy mind-set” of many in political and industrial energy circles, i.e. those who simply want to build more generators. Although this jibe was clearly not aimed at any one body or person in particular, National Grid’s financial incentives to build more capacity were noted.

Jessica Lennard noted that their customers are not happy with the amount of coal currently in the energy mix that they are able to supply, which was clearly a worry for a company where customers are free to come and go as they please (noting that they are a supplier not a generator of energy). 

As is increasingly the case nowadays, especially with such a potentially incendiary subject as future power generation, there were many members of the audience who were active on their twitter accounts during the meeting itself, myself included I should add. Those who were adding to the online debate, and keeping those who weren’t present in the loop included the head of modelling at the Committee on Climate Change, the public affairs team of the World Wildlife Fund and the UK chief scientist of Greenpeace, although none of the tweets that I noted at the time or since seemed particularly argumentative or controversial. I must admit I found this rather surprising. I was certainly expecting some fireworks, yet the meeting often seemed more like an academic conference than a committee meeting overlooking the Thames just a hundred metres or so from the Palace of Westminster itself.

By far the most animated person in the room (and on twitter before the meeting) was Baroness Worthington, noting that DECC’s “crossed fingers” were not enough on this issue.
I personally left the meeting feeling that there is much still to do on this front and Lord Oxburgh echoed what I feel was a general feeling in the room, closing the meeting with a plea for “policy certainty” and I think this is something that everyone in the room would welcome.  

This last point is particularly pertinent with the upcoming ‘COP21’ meeting in Paris in December 2015 because it is at this meeting that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiators will aim to agree on global, legally binding climate targets. Tim Yeo was clearly mindful of this, noting that the UK should aim to cut emissions by 40% with respect to 1990 levels “going in to Paris”. With coal power still such an important player in the UK energy mix, the potential for this industry to make inroads into this target are substantial.
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This blog is written by Cabot Institute member, Dr Jonny Williams, an environmental physicist working in the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol.
Dr Jonny Williams
 

Further reading




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