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Toward an age of low tech for a more resilient and sustainable society

The various restrictions that have been imposed to tackle the COVID-19 crisis have led many of us to reflect on what might be our response to other pressing issues that we face, especially inequalities in our societies and the major ecological issues of climate change, biodiversity collapse and resource depletion. What has the crisis told us about the state of our planet and societies, and are there wider lessons that can be learned from our response?  Even before the pandemic, we had begun to talk in public debate in ways that would have been unimaginable ten years ago: about the climate crisis and resilience to ecological disruption, questioning the dogma of growth at all costs. The pandemic has reinforced concerns about globalisation and challenged beliefs about the role of the state and the possibility of printing money in a real emergency, while showing that we could do very well without certain things, such as shopping trips to Dubai or cruise ships. Many of us have learned to v…
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Arctic Ocean: why winter sea ice has stalled, and what it means for the rest of the world

Ice floes in the Laptev Sea, Russia. Olenyok/Shutterstock Arctic sea ice plays a crucial role in the Earth’s energy balance. It is covered for most of the year by snow, which is the brightest natural surface on the planet, reflecting about 80% of the solar radiation that hits it back out to space. Meanwhile, the ocean it floats on is the darkest natural surface on the planet, absorbing 90% of incident solar radiation. For that reason, changes in sea ice cover have a big impact on how much sunlight the planet absorbs, and how fast it warms up.Each year a thin layer of the Arctic Ocean freezes over, forming sea ice. In spring and summer this melts back again, but some of the sea ice survives through the summer and is known as multi-year ice. It’s thicker and more resilient than the sea ice that forms and melts each year, but as the Arctic climate warms – at a rate more than twice that of the rest of the world – this multi-year ice is under threat.In the last 40 years, mu…

A ‘fresh’ start

For many years now, I have been researching work in food production ‘out there’: beyond the reach of a day trip and in languages that are not my own. I found the Moroccan tomato so interesting that I wrote a thesis on it. Now though, I want to know what’s occurring closer to home. What of the food produced in the UK? Who is working in the fields? Who is taking the risk that the supermarkets will buy their produce or not? Who is footing the bill, personally, socially, emotionally, for keeping the food coming into cities despite Covid 19, and despite Brexit? After farm work was recognised as ‘essential’ during the pandemic, have workers gained status, or simply more health and safety challenges?
It is to these questions that I am now turning. I want to know who is working to feed Bristol and how they are getting on. More specifically, I want to know about fruit and veg; that food group that we all eat. Vegan, vegetarian, meat eater or flexitarian; we all eat some fruit and veg. Even if i…

Is Europe heading for a more drought prone future?

In 2018, Europe was hit with one of the worst droughts so far in the 21st century in terms of its extent, severity and duration. This had large-scale effects on the vegetation, both agricultural and natural. Harvest yields were substantially reduced, by up to 40% in some regions, and widescale browning of vegetation occurred. A consortium of international researchers, including members of the Atmospheric Chemistry Research Group (ACRG) at the University of Bristol, asked the question: given the major impacts on vegetation, which plays an essential role in removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, was there an observable change in the amount of carbon uptake across Europe during this event? There are at least two ways to quantify the impact that the drought had on the terrestrial carbon sink: a bottom-up or top-down approach. Our plans and timelines to mitigate climate change rely on using these methods to predict how much of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions can be taken up by …

How banks are trying to capture the green transition

philip openshaw / shutterstock Private sector banks in the UK should have a central role in financing climate action and supporting a just transition to a low carbon economy. That’s according to a new report from the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics. Framed as a strategic opportunity that climate change represents for investors, the report identifies four specific reasons why banks should support the just transition. It would reinforce trust after the financial crisis; it would demonstrate leadership; it would reduce their exposure to material climate risks; and it would expand their customer base by creating demand for new services and products.The report is not alone in its attempt to put banking and finance at the centre of a green and just transition. Similar arguments are presented by the World Bank, by the European Union, and by many national task forces on financing the transition, including the UK’s.In all these cases, banks and financial markets a…

Welcome to our 2020 MScR cohort in Global Environmental Challenges!

September 2020 saw the arrival of the latest cohort on the MScR in Global Environmental Challenges. This year, we have students representing four Faculties, and six Schools; each with a unique independent research project that focuses on some of the most pressing challenges faced today. With projects ranging from using chemistry to create clean air to artistic expressions of activism in Chile, we are delighted to introduce to you some of our new students below.  
Harry Forrester Can glacial flour stimulate N cycling in croplands? - School of Geographical Sciences This research involves an investigation of the effects of glacial flour as a stimulant of microbial nitrogen cycling in cropland. Through this study, I aim to establish myself as a well-rounded Biogeochemist and explore interdisciplinary collaborations throughout the academic community. I hope to gain insight into environmental policy making, preparing me to enact effective change. 
Lauren Prouse  An analysis into the ability o…

Skilling up for the clean energy transition: View from Skills Work on EnergyREV

A couple of weeks ago I attended the “Skilling Up for the Clean Energy Transition: Creating a Net Zero Workforce” IPPR discussion. Given that we had 1.5 hours to get input from 5 presenters and about 20 participants, it was not really possible to put many thoughts across. Hence, this blog. Using some of the questions set out at the IPPR discussion, I started to put together some answers based on our work from the EnergyREV Skills work group (so far). Seeing that there is quite a lot to say, I will focus here on only 3 questions set out at the IPPR meeting:Question 1:  What are the main challenges and opportunities we face in the transition to net-zero?Today an average person on Earth consumes 1.5 planets [1]. In other words, we need 1.5 planets worth of forests, seas, land, and other resources to produce what an average person consumes and be able to absorb the emissions and negative impacts of it. And this number varies between developing and developed countries (e.g., 1.1 for China …