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Uncertainties about the effects of fracking in the UK

I'm a bit of an energy agnostic. This week I attended a talk at UWE about fracking and its impact on the environment in the hope of making a better informed decision on the controversial topic.

What is fracking?

Jenna Brown, a first year PhD student, started off with an introduction to fracking, or hydraulic fracturing.

Gas molecules trapped in dense shale rocks are almost impossible to obtain by normal drilling. Fracking involves drilling vertically down and then horizontally into the rock. Fracking fluid, a mixture of water, sand and other chemicals, is injected into the rock at high pressure, expanding the tiny cracks and allowing the gas trapped within to escape and travel back up the pipe for collection.





Natural gas is viewed as a transition energy source from dirty fossil fuels to greener renewable energies in the future. It produces almost half the amount of carbon dioxide per unit of energy than coal, which could help us meet the national target of reducing CO2 emissions by

Environmental uncertainty: A challenge to both business and vulnerable communities

In September, the IPCC published the Fifth Annual Report on the Physical Basis of Climate Change.  It devotes little attention to the human and ecological impacts of global environmental and climatic change, topics that will be addressed by working group reports released in early 2014 .  Nonetheless, the trajectory of climate and other environmental changes and their implicit impacts on society are stark. Despite numerous treaties and efforts at mitigation, concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases continue to increase, and at greater rather than diminished rates. If those rates continue they will result in global warming of 3 to 5.5°C by 2100. This in turn, will result in dramatic changes to the global hydrological cycle, including both more evaporation and more rainfall.
A More Uncertain Climate The results will be a more hostile climate for many as land can become either drier or more flood-prone or both, changes exacerbated in coastal areas by sea level rise.  Fr…

Nine lessons and carols in communicating climate uncertainty

About a month ago I was invited to represent the Cabot Institute at the All Parliamentary Party Climate Change Group (APPCCG) meeting on “Communicating Risk and Uncertainty around Climate Change”. All Party Groups are groups of MPs and Lords with a common interest they wish to discuss, who meet regularly but fairly informally. Here are the APPCCG registerblogTwitter and list of events.
The speakers were James Painter (University of Oxford), Chris Rapley (UCL) and Fiona Harvey (The Guardian), and the chair was (Lord) Julian Hunt (UCL). Rather than write up my meeting notes, I’ll focus on the key points.
[Disclaimer: All quotes and attributions are based on my recollections and note-taking, and may not be exact.]
1. People have a finite pool of worry
I'll start with this useful phrase, mentioned (I think by Chris) in the discussion. Elke Weber describes this:
"As worry increases about one type of risk, concern about other risks has been shown to go down, as if people had onl…

My week in Westminster: Part 2

Wednesday 4 December 2013
After two days of being in the ‘classroom’ learning about science in Parliament and Government it was time to go and shadow my civil servant, Alan Pitt, the Secretary to the Council for Science and Technology (S&T) who advise the Prime Minister directly on science related issues.  Alan is based in the Government Office for Science (Go-Science), which is located in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills! My morning began by visiting Portcullis House to hear the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Mark Walport, be quizzed by the House of Commons S&T Select Committee, which consists of cross-party MPs. Their job is to scrutinise Government on S&T to ensure the policy making process is robust.  Mark Walport, gave an overview of his vision for Science in the UK which included infrastructure in terms of energy and climate, qualitative and quantitative scientific evidence used in Government and a prominent leadership role for science.  T…

My week in Westminster - Part 1

Monday 2 December 2013
36 scientists were up bright and early in London for a tour around the Palace of Westminster as part of the Royal Society science and parliament pairing scheme.  We got to visit both Chambers as well as learning about the history of the UK parliament and the interactions between the Monarch, House of Lords and House of Commons. Did you know that to reserve a seat in the House of Commons the MP has to personally place a hand-written green card in a slot above their seat?!

After coffee and biscuits in Portcullis House we were introduced to the scheme and heard from previous participants about their experiences and the forging of relationships between scientists and MPs/civil servants. Discussion ensued about the the lack of scientists in Parliament (apparently not as bas as we thought!), as well as the intricacies of the House of Lords such as there being no cap currently on the number of peers invited to join!

An hour later having been filled up on what was a ver…

Do we care too much about nature?

Over 80% of British adults believe that the natural environment should beprotected at all costs. Yet, a recent report suggests that “government progress on commitments to the natural environment has been largely static” (1). Indeed, the budget for DEFRA, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has been slashed by 10% (£37m) and a reduction in green levies is likely as the government attempts to reduce domestic energy bills.
Has the government lost interest in the environment? Or do we care too much about nature? To discuss this further, the Cabot Institutehosted a public recording of BBC Radio 4′s Shared Planeta show which explores the complex relationship between the human populations and wildlife. John Burton, CEO of the World Land Trust (WLT), was the first panellist and is a well known journalist and conservationist who has raised £19m for nature conservation in Africa, Asia and Central and Southern America. He believes that we should think about policy on “the lif…