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Showing posts from 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 …

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,…

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.

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 talk…

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 comm…

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 t…

Michael E Mann: The climate wars

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 to…

Why climate 'uncertainty' is no excuse for doing nothing

By Richard Pancost, University of Bristol and Stephan Lewandowsky, University of BristolFormer environment minister Owen Paterson has called for the UK to scrap its climate change targets. In a speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, he cited “considerable uncertainty” over the impact of carbon emissions on global warming, a line that was displayed prominently in coverage by the Telegraph and the Daily Mail.Paterson is far from alone: climate change debate has been suffused with appeals to “uncertainty” to delay policy action. Who hasn’t heard politicians or media personalities use uncertainty associated with some aspects of climate change to claim that the science is “not settled”?Over in the US, this sort of thinking pops up quite often in the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal. Its most recent article, by Professor Judith Curry, concludes that the ostensibly slowed rate of recent warming gives us “more time to find ways to decarbonise the economy affordably.”At first …

Sir David Attenborough declares new Life Sciences Building open

Research came to a standstill on Monday 6 October in Bristol’s new £56 million Life Sciences building as Sir David Attenborough, hero of biologists and nature lovers everywhere, took to the microphone at the opening ceremony. His speech was, frankly, inspirational. He talked about the problems that humanity has caused, but insisted that they won’t be solved unless we can better understand how the world works. He reminded us that knowledge of life sciences isn’t just vital for our future, but that understanding natural processes enhances them and brings joy to our lives.
Best SDA pic too RT @Fionabelbin: Best day ever. Sir David Attenborough opening our new building #BristolLifeSciencespic.twitter.com/qMtB3hdCC5
— Bristol Uni Library (@BristolUniLib) October 6, 2014 “There can be no more important area of knowledge for humanity at the moment than the life sciences. It has never been more important, ever, that human beings should understand the workings of the world”.  Sir David Att…

Towards the all-age friendly city

The All-Age-Friendly City project, carried out in Spring-Summer 2014, emerged from a desire to imagine the future city from the perspectives of those people – children and older adults – who are too often overlooked in the design and planning of cities today.

Today, reports on ‘the Smart City’ tend to make little or no mention of the wide variety of different age groups living in cities, or of the different and sometimes shared needs of a multi-generational city. This is not just an inevitable oversight that arises when working age adults design infrastructure. It is also a serious flaw in the design imagination shaping the future city: significant amounts of public expenditure go precisely to these age groups and to those institutions and services responsible for addressing the interests of children and older adults. If we want a future city that is adequate
to the people living in it, therefore, designers, policy makers, developers and planners need to think carefully about all age…

Biodiversity in Bedminster

Students undertaking community based learning projects are coming to the end of their dissertation process and are beginning to disseminate their results to the community.  Last night student Julia Kole shared her findings with the Bedminster community.  Julia discussed the benefits and limitations of wildlife corridors and stepping stones in Bedminster.  Attendees asked lots of questions about the project and discussed how the local community can take forward findings from Julia's dissertation.
Julia also conducted an interview earlier in the week with B@se radio about the project.  She discusses her background growing up in Canada and her interested in the environment from a young age enjoying watching nature documentaries.  This led on to studying in the US and working with children in national parks and Julia discusses the impact this had on children involved.
She explains that she picked the Environmental Policy and Management MSc due to the institution being world renowned and…

John Cook in Bristol: The consensus gap

As a biologist, the fact that anthropogenic climate change is occurring has been explained to me throughout my education. We are interested in how crops might respond to global warming or what might happen to bees or coral reefs, not the basic question of whether or not it is happening at all.  So that is why I was keen to attend John Cook’s talk at the Cabot Institute and learn a bit more about climate science and how it is perceived both within and outside the climate change science community

John Cook is the Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, Australia. He runs the popular Skeptical Science blog, with the aim of explaining the scientific consensus on global warming. As he pointed out, his website has received a lot of criticism from people who do not agree that climate change is significantly driven by human effects.

The climate consensus
Several studies, including John’s own (Cook et al., 2013), have shown that 97% of clima…