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Showing posts from March, 2015

Animals in the fraternity of universal nature

Have you read any poems about animal rights lately? Or perhaps attended a talk or exhibition on this or another environmental topic? Andrew Kelly, director of the Bristol Festival of Ideas, has aimed to inspire discussion on controversial issues for the past ten years through public lectures and commissioned art, this year focusing on the theme radical environmentalism. On 26 March Kelly himself gave a lecture entitled “Animals in the fraternity of universal nature,” where he argued that poets and other artists have been drivers of cultural discourse on radical environmental issues, and specifically on animal rights, since the time of the romantic poets. He suggests that Bristol’s exciting cultural line up for 2015 can give us inspiration as a city to improve our relationship with nature in an urban environment.

Kelly’s literary lens on the history of animal rights showed how the romantic poets, and in particular Samuel Taylor Coleridge (who the whole lecture series this year is named…

The promise of the Anthropocene?

Has the Holocene come to a close? Don’t tear up your geology textbooks just yet; the experts are still to decide whether the Anthropocene is a new epoch or merely a device of journalistic rhetoric. However, the symbolism of the christening of this new geological era may provide an important opportunity – presenting a lens through which we can transform our understanding of nature, its processes, and our role within both.

The coming of socionature?
The recasting of Homo Sapiens as a geological actor, as well as a historical agent, finds its roots in the hypothesis posed by atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and ecologist Eugene Stoermer in 2000.   When this paper was released, the authors could not possibly have understood the dominance that the idea would later assert. We are now enthralled by the debate – with the concept transcending academia and entering popular discussion. The dawn of this new geological epoch may have devastating consequences for natural scientists – for, if we li…

European Green Capital 2015: How student projects are engaging the city

We had great success with the Cabot Institute pilot of the Dissertation Partnership Scheme that saw seven students working with local community partners in Bristol to answer a real world problem as part of their dissertation on the Environmental Policy and Management MSc course at the University of Bristol.

Two projects that stuck out were a study on how to improve biodiversity in Bedminster
and an investigation of Green Deal delivery by local authorities.  Both these projects produced some great findings which should be of value to the organisations that they worked with, as well as forming part of their academic work.

Feedback from all partner organisations who answered a follow up survey were very positive finding it a ”rewarding experience”.  Outcomes for partners working with students included being able to ”feed experience into the academic world” and obtaining a “different perspective” on their work; they also felt that the ”enthusiasm of the student energised different partn…

Insights from the Natural Systems and Processes Poster Session

The Natural Systems and Processes Poster Session (NSPPS) is a University-wide poster session for postgraduate students within the Faculty of Science aimed at increasing inter-departmental connections within a relaxed and informal environment. This year’s event, which was hosted within the Great Hall of the Wills Memorial Building, was attended by ~90 PhD students from a wide variety of disciplines and hundreds more visitors came from across the University to view the posters. Most participants were interested in tackling the challenges of uncertain environmental change with an emphasis upon climate change, natural hazards and human impacts on the environment. Adam McAleer, a final year PhD student working in the Department of Earth Sciences, is interested in measuring the flux of greenhouse gases from restored peatlands within Exmoor National Park. The Exmoor Mires Project seeks to raise water levels via blocking of old agricultural drains in order to re-saturate the peatlands and reco…

Unravelling the mysteries of the subpolar North Atlantic

Why should we care about what is going on in the cold and stormy subpolar North Atlantic? I can give you at least three very good reasons:
First of all, the dynamics of this region are crucially important for modulating climatic conditions in North-Western Europe. So basically this is what keeps the UK’s weather relatively mild for its latitudes.Secondly, deep-water is formed in the Labrador Sea and this is a key process within the global thermohaline circulation. The transport of heat and freshwater by the Subpolar North Atlantic has an impact on global climate, marine ecosystems, hurricanes, and even on rainfall in the African Sahel, the Amazon and parts of the US.   How do we know what is happening up there? 
Up until now, the subpolar North Atlantic has been inadequately measured and climate models largely fail to represent its features accurately. Last week, Dr Penny Holliday from the National Oceanography Centre (Southampton) visited Bristol to give a departmental seminar in the …

My ‘Climate Shock’ from a talk by Gernot Wagner

Sadly, the climate change rhetoric can sometimes feel a bit like the announcements at an airport; a little monotonous and irrelevant. Most of us have been guilty of tuning out, turning a blind eye and continuing with our life thinking the announcement isn’t really for us; we’re getting a different flight.

Sitting down for the hour long talk by Gernot Wagner at @Bristol on Tuesday evening was a little like hearing the last boarding call when you’re at the other end of the airport in a day dream. It was a shock.

‘Climate Shock’ was an hour of uncomfortable truths and mind boggling economics. As a scientist I am regularly exposed to the raw figures: Temperature in degrees, CO2 in parts per million, mean sea level increase. Never before had I been faced with the human implications of climate change in such stark and uncompromising terms.

The talk was run by Bristol Festival of Ideas and supported by the University of Bristol's Cabot Institute and slotted in comfortably with Bristol’s …

Conserve the past, but the solution is in future

Professor Scruton framing @cabotinstitute@FestivalofIdeas as Love Thy Neighbourhood pic.twitter.com/c6TRRERBoB
— Rich Pancost (@rpancost) March 5, 2015 Conservation is certainly a hot-debated topic in the modern era.  On Thursday 5 March 2015, Professor Roger Scruton, a renowned philosopher, given a lecture titled ‘Love thy neighbourhood’ at the  Cabot Institute, University of Bristol as part of the Coleridge Lecture Series run by Bristol Festival of Ideas. Originally advertised as ‘The only true conservationist is a conservative’, the lecture sparked a great deal of controversy. Nevertheless, it also offered an interesting angle of observation to the topic.

Thy neighbourhood is thy home, though it must be beautiful
Scruton opened the talk by pointing out that most humans (rational egoists) have the tendency to externalise their costs while retain the profits. By doing so, damages accumulate in the surroundings of humans and causes the deterioration of our environment (‘Uglification …

The Alps and the atmosphere

In it’s 23rd year, the European Research Course on Atmospheres (ERCA) is notorious amongst atmospheric scientists. PhD and Masters students made their way to Grenoble, France from as far afield as Australia, Bolivia, Russia and India to spend five intensive weeks learning about everything to do with the atmosphere. Grenoble seemed to be the perfect place to hold this kind of course; an alpine city surrounded by mountains we felt very close to the physical interactions of the earth system.

The first four weeks were packed full of lectures with topics ranging from city air pollution to the changing climate mechanisms, from the formation of clouds to the environmental impacts of hydropower. Every day brought a new perspective or entirely different subject to focus on. My own PhD research is about estimating the greenhouse gas emissions of the UK so I really got a great sense of how my work fits in with the wider field of atmospheric science. Luckily all of these hours of lectures were i…

The Fog Bridge and the Coming Storm?

This year, as part of its contribution to Bristol 2015, European Green Capital, the In Between Time Festival commissioned the Fog Bridge  by internationally renowned artist Fujiko Nakaya. She shrouded Pero’s Bridge in fog, eliciting a combination of delight and introspection – as well as befuddling the occasional commuter.  The Fog Bridge stimulated debate, criticism, celebration and interest. The most interesting of those debates, that I hope are only starting, revolve around its impact. Like all great art, Fog Bridge should be and is a bit dangerous, in that it causes us to consider – if even for a while – some alternatives to our perspectives.  But who saw it and engaged with it?  Has it affected belief systems and values?  Has it changed behaviour and, if so, of whom?  And is that all a bit too much of a burden to put onto a single piece? 

Nonetheless, it certainly stimulated discussion and that was its primary aim. It was my good fortune to be asked to reflect on Fog Bridge and be…

George Monbiot: Shouting about socially constructed silences

Cabot Institute director Prof Rich Pancost ended his introduction by telling the audience how George Monbiot made him angry. Not having read much of Monbiot’s work before (except his Rewilding ideas,, I assumed Rich was talking about his reporting of the ridiculous state we have made of the planet.

A few minutes into the talk, I wasn’t angry… I was nauseous.

The evil twin of the Climate Change Act Monbiot began by describing the recently passed Infrastructure Act 2015. As he writes about in his Guardian blog, this Act is stuffed full of unrelated policies, forcing MPs to make a sweeping yes/no vote across a huge variety of issues.

What really got me was his revelation that after the Act had been debated for some time another policy was added; the legal obligation to “maximise the economic recovery of UK petroleum”.

He called it the “evil twin” of the Climate Change Act, 2008, the result of a big movement involving hundreds of thousands of people working to get the government to set a …