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Showing posts from October, 2015

The Uncertain World: Is uncertainty used as a stick with which to beat climate change?

The Cabot Institute is focussing on our Uncertain World this year, with a host of events to meet with new communities, think around new ideas and establish new solutions for what’s in store for us in the future.  We are posting blogs during November on 'Our Uncertain World'. Join the conversation with us on Twitter using the hashtag #UncertainWorld and contribute your thoughts and concerns to our (virtual) graffiti wall.  Read other blogs in the series by visiting the weblinks at the bottom of this blog.
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Uncertainty runs through climate science like the lettering in a stick of rock. It will never 'go away' and no communication strategy should ever aim for this. But it does seem as if somehow, uncertainty has become a stick with which to beat climate change in a way that it has not for other areas of science (or perhaps more to the point, in other areas of life). So it is worth asking why this is the case, and what we…

Delivering the ‘Future City’: engaging or persuading?

In Bristol’s European Green Capital year, the University of Bristol and its Cabot Institute have been working with the Bristol Green Capital Partnership and its members to convene a series of four conversations between Bristol academics and city ‘thinkers’ from across public, private and civil society exploring how Bristol delivers the ‘future city’ –  what capacities it needs to be resilient, sustainable and successful and how it can start to develop these in times of changing governance and tightened finances. The conversations will be reflected in a series of four blogs (the third below) and then brought together as a policy report for the Festival of the Future City in November.  You can read the other blogs from this series at the bottom of this post.

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In this third conversation we considered how the range of civil society in the city is or could be effectively engaged in the future of the city. Our earlier debates (on governance and au…

Uncertain World: Reflections

This last week we have been focussing on our Uncertain World, with a host of events and interactions to meet with new communities, think around new ideas and establish new solutions for what’s in store for us in the future.  You can read the other blogs covered in 'Our Uncertain World' at the bottom of this blog. Join the conversation with us on Twitter using the hashtag #UncertainWorld and contribute your thoughts and concerns to our (virtual) graffiti wall.   -------------------------------------------------------------------- Over the past year, the Cabot Institute have been exploring this Uncertain World. I have been lucky enough to have attended, and written about, two events that have occurred this week - a public dialogue event and a Question Time event. This last blog is a way for me to reflect on the event and my thoughts on moving forward in a time of uncertainty.
At the events, I was particularly struck by how differently we perceive this uncertainty: both in our live…

The Uncertain World: Question Time

This week we are focussing on our Uncertain World, with a host of events and interactions to meet with new communities, think around new ideas and establish new solutions for what’s in store for us in the future.  We will be posting blogs every day this week on 'Our Uncertain World'. Join the conversation with us on Twitter using the hashtag #UncertainWorld and contribute your thoughts and concerns to our (virtual) graffiti wall.   --------------------------------------------- The current rate of environmental change is unprecedented in Earth’s history and many aspects of climate change are understood. Yet, others are not. Scientists can say with a high confidence that temperatures and sea level rise - but continue to remain uncertain on the scale and speed of such processes. Policy makers are now challenged to make decisions that possess long term repercussions on the basis of information that is deemed uncertain. However, it is not just the science that may appear incomplete -…

The Uncertain World: A public dialogue

This week we are focussing on our Uncertain World, with a host of events to meet with new communities, think around new ideas and establish new solutions for what’s in store for us in the future.  We will be posting blogs every day this week on 'Our Uncertain World'. Join the conversation with us on Twitter using the hashtag #UncertainWorld and contribute your thoughts and concerns to our (virtual) graffiti wall.  Alternatively join us at our Question Time event on Wednesday 21 October at 6 pm and ask our local leaders how they will change their decision making as a result of our changing global environment.  Tickets are free, book here.

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Adaptation to climate change presents a unique challenge: the need to make important decisions on the basis of incomplete and uncertain information. We know that future environments shall be different from today’s, but we cannot be certain of the specifics of this change.  …

Divestment at the University of Bristol?

Earlier this year I was approached by students who were involved in the campaign to petition the University of Bristol to divest from fossil fuel investments to see if I would be prepared to support their campaign and to encourage other members of the University’s staff to do so also.  I give lectures to students from the Faculty of Engineering on the subject of sustainable development, and through those lectures the students were aware that I have a good understanding of some of the challenges that face us.

I am a mechanical engineer by training, a specialist in engineering design, and I have worked in and with the transportation industries throughout my working life.  These industries– automobile, railway, aerospace, marine – are among the prime users of the fossil fuels with which the students are concerned, and although I am passionate about all things mechanical I have become convinced in recent years that we must be more radical in addressing issues of climate change than we ha…

Complex cities in an uncertain world

The Festival of Ideas have invited partners and participants in the Festival of the Future City to contribute articles on areas of work they are engaged in of relevance to the upcoming events. Rich Pancost, Director of the Cabot Institute, blogs below.

Half of the planet lives in cities. By the middle of this century, that number will rise to nearly 75%, nearly 7 billion people. The decisions we make today will dictate whether those future cities are fit for purpose, whether they are just, sustainable, vibrant, resilient and pleasant. But those decisions must navigate an increasingly perilous web of urban complexity and global uncertainty.

The Nobel Prize winning physicist Niels Bohr famously said,
‘Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future,’  a quote that recognises and subverts the very nature of the scientific endeavour. Scientists aspire to understand something well enough that we can predict what will happen under certain conditions in the future, whether i…

Atmospheric and oceanic impacts of Antarctic glaciation across the Eocene–Oligocene transition

The Eocene-Oligocene Transition occurred approx. 34 million years ago and was one of the biggest climatic shifts since the end of the Cretaceous (with the extinction of the dinosaurs). The Earth dramatically cooled and the Antarctic ice sheet first formed, but the cause and nature of the cooling remain uncertain. Using a climate model, HadCM3L, we looked at the effect of ice sheet growth and palaeogeographical change (i.e. continental reconfiguration as Australia separated from Antarctica) on the Earth’s steady-state climate. We utilised four simulations: a late Eocene palaeogeography with and without an ice sheet and an early Oligocene palaeogeography with and without an ice sheet.

The formation of the Antarctic ice sheet causes a similar atmospheric response for both palaeogeographies: cooling of the air over Antarctica, intensification of the polar atmospheric cell and increased winds over the Southern Ocean. The sea surface temperature response to the growth of ice is very differ…

The end of the road for diesel?

The Volkswagen (VW) emissions scandal is now into its second week, and with each day the enormity of the deception seems to increase. What started off as a few hundred thousand cars in the US has now become an astonishing 11 million cars worldwide that VW says may have to be recalled. In addition to the VW brand, diesel models of Audi, Skoda and SEAT cars have all been affected, with 1.2 million in the UK alone.
At the heart of this deception is the use of software, designed to be able to detect when a car was under test conditions, in order to reduce the emissions of a group of nitrogen and oxygen compounds, commonly referred to as NOx.  However, these emissions controls would not be switched on during normal driving.
Given that the cars were clearly built with the potential to emit less NOx, it’s not immediately clear why the emissions controls were applied only under test conditions.  Although VW have admitted they “screwed up”, they don’t seem to have said why. However, it’s a fair…