Cabot Institute blog

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Tuesday, 7 November 2017

How to turn a volcano into a power station – with a little help from satellites

File 20171031 18735 1gapo0c.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Erta Ale in eastern Ethiopia. mbrand85

Ethiopia tends to conjure images of sprawling dusty deserts, bustling streets in Addis Ababa or the precipitous cliffs of the Simien Mountains – possibly with a distance runner bounding along in the background. Yet the country is also one of the most volcanically active on Earth, thanks to Africa’s Great Rift Valley, which runs right through its heart.

Rifting is the geological process that rips tectonic plates apart, roughly at the speed your fingernails grow. In Ethiopia this has enabled magma to force its way to the surface, and there are over 60 known volcanoes. Many have undergone colossal eruptions in the past, leaving behind immense craters that pepper the rift floor. Some volcanoes are still active today. Visit them and you find bubbling mud ponds, hot springs and scores of steaming vents.

Steam rising at Aluto volcano, Ethiopia. William Hutchison
This steam has been used by locals for washing and bathing, but underlying this is a much bigger opportunity. The surface activity suggests extremely hot fluids deep below, perhaps up to 300°C–400°C. Drill down and it should be possible access this high temperature steam, which could drive large turbines and produce huge amounts of power. This matters greatly in a country where 77% of the population has no access to electricity, one of the lowest levels in Africa.

Geothermal power has recently become a serious proposition thanks to geophysical surveys suggesting that some volcanoes could yield a gigawatt of power. That’s the equivalent of several million solar panels or 500 wind turbines from each. The total untapped resource is estimated to be in the region of 10GW.

Converting this energy into power would build on the geothermal pilot project that began some 20 years ago at Aluto volcano in the lakes region 200km south of Addis Ababa. Its infrastructure is currently being upgraded to increase production tenfold, from 7MW to 70MW. In sum, geothermal looks like a fantastic low-carbon renewable solution for Ethiopia that could form the backbone of the power sector and help lift people out of poverty.


Scratching the surface

The major problem is that, unlike more developed geothermal economies like Iceland, very little is known about Ethiopia’s volcanoes. In almost all cases, we don’t even know when the last eruption took place – a vital question since erupting volcanoes and large-scale power generation will not make happy bedfellows.

In recent years, the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has been funding RiftVolc, a consortium of British and Ethiopian universities and geological surveys, to address some of these issues. This has focused on understanding the hazards and developing methods for exploring and monitoring the volcanoes so that they can be exploited safely and sustainably.

Teams of scientists have been out in the field for the past three years deploying monitoring equipment and making observations. Yet some of the most important breakthroughs have come through an entirely different route – through researchers analysing satellite images at their desks.

This has produced exciting findings at Aluto. Using a satellite radar technique, we discovered that the volcano’s surface is inflating and deflating. The best analogy is breathing – we found sharp “inhalations” inflating the surface over a few months, followed by gradual “exhalations” which cause slow subsidence over many years. We’re not exactly sure what is causing these ups and downs, but it is good evidence that magma, geothermal waters or gases are moving around in the depths some five km below the surface.

Taking the temperature

In our most recent paper, we used satellite thermal images to probe the emissions of Aluto’s steam vents in more detail. We found that the locations where gases were escaping often coincided with known fault lines and fractures on the volcano.

When we monitored the temperature of these vents over several years, we were surprised to find that most were quite stable. Only a few vents on the eastern margin showed measurable temperature changes. And crucially, this was not happening in synchronicity with Aluto’s ups and downs – we might have expected that surface temperatures would increase following a period of inflation, as hot fluids rise up from the belly of the volcano.

A productive geothermal well on Aluto. William Hutchison

It was only when we delved into the rainfall records that we came up with an explanation: the vents that show variations appear to be changing as a delayed response to rainfall on the higher ground of the rift margin. Our conclusion was that the vents nearer the centre of the volcano were not perturbed by rainfall and thus represent a better sample of the hottest waters in the geothermal reservoir. This obviously makes a difference when it comes to planning where to drill wells and build power stations on the volcano, but there’s a much wider significance.

This is one of the first times anyone has monitored a geothermal resource from space, and it demonstrates what can be achieved. Since the satellite data is freely available, it represents an inexpensive and risk-free way of assessing geothermal potential.

With similar volcanoes scattered across countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the technique could allow us to discover and monitor new untapped geothermal resources in the Rift Valley as well as around the world. When you zoom back and look at the big picture, it is amazing what starts to come into view.
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This blog is written by William Hutchison, Research Fellow, University of St Andrews; Juliet Biggs, Reader in Earth Sciences and Cabot Institute member, University of Bristol, and Tamsin Mather, Professor of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
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Juliet Biggs is a member of the University of Bristol Cabot Institute.  She studies Continental Tectonics and Volcanic Deformation and has won numerous awards in her field.  Find out more about Juliet Biggs research.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Olive oil production in Morocco: so many questions

No standard salad would be complete without olive oil. Our friends the lettuce, tomato and cucumber now come automatically accompanied by the vinegar and the oil, the oil and the vinegar. Perhaps in a bottle, perhaps in a sachet, perhaps in some kind of over complicated vinaigrette processed by a supermarket near you, along with lots of salt and some corn syrup, a 21st century salad in the Western world would be naked without an olive dressing.

This weekend, after an intensive academic seminar in Morocco[1], we studious seminar attendees were rewarded with a field trip. So I was taken out to visit three agricultural holdings in action. They all grew olives, but apart from that, had little in common. These three: large, medium and small producers in turn gave us a hugely insightful opportunity to witness agricultural change in action. Since the turn of the millennium the large site, on previously colonial, then state-held land had been an apple orchard and had now turned to olive oil. The medium one had been focused on cattle, making use of previous common land, that was now enclosed land, and was now diversifying with oil, watermelons, and more. The small producer produced a full range of things including olives for their own oil and most recently had established a side income in both fish and honey production.

Firstly, we learnt how to make money. Morocco’s heavily financed agricultural development programme, Plan Maroc Vert, which aims to intensify the agricultural system into a new-age competitive beacon of the modern food system, offers attractive incentives to spruce up agriculture in the country with new machines. All you need is to write a proposal (a report), have money to invest (from bank credit perhaps) and an impressive part of your money will be returned to you in state subsidies within two years.

So, for example, all three of the small, medium and large producers we visited, had benefited from a 100% state subsidy for irrigation of their crops. In the case of the ‘super-intensive’ large producer this meant state funding for the irrigation of 65,780[2] olive trees from groundwater on a rapidly declining water table. Some of the more landscape-savvy of the seminar group reminded us that olive trees had been grown in the region for centuries precisely because they did not need this kind of constant watering but could grow deep roots and access scarce water themselves. This, however, is not of interest to the ‘super-intensive’ producer. This producer is simply interested in the logic of economic growth, which in this case says: plant the trees closer, and add the chemical nutrients to the water while you’re at it. And so, these 65,780 trees are watered with the addition of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and ammonium, yet no studies are evident of what all these substances may be doing to the groundwater. By any other logic this would be a big concern, nitrogen pollution, particularly. Nitrogen pollution of water supplies, or more simply, of the nitrogen cycle, is one of the only planetary ecosystem boundaries that we have already crossed as a human race. This was not relevant in the lesson of how to make money.

Yet, I work with people, so where were they in the Moroccan olive grove? Well, it seems they have been replaced by a machine in this super-intensive oil production. The company, with links to power as far up as it goes, has invested in a machine that drives over the trees like a bridge. It shakes their branches and collects their olives.  So much for an investment in rural employment.

Some new olive trees defy the machine but are pretty un-reliable as employers too. These trees that the machine can’t manage provide jobs for only a very precarious seasonal and short-term workforce. I was told that 100 people would be employed for a space of around 200 hectares, and these jobs would last 2-3 months. The company assured us though that these workers would get both contracts and, in order to have those contracts, bank accounts. Thank goodness the banks aren’t losing out.


I should be kinder in tone about the small and medium sized farmers that we visited. Not only did their olive oil taste a lot richer, but they invited us to tea, and allowed us to share their experience of oil production more closely.  They humoured our partial language skills and our many, many questions. This was the second major thing we learnt on the trip – we were a team. We were a slightly chaotic, and erratic team, but really quite effective. A little like slugs on a cabbage, we chewed up every bit of information every which way.

Releasing a group of 13 researchers at a family farm, was a bit like inviting children to a playground, or providing clowns with an audience. Each of us found something to play with, interact with, reflect upon and smile. Some of us looked at the trees or identified the plant specimens. Others wrote notes, or took pictures, or carried out semi-formal interviews with whichever family member we felt most comfortable with. Others played with material toys, climbing ladders, smelling fruit or knocking on enormous oil containers to discover them empty. As we found the olive branches, force-fed powder food through irrigated pipes, or in the smaller farm providing shade for some resident chickens, this seminar group grew together, discovering the knowledge of the peasant farmer.  This experience was far richer and engaging than any power point presentation or report.

More images can be found on the original blog.

References

[1] “Workshop on Agricultural Labour and Rural Landscapes in the Arab World” Organised by the Thimar collective and supported by the École Nationale d’Agriculture de Meknès, the Leverhulme Trust and the London School of Economics.

[2] Calculated based on 286 plants/hectare in a cultivated area of 230 hectares, this was the details of the holding advertised by the company.

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This blog is written by Lydia Medland, a PhD student at the University of Bristol's School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies who is looking at the role of seasonal workers in global food production, specifically in Morocco and Spain.  This blog has been reposted with kind permission from her Eating Research blog.  View the original blog post.
Lydia Medland



Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Green Capital: Student Capital – mobilising Bristol’s students for city sustainability


In 2015, Bristol was the UK’s first European Green Capital. During the year, HEFCE’s Catalyst Fund backed an initiative between the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England Bristol to promote student involvement in green activities.

In cities and communities across the world, students form a significant, but often neglected part of the population. Seen as transient, they are easy for cities to ignore. Yet in Bristol they form nearly 10% of the population, offering vision and energy to the city. In a unique collaboration between the two universities in Bristol, student unions, the Bristol City Council and a network of over 800 local organisations, Green Capital: Student Capital was designed to unleash the power of Bristol’s students. 

Green Capital: Student Capital initiated, promoted and celebrated student engagement with sustainability across the city region. Much of the work comprised novel initiatives co-created by students with community groups and SMEs such as:

  • addressing the urgent problem of homelessness in the city
  • working with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to help write new business plans, based on which some have secured future funding
  • helping produce new apps to widen awareness of parks and open spaces
  • creating business analyses based on which firms have relocated to Bristol. 

Green Capital: Student Capital linked students with wildlife conservation groups, local businesses, local community groups, local schools and colleges, student societies, charities and NGOs, healthcare providers and many more local organisations. By creating a vibrant network with community groups, public bodies and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), the first year of the project saw students giving over 125,000 hours of their time to sustainability volunteering, placements, internships, and projects. That amounts to over 72 years’ worth of work and over £1.2 million of economic contribution to the city.

Over 7,000 students took part in the first year and hundreds of students have been awarded the Green Capital Change Maker award for their work. This award was specially created for the project and recognises students’ passion and commitment to making a difference in their city.

To ensure that work can continue, both universities have established a joint SkillsBridge platform, which links the community and students. This enables students to find ways to help in the community, and enables the community to find students who are keen to help.

Students themselves have been very positive about the impact upon them. They have learnt skills, gained practical experience and made new connections. It has enhanced the employability of participants and, through the application of their energy and knowledge to resolve sustainability challenges, it has created a community of student Change Makers who will carry forward the positive experiences into their future professional and private lives. It has contributed to change in Bristol and fostered new connections between residents and the universities. Equally importantly, the project has increased students’ sense of belonging, which contributes directly to their wellbeing. This has been particularly important to international students, who took part in disproportionately large numbers (41% of participants) and reported feeling that they belonged and had a much fuller understanding of Britain as they volunteered in communities across the city.

In November 2016, the project was awarded the UK and Ireland Green Gown for Student Engagement. In March 2017, the project won an International Green Gown award against competition from across the globe. The awards recognise exceptional sustainability initiatives in higher and further education institutions. The judges described the winning entry as a dynamic city-wide project with a direct impact on graduate employability.


Top 3 learnings       


Working together is essential

The two universities and two unions worked closely together, but in a much broader sense all partners were involved in the process of student engagement, from the external organisations and local authorities to the students themselves.

Ongoing engagement is crucial to a successful legacy.  

Bristol’s Green Capital 2015 year provided a fantastic opportunity to showcase the city’s sustainability credentials and to act as a catalyst for sustainability action. But we needed to create lasting change. Right from the outset, the project was designed with its legacy in mind – for Bristol and other cities.

Change is possible. 

Green Capital: Student Capital is testament to the success of the European Green Capital 2015 year, to the merit of the HEFCE Catalyst Fund and to the value of the student higher education community as a real force for practical change in our cities.

Read more about the award-winning work of Green Capital: Student Capital

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This blog has been reproduced with kind permission from HEFCE.  You can view the original blog on the HEFCE site.

This blog has been written by Professor Chris Willmore, Professor of Sustainability and Law, University of Bristol; Professor Jim Longhurst, Assistant Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Environmental Science, University of the West of England, Bristol; and Dr William Clayton,
Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of the West of England, Bristol.

Professor Chris Willmore
Professor Jim Longhurst

Dr William Clayton 



Monday, 11 September 2017

A celebration of the research and achievements of Professor Willy Aspinall

‘A celebration of the research and achievements of Professor Willy Aspinall’ was a one-day celebration organised by the Cabot Institute to commend the career of a valued UK scientist and Bristol Professor.

Professor Willy Aspinall CMG is retiring after a 60-year career that has seen him travel the world, advise governments and receive some of the highest accolades a scientist can receive. Over 50 people attended the one-day event, which comprised a light-hearted mix of history, science and personal reminiscence.
Frank Savage, ex-governor of Montserrat
Willy is possibly best known for his use of the ‘expert elicitation’ technique. The method involves synthesising the opinion of experts, which can then be used as a mechanism to help predict the occurrence of a typically-rare event. The technique has been used in policy making for a range of natural hazards such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and has been an integral part of decision making in numerous crises around the globe.

Many of these crises will be familiar to the reader, with some having vast social and economic impacts. Perhaps the most well known in Europe was the Eyjafjallajokull ash crisis, which grounded air traffic across the continent. During the eight-day air space closure, Willy was one of a handful of experts who advised the UK government’s response.

Yet Willy’s role as a valued risk advisor was preceded by decades of influential work that represents astonishing variability and versatility. Willy began his working life as a physicist, receiving a PhD from Durham University in the 60’s. His physics background led him to take a job in 1970 in the Seismic Research Centre (SRC) in Trinidad and Tobago in which he remained for over a decade.

‘Aspi’, as he was sometimes known amongst his team, set up and maintained the seismic network on the island and surrounding areas throughout the busy decade. His colleague Dr Joan Latchman, who travelled from Trinidad to the event in Bristol, described the time; ‘for the entire decade it was excitement, non-stop’. During this period, Willy and his team of researchers advised the government on numerous earthquakes and volcanic eruptions while also breaking down the post-colonial culture that had lingered on in aspects of life at the SRC.

Willy’s time in Trinidad and Tobago wasn’t his only dance with Caribbean volcanism. One of the defining moments in Willy’s career, and one for which he was as appointed a companion to the Order of St Michael and St George by the Queen in 2016, was his work in Montserrat.

In August 1995 Willy was sent to Montserrat as adviser to the Governor shortly after the 11,000-person island’s volcano began to show signs of activity. When he arrived he was faced with a challenging situation. The scientists monitoring the volcano had developed a difference of opinion as to the volcano’s likely course of action. Part of his job, was to disseminate the jargon-heavy arguments to both the decision makers, and the general public. The then-governor of Montserrat, Frank Savage, spoke at Willy’s celebration and gave a personal account of the huge positive impact Willy had on the crisis management: ‘Willy understood Caribbean culture and traditions which made a significant and favourable impact with the local community’.

Frank wasn’t the only one grateful to Willy for his efforts. In fact several volcanologists working on Montserrat thanked Willy for saving their lives after he ordered them out of the exclusion zone where they had been working. Dr Amanda Clarke was one of these volcanologists. Unable to make it from Arizona to the event, she recorded a message to be screened during the day. In it, she thanks Willy for saving not only her life, but the lives of numerous people who he encouraged to evacuate at the last minute despite considerable personal risk.

Among others who paid a digital tribute to Willy’s inspirational career included the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Keith Rowley. Indeed, the sheer number of people from different backgrounds demonstrated the truly phenomenal cross-disciplinary geographical-reach of Willy’s work; from nuclear energy in Japan to melting Antarctic ice sheets to Italian earthquakes.

The faces in the audience represented industry professionals, academic colleagues as well as new scientists working in the field he has helped to carve out. Consequently, the day was replete with gratitude and genuine praise for a man whose cricket-loving, quick-witted personality will undoubtedly be missed as he enters his well-deserved retirement.

This blog is written by Cabot Institute member Keri McNamara, a PhD student in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Reframing ecological thinking; Felix Guattari, subjectivity and film

This short article introduces the ecological thought of Felix Guattari. I suggest that Guattari’s holistic delineation of three interconnected ecologies is a productive place to begin in thinking about contemporary ecological issues. Following on from this, and away from traditional environmental discourse and politics, I argue that aesthetic encounters with film hold the potential for a re-invigoration of ecological thought. I explore this briefly in relation to ‘Melancholia’ by Lars Von Trier.

The 21st Century is increasingly defined by ecological crisis. With global biodiversity losses, the rapid melting of ice-caps and glaciers, rising ocean temperatures and desertification (all complemented by humanity’s continued, unshakeable appetite for fossil fuels), the contemporary environmental moment is an urgent dilemma.

In response, academia has converged on a neologism – ‘the Anthropocene’ – as a suitable expression of contemporary ecological crisis. This is not just a geological transition; it is also an existential one. As leading geologist Jan Zalasiewicz suggests: “The significance of the Anthropocene is that is sets a different trajectory for the Earth system, of which we of course are part”[1].

The destination of this “trajectory”, with humanity in the driving seat, is currently an indeterminate futurity. Such uncertainty (which unfortunately encourages, at best, a passivity, and worse, active climate change denial), should not detract from the new reality that the Anthropocene delineates, a reality that is making itself felt in collective consciousness. Anthropocenic anxiety is spreading across all domains, not least the cultural sphere.
Screenshot from Melancholia (Von Trier 2011)
Experimental cinema, for instance, reflects and explores the particularities of the contemporary moment, almost a bellwether medium for the Anthropocene. The event of apocalypse is a prominent theme (The Day after Tomorrow (2004), Melancholia (2011)), as is what the future holds post-apocalypse (Children of Men (2006), Snowpiercer (2013), Avatar (2009), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)). Other films engage ecological issues without the end-game of apocalypse (The Tree of Life (2011), Okja (2017), Uncertain (2017), Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives (2010)).

Importantly, many of these films challenge narratives of human exceptionalism, breaking-down nature-culture, subject-object binaries in the process. They problematise our dominant ways of seeing and being in the world, exposing us to a more entangled human-nonhuman milieu.

My dissertation looks to use film as the springboard for an exploration of Felix Guattari’s ecological thought. Guattari is more widely known for his collaborations with Gilles Deleuze, notably Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus. Towards the end of his career, however, Guattari wrote two ecological texts (The Three Ecologies and Chaosmosis), reflecting a holistic concern for global environmental issues alongside molecular issues of subjectivity. In The Three Ecologies, Guattari presents a tangled ecological vision, emphasising that ecology must be rethought of in terms of three interconnected networks (mental ecology, social ecology and environmental ecology). This is Guattari’s central ecological intervention, placing environmental problems (climate change, global warming etc.) on the same plane as subjective issues and social relations. As JD Dewsbury suggests:

“Thinking with Guattari requires that we affirm and reinvigorate our experimental care for mental and social ecologies, as much as we assume a care for the state of the physical ecology of our natural environment.”[2]

Whilst climatic interventions remain important, they must be one single strand of a larger restructuring process that simultaneously includes interventions into the domain of mental ecology, a domain that, counter-intuitively perhaps, is the central focus for Guattari’s ecosophy. It might seem like a waste of time, in light of pressing environmental issues, to suddenly care so much about human subjectivity. However, as Guattari argued, it is unlikely, given our current ways of thinking and feeling about the world, that widespread economic, political or social restructuring is going to: a) be sufficient enough, or b) happen at all. Indeed, this sentiment resonates all the more strongly considering the recent failure of the Paris climate agreement.

The underlying reality, one that Guattari himself was acutely aware of, is that ecological action will remain impotent whilst it continues to be located within the far-reaching logics of capitalism and consumerism. The seeds of change, away from capitalist logics, must be planted at the molecular scale for there to be hope of molar transformation. Ecosophy has molecular transformation as its central problematic.

How, then, to change people’s subjectivities? How to encourage greater care and responsibility for all planetary life? How to problematise existing human relations, and then transform them for the better? These are big questions, with no obvious answer. However, Guattari placed great importance in what he called ‘incorporeal species’ (music, the arts, cinema), and their ability to reframe sensual perception, forcing people into encounters with alterity and nonhuman forces, perhaps engendering new modes of being in the world.
Screenshot from The Tree of Life (Malick 2011)
My dissertation looks to explore the aesthetic encounter of film. In watching films, as Guattari suggests, we “suspend the usual modes of communication for a while”.[3] This suspension, rather than being reductive, actually opens us up to processes of transformation. Film, in this way, is an encounter with forces and flows – some of them impacting before conscious recognition – a unique audio-visual assemblage that is more than just a representation of real life. In fact, films have an autonomous potential to do something in the world. I hope to explore this productivity in relation to ecosophy. What does an ecosophic aesthetics, within film, look like?

Whilst multiple films come to mind, Lars Von Trier’s critically-acclaimed Melancholia is a good place to start. The title derives from the film’s pervasion by two encircling melancholias: 1. the melancholic mental-state of central protagonist, Justine, whose struggles with depression ebb and flow throughout, and 2. the impending doom of the approaching blue planet Melancholia, whose apocalyptic collision with Earth occurs in a prologue before we shift back in time to before the event.

Melancholia is by no means a normal ecological film; certainly, it does not follow conventional ecological film narratives. Whilst apocalypse in other films is either a future to be prevented, or a new reality that needs to be overcome, apocalypse in Melancholia is neither. There are no miraculous attempts to save humanity through science or invention. Neither is there a future after the planetary collision. The end is an end to all life, with the whole Earth dissolving into the vastness of Melancholia.

By bookending the film with apocalypse, Von Trier ensures a melancholic atmosphere throughout.  This might seem like a pessimistic experience. If we analyse Melancholia in terms of its narrative, looking for conventional meanings and understandings, then certainly you might come to that conclusion. However, I believe the film can be framed in ecologically productive terms. The brilliance of Melancholia is that it strips away conventional ecological narratives throughout, particularly narratives that suggest that humanity is in any way separate from ‘nature.’

As political theorist William Connolly writes:

“Melancholia tracks beauty and ugliness, intentions and frustrations, glowing surfaces and opaque depths, regular rituals and uncanny events, entanglements and denials.”[4]

Themes of depression, capitalism, passivity and (anti)modernity weave in and out. Alongside these themes are Von Trier’s experimental filmic techniques – including an incredibly striking opening montage of 16 slow-motion tableaux vivant with Wagner’s Prelude to Tristan and Isolde in the background (a piece of music that repeats over and over in the film). Evocative visual tableaux are repeated throughout. However, in contrast, much of the rest of the film follows Von Trier’s Dogme 95 conventions: a fast-moving, continually re-focusing, handheld camera catapulting us into the midst of strained social relations. The effect, I suggest, is a scrambling of perception, with the contrasting styles leaving the audience in a continual state of disorientation. It is this disorientation that becomes a point of bifurcation, a glimmer of potential for subjective transformation.
Screenshot from Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives (Apichatpong 2010)
In our scenes, the film dramatises our often-ignored entanglements with nonhuman beings, our infinite connections and attachments to the world. Encountering the film, I argue, re-immerses us into the uncertainties and vulnerabilities of life in a way that other films fail to do. Maintaining a melancholic aesthetic throughout, this atmosphere soaks into the pores of the audience, forcing a confrontation with the potentially-infinite nothingness of apocalypse. Moreover, we begin to question contemporary subjective positions. If apocalypse is actually going to happen, then what is the most appropriate, or ethical, subjective response?

Space limits answering this question, and further discussion. However, I hope to use my dissertation as a more thorough exposition of these important themes and questions.


Blog by Theo Parker
Reposted from 'Bristol Society and Space' Blog of the University of Bristol's MSc in Human Geography


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/29/declare-anthropocene-epoch-experts-urge-geological-congress-human-impact-earth

[2] Dewsbury, JD. (2015). “Guattari’s resingularisation of existence: pooling uncertainties,” Dialogues in Human Geography,Vol. 5(2), pp. 155-161.

[3] Guattari, F. (2009). Chaosophy: Texts and Interviews 1972-1977. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).


[4] William Connolly (2014). Melancholia and Us. Ozone.

Your Waste of Time: Art-Based Geographical Practices and the Environment

This blog post thinks through the themes of aesthetic interventions, sensing time and engendering response-ability using artistic responses to climate change. Here, these themes are drawn from one piece of art, Your Waste of Time, by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. This performative showcasing of glacial ice establishes interactions and relations between human bodies and icy materialities- but what is at stake here and what potentialities could be created through artistic practices? These are questions that have arisen through my current dissertation, where I hope to explore artistic responses to environmental degradation through the materialities of ice and plastic.

For the piece Your Waste of Time, Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson transported several large blocks of ice from Vatnajökull, the largest and oldest glacier in Iceland, to the Berlin gallery Neugerriemschneider (Eliasson, 2006). This glacier is almost incomprehensibly ancient, with some parts dating from around 1200 AD, but human-driven global warming has begun thawing Vatnajökull, dislodging chunks of ice from the main body of the glacier. This has left behind a scattering of sculpture-like nuggets of ice across the landscape, pieces that untouched, would soon melt away. Eliasson’s project transported these pieces to Germany, to be displayed in an art gallery.

Here the wayfaring blocks of ice were kept in a refrigerated space as immersive sculptures that audience members were encouraged to touch. This was an attempt by Eliasson to bring the visceral reality of human-driven climate change to the attention of the audience through a sensory engagement with ice. In Eliasson’s words, ‘we take away time from the glacier by touching it’ (Eliasson, 2006). Within this molecular moment of sensation between the human and icy touch, the exchange of human warmth is enough to begin to decay the ice. Your Waste of Time then becomes an experiment to curate a sense of environmental care through molecular icy interactions.

Your Waste of Time, Olafur Eliasson, photo by Jens Ziehe
Recently, such environmental artistic interventions have been located temporally with the term ‘anthropocene’[1]. Anthropocene has come into use to refer to human-driven environmental change and degradation. Although the ‘Anthro-pocene’ privileges and homogenises the human (a white, western human) within environmental discourses, the term has become a buzzword for the current era of global pollution and warming. As an imaginary, the Anthropocene cuts through different temporalities; finite human lives, longer lived materialities (such as ice) and geological timescales.

Artistic responses to environmental issues engage with this increasingly unpredictable world, through a sensory engagement with temporality, with other materialities and bodies. It can even be said that ‘attuning ourselves, through poetry, art, and description, to pay attention to other times…these are crucial practices; in fact, they are matters of survival.’ (Davis and Turpin, 2015). Although influential feminist scholar Donna Haraway (2015) proposes other terms such as Capitalocene to denote the specifically capitalist causes of environmental degradation, the Anthropocene also remains an arguably productive term. Art positioned as relating to different temporal imaginaries is thus a speculative, experimental project to think differently, to world differently. Although the term Anthropocene remains contestable, it’s very instability lends itself to artistic conceptual engagements that function through such fragile and indeterminate encounters.
 
 Image: Your Waste of Time, Olafur Eliasson, photo by Jens Ziehe
Positioned in the white, empty space of the art gallery, the fragility of the ice is magnified. This fragility comes to light through the invocation to touch the surface of the icy sculpture. In the words of Eliasson; ‘When we touch these blocks of ice with our hands, we are not just struck by the chill; we are struck by the world itself. We take time from the glacier by touching it’. As Erin Manning (2006), notes in her work on the intersections between art practice and philosophy, sensation opens up the body to thinking and doing differently through its relation to other bodies and things. Touch, in this light, is located neither with the human or the inhuman, but invented through the encounter.

But what happens at a touch? Ice, as sensory aesthetic experience, brings closer together the relations already held between ice and human bodies. Quantum physicist turned feminist philosopher Karen Barad (2012) brings together feminist traditions that unsettle ways of thinking materiality and quantum physics. A sense of touch, for Barad, can be unsettled a molecular exposition of the minute interactions between electrons. This is a murky and confusing world of quantum physics for most social scientists, but Barad productively draws out the indeterminacy at the very building blocks of sensation. Quantum theory holds infinites as integral. This argues for a radical openness of potentialities at the very building-blocks of mattering – all matter is unstable at its foundations. Could it be argued that there is at stake, the unsettling of stable ways of thinking and an opening up of openness already at the heart of mattering?

At the moment of touch between a hand and the blocks of ice, this becomes clear- the warmth of the body causes the ice to change state and start to melt. For Eliasson, ‘We take away time from the glacier by touching it. Suddenly I make the glacier understood to me, its temporality. It is linked to the time the water took to become ice, a glacier. By touching it, I embody my knowledge by establishing physical contact. And suddenly we understand that we do actually have the capacity to understand the abstract with our senses. Touching time is touching abstraction.’ What does it mean to touch time? Touch, as unsettling and in-touch with infinite possibilities could signal a potential for thinking differently. The term anthropocene signals (if problematically) this need to think differently about temporality. The geologic lifespan of the ice is not permanent, but made fragile under a human touch. Temporality, then is not a stable concept either, but one that aesthetic interventions can trouble and disrupt assumptions that time related solely to a stable ticking of the clock.

This touching-time, for Eliasson, has a political undertone. Time is a crucial and sensitive issue in climate change debates. The critical question is, how to engender response-ability and action to do something to halt the tide of environmental degradation and global temperature rise. Haraway (2015) has written about an art project by the Institute of Figuring (2005-ongoing) to crochet coral reefs, involving thousands of people working to cultivate and care for these crochet-corals, gathering each person’s work into an exhibition, curating the corals to establish a reef. Like Your Waste of Time, The Crochet Coral Reef Project has time at its centre. Crocheting, like the establishment of a coral reef, takes time, and has the potential to establish caring relations through the touch of human-material and time. Could art such as this create publics that could do differently concerning climate change?
 
Image: Crochet Coral Reef Project, Institute of Figuring
Care in this context relates to everything that both humans and nonhuman things to continue to repair their world to live as well as possible. These caring relations knit the world together and create complex links between things and humans in the world. Feminist scholar Puig de la Bellacasa (2011) proposes an ethics of care. This care is not a moralism. It is not a case of you should care about environmental degradation! Rather, it is a speculation to see what could happen if we relate to the things and environments around us through more caring relations.

Your Waste of Time, framed through touch, time and care touches upon possible pasts, presents and futures that are framed as undecided. As the ice hovers indeterminately in-between solid and liquid, so does the potential for doing differently. Geologic timescales interact with a momentary present. Could this moment of touch between ice and human engender more caring relations that span other times and other places? Your Waste of Time, then, may not be a waste of time, but rather put us in-touch with time.

Blog by Rosie McLellan
Reposted from 'Bristol Society and Space' Blog of the University of Bristol's MSc in Human Geography

Bibliography
Barad, K. (2012) ‘On touching – The inhuman that therefore I am’, Differences, 23(3): 206-223
Davis, H. and Turpin, E., eds. (2015), ‘Art in the Anthropocene’, London: Open Humanities Press
De la Bellacasa, M. (2011), ‘Matters of care in technoscience: Assembling neglected things’, Social Studies of Science, 41(1): 85-106
Eliasson, O. (2006), ‘Your Waste of Time’, Berlin: Neugerriemschneider [http://olafureliasson.net/archive/artwork/WEK100564/your-waste-of-time]
Haraway, D. and Kenney, M. (2015), ‘Anthropocene, Capitolocene, Chthulhocene’, in: Davis, H. and Turpin, E., eds. (2015), ‘Art in the Anthropocene’, London: Open Humanities Press
Institute of Figuring, (2005-Ongoing), ‘Crochet Coral Reef Project’, New York: MAD Museum of Modern Arts [http://madmuseum.org/exhibition/crochet-coral-reef-toxic-seas]
Manning, E. (2006), ‘Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty’, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

[1] See more regarding the Anthropocene at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/29/declare-anthropocene-epoch-experts-urge-geological-congress-human-impact-earth


Monday, 7 August 2017

Science and Sunflowers

Sunflowerfest is an annual three-day festival of music and art held just outside Lisburn, Northern Ireland, priding itself on its family friendly atmosphere and sprawling spectrum of creative activities. Unlike the monster festivals that are held in other parts of the UK, in Northern Ireland our festivals are small (think a few thousand people, not a few hundred-thousand) with a strong focus on local talent. The perfect place for some experimental, creative science outreach…

In 2016, I contacted the organisers and floated the idea of a science outreach stall based upon my research and others in BRIDGE and the Cabot Institute. The idea, called Living Earth, was new, reasonably grand and completely untested. The response was a very enthusiastic “yes please!”

So, last year a squad of five outreachers (Alan Kennedy, Emily White and Michael Cooper of the Cabot Institute, plus Dewi Owen and Zuleika Gregory our puppeteers) arrived in blustery Northern Ireland and over the course of the festival recreated the entire history of Earth. 4.5 billion years in 3 days. With the help of punters at the festival, we built a 1.5 m diameter model of the Earth out of willow, foliage, recycled and craft materials. As the Earth was built, we recreated many of the major processes and events that shape it today, from the placement of the continents, the expansion of biomes and climate zones, the formation of the cryosphere and the destruction of the Anthropocene.


As well as this geological ‘Big Art Attack’, crafts and a puppet show entitled This Soup Tastes Funny! about the evolution of life were put on in the festival’s dedicated Kids Zone. Our puppets, Doug and Barry, had to travel back in time to the primordial soup and race through evolution in order to relive the first day of the festival. Five time periods, four puppet costume changes, asteroid impacts, crowd participation and even a song left the young audience both entertained, but also possibly very confused… That’s a lot of science to take on-board in 15 minutes!

We (and our marquee) got battered by wind, rain and the exhausting amount of activities we were juggling, including our recreational ‘time off’. However, we certainly offered something unique at the festival and left a positive impression with the organisers:

“Just to say THANK YOU to you and the crew for all the great things you did at Sunflowerfest. So appreciate everything you do and did. We would always welcome you back to do whatever you would like!” – Vanessa, Sunflowerfest Organiser

Now, I have quite an active imagination, so that last sentence was a dangerously open invitation… With 2017’s festival theme being ‘a parallel universe’, I thought something immersive on the theme of deep time would fit right in. The new plan was to build a time machine! Or in other words transform the inside of a marquee into a jungle, to show what Ireland would have been like during the hot Eocene period ~50 million years ago. As I wrote down a proposal for the festival application, this seemed like it would be reasonably straightforward compared to 2016. In hindsight, I misjudged that.

Logistically, constructing a jungle was only possible because my mum had recently had some trees in the garden felled and she also had several hedges needing cut back. A supply of logs and some waxy leafed laurel and bay that would hold their colour after cutting for the duration of the festival made a good, but somewhat bulky start. These were attached to the marquee ceiling and a heavy metal tripod to give us a central ‘tree’ and performance space to demonstrate some tectonic themed experiments. Ferns and other leafy plants were then dug up and temporarily housed in buckets to fill out the back of the tent and childhood toys added around the stall for the jungle fauna. Finally, a small speaker playing jungle sound effects was hidden up in the canopy to complete the experience.


Obviously, a hearty dose of imagination was required to convince yourself our locally sourced, temperate vegetation was an Eocene jungle, but luckily this year our stand was based entirely in the Kids Zone, where imagination is not in short supply. Ideally, I wanted to have a Superser heater in the back of the tent to raise the temperature to 35 °C, but doubted that would pass the risk assessment. We settled for having the ambient Northern Irish temperature, but luckily, we did have a few biblically heavy rain showers to give it a nice wet rainforest feel. It took three days of preparation, cutting, digging and replanting vegetation, and five hours of construction, but eventually we had the most eye-catching stand in the whole Kids Zone. It was pretty much the Eocene.

In our jungle, we had information about how Ireland has changed over the past billion years, a floating plate tectonics game and crafted fossils and jungle wildlife to decorate the stand, all of which kept us mostly run off our feet during our three-hour slots each day. Our flagship performance however, was a bicarbonate soda-vinegar erupting volcano, as ~50 million years ago Northern Ireland was at the centre of lots of volcanic activity, forming for example the Giant’s Causeway. Without a single trial run (we spent all of our preparation time building the jungle), our resident chemistry undergraduate, Oliver Feighan, carried out the experiment in front of an audience 40 strong. It was possibly the least explosive or inspiring volcano in the world. As the foam dribbled out the top of the bottle it was met with a slow and bemused round of applause. Those kids will definitely go on to be the environmental scientists of the future.

Creative outreach at big events may not always go quite to plan, it takes time and effort and you can sometimes bite off more than you can chew, but it’s a great way reframe the relevance of research in a totally different way, speak to a new audience (a very bohemian crowd, in the case of Sunflowerfest) and just do something fun. It’s not often families can experience palaeoclimate, tribal drumming circles and the Rubberbandits* all in one day. We ended up going on to run the globe building activity from 2016 at a further two events (you can see a highlight video of the almost finished piece here). Although kids and parents found 2017’s time machine a lot of fun and it looked surprisingly effective, unfortunately I don’t think I will have time or energy to ever recreate the Eocene again! However, while I may be leaving the Eocene in the past, I highly doubt this will be my last Sunflowerfest.

*Caution, likely explicit content

Blog post by Press Gang member Alan Kennedy.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Global Environmental Change mini-symposium

At the end of June, the Cabot Institute hosted the Global Environmental Change mini-symposium – a one hour whistle-stop tour showcasing the breadth of research within this theme of the Cabot Institute. Speakers represented different schools from the University that actively work on the spectrum of Global Environmental Change challenges, such as environmental law and policy, biodiversity conservation, biogeochemical cycles, environmental justice and environmental history.


Each speaker had time for a very short talk, with some choosing to focus on specific aspects of their work in depth and others instead covering the breadth of research carried out by colleagues in their school. The audience too came from a wide background, with everyone from undergraduate and masters students up to professors represented. Although with five speakers (plus some words from the theme leaders, Jo House and Matt Rigby) there was not much time for questions during the hour of talks, there was plenty of time for discussion over food and drinks afterwards.

Although it was billed as a miniature event, it set out to address grand, ambitious, global challenges. It was a short, punchy reminder of the huge range of research skills found within the Cabot Institute. We might not have solved the Earth’s challenges in an hour or two, but now that the dust has settled we certainly have a good idea of who to ask and how to start taking them on. I look forward to the mini-symposiums for the Cabot Institute’s other five research themes!

The speakers were:
Kath Baldock – Life Sciences
Alice Venn – Social Sciences and Law
Alix Dietzel – SPAIS
Kate Hendry – Earth Sciences
Daniel Haines – History

The event was hosted by:
Jo House – Geographical Sciences

Matt Rigby – Chemistry

Blog post by Press Gang member Alan Kennedy.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Sea and Sky

I’ve always loved the sea. Pursuing a major in oceanography led me to chose a degree in Physics and it was I realised that studying the atmosphere was just as, amazing, if not more so! I therefore decided to pursue a PhD in atmospheric sciences. But once the sea captures you, it never really lets you go. That is how I found myself between the sea and sky.


Several years ago, a group of like-minded friends and I decided to start an NGO, based in Croatia, called Deep Blue Explorers that would focus on marine and atmospheric sciences and research. That task proved to be extremely challenging as getting the funding we needed to start our adventures seemed to be a little harder than we had anticipated. However, we were fortunate enough and, after a very rough first season, we started to collaborate with Operation Wallacea who design and implement biodiversity and conservation management research expeditions with university and high school students from all over the world.


At the same time, we started collaborating with another Croatian NGO called 20.000 Leagues who have over 10 years of experience in marine research. Together, we are running the Adriatic Ecology Course that aims to bring together scientists and experts from all over the world to give international students a hands-on experience of field work and high-quality research. The course takes place in the National Park of Mljet and the research includes fish, sea urchin and sea grass surveys. Additionally, the students conduct boat monitoring in Lokva bay, three times a day, in order to record the pressure of boats anchoring in the Bay.


The expedition is supported by scientific lectures regarding conservation in the Adriatic; the ecosystem and biodiversity of the island of Mljet; sustainability; research methods and global challenges such as marine pollution. The students also have the opportunity to be involved in workshops to discuss conservation and global challenges issues and to take part in personal and professional development training activities that focus on sustainability and protection of marine life.


It is an amazing experience for everyone and the students leave the Island with a new understanding and new appreciation of the ecology Island of Mljet, the contribution of the National Park regarding conservation and the need and importance of supporting the National Park’s efforts.


As for me, being able to work both with the sea and the sky, I can just say, I have never been happier!


Blog post by Eleni Michalopoulou. Eleni is currently a PhD student in the department of Chemistry and part of the ACRG Group. Her PhD focuses on studying the PFCs CF4 and C2F6. A physicist by training with a major in Oceanography, environment and meteorology she has spend most of her early career working on marine conservation, microplastics oceanography and Atmospheric dynamics.  She is one of the lecturers of the Sustainable Development open unit and one of the lead educators for Bristol Futures and the Sustainable Futures pathway. Her scientific interests cover a variety of topics such as climate change, conservation, sustainability, marine and Atmospheric Sciences. 


Friday, 16 June 2017

In defence of science: Making facts great again

"We must not let rhetoric or vested interests divert us from what we know is the right course of action."


From across the Atlantic, the European scientific community is watching warily as our American colleagues endure increasingly politicised attacks on their work and on the very foundation of evidence-based science.

President Donald Trump's decision earlier this month to withdraw the United States from the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change - a decision condemned by heads of state, businesses, mayors and ordinary people in the US and the world over - epitomised this contempt for the facts from some within the political sphere.

We can, to some degree, relate, as many European scientists - and particularly those who research climate change and its impacts, as I do - have been forced to confront the politicisation of their disciplines, the distortion of their research and the promotion of "alternative facts" and vested-interest propaganda.

In fact, just two months ago at the annual General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union, for the first time in the body's history, we debated issues around existential threats to science in general, the integrity of the scientific community, trust in science and what we can do to ensure that evidence-based science forms the basis for informed decisions and debate by policymakers and the public.

Later this month, we'll watch as some of our American colleagues gather for the annual Broadcast Meteorology Conference of the American Meteorological Society, which will include in its programme a short course explicitly focused on the communication of climate science.

Never has accurate, fact-based communication of climate science been more urgently needed, and in modern history, it has rarely been so compromised. There is a clear trend, particularly evident in the US, of a growing distrust of "experts" who are branded as intellectual elites, rooted in a populist backlash towards the establishment.

This goes all the way up the rungs of government to the American president himself, who has called climate change a "hoax" and in his first 100 days in office has moved to curb spending on climate and earth science research and is overseeing an agency-wide scrubbing of climate science out of federal websites and publications.

As he announced the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on June 1, Trump also left himself open to accusations of misrepresenting climate science to suit his own political objectives: after the US president quoted a figure from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study to support his argument that the Paris Agreement is ineffectual, MIT officials - including one of the study's authors - declared that Trump had misunderstood their work and that they did not support a US withdrawal from the agreement.

The science of climate change, however, is clearer than ever. We see the fingerprints of human-induced global warming on more and more long-term climate trends. In the US and throughout the world, for instance, warmer temperatures are amplifying the intensity, duration and frequency of many weather events, none more evident than extreme heat. Western states have suffered through record numbers of heat waves since the turn of the century, with overnight temperatures often at historical highs. This is particularly dangerous as it doesn't give the human body the necessary relief. Already, these heat waves are costing lives, and the scientific link between human-induced global warming and heat waves is crystal clear. The European heat wave of 2003 is estimated to have caused 35,000 premature deaths and was very likely a consequence of human interference with the climate system.

By listening to the best available science on climate change, we can better prepare for its impacts. By ignoring, censoring, or shunning our scientists, we put more Americans at risk. The alternative to informed decision-making is uninformed decision-making. Without evidence-based science, decisions of vital importance to humanity will be made founded in prejudice, emotion and ignorance. That is no way to run the planet. It is no way to plan our future.

Besides helping prepare for the impacts of climate change, science should guide our efforts to minimise them. For these mitigation efforts, the science is telling us that we don't have much time. In fact, it's saying that 2020 must be the target for peaking global carbon emissions. We must bend the curve of global greenhouse gas emissions towards a steady decline by the next US presidential election. If emissions continue to rise beyond 2020, the world stands very little chance of limiting global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the threshold set by the Paris Agreement, and a temperature limit that many of the world's most vulnerable communities consider a threshold for survival.

The world has four short years to reverse our emissions trends to avoid the very real risk of dangerous and irreversible climate change, but we won't get the policies we need without trusting and relying on the science that tells us that's so. Science has no political affiliation, nor can it be bent to your will. You don't renegotiate with physics and you aren't about to "win" a deal with chemistry. We must not let rhetoric, vested interests or the blind dismissal of the overwhelming scientific consensus divert us from what we know is the right course of action ethically, scientifically and economically.

By Jonathan Bamber, professor of polar science at the University of Bristol and president of the European Geosciences Union. Blog originally posted on Al Jazeera.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Forest accounting rules put EU’s climate credibility at risk, say leading experts

**Article re-posted from EURACTIV **

Forest mitigation should be measured using a scientifically-objective approach, not allowing countries to hide the impacts of policies that increase net emissions, writes a group of environmental scientists led by Dr Joanna I House.

Dr Joanna I House is a reader in environmental science and policy at the Cabot Institute, University of Bristol, UK. She co-signed this op-ed with other environmental scientists listed at the bottom of the article.

From an atmospheric perspective, a reduction in the forest sink leads to more CO2 remaining in the atmosphere and is thus effectively equivalent to a net increase in emissions. [Yannik S/Flickr]

When President Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement, the EU’s Climate Commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete spoke for all EU Member States when he said that, “This has galvanised us rather than weakened us, and this vacuum will be filled by new broad committed leadership.” The French President, Emmanuel Macron, echoed him by tweeting, “Make our planet great again”.

But as the old saying goes, ‘If you talk the talk, you must walk the walk,’ and what better place to start than the very laws the EU is currently drafting to implement its 2030 climate target under the Paris Agreement. This includes a particularly contentious issue that EU environment leaders will discuss on 19 June, relating to the rules on accounting for the climate impact of forests.

Forests are crucial to limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Deforestation is responsible for almost one tenth of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, while forests remove almost a third of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.

In the EU, forests currently grow more than they are harvested.  As a result, they act as a net ‘sink’ of CO2 removing more than 400 Mt CO2 from the atmosphere annually, equivalent to 10% of total EU greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

New policies adopted or intended by Member States will likely drive them to harvest more trees (e.g. for the bioeconomy and bioenergy), reducing the sink. The controversy is, in simple terms, if forests are taking up less CO2 due to policies, should this be counted?

Based on lessons learnt from the Kyoto Protocol, the European Commission proposed that accounting for the impacts of forests on the atmosphere should be based on a scientifically robust baseline. This baseline (known as the ‘Forest Reference Level’) should take into account historical data on forest management activities and forest dynamics (age-related changes). If countries change forest management activities going forward, the atmospheric impact of these changes would be fully accounted based on the resulting changes in GHG emissions and sinks relative to the baseline. This approach is consistent with the GHG accounting of all other sectors.

Subsequently, some EU member states have proposed that any increase in harvesting, potentially up to the full forest growth increment, should not be penalised. This would be achieved by including this increase in harvesting, and the related change in the net carbon sink, in the baseline.

As land-sector experts involved in scientific and methodological reports (including for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC), in the implementation of GHG inventory reports, and in science advice to Governments, we have several scientific concerns with this approach.

From an atmospheric perspective, a reduction in the forest sink leads to more CO2 remaining in the atmosphere and is thus effectively equivalent to a net increase in emissions. This is true even if forests are managed “sustainably”, i.e. even if harvest does not exceed forest growth.

This is further complicated as the issues are cross-sectoral. Higher harvest rates may reduce the uptake of CO2 by forests, but use of the harvested wood may lead to emissions reductions in other sectors e.g. through the substitution of wood for other more emissions-intensive materials (e.g. cement) or fossil energy. These emission reductions will be implicitly counted in the non-LULUCF sectors.  Therefore, to avoid bias through incomplete accounting, the full impact of increased harvesting must be also accounted for.

Including policy-related harvest increases in the baseline could effectively hide up to 400 MtCO2/yr from EU forest biomass accounting compared to the “sink service” that EU forests provide today, or up to 300 MtCO2/yr relative to a baseline based on a scientific approach (up to two thirds of France’s annual emissions).

If policy-related impacts on net land carbon sinks are ignored or discounted, this would:


  • Hamper the credibility of the EU’s bioenergy accounting: Current IPCC guidance on reporting emissions from bioenergy is not to assume that it is carbon neutral, but rather any carbon losses should to be reported under the ‘Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry’ (LULUCF) sector rather than under the energy sector (to avoid double counting). EU legislation on bioenergy similarly relies on the assumption that carbon emissions are fully accounted under LULUCF.
  • Compromise the consistency between the EU climate target and the IPCC trajectories. The EU objective of reducing GHG emissions of -40% by 2030 (-80/95% by 2050) compared to 1990 is based on the IPCC 2°C GHG trajectory for developed countries. This trajectory is based not just on emissions, but also on land-sinks. Hiding a decrease in the land sink risks failure to reach temperature targets and would require further emission reductions in other sectors to remain consistent with IPCC trajectories.
  • Contradict the spirit of the Paris Agreement, i.e., that “Parties should take action to conserve and enhance sinks”, and that Parties should ensure transparency in accounting providing confidence that the nationally-determined contribution of each country (its chosen level of ambition in mitigation) is met without hiding impacts of national policies.
  • Set a dangerous precedent internationally, potentially leading other countries to do the same (e.g. in setting deforestation reference levels). This would compromise the credibility of the large expected forest contribution to the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement needs credible and transparent forest accounting and EU leaders are about to make a decision that could set the standard.   Including policy-driven increases in harvest in baselines means the atmospheric impacts of forest policies will be effectively hidden from the accounts (while generating GHG savings in other sectors). Basing forest accounting on a scientifically-objective approach would ensure the credibility of bioenergy accounting, consistency between EU targets and the IPCC 2°C trajectory, and compliance with the spirit of Paris Agreement. The wrong decision would increase the risks of climate change and undermine our ability to “make the planet great again”.

Disclaimer: the authors express their view in their personal capacities, not representing their countries or any of the institutions they work for.

***

Signatories:

Joanna I House, Reader in Environmental Science and Policy, Co-Chair Global Environmental Change, Cabot Institute, University of Bristol, UK
Jaana K Bäck, Professor in Forest – atmosphere interactions, Chair of the EASAC Forest multifunctionality report, University of Helsinki, Finland
Valentin Bellassen, Researcher in Agricultural and Environmental Economics, INRA, France
Hannes Böttcher, Senior Researcher at Oeko-Institut.
Eric Chivian M.D., Founder and Former Director, Center for Health and the Global Environment Harvard Medical School
Pep Canadell, Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project
Philippe Ciais, scientist at Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, Gif sur Yvette, France
Philip B. Duffy, President and Executive Director Woods Hole Research Center, USA
Sandro Federici, Consultant on MRV and accounting for mitigation in the Agriculture and land use sector
Pierre Friedlingstein, Chair, Mathematical Modelling of Climate Systems, University of Exeter, UK.
Scott Goetz, Professor, Northern Arizona University
Nancy Harris, Research Manager, Forests Program, World resources Institute.
Martin Herold, Professor for Geoinformation Science and Remote Sensing and co-chair of Global Observations of Forest Cover and Land Dynamics (GOFC-GOLD), Wageningen University and Research, The Netherlands
Mikael Hildén, Professor, Climate Change Programme and the Resource Efficient and Carbon Neutral Finland Programme, Finnish Environment Institute and the Strategic Research Council, Finland
Richard A. Houghton, Woods Hole Research Centre USA
Tuomo Kalliokoski University of Helsinki, Finland
Janne S. Kotiaho, Professor of Ecology, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
Donna Lee, Climate and Land Use Alliance
Anders Lindroth, Lund University, Sweden
Jari Liski, Research Professor, Finnish Meteorological Institute, Finland
Brendan Mackey, Director, Griffith Climate Change Response Program, Griffith University, Australia
James J. McCarthy, Harvard University, USA
William R. Moomaw, Co-director Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University, USA
Teemu Tahvanainen, University of Eastern Finland
Olli Tahvonen, Professor forest economics and policy, University of Helsinki, Finland
Keith Pausitan, University Distinguished Professor, Colorado State University, USA
Colin Prentice, AXA Chair in Biosphere and Climate Impacts, Imperial College London, UK
N H Ravindranath, Centre for Sustainable Technologies (CST), Indian Institute of Science, India
Laura Saikku, Senior Scientist, Finnish Environment Institute
Maria J Sanchez, Scientific Director of BC3 (Basque Center for Climate Change), Spain
Sampo Soimakallio, Senior Scientist, Finnish Environment Institute
Zoltan Somogyi, Hungarian Forest Research Institute, Budapest, Hungary
Benjamin Smith, Professor of Ecosystem Science, Lund University, Sweden
Pete Smith, Professor of Soils & Global Change, University of Aberdeen, UK
Francesco N. Tubiello, Te Leader, Agri-Environmental Statistics, FAO
Timo Vesala, Professor of Meteorology, University of Helsinki, Finland
Robert Waterworth
Jeremy Woods, Imperial College London, UK
Dan Zarin, Climate and Land Use Alliance