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Peru’s ancient water systems can help protect communities from shortages caused by climate change

Water is essential for human life, but in many parts of the world water supplies are under threat from more extreme, less predictable weather conditions due to climate change. Nowhere is this clearer than in the Peruvian Andes, where rising temperatures and receding glaciers forewarn of imminent water scarcity for the communities that live there. Peru holds more than 70% of the world’s tropical glaciers. Along the 180 kilometre expanse of the Cordillera Blanca (“white mountains”), more than 250,000 people depend on glaciers for a year-round supply of water. Meltwater from the glaciers supplies rivers, offering a vital supplement to rainwater so that locals can continue irrigating food crops throughout the dry season, from May to October. But Peruvian glaciers have shrunk by 25% since 1987, and the water supply to rivers during the dry season is gradually decreasing. While national and regional governments and NGOs are responding to the threat of water scarcity with modern engineering so…

Three history lessons to help reduce damage from earthquakes

Earthquakes don’t kill people,’ the saying goes. ‘Buildings do.’ There is truth in the adage: the majority of deaths during and just after earthquakes are due to the collapse of buildings. But the violence of great catastrophes is not confined to collapsed walls and falling roofs. Earthquakes also have broader effects on people, and the environments we live in.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)’s second Disaster Resilience Week starts in Bangkok on 26 August 2019. Practitioners and researchers have achieved great progress in reducing disaster risk over the past few decades, but we must do more to save lives and protect livelihoods.

Can history help?

Building against disaster Buildings are a good, practical place to start.

Material cultures offer paths to resilience. A major example is traditional building styles that reduce the threat from seismic shaking. A building is not only a compilation of bricks and stones, but a social element t…

Turning knowledge of past climate change into action for the future

It’s more helpful to talk about the things we can do, than the problems we have caused. Beth Shapiro, a molecular biologist and author of How To Clone A Mammoth, gave a hopeful response to an audience question about the recent UN report stating that one million species are threatened with extinction.

I arrived at the International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA) 2019 conference, held in Dublin at the end of July, keen to learn exactly that: what climate scientists can do to mitigate the impact of our rapidly changing climate. INQUA brings together earth, atmosphere and ocean scientists studying the Quaternary, a period from 2.6 million years ago to the present day. The Quaternary has seen repeated and abrupt periods of climate change, making it the perfect analogue for our rapidly changing future.
In the case of extinctions, if we understand how species responded to human and environmental pressures in the past, we may be better equipped to protect them in the present day.
Prot…

Climate-driven extreme weather is threatening old bridges with collapse

The recent collapse of a bridge in Grinton, North Yorkshire, raises lots of questions about how prepared we are for these sorts of risks. The bridge, which was due to be on the route of the cycling world championships in September, collapsed after a month’s worth of rain fell in just four hours, causing flash flooding.

Grinton is the latest in a series of such collapses. In 2015, first Storm Eva and then Storm Frank caused flooding which collapsed the 18th century Tadcaster bridge, also in North Yorkshire, and badly damaged the medieval-era Eamont bridge in nearby Cumbria. Floods in 2009 collapsed or severely damaged 29 bridges in Cumbria alone.

With climate change making this sort of intense rainfall more common in future, people are right to wonder whether we’ll see many more such bridge collapses. And if so – which bridges are most at risk?
We know that bridges can collapse for various reasons. Some are simply old and already crumbling. Others fall down because of defective materi…

Extinction Rebellion uses tactics that toppled dictators – but we live in a liberal democracy

After occupying parts of central London over two weeks in April, Extinction Rebellion’s (XR) summer uprising has now spread to Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds and Bristol. All these protests involve disruption, breaking the law and activists seeking arrest.

Emotions are running high, with many objecting to the disruption. At the same time, the protests have got people and the media talking about climate change. XR clearly represents something new and unusual, which has the power to annoy or enthuse people. But what led it to adopt such disruptive tactics in its efforts to demand action on climate change?

XR is accused of being an anarchist group in a report from the right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange. To actual anarchists, that is laughable. XR strictly adheres to non-violence, seeks arrests and chants “we love you” to the police. This contrasts starkly with anarchists’ antagonistic relationship to the state and its law enforcement.

The movement claims to practice civil disobedience – but…

Forest 404: A chilling vision of a future without nature

Binge-watching of boxsets on BBC iPlayer or Netflix is a growing habit. And binge-listening isn’t far behind. Podcast series downloadable through BBC Sounds are all the rage (with a little help from footballer Peter Crouch). Enter Radio 4’s ‘Forest 404’ - hot off the press as a 27-piece boxset on the fourth day of the fourth month (4 April 2019). This is something I’ve been involved in recently: an experimental BBC sci-fi podcast that’s a brand-new listening experience because of its three-tiered structure of drama, factual talk and accompanying soundscape (9 x 3 = 27). 

Try to imagine a world in which not only forests but every last trace of the natural world as we know it has been erased (almost……). This eco-thriller by Timothy X. Atack (credits include ‘Dr Who’) is set in the 24th century following a data crash in the early 21st century called The Cataclysm (404 is also the error message you get when a website is unavailable). The action follows lead protagonist Pan (University o…

Why the time may be ripe for a Green New Deal

On the 8th July, parliamentarians, researchers and practitioners gathered in the House of Commons to discuss and debate the possibilities and practicalities of a Green New Deal in the UK. Drawing on insights and experience from both the UK and the USA, speakers included Caroline Lucas MP, James Heappey MP, John Podesta of the Center for American Progress, and Hannah Martin of Green New Deal UK.

The Green New Deal is a policy concept that asserts the need for wholesale, sustained and state-led economic investment to address the challenges of climate breakdown. Whilst it may often feel that these demands for a Green New Deal have come out of the blue, its entrance into the language of environmentalism can be found in 2007, when those concerned with climate breakdown and environmental problems argued that policies centred on improving the environment had important social consequences also.

2019 is, in many ways, the year where environmentalism has taken a radical step into the popular c…

Bristol and the Sustainable Development Goals

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are often referred to as “the closest thing the world has to a strategy.” The 17 Global Goals, agreed at the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, set out 169 targets to be achieved by the year 2030. These targets cover a wide range of issues, such as poverty, inequality, gender equality, education, health, infrastructure, energy, climate change and more. Underpinning the Goals is an ambition to reduce our impact on the planet and reduce divisive inequalities in society without making anybody poorer or worse off.
Progress towards meeting the SDGs is normally monitored and reported at the national level through the production of Voluntary National Reviews which are presented to the United Nations at an annual event known as the High-Level Political Forum.
However, there has been a surge of interest in ‘localising’ the SDGs in cities around the world by promoting their use, integrating them into city plans and policies, and monitoring progre…

Decarbonising the UK rail network

Caboteer Dr Colin Nolden blogs on a recent All-Party Parliamentary Rail & Climate Change Groups meeting on ‘Decarbonising the UK rail network’.  The event was co-chaired by Martin Vickers MP and Daniel Zeichner MP. Speakers included:

Professor Jim Skea, CBE, Imperial College LondonDavid Clarke, Technical Director, RIAAnthony Perret, Head of Sustainable Development, RSSBHelen McAllister, Head of Strategic Planning (Freight and National Passenger Operators), Network Rail
The meeting kicked off with a broad overview of the global decarbonisation challenge by Jim Skea. As former member of the UK’s Climate Change Committee and Co-chair of Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which oversaw the 1.5C report published in October 2018, as well member of the Scottish Just Transition Commissions, he emphasized that the net-zero target ‘is humongously challenging’. We need to recognise that all aspects of our land, economy and society require change, including lif…