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Grey Britain: Misery, urbanism & neuroaesthetics

“We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions. We thrash about and are a danger to ourselves and the rest of life.”– E.O. Wilson, The Social Conquest of the Earth (2012).
In a previous article I have discussed the use of simple patterns to interpret the complexity of nature and the human interface with it. Here, I will illustrate this concept on a larger canvas, discussing this interface, between nature and social systems, more thoroughly. This final article, in the series on inter-disciplinary work I have written for the University of Bristol Cabot Institute for the Environment, is partially motivated by my personal interest in the cycle of urbanism, the associated architecture and concepts. It is also motivated by a project I followed closely during a past flirtation with living and working in London and the comparable changes I see happening around me in Bristol, where I currently live and work.
‘London is Changing’ was an arts project undertaken by Dr. Rebecca …

Bristol Future’s magical places: Sustainability through the eyes of the community

“What is science? Why do we do it?”. I ask these questions to my students a lot, in fact, I spend a lot of time asking myself the same thing.

And of course, as much as philosophy of science has thankfully graced us with a lot of scholars, academics and researchers who have discussed, and even provided answers to these questions, sometimes, when you are buried under piles of papers, staring at your screen for hours and hours on end, it doesn’t feel very science-y, does it?

 As a child I always imagined the scientist constantly surrounded by super cool things like the towers around Nicola Tesla, or Cousteau being surrounded by all those underwater wonders. Reality though, as it often does, may significantly differ from your early life expectations. I should have guessed that Ts and Cs would apply… Because there is nothing magnificent about looking for that one bug in your code that made your entire run plot the earth inside out and upside down, at least not for me.

I know for myself, I…

What makes cities more environmentally sustainable: A comparative study of York and Bristol

Over the summer of 2017 I conducted 25 interviews with policymakers and key stakeholders – 17 in York and 8 in Bristol. The interviews involved wide ranging discussions on the three pillars of sustainability – environment, social and economic – in the city of the interviewee.

Some background to the study and why I chose Bristol to compare with York – coming from the Leeds/Bradford conurbation, York seems like such a pleasant place to me: incredible preservation of its heritage, affluent, with very few of the economic and social problems experienced in some other parts of Yorkshire. However, having lived in York for a couple of years, I’ve realised when you scratch the surface a little, it’s not perfect. There are quite interesting dynamics in the city that prevent it from achieving its potential, particularly environmentally…

Enter Bristol as a comparison city!

Having won the European Green Capital 2015, Bristol was an obvious choice. Although initially my concern was there are stark…

The muddy debate: Is the Severn Estuary biologically productive?

Traditionally, the Severn Estuary has been mistaken for an expansive, featureless landscape, dominated by fast-flowing muddy waters that prevent any pelagic biological activity. Although the latter could be true in terms of phytoplankton development, new research has shed light on the vital role that the benthic algal system has on controlling nutrient dynamics in the estuary.

Estuaries form at the margins between the land and the sea. The complex movement and mixing of freshwater and seawater governed by the tide, along with the trapping and recycling of continentally supplied nutrients and sediment, makes estuaries some of the most ecologically viable ecosystems in the world, in line with the biological productivity of coral reefs and tropical rainforests.

The Severn, the largest of 133 estuaries in the UK, has a mosaic distribution of intertidal mudflats, saltmarshes and wetlands, making it a unique habitat for a wide range of species. Alongside nationally scarce plant species, imp…

Coconuts and climate change

Before pursuing an MSc in Climate Change Science and Policy at the University of Bristol, I completed my undergraduate studies in Environmental Science at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. During my final year I carried out a research project that explored the impact of extreme weather events on coconut productivity across the three climatic zones of Sri Lanka. A few months ago, I managed to get a paper published and I thought it would be a good idea to share my findings on this platform.

Climate change and crop productivity  There has been a growing concern about the impact of extreme weather events on crop production across the globe, Sri Lanka being no exception. Coconut is becoming a rare commodity in the country, due to several reasons including the changing climate. The price hike in coconuts over the last few years is a good indication of how climate change is affecting coconut productivity across the country. Most coconut trees are no longer bearing fruits and those that …

How engaging citizens can help to shape green cities

In order for European territories to be more environmentally and socially sustainable the involvement of citizens is key. Experiences throughout Europe show us that developing strategies to improve the engagement, collaboration and communication with local stakeholders – across diverse realms and thematic domains – is essential to ensure an effective outcome. During European Green Week, a workshop organised by DG Environment, was conducted to showcase some inspirational experiences in terms of sustainable urban development, health and waste management from different European cities.

Speakers included Mauro Gil Fournier (Estudio SIC), Professor Rich Pancost (Director of University of Bristol Cabot Institute for the Environment), Silvia Moroni (AMAT), Paola Robalo (Centro Ciência Viva do Alviela), Sietse Gronheid (Wasted Social Enterprise) and Igor Kos (City of Maribor).
[Rich Pancost contributed on a variety of issues, largely arising from Cabot Institute and Bristol City engagement, …

Food Connections

Last week the Bristol Food Connections festival explored “all that is GREAT about food in Bristol (and beyond)” [1]. This made me realise that what I am exploring are the separations in our global food system. While so much of food in Bristol is ‘GREAT’ there is still much work to do about what is NOT SO GREAT. In the global food system, the separations between those who produce and those who consume what is transported around the world are many: income, origin, lifestyle, language, history, opportunities, culture, diet, microbiome – you name it there are separations in the way we eat and live.

This weekend I co-facilitated an event, Philosophy Breakfast: The ethics of global food production, with Julian Baggini, philosopher and author of the book, Virtues of the table: How to eat and think, [2]. Julian focused our thoughts on ethics and justice, and I grounded us with a case study, on tomatoes produced in Morocco, based on my recent fieldwork. We were treated, literally, to food for…

Pollination and International Development: How bees can help us fight poverty and feed the world

Animal pollinators are the industrious workers in the factory of life – transporting pollen from one flower to another to ensure successful fertilisation. 75% of our crop plants benefit from this free service which can increase the yield, quality and even shelf-life of their products. This translates to a US$235-577bn value to global agriculture each year. Many of our favourite foods – strawberries, coffee and cocoa – can end up shrivelled and tasteless without pollination. This ecosystem service is under increasing threat however, as pollinators face the potent cocktail of pressures we have laid upon them, declining in numbers across various parts of the world.

But what has all this got to do with international development? From what we can tell, communities in developing countries [1] are more reliant on pollinators than almost anyone, standing to lose important income, livelihoods, nutrition and cultural traditions if pollinators decline. And yet, although a number of researchers …

Water City Bristol!

If you don’t fix things in words, they might float away. So, briefly, a skeletal accounting —

3 open-water swims2 workshops in maritime writing1 public lecture1 trip up the canal locks to Saltford2 days at #MT2018 (Marine Transgressions Conference)2 keynotes~ 12 panels1 Blue Humanities roundtable2 receptions[a poetry reading that I missed]And many half-garbled memories, starting in the middle —Toxicity, the Ocean, and Urban Space (Wednesday) I was trying some new things for this public lecture, knowing that the audience would swirl together academics with non-academics, be mostly composed of city-dwellers, and further include mostly those with a particular interest in the sea. Unpicking the knots of writing and thinking I’ve been chasing down in the wake of Oceanic New York, my talk splashed through some recent watery adventures, included images of Thanos the purple God of demonic Malthusianism, strayed into verse in three of my own poems, and — maybe? — crossed wild water to make lan…