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The Battle for Middle Earth: Storytelling and disciplinarities

** The following blog might contain some light gaming language**

When the fellowship of The Ring left Rivendell, I suppose we all thought that that was a group very well equipped to deal with Sauron. They had Legolas’ bow, Gimli’s axe, Aragorn’s sword, a wizard and four hobbitses after all. Of course, they also had Boromir but at that time they had not really sold the whole mount Doom idea to him.

In principle, and to some extent in practise, what the Fellowship formed was an interdisciplinary group. Every member of the group had quite a specific expertise and that was each fellow’s contribution to the cause. At this point I will invite you to consider every weapon offered as a different discipline.

The challenge they were facing was quite straight forward. They had to throw the One Ring in Mount Doom and destroy Sauron.

I suppose, in terms of environmental challenges, Sauron was the kind of challenge we were facing 30 or 20 years ago. A straightforward, however big, important or urge…

My work experience: Designing a renewable energy turbine in Nepal

PEEDA is an NGO aiming to help off-grid communities in Nepal develop sustainably, primarily by introducing renewable energy sources that are owned and managed by the community.

Projects vary widely, and all funding comes from grants - that’s why there’s only six full-time staff at the office in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. Over the years various projects have been in partnership with the University of Bristol: that’s how I ended up working at PEEDA for my assessed year in industry. As part of the Engineering Design Degree, all students undertake a year of work experience in their third year.
Project work My primary project for the first few months concerns the design of a pico-hydro Turgo Turbine, a small turbine which is not commonly used in Nepal despite its potential. Currently, one turbine has been imported from China and one turbine is being developed at the University of Bristol. These will be compared in the testing lab at Kathmandu University, and the final design will be manuf…

Back to the Future ‘Hothouse’

Our current global warming target and the trajectory it places us on, towards a future ‘Hothouse Earth’, has been the subject of much recent discussion, stimulated by a paper by Will Steffen and colleagues.  In many respects, the key contribution of this paper and similar work is to extend the temporal framing of our climate discussions, beyond 2100 for several centuries or more.  Analogously, it is useful to extend our perspective backwards to similar time periods, to reflect on the last time Earth experienced such a Hothouse state and what it means.

The Steffen et al paper allows for a variety of framings, all related to the range of natural physical, biological and chemical feedbacks that will amplify or mitigate the human intervention in climate.  [Note: the authors frame their paper around the concept of a limited number of steady state scenarios/temperatures for the Earth.  They then argue that aiming for 2C, potentially an unstable state, could trigger feedbacks tipping the wo…

Belo Monte: there is nothing green or sustainable about these mega-dams

Google Maps
There are few dams in the world that capture the imagination as much as Belo Monte, built on the “Big Bend” of the Xingu river in the Brazilian Amazon. Its construction has involved an army of 25,000 workers working round the clock since 2011 to excavate over 240m cubic metres of soil and rock, pour three million cubic metres of concrete, and divert 80% of the river’s flow through 24 turbines.


Costing R$30 billion (£5.8 billion), Belo Monte is important not only for the scale of its construction but also the scope of opposition to it. The project was first proposed in the 1970s, and ever since then, local indigenous communities, civil society and even globalcelebrities have engaged in numerous acts of direct and indirect action against it.

While previous incarnations had been cancelled, Belo Monte is now in the final stages of construction and already provides 11,233 megawatts of energy to 60m Brazilians across the country. When complete, it will be the largest hydroelectri…

Will July’s heat become the new normal?

For the past month, Europe has experienced a significant heatwave, with both high temperatures and low levels of rainfall, especially in the North. Over this period, we’ve seen a rise in heat-related deaths in major cities, wildfires in Greece, Spain and Portugal, and a distinct ‘browning’ of the European landscape visible from space.

As we sit sweltering in our offices, the question on everyone’s lips seems to be “are we going to keep experiencing heatwaves like this as the climate changes?” or, to put it another way, “Is this heat the new norm?”

Leo Hickman, Ed Hawkins, and others, have spurred a great deal of social media interest with posts highlighting how climate events that are currently considered ‘extreme’, will at some point be called ‘typical’ as the climate evolves.
In January 2007, the BBC aired a special programme presented by Sir David Attenborough called "Climate Change - Britain Under Threat".

It included this imagined weather forecast for a "typical s…

Cities’ contributions to the global SDGs: A Bristol view

Earlier this month, people from around the globe gathered in New York for the annual review of the world’s progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an event known as the ‘High Level Political Forum’ (HLPF). These globally-agreed goals were developed in 2015, providing a vision for what the world should look like in 2030. Covering all three dimensions of sustainability through 17 Goals, 169 targets and 244 indicators, the SDGs have been called ‘the closest thing the world has to a strategy’.

This year the HLPF focused on 6 of these Goals, including sustainable cities and communities, SDG 11. The inclusion of cities as a specific goal is a success, and it is the first time that a subnational unit has been included in a UN statistical reporting framework.
But cities have an important role to play in meeting all of the Goals, beyond just SDG11. Urbanisation is increasingly seen as a key cross cutting element in almost every aspect of sustainable development…

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…