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Showing posts from 2020

Why snow days are becoming increasingly rare in the UK

A snowy start to the day at Watlington station, King’s Lynn. December 18 2009. Lewis Collard/Wikipedia Winter frost fairs were common on the frozen River Thames between the 17th and 19th centuries, but they’ve become unimaginable in our lifetime. Over decades and centuries, natural variability in the climate has plunged the UK into sub-zero temperatures from time to time. But global warming is tipping the odds away from the weather we once knew. These days, people in the UK have become accustomed to much warmer, wetter winters . In fact, winter is warming faster than any other season. This is bad news for those holding out for a white Christmas – the Met Office reports that only four Christmases in over five decades recorded snow at more than 40% of UK weather stations. A frost fair on the River Thames, painted by Thomas Wyke (1683-1684). Thomas Wyke/Wikipedia Chr

Thinking with salmon about ecological ruin, ontology, and decoloniality

Salmon anatomical plate drawing. Source: University of Glasgow Archives & Special Collections (Sp Coll RQ 271) If you carried out a survey of what people think is the most important thing that we can do to stem the tide of ecological ruin sweeping the planet, challenging Euro-Modern ontologies of nature (beliefs and ideas about reality, or ‘nature’s nature’) probably wouldn’t emerge as a number one priority on the list. In a time of crisis, where time literally feels like it’s running out and the apocalypse is already here for some people, carrying out this kind of philosophical reflection might feel like ineffective political strategy. Yet a challenging of our assumptions about ontology is precisely what a growing chorus of theorists and activists are calling for. For my PhD project, I want to examine how heeding these calls might allow us to better understand the nature of the ecological crisis we are facing.   Specifically, my project is building upon decolonial scholarship and

“Between the Insect Hordes and Ourselves”: Imaginaries of insect declines from the 1960s onwards

A still from Bee Movie (2007), directed by Simon J. Smith and Steven Hickner ‘According to all known laws of aviation, there is no way a bee should be able to fly. Its wings are too small to get its fat little body off the ground. The bee, of course, flies anyway because bees don’t care what humans think is impossible.’ You might recognise these words as the opening from the animated film Bee Movie (2007). The film is as known for its memes as its compulsive heteronormativity. If you are unaware: not only are there many happy nuclear bee families, the star of the film, Barry, is a male worker bee. On top of that, the human woman with whom Barry takes on the honey industry and fights for equal bee rights appears to develop some warm feelings for him. Needless to say, Bee Movie is fun but not a cinematographic masterpiece. Jokes aside, the 2007 film is a good indicator of an influx of documentaries, memoirs, novels, and poetry collections starring the Western or European honeybee. Perhap

Mourning auks: Creative expressions of extinction in an era of ecological loss

Looking at your hearts, suspended in their jar, I try and imagine the two of you still alive. I know that if you were anything like your closest living kin, you would have bonded for life. You lived a long time, and it would have been a relationship that had gathered and deepened over years. By the time you came together this final time, the congregations that were so important to your kind were already a thing of the past. Perhaps you were aware of how empty your world had become. Although you were alone on that low rock, it could be that you were accompanied by the memory of the multitude that had once been. By this point it was already too late. There were too few of you to recover what had been lost. Even so, maybe you would have nodded to each other and tried to make the best of it. Maybe you would have started showing off, just as those before you had always done; turning your heads from side to side so the bright white around your eye would have caught the light. Maybe then, wit

Greenland is melting: we need to worry about what’s happening on the largest island in the world

Jonathan Bamber , Author provided Greenland is the largest island in the world and on it rests the largest ice mass in the Northern Hemisphere. If all that ice melted, the sea would rise by more than 7 metres . But that’s not going to happen is it? Well not any time soon, but understanding how much of the ice sheet might melt over the coming century is a critical and urgent question that scientists are trying to tackle using sophisticated numerical models of how the ice sheet interacts with the rest of the climate system . The problem is that the models aren’t that good at reproducing recent observations and are limited by our poor knowledge of the detailed topography of the subglacial terrain and fjords, which the ice flows over and in to. One way around this problem is to see how the ice sheet responded to changes in climate in the past and compare that with model projections for the future for similar changes in temperature. That is exactly w

Bold Leadership, radical action – what Bristol residents want on climate change

What do Bristol residents really think about climate change? We know that Bristol has a reputation as a green city, but is it just ‘greenies’ at the centre of town who care? What kinds of policies would be acceptable or desirable? Are people aware of what the Council is planning to do? Our team of eight researchers set out to all four corners of the city with clipboards , to find out what Bristol residents have to say. They approached people at bus stops, in leisure centres, at libraries and on the street to ask questions like: What comes to mind when you think of climate change? How does it make you feel? Are you aware of any planned changes in the city in relation to climate change? Are there any future changes you would or wouldn’t want to see? The answers came in from 333 residents of all parts of the city in February and March 2020, and then a further 1343 residents took part in an online survey in June, which included an additional question about whether Covid-19 had shifted thei

Is extreme heat an underestimated risk in Bristol?

Evidence that the Earth is warming at an alarming rate is indisputable, having almost doubled per decade since 1981 (relative to 1880-1981). In many countries, this warming has been accompanied by more frequent and severe heatwaves – prolonged periods of significantly above-average temperatures – especially during summer months. Heatwaves pose significant threats to human health including discomfort, heatstroke and in extreme cases, death. In the summer of 2003 (one that I am sure many remember for its tropical temperatures), these threats were clear. A European heatwave event killed over 70,000 people across the continent – over 2,000 of these deaths were in England alone. As if these statistics weren’t alarming enough, projections suggest that by 2050, such summers could occur every other year and by 2080, a similar heatwave could kill three times as many people . Cities face heightened risks Heat-health risks are not equally distributed. Cities face heightened risks due to the u

E-scooters in Bristol: their potential contribution to a more sustainable transport system

Voi e-scooter parked across the pavement outside Victoria Rooms in Clifton. Image credit: Georgina de Courcy-Bower At the end of October this year, the Swedish company Voi launched their e-scooters in Bristol as part of a pilot scheme. The government brought the scheme forward in the hope that e-scooters would ease demand for public transport and allow for social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic. Earlier in the year, Marvin Rees said that he hoped e-scooters would help the city reduce congestion and air pollution. These are two key issues associated with a car-dominated transport system present in Bristol and many other cities around the world.  I have been investigating whether e-scooters could help Bristol to meet its sustainable transport targets . These include meeting net-zero emissions by 2030 and simultaneously reducing inequality within the city. However, between 2005 and 2017 the decrease in CO2 emissions in Bristol’s transport sector was only 9%. To reach net-zero

Hydrogen: where is low-carbon fuel most useful for decarbonisation?

FrankHH/Shutterstock Is hydrogen the lifeblood of a low-carbon future, or an overhyped distraction from real solutions? One thing is certain – the coal, oil and natural gas which currently power much of daily life must be phased out within coming decades. From the cars we drive to the energy that heats our homes, these fossil fuels are deeply embedded in society and the global economy. But is the best solution in all cases to swap them with hydrogen – a fuel which only produces water vapour, and not CO₂, when burned? Answering that question are six experts in engineering, physics and chemistry. Road and rail Hu Li, Associate Professor of Energy Engineering, University of Leeds Transport became the UK’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in 2016, contributing about 28% of the country’s total. Replacing the internal combustion engines of passenger cars and light-duty vehicles with batteries could accelerate the process of decarbonis