Latest news, views, comment, debate and useful links for those working in, or with an interest in, Environment, Global Development and International Studies
Posted 7 June 2013
The complex and growing interface between people and the natural world is explored in the latest OU on the BBC radio series Shared Planet. As the world population increases by approximately 200,000 people per day and our demand for resources rises each year, is there enough room for nature? Hosted by Monty Don, each programme in the series will explore the complex interface ...
An Open University Business School PhD student who graduated in May found that voluntary organisations face considerable barriers in securing European funding.
“I found that there are certain voluntary organisations that will get funding due to how they have orientated themselves”, said Rebecca. “My call to Government as a result of my research is that they need to take into account that not all organisations are geared up in a way that will secure funding, but that doesn't mean that they can't deliver high quality outcomes. There is a huge pool of talent that Governments can use to reduce economic disadvantage, but right now the process is so complex that many organisations cannot benefit.”
When Rebecca started her research, she had been working in grant-making for the Big Lottery Fund, and previously the Arts Council of Wales. She now manages the Wales Governance Centre in Cardiff University; a job she got just before she finished her PhD which she believes was a direct result of her studies.
An Open University Business School PhD student who graduated in May found that voluntary organisations face considerable barriers in securing European funding. Rebecca Rumbul, who received her OU PhD in Business at the Cardiff graduation ceremony on 27 April, looked at how money filters down to grassroots voluntary organisations. She found that the way that government bodies ...
Posted 23 March 2013
The OU Library keeps you up-to-date in your subject by regularly subscribing to new resources. Here are the latest subscriptions available to registered OU students. Engineering, technology and design students: discover the latest research from the ASTM Standards and Engineering Digital Library which contains full text ASTM standards, technical papers, books, manuals, ...
NCDs such as diabetes, heart disease, strokes, cancers and chronic lung conditions kill 36 million people a year - that is more than half of all deaths worldwide.
And these conditions are rising rapidly in many low- and middle-income countries in South East Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and South America.
The OU and C3 are supporting the development of freely available open educational resources, to increase in the numbers of effective NCD-trained health professionals.
The project is being piloted in india. For more information see International Development Office news.
Posted 14 May 2013
The Open University's International Development Office and Science Faculty are working with the charity C3 Collaborating for Health to fight the global epidemic of NCDs – non-communicable diseases. NCDs such as diabetes, heart disease, strokes, cancers and chronic lung conditions kill 36 million people a year - that is more than half of all deaths worldwide. And these ...
Many of the largest explosive eruptions in Iceland involve a viscous, high-silica magma called rhyolite, and are driven by volcanic gases (mostly water and carbon dioxide). It is these gases that give a volcanic eruption its fizz. At depth these gases are dissolved within the magma, but as the magma rises towards the surface during an eruption, the gases expand dramatically, causing the magma to froth and accelerate upwards as a foam. The viscous rhyolite foam breaks down into tiny ash fragments which form the ash clouds.
Drs Jacqui Owen and Hugh Tuffen (Lancaster University) and Dave McGarvie (The Open University) analysed pumice and lava from an eruption at Iceland's Torfajökull volcano some seventy thousand years ago. Within these samples they found tiny pockets of magma, called melt inclusions, which trapped the original gas. By measuring how much gas was dissolved within the melt inclusions, they could determine how fizzy the magma was.
Previously scientists had thought that Icelandic magma was less fizzy than those from Pacific Ocean volcanoes and expected much less explosive eruptions by comparison. However, this new research suggests some Icelandic volcanoes could produce eruptions just as explosive as those in the Pacific Rim.
PhD student Jacqui Owen said: “I was amazed by what I found. I measured up to five per cent of water in the inclusions, more than double what was expected for Iceland, and similar in fact to the values for explosive eruptions in the Pacific 'Ring of Fire'. We knew the Torfajökull volcanic eruption was huge – almost 100 times bigger than recent eruptions in Iceland - but now we also know it was surprisingly gas-rich.”
The finding helps explain why thin blankets of fine ash from older powerful Icelandic eruptions are found in peat bogs and lake beds across the UK and Europe. By accurately measuring the original gas content of Icelandic explosive eruptions for the first time, the research shows how Icelandic volcanoes have the power to generate the fine ash capable of being transported long distances and cause disruption to the UK and Europe.
Dr Dave McGarvie, Senior Lecturer, Volcano Dynamics Group at The Open University, said: "We know that large explosive eruptions have occurred at infamous volcanoes such as Hekla and Katla, but it is important also to appreciate that large explosive eruptions are also produced by less well-known Icelandic volcanoes such as Torfajökull and Öraefajökull."
Dr Hugh Tuffen, Royal Society University Research Fellow at Lancaster University, said: “The discovery is rather worrying, as it shows that Icelandic volcanoes have the potential to be even more explosive than anticipated. Added to this is the view of several eminent scientists that Iceland is entering a period of increased volcanic activity. Iceland’s position close to mainland Europe and the north Atlantic flight corridors means air travel could be affected again.”
The research highlights the importance of greater understanding of Icelandic volcanoes to improve forecasts and prepare for the next major explosive eruption.
Find out more:
Posted 8 April 2013
New research by the OU and Lancaster University has discovered another type of Icelandic volcanic eruption that could cause disruption. Published in Geology (February 2013), the team found magma that is twice as 'fizzy' as previously believed, which increases the likelihood of disruptive ash clouds from future eruptions. Many of the largest explosive eruptions in Iceland ...
The Impoverishment of the UK report paints a bleak picture of deteriorating living conditions and opportunities for a significant and growing proportion of the population.
It will be profiled in a special Tonight programme, Breadline Britain, broadcast on ITV tonight Thursday 28 March at 7.30 pm.
The report is part of the Economic and Social Research Council-funded Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE) study, which uses a way of measuring poverty devised by Joanna Mack, Learning and Teaching producer at the OU, and Stewart Lansley, senior project officer at the OU.
This PSE approach – now adopted by the UK Government and by a growing number of rich and developing countries – identifies people falling below a publicly-determined minimum standard of living.
It was pioneered in 1983 and repeated in studies in 1990, 1999, 2002/03 and 2012. The PSE project thus provides detailed and robust information about trends over 30 years.
Joanna Mack was the principal investigator on the 1983 and 1990 research studies and she is one of the lead investigators for the current research.
The OU also developed The Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK website, which is an integral part of the overall project and which provides a major resource on poverty and social exclusion, used extensively.
Key findings of the PSE report include:
Joanna Mack said: “Levels of deprivation today are worse in a number of vital areas – from basic housing to key social activities – than at any point in the past thirty years.
"These trends are a deeply shocking indictment of 30 years of economic and social policy and reflect a rapid growth in inequality. This has meant that, though the economy has doubled in size during this period, those at the bottom have been increasingly left behind.”
Professor David Gordon of the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research in Bristol, who is head of the project, said: “The results present a remarkably bleak portrait of life in the UK today and the shrinking opportunities faced by the bottom third of UK society.
"About one third of people in the UK suffer significant difficulties and about a quarter have an unacceptably low standard of living’ said ‘ Moreover this bleak situation will get worse as benefit levels fall in real term, real wages continue to decline and living standards are further squeezed.”
You can download The Impoverishment of the UK report here.
Posted 28 March 2013
The OU is a partner in the UK's largest-ever study of poverty and social exclusion, which has just published its first report. The Impoverishment of the UK report paints a bleak picture of deteriorating living conditions and opportunities for a significant and growing proportion of the population. It will be profiled in a special Tonight programme, Breadline Britain, ...
The research is investigating whether the brains of people with OCD function differently to those without OCD.
Preliminary findings suggest some systematic and interesting differences between brain activity in people with OCD, and non-OCD controls, even in a relaxed state. However, to obtain a more detailed picture researchers need to find more participants with OCD.
They are looking for people between 18 and 60 years of age, who have been diagnosed with OCD and have no learning disabilities.
If you decide to participate, they will need four hours of your time. The timing of these sessions can be flexible and scheduled according to your convenience.
During this time, your brain activity will be recorded using a safe, non-invasive and painless technique known as Quantitative Electroencephalography, or QEEG. You will also be interviewed and asked to fill in a questionnaire.
The study generally takes place at the OU in Milton Keynes or in Camden in London. Travel costs will be reimbursed. In some cases researchers will be able to come to your town or a town near you to perform the scans and interviews.
By participating in this study, you will be contributing to scientific advancements in OCD research. Additionally, you will gain interesting insights about how your brain may have been affected by OCD.
You can get more information from the QEEG and Brain Research Lab project page. If you wish to take part, or have any enquiries, please contact Loes Koorenhof by calling 01908 659 472, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Open University is recruiting people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) to take part in an ongoing research project. The research is investigating whether the brains of people with OCD function differently to those without OCD. Preliminary findings suggest some systematic and interesting differences between brain activity in people with OCD, and ...
BBC's Mastermind is looking for contestants now.
For more information, or to book a place on one of the nationwide auditions, visit the Mastermind website and click on Audition Information; or call 0161 836 0315; or email email@example.com
Posted 25 March 2013
Do you fancy yourself as a bit of a quizzer? BBC's Mastermind is looking for contestants now. For more information, or to book a place on one of the nationwide auditions, visit the Mastermind website and click on Audition Information; or call 0161 836 0315; or email firstname.lastname@example.org Posted 25 March 2013 1.625 Average: 1.6 (8 votes)
This announcement follows previous awards sponsored by the Department for International Development since 2008. The OU has strong links with Uganda and Kenya because of its working partnership with the Kulika Trust in Uganda, a charitable trust specialising in the provision of educational scholarships for students in East Africa.
Before awarding the funding the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission’s Distance Learning Committee looked in depth at a variety of criteria including the use of technologies; recruitment and targeting of students; success rates of previous cohorts; data of course completion rates for 'developing' country students; and the intended development impact of course activities as well as subsequent career information of alumni.
Richard Pinder, Development Management Qualification Director at The Open University (OU) said, "This continued funding highlights the commitment to providing educational opportunities to people in East Africa. Our aim is to enable those who study with the OU to engage with the challenges of global development and equip them with the knowledge to address and implement development strategies.”
The importance of such opportunities for students in Uganda and Kenya is evident by the feedback from those who have completed the MSc in Development Management.
“Obtaining a MSc Development Management opens higher positions in the development field as I am able to compete favourably with other peers in the field and my employer values me and already they have committed to take me on as a Program Manager as a replacement of an expat who will be leaving.”(Extract from the 2008 cohort feedback).
“Initially I was recruited as a project manager but three months after my recruitment I was promoted to a senior manager upon recognition of the way I engaged with issues which basically is as a result of the interaction with the course materials.” (Extract from the 2009 cohort feedback)
“A direct example [of my qualification] is my involvement in several tripartite negotiations and discussions between the United Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP), local grain traders/businessmen and the rural smallholder farmers in Northern Uganda. In 2010, I worked as a senior program assistant in the Purchase for Progress project that the UNWFP was funding and implementing to boost rural incomes and strengthen smallholder farmer organizations and institutions. I contributed my efforts training the rural farmers and helped build their grassroots organizations to enable them market their grains directly to WFP and increased their negotiation power given that they were often cheated in the open markets by the grain traders. This is a direct benefit to local development from my studies.” (Extract from the 2008 cohort feedback).
The MSc in Development Management, with Development Policy and Practice, was launched in 1996. It now has more than 1,000 alumni. To date students in more than 100 countries have studied the OU’s development management modules.
Find out more:
The OU has secured £235,000 of funding from the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission to support 15 students from Uganda and Kenya on the MSc in development management. The cohort will start studying in November 2013. This announcement follows previous awards sponsored by the Department for International Development since 2008. The OU has strong links with Uganda and ...
The danger of meteorites striking the Earth is the topic of this Horizon special. Both Professor in Planetary Sciences Monica Grady and Research Associate Natalie Starkey appeared on the programme, which focussed on the meteorite which struck Russia two weeks ago, and the much larger DA14 asteroid which passed within 17,000 miles of the planet on the same day.
Find out more:
4 March 2013
The Truth About Meteors: A Horizon Special, was broadcast BBC2 at 9pm on Sunday 3 March 2013. The danger of meteorites striking the Earth is the topic of this Horizon special. Both Professor in Planetary Sciences Monica Grady and Research Associate Natalie Starkey appeared on the programme, which focussed on the meteorite which struck Russia two weeks ago, and the much larger ...
A spotter's photo of the white bird, taken in Scotland's Cairngorm mountains, was posted on iSpot yesterday 26 February, where other spotters confirmed the identification.
The snowy owl is one of Europe's largest owls with a wingspan of over 5 ft, and is native to Arctic regions, Norway, and North America.
It is described in the Aberdeen Press and Journal as 'more or less equivalent to the Holy Grail' for British birdwatchers.
The last pair known to breed in the UK was seen on Shetland in 1975.
iSpot was set up by the OU to help anyone identify a plant or animal and exchange observations and information about nature. An iSpot Android app was launched recently.
The birdwatching community has been excited by a rare sighting of a snowy owl identified on the OU's iSpot nature website. A spotter's photo of the white bird, taken in Scotland's Cairngorm mountains, was posted on iSpot yesterday 26 February, where other spotters confirmed the identification. The snowy owl is one of Europe's largest owls with a wingspan of ...
In an interview for Indian website Zee News about climate change, he says that technology is part of the solution but we also need social and cultural shifts – in particular, a move away from consumerism.
Read Godfrey Boyle's interview here.
Humanity is headed for a very difficult future unless we change our ways soon, according to The Open University's Emeritus Professor of Renewable Energy Godfrey Boyle (pictured). In an interview for Indian website Zee News about climate change, he says that technology is part of the solution but we also need social and cultural shifts – in particular, ...
Santa Claus operated out of Frankfurt last year – and gave the Eurozone the fiscal equivalent of several billion stocking-fillers. But the European Central Bank’s largesse may not extend to those who don’t believe in it, writes Alan Shipman.
A single act of generosity by Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank (ECB) governor, has restored lasting calm to the previously turbulent Eurozone, neatly deflecting the winter blizzards across the Atlantic.
Draghi’s most dramatic achievement is to have radically reduced the cost of borrowing for Italy, Spain and other Eurozone countries that have large budget deficits to finance. This cost (the ‘bond yield’) fell to less than 5% in Spain’s early-January auction, from a crisis peak of more than 7.5%. It is a similar story in Draghi’s native Italy, where the public finances have been so effectively shored-up that voters can even contemplate a Silvio Berlusconi comeback. By promising ‘outright monetary transactions’ (OMT), the ECB has asserted the market-stabilising power long enjoyed by its American equivalent, the Federal Reserve. As a result, investors searching for higher yields have now moved back into corporate bonds and shares, lifting Eurozone stock markets to their highest level for two years.
From regarding the Euro area as a sinking ship that would either have to ditch its weakest members or be dragged underwater by them, some investors now view it as a better sovereign borrower than the previously mighty US. Both are currency zones with wide fiscal deficits. At present the US has a more impressive growth rate, while there is still a risk of weaker Eurozone members being cut adrift and forced into default. But in the longer term – if it can now hold together – the Eurozone has a better external balance (exporting more than it imports, thanks to Germany), greater power to impose fiscal discipline on its members, and stronger safeguards against unleashing inflation (sovereign borrowers’ traditional way of short-changing their creditors after securing the cash).
Perhaps most remarkably, Draghi has achieved this monetary escapology without having to part with a single euro of ECB funds. All he has done is announced that his bank will, in future, buy up the debt of any Eurozone country that is forced to default. This guarantees the debt of Italy, Spain and other struggling member-states, making it safe for ordinary investors (and investment funds) to buy. Their governments can now continue to finance the public investment needed to restore growth so that banks and households can bring down their own debt, and the costs of welfare support until new jobs emerge.
The announcement was well timed, coming at a moment when banks and bond-buyers are globally desperate for high-yielding issues, and prefer those which have a government behind them, regardless of quality. After all, Ukraine with an economy stalled by sliding steel sales and politics sliding back into industrial oligarchy and Latvia bailed-out by the IMF in 2008 and dragged through Europe’s deepest ever recession have recently made successful bond issues, despite having higher currency risks and lower credit ratings than any Eurozone member.
Neither Spain nor Italy, the most dangerous of the Eurozone’s weak links, has asked for a bailout so far. Both know that, if they do so, they will be subject to a German-driven, EU-administered ‘adjustment programme’ – worsening their already perilous economic and social situation, and probably discrediting whichever government has to enforce the emergency measures. Their additional borrowing is raising the scale of any future rescue effort. The ECB’s calculation is that, by making it clear that all Euro debt will be honoured in the event of a bailout, this becomes less likely to happen. That’s because member countries now have the fiscal strength required to drive a recovery, and because speculators will stop short-selling the debt in order to fulfil their own expectations of its collapse. The ECB’s promise buys time for governments to act so that the promise won’t need to be fulfilled.
If this gamble works, it should be good for other European governments – notably the UK, which will blame its imminent return to recession on the weakness of demand and investor confidence in the single currency area. But in one important respect, the Eurozone’s improbable gain is its non-members’ loss. The UK had retained its top AAA credit rating, allowing it to finance its overrunning budget deficit at negligible cost, partly because it was regarded as a ‘safe haven’ for investment funds that felt at risk from Eurozone exposure. Now that Euro debt has been turned into a positive one-way bet, that of the UK doesn't look so enticing.
A credit-rating downgrade need not (as the US has demonstrated) cause any rise in UK interest rates, or loss of confidence in its turnaround strategy. But it makes it harder to maintain the present low rates long enough to complete the banks’ recapitalisation and float Britain’s mortgage borrowers off the rocks.
Mario Draghi is unlikely to be on George Osborne’s Christmas Card list at the end of 2013. But if his gamble succeeds, it’s a small price to pay.
Alan Shipman 24 February 2012
Alan Shipman is a lecturer in Economics at the Open University. He is responsible for the modules You and your money:personal finance in context and Personal investment in an uncertain world, part of the foundation degree in Financial Services.
The views expressed in this post, as in all posts on Society Matters, are the views of the author, not The Open University.
Cartoon by Catherine Pain
Santa Claus operated out of Frankfurt last year – and gave the Eurozone the fiscal equivalent of several billion stocking-fillers. But the European Central Bank’s largesse may not extend to those who don’t believe in it, writes Alan Shipman. The season of miraculous gift-giving is over, but Europeans are still playing happily with their earliest and ...
While at the COP15 climate change talks in Copenhagen, Open University Communications and Systems Lecturer Dr Chris High (pictured) witnessed a group of academics blockading a coal-fired power station.
Instead of just theorising about the issues, the academics, mostly geographers, had decided to become participants in the protests going on across the city.
Chris High filmed the group holding an academic seminar on climate justice right in front of the power station gates, in freezing temperatures.
The video was originally begun as part his work for the OU's Creative Climate project, which is encouraging individuals and groups to record environmental change and their responses to it, for posterity.
It has now appeared in online academic journal ACME as a 'peer-reviewed publication' – an honour normally reserved for academic research papers.
While at the COP15 climate change talks in Copenhagen, Open University Communications and Systems Lecturer Dr Chris High (pictured) witnessed a group of academics blockading a coal-fired power station. Instead of just theorising about the issues, the academics, mostly geographers, had decided to become participants in the protests going on across the city. Chris High filmed the group ...
Peatlands in Asia that are being deforested to grow crops, are haemorrhaging carbon from deep within their peat soils, with potentially serious consequences for the environment.
Tropical peatlands form vast stores of organic carbon, tens of metres thick. The majority are in Indonesia, where the natural swamp forest are increasingly being destroyed to make way for agriculture – in particular oil palm for biofuels and food.
Dr Sam Moore, lead author of the study and former Open University PhD student, explained: “We measured carbon losses in channels draining intact and deforested peatlands, and found it is 50 per cent higher from deforested swamps, compared to intact swamps.
"Dissolved organic carbon released from intact swamps mainly comes from fresh plant material, but carbon from the deforested swamps is much older – centuries to millennia – and comes from deep within the peat column.”
Carbon lost from the drainage systems of deforested and drained peatlands is often not considered in ecosystem exchange carbon budgets, but the research team found it increased the estimated total carbon loss by 22 per cent.
Dr Vincent Gauci, Senior Lecturer in Earth Systems and Ecosystem Science at The Open University, and corresponding author, said: “Essentially, ancient carbon is being dissolved out of Asian peatlands as they are increasingly being turned over to agriculture to meet global demands for food and biofuels.
"This has led to a large increase in carbon loss from Southeast Asian rivers draining peatland ecosystems – up by 32 per cent over the last 20 years, which is more than half the entire annual carbon loss from all European peatlands.
"The destruction of the Asian peat swamps is a globally significant environmental disaster, but unlike deforestation of the Amazon, few people know that it is happening."
More information and related courses
Image: Oil palm plantation. The cultivation of oil palms for food and biofuels is a significant cause of peatland deforestation. Image source: Thinkstock
Tropical peat swamps may be a more significant source of global carbon emissions than previously thought, according to new research published in the journal Nature by The Open University and partners. Peatlands in Asia that are being deforested to grow crops, are haemorrhaging carbon from deep within their peat soils, with potentially serious consequences for the ...
SusTEACH has developed a freely available online toolkit to support universities in planning more sustainable courses.
It includes a carbon calculator which allows students and lecturers to work out their own carbon impact on a particular course.
SusTEACH analysed more than 30 higher education courses and concluded that courses using ICT and distance teaching methods are more environmentally friendly than campus-based ones.
"We found that the main sources of carbon impacts are associated with travel, residential energy consumption and campus site operations," says Dr Sally Caird, research fellow in the OU's faculty of Maths, Computing and Technology.
"The use of online and ICT-enhanced teaching and delivery methods, as well as traditional distance teaching, reduced these sources of energy consumption, and were therefore able to achieve significant carbon reductions."
The SusTEACH tool kit will be used across the OU in a number of qualifications and programmes, says Andy Lane, the OU's Professor of Environmental Systems, adding "we will look at it in the BSc in Environmental Management and Technology".
The project was a finalist in the Research and Development category of the 2012 Green Gown Awards, which celebrate sustainability achievements in higher and further education. The category winner was Scotland's Rural College (SRUC).
For more information about SusTeach and the OU's efforts to reduce its carbon footprint see the SusTeach video
The Open University is a Green Gown Award finalist for its SusTEACH project, which is dedicated to making higher education greener. SusTEACH has developed a freely available online toolkit to support universities in planning more sustainable courses. It includes a carbon calculator which allows students and lecturers to work out their own carbon impact ...
Hoorah, it’s snowing in the UK again! Time to have a snowball fight, build a snowman and have a few unplanned days off school and work. But what about the economy? The OU's Helen Roby explains on OpenLearn. 1.8 Average: 1.8 (5 votes)
Time to grow up humanity, quick, is the message from the Climate Change Conference at Doha, writes Olaf Corry.
After the latest climate summit ‘COP18’ held in Doha, it has only got harder to disagree. Global emissions continue to accelerate relentlessly. The World Bank (not known for its eco-hysteria) in a new report counts to costs of a rise of 4 degrees Celcius degree rise this century. For Sir Bob, we are heading for anything between 2 and a staggering 7 degrees Celcius by 2100.
The headlines as the Doha Climate Summit ended could therefore have read something like “World gambles on leaving Holocene”.
The Holocene began around 12,000 years ago and with its relatively warm and stable temperatures has been called ‘the cosy cradle’ of civilization. With a global population expected to reach at least 9 billion, leaving this behind is a gamble of geological proportions.
Geologists are now debating whether we have officially entered a new epoch: the Anthropocene or ‘Age of Humans’.
We are now the main drivers of geological time: “Simply put, our planet no longer functions in the way that it once did. Atmosphere, climate, oceans, ecosystems… they're all now operating outside Holocene norms.” as one scientist says.
Regardless of the label, politics in effect just gave itself a whole new set of task: We no longer just have to manage society. We have taken on managing a whole host of increasingly wobbly Earth systems.
Managerialism has always been a double-edged sword. On the one hand it has created the current mess. On the other hand better stewardship of the Earth could be seen as an ethical and practical imperative: ‘we broke it so we fix it’.
Perhaps the starkest of Anthropocene choices so far is whether to reach for the global ‘thermostat’ and start directly attempting to regulate the climate – what has been dubbed ‘geoengineering’.
Researchers are exploring the feasibility of regulating the climate directly. Some work by reducing the sunlight that reaches the earth (‘solar radiation management’, SLR) e.g. by injecting reflective substances into the atmosphere to create a ‘sun shield’. Other plans (probably more difficult and expensive) involve sucking carbon back out the air in huge quantities (Carbon Dioxide Reduction, CDR).
For some this is another example of techno-hubris. Dramatic side effects are possible e.g. affecting rainfall patterns or the ozone layer. Even if it cools the planet, unless something else is done CO2 levels will continue rising with other effects such as ocean acidification. Switching the ‘sun screen’ off again will be difficult.
On the other hand, if ‘Spaceship Earth’ ship is already drifting and tilting – potentially dangerously – we need to construct a makeshift rudder and at least try to manage the process, perhaps until we get the mitigation and adaptation right.
So far ‘geoengineering’ amounts to little more than desk calculations, but the politics of it is in full swing. Opponents call it a ‘rogue technology’. Others say ‘we would be mad not to take it seriously’. Scientists plead to be allowed to find out how cheap, how mad, how seriously we should take it all.
The politics promises to be equally if not more tricky: how to decide when and to geo-engineer? How to weigh up the risks and compensate those who suffer from the medicine? What if the technologies have ‘dual use’ capabilities useful for war-making? Rather than buying time, it could distract us from mitigation and adaptation. This has been called the ‘moral hazard’ of geoengineering.
Equally the perilous prospect of geoengineering could focus our collective minds: with all the risks and headache of trying to manage a complex and chaotic climate system mitigation may look more attractive.
As we leave the cosy cradle of the Holocene we need to get a whole lot better not only at the engineering but also the politics of the Anthropocene. Time to grow up, quick.
Olaf Corry 14 December 2012
The views expressed in this post, as in all posts on Society Matters, are the views of the author, not The Open University.
Cartoon by Catherine Pain
Time to grow up humanity, quick, is the message from the Climate Change Conference at Doha, writes Olaf Corry. A resounding ‘no’. That was how Sir Bob Watson, chief scientific advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, recently answered his own question of whether the goal of staying below 2 degrees of global average heating is still politically ...
Empire and Co-operation: How the British Empire used Co-operatives in its Development Strategies 1900-1970 traces how and why the British Empire came to promote co-operatives as part of its development strategies in its dependent territories, and the global impact that this subsequently had.
The book describes how co-operative development policies were implemented in widely varied settings and the results achieved.
By the 1970s co-operatives had become the major alternative business form to investor-led businesses, and their global reach has been attributed to the fact that they are ‘versatile’ and ‘universal’.
The British Empire, the largest the world has known, helped them to become universal by taking them to the four corners of the world.
The book is published in paperback by John Donald. ISBN 9781 9065 66562.
Dr Rita Rhodes, Visiting Research Fellow at the Co-operatives Research Unit of The Open University has written the first book to deal with the development of co-operatives in the British Empire. Empire and Co-operation: How the British Empire used Co-operatives in its Development Strategies 1900-1970 traces how and why the British Empire came to promote co-operatives as part of ...
A new paper reveals that changes in the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean quickly translate into climate change in western Amazonia.
North Atlantic forcing of Amazonian precipitation during the last ice age is co-authored by Dr Will Gosling of The Open University with the Florida Institute of Technology, and appears in this week’s Nature Geoscience.
Professor Mark Bush, leader of the Florida Institute of Technology research group, said: “The exciting thing about the data is that it shows the quick response of the tropics to changes that took place in the Atlantic Ocean. A longstanding question in Amazonian ecology, the center of biodiversity, has been whether the ice ages were so dry that the area of rainforest contracted. The data suggests that Amazonia was as wet, or wetter, than present during the coldest period of the ice age."
Another unusual finding was that the changes that occurred were more rapid than previously reported, and that the Amazonian climate became decoupled from that of the Atlantic Ocean and the adjacent Andes during the coldest time of the last ice age, from about 40,000 to 17,000 years ago.
Dr Will Gosling, Lecturer in Earth Sciences at the OU, said: “The reason for the more recent decoupling is not clear, but the data is of considerable importance. As we generate an understanding of the pace of past climate change, we can make more informed estimates of future changes.”
The climatic future of Amazonia is uncertain, but some models suggest that because of drying, most of the rainforest will be reduced to shrubby grasslands by 2050-2080 AD. Although the paleoclimatic record featured droughts in the past, none were of sufficient intensity to cause a loss of forest cover but, as Professor Bush states: "as the Atlantic Ocean warms, drought is inevitable for Amazonia, probably occurring on a scale that has not been evident in at least the last 100,000 years."
The research was funded by grants from the National Geographic Society (USA) and the National Science Foundation (USA), The Open University (UK) and the Natural Environment Research Council (UK).
A new paper reveals that changes in the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean quickly translate into climate change in western Amazonia. North Atlantic forcing of Amazonian precipitation during the last ice age is co-authored by Dr Will Gosling of The Open University with the Florida Institute of Technology, and appears in this week’s Nature Geoscience. The research ...
I recycle as much as I can 11% (18 votes) I use energy-saving lightbulbs 5% (8 votes) I cycle to work 2% (4 votes) One or more of the above 72% (118 votes) Not as much as I want to 9% (15 votes) Nothing, what's the point? 1% (1 vote) Total votes: 164
Yes. Why did it take the UN so long to take action? 54% (74 votes) No. Such a decision cannot be taken lightly. 34% (46 votes) I have no idea. I'm not very informed on these sort of things. 12% (16 votes) Total votes: 136