Scienceisourfuture (I have moved to Wordpress)

Jul 10

Collaboration is innovation - towards a new pedagogy.

       A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the 15th West of England ICT conference, an annual get-together of teachers, curriculum experts and technology innovators based in the South West. Having been sent by work, and having been to…

View Post

Sep 14

Images By Magic: IBM researchers show us the bonds that hold matter together. View Postshared via

Images By Magic: IBM researchers show us the bonds that hold matter together.

View Post

shared via

Aug 16

Is Tesco Value testing values? - The relationship between ethics and actionsWhat makes us change?
Is what we believe an indicator of the way we behave? Does it affect our…View Postshared via

Is Tesco Value testing values? - The relationship between ethics and actions

What makes us change?

Is what we believe an indicator of the way we behave? Does it affect our…

View Post

shared via

Aug 15

Greenest Government Ever? - Cameron’s Tories still put the ‘coal’ in coalition

When it comes to UK progress in the domain of all things green, this last week has been a little rocky. Firstly, over 200 NGOs, businesses large and small, along with academic experts, have united behind a call for the government to clean up our ‘confused energy policy landscape’. The letter, signed by members from the NFU, Npower renewables, the Co-operative Group, along with old green hands like Tim Smit OBE, Jonathon Porritt and Tony Juniper, urges David Cameron and Nick Clegg to reexamine the ‘policy U-turn’ on investment in the UK renewable energy industry.

In a call for Cameron to invoke the ‘Team GB spirit’ of Olympic success, this group demand that the UK needs to remain focused on creating growth in the renewable energy sector, and upon the green skills and technology that go with such expansion. They argue that the delay on clear decisions and guidelines for government subsidies in areas like solar power and on-land wind farms will discourage investment, causing Britain to be out of competition with the vast energy and technology markets of Asia and Europe.

The Treasury, they say, is to blame. They might have a point. In a speech to international energy investors last Tuesday, Osborne mentioned little about the renewable energy sector, preferring instead to discuss British oil and gas-fired power plants. Despite the expense of gas, Osborne believes that it remains an important part of our blend of light, heat and electricity provision over the next twenty or so years.

No if’s, no but’s, and trouble at the top.

This kind of talk, mixed with the fact that Clegg is unequivocal about “allowing the UK’s low carbon sector to thrive; no if’s, no but’s”, just goes to show where our men at the top really are at the moment. That is to say, all over the place. Indeed, chief secretary to the Treasury, the Liberal Democrat’s Danny Alexander, supposedly wishes to openly criticise his boss’ lack of support for renewable energy. Alexander’s motion, to be tabled at the party conference in the autumn, argues that:

” Conservatives refuse to acknowledge that investing in carbon-reducing technologies has the potential to make an important contribution to long-term growth”.

As a senior coalition figure, it is interesting to see how Alexander’s comment’s might play out. His specific grievance is with Osborne’s apparent wish to make the UK into a ‘gas hub’, and the Chancellor’s disagreement with the importance of making Britain’s power generation largely ‘decarbonised’ by 2030. The government as a whole wants to seem united on this crucial issue. Energy and Climate Change (DECC) Secretary Ed Davey believes that the Renewables Obligation,  the mechanism by which subsidies for low carbon generation projects are decided, will generate up to £25bn between now and 2017. Obviously, this only a short term game, and will see that some areas of renewable energy, such as offshore windfarms, get less.
As Martin Wright, chairman of the Renewable Energy Association highlights, the green economy and a low carbon future are both a long term game, and it is essential we see them as such, so as to avoid government policy which is the worst of all possible combinations.

“Renewable energy must not be treated as a political football, kicked between the DECC and the Treasury,” says Wright, adding that, “the government must not squander this once in a generation chance to transform our energy systems for the future”.

He’s quite right too, pointing out the investment and jobs such enterprises create. In the South West, particularly in and around Bristol, we have a burgeoning green goods and services sector, employing over 18,000 people and generating millions of pounds for the regional economy. Much of this is the result of renewable energy business, and has massive potential to improve the lives of thousands of ordinary people across the UK.

You can only have so many U-turns in one term of office. Let’s make sure our energy sector carries on in the right direction eh? Sure it’s expensive to begin with, but oil and gas aren’t getting any cheaper. Just a thought.

I am on Wordpress as off today.

Jun 27


May 14

Ducks are disappearing from our seas – WWT calls for international action

Long-tailed duck, James Lees

Numbers of seven species of sea duck have dropped by up to 65% in Northern Europe in the last 15 years, including some that winter off the UK’s coasts, particularly long-tailed duck and velvet scoter.

The mysterious nature of sea ducks and the challenges in monitoring their numbers have meant that the situation had gone largely unnoticed.

The UK coast is one key area for sea ducks during winter. Counts at the Scottish estuary the Moray Firth show that in less than a decade velvet scoters have gone from several thousand to less than 100 and long-tailed ducks have plummeted ten-fold, to fewer than 1,000.

Similar declines were reported from the Baltic Sea at the end of 2011, strongly suggesting that these birds aren’t just going elsewhere, they’re disappearing. Whilst smaller species like Steller’s eider have attracted concern since 2000, some of the more shocking recent declines have been among common and widespread populations like the common eider, which has halved since 1993, and the long-tailed duck, which has declined by over 65%.

The causes remain unknown, however, though the widespread nature of the declines has prompted concern that it is linked to environmental change across much of the arctic and sub-arctic regions where most of these species breed.

This week Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) conservationists are making the case for Europe’s sea ducks, and calling for international support at a meeting of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA).

WWT’s Richard Hearn will set out a strategy to AEWA Parties, asking for their input and support in developing international research and conservation action, that includes international surveys, tracking their migration routes and studies in the breeding areas, particularly Russia

Hearn says: “Till very recently the size and location of the flocks of ducks that live in our shallow seas remained a mystery. Often they’re beyond the horizon, out of sight of land, so you need to get up in a plane just to count them. From these surveys we’re finding that numbers are dropping off the edge of a cliff, yet we still barely understand the basics like their migration routes, breeding success or life expectancy in the wild. ”.

“What is clear is that this problem of rapid decline is widespread. We’re seeing it in the UK and other North Sea regions. And it’s the same story in the Baltic. We don’t want to ignore the proverbial canary in a cage. To address it we need to work at the whole population scale. AEWA has the international framework for doing this, so I’m here to present our plan and appeal for funding and support”.

Sea ducks occur in remote areas in both summer and winter, making their numbers and habits difficult to uncover. This hinders attempts to pinpoint the reasons behind these declines although there is no shortage of suggestions, including changes in nutrient levels of marine waters, changes to predator-prey webs in the arctic, over-fishing of mussels, by-catch in fishing nets, oil spills and changes in levels of predation.

WWT and other conservation institutions want a co-ordinated monitoring and research programme, underpinned by AEWA Single Species Action Plans, as required.

“Without further research and international co-operation, we may miss an opportunity to reverse the decline of these birds.”

n.b: This is a piece I wrote whilst on work experience at WWT. Reproduced with kind permission of Mark. Simpson (14th May 2012).

The original can be found at:

Mar 24

I managed to find my way onto BIG's Newsletter.. -

Following Bath Taps (see blog posts below), I find myself thrust onto BIG (British Interactive Group’s) website.

Mar 23

Bristol Green Capital: Cleaning up our act

IF BRISTOL is to win EU Green Capital in 2014, we need to improve our waste management significantly. Not that we don’t have a good track record, after all we send less to landfill than Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham (which has been a recent cultural comparison) and Sheffield. At last night’s public meeting about Bristol’s waste management future, Councillor Gary Hopkins and May Gurney’s Nick Francis were united behind the idea that “it’s not just recycling that matters”. The idea of a ‘zero-waste’ city, one where its residents contribute nothing to landfill, requires us to severely reduce the amount of waste we generate in the first place. Whilst this prevention over cure method will be no easy task, it is, we were told, the essential route to take. The way we live in the UK, and in Bristol, just isn’t sustainable.

Part of our landfill-free future will only be made possible of we are able to better dispose of waste which is not reusable to some degree. Bristol’s answer to this, which originally took the form of an incinerator, has long been a controversy. The current facility, which will be completed at the Avonmouth site late this year, is a Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) facility. New Earth, who are contracted to provide the plant for the West of England Partnership, explain that waste streams are sorted mechanically for recycling, and biodegradable waste is composted to create a useable resource. Pyrolysis gasification will also be available on the same site, generating energy from waste. Hopkins’ suggests this will direct “over 98 percent of disposable waste away from landfill”, and certainly will help reach his dream of a ‘zero-waste’ city in two years. The plan is to generate enough electricity to power 13,000 homes, all from resources we’ve used once before.

As a science communicator though, I was really pleased to meet Julian Okoye, engineer and business development manger at GENeco. As part of Wessex Water, it’s their job to embed sustainability in the waste management processes of the company, and Julian gave the meeting some interesting points about how this is done. By recycling waste solids and gases from sewage treatment processes, the company create 36 GWh per year of electricity. This makes them a massive renewable energy provider for the South West region. As Wessex Water use over one and a half times the annual energy consumption of Bristol West, it is instrumental that they find a better way to source their energy. Their commitment to be carbon neutral and zero waste is inspiring, but it seems to be logical. The two aims are mutually synergistic; as Julian puts it: “We don’t see it as waste, it’s a resource”.

As Bristol looks to the future, its problems will remain the same as ever: working on management with neighboring authorities, the cost of creating new facilities, and most interesting from my point of view, engaging and educating the public about how to get the best out of the path we are taking towards a greener tomorrow. I’d bet on the 45 people or so sat in our meeting yesterday all being there because they already knew and cared about the issues (a ‘prior engaged’ audience). As a communicator, and a liberal, I want to know how we really get the rest on board. It’ll be a hard slog, but we have no choice.

Tweet This Post if you like it


Mar 22

Bath Taps Into Science: Alex’s view.

Here is the link to a blog on Bath Taps by my UWE colleague Alex. He coordinated the event, I simply turned up and helped! My thoughts can be found on a previous blog post below (somewhere, maybe).