Author Archives: Lara Faith Cronin

Wetsuits from wetsuits | update

A Knowledge Transfer Programme between Finisterre and the University of Exeter’s Centre for Alternative Materials and Remanufacturing are investigating remanufacturing and circular economy initiatives which address the problem of discarded wetsuits.

Full-time Wetsuit Recycler Jenny Banks gives us an update about what the programme has been up to.

This blog first appeared on Finisterre’s THE BROADCAST.

We’re now three months into the Wetsuits From Wetsuits Programme and have learnt an incredible amount about the potential recyclability of our own Nieuwland winter wetsuit. Our committed wetsuit tester community have been a huge help in providing us with some of our Original Tester suits back from 2014, allowing us to compare the performance of old suits that have had real-lives, with that of a new suit.

THE HURDLES

It actually wasn’t as easy as we thought it might be to get our original tester wetsuits back as nearly all of them are still going strong – which is of course fantastic news! Most wetsuits last around two years before they’re replaced so we’re really happy that our Nieuwland suit is still delivering!

WHERE YOU’LL FIND ME

Splitting my time between Exeter and Finisterre HQ provides me with the perfect balance of influences. Over the last two months in Exeter, I haven’t left the lab. From microscopic surface imaging to tensile (elasticity) and thermal testing, we’re building a vital understanding of how and where the Nieuwland wetsuit changes during its life.

When I’m at Finisterre, all that testing is put into context. Being at the Wheal Kitty workshops – by the sea and amongst the team – reminds me of the real needs of cold-water surfers and ensures that I’m not tackling this challenge inside a bubble. Everyone here is really engaged with the programme and the energy within the team keeps me going if I ever feel over-whelmed by the challenge that lies in front of us.

OUR UNDERSTANDINGS SO FAR

De-constructing the Nieuwland was our first step towards understanding what difficulties we may face when making the world’s first fully recyclable wetsuit.

WETSUITS ARE VERY COMPLEX: ONE SINGLE NIEUWLAND WETSUIT IS MADE UP OF FIVE DIFFERENT TYPES OF NEOPRENE FOAM FOR STRETCH, FIVE DIFFERENT THICKNESSES OF NEOPRENE FOR WARMTH AND FIVE DIFFERENT COMBINATIONS OF FABRICS FOR DURABILITY AND COMFORT.

That complexity potentially poses a challenge for us in terms of wetsuit recycling but it’s not a question of just simplifying the suit – why would we change a wetsuit that we know performs so well?

Thus far, we’ve had some surprising results in the lab. Under the microscope, we can see the difference between our original tester suits and our new suit very clearly. Three years of frigid waters and regular surfing causes the neoprene’s cells to start to buckle (see first image). This change in our neoprene’s cell structure, however, is having next to no effect on the flexibility of our suit, which we really didn’t expect. We will be continuing our testing to verify this but this finding is promising and means we may be able to recycle our neoprene rubber without needing expensive and energy-consuming re-processing techniques.

Now we’re working on finding out whether that same cell structure change is affecting the Nieuwland’s thermal properties.

WE’RE COMMITTED

We want to deliver the world’s first recyclable wetsuit for testing in Autumn this year. Progress is good and we’re now moving into the design phase of the programme. Right now, no idea is a bad idea. We’re being very open-minded and exploring ideas that are far-out as well as those that involve simple, minor tweaks to our current Nieuwland suit.  Watch this space! #wetsuitsfromwetsuits

Reflections on oceans and human health

Professor Lora Fleming is the Director of the European Centre: Chair of Oceans, Epidemiology and Human Health.

This post originally appeared on the BlueHealth website

As humans slowly wake up to their dependence on a healthy natural environment, Professor Lora Fleming reflects on a research career spanning over 30 years, and ponders where we go next.

Whilst I trained and practiced as a physician in the US, I had always held a deep connection with the natural environment. This personal passion became professional after studying for a doctorate in environmental epidemiology, and I’ve never looked back.

Epidemiology is a discipline that tries to look for the patterns and causes of disease by using large sets of data. But early on in my career, I realised that when thinking about the natural environment, this implied a one-way relationship:

What was the environment doing to us?

The answer was often spreading disease through vectors like mosquitos, poisoning our food with toxins like ciguatera, or causing deaths through extreme weather events. The impacts were always negative, and often depicted the natural environment as a source of hazards that needed to be controlled and mitigated.

I knew there had to be more to this relationship and whilst working at the University of Miami, I began to refine my focus to look at the burgeoning area of oceans and health. The complexity was clear: Here was a huge natural resource that provided food, supported industry, facilitated recreational activities, yet could also kill.

These intricately intertwined connections demanded an interdisciplinary approach, and as a result, my work in the area of oceans and health has been constantly varied and fascinating.

I have learned about ‘pico bacteria’ and ‘marine snow’ – the tiniest organisms in the ocean. I’ve worked with colleagues who use remote sensing to measure ocean temperature from orbiting satellites, and studied how organisms and chemicals in the oceans cause sickness through contaminated seafood. But perhaps most significant of all, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to people describe their love for the ocean and its importance to their cultures, livelihoods, and families.

These experiences have shaped my research, and over the last ten years I’ve been part of a growing group of scientists who are uncovering evidence that suggests interacting with the oceans, coasts, and other ‘blue’ environments can lead to important benefits in physical and mental wellbeing.

Whilst this might sound obvious to those who regularly spend time near or in the water, until recently we had very little research which systematically identified the potential health benefits of these environments – and we’re only really getting started.

Thankfully, in the light of environmental and societal pressures, policy makers across Europe are now taking the area of oceans and human health seriously. My team and I are currently leading two large pan-European research projects, BlueHealth and SOPHIE, which are helping us to understand how to maximise the wellbeing benefits of ‘blue’ spaces across different cultures and societies – while still taking into account the risks. These kinds of projects are vital if we are to convince governments to protect, create and encourage the use of these spaces.

All that I have learned over the past 30 years of researching, teaching, and listening has changed my own relationship with blue environments. I value them more, I am more aware of how fragile and complex THEIR health is, and how bad we are at looking after them.

And so I also worry.

Worry that we will only realise the value of these spaces and the negative impacts of our actions when it is too late.

But I also have hope. For many years, I have regularly visited my family’s house in Maine in the US. Located right next to a tidal river, it is constantly changing. The flow of the water, the sounds and uses of the waterways, the flora, fauna and weather vary over the seasons and years, but the beauty and peace are a constant. Although there are many fewer fish and seals now, the bald eagle has actually returned to this area during my lifetime.

This gives me hope that humans can realise and understand the importance of the natural environment before it is too late. And I hope that the work of my group can help us to live better with the natural environment locally and globally, and appreciate not only their beauty but also our total interdependence.

Professor Lora Fleming is a board certified occupational and environmental health physician and epidemiologist. She is Chair of Oceans, Epidemiology and Human Health at the University of Exeter and Director of the European Centre for Environment and Human Health. Lora is also Emerita Professor at the Miller School of Medicine and the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. In 2015 she was awarded the UNESCO Anton Bruun medal for outstanding work in oceans and health.

Impact – the new driver for engagement with business

Exeter has rethought engagement with business and other external partners and established a new team to support impact and partnership development across different sectors and themes.  The new team called Innovation, Impact and Business (IIB) aims for pro-active co-creation with business and other organisations; building strategic partnerships with key global players; fostering innovation and entrepreneurship amongst our staff and students; and driving place-based research and innovation to help build a South West Powerhouse.

Delivering high quality impact will become increasingly important in universities and will transform the way in which universities go about external engagement and knowledge transfer. Despite Stern’s apparent relaxation of the rules in the next REF there is still a need to submit excellent case studies for each Unit of Assessment – and the impact element will be worth at least 20 per cent of the total income. It is astonishing to note that in the 2014 REF, a 4* case study was worth over 20 times the value of a 3* journal article or publication – up to £500K over five years.  There aren’t many business engagement activities that can guarantee that level of future income.

What success looks like

Exeter has been asking academics to think about the potential future impact of their work.  Over 400 possible areas for development have been identified across all our disciplines.  For the first time in my career, academics are telling business engagement professionals what success looks like for them and the IIB team is taking the hint.

The kinds of things needed to deliver impact are key to the offer of the new Innovation, Impact and Business Directorate – such as building strong partnerships with sets of communities, supporting research collaboration, consultancy, commercial ventures, licensing, training programmes or significant regional engagement. We will also be looking to support policy developments, cultural projects, jointly offered degrees and any number of public engagement initiatives.

Taken broadly, impact activities can act as the glue around which all the normal mechanisms of business engagement can coalesce.  If impact becomes a key currency of success, the IIB team will be helping academics build engaged and long-term collaborations with external partners rather than focusing on short-term income generation.  If we build the impact and prove our value then the income will surely flow.

IIB Taking a thematic approach

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The top priority for Innovation, Impact and Business (IIB) is to help Colleges increase impact and diversify income. Each College and Institute has an IIB Business Partner to advise on its ambitions and develop implementation plans with senior staff members.

We believe that the best way to deliver College plans is through a cross-college thematic approach and teams have been established in the following areas:

  • Manufacturing, Materials, infrastructure, energy.
  • Environment, Sustainability, Food security.
  • Healthcare and Biotech.
  • Culture.
  • Government and Society.

Initially targeted areas include: mining and minerals, water, cultural protection, language translation, defence and security, digital and creative industry, food security, clinical trials, medical devices, legal and policy developments, data analytics and many more.

The thematic teams will build broad engagement and market development with organisations in their themes and create networks of contacts.  They will also support specific projects between the University and industry.

This approach aims to:

  • Accelerate industrial engagement in each thematic field by developing the brand of the University as a  Centre of Excellence.
  • Build a community of industrial and governmental clients.
  • Improve pathways to impact and income generation.

The thematic approach enables teams to connect academics more effectively to the right businesses and identify multidisciplinary, cross-college opportunities.  We also have a group of around 60 External Associates who can add very specific expertise where it is needed.  We can also cluster academics to provide multi-disciplinary solutions for business  and identify stimulating research questions.

Why do we need stronger links with business?

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Over the past ten years Exeter has been hugely successful, growing research income, building student numbers, moving strongly up the league tables.  But one element has remained stubbornly fixed – our income and partnership with business. And when we talk about business we mean all the different kinds of external partners that require special approaches eg museums, local authorities, hospitals, NGOs, government departments.  That’s not to say that there aren’t lots of connections – but these are generally not turning into valued partnerships.  As a result, we rank 104th in the UK in the proportion of our research income that comes from industry; we had the lowest Impact score in the Russell Group in the last REF; our income from CPD, consultancy and intellectual property is low; and the employability of our students is suffering.

Does this matter? With flat cash for RCUK income, a threatening picture on EU funding, TEF with a strong requirement for employability and a new Government department responsible for UK research that has the words ‘Business’ and ‘Industrial Strategy’ in its title we think that we need to embrace this world or risk being left behind. Already over half of all research projects have some form of collaboration with business or other external organisations and we think this is likely to grow.  And the government’s challenges over Brexit are likely to lead to a stronger regional investment policy.

New team

We know that this kind of work can be challenging and time consuming for academics.  We have therefore established a new team – Innovation, Impact and Business – to help academics generate research impact; to connect with new partners; to help create opportunities for collaborations; and to build place-based innovation.  The aim is to enable the University’s world-class research and education to make a real difference in society.

The team will focus mainly on: building partnerships for research projects (working closely with the new Research Service); supporting impact development across the University; managing major strategic relationships with business; generating income and partnership in the region; and supporting innovation for our staff and students.

We are looking forward to working with you.

Sean Fielding, Director Innovation, Impact and Business

Multiple sclerosis survivors swear by hyperbaric oxygen – but does it work?

Dr Paul Eggleton, Senior Lecturer in Immunology in University of Exeter Medical School and Visiting Professor University of Alberta writes about the use of oxygen therapy for patients with MS.

This article first appeared in The Conversation.  Conversation logo

Paul Eggleton, University of Exeter

There is no cure for multiple sclerosis (MS) yet. As a complex neurodegenerative disease of the brain, it is incredibly difficult to treat. Despite the development of new and sophisticated therapies to control the inflammation and physical symptoms of the disease, these treatments don’t work for everyone. This is because MS comes in many guises and one treatment does not fit all. Perhaps for this reason people with MS are turning to alternative means of controlling their condition.

Many of the 100,000 people with MS in the UK have taken charge of managing their treatment. With the assistance of 60 or more independent charitable MS therapy centres, people with the disease regularly enter a chamber and breathe oxygen under moderate pressure (hyperbaric oxygen). Some people have done so for more than 20 years.

The air we breathe contains 21% oxygen, but 100% oxygen is considered a drug and is prescribed in hospitals to aid people’s recovery. In the case of MS, people self-prescribe the hyperbaric oxygen, which is delivered to them by trained operators. But does breathing pure oxygen under pressure on a weekly basis do them any good?

The idea to use oxygen as a treatment for MS began over 45 years ago. In 1970, two Romanian doctors, Boschetty and Cernoch, treated patients with brain injuries with pressurised oxygen to help more oxygen enter their tissues – oxygen helps protect nerve cells from damage and maintains the integrity of the blood-brain barrier. In a study of MS patients, they found that symptoms in 15 out of 26 volunteers improved. This led to further interest in the use of hyperbaric oxygen to treat MS specifically.

Since Boschetty and Cernoch’s discovery, around 14 clinical trials have been conducted. The trials have been on relatively small numbers of people and have reported conflicting results, ranging from great improvements to none at all. This has led to a dilemma: should clinicians endorse the use of hyperbaric oxygen for MS or not?

Not officially sanctioned

The clinical regulatory bodies in the US and the UK, the FDA and NICE respectively, do not feel the clinical trial evidence is strong enough to endorse the procedure, yet thousands of people in the UK and elsewhere continue to treat themselves with hyperbaric oxygen. Between 1982 and 2011, over 20,000 people with MS in the UK used hyperbaric oxygen over 2.5m times.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the brain. It is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40. Lesions in the brain develop as a result of inflammatory autoimmune cells crossing the blood-brain barrier and destroying the protective protein coat (myelin) that surrounds the axon of some nerve cells. Over time MS develops into a neurodegenerative disease, leading to problems with vision, bladder control and mobility.

The brain’s ability to repair some of this damage helps people with MS to feel better for a while before relapsing once more. Eventually the disease becomes chronic and the ability to repair the damage and undergo remission declines. Most conventional treatments focus on the early phases of the disease. Unfortunately, there are few treatments for the later stages of MS.

Perhaps the inability of prescribed drugs that work for all people with MS, or indeed work for some but produce unpleasant side-effects, has driven people to seek other treatments. Despite the scepticism of some doctors, many people with MS claim that hyperbaric oxygen therapy has benefits. The benefits include improvements in mobility, bladder control, pain relief and gait. However, since the treatment is transient, regular exposure to pressurised oxygen is required to sustain any benefit.

The increase in oxygen to the brain may lead to a number of effects such as speeding repair to damaged tissue, or inhibiting the ability of immune cells to cross the blood-brain barrier and cause damage. These possibilities are being investigated.

Poorly designed trials

So why are many clinicians sceptical of hyperbaric oxygen? The main reason is various MS disability-status scores are used to judge improvement. In the former clinical trials, hyperbaric oxygen was not used over a sustained periods of time (only a few weeks) and often people with irreversible damage were used, so no or very little improvement in scores was seen.

So are poorly controlled clinical trials to blame for the conflict of opinion? Probably, yes. Until we understand more at the molecular level about how oxygen under pressure can make sustained changes to various biological processes in the brain, people with MS will continue to use the treatment and the majority of the medical community will remain unconvinced of its merits.

The Conversation

Paul Eggleton, Senior lecturer in Immunology, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Who picked British fruit and veg before migrant workers?

Caroline Nye is a PhD student in the Land, Environment, Economics, and Policy (LEEP) institute; her research  focuses on agricultural labour in the UK.

In this blog, Caroline looks at the history of fruit picking and how restrictions of the free movement of Europeans might have an impact on how fruit and vegetables are picked and packed.

This article first appeared in The ConversationConversation logo

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Caroline Nye, University of Exeter

As Britain tiptoes cautiously towards leaving the European Union, there is concern about the impact of Brexit on the farming industry if free movement of Europeans is restricted as part of the negotiations. A whopping 90 per cent of British fruit, salads and vegetables are currently picked and packed by overseas workers.

Yet, Britain’s reliance on migrants to do seasonal agricultural labour is not a recent phenomenon and it’s helpful to look at the history of how British workers turned away from this kind of work to understand the current predicament.

As far back as the 14th century, itinerant Irish migrants were known to travel throughout England and Scotland in search of employment. This became more prevalent by the end of the 18th century when groups such as the “spalpeens” and “tattie howkers”, large travelling gangs of Irish men, women and children, would help bring in the annual harvest. Such migration, not only from Ireland, but also from the Welsh hill counties and Scotland, coupled with itinerant English labourers, was essential to meet the labour demands that the resident workforce alone could not.

There were a number of reasons for this shortage of labour. From the end of the 18th century until the mid-19th century, labour requirements in agriculture were increasing, due to more labour-intensive crops, such as turnips and potatoes, and the adoption of a new crop rotation system. At the same time, the number of full-time farm workers was shrinking, as they were either pulled towards jobs created by industrialisation, or pushed out by mechanisation. On top of this, groups who could have previously been relied upon to help out at harvest time, such as those working in rural textile industries, began to move away from rural areas towards factory work in towns.

Child labour and gangs

Prior to the introduction of the Gangs Act in 1867, a large proportion of those performing seasonal work were women and children who provided cheap labour to both gang masters – a term still used today for individuals who organise and employ groups of workers for casual work on agricultural land – and farmers. This new law forbade children under the age of eight from working the land, after the 1860s witnessed a rise in public concern over the exploitative nature of “ganging”. A series of new education laws soon followed, making school attendance compulsory for children between the ages of five and 12, drying up a significant source of seasonal labour. As more women began to move into the service sector towards the end of the 19th century, there was also a decline in the supply of female agricultural labourers

The British Women’s Land Army cropping beetroots in World War II. British Ministry of Information/Wikimedia

But numbers of workers needed for harvesting remained high, especially following the Irish famine in the mid-19th century, which saw migrant numbers contract significantly. Some of that work, especially hop-picking, was carried out by townspeople, working class families often coming from London or the Black Country for their summer holidays. Many of these people continued to work alongside soldiers, prisoners of war or the Women’s Land Army during both world wars. In the early 20th century, agricultural gangs also employed British people, shipping them from Yorkshire to the East Midlands, for example. But gradually these workers became less willing to travel so far.

Post-war reliance on migrant workers grows

In response to labour shortages following World War II, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) was introduced in 1945, allowing foreign nationals to temporarily reside in the UK in order to harvest fruit and vegetables. The bulk of SAWS workers were Eastern European or from the former Soviet Union. Although initial quotas were low, farms quickly began to rely on these workers, causing quotas to steadily increase to 21,250 in 2009. In 2013, the scheme was scrapped due to the increasing availability of workers from within the EU.

Number of SAWS work cards issued by nationality, 2004 to 2012. For 2012, data are only up to September 30. Migration Adivsory Committee analysis of UK Border Agency Management Information

Despite this, it was only after the 1990s that British agriculture became heavily dependent upon international migrant workers. This was sparked by power becoming more concentrated among a small number of large corporate retailers. This meant that the bargaining power of farmers became greatly reduced, resulting in fast declining margins.

This power shift largely transformed agriculture as an industry, rapidly moving away from farming as a “culture” to a more intensive industry. Where technology has not stepped in, many farms have had to extract greater efficiency from their workers, at a lower cost, just to survive. This has resulted in a move away from the more paternalistic role of farmers to their workers, to one that is more distant and bureaucratic, further dissuading locals from wanting to do the work.

Back to the land?

Positions left empty if EU migration is restricted following Brexit could theoretically present a solution to high unemployment rates in the UK. But the fact is that many British people simply do not want to carry out seasonal labour because incentives for doing so are very low. Changes in the composition of rural populations mean that areas of high unemployment are often located at significant distances from the farms offering work. Seasonal jobs are also known to be low-paid, hard work, with long hours, and are often associated with unfavourable conditions and diminished social status. Domestic residents prefer permanent employment or complete withdrawal from the labour market onto the social security system.

Migrant workers are less likely to perceive the work as “dead end” and rather see it as a temporary step allowing them to earn an income that has more worth in their home country.

Schemes to encourage British workers back to the land have largely failed. Where they have tried, some farmers state that after several days of work, many do not return. But question marks hang over rhetoric arguing that Brits are too lazy, unavailable, or incapable of doing the work, or that they have an inferior work ethic to overseas workers.

The use of technology so far has proved challenging in the harvest of fragile soft fruits and vegetables, but it is likely that the future will see a gradual move towards the use of robots. Until then, unless food prices change or new systems emerge encouraging domestic workers to pick our fruit, British farms are likely to remain highly dependent on overseas workers.

The Conversation

Caroline Nye, PhD candidate, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The social life of sea mammals is key to their survival

Biosciences PhD student, Philippa Brakes, looks at the diversity in behaviour of our ‘oceanic cousins’. From the tool using sea otters to the ‘bubble netting’ strategy of the humpback whale.

 This post first appeared in The ConversationConversation logo
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Philippa Brakes, University of Exeter

The beguiling behaviour of marine mammals in their natural environment is fascinating to us human observers. Watching dolphins leap gracefully through the surf, or whales making waves with their massive tale flukes is the stuff of countless bucket lists and high definition wildlife documentaries.

Perhaps part of the appeal lies in marine mammals behaving a lot like we do. They share many of our biological characteristics, such as bearing live young, suckling them with rich fatty milk and investing time and energy into rearing them into adulthood.

Studying their behaviour, what makes them tick as complex social creatures, is essential for their conservation in an aquatic environment which remains almost entirely alien to us. And while it may be alien, it is an environment with a massive human footprint.

For unfortunately mammalian attributes are not all we share with our oceanic cousins. There is arguably now no marine habitat that remains unaffected by human activities. Prey depletion caused by humans, noise, temperature changes, chemical pollution and entanglements in fishing gear have all changed the place in which marine mammals evolved.

Our research shows that this simple reality makes the need to understand their behaviour and social structures all the more urgent, a call which is being echoed by the charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

In recent decades there has been a strong emphasis in conservation circles on understanding the population size and distribution of marine mammals, as well as their genetic diversity.

Conservation is principally obsessed with conserving genetic diversity, which is exactly as it should be, as diverse gene pools help ensure resilience against environmental change. But genes may not be the whole story.

Marine mammal behaviour, just like ours, is partially determined by genes and the environment in which they live. However there are also social factors at play, and what makes marine mammals behave the way they do is potentially as complex as the processes which drive human behaviour.

In some cases, nurture may play just as important a role as nature for marine mammals. Almost 20 years ago, renowned conservation biologist Bill Sutherland examined how the behaviour of different species could be used to improve conservation efforts. He concluded that behavioural ecology needed to be better integrated into conservation science and policy making. But to what extent has this message from 1998 been taken on board?

Marine mammals exhibit a wide range of fascinating behaviours, from the complex cooperative bubble-net feeding of humpback whales, to ice-cave building polar bears and tool-using sea otters. They also have a great diversity in their social structures and changing social dynamics, which range between the complex third-order alliances of bottlenose dolphins, close relationships between non-related males, to the more solitary lives of beaked whales.

As well as having innate behaviours, which they acquire through their genes, these species, like humans, can learn individually and from each other. Social learning may be of particular importance to conservation efforts, because it can influence the resilience of a population to changes in their environment.

Killer whales learn foraging strategies from their social group and tend to stick to them. As a result, if there is a decline in their preferred prey, they may be less likely to switch to other species, or use alternative foraging tactics. Such a behaviourally conservative species is likely to be more vulnerable to change.

Survival skills

But learning is only part of marine mammal social dynamics. Social structure, and the various roles played by individuals may also be important for how a population responds to change. The loss of individuals that hold key information on the location of critical habitat or a food source may have significant consequences.

Humans live in many different types of cultures, environments and circumstances. We make important choices about what to eat, who to socialise with, where to live and how many offspring to have. These factors can strongly influence our fertility rates, survival, and even our evolution. It is certainly plausible that many of these factors influence the success of marine mammals as well.

A better understanding of the behavioural ecology of marine mammals is therefore hugely important. It is difficult to envision an approach toward conserving a population of modern humans which merely preserved their genetic integrity and did not also consider their socially learnt behaviour.

While there are some attempts to incorporate behaviour, efforts to conserve marine mammal biodiversity still focus strongly on maintaining genetic integrity and diversity. But the emerging evidence indicates that social and behavioural diversity may also be central to individual, group, and population viability. The challenge ahead is teasing out the most relevant factors and understanding how to incorporate this new knowledge into conservation efforts.

On the whole, policy makers have been slow to keep up with the emerging behavioural research. More alarming still, from the perspective of the marine mammals themselves, is that the degradation of their environment has continued apace.

The Conversation

Philippa Brakes, Post-grad Researcher, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Whither anarchy: freedom as non-domination

Dr Alex Prichard, Senior Lecturer in the College of Social Science and International Studies, and Professor Ruth Kinna, Professor of Political Theory at Loughborough University, have been collaborating on a research project entitled ‘Constitutionalisng Anarchy – looking at the principles, processes, and rules of anarchy.

In this blog, they look at the idea of anarchist constitutionalism, the anarchists’ view of property, and, the non-domination of freedom.

This post appeared in The ConversationConversation logo

Alex Prichard, University of Exeter and Ruth Kinna, Loughborough University

This article is part of the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative with the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century. This article is the second of four perspectives on the political relevance of anarchism and the prospects for liberty in the world today.


Which institutions are best suited to realising freedom? This is a question recently asked by the republican political theorist Philip Pettit.

Anarchists, by contrast to republicans, argue that the modern nation-state and the institution of private property are antithetical to freedom. According to anarchists, these are historic injustices that are structurally dominating. If you value freedom as non-domination, you must reject both as inimical to realising this freedom.

But what is freedom as non-domination? In a nutshell, by a line of thinking most vocally articulated by Pettit, I’m free to the degree that I am not arbitrarily dominated by any other. I am not free if someone can arbitrarily interfere in the execution of my choices.

If I consent to a system of rules or procedures, anyone that then invokes these rules against me cannot be said to be curtailing my freedom from domination. My scope for action might be constrained, but since I have consented to the rules that now curtail my freedom, I am not subject to arbitrary domination.

Imagine, for instance, that I have a drinking problem and I’ve asked my best friend to keep me away from the bar. If she sees me heading in that direction and prevents me from getting anywhere near the alcohol, she dominates, but not arbitrarily, so my status as a free person is not affected.

Republican theory diverges from liberal theory because the latter treats any interference in my actions as a constraint on my freedom – especially if I paid good money for the drink, making it my property.

Neither republicans nor liberals suggest that private property and the state might themselves be detrimental to freedom, quite the opposite. By liberal accounts, private property is the bedrock of individual rights. In contemporary republican theory, property ownership is legitimate as long as it is non-dominating.

Republicans further argue that a state that tracks your interests and encourages deliberative contestation and active political participation will do best by your freedom.

The special status of property and the state

But why should we assume that property or the state is central to securing freedom as non-domination? The answer seems to be force of habit. For republicans like Pettit, the state is like the laws of physics while private property is akin to gravity. In ideal republican theory, these two institutions are just background conditions we simply have to deal with, neither dominating nor undominating, just there.

While anarchists don’t disagree that property and the state exist, they seek to defend a conception of freedom as non-domination that factors in their dominating, slavish and enslaving effects. Anarchism emerged in the 19th century, when republicanism, particularly in the US, was perfectly consistent with slavery and needed the state to enforce that state of affairs.

Anarchists denounce the institutions of dominance under industrial capitalism. Quinn Dombrowski/flickr

The abolition of slavery and the emergence of industrial capitalism were predicated on the extension of the principle of private property to the propertyless, not only slaves, who were encouraged to see themselves as self-possessors who could sell their labour on the open market at the market rate.

Likewise, in Europe millions of emancipated serfs were lured into land settlements that left them permanently indebted to landlords and state functionaries. They were barely able to meet taxes and rents and frequently faced starvation.

The anarchists uniformly denounced this process as the transformation of slavery, rather than its abolition. They deployed synonyms like “wage slavery” to describe the new state of affairs. Later, they extended their conception of domination by analysing sex slavery and marriage slavery.

Proudhon’s twin dictums “property is theft” and “slavery is murder” should be understood in this context. As he noted, neither would have been possible but for the republican state enforcing and upholding the capitalist property regime.

The state became dependent on taxes, while property owners were dependent on the state to keep recalcitrant populations at bay. And, by the mid-20th century, workers were dependent on the state for welfare and social security because of the poverty-level wages paid by capitalists.

As Karl Polanyi noted, there was nothing natural about this process. The unfurling of the “free market”, the liberal euphemism for this process, had to be enforced and continues to be across the world.

Republicans might encourage us to think of the state and property like the laws of physics or gravity because this helps them argue that their conception of freedom as non-domination is not moralised – that is, their conception of freedom as non-domination does not depend on a prior ethical commitment to anything else.

But as soon as you strip away the physics, it appears that republican freedom is in fact deeply moralised – the state and private property remain central to the possibility of republican freedom in an a priori way. Republican accounts of freedom demand we ignore a prior ethical commitment to two institutions that should themselves be rejected.

Anarchists argue that private property and the state precipitate structures of domination that position people in hierarchical relations of domination, which are often if not always exacerbated by distinctions of race, gender and sexuality. These are what Uri Gordon calls the multiple “regimes of domination” that structure our lives.

Looking to constitutionalism as a radical tool

Anarchists are anarchists to the extent that they actively combat these forces. How should they do this?

Typically, the answer is through a specific form of communal empowerment (“power with” rather than “power over”). This would produce structural power egalitarianism, a situation in which no one can arbitrarily dominate another.

But is this realistic or desirable? Would a reciprocal powers politics not simply result in the very social conflicts that anarchists see structuring society already, as Pettit has argued?

Even anarchists need rules to guide group decision-making – such as these ones at Occupy Vancouver. Sally T. Buck/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

And what about radical democracy? Perhaps anarchists could replace engagement with the state with radical practices of decision-making? The problem is that anarchists haven’t even defined the requisite constituencies or how they should relate to one another. What if my mass constituency’s democratic voice conflicts with yours?

There is one implement in the republican tool box that anarchists once took very seriously and which might be resurrected: constitutionalism. Without a state to fall back on or private property to lean on, anarchists like Proudhon devised radically anti-hierarchical and impressively imaginative constitutional forms.

Even today, when constitutionalism is almost uniformly associated with bureaucracy and domination, anarchists continue to devise constitutional systems. By looking at anarchist practices like the Occupy movement’s camp rules and declarations (We are the 99 per cent!), we can revive anarchist constitutionalism and show how freedom as non-domination may be revised and deployed as an anti-capitalist, anti-statist emancipatory principle. You can see more about this here.


You can read other articles in the series here.

The Conversation

Alex Prichard, Senior Lecturer in Politics, University of Exeter and Ruth Kinna, Professor of Political Theory, Loughborough University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

It will take more than giving people a share in shale gas profits to sway public opinion on fracking

Associate Research Fellow, Joseph Dutton, looks at the US’s shale gas production, what lies behind the industry’s boom in the US, and what can give the UK’s shale industry the boost that it needs.

James is part of the Energy Policy Group.

This post first appeared in The Conversation.Conversation logo

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Joseph Dutton, University of Exeter

Britain is due to receive its first delivery of shale gas imported from the US, which will arrive at Grangemouth petrochemical plant in Scotland next month. That the UK is importing a tanker-full of shale gas from the US despite sitting on substantial resources of its own reveals just how far advanced the US shale gas industry is over that in the UK.

While the US was once predicted to be the world’s largest importer of natural gas, instead by 2015 it had delivered record gas exports due to its booming shale gas industry. The use of gas for generating electricity also recently reached record levels. On the other hand, there is no commercial shale gas production in the UK and only a handful of wells have been drilled. In May, the first application approval in five years was given to Third Energy, to begin exploration in the village of Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire. In Scotland, despite interest from a number of companies, development was halted by a 2015 moratorium.

Shale gas as percentage of US natural gas production. Plazak/US EIA, CC BY-SA

According to surveys undertaken by the Department for Energy and Climate Change in April, public support for fracking stood at only 19 per cent, while 31 per cent were explicitly opposed. In an effort to win over the public and speed up the development process, the government launched a consultation on its proposals to distribute payments from the production of shale gas to the communities affected by the drilling and under which the gas lies.

This would be dealt with through a Shale Wealth Fund, which would distribute 10 per cent of all shale gas tax revenues to local communities. Initially there would be a maximum payout of £10m to each community associated with a shale drilling site over the period of 25 years – payments the government believes could add up to £1 billion over the fund’s lifetime. Crucially, the government proposed that payments could be made to households directly, rather than as benefits to communities through payments made to local authorities, for example.

This latest proposal builds on a community benefit charter that was drawn up by industry trade body UK Oil and Gas in 2013. This committed companies to community payments of £100,000 per drilling site during exploration, and one per cent of revenues during production. But, unlike the government’s proposals, this would entail payments to communities as a whole, not to individual households.

Playing with incentives

Part of what lies behind the US shale gas boom is that landowners there own the rights to minerals or oil below their land, so providing a financial incentive for them to allow oil and gas companies to get to work. In the UK, mineral rights belong to the Crown: the Shale Wealth Fund is essentially an attempt to create a financial incentive for those affected to look more positively towards drilling near their homes or land, and to provide a more tangible benefit than just greater employment, economic activity and tax revenues.

But would paying off householders actually give the industry the boost it needs? Some have reacted angrily to the proposals. Keith Taylor, Green Party MEP for the south-east, described them as “immoral and tantamount to bribery” – a view echoed by other Green MEPs. A subsequent poll commissioned by Friends of the Earth found that 33 per cent of people would support fracking if households were paid, while 43 per cent

 

 

 

would still oppose fracking regardless of payments – fewer than in the April survey, but still substantial opposition.

Certainly, direct payments are a more progressive and ambitious step than the industry’s 2013 charter. But the government’s consultation document noted that in reality such payments would be “relatively small per-household”.

In fact, regardless of the estimates the government provides, the ultimate value of the fund and therefore the payments it would distribute is wholly dependent on the tax regime in place when production begins, and the revenue a company derives from a shale gas site once costs are taken into account. Until actual gas production begins, it’s impossible to estimate how much tax the operating company will pay – or even if the shale industry would be a success in the UK at all.

As the price of oil and gas has plummeted in the last two years, the economic case for developing potentially expensive shale gas deposits has weakened. More exploration drilling is needed to determine how much gas can be produced and at what cost. But more than this, public support remains the largest hurdle to the shale sector, and in the absence of a social licence to operate – essentially, public support to do so – the promise of payments to communities will do little to get it up and running.

The Conversation

Joseph Dutton, Research Fellow, Energy Policy Group, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.