GSI Seminar Series – Dr Federico Demaria: The Case for Degrowth

Image

Taken from GSI Seminar coordinator Daneen Cowling’s

Can we live simply so others can simply live?

In this seminar, Dr Demaria explores the controversial thinking of a systems shift to degrowth, as a solution to many of the economical, societal and environmental challenges our capitalist society has produced.


Dr Demaria is an interdisciplinary socio-environmental scientist at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (Autonomous University of Barcelona). He works on economics of ecology, ecology of politics and human geography. Dr Demaria is the deputy coordinator of EnvJustice project that studies and contributes to the global environmental justice movement. He is also an influential critique of  ecological and cultural critique of (sustainable) development. Through his critiques he has proposed transformative alternatives to current ways of living – degrowth. Dr Demaria has explored this alternative in the book Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era (with Giorgos Kallis and Giacomo D’Alisa), as well as his most recent bookThe Case for Degrowth (with Giorgos Kallis, Susan Paulson, Giacomo D’Alisa).


Dr Demaria structured his seminar to the key chapters of his book. Making very clear the from the start that this proposal is meant to be controversial, Dr Demaria set the context for the current systems we operate and how they support the obsession with growth. He also outlines how growth cannot be compatible with sustainability, evidenced by the current environmental crisis we are faced with. Hence, we cannot solve everything with economic growth, and a different society is needed to prosper without growth.

Dr Demaria argued to satisfy degrowth it would be crucial to reduce the Global North consumption. Acceleration of growth has amounted to an accelerated environmental sacrifice. Adoption of western lifestyle and want to be ‘rich’ has fuelled this, driven by belief this is the only route for living.


But is degrowth even feasible? Dr Demaria addressed this by explaining how as a society, we are cooperative. The history of our society and it’s success exemplifies that. Dr Demaria elaborated on how there is a wealth of the commons, that by being in the commons, you are part of the change you want to see. This is important – because there will not be positive change unless people actually want it, and to want it we must have spaces to see the alternatives. Supporting and operating in cooperative commons would allow such a space.

Looking to the future, Dr Demaria also highlighted how, unlike proposals of circular economy and other ‘sustainable’ shifts that still prioritise growth, degrowth is the only path that stays within the 2C warmer future. Furthermore, degrowth in the global North will reduce pressure of exploitation in the global South. Important especially in the context that the most powerful limit of resources, is their use.


Dr Demaria gave an incredibly interesting talk, followed by many questions. To see the full talk and the QA, view the recording here.

Link to Book:  The Case for Degrowth

Link to recent article: The case for degrowth in a time of pandemic

GSI Seminar Blog: Ayesha Tandon (Science Journalist at Carbon Brief)

Taken from GSI Seminar coordinator Daneen Cowling’s blog post 

Ayesha shared her insights and reflections from experience with climate change communication from a range of lenses. Her talk was interactive, thought provoking and was a great reflection exercise for academics to assess how we conduct our own communication.

As well as climate communication at Carbon Brief, Ayesha has also had science communication experience at governmental bodies (The Met Office), and in academia during her MSci Natural Science student at Exeter.

As lead science editor for the undergraduate STEM journal at Exeter University, Ayesha describe practices in academic models of communication, familiar to her academic audience. Highlighting how the audiences of scientific papers are confined to the same academic circles the authors are within. The specialist and technical language used in these papers to communicate ideas and arguments with accuracy, make them inaccessible to those without this knowledge – even if they have the want to be engaged.

Ayesha then went on to explain how the style, format and emphasis of science communication shifts outside of academia, in the cases of the Met Office and Carbon Brief. Both parallel in assumptions their readers do not get further than the first couple paragraphs of a piece. Ayesha explained the importance of “frontloading” – ensuring all key bits you want the reader to take in and go away with – are at the very start.

Also important to these communication outlets were use of graphics to explain the statistical results. In academia there is a responsibility to communicate results precisely, but as told by Ayesha’s experience at the Met Office and Carbon Brief; numbers are not well received by government and general public audiences. Instead, infographics are more engaging and accessible.

Ayesha shared some great examples of infographics, highlighting how informative they can be without the need for the full context. One example used were the ‘Climate Stripes’ by Ed Hawkins. This visualisation has been so impactful because it’s accessible – redundant of any text or numbers, the colours are universally understood.

 

Example of infographics used to communicate climate science. From l Met Office State of the UK climate 2019

Ayesha concluded her talk with key takeaways she’s gained from her climate communication experiences:

  • The pace and expectation of what’s achievable of these three institutes are different – media is rapid
  • Frontloading – pushing important information to the front with assumption reader will not get to the end of your piece
  • Social media can be useful for an accessible range of people – from academic to lay

“[Social media] will always be useful to invest in … to gain new audiences or inform your existing audience. It’s important as scientists we communicate our research .. if you don’t take any effort to try to communicate it to a lay audience you’ve missed out on the vast majority on the population.”

Ayesha Tandon, the importance of social media for science communication


This interesting talk was followed with an array of questions – keen to learn more from Ayeshas experiences to become better science communicators to non-academic audiences.

Questions from the audience:

  • How much interaction do you have with the scientist(s) who wrote the paper you’re doing a piece on?
  • It’s easier to get a lot of coverage on the bad news stories than the good news stories – we know what the problem is but we need to come together on the solutions, how can we push the positiveness?
  • What kind of papers were you covering for the government/what were they interested in for Met Office government briefing?
  • How do you communicate uncertainty in science to the public?
  • Do we really have to use emojis when communicating on twitter, if so which ones should we be using?
  • Is the increased speed of communication of climate the most effective way to communicate?

You can watch Ayesha’s Seminar and get her answers to the questions on the University of Exeter GSI YouTube playlist, here

If you would like to speak at a GSI seminar, please contact 

Date: 22/02/2021

GSI Seminar Series – Dr Will Seviour: Stratospheric Ozone Depletion and its Impact on Climate

Taken from GSI Seminar coordinator Daneen Cowling’s Blog 

Today (03/02/2021) saw the second seminar in the GSI Spring Seminar Series of 2021. We hosted speaker Dr Will Seviour, a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter Department of Mathematics, and the GSI.

Dr Saviour is a relatively new academic at Exeter, but brings with him a wealth of experience and specialism in Ozone and large-scale Earth System dynamics from the University of Oxford, John Hopkins University and University of Bristol. Dr Seviour’s work now looks into climate and extreme weather consequences of Arctic warming, and coupled dynamics of Southern Ocean dynamics – the topic of his talk.


Dr Seviour introduced the importance of ozone and it’s role as a planetary boundary – central to a habitable Earth. Ozone was also shown to have practical importance to the success of the sustainable development goals.

However, Dr Seviour soon delved into the consequences of the current state of ozone attention, it’s depletion. Ozone Depletion Substances (ODS) e.g. CFC’s, were shown to have had a strong control on Ozone, trending with their emission and eventual regulation. They were also shown to be powerful greenhouse gases.

Dr Seviour invited the audience to an interactive quiz, to rank where ODS sit amongst other common greenhouse gases (CO2, N2O and CH4) in radiative forcing. This produced the surprising result that ODS were only second to CO2 in their forcing, accounting for a 1/3 of warming effects of CO2 since the mid 20th Century. This strength was also identifiable in warming impacts – even by simulating models with only the forcing of ODS (and not other greenhouse gases), trends in Arctic melting were still observable. The focus then shifted to the south pole; why there is more ozone depletion over Antarctica and how it’s variable with atmospheric dynamics.


The ozone situation definitely wasn’t doom and gloom, as Dr Seviour then discussed the long term ‘healing’ trends being observed and modelled. Since a reduction in CFCs from the Montreal Agreement, and an assessment every 4 years on ODS, ozone depletion has started showing signs of recovery. But when would ozone return back to 1960 levels? Dr Seviour again invited the audience to an interactive quiz, to give their best estimates of the return for global and Antarctic levels of ozone. Majority of the guesses were around the current predictions of 2060 and 2090 respectively.

Thanks to a warming climate, the recovery may be even faster due to changes in stratospheric circulation. But, true to the Earth system, these changes will not be linear. Dr Seviour explained that this would lead to a cooling Southern Ocean, which would expand sea ice around Antarctica, then shift polar jets. Yet, there would still likely be a long term warming trend – driven by upwelling.


Dr Seviour’s talk left us with a new appreciation with the importance of ozone, and it’s climate control – whether that be through it’s greenhouse gas equivalent forcing, or the atmospheric dynamics it influences.

Several interesting questions followed, which Dr Seviour answered in detail as well as directing to follow-up resources.

You can watch Dr Seviours full talk here

To learn more about Dr Seviours work, you can view his publications and research projects on his personal website

Business Green – Positive tipping points to net zero and how to finance them

Professor Tim Lenton, GSI & Eoin Murray, Federated Hermes
Published in Business Green 1st December 2020

The finance sector has the means, and the scientists have the data, to
model interventions with much greater impact than we see today, explain
Federated Hermes’ Eoin Murray, and Tim Lenton from the Global Systems
Institute.

Of President-elect Joe Biden’s many campaign commitments to address
the climate crisis, the most significant is the United States re-joining the
Paris climate agreement. Climate change is a global issue and requires
an international response, and American leadership is critical to success.
Biden’s win may therefore come to be seen as a tipping point in the
history of action on climate change.

Tipping points are normally used in climate science to describe small
changes in the earth system that result in much broader, often damaging
impacts that accelerate climate change. Well-known examples including
sea level rise resulting from the disintegration of the Greenland and West
Antarctica ice sheets, or the release into the atmosphere of
climatewarming methane deposits from thawing Siberian permafrost.

For many years, researching and understanding these tipping points
underlined the urgency of climate action. Today it is widely understood
that we need to decarbonise the economy, and to do this rapidly. Right
now, we need tipping points in the other direction – small interventions
that accelerate large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

We have already witnessed many of these positive tipping points and
have learned much about how they function. So far, it is the
governments who have produced the most effective ones. Section 172
of the UK’s updated Company Act, for example, requires businesses to
disclose material risks from the long-term impacts of their activities on
the environment. An escalating tax on carbon emissions has brought
about a collapse in coal’s share of the UK power mix, from 40 per cent
to just three per cent in six years. These policy interventions are
important, but we cannot regulate our way out of the climate emergency.
Unregulated positive tipping points are also necessary.

The transformation of the power sector is taking place due to the
economics of technological innovation. The first tipping point arrived
when renewable energy started producing electricity more cheaply in
some places than fossil fuel-burning power plants. The next will come
when the costs of building new wind or solar capacity become cheaper
than a new coal or gas plant. The entire power sector will have tipped
towards full decarbonisation when the cost of new renewable power
becomes cheaper than maintaining existing hydrocarbon power plants.

Tipping points can also occur with changes in people’s behaviours. The
trend towards plant-based diets in the food sector is one example, or the
collapse in demand for air travel that could potentially outlast coronavirus
travel restrictions. Changes in public opinion however can be much more
difficult to orchestrate than policy or economic interventions.

This is why the finance sector is critical to action on climate change.
Since capital touches every facet of economic decision-making, from
project finance to portfolio allocation, the quickest route to success is the
greening of money.

More and more shareholders recognise their role in shaping these public
goals. They actively engage with management on corporate climate
strategies. Institutional investors, who have a responsibility to mitigate
systemic climate risk, increasingly back climate-related shareholder
resolutions. One pension fund was mandated by the courts to consider
climate risks in its investment strategy. It responded by setting a net-zero
target for financed emissions by 2050.

But are these really tipping points? Could the finance sector deliver more
for climate action? If bankers and fund managers knew where and when
to invest to tip the low-carbon disruptors businesses towards exponential
growth, then finance could have a key role in accelerating climate action.

Understanding these tipping points, and engaging with companies to
capitalise on them, would bring outsized returns to both shareholders
and citizens.

The reality of day-to-day business may prove more challenging to predict
than the future of the climate. But the finance sector has the means, and
the scientists have the data, to model interventions with much greater
impact than we see today. Given the limited time available to stop
climate change, we must all work together to prioritise these new
models.

Eoin Murray is Head of Investment at Federated Hermes International,
and Professor Tim Lenton is Director of the Global Systems Institute at
the University of Exeter

From Student to Teacher: Making MOOCs

By Daneen Cowling

What’s a MOOC?

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) are becoming a widely used method to up-skill and educate. Free courses ranging in all sorts of subjects and skills are produced by universities and companies, all over the world. With the courses, interactive activities and alternative learning methods are used to educate it’s learners. Some courses also have facilitators/mentors, which help guide discussions and questions – sometimes being the experts doing the teaching. The biggest draw to these courses in my opinion, is the ability to have a global learning experience, unlike anything else. The platforms are available to global learners, which means you can have interesting discussions with completely unique ideas and views you would have never before been exposed to. This global learning network, in combination with interactive and varied learning methods, make MOOCs and incredibly useful and insightful means of education and CPD.

My Experience with MOOCs

I was motivated to write this blog as I have had such a positive experience with MOOCs, specifically the climate science ones from the University of Exeter, I wanted to share how they have helped my education/academic and professional development journey.

LEARNER

My journey started in Sixth Form (Havant Sixth Form College) where, as a keen geographer preparing to write a UCAS application to study BSc Geography at the University of Exeter (2015). I wanted to see if there was anything else I could do to help my current learning and something additional to discuss on my personal statement. I can’t remember how I came across the course – potentially from a blog of things you can do additional at sixth form or something …

I came across FutureLearn which is one of the main platforms for MOOCs. The website is super accessible and gives lots of options to find courses that suit you e.g. the subject/the duration/the course creator. By filtering by environmental courses, by chance I was able to find the brand new course launched by the University of Exeter; “Climate Change: Challenges and Solutions”. The course was amazing, nothing like anything I’d experienced before. The course was made up of mostly videos with some articles and interactive activities. Straight off the bat, you introduce yourself and why you’re joining etc., which is amazing to see all these fellow learners state their jobs and countries they live in, ranging in ages, it was very exciting to start learning with this community.

The video material was mostly of Dr Damien Mansell (who later became my first-year tutor and uni) and Professor Tim Lenton (who is an absolute legend and became my dissertation and masters supervisor .. soon to carry on working with him for my PhD!). Along with other scientists from Exeter and other institutions, the material was communicated so effectively because they were all enthusiastic leaders in their fields. Tim is especially good at communicating all sorts of science – which for the case of the course ran through Earth’s climate history to future solutions. The experience was so interactive, even with all the videos and articles that were included. What I was learning was so exciting and interesting in the way it was communicated, I always found myself researching more and continuing interesting discussions in the comments.

This was such a useful resource to have at A level, not only for the high level of teaching consistent throughout but how the introduction to new resources (e.g. research papers), the language and the collaborative environment enhanced my learning experience in Sixth Form. Not only this, but the course also set me up incredibly well for university. From this course, I was able to see the benefit of having the confidence to discuss ideas with fellow learners, which meant this transition to a similar environment at University came fairly effortlessly. The material on the course also crossed-over to a lot of the Geography course material in my first year and whet my appetite for things I could see myself specialising in my second and third years. Moreover, from being taught by Tim and Damien via an online course to then have close academic relationships with them and be taught by them in a lecture hall was pretty surreal!

I don’t want to be bold a say this course single-handedly got me into Exeter on the course I love, but I definitely believe it helped my case by demonstrating I was keen on the subject and be initiative to learn more. It really helped with my UCAS application and has been a useful example for other applications since. I think MOOCs are effective tools for A-Level students – all for the reasons I have explained. They are even useful for uni students, incredibly accessible methods of learning with no ‘age bound’ tie to the material covered. I’ve made suggestions for other students to use it at my old sixth form, and hope to keep encouraging more to use MOOCs as a form of learning and skills development.

 I loved the course so much I paid for a certificate of participation after (~£30)

FACILITATOR/MENTOR

In my second year of university, I also got the opportunity to become a facilitator/mentor on the climate change MOOC. Of course, participating in the course during sixth form was a massive benefit in the interview and definitely contributed to getting the role. The job was great to meet new like-minded people on the facilitator team, earn money flexibly around my studies, and stay current with the science – which helped my learning alongside. Being a facilitator on the course consisted of answering any questions the learners had beyond the course material, and directing them to any additional resources that would be useful to help understand some of the new concepts. As a facilitator, I was also responsible for maintaining healthy discussions between learners. This could be via asking a question in the comments for others to respond and discuss amongst themselves or monitoring some responses/flagging issues where needed in case some dialogue turned negative and inappropriate. Each week, a team of myself and the other facilitators (UG and post-grad students), and Tim and Damien, sat on live video Q&A sessions. These were really interesting and a great challenge to think on the spot with the pressure of being recorded. These sessions were well received by learners – so very satisfying to know we were helping with their learning journey!

The experience I had in this role was great, I learnt a lot more about the subject from hearing new ideas and perspective, and also learnt new discussion facilitation skills. Further, I developed my appreciation and enthusiasm for science communication. So much so – I applied for the role again in my final year! This time with a year’s experience in the role, I was more senior to the new applicants and so I was a useful contact to have if they ever had issues with setting up/dealing with difficult people on the platform/useful resources. With my experience, I was also invited to sit on a panel – with facilitator and content corrector colleague Liam Taylor, to talk about our experiences with the MOOC and facilitation as a useful learning tool. Our audience were academics from other disciplines, keen to get going on their own MOOC plans, but wanted to see how the facilitation element works and benefits the learner experience. I was also able to contribute to video material to promote the MOOC’s, talking of my own experiences as a learner and a facilitator.

I’m happier than I look I promise …

CONTENT CREATOR

During my final year, I also got to create some new content for the new split to two separate courses; The Science and one for The Solutions. During the summer I had an internship with Artecology; an ecological engineering company creating better places for biodiversity. One of their signature designs is a vertipool – an artificial rock pool imprinted with shapes and textures that testing has shown to enhance the species diversity and richness on what would have previously been a textureless and mostly lifeless seawall. They are specifically tackling the climate change and construction driven problem of “coastal squeeze” – whereby space for species to live is fighting a losing battle against rising sea levels and rigid coastal protection structures. This innovative and urgently needed solution seemed like it would fit nicely on the course, to communicate more localised issues of climate change and what current solutions are in place to tackle them. I enjoyed creating this content, and from the discussions with learners, it seemed to be a good addition. It was also advantageous to cooperate with industry on the course, to bring home this isn’t just a university-led response, real companies are making changes – and others should follow. Artecology has since gone on to promote the course and the MOOC method of learning, so this addition has been a great positive for Exeter course promotion and industry involvement, and for Artecology.

I was also able to continue this creator role during my MSc (2019). This time, to work as part of a collaborative team with Tim and Liam, alongside the Eden Project, to create a new MOOC called Invisible Worlds. This was an incredible opportunity to really use all my experiences with MOOCs over the past 4 years. I was able to craft the content and the narrative the Eden Project wanted for their course, into something that was accessible and interactive for learners. The project was a creative challenge to strike a good balance and consensus between the University and the Eden Project – but the course was largely a success and complimented Edens new expedition. It was interesting to do the ‘behind the scenes’ work on Future Learn too – making the right tweaks so the information is portrayed the best it can be.

Courses I’ve been involved with as a learner, facilitator and creator

If it’s not already been made obvious – I think MOOC’s are amazing. These Exeter MOOCs have continued to contribute to my academic and professional development, and I have no doubt their contributions are yet to end. It’s been great to watch and be a part of the growth in the content available and demand for more courses, especially how useful they have been during the current COVID crisis. Hopefully, schools, colleges and universities can become more aware of all the free educational resources that are available at such a high standard of quality. More significantly, these MOOCs should also be more accessible to those outside an academic bubble – those in industry or just those curious and keen to learn! Education and the experience that comes with MOOC learning is incredibly special and something to be continually shared. I look forward to trying more MOOCs myself and explore more creative contributions to make to the University of Exeter growing catalogue of courses.

Australian Wildlife Adventures amidst COVID-19

By Jen McWhorter, PhD Candidate, University of Exeter and University of Queensland (QUEX Institute)

Nature provides a silver lining from the noisy COVID-19 news here in Australia. In comparison to the UK, we have had many freedoms including the ability to travel for exercise up to 50km’s from our homes. As of Friday, the 15th of May, we will be allowed to travel up to 150km’s. Making lemonade from lemons, I decided to venture more into local parks in search of Australian wildlife that I may have overlooked in the surrounding area. After given a credible lead, I began with a 4:30 am wake-up to look for a platypus in a local stream. I had no luck but, it was still an exciting morning. Shortly after this mission, I was informed of koalas in a nearby forest. Success at last! I spotted three koalas in a small forest reserve just a few miles from the busy city of Brisbane. The weather is changing here, a numbing 10 degrees C in the mornings has Aussies wearing down jackets, beanies, and Ugg boots. With the change in weather, echidna’s, commonly known as ‘spiny anteaters’, are about moving locations. Perhaps these little critters will be my next reason for forest bathing?

Photo: Jen McWhorter
Caption: White Hill Reserve offers local walking trails with frequent koalas spottings.

Perspectives on the GSI Masters residential

By Rebecca Robinson and Ema Saltone, MSc Global Sustainability Solutions students

“Visualising new and complex ideas in ways we haven’t before” by Ema Saltone

When the group of us entered the Kaleider studios on a Monday morning, having barely covered the welcome lectures and just about able to remember everyone’s faces, we had little idea of what to expect from the residential. It was all still new, still somewhat daunting, but also exciting.

We were welcomed with free coffee – a smart trick to get at least the caffeine addicts in a good mood from the start.

With a group of blinking, wide-eyed students entering our habitat for the next three days, we began with introductions, as well as presentations from companies who were keen to work with us. Which was reassuring – it may be quite nice to be potentially employable.

With lifted spirits about our future careers, we got on with lectures and tasks that made up the residential. The parts I enjoyed most were interactive practical activities, which helped us to visualise new and complex ideas in ways we haven’t before – it was quite inspiring to feel your old understanding of the world tear apart as you learn to see the world in new ways. These tasks have planted seeds of new ideas which will probably influence the way I think for a long time.

I appreciated having been able to get to know others on the course throughout the residential. We worked in teams or pairs on most tasks, and so it was nearly impossible not to have spoken to mostly everyone. Not only spoken, we were pushed into a circle and forced to shake hands with everyone – quite literally. It’s not a scary as it sounds though, even the most introverted of us seemed a lot livelier afterwards. And – we knew everyone’s names by the end – something that I have not experienced during undergraduate studies (when 300 people in a lecture hall meant only speaking to the two people you met on the first day. So, this was a nice change).

Perhaps it was the amount of information that was blasted through our minds, or maybe just a summer without assignments having crippled our educational fitness, but the three days at the Kaleider studios were shattering. However, we have witnessed the excitement of the faculty and the external partners about our course, which made it hard not to get infected with the excitement. We were also given useful information to be ready for the course ahead. So, if not for anything else, the residential was useful as a memorable introduction to what awaits us, providing us with a frame of mind that I believe will benefit us throughout our studies.

“We had the opportunity to learn from people with a diverse range of backgrounds and saw how we could fit into the bigger picture of global sustainability” by Rebecca Robinson

Our week started as all good weeks should, with strong coffee. We were welcomed into the Kaleider Studio and settled in straight away to our jam-packed week of workshops, lectures and networking.

The residential covered a broad range of topics from how to define the Technosphere to looking at the implications of a new geological epoch. The studio was an excellent working environment and gave us the opportunity to branch out away from campus.

Our first afternoon was the chance to meet potential companies to complete our internship with. A unique aspect of the MSc Global Sustainability Solutions programme is the dissertation. Instead of completing an academic dissertation we are given the option of turning this into an internship with an external partner. During the afternoon we heard pitches from companies about their current sustainability issues and research options we could collaborate with them on.

For example, the Devon County Council representative was keen to find out what the barriers are to recycling and potential options for how they could be improved. The scope of the company’s pitches were wide ranging and offered a broad selection of topics from construction to sailing. We were then let loose to network with the partners and discuss potential internships for the Summer.

Day two’s focus was on ways we can discuss and teach climate change. We were introduced to the dialogic approach and the bicycle model for climate change education at school. We were shown the importance of co-production and how the effect on everyone needs to be incorporated into the method used. The afternoon was an introduction to systems thinking, showcased through a series of games and practical activities. The day concluded with a session on how to make changes by choosing the appropriate entry point. We were shown the importance of language, humour and conveying a positive message.

The final day gave us the opportunity to build on our understanding so far and start thinking about our group work to come. The morning’s topic was prosocial behaviour followed by an exercise looking at how we wanted the future to look vs how to get there.

These three days were the perfect opportunity to delve into the course content in an engaging but relaxed format. We had the opportunity to learn from people with a diverse range of backgrounds and saw how we could fit into the bigger picture of global sustainability.