GSI Seminar Series: Dr Raphaelle D. Haywood – There’s no place like home: Placing Earth in its astronomical and geological contexts

Blog written by Daneen Cowling

A new year and a new set of interesting seminars!

The first of 2022 was from Dr Raphaëlle Haywood, a Senior Lecturer in Physics and Astronomy at the University of Exeter. Dr Haywood gave an immense talk covering the hunt for exoplanets, how we find another Earth-like planet, and shared some important insights into why we should not assume there is a planet B.


On a finite world, a cosmic perspective is not a luxury, it’s a necessity

Caleb A. Scharf, 2014

Dr Haywood began with thought-provoking set of quotes and statistics that brought home the importance of why we need to have this astronomical view and appreciation of our position within it. To realise – like our humble blue planet – the existence of planets orbiting other stars is extremely common.

Particularly important – the occurrence of “Earth-like planets” are also common, potentially between 9-21% of suns have a planet like Earth. But what is a planet like Earth?

An Earth-like planet is similar to us in size – around a 1/2 to 1 radius of Earth. But importantly, it also sits within the habitable zone. This means it is a suitable distance from it’s sun to allow for 30-100% of heat received on Earth to permit liquid water.

Dr Haywood estimated that there could be 63 BILLION temperate Earth size planets in our galaxy.


How to find other Earths

Find Earth-like planets goes far beyond it’s size and sun distance – we have tools that help us find the signatures of Earth – of life.

Earth is a complex self-regulating system composed of interacting systems of the planets rocks, atmosphere, ocean and biosphere. We can use the biosphere and the signatures it produces to help in our exploration. But what does this look like?

Key components of our biosphere can be identified through their signature wavelengths. through the reflectance signatures, we can identify:

  • Water and Water Vapour
  • Oxygen and Methane – this tells us there is a chemical disequilibrium and therefore there is life, as oxygen and methane are the bi-products
  • Near-Infared (NIR) “red-edge” – a sharp rise at around 700nm on the reflectance spectrum tells us there is a prevalence of vegetation

This means, using these signatures and tools we can understand what might be on another planet.

This is an exciting time for planet search and discovery – as from this year (2022) a new TerraHunting project will kick off a 10-year survey of 40 sun-like stars, to explore the planets and their resemblance to Earth. From this project and the huge dataset it will create, NASA plan to use this data to strategically begin a direct-imaging project, able to measure actual temperatures and investigate the prevalence of atmosphere on these potential Earth-like planets, and ultimately contribute great strides to the search for extra-terrestrial life!


No Planet B

As exciting as finding another planet with life on, Dr Haywood set it straight that regardless, there is no planet B. Even if we wanted to set up camp on another planet, the distances involved are way beyond our technological capacities – our nearest Earth-like planet is 300 years away at the speed of light. Even our Mars neighbour is out of our technological capability to transform into a habitable planet for humans.

Dr Haywood then went onto remind us that our planet, through its geological history, has never been the same state – it has consistently shifted into new versions of itself. Even human civilisations have shifted the planet trajectory of Earth – in its appearance and its observable signatures from space. Our current state of Earth has electromagnetic signatures, masses of waste, chemical signatures in our atmosphere – but what would an Earth signature look like it if it was inhabited by only indigenous communities? Communities that are able to live harmoniously with the Earth and the complex systems that regulate it. Maybe, this sustainable way of life isn’t even detectable? What’s to say other occurrences of life won’t be living so sustainable they are undetectable?

Lots of questions and exciting developments taken to get closer to answer them will make the next decades of planetary exploration an exciting one.


To learn more about Dr Haywood’s work, see her profile here.

If you’re a member of staff or student of the University of Exeter, feel free to join a mini-module called “No Place Like Home”: https://vle.exeter.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=13080

It was created by Dr Arwen Nicholson, Federica Rescigno and Dr Haywood as part of last year’s Summer School on Sustainability that was organised by CEMPS.

To view the full seminar, you can watch the recording here.

For more GSI events, stay up to date on the GSI website.

GSI Seminar Series: Prof. Patrick Devine Wright – Are local climate emergency declarations leading to transformation in the politics of climate change?

Blog post by Daneen Cowling

On 17/11/2021 Professor Patrick Devine-Wright, Dr Fionnguala Sherry-Brennan and Dr Alice Moseley, gave a seminar discussing whether local climate emergency declarations are followed by a transformation in the politics and solutions around climate change. Professor Devine-Wright, Dr Fionnguala Sherry-Brennan and Dr Alice Moseley gave a valuable insight into the planning, structure and outcomes of the first climate change citizen assembly in Devon to inform the Carbon Plan. The seminar was met with a lively discussion and positive messages to end on.


We were first introduced to the structure of the climate emergency and Devon Net Zero Task Force organisation at Devon Council, and how this filtered into the Carbon Plan. The citizen Assembly was then discussed, with the risks that come with hosting such a discussion. Deliberations and an interim Carbon Plan brought out before the assembly due to covid, meant topics for the assembly were reduced from 6 to 3, resulting in:

  • Oneshore wind
  • Roads and Mobility
  • Retrofitting

Food and diet was one of the topics dropped from the final decision to run 3. From this followed discussion in the chat around the importance for this topic in Devon, given the extensive farming presence in the county and the carbon footprint it carries. Explanations and discussions were shared in the Q&A, viewable here.

With context given to the question framing and speaker selections, the outcomes of the assembly were outlined. Although anticipated to be largely rejected, onshore wind as a net zero resolution was supported by 89% participants. While resolutions provided for mobility such as increased parking charges and workplace parking levies, were largely rejected. This is likely a representation of the relatively greater reliance on private transport in rural Devon, where public transport is not sufficient to be an appropriate alternative.

It was clear the citizens assembly was a useful tool to provide a platform to voices representative of rurality, which usually go unrecognised. However, there still remains complexities to contend with for the value and effectiveness of the assembly. For example, the value can be relative for different participants – stakeholders may hold more value to the solutions whereas the citizens involved might value the space to discuss issues affecting them, more.

It was also interesting to consider the key concept of place from the outcomes of the assembly. What is Devon? What inequalities are there to consider and contend with for these discussions? Where does trust lie in communities and how does this alter decisions? Centring thinking around Devon as a place helps contextualise the rejection to such mobility suggestions, and (hopefully) will result in a fairer acknowledgement of these inequalities across the county and avoid a blanket urban-centric solution.


To watch the full seminar as well as the discussion after, please click here.

The interim Devon Carbon Plan can be found here.

All Devon Climate Emergency information can be found here.

Voices of the Dart – hearing and helping our water bodies

A September workshop activity by Darcy Howle (GSI Intern) and John Bruun (GSI SDG Zero Hunger theme lead). Blog post by John

We can view the Dart as a form of living entity that many people share and benefit from. The Dart, one of our local rivers flows from its upland Dartmoor catchment, and as it gathers momentum travels down and past the wood and grassy landscapes, local villages and towns and joining the sea at Dartmouth. In recent years the land is getting drier, climatic we think. Since 2015 water has been extracted from the river to irrigate the land, which had not been needed before. There is a deep concern about how we can adapt to these changes.  The Bioregional learning centre, a South Devon Community Interest Company have convened a generic conversation to identify the Voice of the Dart. In September groups from GSI, Tidelines, South West Water, Soundart Radio, Westcountry Rivers Trust, the Environment Agency, the Bioregional learning centre (host) as well as artists and film makers, gathered for a workshop next to the river in Dartington: the start of a six month activity. A few from GSI joined: Darcy Howle found: ‘The artistic approach to viewing water was really eye opening. The mindfulness approach heightened your senses and made you experience aspects of the Dart that we take for granted.’ We all participated through walking 1-1 meetings down to the river, then group ideas sharing both at the river, later around a fire and a river story board. The emphasis was on active listening to one another, enabling formation of creative sharing ideas for the science and art. In essence the goal of finding the Voice of the Dart (and indeed any river) is to help save and share our water resources more effectively with this art and science fusion showing the importance of water in people’s lives – we heard the feeling of hope.

One of the workshop feedback activity sessions – where we all found these mushrooms living in a tree next to the river; experiencing the river (John Bruun): with sound, its living smell’s and touch.

GSI Seminar Series: Dr Chris Boulton – Case Studies of Resilience

Taken from Daneen Cowling’s (GSI Seminar Co-ordinator) blog 

For the final seminar of the 2021 summer term we hosted GSI Associate Research Fellow, Dr Chris Boulton. Chris gave an overview of his applied methods to explore the early warning signals that precede system tipping points. Chris gave examples of resilience sensing in both physical and human systems – ranging from the Amazon resilience to COVID-19 response. The talk given by Chris highlighted exciting opportunity for future research of identifying, monitoring and understanding how systems of resilience give warnings before crossing bifurcation thresholds.

Dr Chris Boulton is a GSI Associate Research Fellow at the University of Exeter. From a Maths at Exeter Chris moved to the Geography department to pursue his PhD on ‘Early warning signals of environmental tipping points’. During his PhD Chris looked at a number of key ecosystems that could approach disastrous tipping points, and assessed what sort of early warning signals could be observed and modelled.


Dr Boulton started the seminar with an introduction of how ecosystems can tip into new states when pushed by external pressures of self-enhancing feedbacks. Under normal ‘stable’ conditions we can imagine a system as a ball in a trough – swinging slowly between peak and dip. When a system is under pressure and approaching tipping point, the trough begins to shallow which then pushes the ball into a new state – a new trough. Check out the graphic below displaying this.


Diagram demonstrating the system changes with differing resilience

Dr Boulton then talked us through his first case study – exploring the resilience and critical thresholds of the Amazon Rainforest. Dr Boulton explained that due to the ‘committed response’ the mean state does not necessarily tell you if it is stable. Dr Boulton then went into the signals that can be shown with Autocorrelation (AR1), which when increasing shows a loss of short-term memory of a system and thus resilience. It was found AR1 increases in regions with less rainfall as well as regions closer to human land use, indicative of loss of resilience in these regions.

The case study of measuring country resilience to COVID-19 was then introduced. This research explored how a single perturbation to a system triggers resilience responses. The measure of resilience was the decay of cases from peak to the next minimum. Dr Boulton described the range of responses observed – categorised by 2 key country response characteristics:

  • Adaptive Stringency (the strictness of the rules)
  • Public Trust – found that <40% trust was needed for resilient response

Finally, Dr Boulton went through a new project using Twitter data to detect the Arab Spring through early warning signals in public sentiment. The shift from observing physical systems to social systems will be useful to identify, understand and encourage positive social tipping points that will help bring about to positive transformative change needed.


Dr Boulton finished the seminar with an engaging Q&A session as well as some links to presentations of research (link here).

To listen to the discussion and Q&A in full, the recording is available here.

Please keep up to date with GSI events via the websiteTwitterLinkedIn, or join the mailing list by contacting infoGSI@exeter.ac.uk.

GSI Seminar Series: Dr Kirsty Lewis – Science for Adaption and Resilience Action: A development perspective

Taken from Daneen Cowling’s (GSI Seminar Co-Ordinator’s) Blog 

Our seminar on 26th May hosted Dr Kirsty Lewis, who gave a talk on her experience and research and policy priorities of a Science for Adaption and Resilience action with a development perspective. Dr Lewis talked through the needs of evolving climate change research in relation to resilient development, and how central adaption and mitigation will be to not only being climate change resilient but also achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). In Her talk, Dr Lewis laid out how these priorities for research can be important for policy and action, as well as fostering an interdisciplinary approach.


Dr Kirsty Lewis is a Climate Science Advisor and is part of the Research and Evidence Division of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development. Dr Lewis is also Climate Security Science Manager at the Met Office, and will soon be joining the GSI. Dr Lewis is specialised in Climate Security and is informing several UK govt and international development and climate resilience projects.


Dr Lewis began by introducing the current priorities of academic research and government aid. Dr lewis explained how aid budgets are assessed against climate risk assurance to understand how well money was utilised to work for climate adaption and resilience. Dr Lewis exemplified this with current UK spending priorities, and how there is a growing shift in discourse to a realisation of the need for adaption and mitigation.

Dr Lewis then explained these priorities in relation to research and how they translate to current climate change research priorities. It is clear that adaption and mitigation are required to build the more realistic and complete picture of the future, and to not exclude and only assess the physical impacts. Further, tackling climate change this way will be crucial to even address the SDG’s – as it’s influence sweeps across economical, social and cultural systems of society. Hence, it can not be regarded as an isolated driver of change. It is therefore apparent we have reached yet another critical point – policy and action must include mitigation and adaption, or we threaten reversing all SDG achievements.


Dr Lewis then went on to explain examples of successful Science into Action. Science producing direct action in response to emergency not only provides fast data mobilisation and operationalisation, it can also optimise systems for future climate change. So what does all this mean for research? Dr Lewis arrived at a Climate Risk Framing, and the importance of:

  • Exposure
  • Vulnerability
  • Sensitivity
  • Coping capacity (Systems that deepen rather than emphasise sensitivity)

Climate risk can be summarised by: Hazard x Exposure x Vulnerability

However, Hazard is the common focus for climate research (e.g. the different CO2 scenarios). Exposure and Vulnerability inform the Adaption action – which for development should be in the context of the Hazard. This, Dr Lewis argues, should motivate a different priority of why we do climate research, to understand how much we can constrain an operating space for decision making. Dr Lewis does note that a current limitation to achieving this is the type of data available – much of the hazard data is quantitative, while the socioeconomic change that informs exposure and vulnerability is harder to constrain. This demonstrates the need for more interdisciplinary science.


Dr Lewis concluded with introducing some projects and alliances that are working to create research frameworks that have a focus on climate adaption and resilience. Dr Lewis summarises with three main priorities for climate adaption and resilience science action:

  1. Risk informed early action
  2. Developing in a changing climate
  3. Understand climate risk

For information on these projects, the questions posed to Dr Kirsty Lewis and the seminar in full, the recording is available here.

Please keep up to date with GSI events via the websiteTwitterLinkedIn, or join the mailing list by contacting infoGSI@exeter.ac.uk.

GSI Seminar Series: Laurie Laybourn-Langton: Entering the storm; the policy and political challenges of the next stage of environmental crisis

Taken from GSI Seminar coordinator Daneen Cowling’s blog post 

For our seminar 19th May, the GSI hosted Laurie Laybourn-Langton, who gave a talk Entering the storm: the policy and political challenges of the next stage of environmental crisis. Laurie spoke about overall strategy and where we stand in  restoring the natural world and dealing with the adverse consequences of climate change change. Laurie examined the current strategies in in place in relation to mitigation, adaptation, and how we mediate with the suffering. Laurie puts forward his argument that current policies do not constitute the required emergency response and aren’t live to the impacts that will grow with time, hence more explicit work is needed to ensure policies are robust to these consequences.


Laurie is an Associate Fellow, Responding to Environmental Breakdown at the Institute for Public Policy Research, a trustee of the New Economics Foundation, and currently a Visiting Fellow at the GSI. Laurie has worked on political economy and how shifts occur in economic ideas and policies, the role and power of digital platforms, and mobility transitions. Laurie also has an expertise in environmental breakdown, which he is applying as co-authoring a book on how to build a politics capable of responding to environmental breakdown.


Laurie gave his talk through a series of personal experiences, including provocative imagery to communicate the urgency and emotive elements of the crisis. Laurie introduced with the context that through human activities destabilising so many systems, we are now ‘well into the storm’. This also conseqwuence of politics and policy not recognising the pace and depth of the environmental emergency. Through his and colleagues experiences, Laurie noted how there has been a shift in how those that advocate climate change action have shifted from a cautious front of not to be too negative to put off people, to a new, re-energerised movment of recent climate protests. This has had the impact of helping the way discussions within political circles can be had, with the new attention, priority and energy being given.

Laurie then highlighted the transitions of the framings and narratives around the climate change emergency. From around 2018 there was a shift in framing to apply a binary target of ’12 years to save the Earth’ to not exceed with the 1.5 temperature rise, or else risk catastrophic global disaster. But, use of this framing could obscure the truth about being in this climate emergency storm.

Laurie questioned this language in the context of whether we have a credible strategy for repairing and restabilising? Emphasis on the framings of the targets and the threat of surpassing a 1.5 degree warming, misses the key point about the mitigation strategies then needed. Laurie also questions whether we have such a strategy in place to meet much of the Net Zero pledges. Key to reaching goals for Net zero, there is a reliance on technologies. But there is no global strategy in place to support this, and questions still remain whether we can accept the risks and inevitable mortalities to come from our close future. Laurie then demonstrated the current timeline put forward for Net Zero by 2050, highlighting how the status quo of policies are characterised as swapping dirty technologies for clean technologies – without change in behaviours. But this carries with it 3 major problems:

  • Consumption: Do we have enough of the overall environmental budget to swap all current dirty tech for clean, while also maintaining growth
  • Power: Can we follow this Net Zero trend with the current attitude toward debt and deficit? Specifically in the global South, where debt is largely limiting mitigation they can introduce. Hence, is the current power balance enoough?
  • Fairness: Can we achieve levels of cooperation needed in a high in-equality world?

It is then clear, we cannot do what is needed for the tasks at hand, with the current social, political and economical structures.


Laurie then posed the question of how we will continue to fight for these transformative changes, in a world that is to become more de-stabilised? Laurie began by unpicking a quote and critiquing the use of the phrase ‘too late’. Laurie then flagged how the median age of politicians in the UK, is round 50. Younger generations such as millennials and gen-z, will have to live through these ‘too late’ futures, carry the struggles and to not only introduce and win systemic change, but also to implement and maintain it. This creates a vast multi-generational project to re-stabilise and restore the natural world. The binary view of the future does not accurately represent the complexities of feedbacks and impacts, and so no future can be certain or known. This is also because threats and impacts go beyond the local – risk cannot be compartmentalised, impacts ripple outwards and interacts with the social, political and economic contexts. In many systems which are already highly vulnerable, are we operating in a resilient world? This sometimes gets presented as edging us towards a cliff-edge of societal collapse from environmental disaster – but looking at varying degrees of de-stabilisation already happening around the world, it is a far more complex situation than a Hollywood film portrayal. Instead of a cliff -edge, it could be better imaging we are moving off the smooth road we have travelled for many years, onto a bumpier topography.


Laurie concluded with explaining the need to develop more robust political systems, leadership practice and advocacy. Laurie also introduced his new project to help address the problems highlighted in his talk. For information on this project, the questions posed to Laurie and his seminar in full, the recording is available here.

Please keep up to date with GSI events via the websiteTwitterLinkedIn, or join the mailing list by contacting infoGSI@exeter.ac.uk.

GSI Member News: Mat Collins, New Field Chief Editor of the Frontiers in Climate Journal

Professor Mat Collins has been appointed Field Chief Editor of Frontiers in Climate . The journal is organized into specialty sections in Climate and Economics; Climate Law and Policy; Climate Risk Management; Climate Services; Climate, Ecology and People; Negative Emissions Technologies and Predictions and Projections. The main way the journal accepts submissions is through curated Research Topics that collect articles under a common theme. Current diverse topics range from Machine Learning for Climate Predictions and Projections to Carbon Pricing and Trading. The journal is completely Open Access and the University has entered into an institutional agreement with Frontiers that we can publish free of charge. If you are interested in proposing a Research Topic, please contact Mat.

Contact details 

The South West Climate Action Network (SWeCAN)

The University of Exeter’s Innovation, Impact and Business (IIB) team have recruited a new Impact and Development Partnership Officer (IDPO) to expand SWeCAN, the South West Environment and Climate Action Network.

Organisations and individuals across Cornwall, Devon and the wider region are invited to indicate their interest in joining the system-wide network, and share ideas for how it can support innovative activity inside and outside the university. Anyone can be involved, from local authorities, charities and individuals to international business in the region or local SMEs.

The network will bring together research and tools to support decarbonisation and environmental gain with partners from businesses and communities to policy-makers and institutions. It will serve as a repository for existing and future developments and services, including the recently launched Impact tool to measure and compare local carbon footprints.

“We are hugely excited about the potential of SWeCAN to identify and respond to gaps in the existing inter-disciplinary and cross-sectoral work already taking place across the South West,”

 

“We have world-renowned research taking place on our doorstep, and SWeCAN will bring the capacity and perspective to translate this into practical actions that are accessible to businesses, local government, community groups and more. As well as responding to the current interconnected challenges being faced in our region, and in the wider world, we have an unprecedented opportunity to think ahead and co-create new systems to shape what happens next.”

 (Peter Lefort, the new IDPO responsible for developing the network)

The University of Exeter is perfectly placed to develop a network to support organisations across the South West, being amongst the first Universities in the UK to declare a Climate and Environment Emergency in 2019. There are hundreds of academics working in climate science and related disciplines, including the top five most influential climate scientists in the UK according to the Reuters Hot List. In November 2020, their Climate Emergency Working Group has won the sustainability category of the Guardian University Awards.

Information on upcoming events, membership details and other ways to get involved will be launched on a new website in the coming months. In the meantime, anyone who is interested to find out more and discuss how SWeCAN could support their work can contact Peter at .

‘Some Meat Eaters Disgusted by Meat’

New connection found between meat intake and meat disgust that could be useful for future interventions to reduce meat intake 

Research coming out of the University of Exeter has found that feelings of disgust towards meat, something previously only thought to exist in vegetarians, might play a key part in how much meat omnivores and flexitarians eat. The impact of livestock farming on our climate and global ecosystems presents an urgent challenge to reduce the consumption of meat. More and more research is now aimed at finding factors that help people reduce their meat intake.  

In a new study published in the journal ‘Appetite’:Meat disgust is negatively associated with meat intake – Evidence from a cross-sectional and longitudinal study’ Elisa Becker and Prof Natalia Lawrence surveyed over 700 people and measured their meat intake levels, and different predictors thereof – including two measures of meat disgust. Surprisingly, meat intake levels were predicted to an extent by feelings of meat disgust, even in omnivores and flexitarians: 

“These meat eating groups were not previously thought to experience any meat disgust at all”

Elisa Becker, of the University of Exeter told BBC Radio Devon: 

“We found that 3% of omnivores and 15% of flexitarians experience what we would class as robust levels of meat disgust.”

This novel finding could be a game changer for future meat consumption interventions. Based on the findings, the researchers say harnessing the “yuk factor” may be more effective than relying on willpower for anyone who wants to eat less meat. Elisa Becker, of the University of Exeter said: 

“We were surprised to find that so many people are grossed out by meat – even people who eat meat all the time,”  

Prof Natalia Lawrence who is part of the Global Systems Institutes has previously developed interventions that aim to increase people’s control over impulsive food choices, including meat. Together with Elisa Becker, she is now looking to combine these interventions with an element of disgust. She said: 

not everyone wants to reduce their meat consumption — but for those who do, we are working on computer tasks that might help them harness the power of disgust in a fun way.” 

Find out more  

Photo source: Pixabay · Photography (pexels.com)