The new Geostorm disaster movie stars Gerard Butler as a scientist trying to save the planet from a rogue weather-altering satellite.
The plot is based around climate change becoming so bad, that the resulting extreme weather events need to be managed by us to prevent further runaway climate change. Humanity therefore builds a satellite system called ‘Dutch Boy’, to manage, stop and prevent weather events. The satellite project is led by the Americans, and is just about to transfer into the hands of the international community, when a senior government official interferes with the functioning of the system.
One thing this film shows us is the danger of not acting on climate change and relying on last resort geoengineering measures. Geoengineering is where humans cause a deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change (source: Oxford Engineering Programme).
I believe geoengineering is something that needs to be avoided at all costs – this is NOT a solution to the climate crisis. While the Dutch Boy satellite in the movie is a very extreme version of geoengineering, and arguably an unfeasible solution, the point still needs to be made that interfering with our climate as a means of trying to ‘hack’ our way out of the dire situation we find ourselves in, is not the way forward!
I think one suitable analogy, would be comparing geoengineering to dialysis. Imagine you’re a heavy drinker and a heavy smoker. After decades, your kidney stops functioning properly and doctors warn that if you don’t change your lifestyle, then you’ll be put on dialysis. Those bad habits, are the same as our reliance on fossil fuels, which are causing climate change. So actively choosing geoengineering, is the equivalent of choosing to keep our dirty habits (and avoid making difficult changes), and opting for a life-support system. If we go down the geo-engineering route, we’re choosing life-support over life. There is no guarantee that geoengineering will work; it could make things much worse.
Would I recommend watching the film? Well parts of the dialogue were a bit cringe-worthy, but overall it’s worth watching to understand that we’re almost in a position now where we’ll be considering something of this scale to try and maintain a liveable planet.
I’d like to leave you with one modified quote from the film, which shows how important unity is in times like these, where the challenges we face are global and will affect every single one of us:
“One planet. One people. One future.”
I hope our leaders are listening, because we don’t get a redo if we mess this up.
I remember sitting in a lecture a few years ago and thinking to myself; ‘I really don’t need to be here, I could have watched this lecture online and read the textbook.’ I began to wonder where my tuition fees were being spent, and whether we actually get our money’s worth for our degrees.
So when it came to choosing a Masters programme, I spent a lot of time investigating different options. I was shocked to discover that online programmes were sometimes £3,000 cheaper than their campus based equivalents. Indeed, my full time MA in Creative Writing (via Distance Learning) from Teesside University, was nearly half the price of similar campus based courses at other universities. Up until that point, I had never imagined myself doing an online degree. However, I’d been an admirer of the digital nomad lifestyle and realised I had the opportunity to combine studying with this unique experience.
For those who haven’t come across the phrase before, a digital nomad (DN) is someone that is location independent and can work or study from anywhere in the world. As the ‘nomad’ term implies, travel is a big part of the experience. The main requirement is that their chosen destination has decent internet access. People can work or study remotely from just about anywhere nowadays.
I had notions of travelling to a different European country each month (via train of course, to reduce my carbon footprint). However, with a quick comparison between my savings and the potential costs of that plan, it became apparent that this wouldn’t be feasible. In addition, I was told by the Student Loans Company (SLC), that I wouldn’t be eligible for funding if I studied outside the country, so that put an end to that idea.
Instead I looked more locally in the UK. I decided I would try spend 6 months in Norwich, because it is a city which has produced some fantastic authors (including Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro, the winner of the 2017 Nobel prize in literature. Both of these authors studied at UEA). Norwich was also the first UNESCO City of Literature in the UK. There is a good literary vibe in the city, and prominent authors often visit UEA or Writers’ Centre Norwich to give talks.
I intended to take advantage of SCONUL, which gives students access to university libraries across the country, and apply to use UEA’s library (to see if you’re eligible for SCONUL, visit their website). I set this up within around two weeks, and found accommodation close to UEA. I was also able to pay an Associate Membership fee to join their student union, which then enabled me to join a few clubs and societies. Another great thing about universities like UEA, is that you don’t need to be a student to join their gym. I was fortunate enough to meet a group of Masters students who invited me to their social events. The time I spent with them, gave me some of the fondest memories of my past year.
After that, I intended to spend the final 6 months somewhere like Cornwall. However, due to budgeting and a large number of pre-existing commitments outside of Cornwall, it became less workable. I also had issues finding accommodation for the right length of time, with good internet access. So in the end, I only completed the first half of my DN plan – 6 months in Norwich, after which I returned home to complete the rest of my degree.
Based on my brief experience of being a student DN, I have put together a list of advice, along with some benefits and disadvantages of choosing this lifestyle for studying.
Choose your course carefully. Does your course incorporate any practical modules, where you may need to attend the uni to complete them (i.e. for lab work, or workshops)? Can you fit those requirements around your plans? Also look at the cost of tuition fees and see whether you can afford them. If not, would you need to apply for a government loan, and if so, will the government actually fund your course? Also bear in mind that the SLC won’t fund your course, if you plan to travel outside the UK.
Create a budget! Then re-check it multiple times. Some of the things to think about:
Tuition fees and resources (including course books)
Rent & bills
Initial rent fees – you might be asked to put down 1 or 2 month’s rent as a deposit, and may also have to pay for referencing and administration fees
Transportation costs. If you drive, don’t forget things like insurance, road tax, MOTs, servicing, fuel and general repairs
Phone contract or pay as you go top-ups
Socialising (i.e. society socials, pub crawls etc.)
Cost of joining clubs and societies
Netflix and other memberships
Other costs like clothes shopping and birthday and Christmas presents
The unforeseeable. There are bound to be costs you haven’t anticipated. Do you have spare money that you could use if/when they arise?
Sign up to SCONUL. If you’re in the UK and if you’re eligible, you can sign up to SCONUL, which will give you access to a large number of university libraries across the UK. I highly recommend this. I used SCONUL to study at three different university libraries during the year. It’s free and straightforward to do.
Work schedule. Try create a basic work schedule and try stick to it. With online courses, you have to be very disciplined to get work done!
Apply for a University Student Card. If you enrol for your course and you aren’t sent a student card automatically, it’s worth contacting the administration team and asking if they can send you one. You might be able to get discounts at certain places by using your university student card.
Discounts. A student railcard and an NUS card may come in useful.
Research and visit your accommodation. If you’re planning on spending a fair amount of time somewhere, try arrange a viewing before deciding on accommodation as you’ll get a better feel for a place.
What resources will you need for your course? Will a laptop suffice, or would a tablet also be of use? Check in advance with your course leader if you need to. Also, remember to budget for these resources and any course books you might need.
See if you can join uni clubs and societies. If you’re planning on moving to be closer to a particular university and if you plan on staying there for a fair length of time, see if you can join their clubs and societies. You might be asked to pay an ‘Associate Membership’ fee, after which time you may be able to join the clubs and societies. I felt a bit rude just signing up to clubs and societies, as I wasn’t a student at UEA, so I e-mailed each club individually and explained who I was and that I’d paid the associate membership fee, and asked if they’d be ok with me joining their society. This also gives you a point of contact when you attend the first club/society event.
Research other non-uni groups you can join. Moving to a new town or city, where you don’t know anyone can be challenging. Initially, you’ll probably be too excited to notice, but after a while of working on your own you begin to miss social contact. There are apps like ‘Meet-up’, which can help. There are also a range of DN apps, as well as dedicated DN groups on social media.
Remember you’re a DN! This might sound silly, but I got so drawn into my work that weeks and months went past, before I actually explored the places I wanted to see in Norwich and Norfolk.
Pre-existing commitments. Think about whether you have any pre-existing commitments, such as holidays or concerts etc. Factor this in to your schedule, and plan your workload around them accordingly. Also make sure you’ve included enough money in your budget for any pre-existing commitments.
Pack practically. If you’re planning on moving around frequently, it’s worth thinking about exactly what you’ll need to take with you. You don’t want to have to buy stuff that you already own, but you also don’t want to lug around stuff that you probably could do without. Also think about how you’re going to move things from A to B.
Benefits of being a Student DN
Study from anywhere in the world, as long as you have an internet connection (although if you’re applying for a student loan, check the terms and conditions, as you may be limited to studying in that country).
Living and exploring somewhere that appeals to you.
Fit your studying around your lifestyle.
If you’re in the UK, you have access to loads of university libraries through SCONUL.
Meeting new people in the place you move to, as well as through your course.
Online learning environments are usually pretty straightforward to use.
Freedom and independence.
Developing a whole host of important skills, including self-discipline and self-motivation.
Disadvantages of being a Student DN
Budgeting and money. Depending on where you move to, it could be quite an expensive adventure.
Not being able to see your actual course mates and just going for a drink together.
Can be difficult to meet new people if there’s not many societies/clubs around that you like, or can afford. This could lead to…
You need to be self-motivated.
Time management. Try and stick to your planned work schedule.
Other people may have a negative opinion of your degree, because it’s an online course and therefore it may not hold the same weight as a traditional degree in their eyes.
If you plan on travelling around, think about whether you’re the type of person who feels happy making acquaintances and losing them (in a sense), when you move on to the next destination. And then repeating the process all over again.
If you’d like another view on the lifestyle, here’s a blog from another student DN. If you’re interested in finding out more about digital nomads in general, this article might be of interest.
Yesterday I attended the inaugural climate visuals masterclass, run by Climate Outreach and hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Over the past few months, I have looked at various methods of climate change communication for my dissertation and had an interest in finding out more about the photographs and images that are used to portray climate change to the wider public.
I learnt that if you google ‘climate change’, many of the pictures that come up are variations of a small set of images. Also images containing people aren’t used as often as you’d expect, the bulk are made up of extreme weather events and the ‘posterchild of global warming’ – the polar bear. The problem communicators have, is that the polar bear is the most recognised and well understood image in regards to climate change.
Whilst there is an appetite for new visual stories about climate change, familiar images such as the polar bear have a clear advantage for a consumer’s rapid understanding. Interestingly, we are also better able to empathise when we see an individual, as opposed to a crowd in an image.
As with all forms of climate change communication, people respond better to things they can resonate with. In this sense, local images are good to use for your target audience. Would an image of a drought in China make someone in an urban area of the UK want to take action on climate change? Maybe, but probably not. Instead images of cities in the UK being flooded are likely to be more relevant.
One thing that really surprised me is that people can be turned off by seeing images of protestors and marches. One reason for this is because they sometimes doubt the credibility of the people in the pictures. However, when the person appears credible, this cynicism disappears.
On a seperate note – I’ve been shocked by how the media sometimes has rolling coverage of a climate related disaster (such as Hurricane Harvey in Texas), and yet only makes very brief reference to climate change. I think certain media outlets such as CNN, BBC News and Sky News (as well as most UK tabloids), need to rectify this issue.
The seven main principles for visual climate change communication are summed up as follows:
1) Show real people, and avoid staged photo opportunities.
2) Tell new stories.
3) Show climate causes at scale.
4) To engage people’s emotions, show the impacts of climate change (i.e. extreme weather events).
5) Show local impacts.
6) Be very selective with images of protestors/marchers.
7) Make sure you understand the audience who you are using the images for.
At the start of the day, it was noted how little reference in the masterclass there was to the role that artists play in communicating climate change. As someone who has spent the past year completing an MA in Creative Writing, in order to gain the skills I need to write novels about climate change (cli-fi novels), this was something that I had also picked up on! So you can imagine my excitement when Laurie Goering, who is the Head of Climate Programme at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, gave a talk and mentioned the role cli-fi could play as a form of communication!
This was by far and away the highlight of the day for me, and gave me a sense of validation. I believe cli-fi has a crucial role to play in educating people about the impacts of climate change and the solutions that are available to us right now.
If you visit the World Press Photo awards, then look out for a category on climate change images next year, which has been set-up in conjunction with Climate Outreach.
Like a lot of people, I heard about Lewis Pugh on the news because of his first Arctic swim and his Thames swim. Back then I was only a teenager, and it wasn’t until around six years ago at university that I stumbled across a video of Lewis speaking about fracking in the Karoo (see below). The issue was very topical, and one that was relevant to me as I was completing my undergraduate degree in ‘Climate Change’ at the time. The fact that I spent the first twelve years of my childhood growing up in Zimbabwe, also instilled in me a deep love of the natural world and the thought of a big oil company destroying another region in Africa filled me with anger.
I was captivated by the passion with which Lewis spoke, and delighted to have discovered a new environmental champion. I bought Lewis’s book Achieving the Impossible and realised that this was a man who was the living epitome of the phrase ‘nothing is impossible’. A former Cambridge University graduate, SAS reservist and endurance swimmer, Lewis has shown what is possible when you persevere and get your mind-set right. I was awed by what I read and proceeded to buy copies for friends and family – it’s one of those books which I believe can change lives. I’ve followed Lewis’s numerous campaigns since (including the Seven Swims, the Mumbai beach clean-up and the Ross Sea campaign), and have nothing but admiration for his dedication to protecting the oceans. When 21 Yaks and a Speedo came out, I devoured it in less a day. In the book, Lewis divulges his 21 tips for achieving your own dreams – a must read for everyone who wants to fulfil their potential in life. I could go on writing about Lewis, but the main purpose of this post is to talk about his latest expedition in the Arctic.
Lewis wrote an article prior to the swim, where he talked about the importance of protecting the Arctic: “I am deeply shocked by what I am witnessing. I’ve been swimming amongst ice for 15 years. It’s a substance I know well. I am not a climate scientist, but what I am seeing looks like runaway climate change in the Arctic.”
People have often said to me, ‘You must be mad to swim there.’ But I feel like the rest of the world is mad, and I am the sane one. https://t.co/5IYE8HAYXo
The Arctic plays a crucial role in regulating the earth’s climate, and it is melting faster than models have predicted as a result of increasing anthropogenic greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, which are driving climate change. We have seen the Arctic sea ice reach lower and lower summer sea ice extents each year. Some have termed this rapid decline of sea ice as the ‘Arctic death spiral’, where the sea ice recedes further and further until eventually there will be none left in the summer months.
Peter Wadhams is a polar scientist with over 47 years of experience in the field and has carried out over 50 expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic. In his book A Farewell to Ice, Wadhams says: “By the end of 2015 a total of 238 ships had sailed through it [the Arctic]. In September 2012 sea ice covered only 3.4 million square kilometres (km2) of the Arctic Ocean’s surface, down from 8 million km2 in the 1970s.” Wadhams predicts that the remaining Arctic sea ice could disappear as soon as 2020 – a mere three years from now. When it does disappear, Wadhams says: “The albedo change from the loss of the last 4 million km2 of ice will have the same warming effect on the Earth as the last twenty-five years of carbon dioxide emissions.”
This a profound statement to try and get our heads around. Worse still, there are frozen methane particles which could be released by the warming Arctic waters, which could trigger global runaway climate change, depending on the quantities released. Methane is a more potent form of greenhouse gas, which traps more heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide. I wrote a blog post here, if you’d like to read more about runaway climate change.
Given how late we’ve left it, we need urgent global emissions reductions, combined with carbon dioxide extraction if we’re to stand any chance of saving what’s left of the sea ice. In his blog, Lewis calls for us to go beyond the Paris climate change agreement. Lewis is absolutely right to call for this – Paris is not strong enough on its own. For those who are unaware, world leaders met in Paris in 2015, and agreed to try and limit global temperature increases to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with an aim of keeping it below 1.5°C.
However, a few days ago a new piece of research estimated there was only a 5% chance of meeting the 2°C target, based on our current pathway and only a 1% chance of meeting the 1.5°C target.
This news is profoundly saddening. That’s why we need bold action from our leaders, and Lewis’s incredibly brave and courageous symbolic swim goes a long way in drawing their attention to this imperilled polar region. We have the renewable energy solutions – what we lack is the political will and the action from major companies (not words or ‘greenwashing’, but real-life action) to effectively tackle the greatest challenge facing us today. Scientists say we still have a small and shrinking window of opportunity to act to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – together we need to make full use of every single hour available to turn the tide. When we work together collectively, there’s nothing we can’t do.
I would like to thank Lewis for undertaking this swim and all the others he has done to highlight the issues and challenges facing our oceans. This one in particular, for the sheer hell Lewis must have gone through, and at one point nearly giving up. I don’t think anyone can truly appreciate the suffering Lewis made here, but he has done this for each and every single one of us. For that we owe him a great deal of gratitude.
I’d like to thank Lewis for all his other environmental work, including the fracking talk he gave, which really helped lift me out of a depression I felt for the natural world. I’m personally working on different methods of trying to communicate climate change to a wider audience and engage more people with what’s happening to our planet. But actions speaks louder than words, and what you’ve done is beyond remarkable!
In life, there are moments when you can choose whether to say "I can" or "I can't". Those choices make a world of difference. pic.twitter.com/RG8LatumgO
Over and above everything else, I’d like to personally thank Lewis for showing me what’s possible when we never give up, and put in the hard work so that we can achieve our dreams. I’ll end with two incredible TED talks from Lewis about his first Arctic swim, and his swim on Mount Everest.
One of the most worrying impacts of climate change is the increase in extreme storms and violent precipitation events taking place across the world. In his book, A Farewell to Ice, Peter Wadhams states that for every degree of air temperature warming, “We add something like 7 percent of extra water vapour content to the atmosphere” (Pg. 109).
This additional water vapour is what is causing these wild rainfall/hailstorms we are seeing. As the water vapour content continues to rise, we are creating super-charged storms. Below is a tweet from the ‘severe-weather.EU’ account. It is one example of the many global extreme weather events taking place.
BRUTAL bombardment with very large hail yesterday in Istanbul, Turkey! Hail up to 9 cm in diameter reported! Video: Meteor Turkey pic.twitter.com/Roi281Sx5E
Many food crops can be destroyed by these extreme hailstorm events. If they were localised to one region, we could cope. But when these types of events are taking place across the world and are increasing in number and frequency, how do we protect the food crops? This is just one of the many ways our food supply is being jeopardised by inaction on climate change. Every day our leaders fail to limit emissions, the situation worsens and your children’s future becomes more uncertain.
I have debated whether or not to write a review for this book for some time. Prior to reading it, I had no idea that Michael Crichton was a climate change sceptic! So it came as much of a surprise to me to see the supposedly good climate change scientists portrayed as the bad guys as the book progressed.
Whilst it’s cleverly written to convey Crichton’s climate change scepticism, I can’t recommend this book to others, purely because it flies in the face of what I (personally) believe this genre should be trying to achieve. Yet because Crichton’s name is so well know, you’ll find this book in cli-fi displays in bookstores, and on cli-fi reading lists. So this short review is more of a warning to alert other unsuspecting readers – if you don’t want to read a cli-fi novel that’s grounded in climate change scepticism, then avoid this book!
I couldn’t wait to dive into this book, as it’s been hyped up by a lot of reviewers. So it’s with an element of sadness, that I report this novel came across as a book of two halves for me.
We follow Mitchell Zukor, who is a mathematician that calculates the chances of catastrophe occurring from a range of factors including; ecological collapse, natural disasters and global war. Mitchell lives in New York and his life is turned upside down when a storm slams into the city. Ironically, this book was written just before Hurricane Sandy hit New York. The first half of the book leading up to and including the storm, is engaging, informative and reads like a thriller. If the second half of the book had followed in this manner, then this would easily have been one of my favourite books in the cli-fi genre. But quite the opposite happened.
I will try to avoid giving away too many spoilers, but characters underwent unnecessary change and the plot took a turn for the bizarre. I am not sure if the book needed to end the way it did, and I felt disappointed by what had been such a great start. Perhaps I’m one of only a few who feel unhappy with the second half.
Whilst this novel had a great deal of potential, I would say be prepared for an adrenaline-pumping first half, followed by a mediocre second half.
The Year of the Flood is the most immersive ‘cli-fi’ book I have read to date. Whilst I am slightly unsure about using the term cli-fi to describe this novel, it does present a dystopian future, whereby human influence has caused mass environmental degradation. Corporations are in charge, and get away with a great deal of corruption and immoral practices, including changing the genetic make-up of animals.
What scares me about this book, is how a lot of things mentioned are not a million miles away from where we are today. If fiction has the power to make us reflect on our current pathway and change direction, then this is a book that policymakers should take notice of. Needless to say the plot was relevant and pacey, apart from the Sermons by Adam One, which drew me away from the action. That being said, these sermons tended to be about different ‘Saint’s Days’. Atwood cleverly uses the Saints Days to educate us about environmental campaigners and activists (after whom the Saint’s Days are named), such as Rachel Carson. The lay reader picking up this novel with little background environmental or cli-fi knowledge, may then be tempted to discover who these ‘Saints’ are and what they did, which is a very subtle and intelligent way of educating people.
The characters in the book are well thought out and believable. I now understand that this book is part of a trilogy; this being the second book (preceded by Oryx and Crake, and followed by MaddAddam). I am interested to see how these books tie together, as many articles discussing cli-fi novels recommend The Year of the Flood, yet few mention the other two books.
Whilst the ending wasn’t exactly what I anticipated or hoped for, this is my favourite cli-fi novel so far and one I’d definitely recommend. I’m hoping the loose ends are tied up in the final book of the trilogy – MaddAddam.
A major milestone has been reached for the cli-fi genre, as “cli-fi” enters the Oxford Dictionary.
A recent blog post on oxforddictionaries.com states: “Cli-fi refers to the genre of fiction exploring issues around climate change and global warming, and is modelled after its hypernym sci-fi.”
The origin of cli-fi is explained here as follows: “Early 21st century: short for climate fiction or climate change fiction, on the pattern of sci-fi.” Furthermore, ‘cli-fi, like the science behind it, often presents bleak visions of the future.’
I would like to offer my congratulations to Dan Bloom who coined the term ‘cli-fi’, and all those writers who have written books in this genre.
Silent Spring is a seminal book by Rachel Carson, which is widely credited for igniting the fires of the environmental movement. Reading this, I am shocked by how little seems to have changed in the intervening 55 years since the book was published.
Carson shows how chemical insecticides and pesticides have gone beyond pest control and resulted in widespread death of fish, birds and larger animals. What we try and control in one part of the food chain has a knock on effect further down, and worryingly, not many people realise that we are also at the end of this food chain. I have often wondered whether rising rates of cancer in humans can be attributed to the chemicals we have sprayed on our foods and which we unwittingly ingest. Think about it, if the pesticides are toxic enough to kill insects, birds and fish – could they not also poison us, as living, breathing creatures as well? Carson makes a strong argument that this is indeed the case:
“Man has put the vast majority of carcinogens into the environment and he can, if he wishes, eliminate many of them. The chemical agents of cancer have become entrenched in our world in two ways: first, and ironically, through man’s search for a better and easier way of life; second, because the manufacture and sale of such chemicals has become an accepted part of our economy and our way of life.”
The idea that pesticides are essential to feed a fast-growing global population is a myth, according to UN food and pollution experts.
The report said: “Chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility.” It also highlighted the risk to children from pesticide contamination of food, citing 23 deaths in India in 2013 and 39 in China in 2014.
The report says pesticides have “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole”, including an estimated 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning.
By comparing similar farms using high or low levels of pesticides, the scientists found that 94% of farms would lose no production if they cut pesticides and two-fifths of these would actually produce more.
The results were most startling for insecticides: lower levels would result in more production in 86% of farms and no farms at all would lose production.
The research also indicated that 78% of farms would be equally or more profitable when using less pesticide of all types.
I think it goes without saying that we need to urgently examine whether we need to be using pesticides and insecticides at all in this day and age. If there is significant evidence that pesticides are causing cancer and a range of other serious illnesses, we need to put a stop to their use. Moreover, we have evidence as shown above that we don’t need to use pesticides and insecticides on our crops. This is yet another case of manipulation by big companies, who are causing unnecessary illness, death and environmental degradation in the name of profits. It’s time to stop this.