Saturday, 10 November 2012

The CIA. Licence to Adapt.

Did you know that in 2009 the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) opened the Centre on Climate Change and National Security? It all seems pretty hush hush and for all I know it could be closed down considering the lack of information I can find about it on the internet. Nevertheless, it brings to mind a side of climate change which I had not previously considered... security.

Whether you believe that climate change is human induced or not, the fact that climate is changing should not be doubted. Rising sea levels, melting ice caps, droughts, flood - the impacts of climate change are wide-ranging, and can have a serious effect on people and places through resource depletion, migration, disease, conflicts and riots (among others). So why should climate change not be considered a threat to national security?

A report by the Defense Science Board (PDF) which urges the CIA to move forwards its climate change assessment operations states:

"Climate change is likely to have the greatest impact on security through its indirect effect on conflict and vulnerability. [...] Climate change is more likely to be an exacerbating factor for failure to meet basic human needs and for social conflict, rather than the root cause. Climate change is already intensifying environmental and resource problems that communities are facing."

The report refers particularly to the impact of climate change on developing countries. This article for McClatchy gives examples of flooding in Pakistan and the video refers to the Darfur conflict in Sudan as originating over resource and territory conflicts in the face of drought. How does climate change influence security for developed countries? Well the DSB report puts it in this ever-so-sensitive manner:

"The United States does have a vital interest in promoting stability in areas of strategic interest."

I guess we all know what they mean by 'strategic'. And although this hasn't been put very delicately, it is true that the globalised world we live in today means we are highly dependent on resources from elsewhere (oil, tech, food, etc. etc.).

So what role can the CIA and intelligence agencies worldwide play in helping nations adapt to the impacts of climate change? A lot, I would suggest. Acquiring climate data and modelling, for one. Prediction of potential risk areas will be key to adaptation. But also sharing this knowledge and working together with other nations to plan, implement and manage solutions. And then there is the issue of conflict and war over resources.

It's an interesting thought anyway. Not quite James Bond... but still a useful way to apply climate science.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Global Domination Through Sustainability

The thought came to me as I was going through some emails, what would global domination look like from a 'sustainable enthusiast's perspective? And what does one do when such a question pops into your head? You Google it of course... 

Top 3 search results:

1) An article in The Atlantic about Agenda 21 feeding right-wing conspiracy theories of robbing you of "your God-given right to your gun, your land, your water, your food, and your liberty."
(And the comment award goes to username Lefthandwitch with her poetic use of words: "Bad bad dirty bike riding poor people!")

2) A blog about playing with garbage... as you do.

3) A Wikipedia article on the New World Order conspiracy theory and the emergence of a "secretive power elite with a totalitarian agenda". (I still haven't identified where sustainability comes into this).

We have clearly established here that the sustainable movement is out to get you! Secretly, silently, creeping into your life and before you know it, you'll be growing your own tomatoes whilst wearing hemp trousers (cue every girl's scream in a horror movie). And here I was thinking I would actually get some helpful tips on world domination.

I'm quite amused by the thought of 'the sustainability conspiracy theory', where people meet in the dead of night, arranging community initiatives and considering ways of increasing your town's resilience, all in a wild attempt to gain control of the world - now and for future generations. The irony here is that sustainability is very much about not being dependent on others (whether for food, energy or otherwise), and therefore about having your own control. Still, I would happily take part in that revolution. Oh what a brave new world we will live in.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Sunsets and Sustainability

It is 10 days till Rio +20 (the UN Conference on Sustainable Development), taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Much excitement and controversy, I am sure. But check this out, they have this year done a picture amalgamation of people's views of sustainability. Quite literally. They have asked people to send pictures of what they think a sustainable lifestyle looks like.

It's a really interesting of way of seeing people's thoughts on the matter from all across the world. It's not very well set out or easy to look through all the pictures carefully, but just clicking on a few of them shows three major themes in the uploaded pictures.

There's lots of kids. Kids recycling. Kids planting trees. Kids volunteering or taking part in other sustainable activities / events. That make sense; sustainability / sustainable development is about a world where our children are guaranteed the same earthly privileges we have. It also shows kids taking the reigns: they are the future so it's generally a good thing if they're on board!

Animals of all shapes and sizes are also prevalent. Toucans, frogs, reptiles - all the exotic ones.That shows a strong focus on conservation... which links in well with the final theme, which seems to be most evident throughout the pictures: Nature. Islands, beaches, trees, rivers, lakes, and sunsets. Lots and lots of sunsets. All pretty much uninhabited other than perhaps a few huts or people jumping in the air in a very timely manner.

That tells me that people's 'views' on sustainability is focused on conservation, but perhaps more so on a lifestyle without urban settings. You get a sense of people wanting to 'get back to their natural roots'. Which I guess is an important part of sustainable development, but I can't help but feel there is a disappointing lack of pictures to do with sustainability within the 'non-conservation' area. There are a few pictures of solar panels, I even saw BedZed in there somewhere. Other than that, there's nothing very 21st century about it - which sort of defies the point of sustainable "development" doesn't it? Oh well, better to have sunsets than to have coal power stations!

Tell you what though, all those sunset pictures has made me want to go on holiday.

Monday, 4 June 2012

My belief.

I've started to wonder what it is that makes me an 'environmentalist'. Is it nature? Doubtful that it is nurture. A colleague recently asked me what 'made me green', and the question took me by surprise. My year studying for my Masters was spent with like-minded people - there were no questions as to why we would be studying such a subject, nobody would deny the importance of sustainability, of environmental thinking, or of trying to be green. This wasn't simply an understanding of the world around us, it was a motivation to act.

I now find myself in a situation where I am no longer surrounded by people with the same mentality. That is not at all to say that I am surrounded by climate sceptics or people of an 'anti-green' perspective, by any means. Rather, I get the feeling that people would be more likely to recycle because the facilities are available or because of a sense of obligation. It is a worthy cause, and quite rightly so. But what makes me green? Perhaps none of the above...

People's views are undoubtedly based on their experiences, on their understandings, and on their perceptions of the world around them. My multicultural upbringing, combined with my geographical background, has shaped the way I see humanity. I tend to look at things holistically, always trying to see the bigger picture. The world does not turn on its axis because of millions of separate processes, but because of the interconnections between those processes.

That's the environment; a series of cycles and balances between systems, all coming together to create one tiny rock within the vast emptiness of our universe. And I am a part of that process. Without it, I would not be. Volcanic eruptions, meteorite showers and god knows what other major events brought the chemical elements in the shape of our atmosphere, protecting us to this day from the dangers of outer space. It is those same chemical elements which give us water, which in turn sources life. Life bustles, creating smaller but no less important cycles. Societies develop, interconnect, and grow. And they do so by adapting to the elements of their localised environments, including weather patterns and geology. But societies will have just as much of an effect on the wider process as the process may have on society. Chemical elements will be returned to the atmosphere or oceanic currents may be altered. Not to plagiarise Walt Disney, but there's a certain circle to life!

If that's the environment, then being an environmentalist is about understanding those cycles, balances, processes or whatever you want to call them. And it is also about wanting to maintain a healthy balance between systems. Just like a dietician would tell you, balance is important - in your food groups and in socio-environmental systems.

So why am I green? Because I see something beautiful in the way our world works. Because it's so intricate that is is practically beyond comprehension. Because humans should not be arrogant enough to assume that they live external to the environment. Because being part of such a miraculous environment, millions of miles away from anything nearly as wonderful as our Earth makes us important. And because societal, political, and other human issues seem nearly insignificant compared to the immenseness of our world. (I said NEARLY insignificant - I'm not saying that they aren't important).

Yes The Lion King is my favourite Disney movie... how did you know? NAAAAAAAAAAAAAH SOWENYAAA MAMABEETSAMAMA.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Communications: the mother of all sustainable weapons.

My oh my it has been a while! Being employed has taken a toll on my blogging recently but no fear, I'm just stocking up on inspiration and new matters to write about. Tonight, I thought I would write about a side to sustainability that is often overlooked, and yet so important (and which happens to be what my job is largely about... funny that!).


Communications should not only be at the heart of sustainability, but at the centre of any business - however big or small. I have said this before and I will say it many times more, being sustainable is the logical target for any organisation. Striving for it ensures healthy growth. But it will never be an easy process: social, economic and environmental considerations will always contradict each other. This is when communications comes in, like the missing puzzle pieces that connect the entire process/strategy/plan.

The point to clarify here is that communications is not about talking your way out of or into a particular situation. It is about explaining your point of view, listening to others, and ultimately pushing for dialogue (in other words - you should not find yourself being talked at, but rather you should find yourself in the middle of a conversation, even if it be a heated debate!) The deeper you go, the more likely you are to find points in common, and compromise quickly follows.

Communications is about allowing people to see the wider picture, instead of being stuck in their specialist bubbles or narrowed viewpoints. If it were to be personified, it would be that chap/lady who always seems so annoyingly sensible and who can diffuse any situation. Yep that's right, your mum basically! And we all know how powerful they can be at the best of times.

As a blogger and user of social media, I have always loved the concept of communications. This just gives a whole new dimension to it!

Till then... Stay Classy [insert where you live here].

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Five Stages of Job Acquisition

I recently wrote a post dealing with the psychological stages of job rejection. It was a bit dark. But in the name of balanced writing, I am now writing a post about the psychological stages of actually getting a job!

Stage 1: Getting the call/e-mail

This is the critical point. If you're reading an e-mail, you're skimming through for negative or positive words. If you're on a call, you're just hoping that the right words will come out of your mouth, whatever the decision. And then there it is. You've actually got it! Now it's about playing it cool. On the outside you're like: 'That's fantastic news. Thank you. You won't regret it. etc. etc.' On the inside you're like 'YYEEEEEEAAAAAAHHH!'.

Stage 2: The Stunned Silence

You've had the news. You've put down the phone or finally closed the e-mail after reading it twenty times. It's contemplation time. Pride bubbles up as you suddenly realise that the hard work has paid off. You've braved the numerous interviews, the dull applications and the manic preparation, and you've come out the other end with a win.

Stage 3: The Victory Dance

What... victory dances are cool. And who cares if you look lame, you've just got the job! Let your little feet express your happiness.

Stage 4: PANIC!

Easily summed up with: 'OH MY GOD! I've got a job. I need to be good at it! I need to find a place to live!! I need to go shopping for clothes!! PANIC BUTTON!!!

Stage 5: TBC

I'm not quite sure about this stage yet. I keep on moving from Stage 3 to 4 and then back again. I'm hoping something along the lines of ... serenity as you fit in and learn the ropes and generally become awesome at the job.

I will let you know!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Human-Environment Interactions: Vulnerability, Adaptation and Resilience.

I wanted an excuse to try out Prezi, so I made this presentation... as you do!

Prezi is an online presentation tool. It follows the principle that you have one 'canvas' which you can zoom in and out of (as opposed to following slides). It's an interesting idea, and in fact it works well. It's simple, easy to use, and presentations can be made to look a lot more interesting. You can find out more at

The presentation is based on some of the concepts which were at the heart of my first dissertation. It deals with how socio-ecological systems (e.g. society) live within their environments, how they are vulnerable from various climatic, social, political and economic issues, and how these systems can improve their adaptive capacity. It's perhaps a bit dry but there may be some interesting concepts/ideas which you may want to look into further. It's not too long anyhow. Here it is:

The idea is that you can follow the presentation 'path' which I created, taking you through each point, by clicking on the little triangle icon. You can also zoom in or out at any point (use your cursor or the icons on the side) to look closer at something or to skip a few steps.

Notes on Prezi if you want to try it yourself:

  • Easy and relatively simple to get your head around.
  • The fact that it zooms in out and out (sometimes quite far) can actually give the audience a sense of vertigo - something to take into consideration when you're making a prezi. Basically, try not to swivel and swish too much.
  • You can present it online, or offline by downloading it. I have tried the latter, but from what I hear - the downloadable file is pretty big (and therefore difficult to e-mail to colleagues, etc.)
  • Easy to integrate Youtube videos or images.
  • Unless you upgrade (and pay) for a premium account, the prezis which you create will be made public (available to see for all in the Explore pages). So don't put any sensitive information in there. It is actually quite good to be able to see others' presentations (there are some interesting ones out there...)
On another note... I have just gone out of way (and actually got back into some old research and reading) to do a bloomin' presentation (for which I am not marked or paid for), all in the name of trying out some new programme. That's right. You can call me UBER-NERD!

Sexualising the Green Movement

I reckon they've got a good point there.

I also reckon they've hit on a good way to get people interested! 

Monday, 30 January 2012

Green IT... The Problem or the Solution?

ICT - Information and Communications Technology - plays an ever-increasingly important role in today's society, in the home and the business world alike. We can't live without it. Yet the IT sector is both environmentally damaging and a driver for green solutions. So is it a help or a hindrance?

Technological advancements in the IT sector have marked some hugely important steps in the way we interact with each other and how we get the latest info on the things we love/need. Where on earth would we be without smart phones these days, or what about Facebook and Google?!

ICT is vital to the way we live our lives. But a study by Gartner found that the IT sector accounts for around 2% of global carbon emissions... doesn't sound like much? That's equivalent to the aviation industry! It's a significant amount, and it's only going to grow as more data centres are needed to power this massive industry. Here's an interesting video which deals with the negative impact of the internet:

The funny thing about the IT industry is that, even though it might be a significant contributor of carbon emissions, it is also unavoidably a part of the green solution. Green IT is the upcoming trend, but IT in general can also help promote greener lifestyles, especially in businesses and organisations.

So what does green IT refer to? There are quite a few different aspects. Firstly, there have been significant improvements in the way data centres are managed, making them more energy and cost efficient. There are various approaches to this; from installing better cooling systems, to switching from older 'rack' servers to 'blade' servers (saving a significant amount of space in the centre). Alternatively, but closely linked to data centre efficiency, is the up-and-coming approach of virtualisation. I'm no techie, so I cannot give you the down and dirty explanation of this (Wikipedia has a helpful article), but in simple terms: it reduces the amount of hardware you have to use and power (by using virtual servers).

There have also been many important advances in IT which - although not necessarily green - have promoted more environmentally-friendly practices. I refer particularly to teleconferencing improvements, reducing the need for business travel and associated environmental impacts (not to mention business finances and productivity of workers). Developments like Cisco's Telepresence, which I find quite exciting, really make you feel that talking to people on the other side of the world as if they were in the same room as you is increasingly possible. Well, it's been possible for a while, but these kind of technological developments make it so much more easier to interact - would you rather an awkward call with a 3 second time lag (we've all been there...) or a room when you can walk and talk, and react not only to people's voices but movements and expressions, all without the 3 second time lag.

So where does that leave the IT sector? Is it a help or a hindrance to the environmental movement? Personally, I would say it's a help - or perhaps I should say, it will be of significant help in the future. At the moment, I don't believe enough focus is put on the benefits of green IT. And despite there being improvements in the efficiency of the sector, there are also huge developments occurring right now which practically make the current green improvements redundant. Take the rise of the 'Internet of Things' for example which will continue to grow and demand an even larger amount of energy to be powered.

Still, I can't help but feel that technology and IT will be a major player in the greening of things; it already is starting to be. Why? Because it can hit the most polluting areas (including its own innefficiencies). Large scale businesses, governments, social interaction, etc. At the heart of IT is improvement; so as long as the innovators continue to realise the importance of environmentally-friendly services (not only for the environment, but also for economic and social reasons), then I do reckon that IT could easily become the centre of a much greener society. Ever the optimist...

If you want any more info on Green IT, there's an interesting report by Lyonsdown, which has a number of interesting and easy to read articles on various green ICT issues.