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Back to the future: climate change lessons from the Pliocene era

Yohann KKoshy17 February 2014

Of the many clichés passed from generation to generation, “You must understand your past in order to understand your future” is both the most intuitively correct and consistently ignored.

Too often the historian’s excavation of the past is considered to be of merely academic interest rather than a stark warning about the social, political and economic conditions that can re-enable historic calamities.

Dr Chris Brierly (UCL Geography), who delivered the Lunch Hour Lecture on 13 February, is pursuing historical research to help us comprehend our past and possibly safeguard our future from devastation.

V0023203 An ideal landscape of the Pliocene period with elephants, hiInstead of looking back 100 years at Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, Brierly looks back 5 million years, when the world was curiously similar yet significantly different to the one we inhabit today.

Brierly explained how his research concentrates on mapping the tropical climate of the Pliocene epoch, which began around 5 million years ago and ended 2.6 million years ago.

Just like the present, the Pliocene world was both warm and cool: grassland expanded and ice-caps accumulated. It did, however, have a structurally different tropical sea climate.

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The planet won’t be habitable in five years if we see five degree warming

newseditor21 February 2013

pencil-iconWritten by Helen Fry, Research Assistant, UCL Institute for Global Health

1“The planet won’t be habitable in five years if we see a five degree increase in average temperatures,” warned Professor Sir John Beddington at the opening of UCL’s Global Food Security Symposium.

Sir John, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, outlined two critical global challenges: a population that will increase to 9 billion by 2043, and temperature changes that leave us at an ever higher risk of extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts.

These issues exist on top of current food, water and energy insecurity: hundreds of millions go hungry, lack access to safe water and do not have enough electricity.

Will countries stop emitting carbon? Sir John doesn’t think so. Fuels such as shale oil and gas in the United States have too significant an impact on their economy. Instead, apologising for his negative outlook on the prospects of climate change, he turned to solutions in addressing food security, identifying climate smart technology and sustainable agriculture as two important tools.

Sir John’s talk was followed by a panel debate with Professor Mark Maslin (UCL Geography), Dr Sidip Mitra (Jawaharlal Nehru University, India) and Professor Richard Kock (Royal Veterinary College). Highlights included Professor Maslin describing Gross Domestic Product as an “awful measure of a country” and Professor Kock warning that vegetarianism as the solution to climate change is “fraught with false premise”.

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A climate of fear: UCL Lunch Hour Lecture at the British Museum

newseditor14 June 2011

Dr Joe Flatman, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology, opened a series of lunchtime lectures by staff from UCL at the British Museum on 9 June with ‘A climate of fear: What the past tells us about human responses to climate change’ writes Jill Cook, Deputy Keeper, Palaeolithic and Mesolithic material, British Museum.

As a reflection on how human adaptability might help us achieve sustainable solutions to global warming, Joe selected 10 objects presented in the museum’s ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’ series to demonstrate how peoples around the world and through time have responded to climatic change. Through these he showed the relevance of archaeology to the understanding of the modern challenges, a point well received and discussed in lively questions from the audience.

Watch Dr Flatman’s lecture at the British Museum (45 minutes)

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Cheltenham Day 6: Global health sandwich

Claire V JSkipper12 June 2011

Dear All,

Today I started the day on a high with a talk ‘Life in the Cosmos: From Big Bangs to Biospheres’ by Martin Rees and ended on a high of another sort with the ‘talk’ ‘Over-Ambitious Demo Challenge’ hosted by UCL’s own brilliant chemist Dr. Sella.

To not tread on anyone else’s blog I will tell you about an interesting talk that I heard in between, ‘Our Health and the Climate’ chaired by our old friend Mark Maslin from the UCL geography department. The speakers were Anne Johnson, co-director of the Institute for Global Health at UCL and Sari Kovats and Andy Haines, both at the London school of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The climate is changing due to global warming and the results are already being seen and may have an impact on health. In the UK there will probably be more extreme weather events such as heat waves and floods. The heat wave in 2003 caused a spike in deaths in those over 75. Floods cause deaths by drowning and may increase the incidence of water carried diseases. Worldwide growing conditions may deteriorate and this will increase the price of food and the incidence of starvation. It will be the poorest of this world, who have contributed the least to global warming, who will suffer the most from its effects.

In the UK plans are in place to deal with extreme conditions and to try to reduce the amount of CO2 that is produced. For example there are already plans for legislation so that all new housing is energy efficient. It is suggested that we as individuals reduce our own carbon footprints and vote for a low carbon economy in order to show the world the direction to be taken to reduce carbon emissions.

All quite sobering and thought provoking stuff.

Your Computational Chemist