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The big question: too many people on the planet?

Katherine Aitchison17 May 2013

Earth, courtesy of Kevin M Gill on Flickr

Earth, courtesy of Kevin M
Gill on Flickr

There are currently 6.9 billion people living on our planet and with that figure set to rise, many people are worried about how long the Earth will be able to sustain us all and cope with the damage that we are inflicting on it.

The UCL Grant Museum of Zoology has a “case of extinction” featuring, among others, dodo and Tasmanian wolf (thylacine) specimens. Both of these species were hunted to extinction by humans and since their deaths many other species have faced the same fate. Which led Dean Veall, the museum’s learning and access officer, to ask the Big Question: are there too many people on the planet?

When the question was first posed to a packed JZ Young lecture theatre, after a glass of wine and a mooch around the Grant Museum’s always fascinating collection, the answer from the crowd was a resounding ‘yes’. But over the course of the night, we stood to have our opinions tested and potentially changed.

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

news editor21 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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Cycling, walking or driving – what are the risks and benefits?

news editor12 February 2013

Cyclist by Cyberslayer on Flickr

A cyclist tackles the London traffic, courtesy of
Cyberslayer on Flickr

pencil-iconWritten by Rosemary Willatt, UCL Sustainability Stakeholder and Communications Coordinator.

Is cycling really that dangerous compared to walking or going by car? Are the health benefits really worth the risk of death or serious injury?

On 28 January, as part of UCL’s Environmental Sustainability Topic Lunch Series, Dr Jenny Mindell presented on the risks associated with three modes of transport – cycling, walking and driving.

Dr Mindell started by covering both the health benefits of physical activity and negative effects of inactivity. She presented several studies where cyclists had better health than others using metrics such as mortality rates, explosive muscle power and aerobic fitness. She also explained that air quality is lowest inside cars.

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The myth of apathy (behaviour change from the inside out)

news editor4 December 2012

Written by Jenny Love, PhD student at the UCL Energy Institute.

The several hundred-strong audience attracted by Renee Lertzman of Royal Roads University bore testimony to our desire to effect ‘behaviour change’ in our society with respect to environmental protection.

It is a phrase that is used by many of us without an understanding of the people we are trying to effect change in. Renee, as a psychosocial researcher (this discipline addresses psychological development in, and interaction with, a social environment), brought us an insight into how people create meaning for themselves in a time of environmental degradation.

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