Tag Archives: politics

Focus on Brexit at BES2019: Resigned But Resolute

Image Credit: Marco Verch, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped

I’m in Belfast this week for the British Ecological Society’s Annual Meeting. Whilst I’ll write a more comprehensive summary of the event next week, for now I want to talk (again) about the looming fragmentation that Brexit represents, its impact upon British ecology, and the ecological community in general.

I took a tour of the city on my first day here which focussed on Belfast’s history of violence, and I don’t believe this conference could have had a darker backdrop with regards to Brexit. Fears of a no-deal exit from the EU are sparking worries of the return of a border wall with southern Ireland, which could lead to local redeployment of the British army. Public opinion is starting to sway towards reunification with southern Ireland.

But complex local politics aside, the feelings inside the conference halls seem mixed. From my short time here, there seems to be a glimmer of possibility at the opportunity that Brexit could present, but it’s overshadowed by a layer of resignation, perhaps brought on by polls that suggest the conservative government will sweep tomorrow’s election.

Career Prospects

“It makes me not want to come back. It’s sad and frustrating, because I’d rather be back in the UK, but I don’t think the opportunities will be as good.”

Lucy Kirkpatrick currently works in Belgium as a wildlife disease ecologist. She’s been overseas long enough at this point to qualify for Belgian residency, and with the UK seemingly determined on shutting themselves off from the rest of Europe, remaining in Europe seems the better option.

Lucy’s colleague Emily Simmonds feels much the same. She and her fiancee work jointly in Britain and Norway.

“We go back and forth a lot, which means Brexit will impact my personal life quite dramatically. Even though I’m a British citizen, if I keep working across two countries I won’t be able to get the benefits of British life, like free health care.”

They’re far from alone. The frustration with a government seemingly determined to isolate themselves from the European community among younger scientists here is palpable. Many of the projects that the attendees work on are pan-European, and it’s unclear what effect a hard Brexit will have on their funding, let alone their ability to effectively work with colleagues in other nations.

Yet in light of this frustration, there does seem to be a determined mindset to maintain international partnerships. Whilst there have been rumblings that forming projects with British partners would potentially be more tiresome going forward, the attitude here seems to be that people will ensure that collaborative science doesn’t fall by the wayside.

The Loss of Independent Oversight

Abigail McQuatters-Gollop mentioned this in our recent interview, and it’s a view that’s been echoed here. Brexit means that the European Court of Justice no longer has the right to punish Britain for environmental negligence or destruction, with that responsibility falling to Britain. A new Office of Environmental Protection has been proposed, but it essentially means that one branch of the government will have to fine another branch. As Abigail put it,

“That is a dangerous road to go down. Having independent oversight of how we manage our environmental resources is important for holding the government to account.”

More Bad News for Insects

One of the more enjoyable poster presentations here was by Amy Arnott, who works with insect communities in farmland in Northern Ireland. Many smaller farmers in the region are supported by subsidies from the EU, and without them are in danger of losing their land to larger corporations.

“If the subsidies don’t come through, we lose these small farms, which support massive amounts of insect biodiversity. The landscape gets homogenised and we lose that biodiversity. People always talk about how Ireland’s green, and that’s because we have so few forests, so these smaller farms are really important.”

As with many other instances, the current government has said that the subsidies will be replaced, but it’s unclear where the funding is coming from.

Northern Ireland's farms support a wide range of insect biodiversity, which could disappear if smaller farms are forced to sell as their subsidies disappear (Image Credit: Eric Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Northern Ireland’s farms support a wide range of insect biodiversity, which could disappear if smaller farms are forced to sell as their subsidies disappear (Image Credit: Eric Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Glimmer of Optimism

This is the thing that seems to be keeping people hopeful. That this could be a real opportunity for the UK to improve on the current environmental framework, and that they could end up doing more for their ecosystems than what the EU has laid out.

Unfortunately, that glimmer of optimism is tempered by the harsh reality that Boris Johnson’s conservatives seem likely to have their position of power solidified tomorrow. Environmental interests and conservative interests often don’t align, and the UK is no exception. The feeling if that while there could have been a valuable opportunity here, it won’t be taken.

And the rest…

There are other significant losses that Brexit could entail. The UK’s Natural History Museum receives a significant amount of funding from tourist dollars, and making travel to the UK more restricted could lower resources for one of the country’s key scientific institutions. The sending of biological samples between samples could become a lot more difficult. And as we’ve spoken about before, funding from European Research Grants would no longer be a possibility, which would remove access to around 3.4 billion euros in research money.

To echo that glimmer of optimism, I hope that when Brexit goes ahead, the UK maintains their vibrant community of ecologists, and creates an improved environmental framework. I guess we’ll have a better idea of how difficult that will be by Friday morning.

Predicting Apocalypses: Lessons From Fox News on the Climate Change Debate

Whilst making people aware of the consequences of climate change and land fragmentation is important, choosing how to deliver that message is equally important (Image Credit: Backbone Campaign, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)

Ok, first up, I want to apologise. I know that giving Fox News any attention when it comes to scientific progress is a bad start. I’m hoping that if you’re reading this, you already know that their stance on climate change and biological degradation is… let’s say flawed.

Read more

Why Australia is Approaching a ‘Climate Change’ Election

Image Credit: Tim J Keegan, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped

This weekend, Australia will have a federal election. My country will vote, not on an individual leader, but on the party that will form government for the next 3-4 years. We’ve been led by the conservative Liberals (yes, the right-wing party are called the Liberals, it’s stupid) since 2013, and that time in Australia has not been kind to the environment. A tax on carbon was repealed almost as soon as it was implemented, prioritising large businesses has caused potentially irreversible damage to iconic ecosystems around the country, and a disregard for the potential impacts of climate change have been a trademark of the present government.

Read more

Idealism and Environmentalism: The Green New Deal

American politicians Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey, champions of the controversial environmentalist bill, the Green New Deal (Image Credit: Senate Democrats, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)

If you’ve lost track of what’s going on in US politics (very excusable), you might have missed out on yet another issue that is dividing people. I’m not talking about the Mueller report, or gun legislation, or health care. I’m talking about the Green New Deal, named after the New Deal, a compilation of programs and projects that gave Americans jobs after the Great Depression and built quite a lot of infrastructure. The newest “Green” version is meant to do the same following the Great Recession that America has been suffering the aftershocks of since late last decade. An initiative sponsored by Democrats, the Green New Deal has come under fire from both sides for a wide range of reasons. While the movement for action against climate change is a global phenomenon, I am going to give a brief synopsis of what the Green New Deal represents in the US, and why it has been the subject of so much controversy.

Read more

Rasmus Hansson: The Intricacies of Environmental Politics

Rasmus Hansson, former leader of the Norwegian Green Party and the Norwegian WWF (Image Credit: Miljøpartiet de Grønne, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped)

Environmental politics is a tricky business. We live in a world where environmental crises are at the forefront of the news cycle, and in which science is simultaneously becoming the subject of distrust. So it makes sense that at this point, politics should be adapting and evolving as science does.

So when Rasmus Hansson stopped by NTNU last month, Sam Perrin and I took the chance to sit down with him and see whether this was the case. Rasmus studied polar bears at NTNU in the 70s, before later becoming the leader of the World Wildlife Fund in Norway and then of the Norwegian Green party. We spoke with Rasmus about the transition from conservation to politics, the clash of ideologies and the future of environmental politics.

Read more

Why Pseudoscience Gives Me Nightmares

Whilst pseudoscience is nothing new, it seems a lot more prevalent these days. So what can the scientific community, and the public in general, do about it? (Image Credit: Becker 1999, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)

Fake science – or pseudoscience – has been around forever and somehow like that really annoying guy at the party just won’t go away. How is it in an age ruled by smart phones and CRISPR sci-fi level biotech are people still buying crystals and talking about super foods (don’t get me started on Goop). While I try to adopt a Californian “you do you” attitude to almost everything, people purporting even the most innocuous pseudoscience need to be stopped by both you and me.

Read more

Policy for the Masses: Thoughts from a Day with IPBES

Bill Sutherland was one of two keynote speakers in last week’s seminar on biodiversity and ecosystem services (Image Credit: Øystein Kielland, NTNU University Museum, CC BY 2.0)

I’ve been on a bit of a policy trip lately. The latest Norwegian Ecological Society conference was heavily policy based, so much so that it inspired me to get in touch and set up a meeting with local freshwater managers in a country in which I do not speak the local language. So when the CBD hosted a one-day seminar on the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (mercifully usually referred to only as IPBES) rolled into town, I was right on board.

Read more

« Older Entries