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When it comes to controversial scientific research many scientists can be dismissive or evasive when it comes to dealing with the public. But when it comes to looking at the bigger picture of how the research could interface with policy and in turn governance, it is actually non-scientists that may hold some of the answers, and not necessarily those in high positions of political or financial power either. Public dialogues about geoengineering seem like a model example of this, showing that engaging with non-scientists can lead to productive assessments of the actual risks involved and judging whether or not the science or technology is even appropriate at all. Now this may seem problematic to some, particularly those who have a personal stake in the research, but it could actually bring science, technology and democracy a little closer together.
The problem of granting patents for geoengineering technology was what prevented the project SPICE from continuing research beyond computer modelling, ending an experimental trial that could have one day led to engineering the Earth’s climate at a scale never before seen. Prof Phil Macnaghten at Durham University, who was an advisor on the SPICE project, oversaw the stage gate process for the project, which was in place to ensure that it met the criteria for engaging with public values. Some puzzling questions arose during the stage gate panel. If geoengineering did become mainstream and worked who would own it? Would it stay in the public domain or fall under intellectual property laws and therefore be subject to commercial interests? Read the rest of this entry »
Governing scientific and technological innovations is tricky business. This is primarily due to the presence of uncertainty, the risks that society must face if it chooses to intervene using methods that could either have damaging consequences, fail entirely or both. Everyone knows it’s a clique of course, but we really do ‘live in exciting times’ as humanity has at hand an array of advanced technologies at its disposal. But climate change is in a sense antithesis to technological development or at least to how it has proceeded thus far, mostly because the world is locked into using fossil fuels as its primary source of energy. Yet the controversial applications of geoengineering may prove a last resort for reducing the temperature of the planet preventing devastating environmental impacts induced by climate change. Read more
The problem of brownfield land is universal. Countries throughout the world have problems with contaminants present in soil that prevent people from using the land. Large demand exists to improve soil health and to regenerate brownfield land for present and future generations. While brownfield land can clearly affect the physical health of people, plants and animals it may also affect people’s mental health or sense of well-being.
Land previously developed for industry or other uses may affect public health in a variety of different ways that does not appear well understood at this time. IHRR’s research project ROBUST (Regenerating Brownfield Land Using Sustainable Technologies) at Durham University is investigating how to restore brownfield land sustainably, but is also researching how brownfield land affects the well-being of communities that live around it. Recently, the project has begun its first public field trial testing a new technology for improving soil health that uses recycled minerals to improve the natural defences of the soil against contamination.
Remote sensing provides a unique perspective of disasters that allows their full impact to be viewed in great detail. It can help people manage disasters and is an effective way of understanding the impacts of a large-scale hazard such as a tsunami. NASA’s satellites are of course some of the most valuable tools available for remote sensing, but other organisations such as the European Space Agency and China Academy of Space Technology also do high-resolution remote sensing. Here are some images of disasters acquired by the Landsat 7, including the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the Sendai coast in Japan before and after the Tohoku tsunami.
This image shows the path of destruction left by a series of tornadoes that tore through the Upper Midwest region of the US on 7 June 2007. The tornadoes flattened farm fields and strong winds uprooted trees sending them crashing into people’s homes.
An interesting infographic from the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction shows the annual damages caused by large-scale natural disasters. It provides context for people killed by disasters, a staggering 1.1 million, those affected, 2.7 billion, and the total cost in damage, 1.3 trillion USD. This information from EM-DAT The International Disaster Database includes all disasters entered into its database (both natural and technological) are based on at least one of these criteria: 10 or more people reported killed, 100 or more people reported affected, declaration of a state of emergency or call for international assistance. Read more