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December: Developing global perspectives on sustainability with (Guest blog)

This blog was first published on

The benefits of group work have been well-documented: Gibbs claims working as a group “has the potential measurably to improve student engagement, performance, marks and retention and usually succeeds in achieving this potential” (Gibbs 2010:1). However, successfully implementing and assessing a piece of group work is also often fraught with challenges, particularly when the students do not share a common language and/or cultural background. In groups where some or all students are non-native English speakers, there may be an ‘imbalance’ in power relations, as the ideas and views of the students with ‘stronger’ language skills often end up dominating. In many instances, non-native speakers find themselves side-lined within the group, sometimes because their language skills are weaker than other members, but also because, due to cultural and educational differences, their knowledge base is perceived as having less ‘value’.

As an EFL lecturer, I deliver a range of EAP (English for Academic Purposes) modules for international students, and, in order to encourage a better understanding of challenging group dynamics, I decided to introduce a group oral presentation as an assessed piece of work for my second year cohort. The module is open to all stage two international students and is therefore often made up of students from a range of disciplines and with English language skills ranging from near-native to fairly weak. Although some of the students may share a common cultural/linguistic background, I hoped to find a way to encourage mixed nationality groups in order to maximise the opportunity for intercultural communication and exchange.

The assignment brief required the students to prepare and deliver a group presentation based on their investigation of the social, environmental and economic impacts of a particular product. The groups were introduced to the Followthethings webpages early on in the preparation process and they were encouraged to read the student accounts on the site and to select a product to research. Dr. Paul Warwick from the Centre for Sustainable Futures at Plymouth University was also invited to give a guest lecture highlighting the ‘interconnectivity’ of issues relating to sustainable consumption and production. This engagement with the global issues relating to sustainability motivated the students to begin thinking about the areas of the world where many of the products they had read about are manufactured, grown or produced.  For a significant number of the students, this provided an opportunity to share their (often first hand) experiences of the social, environmental and economic impacts of a range of products. Students from developing countries, in particular, quickly found themselves in a position where they were able to contribute important, complex, and often overlooked, understandings of the issues relating to the implementation of ethical working practices.

In the three years this assessment has run, the presentations have covered topics as diverse as battery production in China, hair extensions in Nigeria and the illegal organ trade in Pakistan. While not all students opt to work in mixed nationality groups, the ‘international’ perspectives they have explored as a result of their engagement with has definitely enhanced each cohort’s ability to critically evaluate the demands, impacts and consequences of ethical consumer and corporate behaviour. It has also provided a real and meaningful opportunity for students from a variety of educational and cultural backgrounds to literally ‘find their voice’.

Gibbs, G. (2010). Assessment of group work: lessons from the literature. ASKe, (accessed 25th October 2012)

Helen Bowstead is a Lecturer in English as a Foreign Language at Plymouth University.

November: From Poundbury to Cranbrook – delivering sustainable communities

2014 marks the centenary of town planning as a profession in the UK. As Chair of the SW branch of the RTPI (Royal Town Planning Institute) this year, one of my key aims has been to try and elevate the debate above the rhetoric which passes for political debate to a serious discussion about the role of planning in shaping the world we live in.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the debate which surrounds the provision of new homes to meet the needs of an ever growing population.  Our persistent failure to build enough new homes has been a clear contributor to rising house prices.   Every Government promises to increase the supply of new homes by changing the planning system, releasing public sector land, and underwriting mortgage lending (Help to Buy).  Yet the numbers of new homes being built is only now recovering to pre-crisis level and remains well below what is needed.

Why is that?  Well Government has effectively curtailed public sector house building as it seeks to tackle fiscal deficits.  Housing associations are forced to raise money on the private market and local authorities have neither the budgets nor the capacity to restart building Council housing in any meaningful way.  So we have become ever more dependent on private house builders as the main source of new homes.

The difficulty is that their business model, which seeks to maximise return on capital employed commensurate with risk, appears unable to deliver either more or better quality housing at a price which people can afford.

So there is a lot of interest at the moment in Cranbrook, a new settlement to the east of Exeter.  Planned as a sustainable community, which will shortly have its own railway station, Cranbrook aims to be a sustainable community providing a mix of affordable and market homes all linked to a district heating system and served by a new railway station and cycle links.  Based on construction rates and sales (one new home is being completed every day) Cranbrook looks like a success for the private house builder model.  But dig more deeply and you will find out that it has been underwritten by some £90 million of public expenditure on infrastructure as well as social housing grant.  And with strategic land companies and speculative house builders in control the opportunity to create a place of enduring quality is being lost.

Contrast this with Poundbury, Prince Charles’ much derided new community to the west of Dorchester. Here the pace of development has been much slower but, even if you don’t like neo classical and pastiche architecture, few could argue with the quality of the place which is emerging.  This extends to creating work spaces for small businesses within the urban fabric and creating a pedestrian friendly environment by rejecting standard highway engineering solutions.  All this has been achieved using an approach to development which is controlled by the land owner and not the developer.

So what conclusions can we draw from this?

  1. We know how to plan, design and build sustainable communities.  The UK planning profession pioneered garden cities and new towns and developed the tools to deliver them.
  2. The private sector is capable of producing new houses in both quantity and quality. However depending entirely upon the market is unlikely to produce the optimum result in terms of sustainable development.
  3. Adopting the right delivery model is key.  Allowing developers to extract profit from both land value increase and housing development is unlikely to deliver either the infrastructure or facilities which communities require to be truly sustainable. 

The essential difference between Cranbrook and Poundbury is between maximising development profit in the short term (inelegantly termed ‘build it and bugger off') and long term value creation and stewardship.  It is to be hoped that Plymouth’s new community at Sherford will combine the best of both approaches.

Professor Chris Balch is Professor of Planning and Chair of the ISSR Management Team

October 2014: Thou shall have a fishy on a little dishy: the food industry and climate change

Whilst the Climate Summit put forward Leonardo DiCaprio as the new dishy face of UN Messenger of Peace and delivered 480 minutes worth of speeches to world leaders, the food industry marched on towards delivering solutions to the treats of climate change.

What the food industry understands is that food production is very sensitive to climate change, and one that has the potential to have devastating impacts on global populations. As well as agriculture being impacted by fluctuations in climate, climate change will bring the increase in frequency of extreme weather events, such as flood and drought, increase pressure on water resources and a reduction in agriculture yields in key food producing regions. Not to mention rising populations. Global agriculture output will need to rise by 2% a year to keep up with projected food demand.

Similar to what was found in the Climate Summit 2014, is it seen here that business are understanding the risks and acting faster than global leaders, becoming the major players in finding solutions. The food and beverage giants like Unilver, SABMiller and Pepsico have long understood the sustainability mantra and have been forging ahead with ambitious sustainability programmes. Now moving beyond sustainability as a brand identity, they are knocking on the door of Doug McMillon, Walmart’s CEO, wanting to join forces for a large scale, almost industrial, sustainability programme. This exciting prospect will merge the sustainability thought leaders with Walmart’s access to suppliers, big data and agriculture programmes. The scale, potential and importance of this move will impact us all.

What’s becoming clear is that the food industry can see the gloomy future of climate change and water scarcity. Those businesses which do not act will find they’re left behind. The global energy companies and world leaders need to inherit this sense of urgency to deliver some real top-down action. Potentially taking guidance from Leonardo DiCaprio, “you can make history ... or be vilified by it.”

Closer to home, Plymouth University get the issues around food production and supply chains. Although we can’t impact to the same scale as the likes of Walmart, we can make a big impact in the South West. We are prioritising local sourcing to support short distances from farm to fork and a higher quality product. Over the past year we have been working to transform our cafes to a sustainable model of catering, spending three-quarters of the total catering spend in the South West.

Previously our fish, Individually Quick Frozen haddock, was fished in the Pacific and packed in China, before flying over 5,000 miles to get to your plate in Drake’s Café. Now we source from the local Plymouth and Brixton fish markets, we empower our supplier to provide fish that is plentiful on the day and either MSC Certified or from boats part of the Responsible Fishing Scheme. The boats are small day boats, and many are rod and line boats. This supports the local fishing industry, removes air miles and increases quality. Our meat is from an Exeter family butcher, Red Tractor Certified and sourced from the South West. Our charcuterie meat is from an award winning Bristol RSPCA Freedom Food certified supplier. Our fruit and vegetables supplier is from Saltash. Our baker is in Plympton. Our fresh milk is organic. Our eggs are free range. Our coffee is Fairtrade, in fact we are a Fairtrade University. Our disposables are biodegradable. Our food is composted. Our near-date food is donated to the Devon and Cornwall Food Association.

Don’t just take our word for it, over the last year we have won the Good Egg Award, Food for Life Bronze certification from the Soil Association, the top rated 3 star accreditation from the Sustainable Restaurant Association, known as the Michelin Stars of sustainability. We are creating a sustainable food culture even if it is small scale. 

Dr Samantha Price, Sustainability Manager, Plymouth University

September 2014: Communicating Sustainability from the HE-art!

The End of an Ice Age, David Partridge

Neural Detours, Jessica Holliland

“Art is the queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.” 
- Leonardo da Vinci
Much of what I focus on at the ISSR is about Communicating Sustainability.  Whether it is communicating sustainability events to our internal network, the fantastic breadth and depth of sustainability research to our external stakeholders or communicating the possibility of multi-disciplinary research to funders.  Communication is important to me.

One new communication activity that we have introduced this year is our 2014 sustainability research review which highlights a small selection of the world changing research undertaken at the ISSR (to read the review click here).  As an institute, we have achieved a lot this year – embedding healthcare sustainability into the curriculum, furthering the understanding of the carbon capture potential of peatlands, investigating the role of the media in covering global environmental challenges, investigating the energy performance gap between design and operation of buildings, and supporting over 100 million eco journeys……….  to name just a few……

Using the art of photography has been important to us at the ISSR to help communicate the breadth of research expertise (as outlined in a previous blog).

Also within the research review, we try to use the art of photography to make the publication interesting and engaging, as well as academic. 
Let us know what you think !

Whitsand Bay PortraitRosanna Thorn-Lees

Hive, Kelly Soper

"The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web." 
- Pablo Picasso 

I feel that if we, as a planet, are going to develop lasting solutions to Sustainability challenges, then we need a significant proportion of society to be engaged (and passionate) and pushing ahead – not just University academics and students ?! 

I am passionate about the ability of art to communicate sustainability.  I feel art can be a route to inspiring and engaging people in a different, emotional way, a way of being provocative and making people think – (perhaps a better way of getting the message across than graphs and figures ?!!).  A way of communicating from the heart !  A way of connecting with people !

The publication of the 2014 IPCC report, outlining the latest climate change science, has recently been criticized for its failure to connect with people.  The Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN) recently reported (see here)  that facts are not enough when it comes to climate change science and that more facts and more information is unlikely to convince the public in the future.  Instead their key recommendation is that the IPCC must use human stories as well as science. Human stories that illustrate the impacts of climate change. And the IPCC authors and key figures should also allow the public an insight into their work, motivations, fears and hopes. 

What Killed the WhalePaul Wright

Mutagen, Alice Cole

“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.” 
- Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

“i thank You God for most this amazing”
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes 
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth) 
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You? 
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened) 
e.e. cummings
As well as human stories, I also like other art forms; metaphors, poems and quotes (you might have guessed this by now?!).  I think that they have a special quality that enables people to engage at a deeper level.  I recently came across a website that had a project developing metaphors for Sustainability. Various eminent artists, writers, and researchers were asked to outline their own metaphors for sustainability. It is worth a look ! (Click here for the website)

My own personal favourite metaphor is by Neal (aged 10) below:
The world is big plank of wood and it’s on fire. The only thing to save it is water. Sustainability is water – that’s what it is.

Marliso Exhibition – My Sea, Your Sea – keep it litter free
Photo: Kirsty Andrews (

Marliso Exhibition – My Sea, Your Sea – keep it litter free
Photo: Kirsty Andrews (

To develop a complete mind, study the science of art, study the art of science. Learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else.’
- Leonardo da Vinci

“After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.” 
- Albert Einstein

For me, the area where there are exciting opportunities is where good science is combined with good art (of whatever form).  The ISSR team recently went on a trip to see an art exhibition being run by the Plymouth University School of Psychology – “My Sea, Your Sea – keep it litter free”   This was a great example of combining an engaging and thought provoking exhibition (please see the pictures above) with hard hitting facts and figures.

I also recently attended this year’s Faculty of Arts degree show (HOT 14) and I was impressed at how many art pieces had a Sustainability theme.   Since going to the degree show we have worked with the School of Art and Media to develop an ISSR Sustainability fine art prize that rewards excellence in research and art practice leading to works that raise public awareness of issues related to sustainability.

The six pictures on the previous pages are the highly commended pieces from the ISSR Sustainability fine art prize 2014 – which I think is an exciting start and shows the fantastic Sustainability art talent that we are developing - and I can’t wait to continue to develop collaborations between the fantastic ISSR scientists and fantastic ISSR artists.

Dr Paul Hardman, Manager of the Institute for Sustainability Solutions Research (ISSR)

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed” – Gandhi.

Inequality and poverty aren’t a matter of fact; earth provides enough for everyone yet individuals are not equal on both social and economic levels. Wealth and often the opportunities associated with wealth are limited to the top proportion of society particularly in the developing world. We live in a world were equality and equality of opportunity is believed to be a universal right but more often than not isn’t granted. This blog entry was an aspect of my work experience with the ISSR and I decided to research the implications of poverty and inequality on the developing world particularly on the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and Africa. So I started with a few questions that I wanted to see if I could answer about poverty and inequality: Are individual’s lives controlled by inequality of opportunities? Will this have an effect on future economic growth of developing economies? Finally is inequality sustainable or do we need to create sustainable solutions to inequality?

I wanted to explore the reasons for inequality as this is the starting point for the creation of solutions. I focused on three reasons: Government policy, access to opportunity (education and employment and how those may differ by gender or race) and access to basic services (electricity, the internet and health services).

Often government policy in the BRICS countries and developing countries can impact on the levels of inequality between different groups in society. 50.3% [1] of China’s mainland population live in rural areas but China’s household registration system often results in the rural population being excluded from social benefits such as medical care and education. This is because urban populations by that designation receive access to better education and health care services. Rural-urban migrants are often unable to access the benefits experienced by urban residents. This severely restricts an individual’s ability to improve their standard of living and escape poverty. However, changes in social policy for the rural population are beginning to be implemented by the Chinese government and could help reduce inequalities between the rural and urban populations. Government policy is key to ensuring that no area of society is excluded from gaining access to opportunities such as healthcare and education. One of the ways that inequality can be reduced is by ensuring that all areas of a society have access to basic services. However, often inequalities between different groups arise because the government doesn’t have the funds to supply basic services. This could be due to corruption, low economic output or debt.  For example, in Pakistan in 2010 it was revealed that 61% of policy makers in their year of election hadn’t paid income tax. [2] Only 2.5 million out of 10 million pay tax which results in one of the lowest ratio of tax to GDP in the world. This limits expenditure on social services such as healthcare and education. Corruption within government policy limits a country’s ability to reduced inequality and poverty; often only leading to increases in inequality.

"If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people." Chinese Proverb, Undated                        
Having been in school from the age of 5 and now coming up to year 13 I have always considered education to be something to which I should have access (I will admit taken for granted occasionally) and I see it as my way of achieving things in life. In the UK, 47% of young people are expected to graduate from tertiary (academic) programs before the age of 30 and 93% of people will complete upper secondary education in their lifetime. In Uganda only 22.34% of children will reach 6th grade or complete 6 years of schooling. Students in the UK are more likely to gain a degree than students in Uganda are likely to finish primary school education. In Tanzania gross secondary school enrolment is 35% and tertiary school enrolment is 3.9% (2012) [3]. The likelihood that students in the UK will finish secondary education is greater than the likelihood that students in Tanzania will even enrol in secondary school. The inequality in access to education in developing nations is something that we all know about yet upon seeing the figures still tends to shock. I wanted to explore these inequalities in access to education by looking at regional, gender and ethnic differences in school enrolment in numerous developing nations to access the scale of the issue.

Solving inequality in education is the starting point to reducing inequality particularly income inequality. However, underlying issues of geographical disparities, gender and ethnic discrimination can limit educational opportunities. For example, in Laos the percentage of female heads of households without an education is 70% compared to 20% of women overall. [4] This shows the link between education and gender inequality which can result in girls becoming trapped in a cycle of poverty. This is also evident in Uganda; a study undertaken by Action Aid [5] found that in both the Nakasongola and Buvuma districts girls had dropped out of primary school due to pregnancies often resulting from gender based violence (GBV) or parental preference to fund a boy’s education. Also, unemployment for females (18-24) in Uganda is 27% compared to 9% for males. Gender inequality in education could be a contributing factor to inequality within employment which prevents girls from escaping poverty.

Does having equal opportunities to attend school for all income groups lead to equal educational attainment?
Circumstance 1
Circumstance 2
Area of residence
Finished Primary School




Figure1: – Impact of income and area of residence on children finishing primary school.

Figure 1 shows how factors outside a child’s control affect their likelihood of gaining an education. In Brazil, in the bottom 40% income group 97.98% of children aged 10 to 14 attend school compared to 99.64% in the top 20%. However, only 34.95% in bottom 40% finish primary school or achieve 6 years of school compared to 69.68% in the top 20%. [6] The percentage difference between children in different income groups finishing primary school (12 year olds) or achieving 6 years of schooling (13-15 year olds) shows almost equal opportunities to attend school doesn’t result in similar educational outcomes. This could be due to differences in the quality of the education, circumstances (eg. Parent’s educational background), area of residence and family income.

In Africa, 29 million children of primary school age are out of school and only 1/3 children in school will come out of primary school with basic literacy and numeracy skills [7]. Figure 2 shows the coverage of children finishing school (achieving 6 years or more years of schooling or reaching 6th grade) in selected Sub-Saharan countries. This shows that a large majority of countries have a low primary school completion rate.  From this I decided to explore the issues of inequality of opportunities in education in Uganda where there are high enrolment in schools but very low completion rates. In Uganda the number of 12-15 year olds attending school is 89.22% for females and 90.57% for males [8]. These figures suggest education is readily available to most children. The percentage of children attending school up to 6th grade or completing 6 or more years of education shows a different story with only 22.34% of children finishing school. This drives both poverty and inequality particularly income inequality because it limits an individual’s ability to enter the formal job market. Moreover, the likelihood of being trapped in poverty declines the higher level of education a person achieves [9]. The high dropout rates often mean that children don’t gain the required skills needed in the workplace which limits their future employment opportunities and ability to escape poverty. 78% of Uganda’s population is below the age of 30 [10] and ½ of the population is below 24 [11]. This could be beneficial to Uganda and aid economic growth particularly if they use education to create a skilled workforce out of their large youthful population. However, both education and the opening up of skilled employment opportunities needs to be addressed before Uganda is able to reduce poverty and inequality.

Unequal educational opportunities often results in individuals achieving limited qualifications which can result in them becoming trapped in a cycle of poverty as it limits opportunities to work within the formal economy, particularly the tertiary sector. This leads to a growth in the informal sector or in low skilled, low paid jobs often with limited social protection, thereby increasing the gap between the poorest and richest in a society resulting in increased inequality. Education and equal educational opportunities are vital to a child’s future prospects as it enables those of the lowest income groups to access formal employment which can help reduce inequality between the top and bottom income groups.

 "... none of us should tolerate a world in which over 1 million children are, in a perversely literal sense, dying for a glass of water and a toilet." Kevin Watkins, 2006
Basic services: running water, electricity, the internet, transport infrastructure, education, health services, and toilets
. Can you imagine living even a day without access to these services? However much we might complain about the getting stuck on the M5 or the education system or the NHS, they are services that we need and believe we have the right to. They enable us to take opportunities, stay healthy and expand the choices we have in life. In India 4.1% of GDP is spent on health (2010) this amounts to $132 per person with only 29.2% funded by the government. In the UK health spending is 9.6% of GDP which is $3.480 per person and 83.9% is government funded [12]. Health inequalities in India have meant that access to basic health care is often unavailable to the poorest. Malnutrition affects 43% of India’s children with children under 5 in rural areas more likely to suffer from malnutrition than urban children, low-caste children more likely than those of a higher caste [13]. If an individual is unable to access healthcare then educational achievements and income can suffer causing growing inequalities between the poorest and the wealthy. "The health industry focuses on people with the greatest ability to pay rather than the greatest need for care." Phineas Baxandall, 2001                                                                                                                  
“Have you ever thought about what you would have to give up or how much work and effort you would have to dedicate to daily activities if electricity did not help you?” Prazká Energetika, 2005 Living without a phone or the internet is something most of us dread to think about. Whether you have ever considered the importance of having access to a phone, the internet or electricity or not, the huge part it plays in our everyday lives is incredible. In Sub-Saharan Africa, electricity access is 30.5%[14] and in Tanzania the figure is only 13.9% (2009).  Access to electricity means that you can easily work into the evening and use the internet which allows people to make connections and communicate, imagine the disadvantage you would have without it.  

“For prosperity to be sustained, it must be shared” Seoul Development Consensus for Shared Growth.                                                                                                                                     Inequality isn’t sustainable; it creates social/political tensions and damages economic growth. Evidence presented by Oxfam suggests that if South Africa continues with a poverty reduction strategy based mainly on economic growth then between 2010 and 2020 more than a million additional people will be pushed into poverty [15].Countries with low income inequality were able to reduce poverty by 4% with every 1% of economic growth[16]. For future economic growth to be effective in reducing poverty then underlying inequalities need to be tackled.  Inequality also triggers social and political tensions that can lead to widespread protests and conflict; as has been seen in Brazil with the protests that surrounded the World Cup. On Monday 17th June, 100,000 people across Brazil took to the streets to protest about poorly funded public services despite the high government spending on the World Cup[17].

Climate Change and a predicted temperature rise of 1-2.5⁰C by 2100 are going to have the greatest impact on the poorest as many depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. They have a limited ability to adapt making the poorest people most vulnerable which could only lead to an increase in inequality and poverty. Therefore, solving inequality and helping the poorest escape poverty is essential to limit the impact of climate change. Also, reducing inequality can help the poorest people and countries in the transition to more sustainable management of the earth’s natural resources.

I don’t have the space to be able to explore all the possible solutions to inequality and poverty. I believe that the starting point is to reduce inequalities in education as this helps improve a child’s future employment opportunities. There also needs to be the job availability otherwise solving income inequality is almost impossible. The other two solutions I explore briefly are farming in Africa and investment in SMEs (Small-to-Medium Enterprises).

... illiteracy is essentially a manifestation of social inequality, the unequal distribution of power and resources in society." Bharati Silawal-Giri, 2003                                                      Regional disparities in education are one of the greatest issues when it comes to inequality of opportunity. For example, in India the ability of pupils aged 8 to 11 to read basic texts in government run schools vary enormously from region to region. In Jammu and Kashmir only 26% could read but in Kerala the figure was 80%[18]. How does a government solve this problem? Poor quality public school education can cause an increase in private school attendance (often better schools). However, regional, income and ethnic disparities often results in poorer children become trapped in poor government run schools. How does a Government ensure that an increase in private school attendance (often better schools that cater for the wealthier) doesn't cause an increase in inequality between the rich and poor? I think that a strong and good quality public education system that is available to all children regardless of ethnicity, wealth, place of residence or gender needs to be created. If the basis for good quality and equal education is set up then this can be sustained for future generations. How does a developing country’s government fund state schools that provide good quality education? This I don’t know the answer to but finding a solution could be the starting point to ensure equal educational opportunities for all children.  

Where can education lead or not lead? Improving education so that every child has access to a school and a good quality education is all well and good but unless there is a link between the skills learnt in school and the skills needed to enter the job market of that country then the improvements to education will do very little to help reduce poverty and inequality. In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh unemployment of educated young people is 7.3% compared to the 6.7% for ordinary adults.  Governments need to ensure that there is a link between the curriculum taught in schools and the needs of employers and the job market.  Another issue I found was discrimination based on gender and race within employment.  In 2008 in Brazil, women earned 2/3 of men’s real wages and in South Africa between 1993-2008 women earned 60% less than men and in 2008 Africans were typically paid four times less than white people[19]. Government policy that bans racial, gender or ethnic discrimination within employment in many developing nations needs to be implemented to see a reduction in income inequality.

Africa- Is farming the solution to inequality? 2/3 of Africans depend on agriculture for their livelihood yet in 2011 Africa imported US$35 billion in food[20]. This market if opened up to local farmers could help boost economic growth and reduce inequality and poverty. The International Food Policy Research Institute has found that economic growth in agriculture reduces poverty twice as much as growth in other areas. If support bases for small holder farmers are set up to provide advice and help farmers increase their output of crops. This could help farmers escape poverty and also if output was increased by a big enough margin some African countries could become huge players in the global food market. The threat of climate change on agriculture particularly in Africa means that increased investment in smallholder farmers also needs to be matched with investment in climate smart technology for agricultural growth to be sustained.

Could investment in SMEs be the solution? Could it solve regional disparities in income inequality? Typically SMEs can be more geographically spread out compared to big organisations, which in developing countries are usually positioned in large urban areas.  In China about 40% of manufacturing employment is in SMEs compared to 5% in India. China has reduced poverty at a much greater rate than India. However, other factors have contributed to this and the effect of SMEs on reducing inequality is still unclear.

"Trickle-down theory - the less than elegant metaphor that if one feeds the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows." John Kenneth Galbraith, undated                             
Reducing inequality isn’t about letting the rich get richer and hoping the wealth trickles down to poorer parts of society. For economic and social development to be sustainable inequality needs to be tackled in way that ensures equality of opportunity for all groups in society. It gives everyone the same footing to be able to improve their own standards of living and escape poverty without being controlled by factors outside their own personal control. To end with here is quote that I think summarises my main point and that is the importance of equality of opportunity:
"I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops." Stephen Jay Gould, 1980 

Written by Milly Atkinson Handley, A-level student at Plymouth High School for Girls. This blog is the  product of my work experience with the ISSR over the summer of 2014. 

[1] BRIC inequalities Fact sheet (Oxfam)
[2] Representation without Taxation – Umar Cheema
[4] World Bank Development Report 2006: Equity and Development
[5] Equal Opportunities? Gaps in Youth policy and programming in Uganda
[7] ‘Grain, Fish, Money’ Africa Progress Report 2014
[8] World Bank Visualize inequality
[9] AAU, DRT, UNNGOF.(2012). Lost Opportunity? Gaps in Youth Policy
and Programming in Uganda.
[10] IYF, 2011 Youth Map Uganda. Navigating Challenges,Charting Hope. A Cross-sector Situation Analysis on Youth in Uganda
[11] MoFPED, 2011 Uganda’s Population Stabilisation Report. Population Secretariat
[13] Inequality Matters: BRICS Inequalities Fact Sheet, Courtney Ivins
[14] International Energy Agency: WEO-2011 new Electricity access Database 
[15] Left Behind by the G20? (Oxfam)
[16] 2 F. Ferreira and M. Ravallion (2008) ‘Global poverty and inequality: a review of the evidence’
[17] Brazil protests erupt over public services and World Cup costs – The Guardian
[18] S.B. Desai. A.Dubey, B.L.Joshi, M.Sen, A.Shariff, R. Vaneman (2010), Human Development in India: Challenges for a society in Transition, op. cit.,p.94
[19]Inequality Matters: BRICS Inequality Fact Sheet, Courtney Ivins
[20] Africa Progress Report, 2012

June 2014: Exposing Change

“Finding good images to illustrate climate change is hard. First up, the topic has so many abstract concepts - computer models, uncertain climate impacts, future scenarios.”  (Carbon Brief, 2012)

Can you think of a single image that represents sustainability? A rainforest, river or building?

Tricky isn’t it?

We’ve had a similar dilemma here in the ISSR. How do you portray all of the expertise the institute has to offer without using a photo which over-represents one area? We use a different photo for each area of research expertise and combine them into one holistic collage. It’s important to get a great visual representation of each area of expertise as it’s used on our website, in publications, at events, on social media and even on lamp post banners around the campus! So often we get asked to choose one image which represents the ISSR and sustainability – but sustainability and research is so varied, and has many different parts to it, that finding one good image proves to be a real challenge.

A similar project that we’ve worked on in the ISSR was to produce lamp post banners which highlight the three key areas of sustainability at Plymouth University; research, teaching and learning and the day-to-day operations of the campus.

For the research banners we used the images which represent our areas of research expertise, such as this hand held thermal camera which is used by the Environmental Building Group to look for cold and hot spots on a building.

For the teaching and learning we used images of teaching taking place such as this image of Larch Maxey teaching in one of the gardens at the University.

For the campus operations we used photographs of the technology put in place to make University buildings sustainable such as solar thermal technology which used the sun’s energy to heat water. These photographs work well since usually the technology depicted is usually behind closed doors or on roofs of buildings so you wouldn’t usually see the equipment. These photos provide a hidden snapshot into Plymouth University as a sustainable campus.

Is this "my best shoot"? That's hard to say. But I do know that nothing I've ever done has addressed a more desperate matter. (Joel Sternfeld, 2013)

Being a keen photographer this got me thinking about the images people take to capture and address climate change – I’m not talking about the images taken by NASA of the earth changing overtime (they are amazing but scary images) but the photographs people take with their feet on the ground (well, apart from Kacper Kowalski).

Photography and film could be a persuasive way of getting people to do something about the impact they’re seeing (Sheppard, 2005). However, as Doyle (2007) argues, visualising climate change through photography has its drawbacks; some changes are unseen and time will keep passing. Also, as argued by Carbon Brief (2012) some images are overused and have simply lost their impact and meaning (think polar bears stranded on ice, images of flooding from the future and the Earth bursting into flames).

See below for a section of projects, exhibitions and photographers who have used their cameras to capture climate change and sustainability.

Eye on Sustainability
In June 2011, Vale and National Geographic launched a photography competition about sustainability. The competition had three categories – Wonders, Challenges and Solutions and had to include images to represent sustainability from a social, environmental and economic perspective. They received over 3,000 photographs from all over the world.

Hard Rain
In 1969, Mark Edwards became lost on the edge of the Sahara Desert and was rescued by a Tuareg nomad who famously played Bob Dylan’s song ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ on an old cassette player.

Mark Edwards took each line of Bob Dylan’s song and fitted images of change and sustainability to them. The photographs alone are truly moving but Dylan’s lyrics along with them make them extremely haunting.

The Hard Rain exhibition came to Plymouth University in 2012, accompanied by a lecture by Mark Edwards.

James Balog and Chasing Ice
The National Geographic assigned James Balog with the mission of capturing the Earth’s changing climate in the Arctic. In 2005, James set off as a sceptic on climate change, but his trip changed this. He witnessed first-hand the changes happening to the climate and his beautiful landscape videography and photos will show how the planet is changing at an alarming rate – one second it’s there and the next it’s gone.

Visit the Chasing Ice Film website for more information. You can also visit James Balog’s website for some amazing pictures and listen to his TED talk here.

When climate change sinks in
In 2005, Joel Sternford was in Montreal attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The conference is an annual meeting of countries that are party to the Kyoto Protocol, which is aimed at reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. He says “I tried to capture the moment these delegates woke up to the full horror of what they were hearing.” So often climate change gauged by looking at the landscape around us, but Joel has captured the emotion in the faces of people who realise climate change to be a significant issue.

Robert van Waarden
Robert van Waarden, a travel photographer, believes that through documentation of the social and natural world we can shift towards a more sustainable future.

His travel, the people he met and his landscape photography has “led him to turn his lens on the most important issue facing humanity, Climate Change.” He focuses on social, energy and environmental sustainability.

Our Landscape in Flux
Photographer Stuart Franklin documents climate change across Europe. Footprint: Our Landscape in Flux, describes his journey, capturing the impact of the environmental crisis. The 10 images on the Guardian’s website are his favourite from his book.

Human impact on Poland's environment seen from the air
Kacper Kowalski is an aerial photographer and pilot. His book: Side Effects, shows the effect humans are having on his native Poland. His stunning aerial photography is almost abstract, making you really concentrate and wonder about the photo. His images include frozen rivers, wind turbine blades and woodcutters.

To see the incredible pictures read the news story about the human impact on Poland

‘Red Ice-White Ice’ – Chris Wainwright
As part of the Cape Farewell project, Chris Wainwright went to Greenland and captured some amazing images of icebergs. He took the photos using red and white flashes to portray the temperature changes taking place. This technique anthropomorphises the icebergs to give them flesh and book, and emphasises the world as a living organism.   

To see this project visit his website

“A picture is worth a thousand words”
For me, photography is a great method of communication to show the impacts climate change is having on the world. It’s great when people have original and playful ideas on how to capture our changing planet, but for me we have to be careful not to use cliché images such as polar bears of floods. I don’t think these images have the same sense of wonder, amazement and shock the way the photographers detailed in the previous section do. They don’t evoke emotion in the same way as The Hard Rain project, or show emotion as well as Joel Sternford’s photos at the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Capturing sustainability through photography will always be a difficult and challenging thing to do, after all, the world just does not fit conveniently into the format of a 35mm camera.

Kirsty Andrews is the Marketing and Communications Administrator for the ISSR