Fossil fuel research ties undermine universities’ climate change response

Fossil fuel research ties undermine universities’ climate change response

Accepting industry money risks distorting research and allowing polluting firms to greenwash their reputations, says Zak Coleman. However before A fossil fuel divestment ‘how-to’, it is advisable not to overlook or ignore what has been said before now.

Fossil fuel research ties undermine universities’ climate change response

Fossil fuel research ties undermine universities’ climate change response
Zak Coleman

I became the University of Cambridge’s students’ union undergraduate president in the wake of the university’s historic decision to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry. I felt hopeful. The university was waking up to the urgent need to combat the climate crisis. It finally understood the damaging consequences of lending its reputational legitimacy to the industry driving this emergency. 

Or so I thought. 

Working at the students’ union, I became increasingly aware that the university’s involvement with fossil fuel companies extended far beyond its investments. The BP Institute and the professorship of complex physical systems sponsored by offshore drilling company Schlumberger are just two of the countless industry links that Cambridge retains. Everywhere I looked, I saw the university inviting the very same companies it had just condemned as unconscionable investments to be senior partners in its core research activities.

This felt like an enormous betrayal. Universities are supposed to be committed to supporting young people and our futures. But here was my university collaborating extensively with the companies destroying that future. 

But it’s not just the hypocrisy that concerns me. Universities’ research partnerships with the fossil fuel industry also undermine their ability to effectively address the climate emergency. 

Let’s be clear. Industry executives have known about the devastating climate impacts of their business for more than 50 years. Instead of acting on the science, however, they spent millions of pounds spreading climate disinformation and expanded their fossil fuel operations. They continue to engage in extensive anti-climate political lobbying and resolutely focus the overwhelming majority of their business on fossil fuels, including building new infrastructure and exploring for new reserves.  Meanwhile, the world’s top scientists and energy experts are clear that no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built if the world is to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and avoid runaway climate breakdown. 

In contrast, universities like Cambridge are respected globally for upholding the highest standards of scientific integrity and intellectual rigour. Like it or not, partnerships between such higher education institutions and companies that have spent decades ignoring, silencing and discrediting these universities’ very own scientists are a PR gift for the fossil fuel industry. They allow these firms to misrepresent themselves as reformed leaders of the green transition. They send a clear message to governments, policymakers and wider civil society: if universities like Cambridge deem these companies serious on climate-related issues, why shouldn’t we? Ultimately, they help to stall desperately overdue political action to address the climate emergency.

Accepting funding from the fossil fuel industry also raises serious questions about researchers’ ability to conduct truly independent climate-related research. Academics must be free to determine their own research agendas, speak their minds and publish their findings without fear of censorship, reprisal or the denial of funding for future projects. Yet numerous studies demonstrate that industry funding skews research agendas and outcomes in directions favourable to industry interests, and that common safeguarding measures are often inadequate mitigation. This is why, for decades, research institutions have rejected tobacco industry funding for public health research. The same principle must be extended to fossil fuel funding of climate-related research. Independent climate research is just too important to tolerate such risks.

Governments and universities now have a profound responsibility to provide alternatives to industry funding. This is especially true for our wealthiest universities, which frequently accept the most fossil fuel research funding. Indeed, despite being Europe’s wealthiest university, Cambridge accepted more from oil companies between 2017 and 2021than all other UK universities bar one – Imperial College London.

Such universities have large, well-established fundraising departments capable of raising phenomenal sums. Philanthropic giving to US universities rose by 6.9 per cent in 2021 alone, topping $52 billion (£40 billion). The notion that there are no alternatives to fossil fuel industry funding is dangerously false.

Last month, more than 500 leading academics signed an open letter calling for universities to cut research ties with the fossil fuel industry. Among those supporting the letter, which is still open for signatures, are Nobel Prize winners; the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson; and numerous scientists on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

We know the fossil fuel industry will continue to ignore the calls of these distinguished climate experts. But we expect better from our universities. Our planet is in ecological cardiac arrest, yet it is the fossil fuel industry that our universities are helping keep on life support. It is long past time for this to end.

Zak Coleman is undergraduate president of the Cambridge Students’ Union. Twitter: @SU_PresidentUG

Read the original article here.

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Deserts ‘breathe’ water vapor, study shows

Deserts ‘breathe’ water vapor, study shows

Cornell University in a research supported by Qatar Foundation concluded a study that holds that deserts ‘breathe’ water vapor. So what? Did we know that in the MENA region that is at more 90% desert?

Deserts ‘breathe’ water vapor, study shows

By David Nutt 

Deserts may seem lifeless and inert, but they are very much alive. Sand dunes, in particular, grow and move – and according to a decades-long research project, they also breathe humid air.

The findings show for the first time how water vapor penetrates powders and grains, and could have wide-ranging applications far beyond the desert – in pharmaceutical research, agriculture and food processing, as well as planetary exploration.

The team’s paper, “Water Vapor Transport Across an Arid Sand Surface – Non-Linear Thermal Coupling, Wind-Driven Pore Advection, Subsurface Waves, and Exchange with the Atmospheric Boundary Layer,” published March 21 in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Earth Surface.

Deserts ‘breathe’ water vapor, study shows

Michel Louge
Michel Louge, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, pictured here in Qatar in 2012, has been using capacitance probes to study the moisture content in sand dunes since the early 2000s.

The project, led by lead author Michel Louge, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the College of Engineering, has spanned not only a great deal of time but also a variety of terrain. It began nearly 40 years ago when Louge was studying the behavior of fluids, gasses and solid particles.

Wanting to measure matter with greater sensitivity, he and his students developed a new form of instrumentation called capacitance probes, which use multiple sensors to record everything from solid concentration to velocity to water content, all with unprecedented spatial resolution.

When a colleague at the University of Utah suggested the technology might be helpful in imaging the layers of mountain snowpacks and assessing the likelihood of avalanches, Louge went to his garage, grabbed some probes and tested them out in a snowstorm. Soon he struck up a partnership with a company, Capacitec Inc, to combine their respective skills in geometry and electronics. The resulting probes also proved useful in hydrology research.

In the early 2000s, Louge began collaborating with Ahmed Ould el-Moctar from University of Nantes, France, to use the probes to study the moisture content in sand dunes to better understand the process by which agricultural lands turn to desert – an interest that has only become more urgent with the rise of global climate change.

“The future of the Earth, if we continue this way, is a desert,” Louge said.

Whereas other probes can measure large volumes of matter, Louge’s probes go deep and small, collecting data on a millimetric scale to pinpoint the exact amount of moisture in – and the density of – sand. To function in a new environment, though, the probes needed to be modified. And so began a decadelong process of trial and error, as Louge made periodic trips to deserts in Qatar and Mauritania experimenting with different versions of the probe.

The probe eventually revealed just how porous sand is, with a tiny amount of air seeping through it. Previous research had hinted this type of seepage existed in sand dunes, but no one had been able to prove it until now.

“The wind flows over the dune and as a result creates imbalances in the local pressure, which literally forces air to go into the sand and out of the sand. So the sand is breathing, like an organism breathes,” Louge said.

That “breathing” is what allows microbes to persist deep inside hyper-arid sand dunes, despite the high temperature. For much of the last decade, Louge has been collaborating with Anthony Hay, associate professor of microbiology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, to study how microbes can help stabilize the dunes and prevent them from encroaching into roads and infrastructure.

Louge and his team also determined that desert surfaces exchange less moisture with the atmosphere than expected, and that water evaporation from individual sand grains behaves like a slow chemical reaction.

The bulk of their data was gathered in 2011, but it still took Louge and his collaborators another decade to make sense of some of the findings, such as identifying disturbances at the surface level that force evanescent, or nonlinear, waves of humidity to propagate downward through the dunes very quickly.

“We could have published the data 10 years ago to report the accuracy of our approach,” Louge said. “But it wasn’t satisfying until we understood what was going on. Nobody really had done anything like this before. This is the first time that such low levels of humidity could be measured.”

The researchers anticipate their probe will have a number of applications – from studying the way soils imbibe or drain water in agriculture, to calibrating satellite observations over deserts, to exploring extraterrestrial environments that may hold trace amounts of water. That wouldn’t be the first time Louge’s research made its way into space.

But perhaps the most immediate application is the detection of moisture contamination in pharmaceuticals. Since 2018, Louge has been collaborating with Merck to use the probes in continuous manufacturing, which is viewed as a faster, more efficient and less expensive system than batch manufacturing.

“If you want to do continuous manufacturing, you have to have probes that will allow you, as a function of time, and everywhere that’s important, to check that you have the right behavior of your process,” Louge said.

Co-authors include Ould el-Moctar; Jin Xu, Ph.D. ’14; and Alexandre Valance and Patrick Chasle with the University of Rennes, France.

The research was supported by the Qatar Foundation.

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Iraq: An Urgent Call for Education Reforms

Iraq: An Urgent Call for Education Reforms


Modern Diplomacy advises that in Iraq: an Urgent Call for Education Reforms to Ensure Learning for All Children is nowadays a requirement that is not only to prepare people for life, with all knowledge and skills to contribute to a thriving society. It is to be noted that Iraq historically witnessed writing in its earliest form as a means of communication and education, etc.

The above image is for illustration and is of Middle East Monitor.

Iraq: An Urgent Call for Education Reforms
A girl student in Basra, Iraq, who benefits from a UNICEF/WFP education stipend programme. UNICEF

Iraq: An Urgent Call for Education Reforms to Ensure Learning for All Children

By Newsroom

Learning levels in Iraq are among the lowest in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region and are likely to decline even further because of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on education service delivery, including prolonged school closures.

These low learning levels are putting the future of Iraqi children and the country at risk. A new World Bank report says that while, now more than ever, investments are needed in education to recover lost learning and turn crisis into opportunity, these investments must be accompanied by a comprehensive reform agenda that focuses the system on learning outcomes and builds a more resilient education system for all children. 

The World Bank Group’s new report, Building Forward Better to Ensure Learning for All Children in Iraq: An Education Reform Path, builds on key priorities in education recently identified in the Government of Iraq’s White Paper and the World Bank Group’s Addressing the Human Capital Crisis: A Public Expenditure Review for Human Development Sectors in Iraq report, and provides actionable reform recommendations to boost learning and skills.

Human capital is essential to achieve sustainable and inclusive economic growth. However, according to the World Bank’s 2020 Human Capital Index (HCI), a child born in Iraq today will reach, on average, only 41% of their potential productivity when they grow up. 

At the heart of Iraq’s human capital crisis is a learning crisis, with far-reaching implications. Iraq’s poor performance on the HCI is largely attributed to its low learning levels. COVID-19 has led to intermittent school closures across Iraq, impacting more than 11 million Iraqi students since February 2020. This report highlights that, with schools closed over 75% of the time and opportunities for remote learning limited and unequal, Iraqi children are facing another reduction of learning‑adjusted years of schooling. Effectively, students in Iraq are facing more than a “lost year” of learning. 

Iraq can use lessons learned from the current health crisis, turn recovery into opportunity, and “build forward better,” to ensure it provides learning opportunities for all Iraqi children especially its poorest and most vulnerable children” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “The World Bank is ready to support Iraq in building a more equitable and resilient post-COVID-19 education system that ensures learning for all children and generates the dividends for faster and more inclusive growth”.  

The report Building Forward Better to Ensure Learning for All Children in Iraq: An Education Reform Path puts forward for discussion sector-wide reform recommendations, focusing on immediate crisis response as well as medium and long-term needs across six key strategic areas:  

1. Engaging in an Emergency Crisis response through the mitigation of immediate learning loss and prevention of further dropouts.

2. Improving foundational skills to set a trajectory for learning through improved learning & teaching materials and strengthened teacher practices with a focus on learning for all children.

3. Focusing on the most urgently needed investments, while ensuring better utilization of resources.

4. Improving the governance of the education sector and promoting evidence‑based decision‑making.

5. Developing and implementing an education sector strategy that focuses on learning and “building forward better”.

6. Aligning skills with labor market needs through targeted programs and reforms.

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World Science Day for Peace and Development, 10 November

World Science Day for Peace and Development, 10 November

This year, the United Nations, at a time when the world is struggling with the global COVID-19 pandemic, says that 10 November, will be the focus of World Science Day for Peace and Development on “Science for and with Society in dealing with the global pandemic.”

Established by UNESCO in 2002, the World Science Day for Peace and Development is an annual event that takes place on the 10th of November: all about STEM.

Electric cars line up at the official start of the Zero Emissions Race outside the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), Switzerland.Electric cars line up at the official start of the Zero Emissions Race outside the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), Switzerland.PHOTO:UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Celebrated every 10 November, World Science Day for Peace and Development highlights the significant role of science in society and the need to engage the wider public in debates on emerging scientific issues. It also underlines the importance and relevance of science in our daily lives.

By linking science more closely with society, World Science Day for Peace and Development aims to ensure that citizens are kept informed of developments in science. It also underscores the role scientists play in broadening our understanding of the remarkable, fragile planet we call home and in making our societies more sustainable.

The Day offers the opportunity to mobilize all actors around the topic of science for peace and development – from government officials to the media to school pupils. UNESCO strongly encourages all to join in celebrating World Science Day for Peace and Development by organizing your own event or activity on the day.

2020 Theme: Science for and with Society

This year, at a time when the world is struggling with the global COVID-19 pandemic, the focus of World Science Day is on “Science for and with Society in dealing with the global pandemic.”

Throughout this unprecedented health crisis, UNESCO, as the UN Agency with the field of science in its mandate, has endeavoured to bring science closer to society and to bolster the critically needed international scientific collaborations. From the science perspective, UNESCO’s response to COVID-19 is structured around three major pillars: promoting international scientific cooperation, ensuring access to wate,r and supporting ecological reconstruction.

To celebrate the 2020 World Science Day, UNESCO is organizing an online roundtable on the theme of “Science for and with Society in dealing with COVID-19.”

Join the conversation with the hashtags #ScienceDay.

World Science Day for Peace and Development, 10 November

COVID-19 response demands better use of science and technology

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires a far more collaborative relationship between scientists and policymakers, and the fruits of scientific research, including potential vaccines, must be shared universally. LEARN MORE!

Background

The organization of a focused event related to the commitment to science and society was one of the positive outcomes of the 1999 World Conference on Science in Budapest. It was considered an opportunity to reaffirm each year the commitment to attaining the goals proclaimed in the Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge and to follow up the recommendations of the Science Agenda: Framework for Action.

Since its proclamation by UNESCO in 2001, World Science Day for Peace and Development has generated many concrete projects, programmes and funding for science around the world. The Day has also helped foster cooperation between scientists living in regions marred by conflict – one example being the UNESCO-supported creation of the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization (IPSO).

The rationale of celebrating a World Science Day for Peace and Development has its roots in the importance of the role of science and scientists for sustainable societies and in the need to inform and involve citizens in science. In this sense, a World Science Day for Peace and Development offers an opportunity to show the general public the relevance of science in their lives and to engage them in discussions. Such a venture also brings a unique perspective to the global search for peace and development.

The first World Science Day for Peace and Development was celebrated worldwide on 10 November 2002 under UNESCO auspices. The celebration involved many partners, such as governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, UNESCO National Commissions, scientific and research institutions, professional associations, the media, science teachers and schools.

How Space Exploration can Benefit Small Nations

How Space Exploration can Benefit Small Nations

UAE Mars mission: extraordinary feat shows how space exploration can benefit small nations by Ine Steenmans, UCL and Neil Morisetti, UCL

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) successfully launched its Mars mission dubbed “Al Amal”, or “Hope”, from the Tanegashima Space Centre in southern Japan on July 20. This is the first space mission by the UAE, and the first Arab mission to Mars – making the world’s first launch countdown in Arabic a moment for the history books.

The mission’s journey to its launch date has arguably been at least as remarkable as the launch itself. With no previous domestic space exploration experience, planetary science capacity or suitable infrastructure, the nation managed to put together a delivery team of 100% local, Emirati staff with an average age of under 35. And setting a deadline of six years rather than ten, as most comparable missions do, it pulled the launch off on time and within budget – now proudly joining the small cadre of nations who have launched a mission to reach Mars.

But given these odds and the fact that Mars missions are notorious for their high failure rates (about 30% since the early 2000s), why did the UAE aim for the red planet in the first place? Space programmes have historically been used as catalysts for geopolitical influence. What’s more, we often think of them as costly endeavours of scientific curiosity, with few immediate and tangible benefits here on planet Earth. Does this reflect the UAE journey?

Space missions typically depart trying to answer scientific questions, before they ask how their value can extend to the society behind it. The Hope mission, however, has inverted this traditional logic. Instead, its conception arose from a quest to fundamentally redirect a nation’s trajectory.

The UAE’s mission has been timed to coincide Hope’s arrival into Martian orbit with the nation’s 50th anniversary as an independent country. Through its design and execution, the mission aims to diversify UAE’s economy from traditional activity, including oil and finance. Instead, it wants to inspire a young Arab generation towards scientific and entrepreneurial careers – and away from other, less societally beneficial pathways.

How Space Exploration can Benefit Small Nations
The Hope probe will learn about climate change on Mars. NASA/JPL/USGS

Hope will also study the Martian atmosphere and gather data to generate the first truly holistic model of the planet’s weather system. The analysis and insights generated will help us better understand the atmospheric composition and ongoing climate change of our neighbour planet.

Lessons for aspiring nations

What could other nations learn from this distinctive approach to space exploration? Can a space mission really transform a national economy? These are the questions at the heart of an external review of the Emirates Mars mission undertaken by a group of researchers at the Department for Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy at University College London.

Over the course of five months, we undertook a comprehensive evaluation of the impact and value generated by the mission less than five years after its inception. What we found was that there’s already evidence that the mission is having the intended impact. The country has massively boosted its science capacity with over 50 peer-reviewed contributions to international space science research. The forthcoming open sharing of Hope’s atmospheric data measurements is likely to amplify this contribution.

The nation has also generated significant additional value in logistics by creating new manufacturing capacities and know-how. There are already multiple businesses outside the realm of the space industry that have benefited from knowledge transfer. These are all typical impacts of a space mission.

But while that is where most studies of the value of space missions stop looking for impact, for the UAE this would miss a huge part of the picture. Ultimately, its Mars mission has generated transformative value in building capacity for a fundamentally different future national economy – one with a much stronger role for science and innovation.

Through a broad portfolio of programmes and initiatives, in just a few years the Hope mission has boosted the number of students enrolling in science degrees and helped create new graduate science degree pathways. It has also opened up new sources of funding for research and made science an attractive career.

One of the lessons is therefore that when embedded within a long-term, national strategic vision, space exploration can in the short term generate major benefits close to home. While space may appear to primarily be about missions for science, when designed in this way, they can be missions for national development.

Hope will reach Martian orbit in February 2021. Only then will its scientific mission truly take off. But its message of Hope has already been broadcast.

Ine Steenmans, Lecturer in Futures, Analysis and Policy, UCL and Neil Morisetti, Vice Dean (Public Policy) Faculty of Engineering Sciences, UCL

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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