University of Reading Research Blog

What have insects ever done for us?

Michael Garratt, from School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, tells us why we should care about insects as National Insect Week approaches.

Since I picked up my first ladybird as a child, insects have fascinated me. Now 25 years on I am a professional entomologist. This is fun to research and worthwhile, especially encouraging the public to realise how important insects really are. During my MSc, my PhD and working at the University of Reading I have been lucky enough to be involved in outreach projects and activities that get the public interested in scientific research. When chatting to adults and children alike, I invariably get asked those dreaded questions! “What is the point in wasps?”, “Why do we have flies?”, “What are beetles for?”. I could give the facetious answer to this question by saying “What is the point in humans?”, but other than maybe getting an eight year -old to question their existence, this does little to answer the question.

I have worked on projects related to agricultural pest insects, including aphids infesting barley and caterpillars eating cabbages, and their existence, in any human terms, are hard to justify. So to avoid being too philosophical, my usual response to these tough questions typically referred to an insect’s place in the ecosystem, the complex interactions between species and their role in food webs. My current role at the University of Reading, however, sees me working on crop pollination by insects and I am delighted to say the answers to these questions are now far easier!

Insect, including bumblebees, solitary bees, honey bees and hoverflies, help pollinate 84% of European crop species. Recent research at Reading has shown that the service these insects provide is worth at least £510m to UK agriculture. Crops pollinated by insects include fruit like apples and strawberries and field crops such as beans and oilseed rape. Clearly the importance of pollinating insects cannot be overstated – they provide much of our food. Here comes the bad news: many species upon which we rely for pollination are showing widespread declines in abundance and diversity. In the UK in recent decades we have seen some bumblebee species become less widespread and both solitary bee and hoverfly diversity has fallen. Furthermore, the number of honey bee hives kept in the UK halved between 1985 and 2005. Despite their importance to UK agriculture, there are still many unknowns in insect crop pollination research, including which pollinators are actually important for pollinating many crops and how best we can manage farmland to support healthy and effective pollinator communities.

The University of Reading is part of a major UK research programme called the Insect Pollinators Initiative, aimed at understanding and addressing the decline in pollinating insects. The University is involved in several projects in this programme.  I and my team are working on ‘Sustainable pollination services for UK crops’. We have been gathering data on the importance of pollinating insects to common crops, including apples, strawberries, beans and oilseed rape. We are now starting to understand the true importance of insect diversity to food security and their contribution to crop yield and quality. Importantly we will be testing how best we might mitigate against pollinator losses or try and arrest the declines all together. As part of any research project today it has become increasingly important to make results more accessible to the public and policymakers – this is not just an issue for researchers but for wider society. With the advent of National Insect Week, this provides us with an invaluable opportunity to ‘spread the word’ and get the public behind us.

National Insect Week is led by the Royal Entomological Society and in 2012 begins on the 25 June. Hundreds of events will be running across the country from butterfly walks to public lectures at venues such as the Oxford University Natural History Museum and the University’s own Harris Gardens. Our research team will be attending lots of events with our crop pollination roadshow and I encourage everyone to come along. After all, with public support comes financial and political support and we can then start securing crop pollination services for future generations!

For further information on National Insect Week or our research at the University of Reading see links below or contact me on M.P.Garratt@reading.ac.uk.

http://nationalinsectweek.co.uk/

http://www.reading.ac.uk/caer/

Man versus machine: what the Turing Test can tell use about communication

This Saturday (23 June) the School of Systems Engineering will be staging the famous Turing Test to mark the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing, mathematician and code-breaker. Turing100 takes place at Bletchley Park and visitors can see if they are able tell the difference between a computer and a human.

Cybernetics professor, Kevin Warwick, Chair of the School of Systems Engineering’s Turing100 project, writes about what the Turing Test says about us.

The Turing Test not only asks questions about machine communication, machine consciousness and how a machine thinks – it also causes us to ask important questions about human communication, human consciousness and how a human thinks. The test is merely a challenge that causes us to compare the two – from a human perspective.

As a result it leads to another interesting feature and that is – how human interrogators can be easily fooled not only by other humans but by machines. Even after an interrogator has been so fooled it is then difficult to persuade them that they have been. It was Mark Twain who said “it is easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled”.

Perhaps the most important point here however is that people tend to over-value humans and how they communicate. The test considers a comparison between machines and ALL humans – however many humans have little of importance to utter and even then they make many mistakes when they do so; as Agatha Christie put it “Man is an unimaginative animal”.

The largest set of Turing Tests ever, at Bletchley Park on June 23, will give us an insight into how far the best machines have come. But maybe they will tell us even more about ourselves as humans than they do about their own individuality.

 

Delays in food research investment make meeting demand that much harder

Peter Gregory is Professor of Global Food Security and contributes to building research programmes in the University’s Centre for Food Security. One of his research focuses is in global environmental changes and food security. Throughout his career Professor Gregory has been engaged with issues of increasing crop yields especially in drought-prone, rainfed environments.

After many decades in which food security has not been an issue of much interest to many in the developed world, suddenly it’s back on the political and scientific agendas. The sudden spike in food prices in 2008/09 awakened interest once again in the issue, and the realisation that our insatiable demand for more food in response to a growing population with higher average incomes provides many social and scientific challenges.

This was some of the background to the session on food security that I organised with my co-organisers Mike Bushell of Syngenta and Ken Cassman from the University of Nebraska at the Planet Under Pressure conference held from 26-29 March in London as the scientific prelude to the Rio+20 Conference which will commence later this month. The session explored how the agronomic yield gap interacts with economic and nutritional ‘gaps’ to produce food insecurity and what interventions might correct this.

The session attracted the second largest number of contributions in the conference, but the limited time meant that we could hear only five oral contributions with the remaining forty or so as posters. Dr Marianne Banziger of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center gave the opening keynote in which she outlined the global challenges facing producers. She noted that publicly-funded agricultural research in developed countries is now only 25% of its level in the 1980s despite the threats posed by a changing climate and the increasing scarcity or costs of natural resources such as land, water and energy.

Other presentations demonstrated the nutritional paucity of many current crops produced in sub-Saharan Africa especially for vitamins A and C, potassium and other minerals, and the skipping of meals, especially by females, as a means of adapting to hardships such as flooding. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, livestock are an essential component of the agricultural system. A village-level survey in 96 villages across nine different countries in these two regions confirmed that crop residues are valuable sources of animal feed, fuel and construction materials; this limits their use for longer-term ecological services such as mulch for soil protection, water conservation and potential carbon sequestration. Households were most vulnerable where pressure on biomass was greatest. In Indonesia, a study of food availability and incidence of malnutrition showed that the two were not directly related; rather malnutrition was determined by food intake pattern which was a reflection of socio-cultural behaviour.

The session elicited a great deal of discussion about how the vulnerability of groups at risk of malnutrition might be alleviated. Three interesting observations were: i) the more we delay investment in food research, the steeper the challenge of meeting demands will become; we have to increase production of wheat, rice and maize by about 30-40% faster than we currently are; ii) cell phones provide a new possibility for getting locally targeted and up-to-date information to farmers and markets in rural areas; and iii) food security needs to pay greater attention to the nutritional value of food and not focus so much on the yield and calorific value of cereals.

I shall be following up these presentations and other food-related sessions at the conference as we develop the international programme of work associated with the Centre for Food Security at Reading. I am currently writing a paper on Soils and Food Security as part of a special publication by The Royal Society of Chemistry that arose from the London meeting, and am working with a colleague at Oxford University to take forward a potential international programme of work on sustainable intensification of food systems in temperate regions. There’s much to be done!

Rio+20: Justice must be reinstated at the centre in the quest for new green global economy

Dr Chukwumerije Okereke, Reader in Environment and Development and Director of Research in African Environment and Development in the School of Human and Environmental Sciences, writes about the forthcoming Earth Summit and why justice must not be overlooked.

Between June 20 and 22 many world leaders, civil society groups and a bevy of media organisations will gather in Brazil to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (Earth’s Summit) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,  3-14 June, 1992. The Rio Summit remains the largest ever global conference on environment and development convened by the United Nations.

The stated objective of Rio+20 is to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development and assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development. The two themes for the conference are: (a) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and (b) the institutional framework for sustainable development.

There is no doubt that the 1992 Earth Summit was a critical landmark in the history of global environmental governance.  It continues to: (i) serve as an inspiration for humane international co-operation and multilateral environmental diplomacy; (ii) provide impetus for the quest for an ecologically secure and sustainable planet; and (iii) remind everyone of the need for a truly democratic platform for bringing together governments and civil society in the search for solutions to challenges that threaten humans’ common existence.

Rio 1992 produced three main agreements, including the UN Climate Change Convention, the Convention on Biodiversity and the Forest Principles. However, important as these three treaties are, it is probably fair to suggest that the most important outcome of Rio 1992 was the institutionalisation of the concept of sustainable development – the recognition that environmental protection and human welfare are inseparable parts of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation. Despite, however, many conventions and treaties related to sustainable development since 1992, the levels of global poverty and environmental degradation both remain unacceptably high.

It is right then that Rio+20 should focus on assessing the progress that has been made to date and the barriers standing against the achievement of global sustainable development.  As an ethical concept, the intuitive appeal of sustainable development resides in the attention it gives to three key dimensions of justice: (a) justice within and between nations; (b) justice between present and future generations; and (c) justice between human and non-human nature.

Today, distributional justice remains central to any effort to achieving sustainable development as it did 20 years ago. And only careful attention to the three dimensions of justice above can ensure the achievement of a lasting balance between economic, environmental and social dimensions of development which the concept of sustainable development envisages. In fact, I am convinced that the current lack of attention to justice is the most important barrier against the design of effective policies and institutions for achieving national and global sustainable development.  In other words, Gro Harlem Bruntland was right when, in 1987, she declared that:  “It is futile to attempt to deal with environmental problems without a broader perspective that encompasses the factors underlying world poverty and international inequality.”

Green Economy has emerged as the new buzzword in preparation for Rio +20. However it must be noted that emphasis on ‘green economy’ does nothing to affect the centrality of distributional justice in the quest for sustainability.  There will certainly be winners and losers in the transition to a global greener economy, at least in the short term.  Moreover, the move to a green economy would itself entail material costs, and green products and services may generate their own externalities and risks. States, businesses and the civil society gathering in Rio in June must therefore ask how policies and institutions aimed at encouraging a greener economy can better take account of the full range of justice impacts and prospects such a transition would generate. In discussing this matter I suggest that lasting answers can only be achieved in Rio if the following four perspectives are adopted:

  1. Distributional justice should not be seen as merely instrumental but at the heart of sustainable development
  2. Questions of environmental justice must be seen as questions about the mode of wealth creation and appropriation itself rather than as an add-on optional extra. Hence, achieving global sustainable development should be seen to require more radical interrogations of the basic structure of the international society and of patterns of social relations between the poor and rich
  3. The idea of global environmental/planetary citizenship should not been seen as mere moral lectures but one that deserves to be taken as the foundation upon which institutions for environmental governance should be built
  4. The current global economic recession should be seen as an opportunity (not as a hindrance) to tackling unsustainable development and world poverty.

To stand any chance of meeting the aspirations of the majority of the global population that has been clamouring for global sustainable development, international management approaches must strive harder to reflect responsible stewardship and the fact of our common inheritance of the planetary resources. In short for Rio to succeed, the idea of justice must be reinstated at the centre in the quest for new green global economy

The right plants in the right places

Dr Tijana Blanusa is a RHS Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences. Her research interests include the role of urban greening in the mitigation of heat island effect; gardens and microclimate; understanding the physiological responses of ornamental plants to water deficits; and improving the establishment of ornamental plants.

The University of Reading and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) have teamed up at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show (22 – 26 May 2012), to showcase their research into the effect of plants in urban environments.

I work in a very privileged position for a scientist – based at the University and allowed the luxury to follow sometimes quirky questions, but working for a big charitable organisation and hence asking those questions grounded in reality, on behalf of the people we strive to support. For the last few years my work has focused on understanding plants in the urban environment and their contribution to provision of several ‘ecosystem services’*. The aim is to inform and encourage wide and thoughtful use of plants in the domestic and public (urban) context.

Even in the busiest and most populated of Western cities, a surprisingly high proportion of their surface is covered in vegetation (almost up to 50% in some cases). Furthermore, in the UK, almost half of those urban green areas are made up of private gardens. Hence what we grow in our gardens and public green spaces and how we manage them can really impact on our environment on many levels, both positively and negatively. In my job I question general assumptions on what urban green spaces (and domestic gardens in particular) do and don’t do, and challenge advice given to people involved in managing any sort of green space.

There is very sound scientific evidence about a number of ‘services’ that urban vegetation can provide; it is well established for example that vegetation moderates air temperatures, helps insulate buildings against the extremes of weather, supports and enriches urban biodiversity and human health. So the common public perceptions that parks, street trees and green domestic spaces help lower summer temperatures locally are supported by largely unanimous scientific evidence. The scientific questions remaining there lie, for example, in the need to tease out how vegetation works at various spatial scales (e.g. locally, next to the individual house, or on a neighbourhood or whole-city scales) and how various ‘services’ provided by the vegetation can be best combined. However, the way our urban green spaces and private gardens are managed (i.e. how much water, energy etc. is consumed in their management) greatly influences the level of their potential environmental benefits (with higher inputs often meaning that the benefits decrease).

To showcase the interest that the University of Reading and the Royal Horticultural Society have in researching plants in the urban environments, the two organisations are, for the first time jointly, organising an exhibit at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show (22 – 26 May 2012). Our display ‘Keeping their cool: how the plants in urban environment help reduce temperatures, control flooding and capture pollution’ will be featured in the ‘RHS Environment’ section of the Flower Show. We will be attempting to provide some answers to the following questions: why urban gardens matter, what do plants contribute to the urban environment and how do they do it.?  We will also reinforce the view that not all plants act in the same way, so that a variety in plant form, structure, habit, colour etc. is likely to provide the best overall ‘service’ to the urban environment. So if you are interested, come and see us there.

*Very broadly speaking ‘ecosystem services’ can be thought of as benefits that humans derive from resources and processes that are supplied by ecosystems. In some scientific literature, the term ‘ecosystem disservice’ is also used to balance the arguments and describe functions of ecosystems that are perceived as negative for human well-being.

http://www.reading.ac.uk/biologicalsciences/

The good in ‘bad science’

Dr David Stack is a Reader in History who believes strongly in the need to promote interdisciplinary understanding and public engagement with history. His research interests include the inter-relationship of ideas (especially ‘scientific’ and medical ideas) and politics in the history of Britain and beyond, and Victorian autobiographies and their authors.

David will be presenting at the ‘Cultivating common ground: biology and the humanities’, an AHRC-funded workshop that will be held at the University of Reading, 18 July 2012. For more information follow the link: http://reading.ac.uk/cultivating-common-ground/

For many years I was reluctant to admit to strangers that I was a historian. This made getting a haircut a frequent source of torment: “Not working today?” the barber would ask. “No,” I’d reply in the forlorn hope of closing down the conversation. “What do you do then?” [Pause] “Erm …”. At this point, if feeling particularly adventurous, I’d ‘borrow’ an occupation from a friend or relation. The tangled web that ensued, however, was never, as Walter Scott warned, worth the trouble. (I still have nightmares about the time I found myself in a shop basement staring at an electricity meter and intoning, with as much authority as I could muster: “Yes, that’s working perfectly.”)

An honest answer, however, often brought its own difficulties, especially if someone asked what the book I was working on was about. For a few years the simplest answer to this question was ‘phrenology’. Most people understood the term – “Bumps on the head, isn’t it?” – but few could fathom why anyone would spend their time researching it. “So, is there any truth in it?” I was asked on more than one occasion (and not just by barbers, who might be expected to have had a better idea than most).

Implicit in the question, I’ve always felt, was a dual assumption: that the world (and the past) is neatly divided into the ‘true’ and ‘untrue’, and that the latter is useless and thus not worth bothering with. If one holds to this view, that ‘truth’ and ‘utility’ are the only guides to what is worth studying, historians really should be embarrassed about avowing their vocation, and not only to barbers but more especially to university administrators and government ministers (in the unlikely event that they deign to ask). For one of the key tasks of historians, and historians of science more than most, is precisely the study of what is ‘wrong’ and ‘useless’. Just after the Second World War the medical historian Walter Pagel (1898-1983), published a short manifesto for this activity. He called it ‘the vindication of rubbish’.

Pagel’s approach was the antithesis of what we might call popular histories of science. In these accounts, often written by scientists themselves, knowledge is marching ever onwards in a straight line, with each generation (to mix our metaphors) standing on the shoulders of earlier giants, in their progress towards a more truthful understanding. Oddities, such as phrenology, take their place in such accounts, but only as party-pieces to be laughed at and thus confirm our own superior understanding. Pagel, by contrast, coined his phrase while exploring the relationship between alchemy and naturalism in the Renaissance. Rather than dismiss such ‘non-progressive’ elements in the history of science, Pagel argued that an understanding of alchemy and magic was essential to understanding Renaissance medicine and chemistry.

The justification for studying phrenology was slightly different. What interested me (and earlier historians) was the manner in which phrenology’s model of the brain – especially the notion of cognitive localization – mapped onto broader social and economic changes in Victorian society, and how this related to its success and popularity. In part, what we argued was that phrenology is a good example of how the success of a science is determined less by its inherent (or ahistorical) ‘truth’, and more by its explanatory power in a definite set of social relations. Phrenology’s theory of the brain, and thus human nature, that is, was popular because it was compatible with the new industrial capitalist economy and the values of free market economics. A study of phrenology, therefore, both aids our understanding of Victorian Britain and provides a historical perspective through which to view contemporary claims about the modularity of the mind, in neuroethics and brain imaging, which have been labelled the ‘new phrenology’.

Underlying my work, and that of other historians of science, are two assumptions that, I suspect, practising scientists will find uncomfortable. The first is that the distinction between ‘science’ and ‘pseudo-science’, associated with the philosopher Karl Popper, is unhelpful and invalid. Alchemy, phrenology, magic, and a host of other oddities all deserve to be taken seriously in the history of science. Second, that the ‘realist’ assumption that we should unquestioningly accept today’s science as ‘objective’ and ‘true’ is unsustainable in the face of historical evidence. There are so many cases of theories that were empirically successful in their own day but are now believed false – one historian (Larry Laudan) listed 30 in a range of different disciplines and eras – that there seem good grounds for assuming the historical contingency of any scientific ‘truth’. The atomic theory of matter, after all, could go the same way as phlogiston (the non-existent chemical thought to be released during combustion, prior to the discovery of oxygen) theory.

These, I concede, are difficult and contentious topics that cut to the heart of both the self-image of science and the work of humanities scholars. They are not, perhaps, suitable topics for the barber’s chair but they will, I hope, form part of our discussions at the Cultivating Common Ground workshop. And if biologists prove no more receptive to my ideas than barbers, I am well practised in steering the conversation around to where I’m planning to spend my holidays.

http://www.reading.ac.uk/history/hist-home.aspx

Reforming planning and the twin agendas of localism and growth in England

Professor Gavin Parker is Chair of Planning Studies in the School of Real Estate and Planning at the University of Reading. He has a strong interest in policy instruments revolving around citizenship, participation and governance – an interest that spans the urban and rural divide and a number of policy fields. He has been actively researching community and neighbourhood planning with reports and publications that have been shaping policy agendas in this regard.

Introduction

This is a brief scene setting piece concerning the recent and highly publicised changes to the town planning system in England. Rarely has planning ridden so high on the national political agenda and only occasionally do higher profile national cases merit a brief mention in the media. When such planning stories come up they are often couched in terms of environmental impact concerns or with headlines of ‘Developers thwarted’ and centre on conflicts between interests. Yet the reasons for and importance of planning is never really opened up for debate. Recent changes to the planning system in England at least afford an opportunity to relook at the basis and rationale for planning in England. And accompanying the changes has been a hard fought debate over the bigger issues at stake and as such the fundamentals have been re-aired.

Planning may be seen as a key lever in shaping and enabling development and in setting the direction for sustainable growth. Planners aim to think long term and in cumulative terms over the best and most efficient use of land and actively think about the spatial distribution of activity ‘where is it best placed?’. Planning has also been recognised as a tool to help to realise the UK government’s aspirations in terms of localising decision-making.

Yet the Government’s planning recent reforms also carry an underlying critique of planning, as supposedly a brake on growth and the initial proposals for reform issued in 2010 carried with them a frustration at the way that development has been slowed in this latest period of credit squeeze, recession and austerity. As such the aims of government in the reforms have been to simplify, as well as re-orientate, the system towards growth and at the same time to try and use planning as a key tool in their localism agenda – not an easy thing. As the debate has developed over the past year or so recognition of the need for a planning system that balances economic interests and aims with the protection and enhancement of environmental and social goods has, thankfully, been largely achieved as a product of extended public debate. However the proof of how this is maintained will only come over the next few years. I now briefly turn to outline some of the most salient changes and why I say this.

The basis of the reforms

There are two main loci for change, these are the Localism Act which was passed into law in December 2011 and many of whose provisions come into effect on 6 April 2012. This legislation is far ranging and the planning elements involve important changes – it encourages a more localised approach to planning for example. The second is the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) published in final form on 27 March 2012. This is a document that sets out the national guidance for planners, developers and others interested in shaping the built and natural environment.  In broad terms this document will inform planning decision making in England and act to guide the general thrust of local plans.

The Localism Act

There are several headline changes included in the Act. One of the key changes for planning is the removal of the regional tier of planning activity – this move has abolished  Regional Spatial Strategies and the Regional Development Agencies as part of the much vaunted ‘bonfire of the quangos’ and in the name of both simplifying and reorienting the  ‘top-down’ approach involved with strategic planning. There has been instead a shift downwards with more emphasis on the local authorities and on other local actors, including business. As such the replacement of regional planning is a duty to co-operate across boundaries and the unveiling of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) as groupings of businesses, local authorities and third sector institutions who act to identify and orchestrate around key issues affecting local economies. The Thames Valley has one and the University is involved in it (see link below).

The second important innovation is with the instigation of a form of community level planning, which should result in the production of a new tool – Neighbourhood Development Plans (NDP). The argument used is that people want to engage with local issues and to be empowered to consider development as growth on their own terms. Overall the Act seeks to encourage more responsibility over policies and decisions taken at the local level and for more emphasis to be placed on the local authorities and constituent neighbourhoods to shape growth – the other pillar of the government’s agenda. Overall the Localism Act places a considerable emphasis on local authorities to produce a local plan, and quickly, and to support neighbourhoods embarking on NDPs. The question persists however that, in a resource-shrinking environment, can they perform as required? Government are hoping that neighbourhoods will establish neighbourhood forums and will produce their own NDPs over the next year or two. Seeing the potential for inertia they have initiated the process early by providing some funding to around 230 ‘frontrunner’ neighbourhoods (see link below).

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

Decision makers trying to decide whether to invest, develop or when to say ‘yes, no or maybe’ to development need substantive clarity; they need clear ‘decision rules’ to guide their actions. The express intent of the NPPF has been to reduce the amount of planning guidance and to make such guidance that remains clearer and more accessible for users of the planning system. Some claim that government has confused brevity for clarity and while the aim of reducing the quantity of guidance has been achieved, whether the intention to make policy clearer only time will really tell. The NPPF itself stands at just over 50 pages and the main highlights are the test of sustainable development and 12 ‘principles’ of planning that are indicated in the Framework (see link below).

Sustainable development and questions about what this means have been addressed with the 5 pillars derived from the previous government’s Sustainable Development Strategy (2005), used alongside the well worn definition of sustainable development: ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. How this plays out on a case by case basis is the real issue however and past practice and thinking had produced a series of criteria and cross-cutting policies aimed to assist planners and others to shape development proposals and support decisions expressly to achieve sustainable outcomes. One fear is that this wisdom will be substantially lost or ignored, (or quite possibly reinstated piecemeal) begging a question about why the changes were embarked upon in the first place.

Many commentators question the impact and usefulness of the document given that planning covers such a wide and complex range of circumstances and issues, such that the 50-page document can scarcely act as a manual. Instead it is very much scene setting – it is more of a manifesto for others to interpret and refine. As a result look out for more guidance to be produced more quietly over the next year or so… In the meantime there are concerns that the perceived gaps will produce more ‘planning by appeal’ with developers testing the system and of course, as with much change, the uncertainty that this produces is likely to prove lucrative  for the lawyers.

Overall the changes are radical in intent but many planners are wondering just how much difference all this will make on the ground and whether in times of austerity they may actually now serve to hold growth up (and may not bring forward localist activity in a deep, meaningful or inclusive way), particularly when there is little or no resource to back this up. Indeed quite the opposite is happening – many local authorities have been cutting back on their planning budgets since 2009 (latest figures show a 24% reduction on average). The final point is that the environmental and amenity lobby groups in particular have been upset by the changes as they fear that, at least in the hiatus, developers will be able to work the nascent system. The concern is that any inadequacies of the policy framework in some local authority areas may be exploited to successfully push through dubious developments in locations previously considered unsuitable.

Note:

Many of the key ideas and principles underpinning planning are outlined in a new book: Key Concepts in Planning by Gavin Parker and Joe Doak (Sage, 2012). See also: Lynn, T. and Parker, G. (2012) Localism and Growth? Neighbourhood planning and housing. Town and Country Planning, Vol.  83(1): 15-19; CPRE, National Trust and Friends of the Earth (2012) Inexpensive growth? Report published February, 2012. The NPPF is located: http://communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/nppf; and the link to neighbourhood planning and  the relevant provisions of the Localism Act are located at: www.communities.gov.uk/planningandbuilding/planningsystem/neighbourhoodplanningvanguards/ The webpage of the Local Enterprise Partnership covering the Thames Valley can be viewed through: www.businessinberkshire.co.uk/tvep

 

The cost of a flight

Dr Emma Irvine is a post-doctoral research assistant in the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading.

In January this year a new measure to tackle climate change came into force. Designed by the European Union, it targets the 220 million tonnes of CO2 emitted annually on flights departing from or arriving to a European airport (figure from 2006).  The new measure is to include aviation CO2 emissions in the EU’s emissions trading scheme; the aim is to achieve real reductions in the CO2 emitted by this fast-growing industry. Put simply: the cost of a flight, for both airline and passenger, now includes CO2.

Why is there a need for such a scheme in the first place? In 2006, globally, aircraft emitted around 700 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, 30% of which was from flights originating or departing Europe. Putting this into context, global aviation contributed approximately 2% of man-made CO2 emissions (in that year).aeroplane

This is a small proportion; the UK’s share of aviation CO2 emissions is much less than the contribution from, for example, heating our homes (14.8%) or generating electricity (about 26%).  So, why all the fuss? First, the aviation industry is growing by around 5% per year, meaning that its share of CO2 emissions could rapidly increase. Second, the climate impact of aviation, a topic of research at the University of Reading, is not just from CO2 emissions. The non-CO2 climate effects of aviation, like water vapour, ozone creation and contrails, increase aviation’s total contribution to human-induced climate change to up to 15%.

The good news is that the aviation industry isn’t sticking its head in the sand. It has set its own stringent targets that new aircraft entering service in 2020 should produce 50% less CO2 (per passenger kilometre) than aircraft in 2000. The question is, left to its own devices, will the aviation industry really be able to make a significant dent in its CO2 emissions? The EU thinks not.

Now for the technical bit: the Emission Trading System (ETS) limits (‘caps’) overall CO2 emissions in Europe from certain industries; under this cap and trade scheme, companies buy carbon credits to cover their CO2 emissions up to the cap, and may trade surplus carbon credits on the carbon market.  So how does this work for airlines? The total amount of CO2 that can be emitted by aviation is now capped at 97% of the annual average emitted in 2004-2006; this includes CO2 emissions from all flights which arrived at or departed from a European airport (i.e. it counts the total CO2 from the flight, not just the portion of the flight that was in European airspace).  85% of this cap is distributed to airlines as free allowances, proportional to that airline’s share of the emissions in 2010.  The remaining 15% of the cap will be auctioned.

At the end of April 2013, each airline must surrender sufficient carbon credits to cover their 2012 CO2 emissions. Therefore if an airline wishes to expand its operations in Europe, it must either buy carbon credits at auction (or trade from other airlines who have reduced their emissions and thus have surplus credits) or from another industry sector. The implementation is fairly complicated but the rationale behind the scheme is simple: the less CO2 you emit, the smaller your costs, and in a competitive market this should effectively drive CO2emission reductions.

So far so good. But that’s not the end of the story. Internationally, the inclusion of aviation into the EU ETS has been highly controversial; the EU’s decision to introduce a regional scheme is seen by many as taking unilateral action that is both unfair and counterproductive. Legal action, brought by US airlines, was defeated by the European courts in December, however the US government may still make it illegal for US airlines to comply with this new EU law (interestingly, Delta has coincidentally introduced an unspecified $3 per passenger surcharge, ‘just in case’). China doesn’t want its airlines to pay, and has both suspended a large order of (the European-based) Airbus aircraft, and refused to allow its airlines to comply. UK airlines, with the noted exception of Ryanair, have been mostly supportive; BA has previously voluntarily participated in a UK-based ETS.  It is expected that airlines will pass on the costs of participating in the ETS to its passengers in the form of surcharges. So far surcharges have been at the bottom end of the range of estimates of 2 Euros to 3% of the ticket price, and in any case will be insignificant compared to UK air passenger duty (currently £60 for a flight to New York).

It is unclear how this story will end. At a debate I attended at British Airways last December, the overwhelming majority agreed that market-based measures are the best way to tackle CO2 emissions, even if few people believed that the EU would manage to implement the aviation ETS without some concessions or modifications. Some concessions seem likely as international opposition to the scheme is not only increasing but becoming more organised: a coalition of countries (including the US, China, India and Russia) recently met to decide on ‘retaliatory action’ against the EU, threatening to escalate the situation into a full-scale trade war. Meanwhile, aviation’s governing body ICAO says it is accelerating efforts to design a global ETS-style measure for aviation and will present its proposals by summer (full story at http://www.greenaironline.com/news.php?viewStory=1417).

Even the EU acknowledges that a global solution is clearly the best way forward. The EU ETS could just be the catalyst to make that happen.

Empowering judges to speak outside the courts

Lawrence McNamara is an ESRC Global Uncertainties research fellow at the University of Reading where he runs the Law, Terrorism and the Right to Know project which includes interviews with several judges.

This piece first appeared in The Guardian.

What should judges be able say outside the courts? One of the most senior judges, Lord Neuberger, has proposed some principles for “extra-judicial” statements. The speech, published this month, is an important one as these principles are likely to shape judicial contributions to public debate for some time to come, but do they go far enough?

The starting point is familiar: it is “quite inappropriate” for politicians to criticise judges or their decisions. There must be “mutual respect” between ministers and the judiciary. If they “slang each other off in public” it undermines the constitution, democracy and the rule of law. While the frankness is welcome, the content is not overly surprising.

But then Neuberger turns to what that means for the judiciary – and here it gets interesting.

Mutual respect means ministers and judges “must respect the other’s turf and not tread on it”. It means judges should not “answer back”. It is “unseemly and more undermining” to do so. However, it does not mean that judges should not speak at all. On the contrary, Neuberger says extra-judicial comments have “more benefits than drawbacks”. While he dictates caution and warns judges not to “seek publicity for its own sake” or to seek it for causes, his seven principles empower judges to speak.

Neuberger is fundamentally right. The individual and collective experience of the judiciary, and their established constitutional role, means they should contribute to public debate about substance and processes of justice. The challenge is how they should do so without compromising the constitutional roles of any branch of the state.

One path is obviously through judgments. This does not mean judicial activism but – this is different – judicial engagement. Judges have made pointed observations about any number of matters such as laws about police interviews, procedures in terrorism trials, or dealing with children who have committed serious crimes. For the public, the problem is many judgments are accessible. There are some excellent open databases of appeal judgments but the vast majority of trial judgments and sentencing remarks are unreported and unavailable to the public. It is time this was changed, especially if one takes the view that extra-judicial statements should be minimal.

An alternative path is through speeches or written pieces. In the week the international criminal court delivered its first verdict, ‘Reflections of a Trial Judge’ by Sir Adrian Fulford, leading judge in the Lubanga case and a high court judge, is an important contribution. Judges can articulate and explain from the horse’s mouth how the judicial role works and what they see as key contemporary issues. The lord chief justice and Neuberger himself are exemplary speakers in this regard. The supreme court’s mission includes promoting “knowledge of the ways in which justice should be rightly administered.” It is right that judges engage outside their judgments.

Of course, judges across the land will not be reading Neuberger’s principles and thinking, “Excellent! At last I have some clear guidance about when I should speak and what I can say.”  In spite of a judicial appearance on Masterchef, judges will inevitably be cautious of any public engagement with audiences outside the legal profession. Most judges will remain cautious and silent, and probably rightly so. At the senior end of the spectrum, though, while they will choose their battles carefully, Neuberger may have laid the ground for some interesting and well-chosen comments in the next couple of years.

Is there a point where judges would go too far? Or what might we be missing if they stop short? The justice and security green paper is a crucial contemporary case in point.

The conventional position is that judges “cannot comment on public policy” but can comment on “the practical consequences of certain policy choices”. We recently heard justice secretary Ken Clarke tell this to the joint committee on human rights in evidence to its inquiry into the green paper proposals for closed proceedings in civil cases.

For Neuberger, however, judges do not seem quite so restricted. Where policy “goes to the heart of the functioning of the judicial branch” then comment is not merely permissible, but there is arguably a judicial duty to comment. It might well be thought that closed proceedings, access to evidence and evaluation of evidence fall into that category. A judicial contribution to the justice and security debate would inform and enhance the process and policy choices that are made.

In England and Wales there could be more use of representative bodies to convey judicial views, especially on contentious issues. This would  avoid it falling to individual judges to give evidence to committees, which rightly concerns Neuberger. By contrast, this week the Judicial Conference of Australia has made a submission on mandatory sentencing that was requested by a parliamentary inquiry into proposed legislative amendments. It may be an approach worth considering more widely that would enhance the judicial contributions and avoid damage to the constitutional framework.

Roman fragments and digital modelling shed light on urban spectacle

Dr Matthew Nicholls from the Department of Classics at the University of Reading is interested in the political and social history of the Romans and the way that the built environments of Rome and cities around the empire expressed their values and priorities.

Matthew has an interest in computer modelling as a way of exploring ancient structures and bringing them to life and has developed an ambitious recreation of the city of Rome in the age of Constantine.

The first Roman emperor Augustus (ruled 31BC – AD14) began the imperial tradition of offering the people of Rome the ‘bread and circuses’ – cheap food and entertainment on a lavish scale – that came to characterise life in the city.

Augustus, as one ancient commentator tells us, “surpassed all his predecessors in the number, variety and splendour of his games”, often using new or restored buildings within the city as a setting and boasting (not without justification) that he had “found Rome a city of brick, and left it a city of marble”, a tangible element of his vision for cultural, political and moral renewal of the Roman state.

Theatre of Marcellus digital model

After more than a decade in power Augustus used this renewed city as the setting for a particularly splendid set of games, which combined high literary culture and deliberately archaising religious ceremonial with popular gestures, including the provision of plays and chariot races. These games were intended to celebrate a renewed epoch of Roman prosperity and divine favour, a saeculum, and are therefore known in English (despite their religious function) as the Secular Games of 17BC.

We know about these games from a variety of sources – ancient authors mention them, the special hymn that the poet Horace wrote at the emperor’s behest survives, and several of the buildings or areas used for the events are known to archaeologists. We also have an inscription, found in fragments,  that had been reset into a medieval wall, which lays out the daily programme for the games as devised by the priestly board in charge with details of the venue, date, and time for each event.

Combining the text of this inscription with what we know about Augustus’ building programme in Rome lets us see how he used his regenerated city as a backdrop for these games, reinforcing the message of renewal and prosperity with a splendid vista of new and restored buildings. In particular, the daily programme of supplementary entertainments, put on as crowd-pleasers for a week after the main religious sacrifices had been concluded, led crowds of spectators in their tens of thousands from open ground on the edge of town past a series of buildings – temples, porticoes, theatres, squares, and parkland – that had received special attention in the previous decade, showing off a thoroughly regenerated quarter of the city.

The modern Olympic Games, with their simultaneous functions as national showcases, catalysts for urban regeneration, and cultural spectaculars, offer a good comparison.

Moreover, the detailed timetable set out in the inscription allows us to investigate how the Games’ planners took particular advantage of the summer sun. The Games were held in early June, with events starting (as was common in the ancient world) shortly after sunrise. By the time that spectators arrived at the morning’s final venue, Augustus’ own new Theatre of Marcellus, it would have been around a quarter past eight in the morning on a modern clock. The Theatre of Marcellus is, uniquely for theatre buildings in Rome, orientated so the stage points north east; the other venues for the Games point west. With help from a UROP undergraduate research assistant, Ed Howkins, I used the digital model of ancient Rome that I have been building as a research and teaching tool to investigate the lighting conditions in the Theatre of Marcellus at the relevant date and time.

It turns out that the stage would have been perfectly illuminated for exactly the period in which the plays were held there, with the sun shining on the actors rather than into the faces of the spectators. It seems that Augustus’ theatre architects had created a venue intended especially for morning performances, and that his games planners responded to this by ensuring that each day’s entertainment culminated in the splendid new theatre at just the point when it was most perfectly illuminated – a subtle reminder that the reign of Augustus and the continued prosperity of Rome were, as the prayers for the Games implied, cosmically ordained and favoured by heaven.

http://www.reading.ac.uk/classics/

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