When I was twelve, I decided to devote myself to being a Marine Zoologist. I wanted to travel on boats, and find myself looking at Earth from a different terrain. I researched all I could, I watched shows about marine life whilst making manic notes about algae and dolphins, and endlessly compiled lists of destinations I wanted to visit.

Now I am nineteen, and have recently moved across England to find adventure in Cornwall. I am studying English Literature and Geography at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus, endlessly compiling notes about place, landforms and literature, and see that all this time I have been an aspiring travel writer.

This is the story of my Universe day by day – where I go, how I see the world, and how each detail affects me. Maybe I’ll make you smile, maybe I’ll teach you something you never knew – or maybe I’ll teach you something you’ve known all along.


Encouraging Policy Support for a Low Carbon Economy

Barack Obama’s recent rejection of the application to build the 1,179 mile-long Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Nebraska marks a huge shift in political priority from austerity and growth to factoring in sustainability and the importance of a low-carbon economy into mainstream economics.

Barack Obama at Las Vegas Presidential Forum, Flickr.

Barack Obama at Las Vegas Presidential Forum Source: Flickr.

TransCanada Corp may not be happy about it, oil and gas master API certainly aren’t happy about it. Furthermore, $73.8 billion will be spent on oil and gas transportation infrastructure the US between 2014-2015 anyway (including a 9.1% increase last year alone in crude oil pipeline mileage), but Obama is now the first world leader to reject a project due to its negative impact on the climate, giving hope that the focus is shifting when it comes to politics.

Large companies are also proving more and more that their attitudes towards renewables can shift. CDP’s recent report shows that cutting back of emissions through investment in a low-carbon future is becoming more viable in the long term, and  attitudes are shifting, leading to what were previously unthinkable collaborations. Even oil and gas majors are joining the discussion, leading to the question of their relevance in a world finally starting to accept the importance of clean energy.

IOC Renewable Activities (Including R&D and canceled/scaled-down projects) Source: Green Tech Media, Matthew Morton

IOC Renewable Activities (Including R&D and canceled/scaled-down projects)
Source: Green Tech Media, Matthew Morton

Company language is now ‘focussing on efficiency and reducing carbon emissions’ as financial markets shift in response to climate demands. Most large oil companies ‘already factor a carbon price into long-term planning’, recognising the likelihood of such a policy eventually coming into force.

However, there is still more work to be done. API President and CEO Jack Gerard’s criticism that the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline is ‘ironic’ as Iranian crude oil is allowed onto the global market whilst Canada is  denied access to U.S. refineries demeans power of perception, and ignores the huge potential for influence in saying ‘no’ to harmful projects that are well within the public eye. Denying power to the corruption and exploitation of huge, conglomerate industries is the next step in the fight against climate change, and it is hoped that in COP21 more support will be given to the renewable industry.

“Windräder vor Mohnblumen in Landkreis Märkisch-Oderland” by Pantona.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The changing language of business makes the push towards low-carbon industries more viable, but now we need to create and sustain policies that enforce this security. As highlighted by the SAFE-ICE project on Low-Carbon Language:

‘For ‘Low Carbon‘ to drive change, at a business level, there must be a clear understanding of how it fits within the existing language of climate change and how to support companies to relate this to their product or service. This, in turn. needs to be communicated to clients to support growth in demand.’

It’s time to start pressuring the need to create a solid foundation of support for affordable renewable energy through policy and cooperation to securely integrate renewables into the global financial market. Cutting subsidies before COP21 has even happened is not the way forward.


Canadian and U.S. Oil Pipelines. Source: Keystone Pipeline XL assessment

Current low oil prices present an opportunity for reform, and Obama knew it. Subsidies and tax expenditures should work in favour of low-carbon innovation, as well as education and labour market policies that show commitment to innovation. Energy-efficient transport should be integrated into policy-making. Sustainable land use should be encouraged with an ‘integrated approach that breaks down the silos between mitigation, adaptation, agriculture, food security, forestry and environment policies.’

On the international level, an Environmental Goods Agreement  – as suggested by OECD – should aim to reduce or negate import tariffs on low-carbon technology trade, as well as encouragement of favouring domestic manufacturers of low-carbon technologies.

There are a vast array of policy changes and commitments needed before the language of politics and business truly change, but the first change needs to be a growth model that promotes less ‘growth’ and more ‘prevention’ of the changes current IPCC greenhouse gas emission pathway scenarios are deeming inevitable unless we take action.

Concerns About Hinkley Point

Recently, the UK Government sealed the deal on Hinkley Point Power Station. David Cameron met with President Xi Jinping on October 21st, to confirm that EDF and China General Nuclear Corporation (CGN) have committed to Hinkley Point C, signing a Strategic Investment Agreement.

EDF energy reports that the nuclear station will generate 7% of the UK’s generation needs whilst minimising carbon output, avoid 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year and create 25,000 employment opportunities. Furthermore, 60% of the project’s construction value is predicted to go to UK companies.

But will it really be worth it?

Hinkley Point C will cost £24bn to construct, receive a £17bn loan guarantee and a contract for difference (CfD) guaranteeing EDF an overly-generous £92/MWh for 35 years if the Sizewell C project does not go ahead, or £89.50/MWh if the company moves forward with plans for this second power plant.

The scale of this investment have raised concerns. HSBC recently released a report warning of a rise in this agreed contract and the decline in electricity demand in the U.K.

Not only this, but EDF’s track record for delivering reactors isn’t exactly pristine. European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) like the model for Hinkley are struggling elsewhere. Finland’s is nine years late, Normandy’s is four years behind schedule and weak spots have been found in the reactor being build in Flamanville, France. HSBC sum this up by saying that ‘EPR’s future is bleak: too big, too costly, and still unproven’.


Source: New Scientist (CLICK TO EXPAND)

Alongside this is the need to consider safety impacts and risks. The responsibilities of power stations post-Fukushima requires highly organised security, research and education. Concerns about the lack of reliability of the EPR’s safety system were raised by Nuclear Safety Regulators in 2009 (including NSE in the UK).

There is also the responsibility to address the ‘eternity’ of nuclear waste.  Into Eternity, A Film For The Future came to my mind when Hinkley was being finalised. The docu-film by Michael Madsen highlights the problems with nuclear waste and safety:

Even though our use of nuclear power will affect life for at least 100,000 years we are not even capable of resolving the question of how to warn future generations of the danger of the material that we are leaving them. And is it not utter madness to believe that anything built by humans could ever last 100,000 years?

Maria Gilardin, TUC Radio, introducing Dr. Helen Caldicott’s 7/15/11 interview with Michael Madsen.

December’s COP21 is looming, stressing the need for long-term clean energy. The government, however, have decided to back nuclear and shred subsidies to wind and solar energy in their review of Feed-In-Tariff schemes. This is a large setback to the UK’s move towards renewables, meaning clean energy businesses (particularly solar energy leaders) are being driven away due to lack of confidence in investments, losing thousands of jobs and a huge potential to see affordable clean energy become a clearer reality in the UK.

Carbon pricing and high energy costs have also been linked by Tata Steel to recent closures in the British steel industry, alongside cheap Chinese imports creating difficult market conditions (reflecting Laura Kuenssberg’s question at the Hinkley Point conference).

Sustainable development is often defined as:

development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs

 A/42/427. Our Common Future: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development

This need to balance environmental, economic and social impacts is not being addressed by supporting Hinkley Point C. The UK seems to be moving backwards, and for me this article on the Ecologist is among the most convincing theories as to why this apparently nonsensical shift is occurring. It argues that the UK government need civil nuclear programmes in order to spread the costs of funding more nuclear physicists, researchers, engineers, etc to maintain the status as a nuclear WMD state through Trident. Why else would they have reason to be investing in unreliable ‘dirty’ form of energy with lack of concern for economic risks and alternatives?

The ‘Celebritisation’ of Climate Change: How celebrities influence discourse

The lead up to the Paris COP in December has prompted huge increases in coverage of climate change debate in mainstream media, making 2015 a prime year for international approaches to climate action.

The public is more informed about climate change than ever before, and I believe that one of the factors leading to this accessibility could be the influx of celebrity involvement.

Boykoff and Goodman identify a ‘growing subset‘ of celebrity:

Those who have leveraged such privileged voices to raise public and policy attention to various social, political, economic, cultural and environmental issues.

This shows the integration of a newer form of ‘non-state’ actors into political and scientific arenas, encouraging increased access to climate change debate.

Events such as the annual Global Citizen Festival – which focused on the UN ‘Sustainable Development Goals‘ for eliminating global poverty by 2030 – integrate the ‘amplified voices’ of celebrities into public and political spheres with the aim of informing and encouraging participation.

Beyonce and Ed Sheeran at Global Citizen Festival Source: Celebrities Do Good

Beyonce and Ed Sheeran at Global Citizen Festival
Source: Celebrities Do Good

TV presenters and actors such as Stephen Colbert and Hugh Jackman, and musicians such as Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay joined global political, economic and public figures in speaking out against poverty, inequality and climate change, representing an integrated approach to climate change debate.


Leonardo DiCaprio at Global Citizen Festival Source: Daily Mail, from WireImage

Leonardo Dicaprio – UN Messenger of Peace and writer/director of 11th Hour – was another of the celebrities involved. He gave a fantastic speech stressing the need for international cooperation, showing that celebrities can be informed in their responses to climate change. DiCaprio concluded with a call for engagement with COP21:

“This December, world leaders will convene in Paris to sign an agreement for an unprecedented global cooperation to address climate change. I’m gonna be there. We need to take the steps to confront this all-too-human disaster together. We’re running out of time, and it is now down to you – activists young and old – to please get involved. The environment, and the fight for the world’s poor, are inherently linked. The planet can no longer wait: the under-priviledged can no longer be ignored.”

Of course, the problems with celebrity engagement in any political arena varies. Many are easily accused of being hypocrites due to spending habits, and their political statements are reduced to ‘the domain of fashion and fad’ rather than fostering long-term shifts in public behaviour. There is a danger of debate being turned into an empty narrative of consumption and entertainment, preventing any solid frameworks for action, and ignoring the need for responsible ‘public’ consciousness (as suggested by Weiskel and Barnett).

However, we cannot simply write off the influence of celebrities, as many have beliefs that can complement sustainable practices – shown through those who have engaged with political issues and set up charities and organisations. Celebrity movements such as Action2015 (calling on COP21 to secure successful results) are also engaging with current events and using their influence to encourage their audiences to do the same. UNICEF and Global Goals are also working with celebrities to teach children globally about sustainable development.

DiCaprio highlighted the importance of increasing public engagement with a problem that can feel like it has distant consequences in developed countries. Celebrities engage the minds of audiences through entertainment, providing new pathways for political involvement and opening up public discussion that uses less scientific and political jargon, thus increasing public accessibility.

I therefore think it’s vital that celebrities are accepted as influential speakers on climate change, but – as with any public figure – it’s important to consider if they are informed and able to encourage responsible climate action through their own actions as a factor determining the positive political impacts of their influence.

Travels through Time and Place: Sagada’s Hanging Coffins


The bustling town is hushed by the weight of today’s three hour trek to visit the hanging coffins. As small motors and bikes fly endlessly across the busy roads in a bizarre mishmash of colours, I am quiet and still, half-deafened by contemplation and knowing that I must think back to what Sagada was to understand what it has become. This is a town filled with stories, and not the usual ‘a dog pissed here and now we’re famous’ kind. Sagada seems ancient, wise and trembling with legends that reverberate through time and create schisms that silence the world of today.

Of course, the hanging coffins themselves are like a mask covering the real attraction they symbolise. Their rugged exterior is a portal that beckons immersion of oneself in the emotions and respect of a 2000 year old tradition suspended in time within the ageing wood nailed upon a cliff face. The noisy town of Sagada falls away behind you as you descend further into their past.

As we begin our trek, my group is led across a graveyard that shows no evidence of decay. The glaring white is a stark contrast against the dark green grass, and it sets a sombre, buzzing tone for our descent into Echo valley. I am immediately aware of the importance of death in this community, and it is unexpectedly refreshing. ‘Funerals are for the living’ is what I am told in England (though I have never been to one), and though this is a comforting thought, the traditions in Sagada show an understanding that though the funeral procession may be for the living, the respect and effort is for the dead.

After walking through a chill valley echoing with the morbid sounds of chopping wood, we reach the site of the hanging coffins. I am struck by the uncomfortable feeling of being almost too close to this culture’s past, and try to maintain a respectful distance from this scene that I am not entitled to reach out to fully. The tall, dead red-barked trees leaning on the cliff face, the resounding ‘CHUCK’ of an axe in the distance and the decorations that only family members and the people within the coffins can truly appreciate are all reminders that this is a truly interconnected process that bridges the gap between life and death, crumbling into one through a landscape that seems integrated within the culture itself. It belongs.

A common belief of this culture is that the bodies of the dead must be elevated to bring them closer to ancestral spirits, and this complements the fear of being buried beneath soil to become part of the rotting detritus, or worse – to be dug up again. The dead are placed on chairs, wrapped, covered with a blanket and smoked whilst left facing the main door of the home, and after paying respects the family carry them to the valley, smearing the dead’s blood on their faces in an age-old inheritance tradition that is said to give them the skills of the deceased. Within the coffins, the dead are in foetal positions, replicating the way that humans come into this world in a circular sign of life in death.

A woman tells me this story of ascent as we descend further into echo valley, knowing that our end goal is the furthest descent possible, within the dark karstic chambers of the Sumaguing Cave. This cycle of transition from exterior to interior, from light to dark, modern to ancient and life to death is the source of ancient cultural energy in Sagada.

Upon reaching the entrance of the cave at the Lumiang Burial Ground we are welcomed by more ancient coffins. Inside there is water flowing continuously across the slowly progressing limestone structures. The sound of it licking the rock surface is lit by our guide’s lamp in a motion that repeats its first illumination by firelight with the same fascination that I am experiencing, before Sagada’s culture had even begun.

Mad Max: Fury Road, Leading the way towards equality in Hollywood.

So glad that this was a film that seemingly has done everything right. Can’t wait to see it and I definitely recommend reading this article – sounds like a great movie that needs people to take notice of it!

Siobhán Eardley

George Miller’s latest entry into the Mad Max franchise, Mad Max: Fury Road is revolutionary. Not simply because of the insane pace,  stunning visuals and the impressive costume and makeup. It is revolutionary because it is a rare gem among the countless blockbuster films. It contains female characters that are equally as awesome as the men.

*SPOILERS* (only minor)

Mad Mad: Fury Road portrays the struggles of humanity in a post apocalyptic Australia, and really makes one think about the value of water, freedom and a stable society. At the beginning of the film Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by the War Boys and taken to the Citadel, a universal blood doner, he is used as a human blood bank. Meanwhile, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) supposedly on an oil run for the leader of the Citadel, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), goes off road, carrying Joe’s five wives to their freedom. Fury Road from…

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Tracing The Scars of Glaciers

lake by hostel 2

All photos courtesy of Tom Grant (apparently I was too in awe to take any…)

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about places I’ve visited in the past and which one had been my favourite. This was a question that – strangely enough – I hadn’t really considered before – I’m always focussing on where to go next, but after contemplating all the amazing places I’m lucky enough to have seen, Snowdonia seemed the right fit.

Snowdonia was – if you read the introduction to this blog – where I found my sense of adventure and my love for travel because it was here that I broke through boundaries I didn’t know I had set for myself. I found beauty in a landscape scarred by its own processes and was captivated by the idea that completely different ecosystems can coexist beside each other. I loved going from being on sunny dunes one day to being in the middle of a snowstorm climbing to the top of the Y Garn peak then staring up at the vast 1085m of Snowdon the next.

The Aberglaslyn Pass was one of the most interesting visits. This is a narrow, fast flowing gorge along the Afon Glaslyn river. It was the first real experience I’d had of a trek alongside a river channel, and following the course of water is something that I think teaches you a lot about Earth processes – they’re relentless.

The Afon Glaslyn has its source in Glaslyn – a tarn (lake) in the middle of a cirque formed by glacial erosion due to converging ice flows, and abrasion of bedrock due to rocks held within this ice. It terminates at Llyn Gwynant, which was a filming location for Lara Croft in 2003!

Walking along these rapids is one of the memories of this trip I cling to most – hearing nothing but the sound of rushing water in my ears was exhilarating, and I even found some rose quartz along the path! I had a lot of time on this walk to think about what I was doing in the middle of North Wales, and what I had achieved over the 5 days that I had been there, so the water really helped clear my rather dizzy 16 year old mind. It was the most purifying places I had ever had the pleasure to be and I wish I’d had the time to sit down and appreciate it for longer.

aberglaslyn 2

Another cirque we visited was Cwm Idwal, which is at the head of a glacially eroded hanging valley. The snow was lightly compacted but extremely thick, so we were waist-deep in snow for most of the journey around the beautiful and partially frozen Llyn Idwal. It was times like this on the trip that I would scream that I could not be a Geographer because nature was insane, yet I’ve found myself doing an English Literature and Geography degree a couple of years on because of these exact moments!

As I say in my video, it wasn’t just the natural environment that was so diverse – it was an age-old tradition of dedicated and proud local people that made this landscape so interesting. The farmers, council members and community action plan leaders we met were all particularly concerned about degradation of local environments, and expressed deep care about their culture and language. It was inspiring to hear of programmes like the Welsh Language Scheme in 2010, and to listen to the voices of people from a rather marginalised part of the UK raise awareness of the fact that this was an issue that they felt was of significant importance – and it is! Wales holds such beautiful folklore, stories and landscapes, and we should be doing everything we can to be aware of them and work with them to preserve their cultures.

The farm we visited was the epitome of this committed attitude to preservation – it had not only a beautifully preserved path to walk along with waterfalls and a link to The Watkin Path to Snowdon, but also showed amazing management techniques that made you appreciate the effort these people put in to protect not only their culture, but also the earth that they live on – a lesson that I think many of us should learn.

farma ndglaiers

On one particular day we visited Llanberris, home of the Electric mountain – so called due to Dinorwig hydroelectric power station built within the Elidir Fawr on an abandoned quarry site. What made this town so interesting, however, was that this modern environmental technology was juxtaposed wonderfully against the tradition rack and pinion Snowdon Mountain Railway from 1896.

me and the snow

North Wales had so much to offer – a truly amazing landscape combined with idyllic settlements –  I saw so many amazing things and learnt so many new skills on this trip (I even learnt to ice climb!). It was exhausting but definitely one of the best experiences of my life. Everyone needs to find themselves at some point, and exposing yourself to the elements will push you to places within yourself that you wish you’d found sooner.