Geology for Global Development

Geology for Global Development

The link between development and resource use

The link between development and resource use

This month the GfGD blog revolved around the theme of Resources. Blog author Heather Britton explores the link between the use of natural resources and development. How feasible are the various options available to us, to reach a use of resources aligned with sustainable development? From the ideology of a circular economy, a switch to renewable resources and increasing efficiency, what might help us get out of an unsustainable pattern? [Editor’s note: This post reflects Heather’s personal opinions. These opinions may not reflect official policy positions of Geology for Global Development.]

Resources play a huge part in determining the character, history and trading power of a country. Many of these resources – such as metal ores, precious stones and fossil fuels – link directly to the geology of a region, which has inspired the theme of ‘resources’ for this month’s selection of blog posts.

This week, I want to look at how in the past, and indeed to this day, the quantity and quality of resources available to a country has acted as a predictor of how developed that country is, and how this will need to change in the future if we are to succeed in meeting the UN sustainability goals.

The most striking example of development spurred on by the availability of resources is the industrial revolution. The UK is thought to have led the way in becoming an industrialised nation due to a combination of the amount of underlying carboniferous coal, and a strong agricultural economy.

Although Britain is thought to have experienced an industrial revolution of its own between the mid-18th century and 1830, the more widely recognized industrial revolution occurred between the mid-19th to the 20th century and was experienced by other countries, including France, Germany and North America to name a few.

Without the use of coal as a resource, development might have come to the UK much later.

It is predicted that by 2050, 140 billion tons of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass will be used per year – three times the current average.

The environmental effects of burning coal and other fossil fuels were not fully appreciated at this time.

In the UK, as light has been shone on the negative impact of fossil fuel use, carbon emissions have been cut to a fraction of what they were during the industrial revolution. That being said, the UK is in the privileged position of having gone through industrial development prior to the threat of global warming being appreciated.

Many countries, particularly in parts of the world with low GDP, are only now beginning to use the natural resources available to them to undergo similar development to that which the UK experienced a century ago (this website gives an indication of world income by region over time).

This poses a problem for the climate, however, and brings us to the cusp of the problem – development needs to be decoupled from resource use, so that countries are able to reap the rewards of development in a sustainable way which does not exacerbate the negative impact that people have had on our planet up until now.

But how can this be achieved?

going from our entrenched linear method of dealing with waste to a circular economy would require huge changes to the way in which property, possessions and businesses f­unction

It is predicted that by 2050, 140 billion tons of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass will be used per year – three times the current average.

Citizens of developed countries consume an average of 16 tons of these same materials per capita (ranging up to 40 or more tons per person in some developed countries). By comparison, the average person in India consumes only 4 tons per year. This stark contrast demonstrates how much resources are taken for granted in the economically developed world, and how this needs to change.

One method of severing the link between development and resource availability is to shift towards a circular economy. This is an ideology whereby there is little to no waste, and instead of items being thrown away once used, the worn-out components are continually replaced.

This idea is similar to how natural ecosystems function (there is no waste in nature). Adopting this kind of lifestyle would separate our reliance on resources from the ability of a nation to develop, but going from our entrenched linear method of dealing with waste to a circular economy would require huge changes to the way in which property, possessions and businesses f­unction.

Although it may be the ideal solution, transitioning to a circular economy would require a huge change in global attitude which will take a great deal of time to develop.

A far more feasible way of working to separate unsustainable resource use from development is … to minimise the use of non-renewable resources

A far more feasible way of working to separate unsustainable resource use from development is simply to minimise the use of non-renewable resources so that it is no longer essential to use them to reach a developed state.

Methods of doing so include adopting new, greener technologies to replace the heavy industries that have been large-scale users of fossil fuels in the past (for example adopting electric arc furnace improvements in the iron and steel industry) and ensuring that fewer high carbon fuels need to be burned to heat homes by improving home insulation, particularly in cooler parts of the world.

By improving the materials, insulation and orientation of buildings (orientations which make the most use of solar gains) energy use in buildings can be cut by 80%.

On top of these examples, using more renewable energy in agriculture and continuing to innovate to create alternatives to unrenewable resources use are further options.

Picture by Joyce Schmatz, distributed via imaggeo (CC BY 3.0). By making agriculture more renewable we can take a step towards decoupling development from resource-use.

It is doubtless that as a country develops, its resource use will increase. However, with awareness of the environmental challenges facing the planet as it is growing, developing countries will be able to tap into the growing renewables industry rather than turning to substantially increased fossil fuel use.

At the end of the day, countries will develop however they are able and it is not up to anyone to dictate how they do this. However, in the interests of meeting UN sustainable development goal 13 – climate action – encouraging sustainable development may be the best way to ensure that as development spreads to more countries, our planet is not significantly affected as a result.

**This article expresses the personal opinions of the author (Heather Britton). These opinions may not reflect an official policy position of Geology for Global Development. **

Are we ready for water stress? The potential locations for undiscovered water sources. Investment in earthquake resilience in Tokyo and China. That and more in Jesse Zondervan’s June 2019 #GfGDpicks #SciComm

Are we ready for water stress? The potential locations for undiscovered water sources. Investment in earthquake resilience in Tokyo and China. That and more in Jesse Zondervan’s June 2019 #GfGDpicks #SciComm

Each month, Jesse Zondervan picks his favourite posts from geoscience and development blogs/news which cover the geology for global development interest. Here’s a round-up of Jesse’s selections for the last month:

As temperatures in Europe surge, one may not find it difficult to imagine water will be in demand. However, nearly one-fifth of the world’s population lives in a stressed water basin. A study published in Nature Sustainability points towards the inflexibility of our water demands. To ensure resilience to climate-change driven droughts, we better start looking for opportunities to save or build elsewhere or look for other sources.

On a positive note, this month such a new source was found off the coast of the US Northeast. Mapping of the ocean floor with electromagnetic waves revealed aquifer of fresh water underneath the salty ocean, starting at 180 m beneath the seafloor, extending 50 miles to the edge of the continental shelf. Similar deep offshore aquifers might be waiting to be found elsewhere in the world.

Tokyo and Sichuan – Earthquake resilience in Asia

This week The Guardian explores Tokyo, naming it the world’s riskiest city and one of its most resilient. The scale of the city, its risks and its efforts to build resilience are evident in the way Tokyo deals with the prediction of day X. Experts estimate a 70% chance of a magnitude 7 hitting Tokyo before 2050. With the added pressure of the 2020 Olympics Tokyo is preparing evacuation plans, and decided to cut the number of spectators for the sailing event to be better able to deal with the tsunami risk.

Over in China, a magnitude 6 earthquake struck Sichuan this month. Professor Wei Shengji considers whether human activities might have increased seismic activity, a topic also discussed in South Korea’s Pohang where there seems to be no doubt a geothermal energy project is to blame. The impact of disaster risk reduction efforts is unmistakable in the case of Sichuan, where forward thinking and the installment of an earthquake early warning system saved hundreds.

More this month, how citizen scientists can help predict and prepare for disasters,  how airlines decide whether to fly near volcanoes and the challenge of dealing with the risk of tailings dam failures in the mining industry

 

Sustainability

Combination of water scarcity and inflexible demand puts world’s river basins at risk at UCI news

Scientists Map Huge Undersea Fresh-Water Aquifer Off U.S. Northeast by Kevin Krajick at State of the Planet

Tokyo

‘This is not a “what if” story’: Tokyo braces for the earthquake of a century by Daniel Hurst at The Guardian

Tokyo 2020 organisers cut crowds at sailing events over tsunami risk by Justin McCurry at The Guardian

Sichuan

Earthquake Early Warning System Saves Hundreds in Sichuan by Kristen Wang at The Nanjinger

Commentary: Is Sichuan more prone to earthquakes? By Wei Shengji at Cnannel News Asia

Climate Change Adaptation

Mountain-Dwellers Adapt to Melting Glaciers Without Necessarily Caring About Climate Change by Sarah Fecht at State of the Planet

Stanford-led study investigates how much climate change affects the risk of armed conflict by Devon Ryan at Stanford News

How Climate Change Impacts the Economy by Renee Cho at State of the Planet

Past climate change: A warning for the future? At ScienceDaily

Disaster Risk

How Qantas and other airlines decide whether to fly near volcanoes by Heather Handley and Christina Magill at The Conversation

Boston Built a New Waterfront Just in Time for the Apocalypse by Prashant Gopal and Brian K Sullivan

Risk and the mining industry after the Brumadinho tailings dam failure by Cate Lamb at global environmental disclosure charity CDP

Five ways in which disasters worsen air pollution at UN Environment

Citizen Scientists Can Help Predict and Prepare for Disasters by Jackie Ratner at State of the Planet

Future tsunamis possible in the Red Sea’s Gulf of Elat-Aqaba at ScienceDaily

Lessons from Pohang: Solving geothermal energy’s earthquake problem at ScienceDaily

External Opportunities

The APRU Multi-Hazards Program in collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is calling for research papers and case studies of “Non-Events” to share global success and investment in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)

 

Check back next month for more picks!

Follow Jesse Zondervan @JesseZondervan. Follow us @Geo_Dev & Facebook.

A mining state in Brazil, without geological knowledge? On the value of science communication

A mining state in Brazil, without geological knowledge? On the value of science communication

As the theme of this month is science communication, I’d like to share some of my own experiences with geoscience communication and public perception of geosciences.

I was born and raised in Minas Gerais – the most traditional mining state of Brazil. Nowadays it is internationally recognized for recent environmental disasters such as the failure of the Brumadinho and Fundão tailings dams. I studied Geological Engineering in Ouro Preto – where the Brazilian Gold Rush started, which was responsible for the establishment of the city. Until the present day, mining – especially iron ore – is the most important economic input for the municipality. Despite all the history and mining tradition, many people have no idea of what geology is about. I had no idea before entering university.

A study (Annals page 462) on public perception of geosciences was carried out in Campo Belo, a town located in the southwest region of Minas Gerais with 54.000 inhabitants, almost 400 high school students from public and private schools and their science teachers. The results have shown that the students struggled to answer simple questions regarding geology (such as the approximate age of the Earth or naming one mineral) and they were unable to relate Earth Sciences with the environment surrounding them, which came as a surprise to the teachers. Despite being local, this study may give us a hint on the perception of geosciences in Minas Gerais.

Why is connecting the community with geological knowledge so important?

Geology is the basis of everything! To produce the food we eat we need soil, water, mineral fertilizers. For housing, we need resources such as steel, cement, gravel, sand, and we need to choose appropriate sites for construction, avoiding areas with a high risk of geohazards like earthquakes, landslides or flooding. We need mineral resources for developing technologies and green energy. Some places on Earth depend almost exclusively on groundwater – so hydrogeological knowledge is crucial. Summing up – geology is in everything!

Bringing this perception to society is vital to promote conscious consumption and recycling practices (since resources are finite), improve communities’ resilience, help urban planners… just to cite a few.

So, how to communicate science effectively?

In my context (Minas Gerais – Brazil), I see that geology is not tangible for the biggest part of the population. Besides, communication is neglected by scientists. Therefore, after researching, attending conferences and talking to people from diverse backgrounds I think the best way to bridge scientists and population is, first of all, to understand the target audience (background, language, culture, customs, etc). After that, decide if you are the most appropriate person to access that community. Try to simplify the vocabulary and avoid jargon. Make a presentation that is clear, simple, illustrative, fun and scientific, if possible.

Science communication has the power to shorten distances, connect people, empower communities, work towards disaster risk reduction and promote the value of geological resources and heritage. Let’s bring geological knowledge beyond the university walls!

 

‘Pompeii’ by Robert Harris – A book review

The restored version of John Martin's Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum

The GfGD blog theme this month is science communication, and so regular blog contributor Heather Britton reviews a book which she believes contains some useful geological and human experience, in the form of a gripping novel.

The Geology for Global Development blog is not a site renowned for book reviews, but when a fiction book embraces geoscience as much as Robert Harris’s ‘Pompeii’ there are few reasons not to write about it on this platform. The book was recommended to me by my petrology professor at university, because, as she put it at the time, it is the only book she had ever read which quotes a geology textbook at the beginning of every chapter. Needing no further encouragement, I began reading, and I’m very glad that I did.

The book is set across the events leading up to, during and after the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Through the eyes of four starkly different members of Roman society – a hydraulic engineer, a scientist, a rich landowner and his daughter – the eruption is recorded in immense detail. As a reader it is clear that Robert Harris has done extensive research on the eruption, but inevitably some aspects, particularly the reactions and experiences of the characters individually, are filled in with more than a little artistic license. Nevertheless, the snippets from textbooks on Vesuvius at the beginning of each chapter match-up with the geological events of the story, reminding the reader that although the book is very much a work of fiction, the experiences had by the characters are representative of those of real people.

The protagonist of the book is Attilius, a hydraulic engineer sent from Rome to southern Italy to replace his predecessor, Exomnius, who has mysteriously gone missing. In the aftermath of an earthquake (an ominous warning sign of the tragedy to follow) the main aquaduct supplying water to the region is damaged, and Attilius is sent out to repair it. It is whilst taking on this endeavour that unusual events begin to occur, both social and geological, with the climax of the action coinciding with the eruption that has made Pompeii famous today. Despite every reader being aware of what the various events described in the book are leading up to, there is more than enough fiction in the story to make the tale far from predictable, with the case of the missing Exomnius taking centre stage and the eruption acting as a dramatic backdrop –and catalyst – of these events.

A further aspect of the books that I enjoyed was the authentic feel of the region around Vesuvius, including the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Misenum. At school I dropped history as soon as I was given the opportunity, but even with only the most basic historical knowledge I found the book very accessible. Robert Harris does well not to overwhelm the reader with incomprehensible Roman terminology and instead the difference between today’s society and that of this era are drip-fed. I found myself learning about the culture of the Romans without realising I was doing so, and appreciate the insight into this ancient civilisation.

And why have I forced a book review upon GfGD blog readers? This month’s blog topic is science communication, and Robert Harris provides an excellent example of how science can be appreciated through works of fiction. ‘Pompeii’ picks out the links between various geological events, such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and combines them with a gripping fictional tale showing the impact that these events have on individuals. I am certain that this text wouldn’t be out of place on the bookshelf of any avid reader of the GfGD blog.