How to educate about sustainable cities?

By Yvonne Rydin, Bartlett School of Planning, University College London

Image credit: UCL Media Services - University College London.

Image credit: UCL Media Services – University College London.

It is the time of year for A-level and GCSE results to be announced. Geography students at both levels will have learnt about sustainable cities and case studies will have featured prominently in their studies. The BBC Bitesize website, for example, provides a profile of Masdar City in Abu Dhabi as an exemplar of how cities can be developed to have a lower carbon footprint, zero waste generation, prioritise pedestrian movement in the city centre, and so on.

The idea is clear – there are concrete examples of ‘best practice’ that students can learn about. As educational programme moves into the graduate and postgraduate levels, this learning is increasingly linked to potential professional practice – learning about best practice in order to implement more of it in the real world.

But in our article in Area, we raise some fundamental questions about this approach. We see an important tension between, on the one hand, the desire to teach skills and knowledge that is mobile and able to travel and, on the other, the realisation that implementing sustainability can only occur in specific sites and will inevitably be shaped by local features. Higher education institutions have a strong commercial and perhaps ideological imperative to emphasise the global transferability of their knowledge; we draw associations here with the policy mobilities literature that analyses the way that policy ideas circulate around the world.

But pedagogy should recognise that local implementation will always involve the re-use of knowledge in new contexts, not its simple transfer. Do universities currently stress this enough, problematising rather than recycling the idea of best practice? We also raise the question of whether students are sufficiently involved in the overt co-production of sustainable city knowledge by reflecting on how it is reframed in new contexts. Should they perhaps confront the results of research ‘back home’ or on fieldtrips more directly with the learning in the classroom, querying where principles-based learning does not work actually in practice?

Finally we urge the prioritisation of education over the marketing of qualifications although we recognise that the harsh financial realities facing many universities makes this seem somewhat idealistic. But if sustainable cities are to become a reality, perhaps one should be allowed to dream.

About the authors: Yvonne Rydin is a Professor of Planning, Environment and Public Policy at the The Bartlett School of Planning, University College London. Yvonne co-authored her Area paper with Dr Susan Moore, who is a lecturer at the Bartlett School of Planning, and Brian Garcia who is a PhD candidate at the same institution. 

 Moore, S., Rydin, Y. and Garcia, B. (2014), Sustainable city education: the pedagogical challenge of mobile knowledge and situated learning. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12127

60-world2 BBC Bitesize Case Study: Masdar City in Abu Dhabi

The production and circulation of climate change knowledge: science, expert judgement and the visual image

By Martin Mahony, King’s College London

The recent publication of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR5) drew a great deal of interest from journalists, public commentators and the political community. While perhaps not receiving the same level of media attention as previous reports, the AR5 has bolstered the claims of those arguing that time is running out to prevent dangerous climate change.

But what does ‘dangerous’ climate change mean? Whose job should it be to define danger for the entire world? And how much scientific knowledge and certainty do we need about a complicated issue like climate change before we are motivated to act? These are some of the questions I take up in a new article in Transactions of Institute of British Geographers which traces the history of a particular scientific graphic which was designed in the late 1990s to help people come to their own definition of ‘dangerous’ climate change. The image, known colloquially as the ‘burning embers’, has since had a chequered institutional history. Embraced by some as a support for arguments that global warming should be limited to 2°C, the diagram has been challenged by others for being too subjective, and for straying into areas which should be reserved for political – rather than scientific – judgement.

The updated version of the burning embers diagram left out of the IPCC's 2007 report, and eventually published by Smith et al (2009)

The updated version of the burning embers diagram left out of the IPCC’s 2007 report, and eventually published by Smith et al (2009)

I link this story to the history of the notion of scientific objectivity, which historians have shown to vary over time and space. This opens up geographical questions, as the circulation of the ‘burning embers’ diagram saw different questions asked of it in different places, while diverse  expectations of the meaning of objectivity conditioned the spaces around which the diagram travelled. Left out of the 2007 report, the diagram has since made a comeback, with a new colour pallet pointing to the increasing magnitude of risks society is understood to face. The diagram was described as the “key product” and synthesis of the Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability section by Working Group co-Chair Chris Field at a UK Department of Energy and Climate Change event in April this year.

The IPCC plays a crucial role in offering to society visualisations of what a climate-changed future might look like. But despite the institution’s prominence, we know little about IPCC knowledge production as a social process. The paper is an attempt to grow this kind of understanding. As debate about the future shape of the IPCC continues behind the scenes, understanding how, why, and for whom different knowledges are produced and circulate remains a key task for social scientists. As a discipline which straddles conventional boundaries between physical and social science, geography is well placed to contribute to such a project.

About the author: Martin Mahony us a Research Associate within the Department of Geography at King’s College London. Martin’s research interests include the history and geography of climate science, visual cultures of climate and epistemic geographies of the Anthropocene. 

 Martin Mahony, 2014, Climate change and the geographies of objectivity: the case of the IPCC’s burning embers diagram. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, DOI: 10.1111/tran.12064

 Joel B. Smith et al, 2009, Assessing dangerous climate change through an update of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “reasons for concern”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106, 11, 4133-4137

60-world2 Why 2007 IPCC report lack ‘embers’, Dot Earth Blog, The New York Times, 26 Feb 2009

60-world2 Climate change report ‘should jolt people into action’ says IPCC chief, The Guardian, 31 Mar 2014

60-world2 Will the new IPCC report help climate action? Southern Crossroads blog, The Guardian, 1 Apr 2014

60-world2 Reactions to the IPCC climate change report from business leaders and experts, Guardian Sustainable Business blog, 1 Apr 2014

The scalar politics of infectious disease governance in an era of liberalised air travel

By Helen Pallett

British_Airways_G-XLED,_Hatton_Cross-Heathrow_Airport_(14082633427)

Image credit: Au Morandarte

Fears about the continued spread of the incurable Ebola virus have reached new heights in recent days, linked to uncertainties about the ability to contain diseases in an era of liberalised air transport. Over the last eight months around 916 people have died of the disease in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. It now appears the disease has spread to Lagos in neighbouring Nigeria, with eight confirmed cases. In recent months several international aid workers, healthcare workers and missionaries have also fallen victim to the disease, travelling back to Europe and North America for treatment, prompting fears about the greater spread of the disease. Subsequently, the WHO has now labelled the current outbreak as an ‘international emergency’.

In a paper from 2011 in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Lucy Budd and colleagues considered the impacts of liberalised air transport and changes in infectious disease governance in the aftermath of the SARS and H1N1 infectious disease scares. They argued that vast increases in air passenger numbers and the growing frequency and geographical extent of long haul flights raised new challenges for international disease governance and sanitary preemption. This increased global mobility of human populations creates within itself the potential for this mobility to be disrupted and curtailed through the spread of pathogens. Infectious disease governance and prevention depends on the cooperation of a web of national, regional and global agencies – with different and sometimes contested responsibilities – while practices of disease containment must be performed within in an increasing number of highly localised sites, from the airport security line, to the local clinic and the morgue.

The ongoing Ebola outbreak points to further scalar concerns around the governance of deadly infection diseases. Recent debates have focussed on the potential for using experimental treatments imported from the West to treat Ebola victims in attempt to improve the disease’s 50% mortality rate and curtail its further spread. A key question around this is to what extent standards of bioethics within the countries where these experimental treatments were developed should also be imported to the affected countries, counselling caution around the use of untested treatments. Furthermore, whilst the treatment of the disease requires the participation of international agencies, experts and technologies, it must also understand and respect the specific values and practices of Ebola victims and their families in order to be effective.

So whilst there are clear ethical dimensions to the governance of the Ebola outbreak there is also a strong scalar dimension. The successful containment and treatment of the disease depends not only on international and national cooperation, but on the micro-practices within the multiple locations of the sanitary border.

books_icon Lucy Budd, Morag Bell & Adam Warren 2011 Maintaining the sanitary border: air transport liberalisation and health security practices at UK regional airports. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 36(2): 268-279.

60-world2 Nigeria fears fourth Ebola frontline after infected man lands in Lagos The Guardian, August 13

60-world2 WHO: Ebola ‘an international emergency’BBC News, August 8

60-world2 Dan O’Connor Terrifying as the Ebola epidemic is, we must not use our research ethics The Guardian, August 14

New journal, Geo: Geography and Environment open for submissions

by Fiona Nash, Managing Editor: Academic Publications at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

UntitledGeo: Geography and Environment is a fully open access, international journal published by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and Wiley. It is dedicated to publishing high quality articles from across the spectrum of geographical and environmental research and has an interdisciplinary focus that spans the sciences, social sciences and humanities. Geo welcomes research contributions that bring new understandings to geographical research agendas, advance spatial research, foster methodological development, and address geographical enquiries in contemporary issues.

Reasons to publish in Geo:

  • immediate open access
  • high standard, rigorous peer review
  • articles enhanced by integrated hosting of multimedia and data content
  • fully compliant with all open access mandates
  • articles published under Creative Commons Licenses

Automatic Article Publication Charge waivers and discounts will be given to authors from countries on the Waivers and Discounts List. Authors should submit a waiver or discount request during the submission of their article.

Submit a Manuscript

 

Searching for Justice in Palestine’s Geography

By Benjamin Sacks

Gaza Strip. © 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

Gaza Strip. © 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

The State of Israel and Gaza militants are currently engaged in yet another violent struggle. As I write, the Israeli military is announcing that Hadar Goldin, a 23 year-old soldier captured by Hamas, had died. Separately, United Nations officials in Gaza report that a ‘health disaster of widespread proportions is rapidly unfolding’ there as the three week-old conflict rages on without any ceasefire or even serious negotiations in sight. This most recent flare is little different from previous struggles between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, and unfortunately will not likely be the last time the two sides will clash.

It is now well understood that decisions made in the years leading up to Israel’s creation set in motion many of the current divisions between the Israelis and Palestinians. The infamous secret Sykes-Picot Treaty of 1916 split the post-war Middle East into French and British administrative sectors, formalized in the subsequent League of Nations mandates of 1922. In the Second World War’s aftermath, Britain experienced considerable, often violent strife from Israeli settlers in their mutual efforts to negotiate the timetable and terms for the establishment of an independent Jewish state. Writing in a 1951 Geographical Journal article, Sir Clarmont Skrine recalled that the State of Israel was born on 15 May 1948 in the ‘midst of [tremendous] strife between Jew and Arab [factions]‘ over what lands each would take ‘on the margin between “the desert and the sown” [the Fertile Crescent]‘ (p. 308).

In the most recent issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Reecia Orzeck (Illinois State University) examines one of the most contentious aspects of the Second World War period in Palestine. Heeding long-standing calls both within and outside of academic geography to ‘engage more closely with the normative’ (p. 345), Orzeck explored the British implementation of the Land Transfer Regulation scheme in 1940. She accomplished this through an erudite and exacting investigation into how British, Jewish, and Palestinians understood ‘justice’ and concrete, albeit differing notions of ‘geographical imaginaries’.

Justice in a geographical sense, according to Orzeck, is the incorporation of moral, ethical, or judicial concerns and theory into geographical knowledge and analysis. In essence, this means that spatial study should incorporate legal and moral concerns as much as economic or political perspectives. Although renowned geographers Andrew Sayer, Michael Storper, and David M Smith all noted the coming trend as early as the late 1990s, the shift failed to occur and the geopolitical world radically changed in the first decade of the 2000s. Concerning Palestine, she argues that historical, contemporary, and social ‘geographical imaginaries’, or culturally-accepted paradigms about the world’s physical and cultural space,

[C]an play an important role in popular assessments of the justness of particular policies and practices, and that assessments of what constitutes a just policy can change as a result of changing geographical imaginaries (p. 348).

Both Britain and the League of Nations had promised Palestinians and Jews their own states in the McMahon-Hussein correspondence (1916) and the Balfour Declaration (1917), respectively. But increasingly complex legal promises and confusion led to outbreaks of violence between Palestinians and Jews in the late 1930s and during the Second World War. Ultimately, in 1940 the British divided the Mandate into three land-available zones: ‘A’, for transfer to Palestinians; ‘B’, for transfer from Palestinians to Palestinians; and ‘C’, unrestricted land transfers. According to British geographical imaginations, this would permit Palestinians the opportunity to maintain control over traditionally Arab lands and properties, while allowing Jews to right to purchase and transfer lands in other sectors. But, as Orzeck explains, the Jewish community understood this agreement different. In their geographical, or spatial imagination,

In zone A, Jews could not purchase land; in zone B, Jews could purchase land but not from Palestinians; and in zone C, Jewish land purchases were unrestricted (p. 349).

This, of course, soon resulted in a significant clash between British officials seeking to organise two states, the Jewish Agency, who believed that they had been promised opportunities to obtain Palestinian land, and the Palestinians themselves, who saw their newly-approved gains being immediately threatened.

60-world2Israel says missing soldier is dead‘, BBC News, 2 August 2014.

books_iconClarmont Skrine, ‘Economic Development in Israel’, The Geographical Journal 117.3 (Sep., 1951): 307-26.

books_icon

Reecia Orzeck, ‘Normative geographies and the 1940 Land Transfer Regulations in Palestine‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39 (Jul., 2014): 345-59.

Resilience: what becomes of politics in an era of uncertainty

By Jonathan Pugh, Newcastle University

Flood on Protocol Street, Jakarta Image. Credit: Flicker user mulya74 reproduced under CC-BY-NC-ND

Flood on Protocol Street, Jakarta Image. Credit: Flicker user mulya reproduced under 74 CC-BY-NC-ND

The word ‘resilience’ seems to capture something about life in our precarious and uncertain era. The idea that we should all learn to be more resilient and adaptable, able to rapidly adjust to crises and the complexities of modern life as they happen, says something about the mood of our times. Indeed, Time Magazine recently proclaimed ‘resilience’ to be the buzzword of the moment (Walsh, 2013). Development agencies, governments, social critics and academics increasingly focus upon how to make people and places more resilient (Department for International Development, 2013). Adger (2000:347) for example says that social resilience is “the ability of groups or communities to cope with external stresses and disturbances as a result of social, political and environmental change”. But in many unexplored ways the turn toward ‘resilience’ also tells us something quite profound. It tells us that important changes are taking place in how we understand our world and the stakes of freedom and politics.

This is what my latest paper in Area addresses. At the dawn of this millennium the idea that life was becoming too uncertain and chaotic was initially seen as a problem for many scientists, social scientists and policy makers. The predictive models of science, as with the interventions of international politics, largely seemed to have failed. Endless numbers of environmental disasters, then debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the almost global economic crisis in 2008, all gave rise to a growing mood: the world is simply too unpredictable to control. The active response from many quarters: we should instead learn to be more resilient. No longer control or transformation, but a new emphasis upon making people flexible and adjustable in today’s precarious world. A plethora of new resilience models and policy-makers have emerged. The United Nations (2004), The United Kingdom Department for International Development (2013), the International Monetary Fund (2013) and the World Bank (2013) have all refocused around resilience. As the website of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (2013) asks “What are you doing to make your city resilient?”

But resilience does not seek to control the world in the way of previous scientific and political models. Instead, resilience more obviously foregrounds how vulnerability and insecurity are inevitable parts of life. Risks, hazards and dangers are accentuated as permanent features of everyday existence; always there, always at the surface to be highlighted and engaged. Precarity bears down upon the present and resilience politics actively embraces it. Today, resilience shows how the stakes of politics and freedom have changed and in quite dramatic ways. Freedom is now less likely to be framed through political ideologies of, say, Left and Right, and more in terms of how politics seeks to address ever-intense feelings of uncertainty. Measures like disaster management, preparedness, preepmption, precaution and security, developing personal adaptation skills at work, therapeutic coping strategies and so on, all illustrate how we are now more pragmatically programmed around questions of insecurity. As I argue in detail in my Area paper, resilience shows what becomes of politics in this, our era of uncertainty.

About the author: Jonathan Pugh is Senior Academic Fellow at the Department of Geography, Newcastle University. He specialises in Caribbean and island studies, postcolonial, development studies and the nature of radical politics today. Jonathan’s webpage can be found at http://www.ncl.ac.uk/gps/staff/profile/jonathan.pugh and his email address is Jonathan.Pugh@ncl.ac.uk

 Adger W N 2000 Social and ecological resilience: are they related? Progress in Human Geography, 24: 347-364.

60-world2 International Monetary Fund 2013 Global Resilience, Sustainable Recovery are IMF Work Priorities, IMF Survey Magazine: Policy, June 6th

 Pugh J 2014 Resilience, complexity and post-liberalism. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12118

60-world2 United Nations 2004 Living with Risk: A Global Review of Disaster Reduction Initiatives, UN Publications, New York.

60-world2 United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction 2013 Making cities resilient

60-world2 Walsh B 2013 Adapt or Die: Why the environmental buzzword of 2013 will be resilience. Time: Science and Space 8 January.

60-world2 World Bank 2013 Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience

 

Arguing against gender blindness in landscape investments

By Martina Angela Caretta, Stockholm University

Sibou woman spreading irrigation water. Image Credit: The author

Sibou woman spreading irrigation water. Image Credit: The author

2014 is the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ year of family farming. Moreover, the African Union designated 2014 the year of agriculture and food security. Family farming, and hence food security, in Africa would not be possible without the contribution of women, who make up for circa 50% of small holder farmers. The majority of agricultural production in Africa is in fact in the hands of smallholders. Nevertheless, women´s role in agricultural production is still somehow not at the forefront of the debate on food security, as it should be. Against this background, comes the timely call from UN Women’s executive director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, for the Guardian newspaper to give women the opportunity to turn their small farms in sustainable and profitable businesses.

This aim is hardly attainable given the unequal share of natural resources among genders existing in numerous small holder farming societies. This condition mirrors women who have limited access to land and water, leading to definitions of hydropatriarchy: a masculine system of water control and management (Zwarteveen 2008, 127).

The study of irrigation systems is particularly important in the context of small holder irrigation farming in Africa, where the highest population growth is expected. Accordingly FAO, World Bank and IFPRI (2010) point to the need of improving knowledge about and extending irrigation systems in this continent to bring about food security. Hence, my article focuses on two small holder irrigation systems in East Africa: Engaruka, Tanzania and Sibou, Kenya.

Irrigation systems can be seen as long term landscape investments that enhance productivity beyond the current season and have thus been defined academically as landesque capital (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987; Håkansson and Widgren 2014). Again, in most academic publication, it has been argued that irrigation systems are the results of the systematic work of the men.

In my article I challenge this assumption by analyzing the crucial role played by women in assisting men in the building and maintenance of irrigation channels. Moreover, women are responsible for sowing, weeding, and harvesting which is also a landscape investment. In fact, however invisible, recursive and difficult to measure, these activities are fundamental in maintaining, and potentially creating, soil fertility, which Blaikie and Brookfield (1987) had also categorized as landesque capital.

If academia is not ready to question its own masculine mantra in the production of agricultural landscape, it is unlikely to envision gender-inclusive agricultural policies where women are truly taken into account as stakeholders in the management and control of irrigation. UN and African Union initiatives to bring the spotlight on African farming will thus be meaningless.

About the Author: Martina Angela Caretta is a PhD candidate within the Department of Human Geography at Stockholm University.

 Caretta, M. A. (2014), Hydropatriarchies and landesque capital: a local gender contract analysis of two smallholder irrigation systems in East Africa. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12102

 Blaikie P M and Brookfield H C 1987 Land degradation and society Routledge, London

 Håkansson NT and Widgren M eds 2014 Landesque capital: the historical ecology of enduring landscape modifications Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek CA

60-world2 IFPRI 2010 Discussion Paper 00993 What Is the Irrigation Potential for Africa? A Combined Biophysical and Socioeconomic Approach

60-world2 Zwarteveen M 2008 Men, masculinities and water powers in irrigation Water Alternatives 1 111–30

60-world2 Salami M 2014 Africa in 50 years: what African women want for the future of their continent The Guardian