Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Are Gibson Guitars destroying the rainforest? (BBC News)

The dark side of TNCs is often well-known but it is often the global brand names like Nike and Addidas that come under scrutiny as opposed to music labels. However, this report raises some interesting questions and ethical issues about the products we buy and consume....

Iconic US guitar maker Gibson is facing a criminal probe over claims it broke environmental laws while importing wood. So is music the next threat to the world's forests?

"Up here you grow up liking Fenders or you grow up liking Gibsons," says Billy Jack, 55, sat in a Nashville music store eyeing up a trio of shiny new Gibson guitars.

Cradling a $3,800 (£2,413) Gibson Les Paul, Mr Jack, a veteran guitarist, recalls riffs gone by as he explains his fondness for one of rock's iconic instruments.

"You can hear it in your ear. It's how quickly you can run through your chops. It's the tone. You just can't go wrong."

But things have gone wrong. On 28 August federal agents raided Gibson's Nashville and Memphis premises, seizing shipments of Indian rosewood and leaving the venerable guitar maker more than a little off-key.
The agents brandished search warrants issued amid suspicions that Gibson had violated the terms of the Lacey Act, an environmental law that requires imports to the US to comply with laws in the country of origin as well.

To read more click here

Rosewood/ EbonyCentral and South America, central Africa and Asia
MahoganyCentral and South America (lesser mahogany types from Africa)
North America and Far East

Alternative Development Indicators: Mobile Phones

Once again an overlap with Economics - the two disciplines do go hand in hand (Econ obviously emerging out of Economic Geography into it's own distinctive discipline...) - as my A-level students were convinced that they had looked at mobile phone use, subscription and ownership as a key alternative development indicator (Mr Chong!), which would make sense as many of the world's poorest and vulnerable people do own pay as you go phones; especially in light of the micro credit schemes in India and the ability to transfer information/money via the web combined with old handsets flooding into Sub-Saharan Africa and SE Asia. So thanks to Simon A for the following posts - enjoy exploring - the International Human Development Indicators website ( is brilliant, especially the Data Explorer section (reminiscent of Hans Rosling's lectures on - click here and here).

Ok so here is the interesting stuff...enjoy:

Now time for a simple and quite up-to-date list of total number of mobile phones in use - can you guess which country is top?
This one per capita:

An in-depth study on mobile phones and development (a clear link to the Technological Fix) for A2 Edexcel is available here:

Other Links:

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Alternative Development Indicators: The Big Mac Index

So i was teaching my Upper Sixth today introducing the Development Gap and how development can be measured; specifically how PPP (purchasing power parity) is more robust than GDP/GNI.

The Economists in the room, of which there are many, started to pipe up about other comparative measures like the Big Mac Index - i had not heard of this, but low and behold here it is in all of it's glory:

Websites to explore in more depth:

Questions to consider and discuss:

1. Is there a 'best' measure of levels of development and development per se? If so, what is it and why? If not, what is a food combination?
2. How could the reliability of certain measures be improved?

Britain and the Big Freeze

A little bit of background to the headlines featured above and a link to an interesting blog - i will let you all decide about how reliable you think it is.... thanks once again to Finch.

A great data visualisation website

A great visualisation website:

Facebook connections in a globally connected world

The price to fill up a Honda Civic

The true size of Africa

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Shipwrecks of Lagos and Shipbreakers of Chittagong on the Bay of Bengal

The consequences of our inter-connected and time-space compressed world are all too apparent in Chittagong on the Bay of Biscay in Bangladesh. The dependence upon containerisation has meant that ships have got bigger and bigger;the world's biggest ship, the Maersk Triple-E (, dwarfs the size of container ships 10years ago. The question is: where do all these ships go to die? Where does their life cycle come to an end? The answer, is in the hands of the LDC countries, where ship graveyards like in Chittagong, have emerged and informal sector jobs have been created in a region beset by extreme poverty and at continuous risk from climate change. 

As ever it is the world's most vulnerable and poorest who work to break these monolithic metal monsters apart, often with the most basic of tools. It is no surprise therefore, to learn that today 4 workers have died and 2 others are critically ill, after inhaling toxic gas ( In a cruel twist of fate it is the poor again who pick up the price tag and who bear the brunt of the environmental degradation on their landscape, while the core superpowers continue to thrive and grow. 

"We all know how ships are born, how majestic vessels are nudged into the ocean with a bottle of champagne. But few of us know how they die. And hundreds of ships meet their death every year. From five-star ocean liners, to grubby freighters, literally dumped with all their steel, their asbestos, their toxins on the beaches of some the poorest countries in the world, countries like Bangladesh."

Click here for the video news report:

Further links:

On a different tangent, it appears that ship wreck are causing a different type of environmental degradation in Lagos in Nigeria. It is interesting to see how the ships have acted as natural groynes causing a lack of sediment further down the coast.- see the report below: 

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Blood in the Mobile

We love our cell phones and the selection between different models has never been bigger. But the production of phones has a dark, bloody side.

The main part of minerals used to produce cell phones are coming from the mines in the Eastern DR Congo. The Western World is buying these so-called conflict minerals and thereby finances a civil war that, according to human rights organisations, has been the bloodiest conflict since World War II: During the last 15 years the conflict has cost the lives of more than 5 million people and 300.000 women have been raped. The war will continue as long as armed groups can finance their warfare by selling minerals.
If you ask the phone companies where their suppliers get minerals from, none of them can guarantee that they aren’t buying conflict minerals from the Congo.
The Documentary Blood in the Mobile shows the connection between our phones and the civil war in the Congo. Director Frank Poulsen travels to DR Congo to see the illegal mine industry with his own eyes. He gets access to Congo’s largest tin-mine, which is being controlled by different armed groups, and where children work for days in narrow mine tunnels to dig out the minerals that end up in our phones.

After visiting the mine Frank Poulsen struggles to get to talk to Nokia, the Worlds largest phone company. Frank Poulsen wants them to guarantee that they are not buying conflict minerals and thereby is financing the war in the Congo. Nokia cannot give him that guarantee.
Blood in Mobile is a film about our responsibility for the conflict in the Congo and about corporate social responsibility.
Further Links:

Thursday, 13 October 2011

A few websites that geographers should use more often....
One of the world's leading global insurers - link to the Swiss definition of what is a hazard in World at Risk.
A fantastic visual mapping treasure trove. In their own words: "We analyse over 500 global risks and issues to provide a comprehensive portfolio of indices, interactive maps, scorecards, briefings and in-depth reports."
The UN's dedicated Climate Change web page - very useful for up-to-date resources and news feeds.
A fascinating website by the UN which looks at regions and stories passed over by the main international news corporations.
A new home page favourite for me! Excellent for geopolitics, hazards and all types of geography at all scales.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Top Water Security link

Great link for anyone studying 'Water Security'- simply subscribe to it

The financial timebomb that nobody can defuse

A great article here that i picked up in The Week which discusses how the globalisation of financial markets and the subsequent dependence on super-computers and algorithms has blurred the boundaries to the point of no return.

     A spectre is haunting Europe: the spectre of capitalism. A vast and highly unstable mixture of debt — trillions of dollars of sovereign, corporate and private borrowing accumulated over decades — is strapped to the advanced Western economies like a suicide bomber’s gelignite vest. 
The task facing our politicians is somehow to defuse this bomb without inadvertently triggering the sequence of defaults and bankruptcies that would set it off. No wonder they walk around the problem scratching their heads, prodding it gingerly here and there. The horrible truth is dawning that the problem may well not be technically solvable. 
     For the first time in my life — I am 54 — I get the sense of what it must have been like to have lived in my grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ generation: in 1913, say, or 1937. One feels a great smash coming ever closer, almost in slow-motion, and yet there seems to be nothing that can be done to avoid it.
     How have we got ourselves into this mess? After all, we were supposed to be living in an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity.  Communism had collapsed and the threat of nuclear annihilation had receded. Immense advances in computer technology were creating whole new economies. Vast markets were opening up in the developing world. Above all, we were supposed to have learned enough about economics to have created the necessary institutions — the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the G20, the OECD — to ensure we never repeated the mistakes of the Thirties. 

Where did it all go wrong? To read more click the link here

Robert Harris’s new novel, The Fear Index. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Geology will survive creationist undermining

Another thought provoking article from the New Scientist again! Geology this time, and it's fight to maintain it's academic rigor and integrity in the light of recent infiltration by creationist geologists! Some interesting thoughts put forward as to what science is and should be as well as how a discipline should be defined.

See a summary of the article below:

Creationist infiltration of scientific conferences seems outrageous, but banning them would do more harm than good
WHAT should a scientific society do when creationists want to participate in its conferences? This question faces many scientific organisations in the US. At meetings of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in 2009 and 2010, young-Earth creationists, who think Noah's flood was a historical event and the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, presented posters, gave talks and led field trips.
I attended a number of these events, and I can attest that the creationists were careful to give mainstream presentations using standard geologic methods. They referred to the geologic timeline of millions and billions of years. Nowhere did the words "Noah's flood" appear. Nothing in their presentations revealed that they thought the Grand Canyon's upper rocks were deposited in a year and that dinosaurs and humans once lived together.
It's not surprising that they were able to do so: the presenters had received decent geology educations from legitimate institutions. Geologically, they could talk the talk and walk the walk. But why? What is the point of giving a talk on marine strata in the late Cretaceous, as Marcus Ross of Liberty University, a Christian college in Lynchburg, Virginia, did, when you actually think the Earth is only a few thousand years old?
The point is to be able to claim legitimacy. Creationists have used their participation in conferences to argue that their ideas are taken seriously by real scientists.After the 2010 meeting, a press release from the fundamentalist Cedarville University in Ohio crowed: "Cedarville leaders talked about alternative views for how the rocks formed, emphasizing short time spans and catastrophic formation... rather than slow formation over millions of years."
Geologists are understandably fuming.Scientific conferences, they said, have no obligation to include non-scientific ideas; astronomy conferences do not welcome astrology talks, so why does the GSA tolerate young-Earth creationists who reject the foundational principles of geology? Some cited the GSA's position statement: "Creationism is not science because it invokes supernatural phenomena that cannot be tested."
My view, though, is that a blanket ban on presentations by creationists would be a mistake as it would hand them a PR coup.
Science is a process. The methods of science are much more important than any particular result. Indeed, the self-correcting process of science has on rare occasions resulted in big shifts in thinking. Within living memory, geologists dismissed the idea that the crust of the planet could move as crazy. Now we know that plate tectonics has radically reshaped our planet.
As long as research conforms to the standards of the discipline, and involves real data collected by standard methods, then it merits more than summary rejection. I am not suggesting that the ideas of young-Earth creationism will ever be accepted by mainstream geology. But if scientific societies impose bans, then the creationists win an important victory: they will be able to make a plausible claim of censorship and discrimination.
While the exclusion of creationists can pose problems, their inclusion at conferences does little harm. The reputations of scientific organisations are largely unaffected, as few people even notice. Creationists will use their participation to claim acceptance, but most scientists understand that a 15-minute talk or a poster presentation does not carry the same weight as a paper in Nature or Science. A few posters hardly challenge an entire scientific discipline. It is important for scientists not to overreact and to remember that science is far stronger than any creationist attempts to undermine it.

Climatequake: Will global warming rock the planet?

A great article - plenty of food for thought. Thanks to Andrew Finch for this link and in his own words this is why it is useful:

"It particularly interests me because given in last year's syllabus we had a look at how global warming increases/decreases specifically hydro-met hazards rather than the possible effects on geophysical hazards. It's just an effect of climate change that you might have considered, interesting reading."


FEW things are more likely to prompt instant ridicule from climate sceptics than the idea that there might be a link between global warming and geological disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. "Earthquakes are caused by tectonic plate movements - they are not caused by Bubba driving his SUV down the highway," is typical of the responsesfound in the denialist blogosphere.
Yes, the Earth moves all by itself, but it is becoming increasingly clear that climate plays a role in when and how often. What happens on the surface can suppress quakes and eruptions - and trigger them. There are already signs of such effects in the world's northern regions, which are warming fastest.
So seriously is the issue being taken that an upcoming special report on extreme events and disasters related to climate change, commissioned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, will include a section on it. So what exactly is going on and what can we expect during the next century and beyond?
The idea that climate change can affect events such as earthquakes is not as outlandish as it might first seem. While the power of earthquakes comes from the movements of tectonic plates deep beneath the surface, even these stupendously massive structures can be influenced by what is happening at the surface. The rapid erosion of huge quantities of material by the monsoon rains in India, for instance, has affected the motion of the Indian plate over the past few million years. On a more immediate timescale, there is already plenty of evidence that human activity can trigger earthquakes. The building of vast dams has often been linked to seismic activity, for instance. Some blame the Great Quake of Sichuan in 2008, which killed 80,000 people, on the recently constructed Zipingpu dam just 5 kilometres away from the epicentre. Mining and drilling activities can also trigger small earthquakes, and at least one geothermal project has been cancelled because of fears of further quakes. And if small geothermal projects can trigger quakes, it is not so surprising that altering the climate of the entire planet will have an effect too.
The crux of the problem is simple: anything that increases or decreases the load on the Earth's crust causes stresses and strains. When this happens slap bang on top of one of the world's many volcanoes or geological faults, where the crust is already under strain, it can make the area more or less likely to erupt or slip. And there is a very heavy substance whose movements depend largely on the weather and the climate: water.
During past ice ages, vast ice sheets several kilometres thick built up over northern Eurasia and north America. The weight of the ice pinned down faults and suppressed the flow of magma. When the ice melted, there was a flurry of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions as faults began to move again.
These ice sheets were so massive that sea level rose by 120 metres after they melted. However, even far smaller changes in the distribution of water are enough to trigger earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. A recent study of earthquakes on the Easter microplate in the Pacific, for example, found that a dip in local sea levels of only 20 centimetres due to changes in trade winds before an El Niño event raised the average number of monthly earthquakes from two to eight. When El Niño arrived, raising the local sea level by 50 centimetres, fewer earthquakes occurred (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, vol 368, p 2481).
And Mount Pavlof, an active volcano on the Alaska peninsula, erupts more often in the winter. This may be a result of sea levels rising by 30 centimetres in the winter due to local storms, says Steve McNutt of the Alaska Volcano Observatory in Fairbanks. This would squeeze magma upwards as the weight of the water on the seabed either side of the peninsula increases.

Case study: Alaska

While these two examples are seasonal and linked to the weather, in Alaska there are signs of climate-driven changes. "I think of Alaska as the 'canary in the cage' because it is very tectonically active, there are a lot of active faults, a lot of volcanoes and it's very high latitude and that is where the temperatures are rising most rapidly," says Bill McGuire, a volcanologist who heads the Benfield Hazard Centre at University College London.
On a global level, there has been no significant increase in either volcanic eruptions or earthquakes as a result of the warming over the past century. Certainly, no researcher is claiming there is any connection between climate change and major disasters such as the Japanese megaquake earlier this year.

There is, however, evidence that warming has triggered major landslides (see "Slip-sliding away"). And there has been very little warming so far compared with what is to come: McGuire thinks we will we see a clear effect on volcanoes and earthquakes when climate change really gets going. "Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions over a hundred years would cluster. You need a certain amount of strain to accumulate and climate change may bring forward the time that takes," he suggests. This will mean more earthquakes and eruptions in a given period, rather than more in total, he says.
The main reason is melting ice. There is far less ice now, of course, than at the end of the last ice age. But the planet is warming much faster, so sea level may rise as fast as it ever did before. While sea level rose just 0.17 metres over the 20th century, most glaciologists expect sea level to rise around a metre by the end of the 21st century. This would add an extra tonne per cubic metre to undersea and coastal faults.
The good news is that it will probably weigh down and stabilise faults beneath the sea floor. The bad news is that it will create extra stress at the coast. Here there will be a kind of see-saw effect as the seabed is pushed down. That could add enough stress to trigger a quake on faults that straddle the coast, or run parallel to them, such as the San Andreas fault in California, the North Anatolian fault in northern Turkey, and the Alpine fault in New Zealand.
The next hundred years of sea-level rise is only likely to trigger an earthquake on a fault system that is already very close to failure, says Karen Luttrell of the US Geological Survey in Menlo, California. Still, that could mean people suffering an earthquake that otherwise would not have happened in their lifetime.
Carolina Pagli of the University of Leeds, UK, and Freysteinn Sigmundsson of the University of Iceland in Reykjavik recently calculated that the thinning of the icecap is increasing magma production each year by 10 per cent (Geophysical Research Letters, vol 35, p L09304). Adding more magma to an existing chamber is likely to mean more frequent eruptions as the chamber fills and empties more quickly. "It is likely to cause an increase but it is not possible to tell when," Pagli is quick to point out. "We don't know how quickly the magma that is being produced moves to the surface," she says.

Concluding thoughts:

Overall, then, the evidence does point to a small but real increase in the likelihood of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides and tsunamis over the next century or so as a result of climate change. The effect is likely to be greatest in areas where few people live, minimising the threat to lives. Even those who live far from any volcanoes or quake zones, however, could feel the economic and practical consequences.
The eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland in April 2010 grounded flights across Europe for nearly a week, while an eruption at Chile's Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano in June this year had a similar effect across the Pacific in southern Australia. Neither eruption had anything to do with climate change, but it is the type of problem that we - or our children - are likely to see more of if McGuire's predictions about more frequent eruptions are borne out.
In a world that is going to suffer from ever more catastrophic floods and storms, killer heatwaves and devastating droughts, the risk of a few more earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, mostly in remote areas, might seem to be a relatively minor issue. That may well be true, but it is yet another item to add to the already long list of adverse consequences predicted or beginning to occur as a result of climate change. Events such as earthquakes also strike with little if any warning, so they can kill far more people than, say, hurricanes and floods.
What's more, geological events such as earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis have always been seen as completely beyond our control. Now it appears this is no longer entirely true - we have the power to prevent at least a few of them if we choose to.


  1. Waking the Giant: How a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes by Bill McGuire, OUP, out February 2012

The Tipping Point: an overview

Wake Up, Freak Out - then Get a Grip is a short, animated film about climate change by Leo Murray.

It is a very useful introduction to the often complex topic of climate change and the much debated tipping point. The video does represent one viewpoint but it is still useful and the following questions should be discussed after watching:

 - Do what extent has the tipping point been reached?
 - What evidence is there for human induced climate change (global warming)?
 - Is the tipping point a doomsday scenario or has it's potential impacts been sensationalised?

Click here

Monday, 10 October 2011

Tar sands, Obama, geoengineering and population growth

Bill McKibben on tar sands, Obama, geoengineering and population growth

The US environmentalist explains why he is now in a 'fight' with the oil industry over climate change

Please post you thoughts and comments below.

The little ice age explained? Solar forcing

An influence of solar irradiance variations on Earth’s surface climate has been suggested as the mechanism which causes (and has caused) climatic variability in the Northern Hemisphere, notably the recent spell of cold winters (and also could have accounted for the Little Ice Age.

See the BBC report below:

Recent cold winters that brought chaos to the UK and other places in northern Europe may have their roots in the Sun's varying ultraviolet emissions.

The latest satellite data shows the UV output is far more changeable than scientists had previously thought.
A UK scientific team now shows in Nature Geoscience journal how these changes lead to warmer winters in some places and colder winters in others.

The researchers emphasise there is no impact on global warming.

Other linked reports/blogs:

Sunday, 9 October 2011

A Slow-Motion Revolution That Is Changing the World - Energy and Geopolitics

Thanks must go to my colleague, Stu Turner, for sending me this link - i have managed to find both interviews with Daniel Yergin on Energy in the 21st Century.

Amidst the cries of a new energy paradigm for for the 21st Century towards based upon the 'limitless' flow of energy from renewables (, Yergin keeps a cool head and argues that real change in the energy field will be much more gradual, rooted in history.

The first interview focuses on (and i quote) "some of the core ideas in Yergin's book, those pertaining to the search for new ways to provide the energy the planet needs. In Part II (the second interview), the discussion turns to the geopolitics of energy in the century ahead."

PART 1 -

PART 2 -

Further reading:

An excellent ppt overview for all students, teachers and academics who have an interest in Energy Security.

Going down the plughole - global water use

An interesting article in the Times' Eureka magazine which focused on water use and water footprint including virtual water. Useful for those interested in how water is a root cause of many of today's conflicts.

See image below:

Questions to consider:
  • Examine the factors which can create water stress in some parts of the world.
  • Explain why there is so much uncertainty about water future demand and supply.
  • Evaluate that view that reducing water demand is better than trying to increase water supply.

Further links:

Cartography for all: Google Earth - One World, Many Stories Project.

Since it's creation Google Earth has made GIS popular and has been a timely boost for rebranding Cartography. People no longer view the world in one dimension and maps have now become more representative of the world we live in. Google Earth enables users to explore the world and contextualise our surroundings, helping to put back the local and global back in Geography.

The news that Google Earth has reached 1 billion users is celebrated by the 'one world many stories' project:

McClendon, now VP of Engineering at Google, looks forward to seeing what the next billion downloads brings. He sees geospatial technology as "not just a tool for those in cartography. It's now a part of our culture to engage deeply with the world around us in a multitude of ways. Using Google Earth and Google Maps is a way to contextualize our surroundings and create a richer view of our place in the world."

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The rise of the BRICS

An interesting visual representation of a complex but hotly debated topic, especially in Superpowers.

Also, the University of Cambridge Judge Business School have two lectures on China and the rise of the BRICS - click the link below:

Questions to consider:

1. How could the growth of the BRICS threaten the existing status quo of superpower status i.e. the core - will the BRICS ever achieve superpower status? Discuss.
2. In what ways and by what means will the BRICS grow?
3. Outline the environmental, economic and social benefits and costs of the rise of the BRICS.
4. Which BRIC is the most important? Which one has all the power? (how would one define power in this context e.g. economic, political etc)
5. Will the growth of the BRICS, notably China, continue?

Further reading/viewing: