Humans are part of nature, we live within nature. Living in a future world of 10 billion, how can experts from different disciplines come together and find solutions to the challenges we may face? As part of the 10 billion three-week course, Dr Tom Webb from the department of animal and plant science organised a panel debate. The debate brought together professor Philip Warren, PhD student Rebecca Senior, Dr Alastair Buckley from the Physics department and PhD student Veronica Fibisan from the School of English to talk with an audience about visions of nature in a world of 10 billion.
The debate started with Dr Alastair Buckley, who raised a question on whether nature is personal. “Are we allowed to have a different version of nature? Or, given that nature is global, should there be legal limits to what nature is?”
Professor Warren highlighted the potential challenges facing nature, “We have already got many problems. We have looked at the problem of climate change and discovered a lot of complex changes.” He said species are declining and we are losing lots of nature in of lots of areas. But, he pointed out that nature ‘is still recognisable’. Nature is not just a future problem; it is about what we do now to change the consequence in the future.
Miss Fibisan’s presentation on environmental literature broadened the discussion to a wider perspective. After completing her master’s degree, Miss Fibisan developed an interest in ecology. She started writing poetry about the British shoreline and took part in fieldwork with other marine scientists. “I do not have a formal training in science, but it is about raising awareness,” she said.
Miss Fibisan also brought out a new idea to conserve nature by combining poetry with science. For example, the air-cleaning poem called ‘In Praise of Air’ displayed on the University’s Alfred Denny Building is printed on a treated material to absorb nitrogen oxide, a formula invented at the University of Sheffield.
Miss Senior said we should not give up conserving our nature. Based on her research, the Amazon forest has been able recover due to government regulation. But, she says that it is difficult for people living in an urban area to experience different types of nature. “There is a problem here, even though we have tropical rainforests, the animals are there, but most people don’t experience it,” she said. There might be two possible ways of development. It is either a big urban area without nature or different small urban areas with more nature.
Professor Warren added that 80% of the UK population live in urban area. He said physical health and mental health is highly associated with nature and people should think more about how nature can fit into the urban spaces.
Dr Amanda Crawley Jackson brought up some examples of community projects that are focusing on urban farming and self-sustaining community spaces. Furnace Park in Doncaster is a pilot scheme to encourage urban farming through passing the skills from older generations to younger generations.
During the discussion, the audience asked about how the concept of nature can work with today’s capitalist world and more practical measurements to save our planet. Professor Warren said grassroots activities and individual initiatives were very important to alert politicians and the government. He encouraged local people to work together and continue their work.
After the discussion, a member of the audience, Miriam Dobson, a PhD student in animal and plant science said: “The communications between grassroots organisations, scientific academics and academics in the humanities and social sciences is important for providing accessible places for people in different parts of society to talk about things.” She really liked the interdisciplinary approach to this issue.
By Carman Leung – AML2: 10bn Student