School of Geography, Geology and the Environment

2019 news

2 November 2019

Climate Change and the City

As part of the ESRC Social Science Festival, “Climate Change and the City” looked at the challenges posed to Cities and Citizens around consumption, production and the future of education.

On 2 November 2019 a guided walk was organised through the Attenborough Arboretum in Leicester with Dr Richard Gornall and was followed by a presentation at the Exchange by Professor Mark Williams and Emeritus Professor David Siveter where they discussed the impact of climate change on the biosphere.

22 October 2019

Anthropocene Square Metre featured at Design Season 2

As part of the Leicester Design Season, The Anthropocene Research Group with Claire Driscoll presented the Anthropocene Square Metre at the LCB Depot.

12 September 2019

Group members presented ideas in Ho Chi Minh

How is the natural world changing as a result of human intervention? How does constant economic growth, changing market forces, ever-expanding construction and the algorithm-driven trade of today influence the fundamental underpinning of our planet, and in-turn influence the nature of geological strata forming on Earth? Have we reached a point of no-return in terms of emissions of CO2 and other pollutants – or can we engineer a ‘soft landing’ for the dramatic current trajectory of the Earth’s Systems? Which political infrastructures and processes can be put in place to decrease our collective impact on the environment?

The Anthropocene, a term created by Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen, describes the period of time during which human actions have had a drastic effect on the Earth and its ecosystem, on climate and on the very evolution of the geological strata. We are no longer living in the Holocene – that time of relative stability following the last glaciation during which human civilization was able to develop. As the noted philosopher Bruno Latour has said, ‘in the Antropocene the Earth is becoming sensitive to our actions and we humans are becoming, to some extent, geology’.

While researchers in the Anthropocene working group are still working to characterize and define the Anthropocene, they have demonstrated clear and fundamental human-driven changes to the Earth System, including the perturbation of the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, to the landscape, and to the biosphere, with long-term geological consequences.

Exploring the Anthropocene phenomenon is a matter not just for science. Participation by economics, the social sciences and humanities is critical not only to analyse the causes of changes – that strongly reflect evolving socioeconomic patterns – but also to take meaningful actions to mitigate harmful trends. As the Anthropocene state of the planet intensifies, sparking wider political issues, public debate is ever more crucial.

In this event we presented research on the Anthropocene, actions inspired by slow design that have been adopted in Vietnam, and if fintech could be a solution to climate change problems.

10 September 2019

Slow Design in the time of the Anthropocene

Current models of production, distribution and consumption have stimulated a culture of overconsumption. This is not sustainable and it has caused climate change, biodiversity loss, natural resources degradation, ethical issues, poverty, waste, excessive and inefficient energy use and increased the vulnerability of many developing world communities in which the globalised products are manufactured. Change is being forced upon us.

In this Old Compass talk, Professor Mark Williams and Dr Marta Gasparin discussed the impact of business on the Anthropocene - our age of unprecedented and dominant human impact on the functioning of the planet. They also proposed solutions to the challenge: Slow, design-driven innovation.

Slow design aims at reducing the exploitation of natural and human resources, celebrating their value and increasing the lifespans of products based on quality and local traditions, as well as connecting products with producers and end-users.

This project aims at developing globalised business models for organisations for practical use. Examples from UK, Italy and Vietnam were presented and discussed.

22 August 2019

Humans versus Earth: the quest to define the Anthropocene

Read the Nature news article Humans versus Earth: the quest to define the Anthropocene featuring Professor Jan Zalasiewicz.

24 July 2019

The broiler chicken as a signal of a human reconfigured biosphere

We live in a time of unprecedented loss in wild species populations and high rates of extinction. This paper identifies broiler (meat) chickens as a symbolic species of how humans have changed the Earth's biosphere to suit our consumption habits. With a population of over 23 billion alive at any one time, broiler chickens outrank wild bird species populations by an order of magnitude. The size and shape of the broiler skeleton, bone chemistry and genetics are distinct from their early domesticated and wild ancestors. Broiler chickens have great potential to be preserved in rock strata as an index species of the Anthropocene.

23 July 2019

Academics celebrate winning Prospect Think Tank Award

Davor Vidas, Honorary Visiting Professor from the Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI), Norway, along with contributions from University of Leicester and Anthropocene Working Group colleagues; Professor Jan Zalasiewicz, Professor Mark Williams and Dr Colin Waters are celebrating winning the 2019 Prospect Think Tank Award for Europe in the category of Science, Health, Energy and Environment.

This year's award is the third in a row for FNI as the Think Tank of the year in this competition - but the first time in a broadened category of not only 'Energy and Environment', but now also 'Science and Health".

The FNI was praised for its interdisciplinarity and research on the Anthropocene, as well as related to the Law of the Sea. Joint efforts and cooperation within the research project supported by the Research Council of Norway, in which the University of Leicester takes part, as well as within the Anthropocene Working Group are thought to have played an important role in the jury's verdict. This kind of interdisciplinary work is now being developed within the University of Leicester's Anthropocene Research Group.

24 June 2019

The world of business on an Anthropocene Earth

On the 3 - 5 June 2019, the University of Leicester hosted one of the world’s most renowned scholars, Professor Bruno Latour, in a three-day conversation on the Anthropocene, this event inaugurating the newly formed Anthropocene Research Group at Leicester.

The Anthropocene, a term and concept created by Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, describes the epoch of geological time during which human actions have had a dramatic effect on the Earth and its ecosystem, on climate and on the very evolution of the strata. While researchers in the international Anthropocene Working Group are still working to characterize and define the Anthropocene, this new Leicester-based group is working to address and seek alternatives to the impact that is being caused by human-driven activities – these are driving the Earth System to a new and different planetary state, through perturbation of the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, and landscape and biosphere changes, with long-term geological consequences.

As befits a highly interdisciplinary grouping, the Anthropocene Research Group had a diverse array of support: from the University of Leicester School of Business, the Leicester Institute for Advance Studies and the Economic and Social Research Council, while Vietnam Airlines sponsored the flight of 5 Early Career Researchers from Vietnam and South East Asia to attend the opening lecture.

The speakers on the opening day were challenged to address the following questions:

  • What does it mean to do business at the time of the Anthropocene?
  • Which business infrastructures and procedures can be put in place to decrease our collective impact on the environment?

Professor Latour’s presentation on the Anthropocene centred on the science and politics of the Earth. He drew a parallel between two periods in history in which the world was seen as moving: that associated with the profound (and then revolutionary, and highly controversial) discoveries of Galileo, and that associated with the more contemporary scientists James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, as they proposed their ‘Gaia’ hypothesis of an Earth sustained by life, and how that now links with the case being made for the Anthropocene as a new and unprecedented phase of our planet’s history.

Professor Latour’s talk received an elegantly supportive response from the Ambassador for Vietnam, also present, emphasizing the importance of intercultural and international relations in developing this new understanding.

That opening was followed by John Palmesino and Steve Brown how architecture and business schools respectively could and should adapt to the new conditions of the Anthropocene. Mark Williams then showed how the world is no longer dominated by natural ecosystems with humans living within these, but rather it is dominated by human systems, enclosing the modified remains of natural ecosystems. Chris Schinckus looked at how financial technology affected the Earth: no longer simply a function provided by financial institutions, the massive, energy-hungry computational power it needs, contributes to climate change. Marta Gasparin made the case for slowing down: Inspired by the slow food movement, slow design aims to use local sustainable materials within a local heritage, as an alternative to the fast-paced and destructive ways of most modern business. Daniel Neyland concluded these ‘provocations’ by reflecting on how business-focussed academics should aim to bring the Anthropocene into their research.

Science- and arts-based events followed. Jan Zalasiewicz launched a new book on the Anthropocene, a compilation of a decade’s international studies. At a reception (with Slow Pale Ale by Framework Brewery to help proceedings), two artworks were premiered: the Anthropocene Square Metre, a collaboration between Jan Zalasiewicz, the Vietnam-based designer Claire Driscoll, and the French artist Anne-Sophie Milon; and, a map with “100 names for the Anthropocene” by Anne-Sophie Milon and Clémence Hallé.

On the second day, participants clambered over the ancient rocks of Charnwood Forest and the urban geology of Nottingham, and saw the many-millions-strong specimen collections at the British Geological Survey. In the evening, came the British premiere of the major new film Anthropocene, the Human Epoch at the LCB depot, which sparked vivid discussion.

The third day of this “Anthropocene festival” explored the next steps forward in this research.

30 May 2019

The Anthropocene epoch: have we entered a new phase of planetary history?

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