Sunday, October 23, 2016

"Cous Cous the Elephant": An Intrepid Explorers Talk

I gave a rather irreverent (fun, joke-filled, completely informal) talk at King's College London last week about research methods and experiences for the Intrepid Explorers Seminar Series. Title and abstract are below.

"Cous Cous the Elephant: Espionage, Diplomacy, and Cultural (Mis)Understanding in the Middle East"
Becca is a doctoral researcher at King’s College London investigating environmental peacebuilding in the Middle East and North Africa. She partners with local activists in the region to explore how nature can be used to bring conflicting communities together. Over the course of her research, she has spent a year in countries like Morocco, Lebanon, and Kuwait engaging with fog-harvesting, conservation scuba diving, and war journalism. This talk will reflect on how the presence of a researcher creates moments of cultural learning, miscommunication, and change for everyone involved in a project. Come along for stories of mistaken identities, farcical shop vendors, and lifelong friendships.

A number of folks asked if the talk might be recorded - so here's a quick, entirely home-shot/unedited version!

A disclaimer: I talk about my wonderful research partners in this presentation. I do so openly and informally - and very much as a reflection of my time and experiences with them, not as an authoritative statement from the organisations. It’s an uncensored look at my thinking and research logic - please take it in the spirit intended!

The photos don't come through all that well in the recording. The presentation can be downloaded from:

Enjoy if you like James Bond-puns and my rambling. ;) 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Home sweet Edinburgh

After far, far too long a time, I spent this weekend back in Edinburgh. Heather, one of my best mates from Law School days, flew in from Canada for a holiday. She stayed with me in London for a couple nights and then we trained up to Scotland Saturday morning. 

There really is nothing like the daily view of that beautiful hill with a castle on top...

Happily, a bunch of the 2016 Marshall Scholars independently decided to also head up for the weekend - so I got to push a bunch of new friends toward my favourite haunts! I say "push" because I didn't quite make it to everything with them...the aforementioned hill and its siblings are fabulous to look at but less delightful to climb on crutches. (Heather was not impressed with my timing on this injury, I can tell you.)

Saturday night we had a group dinner at The Elephant House - the birthplace of "Harry Potter" that also happens to have amazing salsa and hot chocolate. (Really, I was just eating my way through nostalgia...)

Sunday morning, I went to church...only to arrive just early enough to get roped into singing with the choir! Once more for kicks, I suppose. It was lovely to catch up with everyone. 

And now I'm back on the Tube headed home, ready for another "normal" week of baby duty, geography seminar, and giving a talk at King's. In between exhaustedly crashing in bed. Because as I said - hills on crutches are exhausting. ;) (Those of you following the progress of the foot - I am making definite progress and should be off crutches in 2-3 weeks.)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

COP22 - less than a month to go!

So what the heck is COP22, anyway? I'm headed back to Morocco in a few weeks to join research partner Dar Si Hmad in Marrakech for a giant climate change convention. Check out the blog post, copied below, about the UNFCCC to learn more about what's going on.

Today marks twenty-five days until the twenty-second session of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In other words: in just under a month, Morocco will be kicking off the world's biggest meeting about climate change!

The UN Climate Change Convention is an international plan for action against climate change. The treaty was launched at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. 196 countries have signed the agreement and pledged their support. Each year, representatives of these countries meet at a Conference of the Parties to review progress and decide on next steps. These annual meetings have been held since 1995, when the first Conference of the Parties was held in Berlin. Last December, COP21 was held in Paris.

November 7-18, the city of Marrakech will host foreign heads of state, international diplomats, scientists, lawyers, researchers, journalists, and activists for COP22. In addition to the legal and policy meetings, environmental groups and activists will gather to share ideas and programs that help combat climate change and its impacts.

Dar Si Hmad for Development, Culture and Education is proud to be taking part of COP22 as a civil society partner. We will have a booth in the Green Zone and will be presenting our award-winning fog-harvesting project at a sponsored side event on November 7.

As part of our lead-up to Marrakech, Dar Si Hmad will be running a social media campaign focusing on the Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs are a UN-led call to action for countries, corporations, groups, and individuals. The goals focus on ending poverty, protecting the planet, and creating peace and prosperity for everyone.


The goals are:
  1. No Poverty - End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  2. Zero Hunger - End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  3. Good Health and Well-Being - Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  4. Quality Education - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  5. Gender Equality - Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  6. Clean Water and Sanitation - Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  7. Affordable and Clean Energy - Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth - Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure - Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  10. Reduced Inequalities - Reduce income inequality within and among countries
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  12. Responsible Consumption and Production - Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  13. Climate Action - Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by regulating emissions and promoting develoments in renewable energy
  14. Life Below Water - Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  15. Life on Land - Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions - Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  17. Partnerships for the Goals - Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
While COP22 is generally focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, climate change affects all parts of life. Successfully working against negative environmental damage requires integrating action and tackling poverty, hunger, inequality, and injustice to ensure sustainability for humans and ecosystems.

The UNFCCC acknolwedges that certain areas are more vulnerable to climate change. This includes arid or semi-arid zones and developing countries with fragile mountainous ecosystems. Aït Baamrane, where Dar Si Hmad works, is one such place, subject to extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, desertification, and other negative environmental impacts. We are proud to be hosting COP22 in a country that knows the risks and problems of climate change, and we are proud to be actively working to ensure that our most vulnerable populations - rural communities, indigenous peoples, women, and children - do not face the costs of climate change alone. As we journey to Marrakech for COP22, we invite you to join us. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to learn more about the Sustainable Development Goals, COP22, and our work to combat climate change in Morocco and around the world.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Return of The Brilliant Club

What better way to spend a Sunday than in teacher training?!
A new university teaching term means another term working with The Brilliant Club delivering uni-style tutorials in schools. This term is especially fun: I'm working with Key Stage 2 students, i.e. ten-year-olds. 
The Brilliant Club has us create our own courses based on our PhD work for older students, but for younger ones, we work from a pre-designed curriculum we can adapt a bit to suit our interests and expertise. 
I get to have fun with "The Deep, Dark Woods", an exploration of nature and literature. We will be looking at excerpts from things like "The Gruffalo" and "Harry Potter". I'm quite tickled, all in all. 
Yesterday I also went along to an elective exploring a new course created by the Engineering Outreach programme at University College London. The course is "How Many Engineers Does It Take to Make an Ice Cream?" and examines the various processes in mass production. The final assignment requires students to design a new ice cream - and the winning flavour is going to be made by Unilever for their class to try! I'm not sure whether I'll deliver that course this term (though I may, as it looks like they're short a tutor), but it was fun and gave me some teaching ideas for the Bright Futures programme at Holt Hall either way. 
This will be my first term working long-haul in the classroom with students this young - usually with the kiddos I either am outside at a camp or do one-time events! It will be interesting to see how I fit into this new style. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Norwich Day

I said to heck with my broken foot today and had an expedition to Norwich. The primary purpose was meeting the new Water Security students - as a Visiting Fellow at UEA, I'll be doing a few seminars and supporting them in various projects. I went for a full day of meetings with the Holt Hall crew, though, and was happily able to gorge on various Norwich-based restaurants and goodies. 
Friends with cars are helpful things - I managed to get rides from and to the rail station from folks I was meeting with, making my total walking for the day perhaps less than if I'd stayed at home getting up and down the stairs for meals!
All in all, a very lovely day - though I am definitely exhausted.
Happy Wednesday to all!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Wooohoooooo, Dar Si Hmad!!!!

Absolutely thrilled, proud, excited for my Moroccan research partner:


Thirteen game-changing initiatives from around the world were announced today as winners of the UNFCCC’s Momentum for Change climate change award.
Winning activities include:
  • A Google-led project that could catalyse the rooftop solar market for millions of people across the United States
  • An ingenious net that harvests fog from the air to provide drinking water for people on the edge of Morocco’s Sahara Desert
  • North America’s first revenue-neutral tax that puts a price on carbon pollution
  • A project that has established the first women-specific standard to measure and monetize women’s empowerment benefits of climate action
Other winners include the EU’s largest crowdfunding platform for community solar projects and a project in Malaysia initiated by Ericsson that uses sensors to provide near real-time information to restore dwindling mangrove plantations.

Further winners are a company that provides solar systems to homes and businesses in rural Tanzania through an innovative financial package and a Swedish city that became the first in the world to issue green bonds, enabling it to borrow money for investments that benefit the environment.

The Momentum for Change initiative is spearheaded by the UN Climate Change secretariat to shine a light on some of the most innovative, scalable and replicable examples of what people are doing to address climate change. Today’s announcement is part of wider efforts to mobilize action and ambition as national governments work toward implementing the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

“The Momentum for Change Lighthouse Activities underline how climate action and sustainable development is building at all levels of society from country-wide initiatives to ones in communities, by companies and within cities world-wide,” UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said. “By showcasing these remarkable examples of creativity and transformational change, along with the extraordinary people behind them, we can inspire everyone to be an accelerator towards the kind of future we all want and need.”

Each of the 13 winning activities touches on one of Momentum for Change’s three focus areas: Women for Results, Financing for Climate Friendly Investment and ICT Solutions. All 13 will be showcased at a series of special events during the UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, Morocco (7 November to 18 November 2016).

The 2016 Lighthouse Activities were selected by an international advisory panel as part of the secretariat’s Momentum for Change initiative, which operates in partnership with the World Economic Forum Global Project on Climate Change and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative.

Read more:

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Encounter with the NHS

I have had my first personal run-in with the British A&E - Accident & Emergency, the UK's ER.

Friday night, I somehow managed to slip down the stairs coming down from the loft to put Iorwerth to bed. I slammed my left foot so hard into the wall that my little toe was cut nearly to the bone.

Blood, a very alert five-year-old, and a bit of concerned investigation later, Eamonn drove me to Ealing Hospital to get it checked out.

The nurse practitioner took one look at my toe, cocked his head to one side, and said "huh. What are we gonna do with that?"

Not the easiest of locations to patch up - there's no real way to get in their for stitches, it's a place that is constantly pulled on whenever walking happens, etc.

In the end I got glued and steri-stripped up and told to keep the bandages present and dry for five days.

So, here's me on a weekend confined to bed with my foot up catching up on lots of rest and writing.

We aren't sure whether the toe is also broken - from the swelling and external bruising, it seems quite possible something is also wrong internally. But again, there's really nothing they can do except bandage and keep off it, so we didn't even bother with an x-ray.

In positive news, I was in and out of the hospital in just an hour on a Friday night, and the process was friendly and easy. Go, NHS!