The New-Look Britain in Photographs

I like any opportunity to learn more and gain better knowledge about the world. But sometimes you’re just too tired to read an article or book, to watch a documentary, film or TV programme. That’s why photographs with their visual beauty and short written explanations are a quick way to pick up some knowledge. Often at the Southbank Centre in London you can catch a free photography exhibition or likewise for a fee you can catch a more thorough exhibition such as that at the Hayward Gallery later this month. Some of Andreas Gursky’s photographs that you’ll see at the Hayward Gallery are shown below:

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Not only can you enjoy the art but you will consider political, social, economic and environmental issues. Simon Roberts, a landscape photographer and official general election artist, has a wonderful series of photographs which show you what he calls a ‘new-look’ Britain. You can learn about local celebrations and festivals which you’d probably never know about unless you lived in that town or village, as well as how Britain’s landscape is often shown in a particular light which only tells part of the story.

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And if the social, political, economic and environmental ideas don’t spring forth then at least you can learn how to take a better photograph!

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Some good news about the environment!

It often feels like a lot of what we read about the environment is bad news: pollution, climate change, loss of habitats, deforestation…

Well today there is finally some good news: 2017 was the ‘greenest year’ on record for Britain with numerous renewable energy records being broken and wind power being a leading energy source. “Breaking short-term output records on top of monthly and annual figures clearly shows that wind is now a major part of the UK electricity mix, and will continue to be in the future,” said Dr Jonathan Marshall, energy analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit. He continued to explain how Britain has some of the windiest regions in Europe and should lead the continent in this renewable energy.

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Something which has added costs to harnessing wind powers has been the infrastructure to transport energy from the windier parts of Britain which often have low populations and small demand to the areas where electricity are needed. Dr Marshall sounded optimistic when he said, “The opening of new infrastructure to transport power south from the windy hills of Scotland is ramping up – and will help to reduce the whole system cost of wind – while technologies to manage variable output are rapidly becoming cheaper.’

Christians are joining this crusade for more renewable energy, over 3,000 churches in Britain have made the switch from fossil fuel to renewable energy sources, and Pope Francis (leader of Catholics) has called for a committed fight against global warming to protect “our common home“. There is something called Creationtide which is a month long period of focus to bring Christians together to pray and work for the protection of the environment that sustains everyone.

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Good news for once!

Coal Industry Silently Killing People in Bosnia

There are severe levels of pollution in Bosnia because they’ve switched back to coal in their power plants rather than importing more expensive oil from Russia. A 2 minute video from the BBC explains the danger to life due to this decision.

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It’s a shame when Bosnia is such a beautiful country. We briefly discuss Bosnia in our lessons when we consider all of the conflicts in the last one hundred years. It’s incredible that some students have never heard of Yugoslavia or the conflict from 1992-95.

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73 millions trees being planted – a huge reforestation project in Brazil

A multi-million-dollar initiative which is led by a US-based NGO (non-governmental organisation), is being described as “the largest tropical reforestation project in history.” Over the next six years, it will aim to replant 70,000 acres (that’s about 35,000 football pitches) of land that has been turned into animal pastures.  We all know why this is necessary. Around 20% of the Brazilian Amazon (the world’s largest rainforest) has been destroyed since 1970, mostly owing to cattle farming. The rate of destruction has been slowing gradually since 2004 but scientists fear that a further 20% of the Amazon rainforest will be destroyed in the next two decades. So this reforestation is a great way not only for Brazil to keep the promises it made at the Paris Agreement, but also to help the world keep to the 1.2-2 degrees centigrade of warming permitted in the Agreement.

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Build a Wind Farm the size of India in the Atlantic and there’ll be enough energy for the world

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This is the startling proposal of two scientists from the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University, California.  The two doctors Anna Possner and Ken Caldeira conclude: “On an annual mean basis, the wind power available in the North Atlantic could be sufficient to power the world.” They pointed out that wind speeds are on average 70 per cent higher over the Earth’s oceans than over the land. There is a lot more Maths involved than this though, as every time you add a turbine to a wind farm then it puts a cap on the amount of energy from available moving air that can be converted to electricity. The North Atlantic doesn’t show the same effects from this as a lot of energy comes from up high as much as across the ocean.

“We found that giant ocean-based wind farms are able to tap into the energy of the winds throughout much of the atmosphere whereas wind farms onshore remain constrained by the near-surface wind resources,” said Dr Possner.

Reggie Yates spends a week in the most polluted place on the planet

This is where technology goes to die. On BBC Three you can currently watch a documentary where Reggie Yates heads to Ghana in Africa to live on one of the largest electronic waste dumps in the world – Accra’s Agbogbloshie. It is a 53 minute eye opener to life trying to make ends meet, in a place which is killing you from its pollution. 80,000 people live there and most die in their 20s.

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Reggie works with a group of ‘burner boys’, the people grafting at what is considered to be the bottom of the ladder, He discovers first-hand what life is like for the people who just about make a living on the site. The dumping of electronic waste is illegal, and the chemicals in the soil in Agbogbloshie mean it has been described as ‘the most toxic place on earth’.

Since so much of the electronic waste which ends up in Accra’s Agbogbloshie comes from the UK – shouldn’t we take the blame for all these early deaths?

Earth Summits

Often what we learn in Religious Studies interweaves with other school subjects.  For me that’s the best bit about Religious Studies: you can be considering evil and suffering and link it to the Holocaust which you’ve just been learning about in history, or you question how the world was created and remember about science and geography knowledge about rock formations and tectonic plates to support your arguments.

In the old AQA GCSE we have the topic of Planet Earth which is hugely influenced by science and geography learning. We have to know how the international community tries to deal with climate change and other environmental concerns. So we start with Rio…

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At the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 countries of the world met to discuss how we could promote sustainable development, that is develop our industry that doesn’t ruin the environment.

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An earth summit is a conference of 100 or more world leaders debating global environmental and development issues, and specifically refers to that first big summit which was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Since then though the term has also been applied to similar events…
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 We don’t need to know all of these but it is useful to see that every year or so world leaders have been meeting to discuss and agree on how we should treat the environment. Now in most teenagers’ memories there should be 2015. The year that Uptown Funk, Cheerleader and Take Me To Church dominate the airwaves, and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was all anybody wanted to see at the cinema. Well 2015 was also the year of the Paris World Climate Summit.
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Whereas the common folk love a selfie, the politicians just love an official line up at the start or end of big conferences. Here most of them were in 2015:
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A lot of people were really excited about the Paris World Climate Summit because it gave the world the chance to agree on how they would reduce climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The world had an agreement but it was running out in 2020 so time was of the essence to agree on something new. Discussions were heated but eventually the world’s countries came up with  a “historic, durable and ambitious” plan:
  • Developed and developing countries alike are required to limit their emissions to relatively safe levels, of 2C with an aspiration of 1.5C, with regular reviews to ensure these commitments can be increased in line with scientific advice.
  • Finance will be provided to poor nations to help them cut emissions and cope with the effects of extreme weather.
  • Countries affected by climate-related disasters will gain urgent aid.

So people start shouting,”Three cheers for the world”, “Hip hip hooray”, but you should rarely celebrate when world leaders keep on changing and the new man in town isn’t a huge believer in climate change.

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Already Trump has started to tear away pollution laws put in place by the previous US president, and the big fear is that President Trump will pull out of the Paris agreement.

If world politicians aren’t saving the planet, what might religious believers be doing? Perhaps they are donating money to or supporting groups such as the Christian Operation Noah, Christian Aid, and the Global Muslim Climate Network. Or they are out protesting, writing letter to MPs, joining pressure groups like Greenpeace, voting for the Green Party, recycling more, fitting solar panels to their houses, driving electric cars, walking and cycling more often, and praying.

Or maybe they think like President Trump and don’t see climate change as being real at all.