Recent speeches suggest there may be an appetite for closer relations, but it won't be easy. A Saudi and an Iranian explain.
'Shutterstock Relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran have rarely been worse, regarding the attacks on the oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman – for which both sides blame each other . Nevertheless, in the history of relations between the two countries, there have been regular shifts between tension and rapprochement – and things can change for the better once again. As an Iranian and a Saudi, working as research fellows for peace studies , we believe it is time that our two countries seek to manage the conflict, improve their dialogue and begin the peace building process. And we are hopeful that this could happen. But how? Peace cannot be achieved overnight; it requires a range of factors to strengthen diplomatic ties and decrease the level of enmity between the two states. First, we suggest both states’ politicians soften the language in their speeches, altering the hostile rhetoric to a more moderate one. This would open new paths towards a direct and constructive dialogue, reducing the tensions that are affecting the two countries, the region and, potentially, the world. Sabre-rattling Direct dialogue between the two regional actors could launch negotiations that may lead to more stability in the region. The existing regional turmoil has had a detrimental impact on relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran over Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen . The [Yemen war], which has caused a [dramatic humanitarian crisis], remains one of the main areas of conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but it also offers ground for talks between the two states. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran agree that the conflicts in Yemen and Syria can only be ended through the implementation of political, rather than military, solutions. If Saudi Arabia and Iran can take steps toward political compromises in Syria and Yemen, this subsequently will reflect positively on the trust building process. Finding a peaceful solution in the region requires Iran and Saudi to start talking positively. Shutterstock While Saudi Arabia relies on its strategic Western allies and its ever-increasing military expenditure, Iran, which has been isolated by the US , prefers a more regional approach. Indeed, Saudi Arabia may have to ignore US protests to sit down at the negotiating table with Iran. But the will for closer ties is, perhaps, there. Indeed, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, declared on March 13, 2018: We believe that security of our neighbours is our security and stability within our neighbourhood is our stability. I hope they [Saudi Arabia] have the same feeling and I hope that they come to talks with us for resolving these problems. There is no reason for hostility between Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, we tell the Saudis that you cannot provide security from outside of the region. Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, also recently stated in an interview that his country “does not want war with Iran, but will not tolerate what it considers hostile Iranian activity in the Middle East”. Suspicions clearly remain, but such pronouncements could be viewed as a pause in hostilities, a turning point that could bring both sides closer together to resolve tensions. There are also domestic reasons for a reduction in tensions, with both states building strategic plans for the future. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has embarked on an ambitious socioeconomic plan to diversify the country’s economy by curbing its historic dependency on oil and challenging conservative social constructs and norms by unshackling society from some past constraints. In a state where most of the population is under the age of 30, Vision 2030 serves as a mega project that will lead the country to modernise economically and socially. The same goes for Iran. The country has adopted a promising strategic plan called the 20-Year National Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran which has social, economic, and political objectives. But to be successfully implemented, both countries’ strategies will need stable societies and vibrant economies which cannot be attained in a hostile neighbourhood. Integration and cooperation will be essential. Diplomacy is the solution It is evident that Saudi Arabia and Iran will benefit more from direct dialogue than hostile rhetoric. Through discussing and working together on domestic, regional and international issues, it is in the interests of both states – and the wider region – to reduce conflict and increase cooperation through diplomatic ties. The gradual shift from hostile to inclusive rhetoric by politicians is a helpful first step, but it is also necessary for Saudi and Iran to take practical action in their bilateral relationship. It is expected for states to compete in their sphere of influence, but pragmatism must prevail if both countries want to put an end to their conflicts in the region. The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.'
Recent speeches suggest there may be an appetite for closer relations, but it won't be easy. A Saudi and an Iranian explain.
Johnson is the least popular among women MPs and Jeremy Hunt managed to get a vote from the European Research Group.
'It’s been a long time coming, but finally we have seen the first round of the Conservative Party’s leadership election. Boris Johnson leads the pack with 114 votes – 36.4% of Conservative MPs – with the next placed candidate, Jeremy Hunt, on 13%. Michael Gove and Dominic Raab come third and fourth respectively. Andrea Leadsom, Mark Harper, and Esther McVey were all eliminated after failing to get more than 5% of votes. There have been a number of different outlets predicting who is backing who, and although we can never be sure of how MPs will actually vote in the privacy of the polling booth, we can expect MPs to broadly act in line with their public declarations. I have taken the list of declarations of support published on the Guido Fawkes blog and used this information to map out what we can learn about the support base for each candidate, in social, geographic, political and ideological terms. (Note: this data was correct at the time of writing, around midday on June 13 2019 – Matthew Hancock has dropped out since then). Boris Johnson is not so popular among women The first variable I looked at is gender . Conservative MPs are overwhelmingly male (80% to 20% female), but some candidates are more popular with women MPs and some with men. Support split between men and women. Flourish , Author provided Of the remaining candidates, Stewart has the best gender split, with 38% of his support from women MPs. Interestingly, Dominic Raab – who recently declared he was not a feminist, albeit like the majority of the UK – has the greatest proportion of female support of the leading four candidates – Johnson, Hunt, Gove and Raab. His supporters are 25% female and 75% male. Of the remaining big hitters, Johnson has the lowest proportion of female support, at just 13%. This is despite being backed by current defence secretary Penny Mordaunt and work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd. Gove is big in Scotland, Javid in the Midlands Conservative MPs are predominantly from the south of England (60% of Tory MPs represent this region), and it is from here that most candidates draw the bulk of their support . Regional variation. Flourish , Author provided Michael Gove and Sajid Javid stand out for having a lower proportion of their support coming from southern England. Gove is particularly strong in Scotland (although weak in Wales) and Javid draws on greater support from the Midlands (although he is weak in Scotland). Stewart’s appeal is limited to England – at least in terms of formal backings. Raab’s MP base is more Brexity than Johnson’s Where MPs stood on the EU referendum of 2016 provides a clear dividing line between candidates. Only Raab and Johnson draw a majority of declared support from MPs who supported Leave. Raab’s support is the most Leave-heavy – 83% of his support backed Leave in 2016, compared to 67% for Johnson. The Leave and Remain split. Flourish , Author provided Curiously, Gove – despite being a leading figure in the Vote Leave campaign – draws 64% of his support from Remain voters. This might be because of his enthusiastic support for Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, which has hurt him in the eyes of Leave supporting Conservative MPs. The ERG backs Raab The European Research Group, which represents the most eurosceptic Conservative MPs, has been a big player in Conservative Party politics recently, most famously in its abortive attempt to bring down May in a no-confidence vote in December 2018. Who gets the ERG vote? Flourish , Author provided Given that this group lobbies for the hardest form of Brexit, it’s interesting to look at which horse it’s backing. Raab leads the field, getting 67% of his supporters from the ERG. Johnson only gets 47% of his support from the group. Candidates associated with Remain all score poorly among ERG members, but while Stewart fails to win a single ERG MP, Hunt has two supporters. Gove’s supporters now prefer Johnson Finally, when you map the 2016 leadership election results onto the current crop of candidates, you can see how support has shifted around the house. Gove draws just 21% of his support now from the people who supported his leadership bid in 2016. The MPs who supported May in 2016 went overwhelmingly for Remain supporters and Cabinet members Javid, Hunt, Hancock (before he dropped out) and Stewart. Those who supported Leadsom have now gone to Raab and Johnson. Chart showing 2016 compared with 2019. Flourish , Author provided Interestingly, Gove is drawing a large proportion of his support from MPs who were not in the House Commons in 2016 – 30% – Stewart has 13%. This suggests something of a generational element to candidate dynamics. Even after the contest has been cut down to seven candidates, some of whom have low levels of declared support, analysis like this are always going to be messy. But we can see some key divides emerging. Perhaps not surprisingly, this is a Leave-Remain battle. Of the leading four candidates, Raab holds the outer Brexit flank, closely followed by Johnson – who, although also having largely eurosceptic support, also draws a greater absolute level of support from Remain MPs too. Worryingly for Hunt and Gove, they are both drawing on support from the Remain side of Conservative MPs. David Jeffery does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.'
Snubbed for a recent state dinner with Donal Trump, the home secretary walks a difficult line in a party struggling with the question of islamophobia.
'Sajid Javid, the son of Pakistani Muslim immigrants and currently the British home secretary, has positioned himself as the “change” candidate in his bid to become the next leader of the Conservative Party, and de facto prime minister. It’s been a complicated journey from a boy who faced racism and low expectations at school, to a city trader who made his fortune in banking, to fast rising star in the Conservative Party. Javid’s official campaign video shows him as a family man. It opens with the husband and father at home with his white British wife, their children and the family’s pet dog. They are a picture perfect portrait of multicultural Britain. It includes a visit to his childhood home in Bristol on what he described as one of Britain’s most dangerous streets , where he previously also that he could have had been drawn into a life of crime . Towards the end of the video, Javid is seen visiting his mother, who is dressed in traditional shalwar kameez, frying pakoras in the kitchen. She allows her son to taste one. Mum’s cooking is the best, he says appreciatively. A deeply personal snapshot of life as the son of immigrant parents, the video emphasises Javid’s non-traditional backstory for someone vying to lead the Conservative Party. It is undoubtedly a “change” not lost on the party membership. Indeed, a YouGov poll of 944 Tory members found that 55% said Javid did not look or sound like a typical Conservative . Given that Boris Johnson remains the bookies favourite to win by a long margin, it does seem the Conservative Party values familiarity. Johnson (Eton, Oxford, and Bullingdon ) won the highest number of votes in the first of ballot of MPs to select their new leader. He is also thought to be the firm favourite among party members, who decide on the final candidate. Javid dismisses Johnson as “yesterday’s news” but the gap between Johnson’s 114 votes, and the 43 received by his nearest rival Jeremy Hunt shows Johnson is very much today’s news. Javid received 23 votes, putting him in fifth position, so while he is not out of the race yet, he remains an outsider. Javid’s is a text-book example of the British Dream where hard work and application can elevate a boy once living above a shop in a rough neighbourhood into one of the highest offices in the land. Javid would argue that his story shows the power of the individual to rise above circumstances – his small-state, self-reliant philosophy is influenced by the Conservative prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who he heralds an inspiration and whose picture hangs in his office . Yet, in his leadership campaign speech he speaks frankly about the issues of racism he has faced throughout his life; from school and his teacher’s expectations about what boys like him should aspire to, his career in banking, and in politics. Islamophobia in the Conservative Party Javid has steered clear from about talking about Islamaphobia. Johnson, of course, was accused of Islamaphobia in 2018 after he made comments comparing Muslim women in burqas to [“letter boxes” and “bank robbers”]. Neither Javid nor Johnson has commented on the issue in the campaign thus far . When Javid was not invited to the state banquet held in honour of the US president Donald Trump, even though some more junior ministers were, it lead some to point the finger towards Islamophobia. Javid himself has only commented that he thought it was “odd” and that he did not like it. But others, including the former Conservative Party chair and the first Muslim to be appointed to a cabinet post, Sayeeda Warsi, were quite certain Javid’s background was the reason . Warsi has been vocal about Islamphobia in the Conservative Party as well as more widely, once claiming that Islamaphobia was socially acceptable and had “passed the dinner-table” test. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), an umbrella organisation purporting to represent Britain’s Muslims wrote to the prime minister expressing their concern that Javid’s snub showed that the state was willing to forgo the principals of fairness and equality for all. Javid has, in the past, opposed the MCB’s calls for an inquiry into Islamaphobia in the Conservative Party, dismissing their claims to represent British Muslims. Previously, Javid has insisted his party, by the very fact of entertaining him as the home secretary is not Islamophobic. Asked directly whether he thought his Muslim background influenced his omission from the invitation list to Trump’s state banquet, his reply was less than clear : “I am not saying that at all. I really don’t know”. Javid must be relieved he was not called a “stone cold loser” by the president of the United States, like his fellow son of an immigrant Pakistani Muslim bus driver, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. On the one hand, Javid appears to be playing up to his roots in both his video and launch speech. On the other, he has refused to engage with the elephant in the room, namely Islamaphobia in the Conservative Party, and, possibly the government pandering to Trumps’s racism at his expense. Maybe Javid is aware that playing on his immigrant Muslim credentials can only take him so far within the Conservative Party. And, it is Conservative MPs and the Party membership which hold his dream of becoming prime minister in their hands. Parveen Akhtar has previously received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council and the British Academy.'
Though they were against climate action, the neocons showed that diplomacy can successfully be ignored when facing a huge threat.
'Be under no illusion, the world is losing the fight against climate change. The amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere continues to increase , meaning humanity is forcing the Earth closer to cataclysmic alterations that will reshape the entire biosphere . But the UK could capitalise on the momentum gained through its recent net zero emissions pledge to take the lead and herald a shift towards serious global climate action. How? By copying a strategy followed by – of all people – the George W Bush-era neoconservatives. Hear me out. Those who disagree with my opening statement will of course point to the Paris Agreement: a global alliance that boasts 185 signatories fighting back against climate change . Yet Paris is a reflection of international law, which means it represents only the lowest common denominator that those negotiating parties could agree. For this reason the agreement is premised on state discretion, taking the form of “nationally determined contributions” where countries decide for themselves how much they will cut their emissions. The agreement does have positive attributes, and there is scope to argue that it is useful. But it is not able to compel states to hit the ambitious targets necessary to stave off the threat of more warming. Climate Tracker illustrates this by finding that five states are “critically insufficient” in their efforts to prevent more than a 1.5°C increase, and a further 19 states are at least “insufficient”. Beyond the Paris Agreement? Countries could instead deal with contentious international threats by stepping away from the usual processes of international law, and introducing frameworks that aim to uncompromisingly challenge the root of the menace. And there is some precedent. One example is the 2003 Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) – a set of principles designed predominantly by the US to curb the international transfer of materials related to nuclear weapons. Crucially the PSI was not negotiated. Instead states were invited to endorse a framework of principles that had already been created. The argument was that a typical treaty would be too slow, too cumbersome, and reflect the usual challenges of international law, ruling out any serious responses. The PSI was able to attract 11 countries at its inception, and currently 107 countries have endorsed its principles. Its success is measured by the fact it is still in operation today and is considered to have increased cooperation and indeed reduced the transfer of nuclear weapon material . Hardline neoconservative John Bolton, now president Trump’s national security adviser, helped set up the PSI in his then role as under-secretary of state for arms control. Christopher Halloran / shutterstock The context was of course 9/11, which drove the US and its allies to pursue aggressive international policy absent any meaningful reflection on what those policies would mean for the multilateral landscape. Among the neocons who partly ran Bush’s foreign policy, the prevailing mood was that extreme times call for extreme measures against a threat they could not easily grasp. Sound familiar? There is a certain irony in linking the PSI to climate change, as the same Bush administration was actively against a robust climate policy. Yet though it lacks in international diplomacy, the same strategy offers clear practical advantages. The PSI was only possible because the US was determined that the threat of nuclear weapons was so severe that it had to lead on a response. This is precisely the type of leadership that is lacking on climate change. A role for the UK? There have been some positives in 2018, and the UK has emerged as a potential climate leader . Following the paralysis of London by activist group Extinction Rebellion , the UK parliament took the unprecedented step of declaring a climate emergency, though what this means precisely remains unclear . Then there was the announcement of legislation to target net zero emissions by 2050 by the outgoing prime minister, Theresa May. Extinction Rebellion protest in London, April 2019. photopsist / shutterstock So how to capitalise on that momentum, and spread it worldwide? My suggestion is that the UK follow the precedent of the PSI and create a Climate Security Initiative (CSI). A CSI could encompass a set of bold principles to reduce emissions and champion green technology, going well beyond the Paris Agreement and propelling the UK into a leadership position that other like-minded states would be able to support. There already exist a number of states that could form an initial CSI group, all willing to commit to radical steps to fight climate change. Ireland, for instance, has also declared a climate emergency . New Zealand, too, has begun the legislative process to become carbon neutral by 2050 , while Finland has targeted 2035 . Of course the proliferation threat does differ from climate change. The latter is intrinsically linked to the global economy and the behaviour of billions of people. Decarbonising humanity will mean radical change on an unprecedented scale, spanning from the state to the individual. Yet we can choose to control this change through net zero aspirations, or we can have it forced on us through a radially altered climate not necessarily conducive to human existence. The benefit of a CSI approach is that not only can it be designed to meet the threat head on, something the Paris Agreement has failed to do, but also if led by the UK it will help to counteract the narrative that the developed world simply isn’t doing enough to combat its historic role in emissions creation. A CSI offers the UK a way to transfer its recent political declarations into tangible action, without being stifled by international law. If the UK really wants to “ lead the world to a cleaner, greener form of growth ” it has to look beyond the Paris Agreement, and beyond its own borders – something a Climate Security Initiative could achieve. This article is part of a wider research project currently being undertaken by the author. Ash Murphy has no other relevant affiliations or interests to declare.'
Mexico is a leader in climate change action in the developing world. But renewing its commitment to oil may stymie further progress.
'Shutterstock As if there was any doubt, the UN’s latest report on climate change makes clear this is one of the most pressing issues of our times. And as we witness Extinction Rebellion stirring the pot of protest in the UK, that movement is connected to the geopolitical experience of other countries in important ways. This is certainly the case where Mexico is concerned, a country that has been rightly held up as a major leader on climate change in the developing world , while putting the US government to shame over its own inaction. The Paris Agreement is a crucial UN-led international arrangement that intensifies global climate decarbonisation and adaptation measures, yet the Trump administration has indicated its intention to pull out . Mexico has taken direct inspiration from the UK’s Climate Change Act , which requires a 34% reduction in national greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 (measured at 1990 emissions levels). In early June the UK government pledged a new commitment of “net zero” by 2050 . Seeking to follow the UK, Mexico put its own equivalent General Law on Climate Change in place in 2012 with advice and support from British experts. The UK is now recognised as the pioneer of this type of framework approach to climate change in the developed world, with Mexico as the equivalent torchbearer in the developing world. Mexican politics But things are running far from smoothly in Mexico at present. The country’s recent election of “strongman” president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has significantly hampered the General Law’s implementation. Since taking office in December 2018, the leftist populist has swung his attention and sympathies towards Mexico’s powerful fossil fuel lobby, supported in turn by other powerful lobbies including cement and steel. Planning to restore the national oil company Pemex to its glory days after the previous administration opened it up to the private sector, Obrador said recently: “We are going to rescue this industry that is so important for the country’s development.” As one of the country’s biggest employers, this has gone down well with many Mexicans. But this also means the future stability of Mexico’s celebrated low-carbon transition has been cast into serious doubt. Admittedly, the General Law was rocked and buffeted by heavy political winds since its first inception under the presidency of Felipe Calderón . Calderón’s six-year term, which ended in November 2012, was far from smooth, given the damaging impact of economic recession and disquiet around his alleged suppression of the press . But the Calderón administration did succeed in elevating climate change to a position of serious importance on the Mexican policy agenda, bolstered by substantial support from the UK. Just as the General Law was bedding in, Calderón was replaced by President Enrique Peña Nieto . Beset by accusations of corruption , Nieto’s administration displayed scant regard for climate concerns, and was able to leverage one of the General Law’s great deficiencies to create a culture of climate inertia – a gaping chasm between the law itself and its implementation. In other words, the law was prescribed but the specific policies needed to achieve lower carbon emissions were not. Mexico’s national oil company Pemex is one of the country’s biggest employers. Shutterstock Enter the recently elected President Obrador, who is presently extending this troubling gap between law and action. The Mexican government has long had an I-say-you-do tendency that emanates from the presidential office downward – a tradition strengthened by this recent election. Mexican presidential administrations run for six-year terms (they are non-renewable), and the current president is only getting warmed up. Of course, in terms of broader UK/Mexico dynamics, things are far from perfect on the UK side. For starters, the UK government has now agreed to up its 2050 reduction target for emissions to net zero, but this could prove difficult to achieve in practice, and some pressure groups including Extinction Rebellion are pushing for* link * a net zero economy by 2025. Positive example Admittedly, Mexico’s General Law lacks stringent UK-style reduction targets altogether, instead rolling some soft aspirational targets into an annex to the legal text. But Mexico is a poorer developing country that is not historically responsible for emissions release to the same extent that the highly industrialised developed world is. And so, in spite of some flaws, the Mexican scheme does set a positive example to the wider world. A growing number of countries are taking inspiration from the serious commitment Mexico and the UK have made to climate issues by scrambling to put their own version of these climate change acts in place. Added to this, a few months before Obrador took office, in July 2018, an amendment beefed up the Mexican framework slightly to bring it into line with requirements under the international Paris Agreement. So there is still much to feel optimistic about. It is to be hoped that the Obrador administration recognises that valuing and acting on Mexico’s important, pioneering framework begins at home. This will allow the flow of international green finance to Mexico from the UK and other major state funders to continue. If not, the UK will be looking elsewhere for a developing nation to support it in its commitment to fighting climate change. Thomas L Muinzer received a Global Challenges Research Fund mobility award in order to conduct research in Mexico.'
Totnes shows how a small, rural town can build community resilience at a time when local budgets are under strain.
'KathrynW1/Flickr. , CC BY-ND Walking down the high street of a place described as one of the UK’s most ethical towns , the first thing you notice is the absence of national chain stores and fast food outlets. Instead, you find a diverse mix of independent shops selling organic food, clothes, art, antiques and furniture, as well as cafes and restaurants and an abundance of charity shops. This is Totnes – a small, historic market town in the south-east of England that has garnered a reputation as a thriving hub for art, music, theatre and alternative lifestyles. Noticeboards around the town advertise everything from yoga lessons to Zen meditation, together with posters for various events – including the next Extinction Rebellion non-violent direct action training session. In many shop windows today, there are stickers which read “Totnes pound accepted here”. Sadly, after 12 years of operation, the Totnes pound will come to an end on June 30, 2019. This highly symbolic initiative inspired other local currencies including the Bristol pound and the Brixton pound , which encourage people to spend locally and keep money in the community. The Totnes pound. Totnes Pound. But the gradual shift to a cashless society and a lack of uptake by local government agencies have ultimately led to the Totnes pound’s demise. Rob Hopkins – co-founder of community-led charity Transition Town Totnes and initiator of the local currency – thinks the Totnes pound has helped to build a sense of community and strengthened the town’s identity, with the £21 note reflecting the local sense of humour. The impact of austerity The Totnes pound is just one example of the kind of outside the box thinking that has kept this local community resilient in the face of austerity. Since 2010, the pressure on local authority budgets across England has been intense, with a 50% decline in central funding support. The result has been cuts to public services and less money circulating in local economies. In Totnes – as elsewhere – there are visible signs of these trends, with the closure of local bank branches and “to let” signs on vacant shops. According to Francis Northrop, former manager of Transition Town Totnes, smaller rural communities like Totnes face difficulties because they lack the economies of scale which make cheap goods and services more accessible in big cities. Read more: Retail decline, in maps: England and Wales lose 43m square metres of shop space Totnes has responded by developing a new ethical economy that puts community values at the core. The closure of the Dairy Crest factory in 2000 convinced many locals that the answer was not to wait for inward investment from big businesses outside of the town. Instead, the focus is on internal investment: harnessing community wealth to address community needs. But unlike anti-austerity efforts seen in larger cities – such as Preston – a small town like Totnes cannot rely on anchor institutions including local government, universities or hospitals, to redirect their spending into the local economy. Indeed, one such institution – Dartington College of Art – relocated to Falmouth in 2010 with the loss of an estimated £6m a year in local spending from 900 students and staff. Instead, Totnes has had to show it’s possible for small towns to withstand such losses, by drawing from a toolbox of different methods to build community wealth. A new ethical economy The response has grown from more than a decade of community trust building, since the launch of Transition Town Totnes in 2006. Initially set up to promote local resilience in the face of climate change and peak oil, Transition Town Totnes now coordinates an extensive range of local projects, and forms part of a global Transition network , with initiatives from around the world sharing knowledge and ideas. Some of these projects focus directly on combating the effects of austerity. For example, Caring Town Totnes is a collaboration of around 80 organisations seeking to counter the impact of budget cuts on local health and social services. Totnes High Street is busy throughout most of the day. Brendan F.D. Barrett. , Author provided Current Transition Town Totnes manager Jenny Gellatly is also working with the Common Cause Foundation to explore how it may be possible to place compassionate values at the heart of the future transformation of the town. During a recent visit for my research, she explained to me how initiatives like these promote caring for neighbours, friends and family, to help ensure that the most vulnerable people in the community get the support they need. Other projects focus on building up the local economy and making it more self-sufficient. An important breakthrough came with the launch of the Reconomy Center , to support new enterprises and promote local investment. The centre hosts an annual Local Entrepreneur Forum to crowdfund low carbon, ethical and sustainable business projects. A number of organisations also came together to produce a Local Economic Blueprint , which highlights the economic benefits for small independent businesses in Totnes of sourcing goods and services from other local businesses and suppliers, to ensure more money circulates in the economy. The next critical step was the launch of the Totnes Community Development Society – a not-for-profit that raises funds and implements local development projects. It’s currently implementing the Atmos Totnes project, to transform the disused Dairy Crest site into a school for food entrepreneurs and a business incubator, with affordable housing. In the face of severe challenges, Totnes has shown how a community can mobilise to achieve a more ethical and resilient local economy. It will be fascinating to observe how the town changes in the years ahead, and to see what the next initiative will be, to replace the Totnes pound. Brendan Barrett does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.'
Korean language speakers should take pride in Konglish – it's another wonderful example of linguistic diversity
Konglish is widely spoken in Korea but rather than celebrating it as one of a variety of Englishes used around the world, speakers are often frowned upon.
'Juggling Korean, English – and Konglish. Stockphotomania/Shutterstock Konglish is the term used to describe the variety of English unique to Korea. It is just one of many varieties of the English language that exists far beyond the borders of so-called “inner circle” Englishes – those spoken in countries such as Britain and the US, for example. As such, Konglish is sometimes met with hostility – even by Koreans themselves – and some regard it as synonymous with errors and failed attempts to learn “proper” English. Examples of additional Englishes beyond the inner circle can be found in India , Ghana and Singapore. Largely on the basis that Konglish does not match up with the grammar and vocabulary that characterises the standard variety of inner circle English, it is hugely frowned upon by some. But why should it be? Difference does not mean errors, as once a variety of language has taken hold within a society, then it has – for all intents and purposes – become legitimate. Even within the inner circle of British English, some Britons still roll their eyes at so-called Americanisms, such as “have you been menued yet?” (for the uninitiated, to be given your menu). Call it what you like, but it’s just a different way of using the same language. But if we assert that all varieties of a language must conform to a singular model, then it is easy to indeed label those that don’t as somehow incorrect. This may be arguable from a societal point of view – but never from a linguistic one . Read more: Why native English speakers fail to be understood in English – and lose out in global business Context is everything Adherence to a one-size-fits-all perspective regarding English allows for negativity to persist toward all non-standard varieties of the English language, whether they are British English dialects or in this case, wider varieties such as Konglish. Instead, we should recognise all varieties of the English language as legitimate, with a time and a place appropriate for their usage. For example, a standard variety of English is undoubtedly the variety we need to pass university entrance exams, write academic essays and produce documents which are otherwise considered “official” – anything from a government-issued article to a cover letter for a job opening. But there is nothing inherently “better” or more “logical” in the make up of standard English. There are in fact a multitude of contexts in which there are perhaps as many varieties of English to match. In the context of a meeting Koreans might have with close friends, essentially hanging out together, then Konglish would fit just fine. Read more: What will the English language be like in 100 years? This approach reflects current trends toward diversity and equality, albeit from a linguistic perspective. Mess with someone’s language and you’re essentially messing with their culture. This is not a lesson in political correctness, but linguistic correctness, as all languages exhibit a form of grammar and vocabulary which are predictable and systematic. So to consider only one variety of grammar and vocabulary usage as correct is, linguistically speaking, nonsensical. Konglish reflects cultural identity, connects with linguistic diversity and above all, is already used to communicate in Korea, which is the ultimate purpose of language. Below is a very small selection of some of the great words used in Konglish, and worth celebrating. Skinship : This refers to the act of physical touching, such as that seen between a mother and child, but also among adults, to indicate a deep friendship. I recall in Korea seeing two men who were close friends, with one momentarily interlocking his arms around his friend from behind. Given this practice, it makes sense to have a word to describe it, illustrating the link between language and culture. The joining of the word skin with the suffix ship is no more or less “logical” than words such as relationship and friendship. Burberry : This word as used in Korea refers to a trench coat, not to the clothing brand per se. This is not a mistake on any level. It is widely used within Korea and certainly understood. At the end of the day, society tends not to wait for the production of dictionaries and textbooks to somehow legitimise a language and make it official – society does this for itself through linguistic reinforcement on the ground. The word is also an example of linguistic overextension and if we declare this a mistake, then we also need to declare Hoover and Kleenex to be mistakes when used to refer to vacuum cleaners and tissues. Grand Open : This means grand opening as might be used for the launch of a restaurant or department store. It is seen everywhere in Korea. The fact that it is printed on menus and huge banners draped across new stores shows how a variety of English is made official for its speakers in ways that go beyond textbooks and dictionaries; as such, it is not a grammatical error based on the “missing” suffix of ing . The days when native speakers of English might have declared “speak English!” may now be replaced somewhat with “speak our English!” If travelling or working overseas, though, we can expect to hear not only foreign languages, but also foreign varieties of English in all its forms. Alexander Baratta does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.'
Rory Stewarts unconventional style has landed him in the second round of the Conservative leadership election – but he spins like a classic politician.
'On the basis of the immediate coverage of the first Conservative leadership ballot, there were two winners and eight losers. Boris Johnson grabbed the headlines with his impressive tally of 114 votes , leaving his rivals scrambling. But the other winner was Rory Stewart, the international development secretary and widely seen as an also-ran, who booked his place in the second round of MPs votes. Stewart won 19 votes to finish in seventh place, despite most pundits predicting he would be eliminated. He pronounced himself “absolutely over the moon” and claimed he had momentum. Stewart’s candidacy has been propelled by an unconventional social media campaign. He toured the country doing short notice meet-and-greets with the public and recording off-beat videos. This, and his his willingness to shoot from the hip to attack Brexiteers, has helped acquire him a cult following. This has not necessarily extended to Conservatives, however. The senior activist, Tim Montgomerie , memorably described Stewart as “the most popular candidate with people who’ll never vote Tory”. Who is Rory Stewart? Born in Hong Kong and the son of a diplomat, Stewart pursued his early career in the Foreign Office. After a number of postings, he was appointed a senior official in the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. He later worked for a development NGO in Afghanistan. In 2010, Stewart was elected as the Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border in Cumbria. He presented a BBC television series on the history of the land around the English-Scottish border and wrote a bestselling book on the area. In parliament, Stewart joined the government in a junior capacity in 2015 before being appointed to the cabinet in 2019 as secretary of state for international development after a reshuffle caused by Gavin Williamson’s sacking . His entry into the Conservative leadership contest was unexpected but by the force of his personality, he has managed to make an impression. Although a maverick, Stewart demonstrated a strong loyalty to the prime minister, Theresa May, and her Brexit deal with the EU. He strongly opposes a no-deal Brexit of the type advocated by some Brexiteers. Indeed, supporters of Johnson have suspected Stewart of being an outrider for Michael Gove – another leadership candidate – whose role was to launch attention-grabbing attacks on Johnson to diminish his support and channel it towards Gove, while the environment secretary maintained his distance. Once eliminated, they anticipated that Stewart would back Gove. This theory has evidently note been borne out in the first round. An unconventional candidate … After overachieving in the first ballot, Stewart insists he is in it to win it. His support most likely came entirely from Remainer MPs. He was publicly endorsed by the former chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, as well as by the current cabinet minister, David Gauke. The fact that he won many more votes than public endorsements may have reflected the desire of supportive pro-EU Tory rebels not to damage his standing with the wider party by associating him too closely with their campaign against Brexit. Stewart’s supporters present him as a straight talker who can connect with ordinary people. But he has a tendency to make outlandish statements, such as his claim in a radio interview that 80% of the public backed May’s Brexit deal. He immediately withdrew the remark and apologised, saying that he was “producing a number” to “illustrate what I believe”. He has had to row back from other comments, including when he indicated he would support Labour’s parliamentary motion against a no-deal Brexit only to reverse his position shortly afterwards. Such incidents raise questions over his political judgement. This has become particularly apparent in Stewart’s attacks on Johnson. After the first leadership ballot, he vowed to “bring down” Johnson if the latter sought to prorogue parliament and force through a no-deal Brexit. Stewart even threatened to set up a new assembly in Westminster’s Methodist Central Hall if the government suspended parliament. These comments drive many Conservatives to despair. They worry that Stewart is providing attack lines for opposition parties against the man who is almost certain to be the next prime minister. The fact this is being done by a serving cabinet minister is little short of extraordinary. Stewart previously announced he would not serve in a Johnson cabinet because of disagreements over Brexit. But true to form, he is now indicating that he might after all. … but still a politician Neither is Stewart averse to spinning like any other politician. On the day of the first parliamentary ballot, he repeatedly proclaimed that he was second to Johnson in a poll of Conservative grassroots members . As a bald statement, it was true, but he neglected to mention that Johnson was on 54% and Stewart himself on just 11% (next came Raab on 8%, Gove on 8% and Hunt on 7%). Stewart’s second-place ranking was not evidence of a surge of enthusiasm among the membership for his candidacy but an artefact of a divided field in which there was no clear and obvious rival to Johnson. Stewart was – barely – the best of the mediocre rest. Despite the publicity around his candidacy, Stewart surely has little chance of progressing beyond the next round of parliamentary ballots, let alone reaching the final all-member ballot. It is inconceivable that he could lead the Conservatives at this point in their history. His views on Brexit would split the party and quicken the leakage of votes to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. Taken together with concerns over his judgement, the likelihood is that Stewart would struggle to impose his authority. Nevertheless, Stewart has cemented his position as the breakout performer in the leadership contest. He could play a role in helping his party broaden its appeal among the electorate. But that may have to await the resolution of Brexit. Unless he rediscovers an appetite for loyalty, Stewart could become a thorn in the side of a Johnson government. Tom Quinn does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.'
Many cases of Ebola are missed entirely. Affected countries need to invest in primary healthcare and detection to nip outbreaks in the bud.
'The best defence against Ebola outbreaks is early detection. If detected early enough, an outbreak can be prevented with targeted, low-tech interventions, such as isolating infected people and their contacts. But our research suggests that most opportunities for early detection and intervention are missed. In fact, we estimate that most times when Ebola jumps from wildlife to people, it is not detected at all. Every Ebola outbreak starts with a “spillover event,” where a person becomes infected from an animal – a fruit bat, for example. From there, people can infect other people, and before long an outbreak can become out of control. Once an outbreak has spread to several locations, controlling it is extremely difficult, as epidemics in recent years have shown. A critical feature of Ebola infections is that a few initial cases infect many other people, but most cases ( about 65% ) infect no one else. This means any isolated case – such as the first case when an Ebola spillover occurs – is probably the only case. Finding these cases is as important as finding an outbreak early because it is impossible to predict which spillover events will grow into full outbreaks. But since Ebola was first detected in 1976, only eight clusters of five cases or fewer have been detected , compared with 26 clusters of at least six cases. Only two single-case spillover events have ever been detected (except for accidental laboratory infections), but we expect this to be the most common cluster size. The most plausible reason for this unexpected situation is that many small Ebola clusters have occurred with no one noticing. Fruit bats can pass Ebola on to humans. Jeffrey Paul Wade/Shutterstock Computer simulation To find out how many of these small clusters have occurred, we simulated thousands of Ebola outbreaks based on published data from previous outbreaks. From these simulations, we determined how often we expect a spillover event to fizzle out early versus how often we expect it to progress into a true outbreak. This allowed us to compare the outbreak sizes we expect to see to those that have been reported. We used these comparisons to estimate detection rates of clusters of different sizes. Across different sets of assumptions, we estimated that less than half of all Ebola clusters, and less than 10% of isolated cases, are detected. This result suggests that we miss many cases altogether. Because we estimate especially low detection rates for small clusters, it also suggests that we rarely detect outbreaks in their earliest stages. We rarely find Ebola outbreaks while they are still easy to manage. The main reasons for this are surprisingly simple. Ebola is much rarer than other types of severe fever in the regions of sub-Saharan Africa where it tends to occur. Countries in this region have some of the weakest primary healthcare infrastructure in the world , making them ill-equipped to detect a rare cause of fever among all the common ones. Many primary health facilities don’t have enough resources to test for even the most common causes of fever, let alone Ebola. Without accurate diagnostics, they must rely on detection based on symptoms . But Ebola is so rare that a single case of severe fever, even with bleeding, is more likely to be caused by malaria, typhoid or yellow fever. Most doctors and public health workers in many regions have never seen a single Ebola case. Therefore, relying on symptoms alone to detect Ebola is unreliable. Investment in primary healthcare It is probably impossible to detect outbreaks reliably within the first few cases based on symptoms alone. To find and address outbreaks early, we must invest in primary healthcare and public health capacity. It is at this local level, mostly in clinics and hospitals, that potential outbreaks are first flagged. It is also at this level, mostly through district health management teams, that measures such as quarantines can be introduced quickly enough to control an early outbreak. This capacity is not only important for Ebola, improving local healthcare workers’ ability to rapidly diagnose and treat diseases can improve outcomes . More accurately diagnosing bacterial versus viral infections, for example, can help fight growing drug resistance. Though important, international outbreak responses are often slow, complicated, and expensive. The case of Ebola shows how these types of responses are also not well suited to intervening at the most crucial moments. Instead, it is time we invested more in the kinds of local primary capacity that can find and limit outbreaks at their source. Emma Glennon receives funding from the Gates-Cambridge Trust. Freya Jephcott does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.'
Why protests have returned to the streets of Hong Kong.
'The dramatic protests unfolding in Hong Kong evoke memories of the most sensational episodes of the country’s “ umbrella movement ” five years ago at the very same sites. At the end of the unprecedented 79 days occupation in 2014, demanding genuine universal suffrage, protesters vowed to be back. Few would have expected that it would be so quick and with such vengeance. A mass demonstration on June 9 was followed by protests three days later that shut down streets around government buildings as police fired rubber bullets at protesters. The demonstrations were triggered by the decision of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government to propose amendments to its extradition bill. This would allow extraditions to new areas such as Taiwan and Macau, but more importantly the People’s Republic of China. Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, argued that the “loophole” in the law must urgently be closed to allow the transfer of a fugitive wanted for murder in Taiwan before he could leave Hong Kong. But the “loophole” was deliberately included during the Sino-British negotiations in the 1980s over the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong from the UK to China in 1997. After 1997, Hong Kong residents and businesses were guaranteed the rule of law and shielded from the party-controlled judicial system across the border. Fortunately, over the past decades, rule of law has differentiated Hong Kong from the Chinese mainland. Among 125 jurisdictions examined by the World Justice Project in its 2019 Rule of Law Index , Hong Kong was ranked 16th and mainland China 82nd. Read more: Hong Kong in crisis over relationship with China – and there does not appear to be a good solution Rushed legislation The recent demonstrations are the largest in Hong Kong’s post-1997 history, uniting people of different generations, occupations and interests in a way comparable only to the protests in Hong Kong against the Tiananmen massacre in 1989. Anger and despair are widespread and so is a sense of powerlessness at the way the relationship between Hong Kong and China has dramatically changed during the past five years. The initial details of the extradition proposals heightened fears that the long arm of the Chinese law was reaching further into Hong Kong. It would enter the territory into extradition arrangements with China on a case-by-case basis , in which the chief executive has the sole power to surrender fugitives to China without the need to consult Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. Critics such as Lam Wing Kee, a Hong Kong bookseller targeted by the Chinese authorities, have pointed out the dangers of such a set-up. Lam left Hong Kong for Taiwan in April over fears that once the bill passed, Beijing would demand his immediate extradition. Fears were further exacerbated by news the government wanted to rush the law through before the Legislative Council session ends in July. The pro-Beijing majority in the legislature pushed the bill quickly through its committee stages in an attempt to avoid proper legislative scrutiny. While the second reading of the bill was postponed by the protests, Lam still plans to go ahead with it. Once the bill reaches the voting stages it will be passed by the pro-Beijing majority. The legislative process reveals how the government and its pro-Beijing allies are using the non-democratic and partisan nature of Hong Kong’s institutions to give the appearance of democracy. Law-making power is concentrated with the chief executive, who is selected by a committee of merely 1,200 of Hong Kong’s 7.4m citizens. Only half of the Legislative Council is directly elected and pro-Beijing legislators enjoy a structural majority. Since the 2014 umbrella protests even previously neutral bodies, such as the well-respected civil service and police force, have become politicised . China’s growing confidence Hong Kong’s status as an international financial centre is still of great importance to China and its ruling elite, providing access to crucial financial services unattainable in Shanghai and Shenzhen. But Hong Kong’s role as a model for economic development in China has diminished as the regime grows ever more confident in its own brand of state capitalism. Previous mass protests in Hong Kong in 2003 and 2004 against national security legislation were partially successful, and a proposed bill was postponed. At that time, the Beijing regime still valued international perceptions and even promised the territory further democratisation. This has changed as China has also become significantly more confident as a rising global power. Under the leadership of Chinese president, Xi Jinping, Hong Kong has been at the receiving end of this new confidence. Since the umbrella movement, the Hong Kong government has been supported by the Chinese government to gradually shut down various avenues for dissent and opposition. After the umbrella movement, the frustrations of the younger generation over China’s policies towards Hong Kong were channelled into a movement, known as “localism” asking for more political, economic and cultural autonomy from China. Yet its proponents were disqualified from office, barred from running in elections or outlawed. The leadership was imprisoned or driven into exile . The simple act of rallying is now easily interpreted as a criminal act, using Hong Kong’s outdated Public Order Ordinance . The Hong Kong police commissioner has already labelled the current protest as a “riot” and justified the escalated use of police force against protesters. It is the same “rioting” charge under which localist leader Edward Leung Tin-kei was sentenced to six years of prison in 2018. What is being observed in Hong Kong is now a collective expression of anger towards the extradition law and the government, distrust of the Chinese government and, crucially, an unwavering search for hope. Malte Phillipp Kaeding is affiliated with a charity that researches threats to Hong Kong's autonomy.'
Whether anything could live in Europa's subsurface ocean depends on what kind of salt it contains. Now scientists have found out.
'Varied terrain on Europa. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute Europa, a frozen moon around Jupiter, is believed to be one of the most habitable worlds in the solar system. It was first imaged in detail by the Voyager 1 probe in 1979, revealing a surface almost devoid of large craters. This suggested that water regularly floods up from inside, resurfacing the satellite. Europa is also criss-crossed with long troughs, folds and ridges, potentially made of icebergs floating around in melt-water or slush. But it was in the late 1990s that Europa got really interesting. The Galileo mission found evidence that it had a sub-surface liquid salt water ocean . The fact that it is salty gives us clues that the water may be in contact with rock – a process that could provide energy in the water to feed microbial life. But the observations were too few and limited for us to separately tell how deep and how salty the ocean is – let alone what kind of salts there are. Now a new study, published in Science Advances , shows it may well be normal table salt (sodium chloride) – just like on Earth. This has important implications for the potential existence of life in Europa’s hidden depths. Scientists believe that hydrothermal circulation within the ocean, possibly driven by hydrothermal vents might naturally enrich the ocean in sodium chloride, via chemical reactions between the ocean and rock. On Earth, hydrothermal vents are thought to be a source of life , such as bacteria. Plumes emanating from the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which has a similar ocean, have been found to contain sodium chloride, making both Europa and Enceladus even more enticing targets for exploration. Chaos regions on Europa’s trailing hemisphere. NASA/JPL If we look at the spectrum (the breakdown of light according to wavelength) of light reflected from the surface, we can infer what substances are there. This shows evidence of water ice. But there are also two other materials: “hydrated” sulphuric acid and sulphate salt. Where do they come from? For scientists studying the interior of Europa, or those examining the astrobiological potential of the moon’s ocean, the really interesting question is: do they come from inside Europa? Like our moon and Earth, Europa is tidally locked to Jupiter, meaning that it always presents the same side to the giant planet. Galileo observations revealed the presence of “hydrated” sulphuric acid on the side of Europa that faces backwards along its orbit, the trailing hemisphere. To make sulphuric acid in water ice you need a source of sulphur, and energy to drive the chemical reaction. Some of this may come up from inside the moon in the form of sulphate salts, some of it can be delivered by meteorites, but the most likely explanation is that it comes from its sibling volcanic moon, Io . Sulphur would be ejected into space from volcanoes on Io and eventually make its way to Europa. Moving faster than Europa, the sulphur would most likely hit the trailing side of Europa and implant itself in the ice. The energy required for it to do this would come from electrons in Jupiter’s radiation belts. For the most part, they go around Jupiter faster than Europa, hit its trailing side and deliver tonnes of energy . Concentrations of sulphuric acid on the surface. The trailing hemisphere is to the upper left where the concentrations are higher. NASA/JPL Measurements have also shown evidence for sulphate salts, such as magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts) but it has remained unclear where it comes from. The team behind the new study reasoned that the side of Europa facing along its orbit, the leading hemisphere, which is shielded from the sulphur bombardment, might be the best place to look for evidence of what salts actually exist inside Europa. In the visible part of a spectrum there are distinct features called “colour centres” that appear when irradiated by very energetic electrons. The researchers used the powerful Hubble Space Telescope to look for evidence of these colour centres in Europa’s spectrum and discovered a feature located exclusively on the side of the moon facing along its orbit, showing evidence for sodium chloride. Europa in natural colour on the left, and false colour on the right. The brown/red regions on the right might correspond to the sulphuric acid regions, the yellow-ish terrain on the left is now thought to be produced by sodium chloride. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona Type of salt Although there were some hints of salts in the Galileo observations, the newer Hubble data has allowed the scientists to narrow it down to a region on the leading hemisphere called the chaos terrain, and not in regions where the sulphur chemistry could be driven by radiation. That means they really are likely to come from Europa’s interior. Life, as we know it, needs liquid water and energy. That Europa has a liquid ocean at all tells us that there is liquid water and a source of energy to stop it from freezing. But the chemical make-up of the ocean is also crucial. Brine, “salty water”, has a lower freezing point than pure water, meaning it makes the water more habitable. Salt, specifically the sodium ions in table salt, is also crucial for a whole range of metabolic processes in plant and animal life. By contrast some other salts, such as sulphates, might inhibit life if present in large quantities. The researchers were keen to point out that they might just be seeing the end-point of a complicated chain of sub-surface processes – the salt might just be part of the natural ice layers. But, for those hoping there is life on Europa, the discovery of sodium chloride is good news. Chris Arridge receives funding from the Royal Society and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.'
New research tracked 20,000 people to figure out the ideal 'weekly dose' of nature.
'graycat via Shutterstock The idea that spending recreational time in natural settings is good for our health and wellbeing is hardly new. Parents have been telling their kids to “go play outside, it’s good for you” for generations. Now, colleagues and I have published a study in the journal Scientific Reports which suggests that a dose of nature of just two hours a week is associated with better health and psychological wellbeing, a figure that applies to every demographic we could think of (at least in England). So why do we need research into this? Although our parents’ common sense observation is true in the general sense, the devil – as always – is in the detail. For instance, it’s less intuitively obvious exactly how much time in nature we need before we experience the benefits, whether we can have “too much of a good thing”, whether it’s better to have lots of smaller encounters or one big one, whether parks, beaches and mountains offer similar benefits, or whether nature exposure is more important for some people than others. We wanted to answer these questions so we could start developing recommended guidelines about how much time people should spend in nature. Similar guidelines have been developed to advise 150 minutes of physical activity per week, or that five portions of fruit and veg a day benefits health. Our findings do not yet offer a final recommendation, but we think they are an important starting point. We know about official exercise guidelines. But what about nature time? Simon Pugsley via Shutterstock Our research used responses from a large, representative sample of 20,000 adults in England, collected as part of an annual government advisory survey on Engagement with the Natural Environment . The survey takes place in people’s homes and interviewers ask respondents to go through each of the previous seven days and describe any time they spent “out of doors” in natural settings such as urban parks, woods, or beaches on each day. Once this nature “diary” has been reconstructed, interviewers randomly select a previous visit in the past week, and ask more extensive details such as how long the visit was, who they went with, how they got there, and what they got up to. This “random” selection aspect is really important scientifically because it means we get to learn about people’s visits in general, not merely the “highlight” events that most stick in the memory. Using these responses, we were able to build a profile of how much time each of our 20,000 respondents spent in nature per week. To figure out how this was linked to health and well-being, we looked at the responses given by the same people to two further questions on general health and overall “life satisfaction”. We found that people who spent at least two hours a week in nature were more likely to report “good” health or “high” levels of well-being than people who spent no time in nature. People who spent some time in nature, but less than two hours, were no more likely to report good health and well-being than those who had zero weekly exposure, suggesting that one can have too little. Further, after about five hours a week, there was some evidence of no additional benefits. Probability of reporting good health peaks at around three hours in nature over the past week. White et al Two-hour threshold Perhaps most importantly, this pattern of a “two-hour threshold” was present for nearly all groups we looked at: older and younger adults, men and women, people in cities and in rural areas, people in deprived and wealthy communities, and even among people with and without a long-term illness or disability. This suggests our results are not merely due to “reverse causality” – the possibility that people who visit nature are already a self-selected sample of healthier people. Even those with long-term illnesses were more likely to report better health and well-being if they spent 120 minutes a week in nature. Although encouraging, we must be careful about overplaying these results. The fact remains that the data was self-reported and “cross-sectional”. Despite our best efforts, we can’t rule out the possibility that people didn’t accurately remember the time they spent in nature last week, or are nervous about talking about their health and well-being to interviewers. We don’t think this was too much of an issue here because the questions were simple, taken from internationally recognised surveys, including the census, and have been shown to be highly reliable. Furthermore, there is a large body of experimental work, including work using stress biomarkers , which essentially shows that time spent in nature is good for physiological and psychological health – our main advance here is taking a step towards understanding a weekly dose. There is increasing pressure on our parks and other green spaces to be used for urgently needed housing and other infrastructure. Colleagues and I fully appreciate that these alternative land uses are important, but we feel these spaces themselves are often undervalued. By improving our understanding of how spending time in nature is related to health and well-being we hope to better inform these decisions on what to do with green space. Access to most parks and green spaces is free, so even the poorest, and often the least healthy, members of communities have equal access for their health and well-being. We hope that evidence such as ours will help keep them that way. This research was supported through funding from the UK's National Institute for Health Research - Health Protection Research Unit in Environmental Change & Health.'
To become an attractive prospect for electric car manufacturers, the UK needs to sort out its supplies of rare earths – Brexit, or no Brexit.
'This isn't goodbye. Shutterstock. The intended closure of Ford’s Bridgend engine plant in 2020, with the loss of 1,700 jobs, has sent shock waves through Wales. Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price, has described it as “one of the worst acts of ‘industrial vandalism’ seen in the UK for decades.” Ford representatives have said that the company needs to “make its engine manufacturing base suitable for the vehicles it produces in the future.” With electric vehicles (EVs) commanding a growing share of the global car market , many including Professor David Bailey have stated that the “production of electric motors was much more important to securing Ford Bridgend’s future” in order to stay competitive in the global automotive industry. Engine manufacturing is the most valuable part of making a conventional car . An enormous amount of knowledge, skill and research and development is required to make highly sophisticated internal combustion engines. Ford is the largest producer of these engines in the UK – and about half of its output comes from the Bridgend factory. Experts have observed that the electrification of cars “is arguably more of a threat to the UK automotive industry than Brexit.” But there is still a chance for the UK to stage a revival. Opportunity knocks There is already some EV manufacturing taking place in the UK, by Nissan in Sunderland and Aston Martin in South Wales . There are also new facilities being established to manufacture EV batteries and the materials required to make them, from Port Talbot to Coventry . But there have been setbacks: critically, the UK is no longer a headquarters for any major auto producer, let alone one leading in the EV space. It’s difficult to build up sustainable operations when decisions are made overseas. This is evident in Jaguar Land Rover’s decision to cut UK production of its Discovery model, while subcontracting i-Pace electric production to Magna Steyr in Austria. Without being able to rely on any favour from an indigenous car maker, the UK must take its own steps to become the best place to make EVs. With the UK government keen to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 , there’s an opportunity for the nation’s automotive industry to develop and deploy EV technology and become a global leader – but this needs to start now, or the chance will be lost. Supply and demand There are two key factors for success – supply and demand. Of course, there must be enough demand for products manufactured in the UK, and the nation must be able to export to those markets. But the UK must also have good access to the supply chains that provide the parts and materials needed to manufacture EVs. Many commentators already lament the effect that Brexit is having on the UK automotive sector . Less obvious, is how this may affect the supply of critical materials needed to develop and manufacture EVs. Global concerns about the supply of these materials is rising – and organisations, including the International Energy Agency , are investigating. Fuel of the future. Shutterstock. The UK does not have local supplies of many of these materials – but as a member of the European Union, it is a part of the bloc’s broader strategy. After Brexit, the UK will have to consider its strategy in isolation. Some have warned that the UK could be “held to ransom” over supplies of these critical materials. China has a near monopoly on the supply of rare earth materials such as Neodymium, which is used to make the powerful magnets used in the most efficient EV motors. As tensions between China and the US escalate, there’s a chance China could use its power over rare earth supply for leverage, which could cause significant shocks to Western car manufacturers. Some manufacturers have been spooked by this prospect and are exploring rare earth-free engines – though currently these designs are less efficient. But a less efficient motor will require a bigger battery to provide the same range (all other things being equal) and bigger batteries will place pressure on other critical materials supply chains – such as Cobalt and Lithium. Recycling rare earths To succeed then, the UK needs a unique selling point – some advantage that other countries do not have. It needs access to these key resources. Despite their name, rare earths are not actually scarce. But there is a need to develop processing routes and new cleaner techniques for producing these materials . The UK could become a world leader in the supply of these materials – not through mining and extraction, but through recycling and processing. The UK already has research and development organisations leading projects investigating the reuse and recycling of battery materials. A similar capacity to recycle rare earth magnets would safeguard the UK’s supply chain and help stabilise the price of materials used to manufacture EVs. A large collaborative EU project, with a significant UK presence, SUSMAGPRO , will tackle some of these challenges. But for UK automotive it’s essential that more of this capability is embedded in the fabric of UK industry to support the supply chains that will power the EV revolution. Saving South Wales There are already encouraging signs that the skills and capabilities exist in South Wales to support the transition towards producing electric drivetrains. Indeed, the UK’s only producer of electrical steels – Cogent Power Ltd – is based in Newport. There is also a longstanding base for soft magnetic materials research at Cardiff University School of Engineering, and significant new investment is being made to develop this area further. This is complemented by research and facilities at Swansea University and the University of South Wales, with specialism in steel processing . In spite of significant closures, hope is not lost for the UK’s automotive industry. But the time to act is now. Gavin Harper receives funding from The Faraday Institution's ReLiB project (Recycling and Reuse of Lithium Ion Batteries) and is affiliated to the Birmingham Centre for Strategic Elements & Critical Materials. Calvin Jones does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.'
Forest School helps children learn without realising it.
'shutterstock Despite all the research that tells parents how good it is for their children to spend time playing outside, they are spending more time indoors than ever before . It seems that concerns about the dangers of climbing trees or getting lost means that many parents are nervous about allowing their children to engage in risky play. But research suggests that this element of outdoor play has significant benefits for children and can help to develop their emotional resilience. Over the last decade and a half, schools have started to recognise the importance of outdoor time for children – resulting in the development of programmes that take learning outside the classroom. One of these programmes which has increased in popularity over recent years, is Forest School. What is forest school? Forest School is an outdoor learning initiative which embraces outdoor play in wooded spaces as a tool for learning and development. In the UK, the Forest School movement can be traced back to the early 1990s when a group of early years educators at Bridgewater College in Somerset day went on a trip to Denmark. They noted how the Scandinavian values of open-air living were embedded in the education system. Upon their return from Denmark, they developed the first Forest School in the college creche, followed by a B-Tech qualification in Forest School practice. The Bridgewater group set in motion the development of Forest School provision through structured training programmes for Forest School practitioners. Today the Forest School Association – the UK professional body for Forest School practitioners – has more than 1,500 members. During Forest School, children and young people are provided with opportunities to explore the natural environment, experience appropriate risk and challenge, and direct their own learning. Research has shown that Forest School stimulates imaginative play through hands-on engagement with the natural environment. In our research , which included more than 30 interviews with children aged between four and nine, we wanted to understand how play in Forest School might facilitate learning. We found that during Forest School, children felt more independent, and as a result, had a greater sense of personal, social and environmental responsibility. Children felt that they were able to apply skills they had learned in school in more meaningful ways and developed a range of non-academic skills. Forest School encouraged them to think creatively – to step out of their comfort zone and take risks – and to work more closely with their peers. They also reported being more physically active during Forest School – learning how to move safely in the unpredictable and challenging space of a woodland. Making movements matter The World Health Organisation has recently argued that young children need more opportunity to play in order to grow up healthy. But despite the clear benefits, Forest School is still somewhat misunderstood. To the outsider, it is often considered as a separate form of education provision – and indeed, there are some full-time outdoor Forest School nurseries operating in the UK, such as Wildawood Forest School in Cambridgeshire. But most Forest Schools operate within mainstream state schools, where children leave their classrooms for a half or full day, usually once or twice a week, to attend Forest School. We spoke to children, headteachers and Forest School leaders in two primary schools and found that this bridging of formal and informal learning can be complementary to one another. Children and headteachers acknowledged that the school system can stifle children’s natural curiosity about the world. Children recognise that while they learn a lot in the classroom, this tends to be directed by teachers and focused on passing tests. Headteachers also recognised the pressure children are put under from a young age, and of the need to frequently demonstrate pupil progression against set targets. Forest School, for both pupil and teacher, is an opportunity to move away from the monotony of classroom learning and instead to engage in hands-on, self-directed learning. This gives children the opportunity to develop other skills beyond the academic – including negotiation, resilience and independence. And in this way, the blending of these approaches to learning ensures that children have opportunity to develop a broader range of skills. All of which, prepares them for later life, while helping them to harness a love of the great outdoors from an early age. Janine Coates is a member of the Forest School Association and a trainee Forest School practitioner. Helena Pimlott-Wilson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.'
Brexit will inevitably dominate this campaign, but the next prime minister also needs positions on austerity, party unity and how to actually survive in parliament.
'The Conservative leadership contest is entering its most intense phase. Potential leaders are being whittled down by their parliamentary colleagues before the party’s roughly 160,000 members vote on which of the final two will get the top job in British politics. It’s inevitable that one topic has come to dominate the discussion in the contest. Much of the focus will be on the candidates’ plans (or lack of plans) for Brexit. That is somewhat inevitable, given this is the most prominent issue in British politics and the fact that Theresa May’s departure is largely due to her inability to find a Brexit “plan B” after the House of Commons rejected her deal. Each contender is promoting a different Brexit vision in their campaign. But the EU says the deal on the table cannot be renegotiated. And if many of the candidates are to be believed, the UK is ready to leave without a deal on October 31. So there appears to be little scope for a change of course. Meanwhile, the next Conservative leader does not have to call a general election until 2022. Of course an election can be forced by a vote of no confidence, but 2022 must be the focal point for this campaign. Given that the next leader has the potential to lead the country for the best part of the next three years, focusing solely on an issue which most candidates say should be resolved in little over the next three months seems short sighted. The successful candidate should have strong positions on other issues too, and these should be clearly outlined in the campaign. Here are some of the topics we need to see covered. Austerity It has been eight months since May declared that “ austerity is over ” (though the chancellor Phillip Hammond has been more cautious, saying only that austerity is coming to an end). Such austerity-driven policies are continuing to hit families, as a recent UN report demonstrated, when it claimed 14m people in the UK live in poverty and 1.5m are destitute. Even if the government is correct in dismissing the report, it makes stark reading and has been used to decry the current government’s economic policies, which the report defined as “ punitive, mean-spirited and often callous ”. The failures of the government’s austerity agenda is a key issue that the Conservatives’ political opponents, not least Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, have highlighted. If an election is held off until 2022, it’s likely that the economy, rather than Brexit, will be the determining factor of any party’s success. There have been some tentative moves in this direction, with candidates promising to increase spending on schools . But, as yet, these have not been fully costed. They’re still a long way from forming the basis of a meaningful macro-economic strategy. The lack of a parliamentary majority A more immediate problem for the incoming leader is that of the current parliamentary arithmetic. This election will not change that. Currently the Conservative Party has 313 MPs in the House of Commons – 12 seats short of an overall majority (as convention ensures that the speaker only votes if there is a tied vote), and nine seats short of an effective majority (as Sinn Féin MPs do not take their seats or vote). It relies on the support of the DUP’s 10 MPs to win votes. While this problem is important in any Brexit vote, it affects the government’s ability to pass all other legislation too. The current parliament has been in session for almost two years (typically it is in session only for a year) and is due to rise this summer . One of the first jobs the new leader (and PM) will be tasked with is to present and pass a Queen’s speech – which outlines the legislative agenda of the government for the parliamentary session (and must therefore extend beyond Brexit). Failing to get parliamentary support for this is akin to losing a vote of no confidence and would lead to the fall of the government. Linked to this is the question of what to do about Northern Ireland, which has been without a devolved assembly since January 2017 . Agreeing any future confidence-and-supply agreement with the DUP is likely to raise questions about restoring some form of power sharing in Northern Ireland. Any potential new deal is likely to be more heavily scrutinised than in 2017, by both the Conservative and DUP’s political opponents. Saving the party As well as being prime minister, the leader will have to work to unite the Conservative Party. The party’s divisions run deeper than Brexit. The question of Islamophobia is still prevalent (something some of Boris Johnson’s comments will do little to diffuse). The party is also suffering a declining membership. Its remaining membership base is ageing too, raising concerns about the future sustainability of the party. Just as May’s path to the leadership has been used to explain her unpreparedness for – and failures to engage within – the 2017 general election, the next leader needs to demonstrate broader appeal across the country. Brexit might be the most important issue but other factors matter immensely. One of the critiques of May following the 2017 general election was that she didn’t have any practice at engaging members of the public during her leadership campaign. Failure to explore and debate these issues could lead to ad-hoc or ill thought-out policies. Christopher Kirkland does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.'
Margaret Atwood's handmaid has become a symbol of the subjugation of women. Anchorites were the medieval equivalent: women who were literally bricked up to keep them chaste.
'Elizabeth Moss as Offred in season three of The Handmaid's Tale. Channel 4 The ongoing TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has done much to remind us of the astonishing pertinence of Margaret Atwood’s novel – which was first published in 1985 and is soon to be followed by a sequel: The Testaments. In particular, it has brought the costume of the handmaids, carefully described by Atwood in the book, to the attention of a new generation of thinkers. In the novel, the red cloak and dress, worn with a white bonnet, are together described as a “modesty costume”. In Gilead – the repressive American regime in which the main protagonist Offred is forced to live – it is intended to function as a sign of female subservience. But, as the #resistsister hashtag chosen by production house HULU to market the series suggests, the “modesty costume” – despite its intended function as a symbol of subservience – has remarkable potency when removed from its Gileadean context and redeployed as a symbol of female agency and the defiance of oppression. And this is exactly how the costume has functioned in recent years, when worn by women protesting the insidious erasure of female rights in the West. In 2017, handmaids marched on Capitol Hill , Washington, in protest at the Republican healthcare bill which was seen to threaten women’s bodily autonomy. And in the same year, handmaids entered the Texas senate house to protest abortion-related legislation. Meanwhile, protesters against Trump’s 2018 and 2019 visits to the UK also sported handmaid costumes. Beyond the UK and America, the modesty costume has also been co-opted as a symbol of female agency and protest – in countries including Poland, Argentina and Croatia. Like Offred, the protesting handmaids of recent years also refuse to be objectified – their bodies are their own and signify what and how they want them to signify. In the introduction to the 2017 UK edition of The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood tells us that “modesty costumes worn by the women of Gilead are derived from Western religious iconography”. This grounding of the costumes in the traditions of the church again brings them closer to the realms of non-fiction. And it reminds us that, over the centuries, countless women in the Christian West have been defined by appearance or attire and have been variously objectified by those in authority over them. Shut away Among these countless women, there is a particular group called “anchorites” (anchorites could be men, but were more frequently women). Anchorites, who were very common in England in the Middle Ages, were people who wanted to live lives of Christian prayer and extreme devotion to God. In order to do this, they allowed themselves to be permanently enclosed in small rooms (called “cells”) adjoining their local church and vowed themselves to a life of chastity and penance. Their enclosure began when they were literally bricked into their cells, and was meant to continue until the moment of their death. In fact, we have quite a few records of anchorites being buried within their own cells. A bishop blesses an anchorite as he encloses her in her cell. Parker Library, courtesy of the Master and Fellows, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge , Author provided Of course, there are a lot of differences between Atwood’s fictional handmaids and the historical anchorites. The latter were not, in fact, defined by what they wore – as their enclosure made them more or less invisible to the world, they were not meant to worry too much about their clothes. And neither were they the subjects of a repressive regime – they were not enclosed unless they actively sought it out as a lifestyle (though the issue of their motivation and agency is problematic and would be worth an article on its own). But there are certainly similarities between the anchorite and the handmaid. Atwood emphasises that the handmaid is meant to live in a state of perpetual fear and so was the anchorite, as suggested by 12th-century theologian Aelred of Rievaulx in his book of guidance, De Institutione Inclusarum : Beware of your weakness and like the timid dove go often to streams of water where as in a mirror you may see the reflection of the hawk as he hovers overhead and be on your guard. And, for both women, the body is a site of considerable conflict and anxiety. The Handmaid’s body, in Atwood’s narrative, is a “sacred vessel” – valuable only for its childbearing potential. The anchorite’s body, meanwhile, is of worth only insofar as it houses the “jewel” of virginity – as Aelred wrote: Bear in mind always what a precious treasure you bear in how fragile a vessel. Objectification But what is intended as oppression in Gilead does not inevitably function thus. Aunt Lydia wanted the handmaids to be “pearls”, but Offred resisted this. The modesty costumes were meant to indicate subservience, but they have been redeployed by activists to mean the opposite. Is it, then, equally possible that the medieval anchorite took her apparent objectification and turned it into an opportunity to assert her own agency? We might perceive the anchorite only partially (her head, isolated at the window of her cell, as in the medieval image above), but she perceives herself fully. We might see only her enclosure, but she perceives herself as “a bird of heaven” (according to a 13th-century English book of guidance for anchorites – Ancrene Wisse ), soaring at liberty in her vivid, independent imagination. Read more: How The Handmaid's Tale is being transformed from fantasy into fact So, while the lives of the fictional handmaid and the real anchorite are not the same, they have in common their isolation from the world around them and their submission (whether enforced or chosen) to wills other than their own. But they should not be seen as nothing more than passive victims – instead we should credit them both with the capacity to turn subjection into agency and subservience into freedom. Annie Sutherland does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.'
The HBO series 'Chernobyl' has reignited interest among tourists to visit Pripyat, but growing up in the disaster's shadow has made us wary.
'We were five years old when the Chernobyl disaster happened. At the time, Milka was living in the small mountain town of Razlog in the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, about 1500 km away from the disaster area. Dorina was born and grew up in a small town in the Socialist Republic of Romania, approximately 850 km south of Chernobyl. Bulgaria and Romania were heavily contaminated by radioactive material from the explosion that blew the lid off reactor No. 4 at the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Nuclear Power Plant – more commonly known as Chernobyl – in the town of Pripyat, at the time in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. While we were soon dubbed “the Chernobyl children”, the communist authorities kept Bulgarians and Romanians in the dark about the magnitude and implications of the explosion. It wasn’t until the Iron Curtain lifted that many of us would learn the truth. Bulgaria, May Day 1986 – Milka As a Bulgarian, I don’t often think about Chernobyl, even though I study communist heritage tourism. Remembering the events of spring 1986 and my government’s mishandling of the crisis still makes me angry, but I try to maintain some emotional separation from my research. When the HBO miniseries Chernobyl aired, I expected the buzz it generated would renew public interest in visiting Chernobyl , and interest in the communist past in general. What I did not expect was to relive my recollection of the days after the disaster. Both the Soviet and Bulgarian governments kept quiet, even while Western news agencies reported the disaster on April 26 1986. The first official announcement within the Soviet Union came on the evening of the 28th. In Bulgaria, the first brief announcement came three days after the explosion on April 29. Milka’s father, Blagoy Ivanov, pledges allegiance to the flag of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria. A portrait of Todor Zhivkov – the communist leader of Bulgaria from 1954 to 1989 – looms in the background. Family archive , Author provided I don’t remember much about the announcement itself or the general reaction in Bulgaria. What I remember is my grandmother getting a phone call from her brother, who had connections to the upper echelons of the Bulgarian Communist Party. He warned her not to give five-year-old me any milk to drink. He gave no reason, and my family didn’t know what to make of it. I remember that the Labour Day parades went ahead as usual and that all the children in my home town had to attend. We were all marching in radioactive rain . Once the Communist Party admitted there had been an incident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, they reassured the Bulgarian people that things were under control and that radiation in the atmosphere and food was below dangerous levels. At the same time, the leaders of the Bulgarian Communist party were eating and drinking imported food and water . On the Romania-Ukraine border – Dorina I grew up in Romania – another child of the Chernobyl generation. Still, Chernobyl rarely invaded my thoughts – though the memories are there now, churning in the back of my mind. There’s a certain inner revulsion to most political events from those times for me. I haven’t watched the new miniseries and I’m unlikely to revive some of the personal and collective trauma by doing so. In 1986, my father was a captain in the Romanian army, patrolling the border with the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. He remembers the army were on high alert in the months after the blast and they were asked to collect information from truck drivers crossing the border, to understand the unfolding situation around the disaster area. Dorina’s father, Ioan Buda. At the time of the nuclear disaster in 1986, Ioan was a captain in the Romanian army. Family archive , Author provided At the same time, the army increased the intensity of their chemical training for soldiers and officers and were given courses on how to better understand and prepare for biochemical attacks. My mother was told to avoid lying in the sun, or risk burning her skin. Only later did she realise that radioactive fallout was the real concern. As I write this – decompressing my memories and digging up those of my family back in Romania – there’s still a heaviness in my chest. Milka and I channel our anxieties over Chernobyl and life in communist eastern Europe into our research. To overcome the restraints of those days, I have travelled, worked and studied in eight countries on four continents. My published work deals with psychoanalytic theories of the death instinct , trauma and nuclear tourism – the industry that monetises a fascination to visit places where nuclear accidents have laid waste to people and their communities. The Fukushima disaster of March 2011 in Japan created the most recent entry in this list of tourist hotspots. Interestingly, 2011 was also the year that Chernobyl was officially declared a tourist attraction . The HBO miniseries has generated interest in nuclear tourism, but this fascination with our communist history is nothing new among western tourists. A derelict school within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Pripyat, Ukraine. Separation51/Shutterstock There’s an understandable desire among people in eastern Europe to distance ourselves from our difficult – even traumatic – past, but Chernobyl’s heritage, like most communist heritage, is as much about the past as it is about the future. The HBO miniseries no doubt illuminates the cover-ups and information blackouts that characterised the early response to the nuclear disaster. The events of April 1986 warn us about the cost of lies and of what happens when regimes distort the truth to preserve their grasp on power. In today’s climate of fake news, deceit and dishonesty, Chernobyl remains a lesson from which there is still sadly much to be learnt. Dorina-Maria Buda has received funding from the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research. Milka Ivanova does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.'
Online gambling algorithims and blurred lines on what constitutes an advert on social media mean advertising principles are being flouted.
'vectorfusionart/Shutterstock With concerns growing that children and vulnerable people are being targeted by rogue online gambling advertising, my new research suggests the current sanctions aren’t enough to change the practices of online advertisers. In April 2019, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ran an experiment using an advertising avatar, an online identity which mimicked the internet use of a child. It found five gambling brands were specifically targeting their gambling offers at under 18-year-olds. A 2017 survey by the Gambling Commission found that 12% of children aged 11 to 16 had gambled with their own money in the previous week, and that 0.9% of children were problem gamblers. In the wake of its experiment, the ASA announced a change to its guidelines stipulating that online gambling advertising must not be targeted at minors and must not appear on sections of websites of high interest to children. But it’s uncertain whether this will solve the problem. To date there is little evidence that the algorithms used by advertising exchanges prevent the exposure of gambling adverts to children. Given the financial incentives involved for advertisers, and the lack of tough sanctions if they break the existing rules, this is unlikely to change. Under the current regulatory system, advertising exchanges are not subject to sanctions other than negative publicity, as the ASA cannot impose fines. Targeting the vulnerable New research my colleagues and I have carried out identified two fundamental problems for the regulation of gambling advertising online. First, we found that the automation of advertising placements through ad exchanges leads to adverts being targeting at children and vulnerable people. Through these exchanges, run by tech giants such as Google and Facebook, online advertising is targeted at viewers based on an online profile linked to their previous consumption and browsing patterns. The fundamental difference to offline advertising is this data matching process is driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning. This is built in such a way that the more likely a particular user is to click on an ad, the more it costs a company to advertise to them and so the more money the company hosting the advert will make. This placement process follows statistical criteria based on probability and hard economics, with little regard to ethical or legal standards. In practice, what this means is that if a user’s online profile indicates they have potentially addictive behaviour, are unemployed, have low socio-economic standing, debt issues, or past episodes of problem gambling, they are more likely to be shown gambling ads while visiting non-gambling content online. A 2017 investigation by The Guardian found gambling companies were using third-parties to harvest information from people who enter prize draws and similar competitions in order to target people on low incomes with gambling advertising. This automation process also makes it likely that social responsibility standards and ethical considerations are being seriously undermined and that advertising is targeting children and the vulnerable . Advertising algorithms make more money from the vulnerable. Dana.S/Shutterstock Hidden advertising In our research, we also found that social media websites provide ample opportunities for peer-to-peer marketing between users, blurring the lines between commercial advertising and user-generated content. So for example, if a social media user brags about a bet they made, it can be unclear whether they have been paid by a gambling operator to do so. This raises the issue of whether advertising is fair to consumers when it cannot be recognised as an advert, but appears more like a recommendation. Both these problems with online advertising of gambling have been addressed by ASA through guidelines on protecting young people and what constitutes an advert . In the UK, social media users are required to disclose whether they have received a payment, free gift, or other perk for a post, by using #ad. But this is often not prominent and it’s not necessarily clear to the user seeing the post what it actually means – and the sanctions for breaching these rules have no real teeth. More fundamental legal changes and stricter enforcement is required, more than just tinkering with the rules at the edges. Artificial intelligence used by ad exchanges should comply with a “safety by design” principle. Those responsible for designing big data applications used in the advertising ecosystem should comply with consumer protection and gambling laws. A hard look is required to force ad exchanges to build their algorithms in such a way that doesn’t lead to the exploitation of vulnerable users. Social media sites should also create strict rules for their users obliging them to prominently identify commercial relationships with gambling advertisers. Instead of turning a blind eye, social media platforms should police their rules on undisclosed advertising and use automated tools to monitor whether users breach these rules. As a last resort, a powerful regulator should step in and enforce fair advertising principles through fines and sanctions. Julia Hörnle has received funding from the EU Commission for a study which led to this research.'