Gentrification, an urban phenomenon?

Amy (Year 13) looks at the issues surrounding gentrification of an area and the impact this has on the value and cultural capital of an area.

Gentrification has often been seen as a contested and negatively connoted process; it is routinely blamed to be destroying the ‘souls’ and ‘hearts’ of many cities across the globe, with higher housing costs to increasingly globalised high streets acting as forces driving those less privileged out of historically culturally rich community areas. It can be seen as an oppressive mechanism which, in potentially adding fiscal value to an area, does so at the expense of cultural diversity.[1]

Gentrification is a term first created more than 50 years ago by the German-born British sociologist Ruth Glass to describe changes she observed in north London – but it is a phenomenon that has been at the heart of how cities evolve for centuries. Cambridge dictionary defines the term as ‘the process by which a place, especially part of a city, changes from being a poor area to a richer one, where people from a higher social class live.’[2] It is an important factor in the change and transformation of urban areas. However, whether it really eradicates poverty is subject to lively debate.

From NewDream.org

In London especially, gentrification characterises economic and demographic changes as the predominantly middle-class citizens settle in areas often occupied by high percentages of ethnic minority residents, who are often priced out of the new ‘improved’ areas. Not only does it have significant negative impact on smaller community areas, it also sends ripples throughout the rest of the country and down the class hierarchy.

Much resistance has been seen from those who see the process as an antagonised way of removing character and community from an area. In particular, estate agents and property developers are subject to this disapproval, with many campaigners vocal against their activities, given they seek to make money from attracting new, richer residents. Especially extreme campaigns such as the 200 anti-gentrification and housing campaigners that disrupted the beginning of the annual Property Awards in 2016 reveal the strong opinions many people have towards the process of gentrification.

When examining this change in London, it is important to inspect the history and background of the city itself. Gentrification is not a new process to the city, beginning in the 1960s when bits of the run-down, old post-war city attracted adventurous young architects who started doing up often cheaper, damaged, Georgian squares. The process is deeply ironic, as these forces of change accused of ruining London are products of its revitalisation.

Decades ago London was still recovering from detrimental damage done during World War 2. The population of inner London was still attempting to recover to its pre-war importance. At this point, it wasn’t the wealthy being the cause of change in the area but skilled manual workers seeking cheap and convenient land, headed for ‘the New Towns’ in the 1950s.

By the start of the 2000s however, London’s dynamic had completely changed. London had become an influential source of economic growth, catalysed by its ability to generate money from its ‘turbo-charged’ Square Mile. Increased profit immensely amplified the attractivity of London, in turn increasing the demand of space in the city. It is regularly said that ‘demand for space is the seed of gentrification’[3], and a failure to meet that demand is what stimulates the growth of it. London is a prime example of this. Hugely inflated property prices are a certain cost of gentrification, and this can be seen all throughout London. The average house price in Hackney, and area renowned for its influence of gentrification, has increased by 489% in the last two decades, up from £91,000 in 1998 to £536,000 in 2018. This directly drives out many ethnic minorities and those living on low income or relying on government benefits to afford housing costs.

Hackney wick’s ‘graffiti building’ – from Londonist.com

The standard picture of gentrification is that new arrivals benefit greatly from gentrification at the expense of lower-income residents. This picture is often true in many cases. New arrivals to a community often get stylish housing and all of the expensive accessories of life in a trendy urban neighbourhood (boutiques, bookstores, coffee shops, clubs and more) that they can afford. While long-time residents may benefit initially from cleaner, safer streets and better schools, they are eventually priced out of renting or buying. As the new arrivals impose their culture on the neighbourhood, lower-income residents become economically and socially marginalized. This can lead to resentment and community conflict that feeds racial and class tensions. Ultimately as lower-class members of the community move out this can induce loss of social and racial diversity. Rowland Atkinson, a member of the ERSC centre for research describes it as ‘a destructive and divisive process that has been aided by capital disinvestment to the detriment of poorer groups in cities.’[4]

However, should gentrification really be held accountable for the unacceptable level of poverty in London? Assertions that it is ‘pushing out’ the deprived of the city often look less persuasive when examining the figures of social housing which still exist in classic ‘gentrified’ areas of north London. In Camden, 35% of all housing is for social rent, in Islington it’s 42% and in Hackney, 44%. Although poverty rates have fallen in those boroughs, the absolute numbers of poor people (people living on the reliance of government benefits) remain high.

Although there are many deservingly negative outlooks on the consequences of gentrification, assumptions should not always be made to antagonise the process. For example, middle class pressure often leads to improvement in community features such as modernised and beautified public buildings and spaces. As the property tax base increases, so does funding to local public schools.  Jobs arrive with the increased construction activity and new retail and service businesses, and crime rates habitually decline.

Edward Clarke of the UK urban policy research company Centre for Cities writes that the debate should not be reduced to ‘a simple battle between plucky communities and greedy gentrifies’, emphasising that this ‘fails to recognise that the roles and functions of urban neighbourhoods have always changed over time and within a city’ or to acknowledge that gentrifying ‘new work businesses can create new jobs and improve wages in many fields.[5]

Clarke concludes in general that the real roots of the problems that come with thriving urban economies are ultimately down to “poor city management”. He argues that to improve this it requires better skills training for local people, more planning and tax-raising powers to be devolved to local politicians and more land, including a small portion of green belt, being made available for building.

Ultimately gentrification, as a form of change and transformation in urban areas, is an issue that has been going on for decades. Although it potentially brings improvement to the appearance and functionality of urban environments, the problems created by this process must be addressed; failing to do so will result in places like London becoming so unaffordable they will begin to deteriorate – not only in potential economic value, but also in cultural capital. The process often exacerbates inequality on a local scale and drives out the cultural diversity that can so often be found at the heart of London’s communities.


Bibliography

Glass, R. (1964). London: Aspects of Change. London: MacGibbon & Kee

Hill, D. (2016). Let’s get our gentrification story straight. London: Guardian

Dr Atkinson, R. (2002). Does Gentrification help or harm urban neighbourhoods? An assessment of the evidence-base in the context of the new urban agenda. CNR Paper 5

Clarke, E. (2016). In defence of gentrification. London: Centre for Cities

[1] See https://newdream.org/blog/consumption-gentrification-and-you

[2] See https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/gentrification#:~:text=Meaning%20of%20gentrification%20in%20English&text=the%20process%20by%20which%20a,of%20East%20London%20by%20gentrification.

[3] See https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/davehillblog/2016/oct/24/lets-get-our-gentrification-story-straight#:~:text=Demand%20for%20space%20is%20the,were%20born%20%E2%80%93%20look%20further%20afield.

[4] See http://www.urbancenter.utoronto.ca/pdfs/curp/CNR_Getrifrication-Help-or-.pdf

[5] See https://www.centreforcities.org/blog/in-defence-of-gentrification/

Is geothermal energy the answer to our climate problems?

Lucy in Year 10 looks at issues surrounding climate change and the damage our current ways of living are having on the planet. Might geothermal energy offer the UK, and the world, a solution for us to clean up our act?

We are in the midst of a climate crisis; the UK government has recently made a commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 to help stop further damage to the environment. The burning of fossil fuels to generate power is a significant contributor to the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, so the use of renewable energy sources is critically important to meeting this commitment to achieve net zero emissions. There are already many established sources of renewable energy, such as wind, solar and tidal power, but geothermal energy might be an unexpected solution to the UK’s problems.

Geothermal energy: a solution to a cleaner future?
Picture from https://www.britannica.com/science/geothermal-energy

Geothermal energy uses the natural heat from within the Earth’s crust to heat water and create steam.  This steam then powers a turbine in a similar way to the production of energy using fossil fuels, with the key exception that the heat comes from the earth instead of from the burning of coal, oil or gas.  So, like other forms of renewable energy, geothermal energy produces far less CO2 than fossil fuels do.

The key advantage geothermal energy offers over many other forms of renewable energy is consistency.  Solar cells and wind turbines rely on climate and weather conditions to operate, which means that the amounts of energy produced varies and can be unreliable.  Geothermal energy doesn’t have that problem. No matter what happens, a geothermal plant will always produce the same amount of energy. The problems caused by inconsistent energy provision have already been seen; only weeks after setting a new wind power generation record, a breezeless day in January 2021 resulted in a shift back to fossil fuelled power and a tenfold surge in spot energy prices.[1]

Geothermal energy is currently in the news due to a recent announcement to build the first ever geothermal plant in the UK, in Porthtowan, Cornwall.  It will produce enough energy to power 10,000 homes[2] – enough to power almost all of Birmingham. So, why don’t we build them everywhere?[3]

While geothermal energy does have significant benefits, it also comes with its own set of problems.  The most prominent of these is the very specific characteristics of the Earth’s crust needed to be able to superheat the steam and power the turbines. As opposed to somewhere like Iceland, on the boundary of a tectonic plate, these locations are few and far between in the UK. Some will unfortunately be located in populous areas, where the negative aesthetics of a power station would outweigh its benefits. Another worrying fact about geothermal plants is that their construction, and the drilling of geothermal wells into the earth’s surface, have been the cause of several earthquakes over the past decade (5.5 magnitude earthquake in Pohang, South Korea in 2017).  While this is less of a risk for the UK, being geologically more stable, it still is a factor to be considered. I would hasten to add that this risk is less than that of CO2 from fossil fuels or the toxic clean-up of a nuclear power station!

While geothermal energy plants are undoubtedly an effective and positive use of the Earth’s natural resources to create a sustainable and consistent supply of energy, the problems that their construction and capabilities raise mean that it would be impossible for them to become the sole provider of the UK’s energy. However, it is undeniable that their existence and use could aid the UK greatly in our battle against greenhouse gases and the climate crisis. While geothermal energy cannot solve the climate problem alone, it should definitely be a part of the UK’s, and the world’s, solution to the threat that is the climate crisis.

 


REFERENCES

[1] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-energy-answer-is-not-blowin-in-the-wind-xbntdm6pv

[2] https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24032000-300-supercharged-geothermal-energy-could-power-the-planet/

[3] Check out https://cornishstuff.com/2019/09/11/successful-drilling-at-uks-first-deep-geothermal-plant-in-cornwall/ to see the new Geothermal Plant take shape

 

Steph Harel, explores the journal article ‘Developing enquiry through questioning’

Steph Harel, Acting Head of Geography at WHS, explores the journal article ‘Developing enquiry through questioning’

Wood, P. (2006) Developing enquiry through questioning. Teaching Geography, 31(2), 76-78.

“Any student wising to develop their capacity to enquire geographically requires a clear capacity to question” (Wood, 2006; p. 78).

Many classrooms, and even national strategies, focus on teachers as the main questioners; however, if students are to develop an independence in their work they must gain experiences which allow an opportunity to play a central role in framing questions of interest.

Wood accurately argues that students need to develop their questioning skills if they are to act as autonomous enquirers. His valuable exploration into different ‘levels’ of questioning in Geography highlights meaningful ways in which to support students to develop their own capacity for independent questioning:

1. Simple questioning: Simple questioning games can be used to develop and sharpen students’ questioning skills. For example, when revising a physical geography topic, students are given a post-it note with a keyword written on it, which they stick to their foreheads. Students then pose each other ‘yes’ ‘no’ questions to decipher which process they have been allocated.

2. Questions to compare: Students are asked to develop questions which will produce a clear and detailed comparison. For example, students studying tectonic hazards might explore two case studies, one from an AC and one from an LIDC, and are asked to compare their volcanic eruptions by posing questions. Importantly, students then reflect on why they have chosen their questions.

3. Questions to enquire: Wood uses an example of a KS3 class, who recently completed a unit on agriculture. Students were prompted to consider the underlying patterns and processes they studied and asked to formulate five questions they would use to investigate the agriculture of India. For example, “How does landscape and climate affect farming in India”? I was particularly struck by Wood’s focus on the importance of recognising that enquiry questions can lead to ‘dead-end’ responses, and that learning and understanding is not a simple or linear process.

4. Questions to research: When students have developed a questioning capability, they can be given a large amount of autonomy in both framing and researching questions. Wood explores this idea in KS5 Geography teaching, with students studying the global economy. Students were offered a new context in which to explore the changing economic fortunes of two contrasting locations and the opportunity to decide on questions they felt were pertinent to ask. The process culminated in a written report, which demonstrated deep and critical understanding of the information researched.

As an educator, it is my belief that the geography classroom is an ideal environment for developing the use of self-questioning. I found huge value in Wood’s article, which argues that it is crucial that teachers not only learn how to pose their own questions to greatest effect, but also guide and support students in developing their own enquiries about the world around them. “By focusing on the student as questioner, we can help them become more active, reflective learners, and this can only help in developing active, critical classrooms where quality geography [my emphasis] can blossom” (Wood, 2006; p. 78).

How sustainable is palm oil?

Factory

Sasha, Year 10, looks at the positives and negatives of each stage of palm oil farming and explores how we can minimise the downfalls to combat the climate crisis.

What is palm oil?

Palm oil is a versatile, widely used vegetable oil, and is made from oil palms, grown in countries with a tropical climate, such as Indonesia, under strict agro-ecological conditions only found 10 degrees North and South of the Equator[1].

How is it grown?[2]

  1. To ensure only the best oil palms grow in the farms, there are a team of
    Palm oil
    Photo above (Pixabay): Palm tree seeds

    researchers who analyse the seeds of existing oil palms. They select the healthiest palms and pollinate them with pollen from selected male specimens. The farmers then cover the palms with material to prevent any accidental pollination and to shield the trees from excessive sunlight.

  2. It takes 6 months for the hybrid seeds to be produced, during which time the trees must be fertilised and maintained for maximum results. The fertilisers not only damage the fauna of the immediate environment but can easily leech into the (abundant) surface runoff, thus contaminating the animals’ water sources.
  3. After the seeds are collected, they are transported to warehouses where they are misted to speed up germination. On a positive note, the transport is not as unsustainable as people think – it has to be able to manoeuvre on the unsteady rainforest ground, and therefore cannot be industrial. Other means of transportation include local animals or tractor carts.
  4. The germination process involves a selective stage, where skilled workers sort through the seeds to discard any crooked or diseased seeds. This creates jobs for the local community, and supports the economy of the region, providing universal skills for them in the process.
  5. The seeds are grown outside the warehouses in small bags.
  6. However, when the trees reach maturity 3 years later, they can begin to require much more space for enough fruit production. This is probably the most well-known issue of the palm oil industry, as many companies are prioritising their palm oil production over the rainforest and the ecosystem as a whole, thus they deforest large areas.

The orangutans are most impacted by deforestation, as not only does the noise pollution distress them, it causes them to move further and further away from the centre of the rainforest, into the outskirts, where they may not be able to survive. Not only that, but the cutting (and sometimes burning) of the trees releases tonnes of stored CO2 back into the atmosphere, so much so that Indonesia (the largest world producer of palm oil) surpassed the USA in their greenhouse gas emissions in 2015.

Furthermore, the indigenous people, just like the orangutans and the Sumatran tigers[3], are disregarded and pushed further away from their territories, causing tension between different groups as they are forced to move closer and closer together.

Peatlands in Indonesia
Photo above: Peatlands in Indonesia – deforestation releases tonnes of stored CO2 and increases the risk of flooding, as well as causing disruption to animals and indigenous people.

How is it extracted?

  1. The fruit is processed in a factory – which is powered by biofuel made from the remains of the processed palm oil kernels. This is a sustainable initiative which somewhat balances the emissions produces by the factory as the palm fruit is initially sterilised in steam.
  2. The fruit moves through a grid that separates the actual fruit from the stalks. They are crushed to release crude palm oil and are processed in a centrifuge to remove any impurities, while the kernels move on to be made into palm kernel oil.
Crude palm oil in factory
Photo above (SciencePhotoLibrary): Crude palm oil being processed to remove impurities

What is being done?

  • The RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) certifies and works with major palm oil plantations to reduce the emissions and to protect the needs of the locals, deeming some brands “sustainable”;
  • The University of Reading has come up with a plan to buffer 1-4km around settlements close to oil palm plantations, to protect their farmland;
  • There are some sanctuaries created for the endangered species of the rainforest;
  • Large companies should strive to invest in green energy to power the plantations and factories.

Is it sustainable?

Overall, palm oil is a very controversial product, specifically because of its social, economic and environmental impacts, both local and global, and both positive and negative. As more people become aware of the impact on the environment and different communities, TNCs (Transnational Corporations) will be forced to take action. For now, we must all strive to select, whenever possible, products certified by the RSPO and educate ourselves and others of the vast impacts of the “Golden Crop”. By changing our own personal habits, we can have a collective impact to start the journey to combating climate change.


References:

[1] https://www.toptal.com/finance/market-research-analysts/palm-oil-investing?utm_content=palm-oil&utm_source=Quora (Orinola Gbadebo-Smith – An Investor’s Guide to Palm Oil)

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lf-GiulGlqg (How it’s made – Palm Oil)

[3] https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/8-things-know-about-palm-oil (WWF – 8 Things To Know About Palm Oil)

Bioplastics – always a good thing?

Plastic bottles

Saskia (Y13) questions whether bioplastics have been misbranded as an eco-friendly material and discusses factors we all should consider as consumers.

In the student leadership team, we have been thinking a lot about connections – within the school, within ourselves, and connections with the wider world. You will be hearing a lot more about the environment this year from Flora, our Environment Rep, but as I have been investigating whether the UK should be investing in bioplastics for my EPQ, I thought I would write about a few of my findings and hopefully encourage all of us to think more about the impact we are having on our world, and how we can work together to connect more with the environment.

Plastic underwater With its many uses – from industrial to home use, packaging, toys and clothes, its durability, light weight and low cost – plastics make economic sense and are in many ways ideal for 21st century living. But we are now all much more aware of the time – up to 1000 years – that plastics take to break down, when put into landfill. An estimated 3 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean each year. Alongside the life span factor, the raw material for traditional plastics – commonly from non-renewable sources such as oil – bring questions of sustainability. Acting on this, companies have looked for biomass (wheat, corn, sugar cane, sugar beet, potatoes and other plants) to turn into plastics. Thus, bioplastics have been created. A positive development, we might all agree.

However, straightaway we have to question the energy needed to transport biomass to a manufacturing plant to make bioplastics. We must then consider the energy needed to create them – the energy used in production for any type of plastic is high. Most importantly for the consumer, and what I want to focus on here, is the question of the disposal of bioplastics. It is a misconception to believe that bioplastics are better for the environment than petroleum plastics after life. Bioplastics are not necessarily biodegradable even though they are made from biomass materials. Bioplastics can be made to decompose; however, this is only common in products that have a short life. I am very keen to spread this message!

The Guardian[1] started some months ago wrapping their Saturday magazine supplement in corn starch wrapping. The corn starch wrapping can go into compost bins and decompose – no problems there. However, the new Coca Cola Plantbottle[2] cannot decompose. A plastic bottle, even made from biomass, will on average take 450 years to break down.

Plantbottle What CocaCola want you to do is to recycle your PlantBottle in the correct facility. In keeping the bioplastic of the bottles in use, they are promoting the circular economy that is becoming much more of a consideration for anyone in the manufacturing process. The problem, of course, is the human factor: how can you ensure the correct separation of materials to recycle efficiently and without contamination? If the separation does not work, one type of plastic can easily be mixed into another type and thus contaminate a batch of recycled product. This batch is then not able to be used in certain situations or at all due to the change in properties.

This is just a snapshot of some of the findings from my research. I believe bioplastics are a good alternative to the petrochemical plastics that we have used for so long. I say this with caution though because as I hope I have demonstrated, there are still many downsides to the materials. However, I believe that as our technology improves the impact that bioplastics have will decrease. It is key that we make these changes if bioplastics are ever going to be sustainable especially as the world is developing rapidly.

By focusing on education and minimising the impact humans are having on the environment we will ensure that there is a future for younger generations. It will involve considerable investment; we would need to change the materials we use, spend money clearing up plastic pollution and grow to educate an awareness of the afterlife of all types of plastics, including bioplastics. My main belief is that we need to change the way we use materials. It is just not feasible to continue increasing the amount of plastic packaging that the world is using and thus the most ideal situation is to dramatically decrease the amount of packaging and our dependence on plastics overall. I hope I have inspired you to think; if you have ideas of how we can do this within our WHS community, do let the SLT know.

 


References: 

[1] Natasha Hitti, [website], 2019, https://www.dezeen.com/2019/01/14/guardian-biodegradable-wrapping-design/

[2] CocaColaCo, [website], 2015, https://www.coca-colacompany.com/videos/introducing-plant-bottle-ytaevvjxqwaz8

 

What is obstetric fistula and why is it so common in developing countries?

Shirley, Year 10, looks at Obstetric Fistula, the most devastating and serious childbirth injury and explores why the injury is so common in developing countries, and the impact it has on the life of women.

Fistula

‘Obstetric Fistula is the worst thing you’ve never heard of’

An obstetric fistula is often considered as ‘one of the most serious and tragic childbirth injuries’, yet very few people have heard of it.

An obstetric fistula is a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder and is caused by prolonged, obstructed labour without access to timely, high-quality medical treatments such as an emergency C-section. In the case of an obstructed labour, the fetus is unable to come out of the mother’s body, usually because the baby is too big, or is in the wrong position.

Fistula diagram Days of unrelieved labour creates compression and cuts off both blood supplies to the baby and the mother’s internal soft tissue, causing both to die. The dead tissue results in holes (fistulas) in the walls separating the woman’s reproductive and excretory systems.

Why is it so common in developing countries?

Map
Obstetric fistula has been virtually eradicated in developed countries due to the availability of good medical care, such as the C-section and obstetric facilities.

However, this is not the case in developing countries.

Obstetric fistula occurs among women who live in low-resource countries, who give birth without access to medical help. There is often a lack of access to medical facilities, lack of adequately trained medical staff and not enough medical supplies and equipment.

It is estimated that there may be at least two million women and girls, living in poverty, who suffer from fistula. The problem is particularly prevalent in Africa, parts of Asia, parts of Latin America, the Arab States region and the Caribbean.

In many developing countries, girls tend to marry and begin childbearing at a very young age, often before their body is sufficiently developed to cope with this. The lack of formal education and the access to accurate information about family planning, pregnancy and childbirth also make the girls much more vulnerable to an obstructed labour. Cultural beliefs and traditions sometimes also prevent the girls from seeking the necessary medical care they need.

What is the impact of obstetric fistula on the life of women?

‘Obstetric fistula leaves women without hope’

As women with obstetric fistula are unable to control the flow of waste, they are often isolated due to their ‘foul smell’. Her community will almost always detach themselves from her. In many cases, her husband will also leave her and send her back to her own family.

‘She is scorned, bewildered, humiliated and isolated, often being cursed by God.’ – New York Times Column “New life for the Pariahs” on October 31st, 2009

Yet… it is neglected

Despite how life-threatening the condition is, fistula receives very little attention from the media and funding is virtually non-existent, representing 0.07% of annual global health funding. Awareness of fistula is limited as this condition is very rare in Europe and the US.

99% of women who get obstetric fistula will never have a chance at treatment and in order to stop this from happening, we need to raise our awareness of the condition.

Girl


Photos from:

https://www.opfistula.org/obstetric-fistula/

https://www.who.int/features/factfiles/obstetric_fistula/en/ (World Health Organisation)

Further reading:

https://www.fistulafoundation.org/what-is-fistula/

https://www.opfistula.org/obstetric-fistula/

https://www.who.int/features/factfiles/obstetric_fistula/en/

The feminist blueberries of the Western Cape

Blueberry farm

Rosie, Year 10, explores how a blueberry farm run by her great-aunt empowers women from the local township in Hermanus, South Africa.

Feminist blueberries – a surprising concept! One I found to be very real during half-term, while visiting my great-aunt Alison. Here, I discovered the opportunities which blueberries provide, helping and empowering the lives of women in the area.

Customarily, in the South African agriculture, the women are the workers, while the men make decisions and look after the cattle. As Alison explained to me, there is a common danger for married women in this, that being that their husbands take away their financial freedom. Whilst this is not always the case, it does however restrain many women from choosing to marry in the first place. As a result of this, my aunt Alison tries to employ as many women so that the money could be sure to go straight towards the household – keeping a family fed and looked after.

On the farm there are six permanent jobs held by women, including driving tractors attending the pump house and ensuring that the irrigation systems are clean. However, come high season Alison will employ around 150 women for picking, packing and checking. Normally, these women are from the local area and take the bus to and from the farm; their day typically starting at around 6am and finishing at 2:30pm, allowing them to greet their children when they come home from school.

The women from these local communities – picking up fruit such as grapes and apples – have very little work as it is seasonal. Typically, the picking of fruit lasts from February through to March or April, and this is then followed by a long period of unemployment. By working on the blueberry farm, 150 of these women have an extra four months of employment. In addition to this they are also provided with casual labour, such as weeding or planting new plants, thus making a hugely positive impact on their income.

In South Africa, Monday has a reputation for being a very slow-moving day. Many men either work slowly and without efficiency or don’t turn up, due to hangovers from the weekend. However, Alison does not find this to be the case for her ladies at all. She complimented their fast learning and ability to fill buckets speedily to reach the bonus, while still staying careful and particular when sorting each individual berry.

A huge part of the female empowerment at work here is Alison herself. It is her drive and passion in running the farm that benefits and gives a purpose to so many other women in the area, and makes her a very inspirational woman. There is no doubt that Alison and her ladies grow some pretty special blueberries.  Having been named the best blueberry suppliers in South Africa last year after only their first year of growing, I can certainly testify, having tried them myself, that these blueberries are the most delicious I have ever tasted.

Blueberries

China: Should we be worried?

Sofia, Year 13, discusses whether the increasing power of China is something that should be concerning the global community.

China is increasingly becoming a hot topic amongst economists as we see the developing influence it is having on the western world. We are seeing a new form of colonialism – neo-colonialism – whereby China has (by being the second largest economy in the world) significant power over countries. One would expect this to be only over lower income countries; however, China is even beginning to power the West’s markets and economies and even has the power to have political control.

It is evident that many African countries increasingly depend on China as a trading partner as trade was worth $10.5 billion in 2000, $40 billion in 2005 and $166 billion in 2011. China is currently Africa’s largest trading partner, having surpassed the US in 2009. However, dependency on China extends more deeply than trade. China has been seen to be providing many African countries with loans in the form of top-down development projects. Examples such as this can be seen in a $3.2 billion railway in Kenya, trekking 300 miles from Nairobi to Mombasa, which is faster than the equivalent distance of a train journey from Philadelphia to Boston. China has also built a $526 million dam in Guinea and a $475 million light rail system in Ethiopia, which is the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa. These infrastructure projects are effectively seen to be loans however these loans are extremely risky, with low or no interest, where often most of the money is not completely paid back. This shows that China is not investing in these projects for economic benefit, but to have leverage over a country. This allows China to have political leverage, especially in votes at UN conferences such as those involving the China/Taiwan governance issues or China’s allies such as North Korea.

In the most recent vote involving condemnation of North Korea, only 12 out of the 54 countries in Africa voted against China’s ally. It has also been found that if a country recognises Taiwan (which is under Chinese governance) as a country in its own right they receive 2.7 fewer Chinese infrastructure loans a year. Furthermore, if an African country voted overwhelmingly along with China in a UN General Assembly they receive 1.8 more infrastructure projects a year. This shows that increasingly in these vulnerable countries China is controlling their economies as well as their political views.

However, this is not only the case in low-income countries such as those in Africa, we have been seeing in recent years China is using a similar technique to have more influence over Europe. China is the EU’s largest provider of imports accounting for 20.3% in 2015. China has also invested a lot into Europe, arguably for profit however, some projects could also be for political influence even though European economies are significantly larger than those in Africa. Greece and Hungary worked together to prevent Europe condemning of a tribunal’s finding against China and its plan in the South China Sea. China has also recently invested half a billion euros into the Greek port of Piraeus and the Belgrade – Budapest railroad. China has also been seen to drive a wedge between the UK and the USA by decreasing trade between the two and siding with Europe on matters concerning Climate change. China has also been seen to exploit links with certain countries to make foreign policy hard in areas such as human rights.

It is clear China is having an increasing influence in countries everywhere, which is increasingly leading to the loss of democracy on the international stage. Countries should be weary of this increasing influence and so should decrease dependency on the super-power.

Exploring Sri Lanka – 28/09/18

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Serrena in Year 11 discusses the geography and struggles of Sri Lanka that she learnt about and witnessed when she was on a school trip there this summer.

Environmental Geography:

Sri Lanka is a teardrop-shaped island, located in the Indian Ocean with different climatic conditions across this small country. Its coastal areas are around 0–30m above sea level whilst its central highlands are 300–500m above sea level with the highest point in Sri Lanka, Pidurutalagala, at 2524m above sea level. These differing altitudes result in different climates: in the coastal areas there is hotter weather with more convectional rainfall, whereas the central highlands are cooler with more relief rainfall.  The cold, wet weather of the central highlands has resulted in an area called Nuwara Eliya being referred to as “Little England”.

Sri Lanka’s climate is also influenced by monsoons: the northeast monsoon (December to February), and the southwest monsoon (May to September). When the land heats up and low pressure is caused by the rising, hot air, cooler wind from the ocean is drawn in and brings with it heavy rainfall for the country. In Sri Lanka, the rivers naturally flow more towards the southern, wet zone but there has been human intervention to divert the flow of rivers towards the north of the country where there are dams.

The Sinharaja Rainforest:

The Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a national park and a biodiversity hotspot in the southwest of Sri Lanka. It has been designated a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by UNESCO. There are 211 woody trees and lianas so far identified in the reserve, 66% of which are endemic, 20 of Sri Lanka’s 26 endemic birds are found here as well as half of Sri Lanka’s endemic mammals and butterflies.

Human Impacts:

Lots of plants are cut illegally – the agarwood plant is fragrant and is stolen for use in cosmetics and perfumes, venivel creepers are taken for medicinal uses and the rattan plant is stolen for furniture. Precious gems are also illegally extracted from the site for jewellery. Pesticides left by people trying to grow certain plants to steal them lead to bioaccumulation. Contractors open up routes to facilitate logging operations and, although no felling is permitted within 1.6km of the reserve boundary, this renders the reserve more accessible to illicit timber operations. The planting of Honduran mahogany Swietenia macrophylla along abandoned logging trails as an enrichment species leads to the displacement of natural species, especially as it is a prolific seed producer.

The future of the site:

There are concerns over the future of the conservation of the site and its biodiversity as, despite being a UNESCO world heritage site, many people are illegally damaging it. Additionally, if global warming leads to more erratic and shorter monsoons, the plants will receive less water for photosynthesis which subsequently leads to less respiration and less growth.

Economic Geography:

Sri Lanka’s island status and ports allow it to have good trade relations with other countries. Its main exports are rubber, tea and coconut and its smaller exports are spices as well as minerals and gems.

Tourism:

Jobs in Sri Lanka are becoming increasingly based in the tertiary sector as it develops. There is Chinese investment in Sri Lanka: the government has taken a loan from the Chinese government to build a new harbour airport and highway as well as a new artificial island in Colombo called Port City. This new artificial island will provide jobs for locals as well as bring in lots of tourist revenue as new hotels will be built.

A growing tourist industry in recent years has allowed the country to recover after its development was hindered by a civil war. However, despite a growing tourism industry in Sri Lanka, upon visiting a hotel school on our trip and talking to the young men there who aspire to work in hotels we discovered that the vast majority of them want to work abroad. This may be due to a desire to see how other hotel industries work but Sri Lanka faces a larger issue of skilled workers leaving the country for higher salaries in the West.

1.2 million Sri Lankans work abroad and send money back home, whilst economic issues can also force women to work abroad. Women in rural areas who struggle to support their families have far fewer opportunities for employment in Sri Lanka compared to areas such as the Middle East. For example, there are 1.5 million Asian domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.

Social Geography:

Education:

Education is free in Sri Lanka and subsequently there is a 94% literacy rate. In Sri Lanka there are only spaces for around 10% of students to go to university. This lack of universities and increased competition for spaces in higher education leads to many parents feeling forced to send their children to tuition to give them the best chance possible of getting into university. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that school finishes at around lunchtime in Sri Lanka and children are unoccupied in the afternoon, a time when many school teachers will run their own private tuition. This leaves bright children, in a country where the average wage is USD $12,768, whose parents cannot afford to send them to tuition at a disadvantage compared to students whose parents have a larger disposable income. As parents feel compelled to allocate part of their income to their child’s tuition, they face an opportunity cost of giving their children a better chance of getting into university or having the financial means to afford a better quality of life for their family.

Culture:

There are people of many different religions in Sri Lanka who peacefully co – exist. As religious studies is a compulsory subject up until 16 in the Sri Lankan schooling system, the religious tensions of the civil war are unlikely to resurface and students are more tolerant.

Polwathatha Eco lodge:

This Eco lodge encourages ecotourism.

  • It produces its own tea and coffee
  • It has a community produce section and employs many locals to give them a source of income
  • They collect polyethylene plastic and give it to a place in Digana where the plastic is recycled
  • They give kitchen waste to the wild pigs which uses up the kitchen waste while maintaining biodiversity
  • To maintain local culture and show tourists a non – westernised and authentic Sri Lankan experience they provide homestays for visitors

During our community stay in Digana local women have small plots of land where they can plant crops and sell them to gain a source of income and become independent, furthering the emancipation of women in rural areas of Sri Lanka.

When we visited a roadside rural restaurant, we realised that many people in rural areas lead sustainable lifestyles and their low income means they aim to have minimal waste. For example, coconuts are fully grated inside to provide food for the restaurant whilst the husk is used for building thatched rooves.

Evaluation

I found this trip visiting rural areas to be a humbling experience for someone who lives in a busy city like me for a few reasons:

  1. The resourcefulness of Sri Lankans makes up for their lack of technological advancements in comparison to Western, developed nations;
  2. The resilience of the people we met in the face of adversity; the absence of a social benefit system after tsunamis have caused vast devastation in Sri Lanka in the past two decades and a civil war that lasted 25 years disrupted the lives of thousands of Sri Lankans, displacing an estimated 800,000 people;
  3. The incomparable hospitality of our host families, drivers and everybody we met. There is a huge sense of community in rural Sri Lanka that left a lasting impact on my outlook in life.

Hotspotting: the conservation strategy to save our wildlife?

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Alex (Year 11) investigates whether the strategy of hotspot conservation is beneficial to reducing mass extinction rates, or if this strategy is not all it claims to be.

Back in 2007, Professor Norman Myers was named the Time Magazine Hero of the Environment for his work in conservation with relation to biodiversity hotspots. He first came up with his concept of hotspot conservation in 1988, when he expressed his fears that ‘the number of species threatened with extinction far outstrips available conservation resources’. The main idea was that he would identify hotspots for biodiversity around the world, concentrating conservation efforts there and saving the most species possible in this way.

Myers’ fears are even more relevant now than 30 years ago. According to scientific estimates, dozens of species are becoming extinct daily leading to the worst epidemic of extinction since the death of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago. And this is not as naturally occurring as a giant meteor colliding with the Earth – 99% of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species are at risk from human activities such as ocean pollution and loss of habitat due to deforestation amongst other things. It is therefore crucial that we act now to adopt a range of conservation strategies to give our ecosystems a chance at survival for future generations.

To become accepted as a hotspot, a region must meet two criteria: firstly it must contain a minimum of 1,500 endemic (native or restricted to a certain area) plant species, and secondly it must have lost at least 70% of its original vegetation. Following these rules, 35 areas around the world ranging from the Tropical Andes in South America to more than 7,100 islands in the Philippines and all of New Zealand and Madagascar, were identified as hotspots. These areas cover only 2.3% of Earth’s total land surface but contain more than 50% of the world’s endemic plant species and 43% of endemic terrestrial bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian species, making them crucial to the world’s biodiversity.

This concept has been hailed as a work of genius by conservationists and has consequently been adopted by many conservation agencies such as Conservation International – who believe that success in conserving these areas and their endemic species will have ‘an enormous impact in securing our global biodiversity’.

The principal barrier to all conservation efforts is funding, as buying territories and caring for them costs a lot of money, which is primarily raised from businesses, governments and individual donors. Most of this funding is raised through campaigns focused on charismatic megafauna such as the penguin or the snow leopard. These types of campaigns motivate people as they feel a closer connection to these animals and they seem to really be making a difference in conserving these species. When conservation is done on a larger, regional level, there is less of the gratification that comes along with donating money as there is less control, felt by the donors, over the work done for conservation. Through the identification of 35 specific areas to concentrate funds towards, this reconnects the public, as well as larger companies and local governmental bodies, to the projects, thereby encouraging more donations. It is for this reason that hotspot conservation has received £740 million, the largest amount ever assigned to a single conservation strategy.

Although the 35 areas identified are relatively widespread and well-funded for their conservation efforts, this strategy has been criticised for its neglect of other crucial ecosystems. First of all, there are no hotspots in northern Europe and many other areas around the world, neglecting many species of both flora and fauna. Also, as the criteria for classification as a hotspot are with reference to endemic plant species, many species of fauna are neglected, from insects to large and endangered species such as elephants, rhinos, bears, and wolves. Furthermore, areas referred to as ‘coldspots’ are ignored. This could lead to the collapse of entire ecosystems following the extinction of key species.

Another major issue with this strategy is that terrestrial environments only make up around 29.2% of the earth’s surface area. The other 70.8% is covered in very diverse (but also very threatened) oceans and seas. Marine environments are overlooked by hotspot conservationists as they rarely have 1500 endemic plant species, as deep oceans with very little light are not the ideal environmental environment for plant growth, and species floating on the top are rarely confined to one specific area, making them not endemic.

So, if even the more successful strategies for conservation are so flawed, is there any hope for the future? I think that yes, there is. Although there is no way to save all the species on earth, identifying crucially important areas to concentrate our efforts on is essential to modern conservation efforts. Hotspot conservation is definitely improving the ecological situation in these 35 areas and so those efforts should be continued, but that doesn’t mean that all conservation efforts should be focussed only on these hotspots. Hotspot conservation should be part of the overall strategy for reduction of mass extinction rates, but it is not the fix-all solution that some claim it is.

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