Deeper cuts will not make the UK any better

It’s there in plain sight. It always was – they never even tried to hide it.

“Should we cut things now and then go back later and try and restore them?” Cameron asked. “I think we should try to avoid that approach … people should open their minds and find new ways of doing more for less. We’re going to have to change the way we work. How can we do things differently and better to give the value for money?”

Prime Minister David Cameron, August 2010.

The UK is about to embark on something of an experiment. It can be described as: “just how bad would austerity have been if the Liberal Democrats weren’t in government and had been acting as a moderating influence?”. The results aren’t a day old and already there have been announcements for some of the £30billion reductions in government spending to be carried out over the next five years. This requires fast-tracking £12billion cuts to welfare and will include taking away housing benefit for unemployed (sorry ‘job seekers’) under the age of twenty one.

Pensions and public spending will be coming soon I’m sure. “More for less” That’s more for the wealthiest and less for the poor. That’s been the story of five years of austerity. The number of food banks in the UK has ballooned whilst the wealth of the top 1000 wealthiest in the UK has doubled over the past 10 years.

This is the stability and economic recovery that the Conservative party campaigned on. And won.

These are some of the other issues that the Conservative party will now very likey to act swiftly upon given their majority in the Houses of Parliament.

  1. Pass into law the “snoopers charter” that would make mobile phone and internet provider companies legally obliged to store information about your use of their services for 12 months. This will further continue the UK’s mass surveillance programs such as Tempora.
  2. Scrap the Human Rights Act.
  3. Further increase corporate power by establishing TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership).
  4. Accelerate the privatisation of the NHS.

A Conservative government is verly likely to continue to “cut the green crap” by reducing taxation on fossil fuels, make the UK Government legally obliged to exploit oil and gas, block onshore wind farms, promote fracking and sell our national forests.

I gave up on the general election result around 6:30am Friday morning. It would be easy for me to now give up on the issues I’ve listed above. I think it’s a reasonable response to feel utterly defeated and begin to try to convince myself that it’s not really that bad. I mean, I will be OK. Right?

I can’t say why the Conservatives exceeded all expectations and are now in a strong position to implement their manifesto. Some argue that they are able to appeal to moral values more effectively. It isn’t just about pounds and pence but that shared vision of what would make Great Britain greater. Better.

“Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.” More austerity from a now unshackled Conservative government will not make the UK any better. It will only serve to make it much, much worse.

What are you going to do about that?

Astronauts needed for Spaceship Earth


For the past couple of years I’ve given a talk to school children (age adjusted) called “Spaceship Earth”. It asks them to think about the Earth as a spaceship – in fact a spacesuit – and in doing so introduces a range of Earth and sustainability science topics. I’m looking for a local school teacher to help me develop this into a show/event that can be toured around regional perhaps even national schools.

I’ve posted a flyer I’ve just knocked up and there is some blurb below. Please forward this onto anyone you think may be interested!

“There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.”

We fly through space at thousands of miles an hour on the surface of a planetary spaceship. We may not be able to steer this spaceship (which is just as well because we don’t want to crash into the Sun!) but we are able to change some important properties that we, and all life on Earth depend on. Find out how by coming to this talk that will feature rocket videos, experiments, and the opportunity to try on SCUBA diving kit

There is no Planet B






Apologies for lack of posts. Research, teaching admin duties blah, blah, blah. Plus my Eccentric Orbits column keeps me busy. And a great deal of my time is being spent on developing a new Masters in Sustainability program.

We aren’t going to be trying to save the world (whatever that means), but we will be exploring how you can be part of the solution to the primary challenge of our age: just how can seven billion plus people live within the boundaries of a finite planet?


An evening with Polly Higgins

On Thursday 6 November, 7:30 pm, I will be hosting Polly Higgins at the Turner Sims concert venue at the University of Southampton.

[noun] is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.

Polly has become renowned for spearheading the campaign to bring a Law of Ecocide as the 5th crime against humanity, peace and ultimately nature, to stand alongside war crimes and genocide. Polly will give a talk that, after a short break with some complimentary refreshments, will be followed by what I’m sure will be a lively panel discussion.

Tickets can be obtained from the Turner Sims website here.

Come and listen to a legend of our times and ask questions to a panel of esteemed guests, including Keith Taylor MEP.

Open Letter from academics requesting VC to withdraw Southampton from Pension Proposal to End FSS

Dear Prof Nutbeam,

We would like to share with you how concerned your colleagues are regarding the proposed abolition of the Final Salary Scheme (FSS). Such a change would significantly affect both established and early career staff who have been encouraged to make future plans on the provisions of this scheme. We are deeply concerned that Southampton has been pulled into a proposal that could produce significant decreases in the financial security of staff.

We are particularly concerned at the lack of transparency surrounding this issue. Indeed, there are increasing reasons to dispute some of the fundamental conclusions that underpin the proposed changes.

Therefore we appeal to you that you withdraw the University of Southampton from the USS / Universities proposal that includes elimination of the Final Salary Scheme.

To elaborate, we support the letter from the group of internationally recognised statisticians concerning the errors in the Employers Pension Forum  regarding “Proposed Changes to USS – Myths, Misconceptions and Misunderstandings”.

Furthermore, we agree with the questions raised by Oxford Professor Cooper regarding the assumptions behind the valuation of the Pension Fund. In particular

“It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the proposed decrease in our pension benefits is due to an unreasonable method of calculating the deficit and a mis-conceived reaction to it. Central UCU officers have been arguing with USS for a more sensible valuation method, but so far without success….Since most of the USS investments are not in gilts, it is not at all clear that this is a sensible way to estimate the liabilities, especially when the gilts market is in an unusual state. The problem is not the investment strategy, which has performed well, but the calculation method.”

We were informed that the changes introduced in 2011 would assure the future viability of USS, details here.

We also agree with the Hutton Pension report’s recommendation on Final Salary Schemes that these should be respected as well as protected, that the cost in erosion of trust is too high.

Based on the conclusions of both eminent experts and third party professional analysis provided by the UCU, and in concert with the Hutton report’s recommendations, we do not see a fair basis for the radical set of proposals put forward by the Universities/USS.

We therefore request that you act on behalf of your colleagues and assume a leadership role in these pension discussions and withdraw the University of Southampton from supporting any proposal that would disband the Final Salary Scheme.

Members of Electronics & Computer Science

Thomas Andritsch
Markus Brede
Michael Butler
John Carter
Paul Chappell
Martin Charlton
George Chen
Sheng Chen
Harold Chong
Tim Chown
Bing Chu
Enrico Costanza
Richard Crowder
Hugh Davis
Maruitis de Planque
Terry Elliot
Julian Field
Chris Freeman
Stephen B Gabriel
Enrico Gerding
Lester Gilbert
Nick Gibbins
Igor Golosnoy
Nicolas Green
Basal Halak
Lajos Hanzo
Nick Harris
Jonathon Hare
Yvonne Howard
Jack Hunter
Paul Lewin
Joyce Lewis
Sasan Mahmoodi
Koushik Maharatna
Kirk Martinez
Rob Maunder
Iain McNally
Geoff Merrett
David Millard
Hywel Morgan
Brendan Neville
Mahesan Niranjan
Michael Ng
Reena Pau
James Pilgrim
Maria Polukarov
Themis Prodromakis
Mike Poppleton
Sarvapali Ramchurn
Bill Redman White
Jeff Reeve
Alex Rogers
Eric Rogers
Vladimiro Sassone
m.c. schraefel
Sebastian Stein
Colin Upstill
Alun Vaughan
Mike Wald
Richard Watson
Alex S Weddell
Neil White
Reuben Wilcock
James Wilkinson
Peter Wilson
Ed Zaluska
Klaus-Peter Zauner
Rong Zhang
Mark Zwolinski

Members of Geography & Environment

Pete Atkinson
Sam Cockings
Nick Clarke
Steve Darby
John Dearing
James Dyke
Mary Edwards
Lyn Ertl
Jane Hart
Paul Hughes
Pete Langdon
Julian Leyland
Graham Moon
Jo Nield
Suzanne Reimer
Emma Roe
Gareth Roberts
David Sear
Luigi Sedda
Peter Sunley
Richard Teves
Emma Tompkins
Julie Vullnetari
Nicola Waldrop
Eleanor Wilkinson

Are we doomed?

Tonight at 7:45pm in the Winchester Discovery Centre, I will giving the talk: Are we doomed? Is our civilisation headed for collapse? win disc centre 2014-v2.001 It’s taken me some time to realise that this is what most of my research is really about. In an abstract sense it’s about how far can you push a system before it fails, do you get any warning its going to fail and then once it does how can you recover it. But I’ve become increasingly motivated to situate these question in the real world. Our world – planet Earth. Rather than being morbid or depressing, I think these issues are fascinating and actually quite empowering. Ultimately, it’s about deciding what sort of planet we want to live on. What sort of a planet do we wish others to live on. If you are in town and can spare an hour, then come along. I predict there will be some significant disagreement with what I have to say from some people.

If he were alive today Alfred Nobel would have wanted a sustainability prize

It’s Nobel Prize week, with awards for Medicine and Physiology, Physics, Chemistry, Peace and Economics being announced over the next seven days. We will discover who will win the literature prize later in the month.

While a Nobel is not the most lucrative accolade in academia – it “only” awards US$1.2m whereas since 2012 the Fundamental Physics Prize has paid out US$3m per recipient – it is easily the most recognisable and prestigious. You may be the most highly cited scholar in your field, have a small army of postdocs and a shelf full of books discussing your theories, but adding “Nobel Laureate” to your CV reaches the parts other accolades can’t.

The first prizes were awarded in 1901, five years after the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who in his final will bequeathed the majority of his considerable fortune to the establishment of the a foundation that would award prizes to: “those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.

The Nobel Foundation has previously made awards within the area of sustainability – most famously the 2007 peace prize jointly awarded to Al Gore and The IPCC. But if the foundation is primarily tasked with rewarding those individuals and organisations that have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind, then a Nobel Prize for Sustainability should be central to that aim. Continue reading

What is science and why does it matter?


What is science?

I would hazard a guess that someone randomly accosted on the street and asked for a working definition of science would flounder a little. They may mumble something about white coats, test tubes and impenetrable maths. That is sometimes the response I get from my non-science undergraduate students. So it was with real interest that I began reading Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s How our botched understanding of ‘science’ ruins everything  as I hoped to learn how he proposed shedding some light on this matter. Gobry gives the following working definition of science:

“Science is the process through which we derive reliable predictive rules through controlled experimentation.”

That sounds quite narrow, but then scientists predict things and they do experiments right? But he continues with:

Because people don’t understand that science is built on experimentation, they don’t understand that studies in fields like psychology almost never prove anything, since only replicated experiment proves something.

No scientist would claim that an experiment “proves” a theory, only that the theory proposed has not be shown to be false. It’s a “put it up and try to knock it down” version of science in which all scientific models are wrong, but some are more useful than others. However, it’s Gorby’s view of statistics which leads us to very strange territory: Continue reading

Sustainable development must be doughnut-shaped

Sustainable development must be doughnut-shaped

By James Dyke, University of Southampton; John Dearing, University of Southampton, and Peter Langdon, University of Southampton

Is it possible for humans to fulfil their needs without also destroying the environment? It’s a question we need to find an answer to soon, as the world’s poorer regions demand the same perks that come with development.

On one hand, people need to consume some of a region’s resources so that those living there can drink clean water, grow nutritious food and get access to health services and education. But such consumption comes with unavoidable impacts. If these impacts increase beyond a region’s ability to continue to provide services such as water, pollination, soil stabilisation and climate regulation then the process of development can actually hinder rather than improve people’s welfare and well-being.

Striking the right balance is tricky and requires a new way of defining places that are both environmentally safe and socially just. Over the past two years, working with an international group of scientists, we have developed such a definition of safe and just operating spaces.

In doing so we have tackled the tension that often exists in low-income regions between raising standards of living and keeping environmental impacts within bounds that allow the environment to supply vital services. The findings of our research have been published this month in the journal Global Environmental Change. Continue reading

New PhD on regime shifts in ecosystems

Would you like to help increase our understanding of how ecosystems can suddenly collapse? I’m a member of a team of University of Southampton and Natural History Museum researchers who are looking to recruit a talented PhD student. Details here.

If you are interestd in applying, or would like to talk about the project and its aims more generally, then please either drop me a line, or email Steve Brooks at s.brooks AT