Exporting responsibilities

I’ve giving a talk at Sherborne Girls School tomorrow evening. As this will coincide with the start of the release of the latest Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, I will spend a bit more time on things climate and carbon. Two topics that often come up in questions after my talks are population and China. There are too many people being born and too much carbon being emitted from China. These are both very important issues and I worry I never do them justice.  Continue reading

Why You Should Love Wasps

https://i1.wp.com/www.goodriddancepestservices.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/wasp.jpgRecently a member of the public wrote to the Guardian newspaper to ask other readers to propose species that were, from an ecological point of view ‘useless’. That is, their removal would not produce any large changes to the abundance of other species or alter any biogeochemical cycles. Can you guess which species they chose to illustrate this question with? A wasp. A German Wasp (Vespula germanica), which along with the Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris), stinging nettles and dog dirt are the only appreciable natural hazards that the British Isles possess. Like many other species of the order Hymenoptera, these insects have modified ovipositors that no longer lay eggs but sting. The thing is, whereas bees either make honey or look fluffy and bumbling, these black and yellow wasps seem to do nothing but ruin whatever weather passes for a British summer by pestering picnics and raiding barbecues. Continue reading

Self Organisation

I think this is a very nice demonstration of the self-organisation of a complex system. An initial random state produces chaotic behaviour which via a process of feedback leads to the eventual synchronisation of all elements.

This behaviour is nothing new. The phenomena of pendulum clocks synchronizing is as old as, well, pendulum clocks. Mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and all round very clever fellow Christiaan Huygens (you have to be pretty important to have a spacecraft named after you) noticed that two of his pendulums clock that were mounted on the wall near to each other would gradually synchronise no matter how they were initially started.

This was something of a mystery which Huygens coined ‘odd sympathy’. Continue reading