Energy issues: Should Britain adopt fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ has been implemented in the United Kingdom for some time, yet until recently there seems to have been a prevailing unfamiliarity with this form of natural gas extraction. The recent proposals for fracking in Balcombe in Sussex by the company Cuadrilla certainly served to arouse greater consideration in fracking operations. One of the reasons why the British government has changed it’s stance on fracking, and why we have seen the promulgation of proposals in Balcombe, are accountable to the rising demands for energy in this country which are exceeding available supplies and putting increasing levels of pressure on British energy companies, our existing infrastructure, and our own government, who continue to endeavour to secure purchase of fuel stocks abroad. At the same time Britain intends to fulfil obligations to invest and make use of renewable energy sources so as to cut our carbon emissions. As a result, Britain confronts a particularly difficult set of problems. How long can Britain delay this issue and what sort of compromise can be met if Britain adopts fracking? Is fracking compatible in the British Isles? Why is there opposition towards it?

There is an argument to suggest that fracking can be successfully managed when one appreciates the effective strategy implemented in Beckingham in Nottinghamshire. For 50 years 13 square miles of the Gainsborough-Beckingham oil field has been exploited for its natural gas deposits trapped in shale strata 3000 ft. below it. In total 53 fracking operations have been carried out since its establishment, but none of them have yet to cause major subsidence, nor has wildlife been adversely affected. Part of this success is as a result of the decision to maintain the RSPB Beckingham Marshes in the area surrounding the site, which has managed to offset the noise pollution generated from it because of the successful bird population whose birdsong muffles the sound of the operations. The survival and the growth in bird populations in the marshes and indeed other species is testamount to the effective maintenance and removal of chemicals and excess water used in the process to prevent significant run-off, which would otherwise be an inherent hazard and the primary cause of environmental damage. At the same time, operations have entailed both short term and long term economic benefits: 35 people locally are in permanent employment supporting 35 families, and the operations fuel local power stations without the tax burden on importing fuel, yielding enough electricity to support 21,000 homes. On the other hand, fracking activity has entailed unintended consequences on a number of occasions. In Britain it has exposed somewhat the natural geological hazards of the process when a mechanism disturbs local geology. Shale gas testing in Blackpool was claimed to be the main cause of two seismic events in 2011: one tremor of magnitude 2.3 hit the Flyde coast in April and a separate seismic event of 1.4 on the Richter scale occurred a month later on the 27th May, which was later confirmed by the British Geological Survey. Nonetheless, recognising that the Richter scale does not translate the damage induced by an earthquake, it was confirmed that this event enveloped no human or economic damage. It would however be foolish to suggest that because the recorded Blackpool tremors had no known human impacts, that this would be the same case elsewhere in Britain with different circumstances, different geology and different levels of vulnerability.

There are a number of environmental problems linked to fracking other than subsidence. Hydraulic fracturing requires significant input in order for it to function as an extraction process. Indeed, each fracking job requires approximately 1.2-3.5 million m3 of water and similar volumes of water each time a well is reopened. Fracking would no doubt necessitate the usage of local sources of water, and therefore would deplete water levels in local waterways and aquifers, which in turn would damage river ecosystems. The fact that at least 650 different carcinogenic chemicals are used in fracking mixtures further advises the potentially negative impacts of fracking, because these chemicals can leach into local water ways and contaminate them. Nonetheless, natural gas has the potential to satisfy a large fraction of Britain’s energy requirements and natural gas upon combustion produces half as much carbon dioxide to burning coal. The 2 hundred trillion cubic ft. on licensed to the fracking company Cuadrilla in Lancashire (Britain uses 3 hundred trillion cubic ft. per year) could potentially provide 25% of Britain’s annual energy needs for the next 30 years according to its CEO Francis Egan.

There is argument to suggest that fracking, whilst posing negative implications for the environment by burning non-renewable natural gas, could nonetheless be used as a means to sustain Britain’s energy requirements whilst it continues to invest into the renewable energy industry. Currently the natural gas provides more electricity for Britain than all renewable energy sources put together, such is the youth of our own renewable energy industry. In 2012, renewable energy sources supplied 11.3% of Britain’s electricity, whilst 41% of the electricity used was generated through the combustion of natural gas. If some of the money gained from selling natural gas was subsidised into projects developing renewable sources of energy, Britain could mitigate the affects of carbon dioxide emissions by minimizing carbon dioxide output whilst sustaining functions in Britain. In addition, making use of natural gas in the United Kingdom would eliminate the need to import natural gas which uses oil in transportation, which is currently adding to carbon dioxide emissions globally.

Although fracking encompasses positive economic and some environmental benefits, it poses realistic negative shortcomings for countryside and rural communities. A clear example of this is Welsh community in the Vale of Glamorgan, where fracking was approved in October this year. The community of Llantrithyd in the Vale of Glamorgan, some of whom rely upon low scale tourism as a source of income, would lose out to the development of fracking operations in the areas because it would permanently alter the natural landscape and views it provides which attracts seasonal visitors. Secondly, Llantrithyd possesses an historic deer park dating back to 1645 whose deer population could be adversely affected by any contamination of local waterways. In addition to this, one of the long term setbacks for local people would be the growth in congestion on local roads following the activity of fracking company lorries transporting raw materials, gas and chemical volumes to and from sites. On the other hand, when one looks at the example of the Gainsborough-Beckingham fracking site, the limitations of fracking as mentioned above are not characterized by this site. One of the main conclusions we can extract from this is that fracking would entail different repercussions for different locations based upon the contrasting characteristics of varying towns and villages. Therefore, there is argument to suggest that if fracking can be successfully integrated into the local scene and way of life, the benefits of fracking could be brought about without as much of the collateral anticipated by communities. This outlook however would have to settle for the intrinsic environmental symptoms of burning carcinogenic, non-renewable fossil fuels, and satisfying the concerns of local people which itself has a political dimension to it.

To conclude, it must be recognised that fracking poses both beneficial implications and negative ones for the United Kingdom. Some communities will lose out to fracking whilst others will gain from it; and nationally speaking Britain would likely benefit from increased fuel independence, but then again the environmental effects of burning fossil fuels are detrimental to us all in the long term. Localised low scale fracking could work if sufficient appreciation were made to the impacts of fracking taking into account the concerns and potential affects to local the area and landscape, and thus generating a holistic plan. Large scale fracking would encroach on too large a geographical area which would entail more complex ramifications. If anything, it should be down to the local communities to decide whether fracking should operate in their area. Nonetheless, the government will not be able to delay the energy needs of the British people, particularly if prices rise further as a result of depletion in supplies. Should this take precedence over the concerns of fracking to communities around the country? Or should the British people reconsider their way of life which demands ever more of the environment, and that a change in culture would do better to prevent the need to bring these measures into effect?


Contributed By Bertie Bricusse

Book Review: Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

In Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond provides a compelling thesis as to why European civilisation has geopolitically dominated the Americas, Africa and Asia, from the Age of Enlightenment to the present day. Diamond’s explanation centres on the premise that Europe has prevailed over other civilisations due to its environmental conditions, as opposed to any genetic predisposition. This is exemplified by his belief that the physical locations of different cultures have affected their ability to develop agriculture, domesticate animals and gain certain traits, such as immunity to disease. However, this is hardly a geographical breakthrough as it is evident that in different areas of the world there are varying rates of agricultural productivity. Furthermore, from the outset, Diamond drew criticism from many historians for attempting to use geography to explain the rise of mercantilism in Europe. Diamond did this by highlighting how the continent’s lack of natural impediments, such as mountain ranges and large bodies of water, had made the continent easily traversable, and thus encouraged both trade and development.
Prior to my critique, it is important that Diamond’s credentials as an author be assessed. Jared Diamond is regularly described as America’s best-known geographer; his popularity is mainly due to the publication of critically acclaimed books such as ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed’ and ‘The Third Chimpanzee’. However, popularity does not necessarily mean credibility as an author. Diamond’s credibility is unquestionable as he sits on the boards of prestigious organisations, such as the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. This book, Guns, Germs and Steel, has been regarded as Diamond’s most well received publication with him receiving awards from the Royal Society and the Phi Beta Kappa Society, as well as a Pulitzer Prize.
In the prologue, Diamond recalls a conversation that he had, in 1972, in Papua New Guinea with a local politician. The politician asked Diamond an intriguing question; “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own” (Page 14). Diamond uses this question to commence a discussion based on the history of human evolution. In particular, he seeks to explain how socio-economic and environmental conditions have affected the development of Papua New Guinea. Firstly, Diamond claims that prior to the British colonisation of Papua New Guinea nearly all New Guineans were using stone tools and relied upon hunter-gatherers for food. Diamond uses this as both a microcosm and example of how hunter-gatherer societies around the world have failed to develop into modern civilisations. He goes on to explain how the lack of sustainable agricultural systems in New Guinean hunter-gatherer societies prevented them from creating food surpluses to support and feed technological experts, bureaucrats and scribes, and therefore hindered the growth of technology, government and writing in Papua New Guinea. Moreover, Diamond correctly identifies how hunter-gatherer societies are unsustainable as their survival could be at risk if animal resources start to decline. An example of this given in the book is how most megafauna, in the New World, had become extinct by the end of the Pleistocene primarily due to overexploitation by humans. However, what Diamond surprisingly fails to acknowledge is that agriculture was independently developed in the New Guinea highlands from around 7000 BC, making it one of the few areas in the world where people independently domesticated plants. Following this, in 500 BC, a major migration of Austronesian-speaking people to the coastal regions of New Guinea, resulted in the introduction of pottery, pigs, and certain fishing techniques. Diamond’s failure to include this information may be representative of his Eurocentric views or, more likely, that he purposely ignored the fact that New Guineans had developed agriculture in 7000 BC, without the aid of Europe or Asia, as it would undoubtedly undermine his theory. In regards to socio-economic conditions, a key factor Diamond seems to overlook is that economic inequality within a country is far more prevalent than inequality amongst countries. This disregard is illustrated by Diamond’s emphasis on the present economic inequality between ’developing’ Papua New Guinea and ‘industrialised’ Australia. The reasoning behind Diamond ignoring internal economic inequality could be that his source is outdated. Diamond’s assumptions on New Guinea are based on the observations he made when he visited the country over 40 years ago in 1972. Since then, income inequality has widened, with a rich elite exploiting the countries abundance of natural resources by developing timber plantations and gold mines, whilst the remaining majority of Papua New Guineans live in extreme poverty, with about one-third of the population living on less than US$1.25 per day.
The first farming as far as we know appeared in the Middle East region, known as the Fertile Crescent, some 11,500 years ago. As highlighted in Chapter 8, the Fertile Crescent had the greatest variety of wild plants and animals, with only a small fraction being suitable for domestication. One of the most striking revelations in Diamond’s book is how the distribution of domestication-prone animals greatly favoured Eurasia. Diamond provides the convincing fact that of the 14 domesticated animals on the planet, 13 of them are found in Eurasia, one in South America and none in the rest of the world. Furthermore, most of the major food crops we consume today (e.g. wheat, barley, rice and sugar) are of Eurasian origin and of the fourteen mammals over 100 pounds that humans have domesticated, every one of the ‘major five’ (cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and horses) is also of Eurasian origin. It must also be pointed out that one cannot argue that Eurasians were simply cleverer than Africans and Native Americans, when it came to learning how to domesticate the local flora and fauna. This is because despite Europeans eventually occupying every inhabitable continent, and advancing in technology and breeding techniques, European colonists never domesticated any new species of major agricultural importance in the lands that they conquered. Therefore, this is claimed by Diamond to be clear proof that environmental conditions (e.g. domestication of animals and plants) were the main factor in European dominance. Another important factor, that Diamond believes in, is that Eurasia’s environment is beneficial as it forms part of the ‘west-east axis’, as opposed to the ‘north-south axis’ of the Americas and Africa. The ‘west-east axis’ is based upon the principle that as Eurasia stretches from west to east, and thus its latitudinal orientation remains similar throughout the entire landmass, resulting in similar climatic conditions over which several societies could share agricultural innovations. Hence, this has allowed Eurasia to maintain an enormous, integrated area of common agricultural practices and crops, which stretches roughly 6000 miles. On the other hand, Diamond claims that, in the Americas, as there is a ‘north-south axis’ the species domesticated by the Inca civilisation in the Andes, never managed to the reach the Aztec civilisation in Central Mexico, as the retrospective animals and plants were incompatible with the tropics of Mexico. However, there are examples of north-south diffusion of crops in the Americas, most significantly the cultivation of maize in Peru, and its adoption in North America.
The transmission of diseases from European colonists to indigenous people is a key component of Diamond’s argument; this is because Diamond believes disease played a decisive role in European conquests by decimating many indigenous populations. Diamond starts his explanation by suggesting that infectious diseases, such as smallpox, measles, influenza and bubonic plague cannot sustain themselves in sparsely populated hunter-gatherer societies. This is because these infectious diseases will wipe out the entire population of a hunter-gatherer society, and therefore destroy the microbe that is causing the disease. Diamond states that in order for infectious diseases to last over a long period, they must only exist in large populations, which have close contact with other populous societies. Infectious diseases are more likely to be prevalent in these societies as the likelihood of many individuals being immune to the disease is far less, and the microbe would be able to shift back-and-forth between neighbouring populations. Diamond goes on to examine where these microbes come from and provides the plausible explanation that they are mutations of microbes that evolved to survive amidst dense populations of mammals, specifically amongst herd animals, most of which humans domesticated themselves and lived in close proximity with. Subsequently, Diamond concludes that agriculture provided the necessary conditions for the survival of these infectious diseases among humans, which through a natural mutation, made the adjustment from being hosted by domesticated animals, such as cattle and pigs, to being hosted by humans. Diamond cites this as one of the reasons for Europeans being able to subjugate Native Americans, as most Native Americans had no resistance or natural immunity to the infectious diseases that were introduced, which therefore resulted in a high Native American death rate. This strengthens Diamond’s argument as it illustrates how agriculture was responsible for the infectious diseases, which aided Europeans in their colonial conquests.
A problem consistently seen throughout the book is Diamond’s selectiveness when it comes to picking out parts of history to include in his thesis. This is evident on page 373, where in an attempt to explain why Vikings did not successfully colonise the New World, while the Spanish and other Europeans who followed them did, Diamond writes, “Spain, unlike Norway, was rich and populous enough to support exploration and subsidize colonies”. Whilst this is true, Diamond conveniently chooses to ignore the fact that Norway did successfully explore the North Atlantic, and did successfully colonise the Faeroe Islands and Iceland. The reasoning behind this omission could be that Diamond does not want to admit that Norway was able to successfully colonise and subjugate territories overseas. This is because Norway has high latitude and at the time was not as advanced in food production and technology, which therefore would have contradicted Diamond’s theory. Furthermore, Diamond fails to provide a balanced historical account as he refers to Spain as being rich and populous during the late 15th century. This is a misleading for two reasons; firstly, in the late 15th century Spain was marred by political instability as the Spanish Inquisition was taking place and secondly, the majority of Spain’s wealth came after the discovery and colonisation of the Americas. However, this seems to be the only historical inaccuracy, concerning Spain, in Guns, Germs and Steel. This is because the majority of information Diamond uses, in regards to the Spanish colonisation of the Americas, stems from the Cortes Society in New York, which is an independent organisation that publishes first-hand narratives concerning the discovery and conquest of Latin America.
In conclusion, Jared Diamond’s outtake on human history must be classified as a form of environmental determinism. The theory he puts forward, that environment not intellectuality, was the key determinant in Europe’s dominance provides a unique, insightful and refreshing outlook on human history. Diamond should be accredited for attempting to write an ambitious synthesis of history, biology, anthropology and geography. Furthermore, Guns, Germs and Steel improved my knowledge, as firstly, it provided reasons for why European countries were the first to go through the stages of development (e.g. urbanisation and industrialisation), and secondly, it highlighted the important role of agriculture in human evolution. However, the book can be easily criticised for its Eurocentrism, which is made apparent by Diamond’s loose use of the terms ‘Eurasia’ and ‘innovative’, that some believe mislead the reader into presuming that Western Europeans are responsible for the technological inventions that arose in the Middle East and Asia. Another criticism of Diamond is that he ‘cherry-picks’ what parts of history to include in his thesis, and dismisses key events that aren’t in line with his theory. This is evident by Diamond’s decision to ignore the fact that Chinese sailors traded with Africa in the 14th century, but did not to colonise the continent, as its government’s chose to reverse the policy of open exploration. This therefore brings attention to how there are other factors, such as culture, economics and form of government, aside from environmental conditions, that affect the development of societies. All of this provides basis for the argument that in Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond has oversold geography as an explanation for development of different continents. For this reason, I would not recommend Guns, Germs and Steel because whilst it claims on the front cover to be ‘a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years’, Jared Diamond’s biased nature ensures that it only focuses on the last 500 years, as a means of inflating the period of time the world was under European domination.

REFERENCES 2010. “Guns, Germs and Steel”: Jared Diamond on Geography as Power. Available at: 1997. ‘Guns, Germs, and Steel’ by Jared Diamond | The New York Review of Books. Available at:
Swadling, P., Wagner, R. and Laba, B. 1996. Plumes from paradise. Coorparoo DC, Queensland Australia: Papua New Guinea National Museum in association with Robert Brown & Associates.
Jarosz, L. 2003. A Human Geographer’s Response to Guns, Germs, and Steel. Seattle: Blackwell Publishing. p. 7. Available through:

Contributed by Krishan Sivaneson

Global warming – a real cause for concern?

Global warming and climate change – both are familiar terms within an average household. Understanding the key yet simplistic relationship, as well as the distinction between the two is paramount in understanding the potential changes that will occur perhaps unpredictably, both within our lifetimes and beyond. Climate change is the gradual change of the earths temperature, that has occurred over millions of years and as far as data demonstrates, cannot currently be solely controlled by humans. However, global warming is very much an influence on climate change, as increasingly, human activity has been shown to increase the rate at which the average global temperature is rising. This is primarily due to the evolution within society. For example, causes of this include more efficient fertiliser that produces nitrogen as well as cows producing methane, and not forgetting the ever increasing levels of fossil fuels being burnt; only further demonstrating fuels inelastic demand even in the restraining times we are now experiencing. In short, I believe that this inelasticity only further proves that global warming is an inconvenience in today’s busy and hectic society. Do we all really have time to wait for a bus when we could simply drive, and is it really worth spending significant amounts of time and money on investing in ways to control methane levels produced by cows? The question we all need to ask ourselves, is do we care significantly about future generations in order to alter our lifestyles? The division of opinion within the global society is the key route to this.

Temperature increases are primarily driven by the concept that increased levels of pollution, leading to an enhanced greenhouse effect. When put simplistically, more heat is trapped under the ozone layer in the stratosphere, as the carbon dioxide rich atmosphere continues to absorb the long wave radiation heat that the earth is emitting due to human activity. As the atmosphere becomes richer in carbon dioxide, so it absorbs more heat and thus leads to less heat escaping back into space. Therefore although it is evident that small scale alternations to our lifestyles such as recycling, turning the lights of and using more public transport rather than travelling individually will have a positive impact locally, changing the global output of pollutants is required in order to reduce the enhanced greenhouse effect. Some therefore question if local attempts therefore have an effect when countries such as China and America don’t support the concept of enforcing quotas on large firms pollutants. Of course small efforts have an effect, but obviously on a lesser scale.

Personally, I believe that a large scale shift in current ways is paramount in order for a noticeable change. There is an abundant array of of supporting evidence that global warming is increasing at an astonishing rate, particularly shown by Al Gore’s documentary – The Inconvenient Truth. Increasing precipitation levels, increasing sea levels, more extreme monsoon climates, large scale agricultural shifts and species distribution change to name but a few. In 1997 there was a large scale attempt to reduce the problem of global warming, with an international agreement begin formed called the Kyoto Protocol. This made a clean cut division between both developing and developed countries. Those who were currently developing didn’t have to cut emissions, but monitor and report their emissions. The already developed countries however had to cut emission levels by 2012, by 5% of the 1990 level. Over 190 countries joined, showing their commitment to reducing fossil fuel emission. However, some state that the most significant problem with this is due to the fact that four high emission countries refused to sign; America, China, India and Australia. It was also said to restrict growth of those emerging economies, and many countries failed to meet their targets. This subsequently ended in 2012 and provoked the creation of the Copenhagen Accord, with similar attempts. This however is not legally binding, so could be said to have problems from the outset.

Therefore when analysing the above, it is clear that global warming is a serious problem when America and China believe policies to reduce emissions are restrictive on economic activity. With America recently experiencing a ‘fiscal cliff’ and them believing that spending is paramount to get out of recession, cutting emission levels seem to be last on their list of important issues. Some state that the global recession and lack of production due to reduced demand therefore reduces emissions, but this I believe is only a short term, by-chance solution. With populations ever expanding and the growing need for technology improvements, global warming it seems, is a cause for concern, but one that comes secondary to those of growth.

Contributed by Elizabeth Down

The subduction zone that could lead to the closing of the Atlantic Ocean

Recent research carried out by geologists from the Monash University in Australia has revealed the beginnings of an active plate margin that could lead to the closing of the Atlantic Ocean, as it pulls the Eurasian and North American plates back together.

This research, led by João Duarte, involved mapping the seafloor off the coast of Iberia and has led to the discovery of a 186 mile long subduction zone in the Atlantic Ocean, 120 miles from Portugal. Put simply, the Earth’s crust consists of a number of tectonic plates, which move across the surface of the mantle, driven by convection currents deep within the Earth.  When two plates collide, the denser plate subducts underneath the other, which is less dense, forming a subduction zone.

The newly discovered subduction zone is not yet fully developed and is instead in ‘an embryonic’ stage, in the words of Duarte. The crack that is forming in the ocean floor will lead to the Eurasian splitting into two parts, one continental and one oceanic. The denser Oceanic section will then subduct underneath the Continental plate, leading to the Atlantic Ocean shrinking as North America and Europe are pulled together. Eventually, the two continents will be joined together and the resulting collision will lead to a new mountain range forming and a supercontinent, similar to Pangea, could potentially develop. This process will not be a fast one and the first significant changes will only begin to manifest themselves after roughly 20 million years. In approximately 220 million years the Atlantic Ocean should have closed up completely.

Scientists have been mapping the Atlantic Ocean seabed near Portugal for many years now for signs of potential tectonic activity and this discovery marks the first significant evidence that a subduction zone is indeed forming. The area has experienced relatively regular earthquakes, the most destructive of which was the 1755 earthquake, which had an estimated magnitude between 8.5 and 9. The primary impact of the earthquake and the series of tsunamis that were created by the seismic energy combined to destroy an ill-prepared Lisbon, killing 60000 people. It is predicted that earthquakes will become more common and increase in magnitude in the area around the subduction zone as it develops.

The discovery of this newly forming subduction zone, could contribute significantly to the field of plate tectonics, as further monitoring will allow for a greater understanding of how subduction zones initially form and the way in which supercontinents develop as oceans disappear. Duarte has suggested a possible cause behind this being that the subduction cycles of the African and Eurasian plates, which were previously being driven into one another, have subsided, resulting in the mountain ranges stretching from west to east across Europe and into Asia. There is existing evidence for this idea, as when the plates in the Pacific began to decrease in movement, two subduction zones, similar to one seen of the coast of Portugal, formed, one in the North Atlantic and the other near Antarctica.

Despite the fact we will never see the impacts of this subduction zone, as is inevitable with most geology and plate tectonics, it is fascinating to see how the series of supercontinents that have formed over time were made and how they broke apart, with this discovery in the Atlantic Ocean shedding new light on the field.

Contributed by James Axton

Immigration to the USA

The United States of America is a country which has long been associated with immigration. Immigration has been a major contributor to population growth in the country, as well as adding to the ethnic and cultural mix that the USA has often made a point of celebrating. In this article, I will explore the history of immigration to the United States, as well as analysing current statistics and issues concerning immigration.

Historically, there have been several key periods of immigration to the United States. The first was the colonial period of immigration (1607 to 1775), which involved mainly European immigrants (British, German and Dutch). The British arrivals formed the largest group of colonial immigrants and many young people came to work in the United States, where they were employed as indentured servants to work on farms. Dutch arrivals settled in what is now New York, in settlements along the Hudson River, from around 1826 (New York City was originally named New Amsterdam before it was taken over by the British).

Other key periods of immigration include the years between 1790 and 1849. By 1850, the population had grown to around 23 million, with roughly 2,250,000 being born abroad. Many immigrants were attracted to the USA at this time by cheap farm land, as well as difficult conditions at home, such as the Potato Famine (1845-1849) in Ireland, and the failed revolutions of 1848, which drove activists and intellectuals away from Europe towards the United States, attracted by employment opportunities and freedom there. During the period up to 1830, most population growth was the result of internal increase and those born in America made up 98.5% of the population, but this had decreased to 90% by 1850. Other events that increased the rate of immigration to the USA included the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848 – sixty thousand Mexican residents in the New Mexico Territory and ten thousand living in California were made U.S. citizens, as well 2,500 other foreign born California residents) and the California Gold Rush (1849 – 100,000 miners were attracted from Europe, Australia, Latin America, China and the eastern U.S.).

From 1850-1930, there was a rise in the number of German immigrants settling in America, especially in the Midwest (5 million Germans emigrated during this period in total). Also, more and more Irish Catholics continued to arrive, mainly due to the Great Famine in Ireland. The United States became more accessible to the rest of the world after 1870 due to the increasing prevalence of larger and faster steam-powered ships, which were cheaper to use. Many new immigrants came from areas such as Southern Europe and Russia, and were usually between 15 and 30 years of age. This continued growth in immigration was soon slowed down by the Great Depression of the 1930s – the number of immigrants arriving in the United States decreased from around 280,000 in 1929 to around 23,000 in 1933.

One of the most significant pieces of legislation concerning immigration in the United States was the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which removed immigration quotas for different countries, leading to an increase in the levels of non-European immigration to the United States. Evidence for this increased level of non-European immigration is the decreasing proportion of total immigration that consisted of Europeans: The number of immigrants from Europe to America decreased from 60% in 1970 to 15% in 2000. In recent times, immigration has continued rising, with immigration doubling between 1965 and 1970, and between 1970 and 1990. There has also been more legislation passed to encourage more immigration, such as the Immigration Act of 1990 (increased legal immigration to the U.S. by 40%), as well as several amnesties passed by Congress and presidents (such as Ronald Reagan) for illegal immigrants.

Immigration has had a number of effects on the USA. In terms of where immigrants permanently settle, seven American states have the majority of the USA’s foreign-born population: California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas and Illinois. These states make up 44% of the USA’s overall population, and the total immigrant population of these seven states accounts for 70% of the USA’s total foreign born population (as of year 2000). The top five countries for the origin of immigrants in the United States are Mexico, Philippines, China, India and Vietnam (with Mexico being the country with the highest number of nationals living in the USA).

Demographically, it is predicted that the demographics of the American population will change dramatically over the next century. By 2050, according to the Pew Research Centre, it is predicted that the percentage of the American population made up by non-Hispanic whites will drop from 67% in 2005 to 47% of the total population, compared to the 1960 figure of 85% for non-Hispanic whites.

There are plenty of different views as to whether immigration has provided economic gains for the USA. According to some estimates, immigrants contribute up to $10 billion to the American economy. According to a report by the United States National Research Council (“The New Americans: Economic, Demographic and Fiscal effects of immigration), immigration results in an overall gain for the economy, due to reduced prices of goods and services produced by immigrant labour and higher salaries for higher-paid workers. It is currently unclear whether illegal immigration provides the same benefits to the economy as legal immigration. Although illegal immigration is a cost to most states, there is currently no measurement of the total cost of illegal immigration to the United States as a country, so it is hard to come to reliable conclusions. Although there are 21 million immigrants in the workforce, this does not mean that the native workforce are missing out on jobs, as immigrants are more likely to be taking jobs which would not have existed if the immigrant workers were not in America. There is also a large body of evidence to suggest that many of the immigrants are doing jobs that American workers do not want to do, such as a report by the Pew Hispanic Centre in 2006, which showed that Americans’ employment prospects have not been affected negatively by immigration to the USA.

Economic criticisms of immigration have often been about the additional strain on public services, especially from poorer immigrants. A third of immigrants do not have any health insurance, and just under a third of adult immigrants did not finish high school. Hispanics have accounted for 41% of the increase in people without health insurance between 2000 and 2006, which places extra pressure on the healthcare system. Critics of immigration, such as the Centre for Immigration Studies, would also point to statistics showing that 25.8% of Mexican immigrants live in poverty, which is more than twice the rate for Americans, as of 1999. Advocates of reduced immigration (particularly Hispanic immigrants) would look at statistics such as those from the Heritage Foundation, which show that the number of poor Hispanics in the USA increased from 6 million in 1990 to 9.2 million in 2006.

Other economic issues related to immigration include the provision of home loans to illegal migrants by banks that were looking for a new source of income, which may be linked to an unusually high level of house repossessions during the subprime mortgage crisis of the financial crash of the late-2000s. Research into immigration, such as that carried out by Jason Richwine (a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute), has suggested that certain immigrant groups, especially Hispanic immigrants, find it more difficult to reach the same levels of economic prosperity as the general population than other immigrant groups, such as white Europeans, even after several generations residing in the USA.

Politically, it could be argued that the Democrat party has benefited from a more diverse electorate, as immigrants have been shown to be more likely to vote for the Democrats, rather than the Republican Party. The religious beliefs of immigrants can also influence the overall votes of the electorate, as more religious immigrants tend to be more strongly conservative than those immigrants who hold no religious views. Immigration has also led to increased lobbying of the government by various groups with different interests, such as pro-immigration and anti-immigration organisations, as well as business groups. Immigrants are more likely to be employed in sectors of the economy where business groups have the greatest lobbying power, and are least likely to be employed in sectors where unions have the most influence. According to some analysts, it was the strong immigrant vote (especially Hispanic) in the 2012 U.S. presidential election that helped Barack Obama gain a second term in the White House, according to the news agency Reuters. This has presented issues for the Republican Party, which has not been as successful as the Democrats at attracting the vote of the increasingly growing number of migrants that make up the electorate, and the presence of immigrants in the electorate may force the Republican Party to add policies to their manifesto that take a friendlier approach to immigration.

The attitude of the American public towards immigration can be best described as mixed: Americans view immigrant groups that have been present in the USA for many decades more favourably than immigrant groups that have recently migrated to the USA. The September 11th terrorist attacks in New York resulted in a change in the public’s attitude towards immigrants – in a study conducted in 2002, 55% of Americans were shown to hold the view that legal immigration should be reduced. These findings were repeated in a study in 2006 by the Centre for Immigration Studies, where 68% of people thought legal immigration levels were too high, as opposed to just 2% who thought they were too low. Americans have been shown to have more negative feelings towards immigrants if they lived in an area where unemployment rates were high, or if they do not come into contact with immigrants very often.

Unsurprisingly, the American public views illegal immigration in a much more negative light than legal immigration. It is widely agreed that the largest group of illegal immigrants are Mexicans (56%), followed by other Latin American countries (22%), Asia (13%), Europe and Canada (6%) and Africa and the rest of the world (3%). Illegal immigrants in the USA are more likely to be settled in areas where there is already a high Hispanic population, and are more likely to be less educated than other sections of the American population, as well as having lower incomes. The children of illegal immigrants are more unlikely to finish high school than the rest of the American population, possibly due to pressures to work at a younger age than American children, and not having enough money to continue to higher education.

The estimate for the current number of illegal immigrants in the USA is 11,555,000, with California (2,930,000), Texas (1,640,000) and Florida (980,000) being the states with the highest numbers of illegal immigrants in them. The estimated top three countries of origin for illegal immigrants, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, are Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala. There are three ways that illegal immigrants can enter the United States: Illegal entry, visa overstay and Border Crossing Card violations. Estimates by the Pew Hispanic Centre suggest that around 50% of the total number of illegal immigrants entered the USA through illegal entry, such as across the US-Mexico border, which has become infamous for the dangerous journeys that Mexicans have to make in order to cross from Mexico into the USA. While areas of the USA-Mexico border near cities and other urban areas have fences and are well guarded, other parts of the border in more rural areas, such as deserts and mountainous regions, have very little or no law enforcement in operation, so many Mexicans attempt to cross into the USA in these areas, resulting in several hundred illegal immigrant deaths per year in this area. Some experts, such as Dr Douglas Massey of Princeton University, have argued that the continued building of fences and other defences aimed at preventing illegal immigration is simply driving illegal immigrants into more isolated and rural desert and mountainous areas, which has resulted in a larger number of deaths of these immigrants.

Around 4.5 million illegal immigrants have entered the USA as a result of overstaying their visa. However, the authorities can use data, such as biometric information, passport details and travel information collected by the US-VISIT programme, to attempt to track down illegal immigrants entering the United States in this way. A smaller amount of illegal immigration is due to Border Crossing Card violations, which allows crossings of the border into the USA for a certain period of time.

People around the world continue to migrate to the USA today, because it is perceived to be a prosperous country where there are lots of opportunities. The most common basis on which foreign nationals became Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) in 2009 was family reunification, which accounted for two thirds of immigration to the USA. Other foreign nationals became LPRs on the basis of their employment skills (13%) or for humanitarian reasons (17%).
Overall, it is clear that the United States has a long association with immigration, and that the continued immigration of people from around the world in its early history was due to the perceived opportunities that were seen to be available in America by people in Latin America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Canada and the rest of the world. This still holds true today, with almost 14 million immigrants entering the country from 2000 to 2010, and almost a million people becoming U.S. citizens in 2008 alone.

Contributed by Michael Moore

The Origin of Plate Tectonics

It is remarkable to think that the theory of tectonics, the premise of physical geography, only came to fruition during the 1960’s. It was even deemed ‘pseudo science’ as early as last century. Francis Pyor wrote humorously in his book, ‘The Making of the British Landcape’ that, ‘I studied geology at A-Level, and when I compare my old text books with what is written today, I might as well be looking at another subject.’ The foundation of tectonics was a milestone in geography – that is for certain; an ‘intellectual revolution’ to Pyor. A great deal of today’s geographical knowledge owes its integrity to much of what we have learnt from plate tectonics. It is therefore important to understand how the study came about for any budding geographer.

Our understanding of early geology was fragmented in the early 20th Century. The Australian scientist, writer, and explorer, Sir Douglas Mawson, spent a large part of his career pulling past data together. Mawson took considerable interest in the Neoproterozoic period at the peak of his career. He was attempting to argue a case for the existence of a ‘Snowball Earth’ in millennia past. Joseph Kirschvink made an excellent case for this study but this is another story altogether. Mawson’s investigation orientated around the Neoproterozoic period, or pre Cambrian period (545 million years ago), regarded as the period in which multi-cellular life came to exist. Such animals include Trilobites and Archeocyathids (reef-building animals).

Mawson took to utilising the sediment prints on Earth from this period of Earth’s development, of which Mawson documented more than 20 around the world, stretching from the Artic to the Equator.  Mawson argued that the world had experienced ‘its greatest Ice-age’ at one point because traces of thin, smooth layers of sediment, indicative of the affects of melting ice, were found in every location he noted showing the extent of a possible ice-age. Mawson was using this data to primarily plead his case of a ‘Snowball Earth’, but it also alluded to the idea that the continents could have changed positions over time. The continents would have fallen into colder latitudes and subject to different conditions, imprinting characteristics of the climate onto the rock permanently, explaining why continents showed similarities in their sedimentary rock types. Mawson’s work was significant, and radical in its proposals. However the Mawson was not alone in his perception of the continents and their history.

As early as 1596, the Dutchman Abraham Ortelius, and shortly after the Briton, Francis Bacon, both spotted how easily South America could fit alongside Africa. Such subtle observations can be noticed clearly on a globe today. Charles Darwin too was intrigued with this idea, although he took greater action to explain the reason for this. He suggested that land had been grouped towards the centres near the Equator in former periods and had then split off. This was of further use to the later German Scientist, Alfred Wegener, who accelerated the thought process of plate tectonics in the early 20th century.

Wegener, between 1912 and 1915, authored the book ‘The Origin of Continents and Oceans’, in which he documented many of his global studies. One of the fundamental investigations he made on cross-continent analysis demonstrated that rocks found on one continent matched the rocks found on others. For instance, the geology of the Scottish Highlands was identical to the Appalachian Mountains in North America. Conjunctively, fossils of tropical species were found within layers of rock in the Artic. Both pieces of evidence lead Wegener to argue the concept of migrating continents, although the vital supporting evidence of a mantle, composed of slowly progressing magma, was missing from his work. Aside from this, he also proposed that around 300 million years ago, during the Paleozoic era, the continents as we know it were together, as a super-continent, called Pangaea, which was the first of its kind.

Tectonics had a basis to fall back on due to Wegener inferences which were widely accepted. His experiences and studies throughout the world showed patterns and correlation to one another. Despite this it was not until the 1960’s, when further study of the Earth’s lithosphere and mantle showed the Earth to contain a central core of Iron rich magma. The heat generated from the core sustains convection currents within the magma which is kept at a semi-liquid state, creating buoyancy for the continents above it.

In recent years, the study of plate tectonics has been invaluable to geographical predictions and mapping the Earth. In terms of security, it has aided in graphing areas most susceptible to earthquakes, based on the danger of plate margins, which has instigated greater preparation and warning for nations lying in such areas. The establishment of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System in 2004 is an example of our greater intuition to work with the Earth and assess its power. The mapping out of plates on the Earth’s surface has answered questions concerning the existence of super-volcanoes below the Earth’s crust, such as LakeToba, in Indonesia, which lies on a convergent plate margin.

In essence, with our knowledge of tectonics, our ability to determine the movement and hence regulate the affects of plate activity has never been more acute. The chronology of plate movement has granted geographers the evidence to identify, with precision, the latitude of the continents and hence describe the climate and even ecosystems present on the Earth’s continents since the Neoproterozoic period. Perhaps more important to note is the hope we can find in being able to protect civilisation as we know it in the future, based on our hindsight of the past. In our study of the world, geography has not made a greater discovery.

Contributed by Bertie Bricusse

China’s Economic Growth and Disparity in Society

The People’s Republic of China has the second largest economy in the world following the United States when measured against GDP and purchasing power. It has experienced growth rates of over 10% per annum over the last 30 years yet there are still people living in poverty and squalor. So as this super power continues to grow, will it leave those who have already fallen behind, or will it ensure nationwide development of industry?

The vast majority of China’s cities (particularly those that are best known e.g. Beijing Shanghai and Hong Kong) are situated on or near the coast. In comparison to this, the western half of China only has a couple of major cities and none of which are well known. This immediately suggests that China is split into distinctive industrialized and rural areas, which themselves have a knock on effect on society and the economy. An obvious effect of having areas of industrialized land is that there are large quantities and ranges of jobs, which goes someway to explain the impressive economic growth China has experienced. Furthermore, industrialization moves China through the Clark-Fisher model from pre-industrial primary sector jobs such as farming and fishing to industrial tertiary and quaternary sector jobs such as computing, design and manufacture. This has allowed China to develop new technologies and better old manufacturing processes causing China to become one of the world’s economic powerhouses and increasing the quality of life for many Chinese people.

Whilst there has been mass industrialization in the east, what about the west? It is not hard to imagine the allures of big city life, a job that isn’t as labour intensive as farming and a good education and so there has been mass rural-urban migration. The urban population of China has massively increased whereas the rural population of China has seen a steady decrease since 1990. Much like Polish migration to the UK since 2004, many Chinese have been looking for a better quality of life in what appears to be areas of great opportunities. However, this mass migration has had sincere consequences in both the rural and urban areas. In rural areas, a mass exodus of young, working-age people have left farms and other primary sectors severely under-staffed. In addition to this, there have been social consequences. The first is that the ‘old ways’ are lost as the youth lose interest in tradition and look towards new technologies and jobs to sustain their interests. Also, those who leave are often young offspring looking for a better life in the city. This has left many old age pensioners without support and having to fend for themselves. With China’s ageing population this is causing severe issues in the countryside particularly where there has been very little industrialization and where rural life is still incredibly traditional.

In urban areas, the effect of this migration has been over-crowding, a strain on that city’s resources and many unemployed. As more and more people move to the city and demand raises so too does cost. As, in many cases, the city authorities cannot build enough houses to support the influx of people resulting in over-crowding and people living in squalor. This can also lead to exploitation of the migrants from employers and gangs as without a place to live they become incredibly susceptible to illness, disease and possibly death. Furthermore, if factories need to lay off people to due to increased use of robots or because of the economic downturn many hundreds of people become unemployed. In addition, if there are more migrants than there are jobs there is increased competition, so lower wages and even more unemployed or homeless. These people often don’t have the means to return to their homes in the countryside and so live out their lives in poverty. Finally, simple things such as clean water and electricity become difficult to ensure to the people as the cities resources struggle to cope with the vast increase in people who live in the city. This can affect quality of life and damage China’s reputation to the outside world.

All in all, China’s economic growth has been incredibly successful and impressive. However, for China to not grow into a country of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ then the new Communist Government needs to consider the disparity in growth and the effect this has had on both rural and urban areas as well as what it can do to industrialize other areas of China to keep a good quality of life for its people.

Contributed by Hamish Brechin


Cuba is a very interesting country. It is a communist state with a large amount of people living on very low wages, the average being just $3 a day. Despite this, there have been a number of benefits that Cuba has experienced since becoming communist. It now has a 99.8% literacy rate, just as high as a lot of developed countries, if not better. Cuba’s infant mortality rate is lower than some developed countries, with 4.83 deaths per 1000 in 2012. The rate in the USA is 6.00 and the United Kingdom has a rate only marginally better than Cuba of 4.56. In fact, of 223 countries Cuba’s is 182nd. Therefore only 41 countries in the world have a lower infant mortality rate than Cuba.

Cuba also has an average life expectancy of 79.1, which is the 40th best in the world. This is very impressive, considering a lot of Cubans are actually living in poverty. Something else that is very interesting about Cuba, is that it is the only country that met that WWF’s definition of sustainable development. The criteria for this were having an ecological footprint of less than 1.8 hectares per capita and having a human development index of over 0.8. The fact that Cuba was the only country to achieve this is not only very impressive, although slightly worrying. This is because for the planet to survive, we really need every country meeting the first aim at least, if not the second. However, this does show that Cuba is a country that other countries should use as a model for their own sustainable development, especially some of the poorer ones.

All these benefits from the communist regime are all very well and good, but there are some huge problems. Cuba’s economy is in a mess and the communist government have effectively admitted this, by bringing in some capitalist measures to try and stop the country falling to pieces. For example, they are allowing people to own personal, small businesses, provided they register with the government and pay tax. This is definitely not a very communist idea, as it will mean some individuals will have the opportunity to become richer than others. As well as this, they are encouraging tourism as they currently get over 3 million tourists a year, all of whom contribute a large amount of money Cuba’s economy. It is not just people in the cities that are benefiting, as those living rural areas are seeing gains too. They can now lease land from the government and become their own boss. This is very important for a lot of Cuba’s population, as they can now produce as much food as they like and then sell it at a price they decide.

Cuba is a very interesting example of a country that, on one hand can have crippling problems in terms of its economy, despite having remarkable figures of infant mortality rate, life expectancy and literacy rate. Gradually, if its economy improves, we could see Cuba becoming a developed country. If it does achieve economic success, it would not be surprising to see the USA to end the long running feud between the two countries.

Contributed by Matthew Rudd.

Are Sea Ice levels really declining?

It is well known that global warming is affecting the poles dramatically. However, while sea ice extent at the North Pole has reached record lows, the coverage has been increasing in the South.

A recent study carried out by NASA and the British Antarctic Survey has been able to explain the sea ice drift in the Antarctic that has occurred over the last 20 years. They have found evidence to prove that changing winds have caused sea ice cover in the Antarctic to increase, despite the effects of climate change, which was published in ‘Nature Geoscience’. Maps created by the ‘Jet Propulsion Laboratory’ at NASA, which used more than five million daily ice motion measurements recorded for 19 years, have shown the changes in sea ice drift, which, until now, were unproven. Before this, the drift was merely hypothesised with the use of models of Antarctic winds but now this theory has a substantiated basis.

The growth of sea-ice cover is not spread evenly, with certain areas undergoing greater gains or losses. The diagram shows where growth is fastest, with the red areas in the northern and south-western parts of the continent experiencing the fastest rates. However, the blue regions in the north-west and north-east have been experiencing a decline, the area with the most rapid of shrinking is around the Antarctic Peninsula. This shows that the trends are not widespread and that the change of ice sheets is controlled by local changes in the winds. The winds affect the ice coverage by the air temperature as well as ice drift. Generally, the sea ice is blown away from the continent as a result of powerful northwards wind and since 1992, the spread of ice has doubled in areas but decreased hugely in others.

Globally, this sea ice spread is important because it reflects the sun’s heat as well as creating habitats for marine organisms. For obvious reasons, sea ice cover is thinner and less spread, but during the winter it grows and insulates the ocean from the freezing winter temperatures, allowing marine life to survive.

The growth of sea ice in the Antarctic is a stark contrast to the rapid decline of the Arctic, where the ice has reached record lows this summer. On September 16th 2012, seasonal melt meant the sea ice receded to 3.41 million square kilometres, the lowest seasonal minimum since satellite records began in in 1979. These surpass the previously smallest levels from 2007 by 760,000 square kilometres, 18% lower.

It is thought that this was caused by increasing levels of seasonal ice which forms over the winter, as it is thinner and gets broken up a lot easier than permanent ice. This causes a positive feedback loop to develop in which melt is quickened by increasing levels of seasonal ice, leading to more ice melt and so on. This year was also made worse by a large Arctic storm which caused this very thin ice to be completely destroyed.

While this melt is seasonal and the sea ice will refreeze at rates of up to 100,000 square kilometres a day, these levels of melt cannot be ignored. The levels of melt will probably grow in severity of the coming years due to global warming and it is expected that the Arctic will be ice free during the summer within 20 years.

It is important to point out that this does not disprove climate change, as the Antarctic Peninsula has shown the same warming as the rest of the Southern Hemisphere. While the sea ice expands, glacial ice is decreasing rapidly. As interesting as the expansion of sea ice is, it is important that these do not blur anybody’s views on climate change; the melt at the North Pole should be evidence enough.

Contributed by James Axton

Should humanity fear the eruption of a super volcano?

We have, since the dawn of the nuclear age, been faced with the possibility of nuclear Armageddon, but what if it was not nuclear weaponry that ended human existence; instead it was the eruption of a super volcano?

The intense news coverage and mass disruption following the Eyjafjallajokull volcano was in fact, a mere blip in the Earth’s natural processes. Rather, we should be far more worried if one of the forty so called ‘super volcanoes’ erupted. Some may disregard this as a mad conspiracy theory but if we to examine the facts behind this claim, we can (rather worryingly) see some legitimacy to this claim.

Yellowstone National Park is a well-known tourist attraction (between January and August 2007, 2,511,790 people visited the park) but it has a far darker past. Yellowstone is a site of a super volcano, which erupts approximately every 600,000 years. While, at first, this should not worry us, the last time this volcano erupted was 640,000 years ago. Now, simple mathematics will tell us that we are 40,000 years overdue and quite ominously, ‘Bison’ are being found dead around the volcano and the ground has been shaking, rising (three inches each year since 2004) and getting warmer while gas is being emitted. Logic and previous experience of smaller eruptions would tell us that a big eruption is imminent.

The next obvious question to ask is: how do we know it will be a ‘super eruption?’ If we look at the surface of Yellowstone National Park, we can see the Snake River Plain, which was created by a series of massive eruptions, and three massive Calderas. The Calderas are what worry us most. These are formed when an eruption is so massive that the magma chamber is emptied and the land collapses to fill this space. The three Calderas are: the Island Park Caldera (formed 2.1 million years ago), the Henry’s Fork Caldera (formed 1.3 million years ago) and the Yellowstone Caldera (formed 640,000 years ago). The largest eruption recorded, 2.1 million years ago, erupted 2,500 times as much ash as the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption.

The effect of an eruption on human life would be disastrous and it would effectively end life on Earth as we know it. When it does happen, those within the immediate vicinity (essentially Wyoming State and those that surround it) would either be incinerated or choke to death as fast moving lava-flows reaching temperatures of 5000C and thick ash smothers everything. Cities would be utterly destroyed and the countryside would turn to barren wastelands. It is estimated that two thirds of the USA would become uninhabitable due to the toxic gases, ash and lava flows. The rest of the world would not be exempt either. The sheer volume of ash that would be released into the atmosphere would drop temperatures by approximately 210C plunging the world into an ice age. Plant life would slowly die off and with it, so too would animals. Our sources of food would gradually decrease until eventually we all starve.

The only people to survive would be those deep underground and their only luxury would be tinned food but even in this instance this is unlikely. Further, we do not rely on the sun just for warmth. It also affects our mood and the likelihood of us committing suicide. It is not a coincidence that suicide rates go up in the winter in countries that have limited daylight. This would be exacerbated massively in that our only survivors would be locked under the earth with poor food and no sunlight.

So should we behave any differently? Whilst an eruption is expected in the not too distant future in geological terms, this could in reality, be thousands of years away. It is not necessary to start stockpiling tinned foods or build a nuclear bunker under your house but it does bring new prominence to the phrase: carpe diem.

Contributed by Hamish Brechin

Extended Project: A change in climate was the main reason for the unsustainability of Permanent human settlement on Dartmoor at the end of the Bronze Age

(Click here) A change in climate was the main reason for the unsustainability of Permanent human settlement on Dartmoor at the end of the Bronze Age

The area that we now call Dartmoor is a site of huge historical importance, with over 500 sites referenced by Jeremy Butler and over 3000 stone and 6000 wooden round houses estimated by Petitt. The general consensus is that there are many more sites to be discovered, with extensive ancient field boundaries or Reaves dividing up the land, hinting at the type of existence that these people lead. However, radiocarbon dating has shown that most of the Reaves were built within a 200 year period; and only in use for between 200 and 400 years. The abandonment of the Reaves and the upland moor has been put down to Geographical issues such as a change in climate at the time, a drop in temperature and an increase in dampness, however there are other more minor factors that also contribute to the departure of man from the moor, and the current lack of extensive settlement in the area today.

Contributed by Chris Cockerill

Extended Project H1: Rivers are a key factor in the sustainability of a settlement, as can be seen by contrasting the fortunes of Colchester and Silchester.

(Click here) Rivers are a key factor in the sustainability of a settlement, as can be seen by contrasting the fortunes of Colchester and Silchester

Silchester (or Calleva) and Colchester (Camulodunum) were both Iron Age fortified settlements. After the Roman Conquest in 43CE they became influential, defended Roman towns of a high status; as proved by the unusual wall construction at Silchester, and the fact that Colchester was the capital of Britain until the Boudiccan revolt of 61CE. However, after the Romans left Britain in 410CE their fortunes diverge. Colchester was resettled by the Anglo Saxons by 450CE, and gradually developed once again into an important commercial centre. Population estimates for the town based on recording from the Domesday Book suggest that about 2,000 people were living there in 1086, whilst by the year 1400 this had increased to 8,000 people. Silchester on the other hand was not re-settled by the Anglo Saxons, instead the nearby former roman town of Dorchester on Thames was chosen. The small village which had been on the site of Silchester was abandoned in around 1400, possibly due to the Black Death. A key reason why Silchester was not re-settled in any meaningful way by the Anglo Saxons was that it was 10 miles away from the nearest river. This meant that it was not on a good communications or trade and so was not suitable for the Anglo Saxon way of life. This stunted the town’s rejuvenation, and contributed heavily to it being abandoned later. Colchester on the other hand had been an important trade port under the Romans (due to its location on the river Colne). The Anglo Saxons were also then able to trade from this settlement, and it grew once again, becoming one of the country’s principle towns. Therefore on the basis of this comparison it appears that ease of trade was a key determinant of which settlements would prosper in the Anglo Saxon and Medieval periods, and that rivers (and easy access the coast) were more important for trade than roads during this period. This lead to towns with good road connections but poor waterway access declining (Silchester for example), whereas towns with good road access which were close to rivers and the sea developing further (Colchester).

Contributed by Matthew Cockerill

HIV/AIDS in Botswana, breaking the vicious circle?

AVERT (an international HIV/ AIDS charity) estimated in 1999 that two out of three of the global population infected with HIV/AIDS live in Sub-Saharan Africa; despite only 10% of people living there. Since then the number of HIV/AIDS infections declined only very slightly. UNAIDS said in 2008 that the Sub-Saharan accounted for 67% of all HIV/AIDS cases and 75% of all deaths from the disease globally; with the most heavily affected region being the southern tip. This prevalence prevents socio-economic development in the region, and promotes political instability. The most obvious effects include illness and death; however it also causes economic damage, social stigmatisation and large numbers of orphans and young carers.

Botswana is severely affected by HIV/AIDS, but due to its largely peaceful recent history, it receives little international attention. AVERT says that, as of 2009, 320,000 people live with HIV/AIDS in the country. This is 24.8% of the population, meaning that Botswana has the 2nd highest rate of infection in the world. As a result, life expectancy in the country has fallen from 65 in 1990 to 53 in 2009; however, this most recent figure is far higher than in 2000-05, when it was less than 40. This is in stark contrast to the country’s estimated life expectancy without the disease, which would be 74.4 according to the United States Census Bureau (the highest of all Sub Sahara African nations).

Countries with high rates of HIV/AIDS cases suffer what is known as a negative feedback or a vicious circle. This cycle leads to larger and larger numbers of people becoming HIV positive, which makes the situation worse:

 HIV/AIDS leads to poverty if untreated

Antiretroviral drugs are the only treatment for HIV, but they are not a cure. These expensive drugs maintain an individual’s white blood cell count so that their immune system is not weakened by the disease, and so people do not become ill as easily. If these drugs are not available, the infected individual is unable to work and so falls into poverty. This is also true if one or both parents in a family die, leaving their orphaned children unable to support themselves effectively.

Poverty increases chances of infection

When in poverty, infection rates rise due to several factors. Firstly, children cannot afford to be educated and so are not aware of the dangers of the disease and how it spreads, meaning that they are more likely to become infected. Secondly, many women are forced into sex work in order to sustain their family. Thirdly, as less people work due to sickness, the government receives less tax income, meaning that it cannot increase education rates or afford more antiretroviral drugs. These lead to more people falling into poverty and more becoming infected by the virus.

The government of Botswana have tried to break this feedback loop through several health and education initiatives since the first case of the disease in 1985. First, blood donations for transfusions were screened to prevent people becoming ill through medical care. In the 1990’s the focus shifted to education. This reached urban populations far more effectively than rural populations, as well as those who were not in poverty (as they were able to go to school for example). Due to the fact that many children do not attend school due to poverty, or having to look after sick parents, there is still a lack of understanding of the disease, and many inaccurate perceptions such as only sex workers and homosexuals being able to get the disease. Another scheme which was tried was an ABC campaign which had been effective in Uganda. This encouraged people to Abstain, Be faithful, and ‘Condomise’ (use a condom). This campaign however was also ineffective as public behaviour did not change despite the number of messages.

Despite this, huge government investment, as well as money from non-governmental organisations and charities, has meant that the country’s most recent attempts at treating HIV/AIDS have been reasonably successful. In 2007 the government spent US$31.3million on providing Anti-retroviral drugs to all those in need of them, whilst providing universal treatment access (available to 80%+ of the population). This ‘Masa’ scheme (‘Masa’ being a Setswana word meaning ‘a new dawn’) is the first of its kind in Africa. It aimed to: enable people to live longer and healthier lives; lower the rate of transmission; decrease the numbers of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS every year; and maintain skills in the workforce so that the country can develop. 161,219 people were being treated by MASA in 2010, which is 93% of the needy population. This national treatment programme has been so successful it is now seen as a model for other African nations to follow.

‘Masa’ has provided a break in the positive feedback loop experienced by many in Botswana, as the Anti retroviral drugs mean that infected individuals are able to remain economically active. This means that these people in many cases are able to improve their living conditions and send their children to school. This reduces the chances of further HIV infections. However, in order to reach the government’s ambitious target of having no new infections of HIV by 2016, it must be coupled with effective prevention schemes. In Botswana these include:

• Increasing Public education & awareness
• Increasing AIDS education for young people
• Condom distribution & education
• Targeting of high risk adult populations
• Improvement of blood safety
• Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT)

In order to achieve no new infections by 2016 huge levels of funding must be provided, focused on successful prevention schemes, not just treatment. This will be a significant challenge for a country with a GNI per capita of US$6890, and will need large levels of international aid in order to be successful. However, it has the potential to succeed, although it may take time.

Botswana has been able to break the negative feedback loop created by large infection rates of HIV. Effective treatment due to large levels of investment has meant that infection rates are slowing, whilst the levels of development in the country are increasing. In order to prevent further infections, investment must now be focused on increasing the effectiveness of preventative schemes rather than just focusing on treatment. However, Botswana has taken very large steps forward in its fight against HIV/AIDS, which have meant that it has been able to break the vicious circle it found itself in.

All statistics are from AVERT and UNICEF

Contributed by Matthew Cockerill

New Capital Cities; a good idea?

Every nation needs a capital city. They act as focal points for business, culture, government and international relations, becoming symbols of their nation and famous all around the world. They evolve and change with the time in which they currently exist; endlessly adaptable and dependable. Well, most of them are.

During the American Revolution, Philadelphia in the state of Pennsylvania was the capital of the colony, and this situation persisted for a few decades after independence was achieved. However, as every geographer knows, Washington D.C. is the capital of the United States, so why was the capital city changed? In the early years the US experienced much turmoil in deciding how this new country should be run; and one of the primary issues was whether a Federal (such as in the US now) or Parliamentary (such as in the UK) governing system should be employed. During this, the state of Virginia complained about the location of the capital. This movement grew in momentum and it was decided that the location of the Capital city would be changed. Over the next few years the Americans moved their Capital from city to city, with a swarm of complaints being created by competing states when a new location was settled on. So it was decided in 1790 after the Civil War that a new city would be created on land that was not part of any existing state that would be under the direct control of Congress. The States of Maryland and Virginia both ceded land to the Federal Government to form the shape of a diamond around the Potomac River and create the District of Colombia. Construction started the same year, and Washington D.C. officially became the Capital city in 1801.

Washington D.C. can be considered a successful capital; a centre of Government and international relations, a huge boost to the US economy through the businesses that reside their and through tourism, and a name known throughout the world. Ottowa is another successful ‘new’ capital; but this model of creating a new capital away from the established centres of nations doesn’t always work. This is true in the USA on a minor scale; if you ask someone to name a US city, more often than not they will name New York first; which is the centre of the US economy; however, Washington D.C. will normally be in the top five. The city is only the 25th most populous area in the USA, and the 7th largest metropolitan area by population. But look at other countries who have tried to create a new capital and the results have not been quite as successful. Canberra was built as the new capital of Australia in 1913, but it is outshone internationally by Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. The Capital of Brazil? Not Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo but Brasilia, founded in 1960 (and is now the largest city in the world that did not exist in 1900). Islamabad is the ‘new’ capital of Pakistan, and Nigeria moved their capital from Lagos to the newly constructed Abuja in 1991.

These newly constructed, purpose built capital cities have not always been a success; outshone by neighbouring cities they have failed to become the centres of their nations’ economies and have not reached the same levels of international fame as pre-existing cities. Brasilia has become isolated in the geographical centre of Brazil, people and businesses refusing to move to its concrete streets, leaving it somewhat devoid of culture and activity in comparison to Rio and Sao Paulo. Abuja lives in the shadow of the ever growing Lagos, people not wanting to take a chance in the new city; immigrants choosing to head to where everyone else has already gone. These cities were not necessarily a bad idea; they were created usually as a sign of a fresh start after conflict, independence or political changes of heart; however they have just not lived up to what their creator hoped they would be.

Recently, according to the UN, South Sudan became the world’s 194th nation after a referendum in the nation resulted in its split from the rest of Sudan. People crowded the streets of Juba celebrating this, and the government announced plans that included a new capital to celebrate this new nation. Juba is claimed as not being suitable for becoming the capital of this landlocked nation; its dusty and ramshackle buildings not being suitable for the future influx of embassies and businesses ready to exploit new-found oil. The city is unable to expand due to neighbouring tribal lands, and there are no suitable buildings to house the new government. Some people in the country and abroad say that they can cope with substantial redevelopment, but to others it seems that South Sudan does have a good case for needing a new city.

However, South Sudan does not only have to contend with international precedent along with internal disagreements and tribal disputes on this issue, but money. Over 90% of South Sudan’s people live below the poverty line, and the nation which is the size of France has only 60km of paved roads. The project would cost over $10billion, money that many say could be better spent elsewhere. The government remains defiant, but they are also looking into much cheaper and less risky plans to redevelop Juba, and not move to the area that has been highlighted as a potential location, Ramciel, a sparsely populated area 200km north of the current capital. Will this new city be a success like Washington D.C., or will it fade into obscurity as people and business fail to adopt it? Only in a few decades time will we be able to tell.

Contributed by Chris Cockerill

In the path of the volcano: a warning from history

On the 24th August AD 79, the day after the festival of Vulcanalia honouring Vulcan, the Roman god of fire, Mount Vesuvius erupted. The ash column rose well over a mile into the air, debris raining down on Pompeii and other local cities. Just before nightfall, pyroclastic flows cascaded down the side of the volcano and swept over the 5 miles to Pompeii in seconds, burying the city in between 4 and 6 metres of ash. All of the residents that had not already choked to death on the sulphur and ash were incinerated, leaving only shadows burned into walls and cavities in the rubble. After two days of throwing material out in all directions, the eruption finally finished. Once the ash had cleared, it revealed an alien and desolate landscape, with the buried ruins of a city lost for over 1700 years…

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius is one of the most famous natural disasters in history, with the remains of the most famous city to be affected, Pompeii, attracting over 2.6 million visitors a year. As I walked around those ruins, seeing evidence of the lives of the people who lived there, I found it difficult to imagine what the terrifying final moments of those people who had owned those pots, lived in those houses, and left those shadows must have been like. I reflected on how this sort of catastrophe could and would never happen again; how with modern education and prediction methods the people in danger would be warned, given those vital few moments in order to escape. However, it appears that I was wrong.

The UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is around 20,000 men strong, working tirelessly to put an end to the war that has raged non-stop for the last 20 years in the country. Neighbouring Rwanda has also seen more than its fair share of conflict, with the 1994 genocide still affecting the politics of the region today. The people that have been misplaced by these conflicts and political oppression, moving east away from the more unstable parts of the DRC, and west from Rwanda and drought ridden Burundi and Uganda to try to rebuild their lives, often seeing the city as the prime place to do just that. Goma is one such city, with a booming local economy and shelter from the difficult political atmosphere of surrounding areas. On the banks of Lake Kivu in the Great Rift Valley, it is the perfect place for fisherman to prosper, as well as having good farmland and forest areas for crops and wood. The sprawling city has nearly 1 million people living there, and covers an area of nearly 30 square miles, and has been affected by the local volcano less than 10 miles away, Nyiragongo, twice in the last 40 years. It lies on the East African Rift, a line of tectonic activity where the African Plate meets the Indian Plate, and is threatening to tare Africa apart. This whole region is studded with highly active volcanoes; Nyiragongo at two miles high is tiny in comparison to some of its neighbours. However, it is one of the most dangerous. It is fuelled by a rare Mantle plume, magma from 50 to 80 miles below the crust rising to the surface, creating a huge reservoir just under the crust. The volcano cradles one of the world’s largest lava lakes, over 700 feet across and miles deep; it spits lava 100 feet into the air, with temperatures over 980°C and gasses rising off the surface creating a dense smog, with scientists requiring gas masks to peer over the edge of the rim to the orange sea below.

Two lava flows have occurred recently, in 1977 and 2002, the claiming the lives of hundreds of people, despite the flow solidifying before it reached the main city. 13 million cubic meters of lava, burying two story houses in molten rock, causing 350,000 people to flee. This is however just a fraction of the damage that scientists estimate that this volcano could inflict on the huge human population of the area, with no warning system and lava that has flowed at over 60 miles per hour, the fastest ever observed, and Lake Kivu trapping much of the population in the city. However, the lake also hides a dangerous and sinister secret. It has a very large level of dissolved carbon dioxide in its murky waters, ready to be shaken out of the lake, and blanket the area in a suffocating cloud of gas. Lake Nyos held similar levels of CO2 before an earthquake released the toxic cloud, which silently cascaded down the sides of the lake, covering local villages, resulting in the deaths of 1700 people in the night. This has not yet happened in Goma, but every day that passes sees more CO2 bubble through the cracks beneath the lake, dissolve and add to that threat. Any decent sized eruption from the volcano to the east of the city will with the associated earthquakes release the gas from the west, trapping the people between the gas and the lava, killing thousands of unsuspecting citizens. The people who arrive at the edge of the city every day, hoping to restart their shattered lives do not realise the danger. People who were around at the time of the last lava flow, a mere warning of what is possible, say that they cannot move away. “Many have died” says Ignace Madingo, a secretary who lives in the path of the lava, and was forced to flee with his family on the previous two occasions. “The lava turned them into stones… We know the mountain will erupt again. Lava will come. Our houses will burn”. Despite this, he is unable to move. His livelihood is too important, with many of the other people in the city and the country living on the streets in poverty. His land is just jagged rock, his home a shack in the direct path of boiling rock, as is true of many of the city’s residents. There is no hope for these people’s survival without adequate warning; like at Pompeii nearly 2000 years ago, thousands will perish at the hands of a volcanic eruption.

To try to prevent this, in early 2012, a small team of scientists entered the volcano to monitor the gasses and lava levels within. The type and levels of gas released by the volcano can tell the scientists of rising plumes of high pressure magma far below the surface, warning of an impending eruption. Seismographs are being flown into the area to monitor any shift in the crust that may be caused by growing pressure in the magma;and different chemical compositions of lava are being analysed, compared with older samples from the slopes of the volcano can tell of changes deep below the crust, and so warn of an impending volcanic event. These steps are crucial if the lives of the local people are to be saved, but more needs to be done. A warning system for the locals must be set up, as well as evacuation plans and education of the local people. However, this all costs money that the DRC does not have. The UN is also reluctant to pledge funds due to the tumultuous economic times, leaving the people of this region of Africa vulnerable. These people are being left in a dangerous situation due to the local political differences that have resulted in war and their migration, and the economic context in which they live. We need to try and overcome these barriers to help these people. The Romans in the bay of Naples had no hope of escape due to a lack of prediction and protection; we need to prevent the same happening to the people of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Steps must be taken to prevent Goma being buried; so that it stays a bright, vibrant and thriving city, rather than a historic tourist attraction, a new Pompeii, a shadow of the past.

Contributed by Chris Cockerill