News round up January 2015

A selection of geographical stories that have made the headlines this month.

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  1. The wrong yardstick
  2. The World Economic Forum in Davos commonly creates headlines regarding inequality and this year is no different. With Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of Oxfam co-chairing the event, the global divide between rich and poor was explored in detail. According to Oxfam, the world’s wealthiest one percent will soon be richer than the remaining ninety nine percent of the world, something the charity wishes to be transformed through large scale policy changes. Unless the world’s leaders can address the issues quickly, one billion people look likely to be living in extreme poverty by 2030.
  3. Fossil fuel warning:Climate scientists beg governments to leave buried natural resources in theground
  4. Research from the Institute for Sustainable Resources at UCL has found that in order to avoid the 2°C increase in global temperatures predicted to come about by climate change, a large amount of the fossil fuels currently stored in the Earth will have to remain right there. This includes eighty two percent of all the world’s coal. The advice from the Institute is that we have to accept that some reserves need to remain ‘off limits’ if we are to make progress on carbon emission targets. They also advise that funds spent on the ever more difficult extraction of these fuels would be far better invested in alternative energy projects and in research into new forms of energy generation.
  5. UK’s shale gas revolution falls flat with just 11 new wells planned for 2015
  6. Despite calls from David Cameron that the UK was going to go ‘all out for shale’, progress in the fracking revolution has been somewhat slow with only eleven of the forty potential sites being approved for the construction of exploratory wells in 2015. With this rate of approval, it seems unlikely that the predicted lifespan of shale gas in the UK – around thirty years’ worth – will be met. Commentators suggest that the low approval number is in part down to low oil prices which continue to turn attention away from the need to find greater energy security domestically within the UK.
  7. GM crops: What do the new rules mean?
  8. The European Union has approved a new set of rules surrounding the growing of genetically modified crops in an attempt to dissolve the deadlock that had previously stopped most commercial growing and trading. No new GM crops have been approved since 1998 and currently only GM maize for animal feed is grown and traded around the EU. The new rules will give individual governments more power to decide whether a particular crop is grown within their national boundary, something that has been welcomed by biotech companies as it will allow greater depths of research to be carried out.
  9. Racing to contain Australia’s wildfires
  10. A series of bushfires raging across the Mount Lofty Ranges, north west of Adelaide in South Australia has led to the evacuation of thousands of people and the destruction of over thirty homes. The eleven fires which have affected over 12,500 hectares of scrubland created difficult breathing conditions and poor visibility all over the state. Roads blocks were set up to prevent people returning to their homes too quickly and it may be many weeks before the true scale of the damage is known. The wildfires have raised questions over the vulnerability of the Australian bush to climate change; something the Australian politicians denounced at the latest series of climate talks.
  11. Royal Dutch Shell agrees £55m Nigeria oil spill settlement
  12. The Ogoni fishermen of the Niger Delta are celebrating after securing a £55 million pay-out from Shell in compensation for their lost income and for the damage sustained to their landscape as a result of two oil spills in 2008. The 500,000 barrel spills, which Shell originally blamed on illegal tapping and which have now been shown to have come from the poorly maintained Bomu Bonny pipeline, have devastated the area of the southern delta. A three year High Court battle over the level of compensation has ended with each fisherman receiving £2,200 on average – the equivalent of a number of years’ earnings – and over £20 million being used to attempt to clean up the oil-wrecked area.
  13. Fall in life expectancy raises alarm amid fears that cuts and pressure on NHS may be to blame for earlier deaths
  14. This article looks at a new study that has found that in the north west of England in particular, though with similar trends in other parts of the country, the number of people living to the age of eighty five is significantly dropping, while numbers that live to seventy five continues to grow. While many social commentators have highlighted the cuts made to NHS and social care bills in recent years and suggested that these are at the root of these changes, more interesting is the part of the study that looks at the lifestyle patterns of those whose lives appear to have been ‘cut short’. The vast majority of those affected in the north west are those who suffered most at a time of coal pit closures and deindustrialisation in the region in the 1980s, suggesting there may be a link between one’s working health and one’s physical wellbeing.
  15. Brazil hit hard by worst drought since 1930
  16. Ninety cities in Brazil have imposed a series of water rationing measures to try to reduce the effect of drought on the country. The measures, which affect over four million people, are largely centred around domestic conservation of water, something which has angered the poorest Brazilians who already lack access to good quality water for their small scale farms. Meanwhile the drought, which is in part caused by a lack rainfall, has meant some of the reservoirs which power hydroelectricity across the country are at half volume and numerous cities are already experiencing blackouts as many dams run at sixty five percent energy generation capacity.
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