Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Outsourcing Climate Change: UK Carbon Consumption

A recent BBC report ( highlights how tricky it is to be certain that 'Green' policies are actually doing what people think they are. The report based on the report from a committee of MPs, the Energy and Climate Change Committee, looking at the reduction of carbon consumption (Carbon-Based Emissions Reporting) (please note this is the address for the report but I can't get it to work properly).

Carbon dioxide emissions from the UK have fallen by 19% since 1990 BUT the UK carbon footprint has risen by 20% since 1990. Now ignoring trying to equate the two exactly, the question is why? The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said: "We account for our emissions according to international rules that are followed by all countries that are signed up to the Kyoto Protocol, and that are the basis for international negotiations on climate change." It believes it is too difficult to calculate consumption-based emissions or to verify the numbers internationally. Likewise, the department views it as difficult to negotiate global treaties on this basis. Why?

The UKs emissions have fallen because we consume products that are produced in other countries. The emissions associated with these products is not counted as part of the UK emissions. Our pollution is outsourced to rapidly expanding economies such as China. So the problem becomes one of economics. Calculating emissions based on consumption would highlight the significance of trade for carbon production. Without trade economic development would stagnate, the impressive economic growth of China could be stopped in its tracks by an international agreement based on consumption of carbon. Likewise, the UK would have to reduce its standard of living, no longer able to import cheap goods. The international economic system is complexly interwoven and changing one aspect of it affects all parts of it. Outsourcing pollution may be a short-term way to achieve national targets whilst criticising the countries that supply your goods for their environmentally unfriendly way. The longer term problem remains. How do you reduce pollution globally when consumption continues to increase globally.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Multiple Intelligences and Employability

Students often ask what employers are looking for. As with most things the answer is – it depends! One thing is clear though – leaving university with a good degree may be a good start BUT everyone else who is going to apply for the job you want will have a good degree as well. So the question becomes how do you make yourself distinct, unique, a sought after product?

It maybe useful to think about the skills you have gained in terms of different types of intelligences as outlined by Howard Gardner. Gardner suggested that there are many and different types of intelligence as in the list below.

It might be useful to think about the job you are applying for in relation to these types of intelligence. Which type or types do you think the job is most concerned with? In what order do you think an employer would rank these intelligences? Would the ranking be the same for every job? How do you demonstrate to your potential employee that you have that type of intelligence? A degree might be able to demonstrate a logical-mathematical intelligence, depending on the subject matter of the degree. Similarly, you might expect a holder of a degree to have linguistic intelligence and a geographer to have spatial and naturalist intelligence. Beyond having a degree how would you demonstrate these intelligences? Would your employer expect you to have all these intelligences or can you develop some of these in post to help further your career?

Other types of intelligences would seem to be important for developing a career as well. High interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences show an ability to understand other people and yourself as well as an ability to interact effectively with others in the context of work. I would suggest that a moral intelligence is also a keen feature for career development. The ability to work within a moral framework and to show that will help to develop trust between yourself and your colleagues. This may seem like a minor skill compared to the hours you may have spent figuring out how to understand multiple regression but it is an intelligence that will enable you to interact with others without them worrying about your motives. It is an intelligence that will engender trust in you and what you do – a vital component for career development. Really it is about your character and what how you project that to others. The problem is how do you show that you have any of these seemingly intangible intelligences? I would suggest that voluntary work is a good way to show both your existential and moral intelligence as well as developing these intelligences and your intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences. Voluntary work will also make your CV a little bit different from others.

Intelligence Characteristics

Interpersonal Capacity to understand others, to recognize their abilities, motivations and values. Allows effective working with others.

Intrapersonal Capacity to continually and accurately self-assess and to sue that understand to alter or maintain effective relationships with others

Linguistic Sensitivity to spoken and written word. Capacity to communicate thoughts and ideas effectively.

Logical-Mathematical Capacity to identify, analyse and solve problems mathematically and scientifically.

Spatial Capacity to identify patterns and understand rand model eality relationally in space.

Naturalist Capacity to identify and classify reality based on pattern recognition and to be sensitive and flexible enough to modify this depending on context

Body-kinesthetic Capacity to use body or parts of body to solve problems. Mental abilities co-ordinate movements of body.

Musical Capacity to perform, compose and appreciate musical patterns.

Existential Concern for ultimate issues. Could be seen as your religious outlook.

Moral Concern with rules, behaviours and attitudes that govern your life and the lives of others. Ethics and morals.

Howard Gardner has published these ideas in the books below:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Evidence in the National Planning Policy Framework

There is a section in the National Planning Policy Framework that deals with ‘Using a proportionate evidence base’ (paragraphs 159-177). This is designed to help planners make decisions concerning housing, business, infrastructure, minerals, security and the environment (the subsections identified). In my opinion it is essential to have an evidence base to produce valid and justifiable decisions in the planning process and the aim to have such decisions based on ‘adequate’ up-to-date and relevant evidence’ is highly laudable. Issues may arise, however, with the exact meaning of some of these terms. The term ‘adequate’ is essential – there will never be complete information or evidence upon which to make a decision. Planners, just like scientists, have to use the evidence that is available to them. There may be some scope to create information through local surveys and focus groups but for the rapid planning that the framework is pushing the scope for this may be limited. It is what is accepted as 'adeqaute' that could be debated.

The framework does provide pointers as to the type of information or evidence required. For housing, a Strategic Housing Market Assessment is required – a model of housing needs (and like any models assumptions will be needed to make it work). For most of the subsections a key piece of evidence is the current state of the area – for example, what minerals and where, what floor space exists and how much is needed into the future and where. Developing databases and producing up-to-date geographic information systems (GISs) of all this information is essential to the planning process even if that means collaboration and discussion with organisations such as health organisations (paragraph 171) that already have the appropriate information to hand. Form my viewpoint as a geographer this all seems a great idea and one that could provide employment for geography graduates skilled at thinking spatially and at collecting and analysing spatially tagged (or spatially co-ordinated) information.

The cynic in me wants to ask some other questions though. What will count as ‘relevant’ evidence? Does evidence produced by researchers funded by interested stakeholders count? Can communities research an issue and provide their own evidence? If ‘independent’ research or evidence counts who defines the term ‘independent’? Which stakeholders can afford to fund research that produces ‘independent’ evidence? Does this type of definition of evidence mean some stakeholders have more say in being able to provide ‘relevant’ evidence than other stakeholders? The decision about what is proportionate seems to imply that someone, somewhere in the planning process can say ‘that’s enough’ and make a decision based on what they consider to be relevant evidence. You may also have noticed above that I used the terms ‘information’ and ‘evidence’ interchangeably – they are not the same thing but could be conflated. I could collect information about the location of houses in an area but the way that information is used as evidence of the need for more housing or as evidence of pressure on infrastructure is an entirely different thing. Evidence implies a degree of interpretation, of using information to support or refute a viewpoint or idea. Information does not mean this or rather not necessarily as why would I collect information on housing in the first place if not to put forward or support a viewpoint?

Neighbourhoods and communities: 'Locals' in the National Planning Policy Framework

Neighbourhoods and communities feature strongly in the National Planning Policy Framework. As part of the core planning principles (page 5), plan-making and decision-taking should:

‘take account of the different roles and character of different areas, promoting the vitality of our main urban areas, protecting the Green Belts around them, recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside and supporting thriving rural communities within it:’

Town centres come in for particular discussion forming a whole section (paragraphs 23-27) concerned with improving their vitality. Likewise, section 8 on ‘Promoting healthy communities’ reads as an important opportunity for communities and neighbourhoods to engage in developing secure and accessible places. The continued emphasis on local authorities to engage with communities in the planning process via the Community Right to Build Order right at the start of the process also sounds extremely positive.

There are two key questions that need to be asked about this move towards ‘localism’. Who are the neighbourhoods and communities and how do they actually achieve any influence? The first question is always a tricky one – what are communities and how do you recognise them or more importantly for planning how can they become officially recognised? Are communities and place the same? Does the community need to form about a specific issue or theme? Does the community need to be ‘local’ and match the same spatial extent as parish or local authority boundaries? The continued use of the terms ‘neighbourhood and communities’ with local authorities tends to suggest that the framework see communities as spatially limited and defined and coinciding, luckily, with the planning areas of the local authorities. Similarly, the framework seems to imply that communities are relatively small (no size is given) as they will discuss ‘local’ issues with the planners. This issue of scale is vital and could be a sticking point in planning. How many individuals do you need to have a viable community that the planners will listen to? Do you all have to live in the same location as if concern for a specific habitat needs to be limited to people that live in a specific area? Henry Hemming in his recent book ‘Together’ makes the point that many modern communities are virtual or extra-local or both. How do these fit into the planning process?

Even assuming that the ‘community’ can be identified and its representatives selected rather than just being people with the time and resources to be active on local issues (not that I am denigrating those that are as every issue needs dedicated individuals to lead it), how can they influence planning policy? This is dealt with in the ‘Plan-making’ section of the framework. Paragraph 155 calls for ‘early and meaningful engagement and collaboration with neighbourhoods, local organisations and business. The section on neighbourhood plans begins at paragraph 183 and by paragraph 184 makes it clear that:

the ambition of the neighbourhood should be aligned with the strategic needs and priorities of the wider local area. Neighbourhood plans must be in general conformity with the strategic policies of the Local Plan…Neighbourhood plans should reflect these policies and neighbourhoods should positively plan to support them. Neighbourhood plans and orders should not promote less development than set out in the Local Plan or undermine its strategic policies’.

Now I am happy to be corrected but this implies to me that neighbourhoods and communities can not alter anything that contradicts the Local Plan and the interest of the wider local area (whatever that means). Anything locals propose has to fit into these wider strategic plans. Not sure where that leaves localism?

Henry Hemming' book Together

Presumption of Sustainability?

Hierarchy of Priorities in the National Planning Policy Framework?

Reading the National Planning Policy Framework in detail has given me a number of themes that I want to develop, although be aware I do tend to have a cynical and sceptical view of such documents. In this blog I will look at the structure of the key areas of the document and the potential hierarchy of priorities that they provide. Media interest in he document has, maybe predictably, died down after the initial rush of organisations announcing their broad contentment with the framework. As I mention in a previous blog, this contentment may be the result of each group reading into the term ‘sustainable development’ exactly what it wants to.
The presumption of sustainable development is one of the key and motivating themes of the framework. The Ministerial foreword even states that

‘a presumption in favour of sustainable development is the basis for every plan, and every decision.

 A little earlier within the same foreword sustainable development is defined as being about positive growth, about making economic, environmental and social progress for this and future generations. On page 2, Achieving sustainable development, the three dimensions to sustainable development are listed as economic, social and environmental (ordering changed from the Ministerial statement already!) This ordering of roles, dimensions, call them whatever you want, is stuck to consistently throughout the framework, although all three should be pursued simultaneously (page 3 first mentions this). By paragraph 9 on page 3 the ordering becomes more specific with job creation, people’s living conditions and high quality homes being specifically mentioned. (net gains for nature are identified as well but seem to be couched in terms of value as in the Natural Environment White Paper, The Natural Choice: Securing the Value of Nature, 2011).

Getting into core planning principles (paragraph 5) and paragraph 17 pushes proactively driving sustainable economic development by which is meant delivery of homes, business and industrial units, infrastructure, particularly taking into account ‘market signals’ (although if this is as crude as ‘price’ is unclear). Paragraphs 19-21 again emphases the government commitment to delivering sustainable economic growth (in a section titled ‘Delivering sustainable development). Paragraphs 23-27 highlight the need to develop town centres economically, whilst point 28 is concerned with rural economic development. High quality home supply (paragraphs 47-55), good design (paragraphs 56-68) and healthy communities (paragraphs 69-78) are all discussed before protection of Green Belt Land (paragraphs 79-92). Section 10 ‘Meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change’ begins on page 21 and discusses low carbon futures but paragraph 98 states that when determining planning applications, local planning authorities should:

'not require applicants for energy development to demonstrate the overall need fro renewable or low carbon energy….. approve the application if its impacts are (or can be made) acceptable.’

Not sure what acceptable is defined as in this context or is it rather the varying contexts of the local conditions? If the latter then this makes the framework very much based on context and the decision-making process within local contexts. Localism at its best or the potential for spatial inequalities in decision-making?

Paragraph 152 suggests that there should be net gains in all three dimensions of sustainable development implying that losses in some are acceptable if gains can be proven. What criteria will be applied to show this?
Within the ‘Plan-making’ section, paragraph 156 again provides a list of strategic priorities that runs: housing and jobs, provision of retail, leisure and other commercial developments, provision of infrastructure (listing specifically for what), provision of health, security, community and cultural infrastructure and lastly climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as enhancement of natural and historic environment. The evidence base for decision-making (paragraphs 159-172) lists specifically housing, business, infrastructure, minerals, defence and then environment.

Why have I gone through this in detail? When reading such a framework one of the key things is the impression you get from the prioritisation of factors or variables. Within the framework, housing, jobs, business and infrastructure are nearly always considered before environment. Is this just an arbitrary decision? Does it reflect an implicit hierarchy of priorities for planning decisions based no the framework? You could argue that I have been selective in my reading of the framework and read far too much into the ordering but then again when it comes down to local decision-making aren’t the various stakeholders involved going to go through the framework in such detail and select the points and emphasis most crucial to their viewpoints? Remember paragraph 176 about safeguards – they should be clearly justified to the applicant (not the other way around!) and options for keeping such costs to a minimum fully explored so that development is not inhibited unnecessarily – there are so many debateable terms to define here I do wonder about implementation.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Employable Skills: Knowledge-based Economy and Geography

The matrix I used in a previous blog on careers highlighted the relationship between your value and your replaceability, pointing out that it is very good idea to have highly valued skills that are unique to you making you hard to replace. The Royal Geographical Society website ‘Careers with Geography’ has a lot of resources that highlight the skills that you can gain from Geography and why these are important skills to take to the workplace.

An important question to ask is what are the high value skills that make you irreplaceable? In a knowledge-based economy any individual will need to show the ability or capability to learn, but in addition geographers have a world-view, a view of the world as a series of spatial relations that is almost unique.

Why this capability and uniqueness of world is view such an important issue in a knowledge–based economy? It is important to think about what a ‘knowledge-based economy’ actually could mean. What is knowledge? How does knowledge differ from ‘mere’ information? Are the two related? According to Nicholas Rescher (Complexity: A philosophical overview, 1998), knowledge is distinguished from information by its significance – knowledge is information that has exceeded some threshold of significance. I would add that knowledge implies understanding of information, a sort of higher-level information (hence the threshold idea). Just collecting additional information does not necessarily increase your knowledge – you need to extract knowledge from the information, so knowing how to change infromation to a form from which you cna extract knowledge is vital as is the process of extraction itself.

Rescher suggests that knowledge, K, is the log of information, I. As a simple formula that is:

K = log I

Although he expands upon this simple idea, the basic point is clear. The amount of knowledge you have does not increase at the same rate as the amount of information you need from which to extract that knowledge. Knowledge increases at a slower rate than information and you need increasing amounts of information to extract that extra knowledge. It can take longer if you have a lot of information already accumulated to develop new or novel knowledge. Graphing this relationship gives you something like the figure below. Increasing the amount of information only increases the level of knowledge slightly, but there can be breaks, rapid changes in our understanding of information due to increased knowledge that suddenly lead to a glut of understanding. These rapid changes are followed by periods of relatively quiet where information accumulates again and knowledge develops slowly. Kuhn, back in the 1960s used a similar “stasis and change” model for paradigm change in science.

So what has this got to do with employability skills? Well this model suggests that there are two things that a knowledge-based economy needs: information and knowledge. Geographers are well placed through the skills they learn to provide both. They have the techniques needed to go out and collect information in an appropriate manner (remember information is never just collected- there is always a purpose to the collection). Skills such as collection and analysis of census data, surveying, GIS construction and analysis provides the raw materials for converting vast amounts of information to a form that can be understood and interpreted. Then the second skills knowledge or rather extraction of understanding from the pool of information. As well as analytical techniques and tools such as statistics and GIS, geographers also have that spatial and relational mode of thinking that can create links and find patterns, converting information to understanding, to knowledge.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Two-Tier Haddon Matrix

An interesting extension and alternative to the Haddon Matrix is suggested by Mazumdar et al. (2007) ( They are concerned with aiding the understanding and prevention of operational hazards at a large construction site. The standard Haddon Matrix below could be used firstly for analysing a hazard or disaster and, secondly, for identifying how to prevent it – a two-tier structure. In the first matrix, the pre-event consist of risk build-up, the event itself and then the consequences, whilst in the second matrix there would be pre-event risk reduction, event prevention and consequence minimization.

To help understand both these matrices, they also suggest that ‘fish-bone’ diagrams might help to identify and put into context specific actions and behaviours to help understand both how the event happens and how it might be prevented or at least its impact minimized. In some ways this is similar to following a scenario through the Swiss-cheese model outlined in an earlier blog. The higher up the main arrow an action, the earlier on it occurs in the build-up to an event or in the event and post event sequence of actions. Early prevention stops the sequence of events occurring in the first place.

Each of the points made in the fish-bone diagrams and in the matrices can be assigned a reference code that relates that point to a specific event or action. So A1, for example, could be the initial decision of a person to not follow a particular minor safety procedure, A2 is then the event that results because of this, whilst C1 could be supervisory environment that permits such lax practices. This breakdown of events and actions for pre- during and post-event can be carried out along with the associated preventative measures in the second tier of the matrix that would stop these events occurring.

Using this reference code they then build up a cybernetic analysis of the problem (see their paper for the worked example). Leaving aside the mathematical analysis of the relationships the linking together of the events/actions involves, they do provide an alternative way to look at an accident or hazard. The important point is that they identify positive and negative feedback loops in the accident or hazard, the nodes, and are able to link these loops together to form the overall accident or hazard and its outcomes. Using this sort of diagram it is possible to identify how interconnected certain events or actions are; which events or actions provide bridges between feedback loops and which nodes in the network it would most effective to tackle in terms of disrupting or easiest to control the occurrence of the event or hazard.