Tuesday, 21 March 2017

No time to lose

Photo: Clive Simpson
POLITICAL hot air was a major feature across the world in 2016 as governments and electorates began to shift significantly on their axis of travel - now confirmation has come that it was also a year of record breaking global temperatures, exceptionally low sea ice and unabated sea level rise and ocean heat.

Issuing its annual statement on the State of the Global Climate ahead of World Meteorological Day today (21 March), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said extreme weather and climate conditions have continued into 2017.

Its report, based on multiple international datasets maintained independently by global climate analysis centres and information submitted by dozens of WMO and research institutes, is regarded as an authoritative source of reference.

Because the social and economic impacts of climate change have become so important, WMO partnered with other United Nations organisations for the first time to include information on these impacts.

“This report confirms that the year 2016 was the warmest on record – a remarkable 1.1C above the pre-industrial period and 0.06C above the previous record set in 2015. This increase in global temperature is consistent with other changes occurring in the climate system,” said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas.

“Globally averaged sea surface temperatures were also the warmest on record, global sea levels continued to rise and Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average for most of the year,” he added..

“With levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere consistently breaking new records, the influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident,” said Mr Taalas.

The increased power of computing tools and the availability of long term climate data have made it possible today, through attribution studies, to demonstrate clearly the existence of links between man-made climate change and many cases of high impact extreme events in particular heatwaves.

Each of the 16 years since 2001 has been at least 0.4C above the long-term average for the 1961-1990 base period, used by WMO as a reference for climate change monitoring. Global temperatures continue to be consistent with a warming trend of 0.1 C to 0.2C per decade, according to the WMO report.

The powerful 2015/2016 El Niño event boosted warming in 2016, on top of  long-term climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Temperatures in strong El Niño years, such as 1973, 1983 and 1998, are typically 0.1 C to 0.2C warmer than background levels, and 2016’s temperatures are consistent with that pattern.

Global sea levels rose very strongly during the El Niño event, with the early 2016 values reaching new record highs.  Global sea ice extent dropped more than 4 million square kilometres below average in November, an unprecedented anomaly for that month.

The very warm ocean temperatures contributed to significant coral bleaching and mortality was reported in many tropical waters, with important impacts on marine food chains, ecosystems and fisheries.

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached the symbolic benchmark of 400 parts per millions in 2015 – the latest year for which WMO global figures are available – and will not fall below that level for many generations to come because of the long-lasting nature of CO2.

Among some of the most extreme events in 2016 were severe droughts that brought food insecurity to millions in southern and eastern Africa and Central America. Hurricane Matthew caused widespread suffering in Haiti as the first category four storm to make landfall since 1963, and inflicted significant economic losses in the United States of America, while heavy rains and floods affected eastern and southern Asia.

Newly released studies, which are not included in WMO’s report, indicate that ocean heat content may have increased even more than previously reported.  Provisional data also indicates that there has been no easing in the rate of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.

“Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory,” said World Climate Research Programme director David Carlson.  

At least three times so far this winter, the Arctic has witnessed the Polar equivalent of a heatwave, with powerful Atlantic storms driving an influx of warm, moist air. This meant that at the height of the Arctic winter and the sea ice refreezing period, there were days which were actually close to melting point. Antarctic sea ice has also been at a record low, in contrast to the trend in recent years.

Scientific research indicates that changes in the Arctic and melting sea ice is leading to a shift in wider oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns. This is affecting weather in other parts of the world because of waves in the jet stream – the fast moving band of air which helps regulate temperatures. 

Thus, some areas, including Canada and much of the USA, were unusually balmy, whilst others, including parts of the Arabian peninsula and North Africa, were unusually cold in early 2017.

In the USA alone, 11,743 warm temperature records were broken or tied in February, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Prolonged and extreme heat in January and February  affected New South Wales, southern Queensland, South Australia and northern Victoria, and saw many new temperature records.

Andrew Challinor, Professor of Climate Impacts at the University of Leeds, said: “The trend in extremes continues – as anyone shopping for salads and veg earlier this year will know. This new evidence comes just days after parliament discussed the independent report they commissioned on the implications of climate change for UK food security.

“Current government strategy emphasises the ability of markets to even out price fluctuations and ensure food supply. The independent report emphasises the need for more joined up thinking across governments and internationally.”

Prof Sir Robert Watson, Director of Strategic Development at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia, said: “While the data show an ever increasing impact of human activities on the climate system, the Trump Administration and senior Republicans in Congress continue to bury their heads in the sand and state that climate change is a hoax and does not need to be addressed. We are now living in an evidence-free world, where facts are irrelevant.

“Our children and grandchildren will look back on the climate deniers and ask how they could have sacrificed the planet for the sake of cheap fossil fuel energy when the cost of inaction exceeds the cost of a transition to a low-carbon economy.

“How much more evidence does the world need to recognise the dangers confronting our society? The pledges of the Paris agreement are inadequate to limit human-induced climate change to 2C and need to be strengthened significantly – there is no time to lose.”

Friday, 3 March 2017

"Brexit - we have a problem!"

The British government announced this week the intriguing appointment of life-long and passionate youth hosteller Graham Tunnock to head up the UK Space Agency (UKSA).

Mr Tunnock, in stark contrast to his predecessor Dr David Parker, has apparently no previous space industry experience and is being drafted in from the relative obscurity of the ‘Better Regulation Executive’, a demure unit buried within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, where he was Chief Executive.

His new post, which he takes up on 1 April 2017, will undoubtedly be higher profile as he guides UKSA through the turbulent and uncharted waters of Brexit and beyond.

On the face of it, Brexit should have no impact on the UK’s role and contributions to ESA as the agreement and working relationship is largely outside of the EU. At least that is the argument for now.

Perhaps a bigger long term issue in terms of Brexit fallout for UK space might be that of ‘mission creep’. As well as being outside the European Single Market, there is a suggestion that the UK could leave the Customs Union, the European Convention on Human Rights and Euratom (legally distinct from the EU but is governed by it).

Stormy waters may well lie ahead for any organisation linked to Europe and, given the many unknowns ahead, it is certainly not clear where this might end, especially if those on the political right for whom the word ‘Europe’ is an anathema get their way.

Graham Tunnock, new head of the UK Space Agency
Perhaps it is not surprising therefore that Theresa May’s government has chosen to appoint a relative ‘space neutral’ at this time, someone who might be more comfortable with regulations and procedures than the technical details of a space programme that succeeds through close European cooperation.

A brief delve onto the Internet delivers a relatively ‘lite’ online footprint for Mr Tunnock. Nothing on LinkedIn, for example, and in Google his name is immediately associated with the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) and not much else, unless he is connected to the family of Tunnock’s teacake* fame.

“Graham is a lifelong hosteller”, begins the entry about him on the YHA website. “He was quickly bitten by the bug on family holidays and soon started hostelling independently with his brother and friends in his teens, his passion for hostelling developing alongside another great enthusiasm of his life, cycling. He has continued to hostel in adult life and a personal highlight is the annual YHA weekend he organises for his cycling club.”

Quite a contrast to the previous long-term and passionate space proponent Dr David Parker who brought with him a wealth of relevant space experience and contacts when he took up the post in 2013. Dr Parker is now Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration with ESA.

On leaving he was able to cite many recent advances in UK space policy, including the 25% increase in UK funding of ESA made at its Council of Ministers in 2012 as probably having the biggest impact.

One of his proudest moments was in July 2015 when ESA moved into the European Centre for Satellite Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT), a superb new facility at Harwell in Oxfordshire.

“This was a project that I lived with since 2008 and it was an emotional moment to see the flags of all the ESA member states raised in honour on UK soil for the first time. For me, it symbolised the UK anchored in ESA, and ESA anchored in the UK,” he said.

Announcing his successor’s permanent appointment on 1 March, a UKSA statement said Mr Tunnock had “extensive experience across Whitehall and at a European level, having also worked in the European Commission and held several other posts in the UK Civil Service”.

It went on: “He will be responsible for realising the agency’s aims of increasing the size of the UK space industry, using space to understand planet Earth and the universe, supporting British businesses to deliver practical help to developing countries and overseeing the Agency’s plans to establish commercial spaceflight in the UK.”

Whilst management of UK space interests related to manufacturing and assembly of spacecraft and satellites, their systems and subsystems ought not to be affected by Brexit, in reality the British space industry is strongly tied to pan-European consortia. Tunnock’s experience in handling ‘regulation’ might just come in handy.

Still, given the many unknowns still to be unravelled, it is highly likely that a future roadmap of UK participation in European space will be influenced by the shape of post-Brexit UK and its relations, good or bad, with the rest of Europe.

The present situation will evolve in some way simply because the economic profile of the UK will be different - though the magnitude of change is likely to be contingent on the terms of the negotiated settlement and the new political climate. In turn, this may well influence decisions taken in Europe about the amount of work shared out to consortia facilities in respective ESA member states.

There is also a question mark over the increasing interests of the EU itself in space programmes and policy. For example, full involvement in Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation programme, an EU-led space project, might be at risk following Brexit unless a specific agreement is reached.

European Galileo satellites.
Basic services from the Galileo satellites are available to all but use of the encrypted, robust Public Regulated Service (PRS) designed for government-authorised users - such as fire brigades and the police - may be restricted to those outside of the EU.

Whatever the post-Brexit shape of the UK, the necessary readjustment of the domestic economy along with newly placed priorities at government level may eventually change the level of support - and thus the amount of money available - for national and international projects and programmes, including those of ESA.

So far, the government has indicated it is fully committed to supporting the country’s robust and expanding aerospace sector, one of the strongest growing sectors in UK investment and revenue.

Although British civil servants traditionally remain neutral of government policy, it has already been suggested that some new appointees across government departments are being selected partly on the grounds that their personal views are more sympathetic to the political aims of Brexit.

Only time will tell whether there was any such motive behind the appointment of Graham Tunnock as chief executive of UKSA and, if so, the effects this might ultimately have on the British space industry.

Despite assurances to the contrary, a post-Brexit Britain may not sit so comfortably with Europe’s space ambitions, particularly if the EU becomes more involved. One way or another our hugely successful space industry looks set to have a fight on its hands.

*Tunnock’s teacakes are a traditional English biscuit (soft marshmallow on a biscuit base coated in milk chocolate) developed by family bakers who first started trading in the 1890s.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

NFU flood risk strategy

Photo: Clive Simpson

Farmers in Lincolnshire have a key role to play in flood management – but the Government must ensure that measures to address flood risk are properly funded, the NFU (National Farmers' Union) said today.

The call comes in the NFU’s 'Flood Manifesto', launched at Westminster in London just two weeks after communities, properties and productive farmland along the UK's east coast were threatened by a storm surge.

The manifesto urges the Government to adopt a ‘plan, protect and pay’ approach as part of a long-term strategic blueprint for flood and coastal risk management.

NFU East Midlands’ Environment Adviser, Paul Tame says: “The response to the storm surge earlier this month was an excellent example of local and national authorities, emergency services and communities working together in the face of a significant flooding threat.

“We want to see more of this joint working as we plan for long-term challenges, an approach that will include more decisions made at a local level, including devolving responsibilities to Internal Drainage Boards (IDBS) where the Environment Agency is no longer fully funded to carry out maintenance.

“There also needs to be proper assessment of the value of agriculture when looking at flood management. This is crucially important in Lincolnshire, where so much highly productive farmland is at risk of flooding.

“And where agricultural land is part of the solution to flooding, such as providing flood water storage, this must be planned, agreed and paid for.”

The manifesto lists recent flooding events that have affected agriculture, including the winter of 2013 and 2014 when about 45,000 hectares of agricultural land were flooded, at a cost to the sector of £19 million. This included more than 1,000 hectares in Lincolnshire.

NFU Deputy President Minette Batters said: “British farming provides the raw ingredients for an industry worth £108 billion to the UK economy, which also provides 3.9 million jobs.

“It’s the bedrock of the food industry, feeding the nation and playing a part in feeding the world. Some of our most productive and highest value agricultural land lies in floodplains or coastal regions, vulnerable to flooding, and deserves to be protected.

“In short, the Government’s strategy to manage future flood risk must be to plan, protect and pay.”

Photo: Clive Simpson
Improving coastal flood defences is vital to protect agricultural land and rural communities from tidal surges and rising sea levels.

Whilst the frequency of coastal flooding events is lower than fluvial events, the impacts of them can be catastrophic to agriculture. Many low lying areas on the East coast of England, which are vulnerable to storm surge events, are also some of the country’s most productive land.

Lincolnshire, an area affected by the 1953 and 2013 storm surges, produces 25 per cent of all UK-grown vegetables, supports an agri-food industry worth £1 billion annually. Saline water intrusion can lead to long-term reductions in productivity, and large costs in restoring the land. The county is also home to 225, 000 people and handles a high proportion of UK offshore gas imports.

Improving coastal flood defences is vital to protect agricultural land and rural communities from tidal surges and rising sea levels. Funding for coastal defence activities must consider the long-term implications of the inundation of saline water on some of England’s most important and productive agricultural land.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Climate change accelerates

Photo: Clive Simpson

Europe’s regions are facing rising sea levels and more extreme weather, such as more frequent and more intense heatwaves, flooding, droughts and storms due to climate change, according to a European Environment Agency (EEA) report published today.

The report assesses the latest trends and projections on climate change and its impacts across Europe and finds that better and more flexible adaptation strategies, policies and measures will be crucial to lessen these impacts.

Temperatures in mountain ranges such as the Alps and the Pyrenees are predicted to soar to glacier-melting levels, while the Mediterranean faces a ‘drastic’ increase in heat extremes, droughts, crop failure and forest fires.

Hans-Martin Füssel, a lead author of the EEA report, said that scientific evidence was pointing increasingly to a speeding up in the pace of climate change.

“We have more data confirming that sea-level rise is accelerating,” he said. “It is not a linear trend, largely due to increased disintegration of ice sheets. There is also new evidence that heavy precipitation has increased in Europe. That is what is causing the floods. Climate projections are coming true.”

Earlier this month, NASA, NOAA and the UK Met Office confirmed that 2016 had broken the record for the hottest year ever - previously held by 2015, which had itself broken the record that had been set in 2014.

Hans Bruyninckx, the director of the EEA, says there was now “not a snowball’s chance in hell” of limiting global warming to 2C without the full involvement of the US, which has just elected a climate-sceptic president.

Europe’s thermal growing season is now 10 days longer than in 1992, with delays to the end of the season more dramatic than the advance of its start. In countries such as Spain, warmer conditions are expected to shift crop cultivation to the winter.

New records continue to be set on global and European temperatures, sea levels and reduced sea ice in the Arctic. Precipitation patterns are changing, generally making wet regions in Europe wetter and dry regions drier. Glacier volume and snow cover are decreasing.

At the same time, climate-related extremes such as heat waves, heavy precipitation and droughts, are increasing in frequency and intensity in many regions. Improved climate projections provide further evidence that climate-related extremes will increase in many European regions.

“The scale of future climate change and its impacts will depend on the effectiveness of implementing our global agreements to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but also ensuring that we have the right adaptation strategies and policies in place to reduce the risks from current and projected climate extremes,” adds Bruyninckx.

All European regions are vulnerable to climate change, but some regions will experience more negative impacts than others. Southern and south-eastern Europe is projected to be a climate change hotspot, as it is expected to face the highest number of adverse impacts.

This region is already experiencing large increases in heat extremes and decreases in precipitation and river flows, which have heightened the risk of more severe droughts, lower crop yields, biodiversity loss and forest fires. More frequent heat waves and changes in the distribution of climate-sensitive infectious diseases are expected to increase risks to human health and well-being.

Coastal areas and flood plains in western parts of Europe are also seen as hotspots as they face an increased risk of flooding from rising sea levels and a possible increase in storm surges. Climate change is also leading to major changes in marine ecosystems as a result of ocean acidification, warming and the expansion of oxygen-depleted dead zones.

The report is intended to spur Europe’s sluggish moves towards adaptation strategies for dealing with the impacts of climate change, ahead of an EU review later this year.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Land of make believe

“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” said Alice in Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland.

And at times in recent months it has seemed that we too might be living in some kind of political fantasy land. But as we jump from one preposterous situation to another one thing is becoming clear - the world is being rapidly transformed in a period of dizzying transition.

For centuries the dominant form of information was always the printed page, meaning knowledge was primarily delivered in a fixed format that encouraged readers to believe in stable and settled truths.

Now, we are seemingly caught in a series of confusing battles between opposing forces: between truth and falsehood, fact and rumour, kindness and cruelty; between the few and the many, the connected and the alienated.

Between too the open platform of the world wide web - as its architects envisioned it - and the gated enclosures of Facebook and other social networks; between an informed public and a misguided mob.

What is common to these struggles - and what makes their resolution an urgent matter - is that they all involve the diminishing status of truth.

Which is not the same as saying there are no truths because, as 2016 has made clear on both sides of the Atlantic, it simply means we can no longer sensibly agree on what those truths are.

In our 24/7 inter-connected culture what now counts as fact is increasingly a view that someone feels to be true. And technology (social media like Facebook have become purveyors of ‘news’) has made it very easy for these ‘facts’ to circulate in a cascade of information with a speed and reach that was unimaginable even a decade ago.

It means the political bombshells of the year, such as the UK’s referendum vote result and the emergence of Donald Trump as President-elect, are not simply the by-products of a resurgent populism or the revolt of those left behind by global capitalism.

Like Brexit, the rise of Trump is also partly a symptom of the rise and rise of social media and at the same time the mass media’s growing weakness, especially in controlling the limits of what it is acceptable to say.

During a vitriolic campaign Trump articulated many ‘truths’ which quickly circulated on social media and became enough on their own to help him secure a winning share of the popular vote.

Such a situation reflects too the ‘promises’ made by those campaigning to leave the EU during the UK referendum. Even basic scrutiny at the time revealed many to be empty, vacuous and unworkable promises. But they all too easily became accepted as ‘truth’.

For the UK, an unsavoury picture of a post Brexit world is now beginning to emerge: one where the rule of law, due process and even fact itself might easily crumble before the might of the mob, who themselves are directed by the Machiavellian schemes of press barons and wannabe dictators.

It seems that prime minster Theresa May appeals to a stereotype that has a deep grip on the English psyche. Sober and commonsensical, she portrays a moral seriousness one might expect from a vicar's daughter, whilst at the same time displaying an Alice in Wonderland quality.

Her public image - based on a track record of capitulation since taking office - might be described as something akin to "pretence” and, so far, her dominant side seems even more superficial than David Cameron.

It is a tribute to the power of cliches and soundbites that we fail to see what is in front of our noses and so few have noticed - the main reason Teresa May is prime minister is because she put ambition before principle.

During the referendum campaign, and probably ever since, May has proved herself somewhat ordinary as an orator of any note. There is certainly no evangelical fervour that her upbringing as a vicar's daughter might have instilled.

But as a politician on the make she seems close to perfect. When Craig Oliver, David Cameron's former chief of communications, wondered if she was secretly an ‘enemy agent’ for the leave side, he was perhaps being too devious.

In fact, May was just making a smart political and career move. Apart from speaking in secret to the likes of Goldman Sachs, she kept her views about the economic consequences of Brexit quiet - so that the Conservative right might accept her as leader if Cameron lost.

Failing to state your honest opinion on the most important decision Britain has taken in decades may seem cowardly enough. But the consequences of May's pretence do not stop with the referendum.

Her manoeuvres since the summer (including on Hinckley B, Heathrow airport and Nissan) have forced her into a position where she must make arguments she cannot hardly believe, on behalf of causes she cannot possibly believe in.

Far from ‘taking back control’, her leadership to date also shows that Brexit is depriving ordinary people of the ability to take decisions, giving privileges to the special interests the leave campaign claimed it was fighting against, and imposing burdens on the taxpayer far greater than the mythical £350 million a week that Vote Leave claimed was sent to Brussels.

May and her defenders say she is responding to the absolute will of the British people but even without the muddy waters of truth versus untruth and a still confusing Brexit strategy, a 52-48 vote was hardly the people speaking as one.

Perhaps, in this post-referendum, pre-Brexit Britain we can more easily understand our prime minister by seeing that she is no different to many others when it comes to abandoning beliefs in favour of ‘truths’.

Disappointingly since taking office, she has failed to level with the public and confront them with the hard choices ahead. Rather than speak plainly, she has proffered the notion that Brexit will be painless.

Now, as prime minister of 'pretences', May is running a government where feelings seem to matter more than fact. She pretends the country should leave the EU, even though she knows its best interests are as a member of the single market.

She offers the illusion that the people are taking back control, even as the freedom to act is lost. She cuts deals in secret, in the hope that the public will never realise that her land of make-believe is going to be an expensive and very different place to live.

For many reasons, the political earthquakes of 2016 have been tectonic in nature and herald a significant lurch to the right in global politics where false truth and self-interest trumps rational and reasoned argument.

How far this continues - and even spreads to other countries in the year ahead - remains to be seen. Strong, statesmanship-like leadership is called for as the clouds of chaos amass menacingly on the political and economic horizons.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Clear and present danger

We’ve had a record-breaking summer and records continue to tumble. And this is not just where the Olympics or Paralympics are concerned.

It’s almost mid-September and a large part of the UK is experiencing one of its hottest days on record for the time of year.

Take a snapshot view of the world in any month of 2016 so far and it seems that we are slipping faster than anticipated into more extreme and unpredictable weather.

Unprecedented temperature levels around the globe mean more heatwaves, flooding, wildfires and hurricanes - climate change is very much becoming a here and now thing rather than something for the future.

In the light of our planet's record-breaking month-on-month temperatures, experts admit they have been taken by surprise and had expected "nothing like" this level of global warming.

The first six months of 2016 averaged 1.3 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average, which seems too close for comfort to the ambition agreed at the Paris climate summit last December to limit warming to 1.5C.

Globally, July was the warmest month since modern record-keeping began in 1880, with each month since October 2015 setting a new high mark for heat.

The planet is warming at a pace not experienced within the past 1,000 years at least, making it “very unlikely” that the world will stay within a crucial temperature limit agreed by nations just last year, according to NASA’s scientist Gavin Schmidt.

Temperature records  going back further than the 19th century - taken via analysis of ice cores and sediments - also suggest that the warming of recent decades is out of step with any period over the past millennium.

“In the last 30 years we’ve really moved into exceptional territory,” says Schmidt, who is director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “It’s unprecedented in 1,000 years. There’s no period that has the trend seen in the 20th century in terms of the inclination of temperatures.

Schmidt believes there is a 99 per cent chance that 2016 will be the warmest year on record, with around 20 per cent of the heat attributed to a strong El Niño climatic event. Last year is currently the warmest year on record, itself beating a landmark set in 2014.

“It’s the long-term trend we have to worry about though - there’s no evidence it’s going away and lots of reasons to think it’s here to stay,” Schmidt warns. “There’s no pause or hiatus in temperature increase and people who think this is over are viewing the world through rose-tinted spectacles. This is a chronic problem for society.”

Recent research has established that just five more years of carbon dioxide emissions at current levels will virtually wipe out any chance of restraining temperatures to a 1.5C increase and avoid runaway climate change.

Temperature reconstructions by NASA - using data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - show that the global temperature typically rose by between 4-7C over a period of 5,000 years as the world moved out of ice ages.

The temperature rise clocked up over the past century is around 10 times faster and the increasing pace of warming suggests the world will heat up at a rate at least 20 times faster than the historical average.

Dr David Carlson, director of the World Climate Research Programme, adds that models of future warming failed to predict the high temperatures recorded this year, suggesting we might be under-estimating how hot the world will get.

“What concerns me most is that we didn't anticipate these temperature jumps,” he says. “We predicted moderate warmth for 2016 but nothing like the temperature rises we’ve seen.

As we in the UK swelter in abnormally hot September weather it seems that massive temperature hikes, volatile weather and extreme events like floodings and droughts are already becoming the new normal for the world at large.

One might expect such impending natural catastrophe to be something of a priority for any new leader but it seems British politics is determined to bury its head in a quagmire of introspection and banality.

Prime Minister Theresa May, without so much as a nod to the country’s representative democracy, is doggedly pursuing a spurious policy to calve up the United Kingdom and separate it from the rest of Europe.

And, while London burns - to borrow a metaphor from last week’s anniversary of the Great Fire - she also sees it as a priority to pursue an unpopular new policy to create more Grammar schools over and above all else.

Many of the athlete's who accomplished greatness at the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics faced obstacles along the way but found their success by moving through and overcoming their personal roadblocks.

Will our politicians show the same kind of courage? The challenge ahead is a daring one, calling for exceptionally brave and visionary political leadership.

So far in this record breaking summer the UK’s new political masters have shown little sign of that, seemingly content to re-arrange deckchairs on the sun-deck while HMS Brexit heads for the nearest iceberg (assuming there are any left).

Friday, 29 July 2016

Rosetta inspires Vangelis album

Legendary composer and pioneer of electronic music Vangelis has produced a brand new album, ‘Rosetta’, inspired by ESA’s Rosetta mission.

The release of the album by Decca Records on 23 September will coincide with the culmination of Rosetta’s 12-year mission to orbit and land its Philae probe on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta is set to complete its journey in a controlled descent to the surface of the comet on 30 September.

The story of this mission fuelled Vangelis’ long-held passion for space and inspired him to create his first new studio album in 18 years.

Vangelis’ music is often linked to themes of science, history and exploration. Alongside his Academy award-winning score for ‘Chariots of Fire’, he has written for films including ‘Bladerunner’, ‘Antarctica’, ‘1492: Conquest of Paradise’, ‘The Bounty’ and ‘Alexander’.

“Mythology, science and space exploration are subjects that have fascinated me since my early childhood. And they were always connected somehow with the music I write,” said Vangelis.
ESA’s connection with Vangelis goes back several years to when ESA astronaut André Kuipers was on the International Space Station. André is a big fan and he had a lot of Vangelis’ music with him in space.

After sharing stories and experiences with André via video call from the ISS, Vangelis was inspired to write some music for ESA to mark the landing of Philae on the comet in 2014.

To Vangelis, music is a sacred, basic force of the Universe, its purpose to elevate, inspire and to heal humankind. Never has this been more obvious than on ‘Rosetta’, an album that perfectly blends his fascination with the Universe and his ability to compose stirring music.

“With music, you can enhance emotions and create memories: I believe that what Vangelis wanted to do was share a lasting memory of our Rosetta mission through his music,” says Carl Walker, from ESA’s communication department.

Vangelis has dedicated this new album to everyone who made the ESA’s ongoing Rosetta mission possible, in particular extending the track called ‘Rosetta’s Waltz’ as an expression of his appreciation to the mission team.

“Rosetta has been an amazing journey for everybody involved, both scientifically and technically, but it has also connected emotionally with so many people around the world,” says ESA’s Prof Mark McCaughrean, senior science advisor in the Directorate of Science.

“So you can imagine how proud we were when one of the world’s great composers Vangelis made some music for us at the time of landing, and how excited we are that he’s put together a whole album of original music about this astonishing adventure.”