Categories
Citizen Science Climate

Monitor coral reef health from home

The world’s coral reefs are dying. Increasing ocean temperatures and rising pollution levels are causing mass bleaching events, where stressed corals eject the symbiotic algae that keeps them alive. Scientists have been monitoring coral reef health for years, and the prognosis is not looking good.

small fish in a coral reef
Image by Marcelokato for PixaBay

In order to solve a problem, we need to understand it. One of the biggest challenges we face in tackling issues like reef health is the sheer amount of data we need to gather to work out what state they’re in.

Until now this has been a slow process. It relies on scientists surveying vast areas of reef, noting what coral species are present and how much area they cover. Doing all of this by hand takes a really long time. 

Here’s where it gets fun: we now have technology that can do the boring work for us.

Here’s where it gets less fun: in order for this technology to work, it first must learn how to do its job.

Here’s where it gets fun again: NASA have specialised fluid lensing cameras. These are able to photograph the ocean floor by removing the distortion caused by rippling water above. Since 2019 they’ve been used to map large areas of shallow water reef in Puerto Rico. These images now need to be analysed.

NASA’s supercomputer, Pleiades, is learning to recognise corals so the mapping process can be automatic. In order for Pleiades to learn how to accurately identify corals, NASA have released a new game called NeMO-Net. In the game, users travel the oceans aboard a research vessel called the Nautilus, locating and identifying corals. The sea floor in the game comes from images captured by fluid lensing cameras, and users will be identifying real, living corals.

The game is currently available on iOS devices via the App Store, and there’s a beta version for Windows devices here. NASA have also said they’re working on a release for Android.

Categories
COVID-19 Health

Survey: Health and Wellbeing Under Lockdown

The after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are going to be felt for years to come. Some of these may be positive – for example global lockdowns have helped to (temporarily) improve air quality in cities. But what impact has restricting people’s movements had on individuals and their health and mental wellbeing? And how much are people getting out and about in nature during this time? Researchers from the University of Sheffield are hoping to find out.

English bluebells in a grassy field
Spending just five minutes in nature a day can boost self-esteem and improve mood.

This survey aims to capture data on whether people’s interactions with nature have changed since the onset of the pandemic. It takes roughly 15 minutes to complete and is completely anonymous.

Click here to complete the survey.

By completing the survey, you can contribute to research on the effects of nature on people’s health and wellbeing in the pandemic. We’ll be talking more about the importance of citizen science and public contributions to research in upcoming articles – keep an eye out for them on the website and our Facebook and Twitter.

A  sunny clearing between trees in a woodland
Categories
COVID-19

COVID-19: Risk Communication is Key

Umar Ibrahim, PhD, is the Chairman/Director of Health for Abubuwa Societal Development Initiative, Nigeria. In this post he discusses the importance of accurate and tailored risk communication in the context of COVID-19 management and control in Nigeria.

The outbreak of COVID-19 affects the global population in an unprecedented way. It affects both wealthy and poor countries – differently – causing them to struggle in its management. The situation demands trusted and effective risk communication mechanisms, targeting diverse audiences. Therefore, tailored and focused communication campaigns on the symptoms, basic hygiene and sanitation practice, among other risk management strategies, need to emerge from a trusted source in understandable language.

For example, information disseminated on social distancing in Nigeria, was broadly understood and widely accepted. This highlights the significance of effective health communication as an invaluable tool for COVID-19 prevention and control. Additionally, language barriers must be eliminated whenever health communication comes into the limelight. Lack of information in local languages, in some parts of the African region such as northern Nigeria, has left some sections of the population unaware of complex health issues. In this regard, understanding a message is central to its acceptance. As such, a radio jingle in Hausa language, the dialogue of the people in Bauchi State Nigeria, was aired to aid the understanding of COVID-19 prevention and control measures. 

Why is effective communication so important?

Using the best means of communicating health issues to the targeted communities raises their understanding and awareness levels. Targeted health communication needs to provide background and supportive information as well as improving public awareness on the emerging issues. Also, targeted communication keeps the population under focus informed on how to identify and report COVID-19 symptoms. Mixed experiences trail the COVID-19 prevention and control response in Nigeria, as a result of right and wrong information dissemination. These experiences should compel stakeholders to focus their attention on effective communication approaches that can help in understanding and acceptance of the disseminated messages, such as:

1. Audio/Visual:

A short video in combination with audio content or a simple video caption demonstrating practical COVID-19 preventive measures – or an audio clip explaining how basic hygiene is implemented. This will help in understanding the COVID-19 preventive techniques.

For example, this video on how to effectively wash hands is quick and easy to understand.

2. One-on-one campaigns:

Visiting residential quarters, business premises and other places of gatherings such as parks, markets, and garages among others, to meet people one-on-one, with clear messages on the COVID-19. Questions will also be entertained in such an approach. Those conducting the visits will need to wear appropriate protective clothing to ensure they do not contribute to the spread of disease.

3. Involvement of local champions:

There are certain people who are designated as local champions in every community. They become influential in their society by the virtue of their status, formally or informally. They are able to influence the decision of their community members. This type of people should be involved in delivering information on how to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

4. Evidence based information:

Targeted information should be built on fact, not fiction. The listeners may be laymen with no prior knowledge, in need of information on COVID-19 and as such could be anxious or emotional and ready to accept any information on their disposal. Therefore, any information to be given to them must be evidence based, and capable of promoting best practice.

5. Simple, clear and concise messages:

Complex issues should be presented using simple, clear, unambiguous and concise language, text or infographics. Doing that will make the message understandable within the intended context.

Good examples of infographic resources can be found here and here.

6: Targeted message:

The COVID-19 message should be customized in accordance to the targeted audience. For example, a message targeting young or inexperienced members of the community should be different from the ones targeting older or more experienced and knowledgeable members of the community. All members of the community should be able to understand what sources of information are to be trusted. Misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic can spreads across media outlets at a galloping speed. Fake news can confuse people on what actions to take, and on how to protect themselves and their families. Fake news may be developed due to the lack of clear, accurate, and accessible information on COVID-19 in a language and format understood by the audience.

For a more detailed breakdown on managing risk communication and misinformation, please see this resource from Social Science in Humanitarian Action.

Managing misinformation

To counter the effect of misinformation on COVID-19, the following should be considered;

  • Fake news is frequently found in tabloid media and online. Therefore, only read news from reliable sources to ensure stories’ authenticity. Check news from other sources against more trusted outlets; if more trusted outlets are not reporting the same thing, the news is not yet confirmed.
  • Trusted friends also disseminate fake news, these can sometimes be the so-called educated ones. As such, always verify.
  • Accept only information that practically solves the issues in question.
  • Avoid information that does not come from a proven source.

To avoid the trap of COVID-19 untrusted sources, information should be sought from the following or similar sites:

For a more complete list of resources please see the Planetary Health Alliance COVID-19 Resource Pack, or jump straight to Resources for Researchers and Resources for Public Health Professionals.

Factual, accurate and easy to understand information can spread more quickly than the disease itself, helping to protect people and keep individuals and communities safe. Communication is an essential tool in the fight against COVID-19. You can find an in-depth Outbreak Communication Planning Guide from the WHO here.

risk communication is key during the COVID-19 outbreak
Categories
COVID-19 Health

Emotional Wellbeing: 9 Ways to Get Your Happiness Locked Down on Lockdown

With the UK Prime Minister announcing a nation-wide lockdown earlier this week after several days of social distancing, it’s safe to say that the Covid-19 outbreak is having a major impact on everyone’s lives. It’s easy to get overwhelmed – especially as the virus is the only topic on the news right now. We’re all facing the possibility of at least a few weeks staying inside at home, and that’s going to have a knock-on effect on people’s emotional wellbeing.

If you’re reading this, your brain is probably completely saturated with alarming news and statistics about the novel coronavirus. This article isn’t going to add to your stress – instead, we’ll be looking at ways you can improve your emotional wellbeing while on lockdown, and why staying at home is the best possible thing you can do right now. And if you really must look at Covid-19 news, a good place to start is this datapack from Information Is Beautiful.

1. Staying at home keeps you, and everyone around you, safer

Don’t look at this as being forced to stay inside. Reframe your perspective and see the lockdown as a way to avoid exposing yourself and your loved ones to the virus. If you’re home and following proper sanitisation procedures (washing your hands to whatever song floats your boat, regularly disinfecting surfaces and objects like your phone), it’s much less likely you’ll catch the virus or risk spreading it to anyone else outside your household. There’s an end goal in sight – we’re collectively trying to flatten the curve and keep the rate of infection (R0) lower than 1 (i.e., each infected person infects fewer than one other person.

Graph showing the effect of flattening the curve – this is what a lockdown is designed to achieve. From Information Is Beautiful.

2. Boost your emotional wellbeing by staying social

Loneliness and social isolation can have serious negative impacts on health and emotional wellbeing and many of us get most of our social interaction through the workplace or in school. Even though we may not be physically in the same room, the internet and messaging apps have given us all the tools we need to talk to people. You don’t need to use conferencing apps like Zoom just for work – grab yourself a cup of tea and some biscuits and settle in for a conference-call chat with your friends.

Even if you don’t have the bandwidth to video call people, make sure to check in with friends at least once every day – it’s likely they’re feeling just as stressed out by all of this as you are.

3. Give yourself a break from social media

Yes, we just told you to be more social. But that doesn’t include checking Twitter three hundred times a day. Misinformation about the virus is being shared everywhere, along with a constant stream of news broadcasts telling you things that are guaranteed to stress you out. Turn your social media notifications off, remove the apps from your phone, and put your phone out of reach. If you don’t want to stay away from social media completely, maybe take a look at who you follow and see if you can keep your feed stress-free.

4. Ditch the alarm clock

When was the last time you had a really good night’s sleep, and spent the whole day feeling energised? Sleep deprivation is bad for your emotional wellbeing. Really bad. It’s not clear how many people worldwide are sleep-deprived, but it’s probably a lot. There’s a fairly simple solution, and now we’re on lockdown it’s the perfect time to try it out:

Ditch your alarm.

Stop setting it.

Unless you have somewhere to be (let’s face it: unlikely) or an urgent deadline, try letting your body tell you when to wake up. The caveat is that you should probably try to go to sleep before midnight, otherwise you’ll probably find yourself sleeping well into the next day. Try it – you might be surprised at how quickly your body adapts to a good sleep rhythm.

5. Get a plant to look after

Houseplants are all the rage right now, but they’re not just good for brightening up your Insta feed. Gardening is surprisingly good for your mental health and emotional wellbeing. In fact, the Royal Horticultural Society has made gardening and mental health a key part of it’s science strategy. They’ve created four new Wellbeing Gardens around the National Centre for Horticultural Science. You can visit just as soon as the gardens are reopened. In the meantime why not pick up a houseplant next time you’re in the supermarket stocking up on toilet roll?

Houseplants are an easy way to improve your emotional wellbeing.

6. Pick up a home project you’ve been putting off

It doesn’t have to be a huge task. It can be as simple as emptying out that junk drawer that things disappear into, but never seem to come out of. Doing something that makes your life slightly easier in the long run will make you feel more productive. Plus, it helps stave off any feelings of lethargy that you might experience being inside for long periods without a clear schedule.

7. Get creative with your cooking

It’s easy to start mindlessly snacking when you’re home for long periods of time. This is probably not very good for you for a couple of reasons. One, eating unhealthy food is linked to increased stress, anxiety, and depression ( and you’re likely to consume more of it). Two, although you can go to supermarkets, you need to limit your trips there as much as possible. Social distancing!

Plenty of people are talking about what to do with those random tins you have at the back of the cupboard. A good place to start is Twitter, where chef and food writer Jack Monroe runs #JackMonroesLockdownLarder every night from 5pm.

8. Read a book

Bibliotherapy isn’t a hugely well-studied field, but storytelling has been around for millennia. Reading is an easy way to escape for a little while. With the lockdown in place, now is the time to get through your ‘to-be-read’ list. Services like Kindle, Google Play and Apple Books have ebooks you can buy if you can’t get hold of physical books. But did you know in the UK many libraries offer apps where you can loan free ebooks? You can use this postcode checker to see what services your local library has to offer.

Reading through a stack of books, an easy way to boost emotional wellbeing.
Work through that pile of books you’ve been meaning to read

9. Improve your emotional wellbeing by getting outside

Yes, we’re on lockdown. You’re still allowed outside once a day for exercise though – the important thing is to be smart about it. Find the quiet places in your local area. Even if it’s just a walk round the block, countless studies show the importance of getting some exercise every day. Trying to spend a little bit of your day in nature is good for you, too. Sensible precautions apply – if you’re showing symptoms or you’ve come into contact with someone who has, you should stay inside. Even if you can’t get outside every day, opening the windows will get some air moving in your house. It’s a good way to take advantage of the improved air quality in many cities – a result of the lockdown.

A view of a gorse common. Getting outside is great for you emotional wellbeing.
You can still go outside for some exercise – see if you can find some hidden gems close to home
Categories
COVID-19 Health

Pandemic COVID-19: What do we have to fear?

This post is by Jennifer Cole PhD, a full-time Research Fellow at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is an Associate Fellow at the Royal United Institute for Defence and Security Studies, a UK-based policy think tank, where she ran the Resilience and Emergency Planning programme until 2018. She has also worked with UK and international government agencies on policy planning around the response to serious infectious disease outbreaks. Find her Reddit AMA on the COVID-19 pandemic here.

When people use the word ‘pandemic’ it tends to incite fear. It conjures up pictures of widespread death and societal collapse, the Hollywood movie version of what would happen and how the world would(n’t) cope with a new, unknown disease. History lessons of the Plague of Athens, the Black Death and, more recently, Spanish Flu bubble to the surface of collective and cultural memory. Millions of deaths. Bodies piling up in the streets. Society breaking down. 

But take a deep breath (through an N95 respirator mask if you want to be careful), step back and try not to panic. Even if the worst case prediction of case fatality ratescurrently running at around 2% turn out to be true – and it is increasingly looking as if this is a high-end estimate that doesn’t take into account the many cases that go unreported because symptoms are mild – there is no reason to think that this will equate to societal and economic collapse; the 1918-19 influenza outbreak had a similar CFR but didn’t, even in a world already economically depleted by WWI . There are currently 7.6 billion people in the world: even 2% less than that is still a lot more than 7 billion. The world won’t lose all its doctors, or airline pilots, or software developers, or rap artists. 

Pandemics and societal change

Pandemics with much higher CFRs – 30-60% – were needed to bring about real societal change. The UK’s medieval system of serfdom – essentially slavery to the landowners – was broken by a shortage of workers, meaning those who were available were able to negotiate better terms for their labour. Gandhi first rose to prominence by helping Indian clothworkers to demand better working conditions following similar labour shortages that resulted from an outbreak of Bubonic Plague in India in the early 20th century.

Society did anything but descend into chaos on either occasion: the affected communities came out stronger and more just. Neither is collapse likely with SARS-Cov2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak. This isn’t to play down the situation. It isn’t to belittle the virus as ‘just a cold’ or to not care about the people who have died and will still die. But it is a call to keep things in perspective, to guard against panic, and to consider what part everyone has to play in responding to events over the coming weeks. 

Vector graphic showing COVID-19 viruses. They appear to be spreading, pandemic-like across the image

What is a pandemic, and are all pandemics deadly?

So is SARS-Cov2 a disaster? A death sentence for the world? The end of civilisation as we know it? The evidence is increasingly saying ‘no’. Pandemics have, in the past, been all those things but at the same time, all ‘pandemic’ means in literal terms – ‘pan (all) and demos (people)’ – is ‘everywhere in the world’. It denotes the geographic range of the spread, not severity of the disease, but tends to be interpreted by lay audiences as the latter only. This is precisely why the WHO revised how they used the term following the 2009-10 H1NI ‘Swine Flu’ pandemic: when the virus responsible turned out to cause only mild disease in most cases, they were criticised for over-reacting and of encouraging countries to ramp up unnecessary countermeasures.

The media prefer to hear about PHEICs – Public Health Emergencies of International Concern – because they’re easier to make headlines out of. Emergency! Concern! even though PHEICs may not be everywhere or much of a threat to most people other than the ones whose job it is to deal with them. Anyone remember the Polio PHIEC of 2014? It didn’t spark sensational headlines because the world has a vaccine. The fact that the vaccination programme had broken down in war-torn Syria, putting thousands of Syrian children at risk – but no-one else – wasn’t a good enough story.

Ebola, which was happening at the same time, got much more attention. There was more of a threat from a disease that didn’t have a vaccine – although, as it turned out, even that threat was reasonably easily mitigated by any quarter-decent healthcare system. A few years before, Swine Flu had made the headlines when people who don’t usually die if they catch influenza thought they might, but everyone then lost interest when they realised that this wasn’t the case. At the same time, the papers forgot that more than 600,000 people die each year from normal seasonal fluup to 10,000 in the UK alone. This is also pandemic, but no-one really worries too much about it.

So how does all this relate to coronavirus SARS-CoV2? Should we be scared that (a) it’s a PHEIC and (b) that it may or not be ‘officially’ a pandemic depending on whose classification is used and how that classification is made? 

A COVID-19 pandemic: should we panic now?

The key to how scared someone should be of a disease is, of course, how likely they are to be affected by it. Primarily, how likely they are to die if they catch it. This, in turn, depends on a number of factors, including, but not limited to: [1] how susceptible they are to catching the disease, [2] how able to naturally (without any medical help) fight it off if they are infected, [3] how much, and what, medical help is available if they can’t fight it off without medical intervention, [4] how measures including quarantine and vaccination offer protection [5] and what can be done to avoid catching it, which includes everything from handwashing, using a face mask, to self-isolating and quarantine. PHEICs drive international cooperation. Pandemics encourage rapid research and vaccine development, bring greater and more immediate investment, galvanise the research community to work together and lead to greater understanding of not only the disease itself, but of how best to organise healthcare systems and response. Not all of it is bad news.

Vector graphic showing a network of people wearing face masks, surrounding one person who is not wearing a mask and who appears to be infected with coronavirus, the disease responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, let’s deal with each of the factors mentioned above in turn:

1. How likely am I to get COVID-19?

In the case of SARS-Cov2, the current planning assumptions are still that everyone is susceptible to catching it. That no-one has any innate immunity (obtained from having caught it once before, when they may have been younger and fitter and more able to fight it off). There may be little genetic immunity (which can exist within a society because people who are less able to fight it off don’t survive to breed) because it hasn’t been around long enough for this selective pressure to come into play.

Equally, however, there may be – some people were naturally immune to Ebola because they carried an allele known as CCR5 Delta-32– which also offers protection against HIV. General virus-fighting biology may be working behind the scenes but it takes a long time for scientists to figure this out – with Ebola, it was deduced from analysing family members who had all been exposed but not all of them became infected – but things have so far been happening very, very quickly with SARS-Cov2; too quickly for such analyses to be made.

The cruise ships are the best microcosm we have to deduce how many people who have clearly been at risk don’t become infected. More time will be needed to develop a clearer picture on this but out of 3711 crew and passengers, only around one in five seems to have contracted the disease. 

2. How serious are the symptoms?

A second factor in how badly the virus will affect society is how likely the average person who contracts it will be to require hospital treatment. This is particularly difficult to calculate from early cases as mild and asymptomatic ones will not be recorded. Only the severe cases tend to be diagnosed – possibly only those who go on to need hospitalisation – show up in the figures. It seems that many people either didn’t realise they were infected or had such mild symptoms they didn’t go to a doctor. It was indeed, ‘just a cold’ for them. Here, again, the cruise ships will provide some of the most accurate numbers available, as will contact-tracing relatives of known cases and people who are known to be at risk of exposure.

Normally, healthy people aren’t tested for cold or flu viruses or recorded in medical records, and thus severity and case fatality rates tend to be overestimated at first, and drop as more figures become available. Now that significant numbers of people are being tested – whether they’re ill or not, and whether they’re mildly or significantly ill – the real picture will become clearer, as will info on what types of people are more likely to be severely ill than mildly ill: the very elderly, those with underlying health conditions, heavy smokers etc. Once demographics have been established, people outside of those categories can worry a bit less. Early indications so far suggest that the risk of dying if one contracts the virus is around 14% for people over 80, but only 0.2% for those under 40. 

3. Can we treat COVID-19?

Medical help is available, and paints a reasonably optimistic picture. Dealing severe respiratory conditions is a staple of hospital operations: there’s lots of equipment and trained nurses and doctors. If you end up in hospital, they know what to do. The real challenge with SARS-Cov2 is that there will be more people than usual in hospital at the same time. Mostly old, already ill with other conditions, or immunocompromised people – but still more. Remember the accusations that Swine Flu was a bit of crying wolf? The NHS doesn’t – the UK’s healthcare sector only barely coped. Still, it did – due to years of planning, exercising and preparation. People died, but not that many more than in an average flu season.

The biggest concern with SARS-Cov2 is that high numbers of severe cases – quantity rather than quality of disease – will result in not enough of this medical help to go round. This is probably the biggest real concern in the current situation. It’s why one of China’s first actions was to build the massive temporary hospitals, why the US’s FEMA is sending out letters requisitioning hotel beds, and why in most countries, emergency plans will be kicking in to do the same and to see what other things hospital beds are used for – such as routine hip replacements, for example – can be postponed for a few months.

In the meantime, quarantines, social distancing and encouraged self-isolation will help to protect these elderly and vulnerable members of the population, as well as those who could probably fight it off alone. This doesn’t mean that quarantines, lockdowns and self-isolation is an over- or knee-jerk reaction – but rather than only benefitting the quarantined individual, they buy time: to understand the virus better, to learn how to deal with it, to calculate more accurate figures for how infectious it is and the case fatality rate it causes, and how to prevent it. 

4. Can we vaccinate against COVID-19?

One main advantage of quarantines, lockdowns and curfews is that they buy time: for healthcare professionals and scientists to figure out how best to deal with the disease and, ideally, they buy time in which vaccines can be developed and trialled. Even if and when it’s completely understood that containment measures cannot keep a disease from spreading and becoming pandemic for ever, it is still worth slowing that spread down – as much as possible, for as long as possible. This is the best response for society at a mass level – but has to be weighed against the damage quarantines may cause, such as panicking people, and damaging the economy.

The alternative is to let the virus run and take the consequences – potentially sacrificing the elderly and vulnerable for whom there may not be enough healthcare.  It would take a very, very brave politician to make that call. The politically safer (and more human) option is to keep plugging away with the quarantines even when you know they will ultimately fail to contain the spread. 

5. How do I avoid catching it in a pandemic?

At a societal level, however, there is still much we can do. Human behaviour is an important factor in disease spread as the characteristics of the pathogen itself and everything from basic handwashing, not coughing on your neighbours, working from home if possible and shopping online for groceries, will have a significant impact on whether you personally catch the disease and whether the chains of infection across the world can be broken. Emergency planning scenarios tend not to like to focus so much on human factors, as they’re harder to control, but once factored in, they make the whole situation much, much less scary. 

Vector graphic of a bar of soap overlaid on a blue background that looks like splashing water. Washing your hands with soap is one of the easiest ways to keep yourself safe in this pandemic.
Washing your hands with soap is one of the most effective ways to sanitise them. Hand sanitiser gel will also work if soap isn’t available – it’s not just effective on bacteria!

How prepared are we for a pandemic?

Knowing the amount of planning that goes into how the world will deal with a situation like SARS-Cov2 can also provide reassurance that society is far from collapse. Not just in terms of how the medical sector will deal with so many additional hospitalisations, but how supply chains will be kept running, how pharmaceutical production can be ramped up quickly, and many, many other aspects.

The vast majority of these plans have been publicly available for years but the irony is, the public mostly ignores them and even sneers at them until the crisis hits. But they’re there, and people are working behind the scenes right now – just as they always are – to make sure that they hold up as well as possible under very trying circumstances. A massive help to how well they can operate is making sure the public doesn’t panic – that people take avoidance measures where necessary but don’t get overly worried about what they can’t change. Society will only break down if society allows it to. 

So we’ll get through this pandemic?

It is important to keep things in perspective. ‘Pandemic’ refers to the number of cases and the number of countries a disease is spreading freely in, not its severity. If and when SARS-Cov2 becomes pandemic, this doesn’t mean it’s more or less infectious/serious/scary than it was last week. It means that countries and their healthcare sectors are more alert to it, more likely to reach for, assess and amend where necessary their own emergency plans to deal with it. This includes how they will cope with more hospitalizations, what additional supplies they need to start drawing in and how they reorganise to manage something beyond business as usual. Swine flu is recent enough that plans have been tested within living memory, and they did hold up.

Pandemics have the greatest effect at a societal level

For those still feeling that the best response is to panic: keep in perspective the difference between risks to individuals and risks to society. The longer outbreaks go on, the more information emerges about them. The more SARS-Cov2 cases are understood, and the more information and understanding is gained about asymptomatic or very mildly symptomatic cases, the more it looks as if, on an individual level, the virus may not be too much worse than a typical seasonal flu season for the majority of people under 80.

At population level, this is still a significant challenge because – unlike the viruses that circulate during a typical flu season – no one has any immunity to SARS-Cov2, so overall there will be many more cases. The people least likely to be able to fight it off – the elderly – won’t be protected by residual immunity from other viruses that were similar enough to the current one to help. In the 2009 Swine Flu epidemic, residual immunity to the Asian flu(s) of the late 50s and 60s meant that the elderly had some protection. That’s not there this time. But, if you aren’t elderly, don’t have an underlying immune condition and seek treatment early, it is looking increasingly as though you are likely to survive infection, without needing hospital treatment..

The picture is somewhat different for those who work in the health system, who are likely to face significantly increased workloads. But preparedness plans (all publicly available online) are in place and the doctors who know about them tend to be playing down the dangers

Quarantines are a good thing

It’s also important to acknowledge that the quarantines and lockdowns in place across the world look dramatic on TV but are there primarily to slow down the spread of virus, which has two main advantages:

1.     If the spread is slower, an outbreak in one area might be more or less over before another one starts. Resources can be moved around and go further if the entire world doesn’t have to deal with all cases there will ever be at once. In particular, once an outbreak has passed through one region, it tends to leave behind recovered and immune survivors who can help those who come after them. 

2.     Secondly, the slower the spread goes, the more time there is for vaccine development, to protect those in regions not yet affected. The world’s vaccine developers are working round the clock to make sure this happens: a vaccine may be ready for early human trials in April [30]. 

The scenario presented above isn’t the sensationalised doom-mongering that makes the best tabloid headines. Nor is it looking at the challenge through rose-tinted glasses. Panic never solved anything; the best approach to any crisis is to be well-informed, well-prepared and ready to meet it head on. The young(ish) and generally healthy will mostly survive. By doing what we can to avoid catching the virus and passing it on, everyone can help to protect those who are older and less generally healthy.  By aiming to be part of the solution, not the problem, we all have has a part to play in keeping society in the best health possible over the coming weeks. 

Categories
Campaigns Climate Sustainability

Make 2020 Your Year for Low-Impact Living

Low -impact living 2020: a reusable bamboo coffee cup on a wooden bench.

We’re in a climate emergency. The Earth is dangerously close to its tipping point in terms of being able to come back from the damage humans are causing to our ecosystems. The devastating bushfires in Australia are merely a taste of what countries may face in the coming decades if we don’t take steps to lessen the damage we are causing to the planet.

The climate emergency is a borderless issue – its effects will not be limited to the countries that don’t take it seriously. Global efforts are necessary to combat this global problem, and change needs to happen at every level. Countries need to be working together, governments need to be putting policies in place for their own countries, businesses need to commit to sustainability, and individuals need to make changes to their lifestyle to lessen their impact on the planet.

We’re starting at the bottom, with a campaign to get as many people as possible trying low-impact living in 2020.

What is low-impact living?

A low-impact lifestyle, or low-impact living, is pretty much what it says on the tin. You try to reduce the impact your lifestyle has on the environment. It’s fundamentally “reduce, reuse, recycle”.

Reduce what you take from the environment and the waste you produce.

Reuse as much as possible

Recycle what you can’t use any more.

Nobody lives a completely impact-free life, and nobody should expect perfection. But your lifestyle choices may have more of an impact on the environment than you realise. You can check your personal environmental footprint here.

Why do I personally need to try low-impact living?

Low-impact living shouldn't cost the Earth - and it might save you money in the long run.
Low-impact living shouldn’t cost the Earth – and it might save you money in the long run.

The UK government has committed to reducing emissions by at least 100% of 1990 levels by 2050, and to limit global temperature rise to as little as possible above 2°C. To do this, they’ve set 5-year carbon budgets that will run until 2032. Currently, we’re in the third budget, which runs from 2018-2022.

We’re doing OK at the moment. We’ve hit both our previous budgets and we’re likely to beat our target in this one. But we’re not going to hit the fourth target if we don’t make some major changes. The government has not put enough firm policies in place to reduce carbon emissions. Many of these policies involve changing the way individuals live their lives to reduce their impact on the environment. Everybody needs to get involved if we’re to have any hope of meeting our emissions targets.

We’re going to take a massive hit to our way of life if we don’t take more action now. The wildfires we’ve seen in recent years are just a fraction of what we can expect. More weather events like extended droughts will reduce the availability of food. Rising sea levels will flood low-lying coastal areas, forcing communities to surge inland. Sure, in the short term areas like the UK may see higher yields of food crops – but we don’t have the capacity to feed the parts of the world that would have been producing food had we not fried the Earth. And that period of productivity won’t last forever.

But you know all this. The question is: are you prepared to do something about it?

So how do I go low-impact?

Low-impact living might be as simple as changing the type of soap you use.
Low-impact living might be as simple as changing the type of soap you use.

It doesn’t have to be much to start with. Cut down on your plastic use, eat those leftovers instead of heading out for a meal, walk or take public transport rather than drive if you can. Nobody lives a truly impact-free lifestyle and it’s better to make small changes where you can than not doing anything at all.

The goal with low-impact living is to reach a circular economy:

Not depleting finite resources.

Recycling products at the end of their life cycle rather than throwing them away.

Extending the lives of those products to reduce the amount of energy needed to process them.

Most of the things that we can do to achieve low-impact living are easy enough, and come with the added bonus of saving you money in the long term. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Buy your produce loose and take a reusable shopping bag with you. Less packaging means less plastic to throw away. You can also choose exactly how much of something to buy if you can get it loose.
  • Switch to bar soap over liquid soap. Bar soaps use far less packaging and waste far less product per use than liquid soaps. They aren’t always as convenient, but they last longer and smell just as good!
  • Ditch the single-use bathroom products. Makeup wipes and cotton pads for skincare products are things you might use every day. You can get reusable cloths and use your hands to apply your skincare and you’ll cut down on waste in a big way. If you’re prepared to take the extra step, reusable menstrual products are widely available and easy to use.
  • Buy your electronics secondhand. Got your eye on a new phone? Check sites like eBay and Gumtree to see if there’s one on there – all too often people buy one new, don’t like it and sell it on at a hefty discount. It’s true you won’t get to pay it off monthly, but you’ll pay less than full price and your contract will be cheaper if it’s SIM-only. Plus, you’ll save one perfectly usable device from ending up in landfill and avoid the extra packaging you’d be dealing with buying it new.
  • Own a reusable cup – and use it. Single-use plastics and paper are everywhere. And while paper cups actually have a lower carbon footprint than ceramic mugs or reusable cups on a per-use basis, they still create waste that goes into landfill or takes energy to recycle. You need to use a reusable plastic or metal cup 20 times before it becomes more environmentally friendly than a paper cup – but we’d guess students will have reached that number of coffees by about Wednesday of every week anyway.
  • Switch to an eco-friendly search engine like Ecosia. We’ve posted before about Ecosia, and we’re going to keep plugging them because of the reforestation work they do. The campaign Royal Holloway on Ecosia has more information in case you need persuading.
  • Take public transport where you can, or walk. Public transport is better than cars, Walking or cycling is better than public transport. Some places may not have the best infrastructure in place for getting around in not-a-car, but if it’s available to you, use it. Oh, and take the train for long-distance domestic travel instead of an internal flight. Please.
Low-impact living: take public transport where you can.

We’ll be posting regularly about how you can change your lifestyle to reduce your impact on the Earth, so keep an eye out. And let us know your favourite ways to go low-impact in the comments below, on Facebook, or Twitter!

Categories
Climate Events Royal Holloway

Event: Taking Action

When: 7-8.30pm, Wednesday 12 February 2020

Where: Boilerhouse Auditorium, Royal Holloway, University of London

The second of RHUL Climate Action’s seminars on the climate emergency, this one focuses on the practicalities of tackling climate change. From grassroots direct action to academic and institutional transformation – what is required to transition to a sustainable world? With speakers from Extinction Rebellion, the Planetary Health Alliance and the Citizens Climate Lobby.

View the event on Facebook here.

Categories
Climate Events Royal Holloway

Event: Climate Crisis 101

When: 7-8.30pm, Wednesday 5 February 2020

Where: Boilerhouse Auditorium, Royal Holloway University of London

RHUL Climate Action are holding the first of their seminar sessions on the climate emergency. An introduction to the issue, it’s everything you need to know about the biggest threat of the 21st Century.

Reserve your seat here – tickets are free! You can also check out the event on Facebook and let them know you’re going.

Categories
Climate

Searching on Ecosia Today Will Plant Trees in Australia

The world has been devastated by the news of the recent Australian wildfires. The fires this year are much, much worse than in previous years and this is due to human-induced climate change.

Ecosia are using revenue from 100% of searches made on their engine today to go towards reforestation of an area in New South Wales. More details on the project can be found here. It takes less than a minute to switch to using Ecosia as a search engine, so if you’ve been considering switching today’s the day.

Remember, Royal Holloway students and staff should use this link to download Ecosia – this will count towards the Royal Holloway on Ecosia campaign and help keep track of how many trees Royal Holloway searches have helped to fund.

Get searching!

Categories
Events Planetary Health Alliance

InVIVO Planetary Health Meeting 2020

How does a low-carbon trip to Amsterdam to get involved with all things Planetary Health sound?

The 9th annual InVIVO Planetary Health Meeting will take place in Amsterdam from 18-20 June 2020. Pre-conference workshops will run from the 17th, and the Meeting is followed by a Public Planetary Health Festival from 19-21 June.

As the coordinating institution for Planetary Health Northern Europe, Royal Holloway is organising a group of students to attend the conference. Places are limited, so get in touch with us via email ASAP if you’d like to go!

RHUL students will have their travel, accommodation, and conference fees covered by travel grants (requires application). We’re aiming for this to be as environmentally low-impact as possible, so we’ll travel out by either train or minibus and will be staying at a campsite close to Amsterdam’s city centre.

We will be coordinating with students from other universities around the UK as well, so don’t worry if you’re not an RHUL student – get in touch anyway.

If you’re interested in sustainability, climate change, and the global impact humans are having this is an event you don’t want to miss!

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Planetary Health Alliance Royal Holloway

Announcing the Launch of the Planetary Health Alliance Regional Hubs: Northern Europe

This week at Royal Holloway is packed with activities and talks focused around sustainability (you can find them on our Events page). As part of the College’s commitment to improving sustainability and reducing its impact on the environment, we’re pleased to announce the launch of the Planetary Health Alliance North European Hub.

The hub is coordinated by Dr Jennifer Cole, research fellow in the Department of Geography. She specialises in biological anthropology; specifically how humans influence and adapt to changing environmental conditions, especially those changes caused by humans. She’s written a brief outline of the hub’s aims and scope below.

The Planetary Health Northern Europe regional hub focuses on bringing social science into the Planetary Health field, focusing on PESTLE/STEEPLE (political, economic, social, technical, legal and ethical) approaches to addressing challenges and implementing solutions, recognising that successful implementation will be context specific. 

The hub’s activities include: hosting workshops, seminars, and meetings focusing on the role of social action in transforming societies; organizing and leading social action on environmental and health issues; influencing policy; building public awareness of planetary health challenges and solutions; and developing educational curricula and learning resources. Active student networks are developing youth engagement and leadership. The hub aims to act as a centre of networking opportunities across Europe and with partners from across the world.

– Dr Jennifer Cole, Planetary Health Northern Europe Coordinator
Dr Jennifer Cole

Email the hub at planetaryhealth@rhul.ac.uk to join the mailing list, get involved, or to find out more information about the Planetary Health Alliance in Northern Europe.

Categories
Events

Event: Bringing Ecosia to Royal Holloway

When: 6 – 7pm, Friday 24 January 2020

Where: Founders Lecture Theatre, Royal Holloway, University of London

Fred Henderson, Ecosia employee and co-founder of Ecosia on Campus is coming to Royal Holloway! He’ll be providing an overview of the company’s purpose-driven business model and case studies from Ecosia’s tree-planting projects.

Categories
Events

Event: Social Science for Planetary Health

Interested in this event but can’t attend in person? Watch the livestream here. The session will begin at 14.00 GMT, Wednesday 29 January 2020.

The second in our series of panel discussions to launch the Planetary Health Alliance’s new Regional Hubs is taking place on Wednesday 29th January 2020, hosted by Royal Holloway. The theme is Social Action for Planetary Health, and this panel will discuss the interventions that seek to improve Planetary Health, and why it is vital that they are tailored to the contexts in which they will be delivered.

Panellists include leading academics and student activists from several universities, and the Chair is Dr Jennifer Cole, the Coordinator for the North European Hub. Come along to the Shilling Lecture Theatre at Royal Holloway’s Egham campus to be part of the discussion.

Categories
Events

Event: Thinking Bigly

Date: Wednesday 22nd January 2020

Time: 2pm – 3.30pm

Thinking Bigly: A Guide to Saving the World is a theatre performance-talk about sustainability. This event is part of the Framing the Future series, involving external speakers who bring a range of perspectives to encourage us all to think about, in the context of the creation of Royal Holloway’s new College strategy 2020 to 2030.

Tickets are free to all Royal Holloway students and staff, but registration is required. Book your place at this talk here.

Categories
Royal Holloway Sustainability

Ecosia: Save the Planet While You Search

This article is a guest post written by Rhiannon Morey, founder of Royal Holloway on Ecosia. Download Ecosia using this link to support the Royal Holloway on Ecosia campaign.

In case you haven’t heard of Royal Holloway on Ecosia…

We are a group of five first year students aiming to promote Ecosia – a search engine that plants trees. We want to inspire Royal Holloway, University of London to make environmentally friendly changes on campus, starting with setting Ecosia as the default search engine.

I first heard of Ecosia in 2018 whilst on holiday in Germany and I have been an avid user ever since. The more I read about the company, the more I was impressed at how much good they do on huge scales around the world, as well as offering individual benefits for the user. When I started at University, I knew it was something I wanted to bring to campus. Four other students joined me and Royal Holloway on Ecosia launched on 18th November 2019. The difference we can make could be huge if the 10,000 students and over 1,500 staff at Royal Holloway used Ecosia every day!

We are part of the officially recognised Ecosia on Campus campaign. It originally started with just 3 students at Sussex University but has now spread around the world with campaigners in Spain, France, America and Brazil, just to name a few. At the end of 2019, campaigners managed to finance the planting of over 85,000 trees! This is an incredible figure illustrating how much environmental impact students can have when working together. Here at Royal Holloway, we are so proud to be part of this international community.

The Royal Holloway on Ecosia team, on the steps of the Founder's Building at Royal Holloway, University of London.
The Royal Holloway on Ecosia campaign team

What is Ecosia, we hear you ask…

Like Google, Ecosia is a search engine that makes its money through advertisements. But instead of being a for-profit business, Ecosia donates 80% of its surplus income to tree planting projects across the globe. They have planted over 80 million trees so far and we want Royal Holloway to contribute to its goal of 1 billion trees!

The benefits of this search engine reach far beyond the environmental aspect, supporting livelihoods, habitats and restoring landscapes amongst others. For instance, Ecosia’s servers are running from their own solar energy plant meaning that Ecosia is carbon-neutral (something many companies could only dream of achieving). Not only does Ecosia use renewable energy, the planting of trees helps to remove 1 kg of CO2 from the air. Incredibly, this means that Ecosia is an almost unheard-of carbon-negative search engine. On average, trees will each remove 50 kg of CO2 during an expected 15-year lifetime. With a tree planted every second at Ecosia, the search engine could absorb 15% of all global CO2 emissions if it was as big as Google which is enough to offset vehicle emissions worldwide! What a difference that would make to the current climate crisis!

There is also a tree counter on the right side of your browser allowing users to track the number of trees you personally have contributed to.

Ecosia runs tree-planting projects where they're needed most.

As well as using profits to plant trees, the company constantly strive to help their users make environmentally friendly choices in their daily lives. One of the ways they do this is by placing a green leaf icon next to websites that are eco-friendly like those that sell sustainable products.

Last Summer, Ecosia launched their travel service (in partnership with HotelsCombined). Ecosia plants 25 trees each time a holiday is booked! To use this service, just enter “hotel” in the search bar or directly access Ecosia Travel via the “more” button on their search results page.

Ecosia also has an online shop selling t-shirts and hoodies all made with organic cotton. Each one sold plants 20 trees!

Berlin based founder of Ecosia, Christian Kroll has also made a legal commitment to protect the future of the company, ensuring that shares can’t be sold at a profit nor owned by people outside of the company and that no profits can be taken.

Ecosia is also completely financially transparent, publishing monthly financial reports so users can see exactly how and where profits are being spent. Along with this, users can stay updated on tree planting projects in areas such as Burkina Faso, Peru and Madagascar (mainly biodiversity hotspots) through regular video and blog updates so you can see for yourselves the good they achieve. Ecosia also protects your privacy. They don’t sell your data to advertisers, have no 3rd party trackers and anonymize all data within a week. What more could you want from a search engine?

Here are just some of the ways trees benefit our world…

  • The most powerful CO2 absorbers are trees
  • Trees help mitigate climate change
  • Water cycles can be restored by trees
  • Trees stop the spread of deserts
  • Barren land is transformed back into productive forests and farmland by tree planting
  • Trees grow fresh produce
  • Trees help shape landscapes and build up deforested areas
  • The strong roots can stabilize shorelines and mountain sides
  • Trees help restore degraded lands and allow people to flourish off their land instead of moving in search of better living conditions
  • Trees provide us with clean oxygen
  • Local men and women are able to find stable jobs and earn their own income to help stabilize political and economic conditions in developing countries. As a result of this money, parents can afford to send their children to school, buy medicine and build houses
  • Trees provide a habitat for endangered animal species around the world, supporting biodiversity

How Royal Holloway can help…

As a campaign, we will endeavor to spread the word about Ecosia and try to persuade the University to make the switch by setting Ecosia as the default search engine on campus.

While the business is truly remarkable, they can only make a difference because of people like you. The good news is that by just searching the internet, you can actually help the environment from the comfort of your own home for free! Use our campaign’s unique URL to download Ecosia TODAY on your devices here. This URL allows our team to track the number of trees planted by our University and we look forward to seeing the number of trees grow!

Like our Facebook page and follow our Instagram for updates on events and for more information about Ecosia.

Please tell all your friends and family about this initiative – with the help and support of everyone at Royal Holloway, we can make it the default search engine. Show our University that its students care about the future of our planet.

The urgency of the climate crisis is something that cannot be ignored. This is something tangible that we can do to make a difference, as individuals and as a University.

Thank you and Happy Tree Planting!

Royal Holloway on Ecosia official campaign logo
Categories
Events Planetary Health Alliance

Event: Social Science for Planetary Health

Interested in this event but can’t attend in person? Watch the livestream here. The session will begin at 15.00 GMT, Friday 24 January 2020.

To launch the Planetary Health Alliance’s new Regional Hubs there will be a panel discussion on Friday 24th January 2020, hosted by Royal Holloway. The theme is Social Action for Planetary Health, and the panel will discuss the importance of social science in addressing the challenges we face from environmental change and what will be required to enact the societal transformation needed to safeguard Earth through the 21st century.

Panellists include leading academics and student activists from several universities, and the Chair is Dr Jennifer Cole, the Coordinator for the North European Hub. Come along to the Shilling Auditorium at Royal Holloway’s Egham campus to be part of the discussion.