Global warming has been defined as a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth's atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, CFCs, and other pollutants.
Climate change has been defined as a change in global or regional climate patterns, in particular a change apparent from the mid to late 20th century onwards and attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels.
It is easy to see that global warming and climate change, while referring to a similar cause (increased emissions of atmospheric carbon dioxide production), are indeed two very different things. The former refers to an obvious increase, while the latter refers to a change.
Why is this duplicity a problem?
Global warming and climate change have been often used interchangeably, while we have seen that one refers to an actual increase in temperature while the other to changes. Global warming is often easier for people to understand, it is a simpler term, referring to an actual phenomena (a trend, the increase) compared to 'change' an unknown, and and this is in my opinion what has lead to the rise of 'climate change deniers' who follow the global warming definition while referring to changes in general.
Is the climate changing or warming?
In my opinion, there is no denying that atmospheric emissions are changing our planet, yet those living in certain regions which are seeing increases in the frequency of storms, snow, number of days with temperature below freezing, may find difficult to believe that the climate is warming...
What is happening? In very brief, the climate is warming, and the warmer atmosphere is leading to the melting of the ice in the polar caps. Still with me? After melting, the resulting water ends up in the ocean. 'But the ocean is full of water, what can some extra liquid change?' I hear you ask ?? The problem lies in the fact that melted ice is freshwater, which has a different density compared to seawater. Thus, this freshwater input is leading to changes in ocean waters movements alas currents.
Currents play an important climatic role, most of you in Europe may be aware of the role played by the Gulf Stream, bringing warm water from Mexico up to the shore of Western Europe, warming our regions. Studies are beginning to show that this current is slowing down, being weakened, meaning that in the North Atlantic regions this climate warming is actually bringing colder temperatures.
I am a firm believer in climate change, which as we have seen originates with global warming, so neither terms are bad or wrong. However, i am also a firm believer that sticking to the term climate change may be more useful for everyone to agree that it is something that is,indeed, happening and that we should definitely act upon to slow down or mitigate...
As I am writing this I am sitting in the ferry terminal in Bastia, on the other side of Corsica from Calvi, where I spent a fantastic week of ‘Summer school’ (yes, even when you pass the 25-years-old mark you still go to school…).
Firstly, what a fantastic place to learn. Placed in this idyllic settings we slept, ate and studied here, both in the classroom and in the laboratory. Did I mention the beautiful views we encountered in the walk to our sampling beach? And the fact that study breaks were swim breaks? And my morning trail runs… but that makes for another story...
Back to the point: What was the school about? We spent one week at STARESO learning about benthic ecosystems (= the seafloor), which are intrinsically very connected to the pelagic system (= the water column). For example primary production by plankton in the water column is both dependent upon the nutrients released by the seafloor and will also bring some of these nutrients back to the seafloor realm once it dies off.
So, as we can already see, ecosystem functioning is all in the fine balance. We need to further study these system to understand the balance, where are its tipping points? For example – some animals play a greater role compared to others in this exchange of nutrients, but we still know very little. And some of these same animals are disappearing quicker than others due to disturbances ( = human pressures!). And here the summer school comes in. The school was part of FaCE-it, a big project looking at the introduction of wind turbines over the scale of the whole of the North Sea.
Day 1 lesson 1: Scale is very important!
So how do you measure these impacts? Classic/older approaches tended to focus on changes in species richness, diversity… However it is hard to place impact potentials to these metrics – species are changing worldwide.. so what?
Lesson 2: Focusing on functioning is more important.
But what is functioning? How do you measure it? As I mentioned at the beginning, nutrient exchanges between water and seafloor are extremely important. Nitrogen, Carbon.. the balance between these essential nutrients is what keeps waters clean, fish healthy, seafloors stable etc.. Goes without saying that maintaining the right balance will maintain essential services such as the provision of food and the maintenance of tourism.
And here is where the summer school really did came in: we learnt many techniques to measure fluxes of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, metals and other nutrients from the water into the sediments. Learnt to see how species can contribute to these fluxes, from collection methods to laboratory to statistical analysis of such complicated data. We learnt how to use less-invasive methods such as cameras that can penetrate the sediment allowing us to gather quantitative data on the health of such sediments. Hey, we even learnt how to model fluxes of nutrients (O, C, N) in seagrass beds using complicated mathematics that were taught in an easy-to-understand way (perhaps the swim breaks to oxygenate the brain helped!).
I am now ready to take it all on board and use these new techniques in my future scientific explorations. So watch this space. And in the meantime, remember, everything is connected. So respect the ocean and the surrounding land (all of it, it will connect somehow). The planet is providing for us, but it all hangs in a delicate balance. Until we understand more, let’s try to do our best to keep it in balance and keep it as clean as possible, as nature made it…
Gluten.. for those of you not aware, gluten is a protein found in some grains such as wheat, barley and rye. For some people with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, the ingestion of gluten leads to damage of the small intestine, leading to disfunction in nutrient absorption, thus having important consequences for their nutrition. However, this disease is relatively rare, affecting 1 in 100 (1%) people worldwide.. While gluten free diet is proliferating. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is increasing, and the only diagnosis for this is self-diagnosis by removing the gluten food groups. The number of people going 'gluten free' is increasing exponentially and those who have gone gluten free report increased health... I, myself, have accidentally gone 'gluten-free' and feel increasingly healthy. Although, I am gluten free as I have eliminated most grains out of my diet (I am eating fairly low carb and high protein diet) and moreover I cook everything from scratch using non-processed ingredients.
Which brings me to the first point of this post: are all gluten-free approaches healthy?
Just take a packet of 'gluten free' bread.. you will see that they contain a very long list of ingredients, amongst other flours such as rice, starches (maize, tapioca), and to my horror many 'syrups' (inverted sugar syrup, glucose syrup, corn syrup), oils, added fibres, thickeners... Erhm, that doesn't sound good to me! Same goes for other 'gluten free' products such as cereals..
Basically most companies have now caught on the fact that many people want to go gluten-free and know they can charge more for a product, they will do their best to make it cheap to produce to have the most income from it... Maybe is my conspiracy mind talking BUT I do believe big companies play with our health on a daily basis...
So what is the right way to go gluten free? Eliminate those foods, don't try to replace them - and if you want to replace that cake or that bread, then it's time to take on the challenge in the kitchen and try some gluten free baking! With many recipes out there (self promo: try my recipe tab!), from pinterest to many gluten free baking blogs.. just type on google and you will be inundated with many recipes from easy to hard levels. Go on : take the challenge!
This leads me to the second point of this post: Are we actually gluten intolerant or is it something else?
I recently came across a very interesting documentary called 'Gluten: a gut feeling' and within this very interesting analysis there was a point that caught my attention, nonetheless because I already thought about this before: the way we produce baking products has changed dramatically. Again, growing demand and the desire of companies to make things cheaper has lead to changes in the way we produce and mill our wheat, which, in short, has made it potentially unhealthy for us (great article to go deeper on the subject matter here). Moreover, the way we make our bread has changed, with industrial bakers no longer leaving bread to raise with the yeast overnight (shortening the times = cheaper, larger production) which doesn't let the yeast process some of the gluten leaving our body to do the job (and some are less equipped than other)!
What's my final point? If you believe to be gluten intolerant and eating gluten products makes you poorly then listen to your body. But don't replace gluten foods with their gluten free counterparts, you will do yourself further harm than good. Try cook from as simple ingredients as possible, go for older grains, maybe mill your own flour if you have the means, shop at markets and from local sources avoiding overly processed foods. By eating fresher and knowing what exactly goes in your food your body will be surely thankful!
First of all òet's have a look at the ingredient list on the back of the packs
The picture at the top is of a common brand industrial soap, the picture at the bottom an handmade soap.
Notice any differences?!
Let me break them down for you:
The packet at the top (industrial soap) reads a mixture of chemical names including surfactants such as Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate, Sodium Palmitate and other chemical leathering agents, with a little bit of natural shea butter found mid list, and some CI numbers, which I learnt are colouring..
Now, let's have a look at the package at the bottom, the handmade soap, it reads mostly (99%) natural ingredients (oils, butters and essential oils..) with some sodium hydroxide, which turns out is just soda to make it basic/alkaline!
So, without need for further explanation I believe that the handmade one is the obvious right choice to make when buying your bar.. Yes, they do come with a 'heavier' price tag, but you need to consider the price tag on your health. Moreover, a bar of soap lasts a very long time if kept correctly (i.e. dry after use)! And, you can shop smart and get it from discount shops or wait for offers in shops and stock up as soap doesn't really expire...!
July 15th. The time has come for me to say goodbye, firstly to Belfast and secondly to living in the UK in general.
Feels both like it was yesterday and like it was in another life, when as a naive 19-years-old I arrived at the Plymouth railway station and began my UK adventure...And now, 8 years later I am ready to close this chapter to start the next adventure in Dutch-speaking lands...
I am going to keep this post positive and, instead of compiling a list of things I am definitely not gonna miss or I struggled with, I will compile one of those I will miss instead
Of course I am also gonna miss all friends and people I have met on my journey, however technology is so advanced nowadays that I am sure we will keep in touch and we can visit each other so I won't get too sentimental!
And just to leave you all with a great quote from an even better book:
'What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies'.
Jack Kerouak - On the Road
Coffee.. chances are you are drinking a cup while reading this blog, while on a work break in attempt to wake up (it's mid week, it's hard I know!). The smell of coffee can be in itself a great incentive to get out of bed in the morning, and many of us (me included!) are 'coffee addicts'. Hey, I can't even put two words together in the right language before my first cup..
This addiction has helped the proliferation of many coffee chains and the culture of the takeaway coffee, and many of us are in the habit of grabbing a coffee on the way to work, or popping out of the office for one on our morning coffee breaks. Service station have coffee machines, making it easy to grab a coffee while we fuel up the car (we need fuel too, right?!).
But something unifies the coffee chains, the service stations, the little shops allowing us this 'coffee convenience': Disposable coffee cups! They seem innocent, 'it's just cardboard right?' - i hear you ask. Mistake. Coffee cups are NOT recyclable: to ensure they are waterproof the card is fused with polyethylene, that cannot be separated for recycling, moreover the cups are often not even made from recycled material - as the way they are designed means one thin seam of card inside the cup comes into contact with the hot drink, meaning that they have to be made from virgin paper pulp. Hum, think about that. New paper and not about to be recycled. Statistics say 10000 coffee cups gets used in 2 minutes just in the UK! JUST IN THE UK! IN 2 MINUTES! Try scale this to include other coffee addict countries (USA? Other Europe countries drinking take aways?!).
Saying this, I did came across a type of more sustainable cups at the Sea Shed Coffee & Surf: made entirely from plant materials and completely compostable. If you don't use a lid (plastic) you can be sustainable... So - it's possible! Perhaps a little more expensive, but who will pay for the environmental damages that we are doing?
Another, very simple solution, is to use a reusable cup. I am the proud owner of two reusable cups - one that fits in my car cup holder (for those fuel stops! and post surf/adventure warm up needs), and one bigger ones for my everyday needs. Added bonus - i can make my own 'take away' coffee at home saving some money as well!
The benefit of a reusable cup don't just stop at environmental benefit - some companies have incentives for you to bring your own cup so I am gonna give you two example of chains that have incentive scheme and what rewards you will get (valid in UK):
Starbucks: a discount of £0.25 on your drink when you bring your own mug. Which is advantageous. Plus my local starbucks also charges me for a tall (their smaller size, and discounts it) for use in my humongous mug. So a considerable saving overall...
Clements (in NI): double stamps on your loyalty card. You get a free coffee when you reach 10 stamps, if you get 2 stamps at a time... that's half price free coffee!
Other chains such as Costa, Pret-a-manger, Cafe Nero and Paul bakery may have similar schemes, although I am not aware of them as I have not tried to use them personally so I don't want to give wrongful information. But go in and ask, Question your chain of choice on their ethics and what are they doing to ensure they are being as sustainable as possible. If demands for unrecyclable coffee cups decreases, maybe their production will stop.
You have the power to make a difference, no matter how small you act.
So now go buy yourself a pretty reusable mug that will be your daily companion for years to come!
(I have one of the EcoCoffee cup and are amazing!)
I recently came across an article about 'seaganism' - a vegan diet with seafood allowed. Doesn't seem much different to the 'pescatarian' diet to me, which is a vegetarian diet which also allows seafood on top of dairy and eggs, so basically only restricting meat consumption. I don't get it.
I admit, or better confess, to have been a vegetarian for many years myself, with some flexibility whenever I returned home for short holidays, as my family found it too hard to comprehend, understand and even allow me, so had to close an eye. For various reasons, I have not been a vegetarian for a couple of years, and so I want to reassure all that this is not going to be a 'judgemental' post like many we see on the web nowadays. You eat meat, fish, dairy and eggs? So do I! However I am constantly trying to understand how to make this more sustainable. For example by eating less of all of the above, i.e. only one of them once a day, or have one or multiple vegan day a week.
But back to the seafood - why is this old-school concept that eating from the sea is so sustainable still alive? We know well by now (or should) that the sea does not provide us with unlimited resources. Yes, is vast and extremely deep, and there is still so much that we don't know about it - yet we are depleting many fish stocks and we are fishing down the food web.
And what about aquaculture? This is often considered a sustainable choices, farming fish so we don't deplete stocks.... but funny enough most don't realise that some fish feeds from aquaculture actually come from the meat industry, or we fish small fish (such as anchovies and sardines, which make for pretty great human food!) in quantities that are not as sustainable as many think! Not to talk about antibiotics, and the risk of farmed fish escaping and changing local gene pools, or even becoming invasive species.. There are all sort of ecological and environmental hazards associated with aquaculture.
But - as you know, the aim of this blog is to provide some solutions, not just reiterate the problems.
So here is how I try to be as sustainable as possible while eating seafood:
- shop local. Find a local fishmonger, or a fishmarket. If you are lucky enough to live by the sea, go directly to the fishing boat when they come in, you will buy what is local and in season and support the local economy.
- Go small scale. The smaller the boats the lower the damage in my opinion and the greater the chance to help some fishermen and their family instead of funding some big company.
- Variation is key. Try different fish, maybe some crustaceans, molluscs. Don't always eat the same things. Try something new, it's exciting to try out new recipes and new flavours, and you spread the
- eat less of it
- Get a whole fish, understand where your food comes from. Teach your kids. Take them to the market or to a fishing town/fishing harbour. I am a strong believer that the fish fingers culture and ready frozen fish fillets have taken us away from remembering where our food comes from, what our food is and was.
- use the scraps. If you buy whole fish, head and bones can make great fish stock that you can freeze and use for other recipes later!
- And moreover, buy only what you need, and realise that often less is more (this goes for everything...)
While it's only Wednesday, the countdown to Friday has begun for many of us.
Friday symbolises the end of the work week for many, the beginning of two days of relax and adventure (or perhaps some chores). Either way, work week over - let's party to that!
On Friday evenings most people, to begin the destress process from the week before, turn to pubs for one, two, three, just one more...ten? fifteen? (more? ) pints of the golden stuff (beer), glasses of the smooth burgundy drink, mixes of sweet, sugar-laiden, tasty, craze-inducing pitches. These will not only "help" to take the stress away (at least for the night), and help loosen up the tongue ( I mean talking, what are you thinking dirty mind?), perhaps leading to fun adventures and encounters, surely making fun conversations (for those partaking anyway), and even more surely leading to a nasty wake up (you have an headache you say? Stomach pain I hear you scream?).
I am not denying that I, too, have taken part in many of these Friday festivities, However, I have to say that lately I found a much better way to de-stress on a Friday (and actually doing so on most days of the week so I don't arrive on a Friday overloaded with cortisol and tension): Run and exercise! And complement with some yoga. Running in particular, especially if done outdoors in a nice forest park, with or without a good playlist (depending on the mood), has a great impact on my mental health. I would start a run with a cluttered brain, full of thoughts, stressed about the many things to do (especially lately, with the end of the phd, the imminent leaving of the country and the start of a new job!), and I will end a run with the perfect email to write, or a clear plan of attack, or just a calm mindset that tells me 'I can do it all'. But I promise I don't spend the run overanalysing things, I mostly just look at the trees around, or think about my legs moving, or where am I turning next (I don't plan my routes and sometimes I get a bit lost, but I love it!). Swimming also helps, although the repetitive up and down the lane can be frustrating and if you are stressed about something is easy to keep thinking about it while in the pool. Outdoor swimming on the other hand is very reinvigorating albeit very cold so impossible to stay for longer than 10-15 min (for me here anyway - the mediterranean will be a different story...).
I complement my running with gym classes and weight training which make my body feel strong and give me a strong mind-body connection. And on Wednesday we climb (indoors :( ) , which puts my strength to a challenge, puts my brain on a new level of puzzle solving, and my mind on a new level of trust (climbing requires as much mental strength as physical, I am learning that you need to believe in your capabilities otherwise you will not make it to the top - but if you believe you will be surprised!). I also do yoga to refocus, train my mind to be present, challenge my balance and deep stretch when I need to. Plus - the week training prepares me for any weekend adventure that may come my way: surf? hike a mountain? Cycle? Bouldering? I am up for it!
Parkrun is a great way to get out of the Friday night beer times - or anyway what started getting me out of it! The 5km fun runs are at 9.30 on Sat morning, and as much as they are only fun runs - they are still 5Km and I prefer to run hangover free. Nowadays, just one drink gives me a funny feeling in the morning, so I still went out when invited but stuck to a diet coke (then replaced by sparkling water as now I am also very very careful with the processed drinks!). This not only considerably reduced my alcohol consumption to only one drink occasionally, but now I have not had a drink in more than two months and the idea of not needing it and the hidden calories behind that glass made me realise that I can easily go forever without (okay, unless mum opens up a bottle of some organic prosecco to celebrate my phd and my new job - but only one glass with some food - in Italy and in my house in particular we have a drink-with-food policy whether is dinner or aperitivo).
So here, skip the party and go do something active next weekend - I promise you will be better for it! No depressive side or comedown to this all-natural drug !
Fluctuations.. all of us are familiar with them. Yes, because we (us, and everything else living in our planet) are not perfect machines. Everything in the natural world fluctuates, some more than other.
Let's use a mondane example to explain fluctuations - weight. In this world obsessed with looks and weights and diets we are all overly familiar with that feeling when we step on the scale. Some of us (me included, guilty as charged!) weight themselves at a too high frequency (daily or multiple time per week). If you are anything like me you would have noticed, and perhaps have been surprised, by the great fluctuations the body goes through on a daily basis - my weight for example can go through changes of up to 2kgs in just one day, and no I am not getting 2kg fatter in a day - it's just not possible.
In terms of data, if we look at today's point (116.7 lbs) it could be used to compare me against a pool of other women my age and height, or perhaps a regional comparison. But if we want to look at how my body is changing, one point is actually not enough. We should choose a before and after. But what before? If we look at the "weekly" data it looks as if i got slimmer and then fatter again. But I still fit in the same trousers,
So perhaps a 'weekly' measurement is not the most accurate for weight. Perhaps we should choose a scale based on the measurement that we are interested in.
And this does not just apply to weight, which I am just using as an example. If we want to understand how the world around us is changing, overall, we need to look behind fluctuations. Measure the temperature outside your house for example, from winter leading to spring and summer, you would expect it to increase, yet at times it decreases (if you live in the north like me right now, for example, you would easily say that no we are not in summer according to the temperature, however a week or so ago we were...). So what do you do? Is this a fluctuation? Or is temperature going down now all the way to winter? And is it the same outside my house than it is outside yours?
First thing to do is to look at longer time scales to individuate trends. But a timeline is often arbitrary (and I will be coming back to this, very important point, shortly).
If we (again and I promise just for one last time) look at my weight, if we choose a month view, you could say that I have been more or less the same, the trendline would be flat. Over 3 months, slightly decreasing, over 6 months definitely decreasing.
Similarly to my weight, the climate around us is fluctuating. And we need to look past these fluctuation if we want to see what the climate is doing overall. And this is where the battle between climate change 'believers' and climate change 'deniers' arises from. It's all about looking at the right scale, and looking past the fluctuations.
If you choose two arbitrary points to compare from this graph you could choose two points that show similarities, suggesting that there is no climate change afterall, or you could choose two points that show alarming differences. However, if you look at the trend, there is no hiding behind doors - there is a trend for increasing global average temperature anomalies.
I guess the point i am trying to make is beware - when you are shown data. Try and understand where are those data coming from, try to see the bigger picture. Don't blindly trust. Data are numbers and many nowadays use these numbers at their conveniences.
Not just talking about climate change, or weight loss. This applies to just about anything. Data are numbers and the presentation of these numbers in graphs can be used to manipulate people's mind. People like you and me, who sometimes blindly read the latest articles. Always questions, always read behind the line..
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