Monday 16th March 2015 – History, Sustainability, Environmental Engineering

Tonight’s PubhD took us back to The Church Inn, which is turning out to be a good venue for these talks. Our three speakers were from diverse subject areas, but with some connections between the topics, as we will elaborate…

Victoria Stiles completed her Ph.D at the University of Nottingham, and has since moved to Manchester.  We’re a very welcoming bunch at PubhD so we’re happy to hear talks from non-Mancunians too.  She spoke about the way the British Empire was portrayed in the media and in literature during the Nazi era.  There were some interesting points and surprises – the Nazis didn’t have complete control over publishers and booksellers, so while they wanted to communicate a certain message, this couldn’t be done consistently.  The way that the British were portrayed changed over various stages under Hitler’s rule, depending on how the Nazis wanted to manipulate the information to suit the agenda.  Parallels were drawn with the ways enemy regimes were negatively portrayed by a powerful opponent during WWI, and some of the audience discussion alluded to similarities with the way different media handle current conflicts.

Marc Hudson spoke about a different topic, but also related to manipulation of the media.  His work is on the reaction of the Australian coal industry to climate change regulations.  He used the analogy of sailing ships to tell the story.  Sailing ships were around for hundreds of years with many people  making significant investments in their existence.  With the arrival of steam ships, there was opposition and all sorts of dirty tactics like highlighting a competitor’s shortcomings and badmouthing the opposition.  Which is analogous to the treatment of renewable technologies by parts of the fossil fuel sector, and explains why change has been so slow.  The withholding of access to information and resources, the over-reporting of failures, the right people in the right places. It all contributes to slowing the move from one technology to another.  This type of problem is called a socio-technical transition, whereby the social factors are entwined with the technical progression and hence one factor holds the other back.

Kat Gray spoke on a related subject; retrofitting UK housing to mitigate the effects of climate change.  As Marc noted in his talk, we knew about what we needed to do about climate change back in the 1980s. But we stalled, and are still dragging our feet.  Since then, further research has occurred and we have made more predictions about what is likely to happen to our future climate.  Because some time has passed since we started creating models, we can compare measured data against these models for the start of the curve and we’re seeing the pattern play out.  Even if we stopped all carbon emissions today, we would still have to deal with the consequences of what we have already pumped into the atmosphere.  And so we must seriously consider ways of altering our homes to cope with this inevitable change.  It is estimated that 70% of today’s housing stock will still exist 50 years from now, and we need to adapt those buildings or suffer the effects of poor quality ventilation. Kat will carry out simulations using Met Office weather files to compare current building performance with future scenarios, and take measurements from existing buildings to compare the results.

PubhD Manchester returns on 20th April.