On women in leadership

While casting about through news and podcasts this week, I came across a talk by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook.  In the light of a recent visit to the Leaf Cafe in Hertford to discuss preparation for Nursery, what she said really hit home with me about how important it is to recognise the individual characteristics of our little girls when they are still so young and developing an understanding of the world.  We want all our children to grow up into a fair and just society where opportunity for all exists and is equal, especially between genders.  When I shared the ideas about early childhood education with the staff team at my school, we all agreed that there is, as Sandberg herself admits, an unconscious bias that labels and stereotypes boys and girls.  One that assumes male assertiveness is “leadership” and that female version is “bossiness”.  It has given us the opportunity to reflect on the way we can view a child’s developing character and what they have the potential to become.  And this will serve to reinforce the individual focus and attention that we give to each child.

Four Hundred Parts Per Million

And so concludes week two of the Future Learn Exeter University course on Climate Change.  The learning has increased and the science has become more challenging – I am still glad of Biology degree!  The reflections on this week’s progress have become a lot more profound as we start to contend with the notion of rising levels of carbon dioxide and the implications thereof.  400 parts per million is the level of CO2 in the atmosphere currently, an amount only previously believed to have existed 3 million years ago.

The most important themes this week were of the nature of ancient climate in the Mid-Pliocene (3.3 to 3 Ma) and the very much more recent return to climate conditions that have not been seen since (see http://bit.ly/ipccplioclime, for example).  The elephant in the room is also clear for all of us to see: although our current climate is analogous to that of the Mid-Pliocene, 7 billion post-industrial revolution humans did not inhabit the planet then.

A good working knowledge of the climate science of Mid-Pliocene earth has been a challenge to attain.  However, I am now far more aware of the ramifications of variations in the Earth’s inclination, obliquity, eccentricity and precession (both apsidal and axial) along with changes in solar radiation that all inform the Milankovitch Cycle Theory.  Yet, despite the massive cycles in geological time that have bought about many variations in our planet’s conditions we still maintain the caveat of anthropogenic influence that may exacerbate orbital, volcanic or climatic effects.

So it was with little humour and no little irony that I read in today’s “i” news website stories of both hope and despair in respect of our ability to adapt to the climate change that we are forcing.  On the one hand, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is overseeing a reduction in spending on climate change mitigation which will handicap our ability to cope with the changes in our weather patterns.  On the other, the government is funding solutions to energy production through local community initiatives that will serve to reduce carbon emissions.  It seems, as we have always known, that we have to take matters into our own hands at community level to make any change.

And so finally, if I learned one thing from this week it is that greater, shared knowledge on climate change, its realities and solutions, along with leadership at grassroots will ensure that we adapt our mindset and behaviours to a) cope with the climate change and b) lead the social change for our children.

On to week 3…

Reflections on Week 1 – Gaia

polar bearIn taking an online course on Climate Change through Future Learn and University of Exeter, the word reflection has more than one meaning!  The course is 8 weeks of online learning and discussion through social media and my blog will now carry some of those reflections that are encouraged and necessary in undertaking such learning activities.  This post includes links to sites I have found useful and a video on a conceptualisation of our planet that we must take seriously.

Reflection, in a physical sense, plays an significant role in regulating our planet’s temperature and therefore its climate. Too much reflection of the sun’s radiation and we cool down; too little and we heat up. Solar radiation can be reflected by clouds but also there is reflection by the Earth’s surface. This reflection is called the “albedo effect”, where the lighter the colour (snow, ice caps), the greater the amount of reflection.

Our Earth is surrounded by an atmosphere composed of many gases. Significant among these are carbon dioxide, water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. It acts like a blanket that absorbs heat and re-emits it.  Heat trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere is either radiated back out into space or absorbed by atmospheric gases or the Earth’s surface and this process regulates the Earth’s temperature.  However, the stability of this regulation is affected by a number of factors, especially the gasses in our atmosphere.  And our long standing concern has been over the human-induced climate change caused by increased amounts of “greenhouse” gasses, especially carbon dioxide.

The detailed science of our weather and climate can can be far more adequately described by others, such as the Met Office.  However, I have returned this week to the work of a man who has influenced thinking about our planet and its regulatory systems.  James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis proposes that “organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia_hypothesis).  Although Lovelock’s work has been criticised by key scientific thinkers and the notion of a sentient Earth is challenging at the very least, it prompts the need to think deeply about the holistic and interrelated nature of the biological, physical and geological “systems” that make up our planet.

I hope, over the coming weeks of the course, that we will be able to discuss the need to ensure the development of our eco-literacy along with our understanding of climate change.