Glasgow Science Centre’s first digital festival hopes to inspire conversation – and seek solutions – on the climate change crisis. By Colin Cardwell
WE’VE been aware of Earth’s biodiversity crisis for decades – its urgency confirmed in 1964 when the International Union for Conservation of Nature published its “red list” of endangered species. Climate change now is the most serious long-term cause, creating chaos in ecosystems across the planet.
It is appropriate, then, that Glasgow Science Centre (GSC) is partnering with experts from WWF, the world’s leading conservation organisation, for a series of talks and live Q&As on the impacts of, and solutions to, climate change as part of Curious About Our Planet, GSC’s first digital science festival.
The event launches tomorrow, running until Saturday, February 20 and will allow people to interact with live sessions.
Curious About Our Planet is a digital extension of Curiosity Live, an existing science engagement event held at Glasgow Science Centre to showcase the latest research and innovation across Scotland and the UK, and is also part of the Our World, Our Impact programme which aims to help us get to grip with the facts on climate change in the run-up to COP26 (Conference of Parties) in Glasgow in November this year.
The festival is being delivered with support from the Scottish Government and the Inspiring Science Fund provided by Wellcome, UKRI and BEIS.
WWF’s message is salutary: last year, chief executive Tanya Steele warned in its Living Planet Report that global wildlife is in freefall, with population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles having fallen an average of 68 per cent globally since 1970 – more than two-thirds in less than 50 years.
At home, one in nine Scottish species are at risk of extinction, with climate change a major threat to their habitats and wellbeing.
But with ambitious conservation efforts to protect our wildlife combined with urgent action to stop habitat loss and deforestation, WWF believes it may still be possible to put nature on a path to recovery by 2030.
With the COP26 summit, the organisations says the UK Government has a huge opportunity to show global leadership by securing urgent commitments and action from world leaders.
As Lexi Parfitt, head of communications at WWF Scotland points out, the country is setting strong targets and was one of the first nations to declare a climate emergency. “WWF works in nearly 100 countries, collaborating with people around the world to develop and deliver innovative solutions that protect communities, wildlife, and the places in which they live,” she says.
“At WWF Scotland we’re working to build a Scotland where people and nature can thrive by tackling the climate and nature emergencies, focusing on four key areas: protecting and restoring its nature; helping improve farming practices to be climate- and nature-friendly; reducing climate emissions from our homes and buildings; and ensuring climate-friendly transport, accessible for all.”
The opportunity to become involved with GSC, she adds, was an exciting development for WWF. “It’s a chance to pair up with a respected and dynamic partner to help more people learn about the causes and effects of climate change and – importantly – what we can all do about it.
“As WWF is a science-led organisation focused on solutions, partnering with Glasgow Science Centre made perfect sense.”
She explains that the WWF experts will focus on three key regions – the Arctic, East Africa and, of course, Scotland. “We’ll hear from some inspiring WWF women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics): Rhona Kent is a specialist on our climate and polar work and will cover how we work in the Arctic, from innovative ways to address human-wildlife conflict as bears searching for food increasingly move into human population centres, to how cutting-edge tech can help keep track of polar bear numbers.
“Cath Lawson is WWF-UK’s expert on the species and habitats of East Africa and will explain how climate change is affecting species and habitats from mountain gorillas to marine turtles, and what communities are doing to adapt to climate challenges while Sheila George will focus on what climate change means here in Scotland and how we can work with nature to create a more climate-friendly future.
“We’ve also created an image gallery with some breathtaking photography from our archives from around the globe. Ultimately, we want to leave people with not just a sense of wonder at our natural world and the amazing humans who live in it but also feel inspired and motivated to take on the climate emergency in their own way, too.”
The three contrasting regions, she adds, highlight unique challenges. “We wanted to focus on the Arctic to explore what climate change means for local communities if bears are moving into human populations to look for food and how do you keep track of polar bear numbers in such an unforgiving and dangerous terrain?
“We also wanted to look at East Africa because not many people necessarily think of mountain gorillas, elephants or marine turtles when thinking about climate change’s impacts.
East Africa is one of three regions that WWF will focus on at the forthcoming festival. Photograph: naturepl.com/Denis-Huot/WWF
“There are such innovative developments, for example in coastal Kenya where local communities are working with WWF to monitor turtle nests as sea levels rise and threaten nesting grounds. And, of course we had to look at Scotland more in depth: we’re hosts of COP26 and a nation with so much potential to innovate, from renewable energy to climate-neutral farming.”
While Parfitt concedes that many people find the challenges posed by climate change daunting, she says: “The only way we will be able to tackle it effectively is by everyone doing what they can, with governments setting ambitious targets to reduce our emissions and delivering them quickly,” she adds.
She suggests that people could start by joining webinars and online sessions like those organised by GSC and WWF: “People will get an insight behind the headlines – hearing about the realities of the climate emergency as well as examples of climate solutions already under way.
“And while you can start at home through measures such as reducing your food waste and meat consumption, or seeing if you can swap energy suppliers to a renewable tariff, with a Scottish Parliament election due this year you can also write to your MSPs calling on them to put climate and nature at the heart of their decision-making and asking all your candidates what they will personally do to ensure Scotland does its best to end its contribution to climate change,” she says.
“We don’t expect everybody to be living a perfect climate-neutral life but we do need everyone to be doing what they can and holding decision-makers to account – and joining the sessions with WWF Scotland and GSC as part of Curious About Our Planet is the perfect place to start.”
‘The world is at a tipping point,’ says CEO
DAVID Field agrees that we are facing an extinction crisis – one catalysed by humans and by what we are doing to the planet.
The chief executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) points to the Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity, commissioned by the UK Treasury and published earlier this month, in which Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta says most governments still pay people more to exploit nature than to protect it, with destructive farming subsidies causing damage costed at £2.9 trillion-£4.4trn) per year.
“The world is at a tipping point – and it needs everybody from governments, NGOs, wildlife charities and others all to pull together to address the challenge,” he says.
Founded in 1909 and, since 1986, including the Highland Wildlife Park near Aviemore, RZSS has been working to promote the awareness and conservation of rare and endangered animals for more than 100 years – and Field has a clear message: “We’re aiming to create a generation of younger people who are enthralled with and connected to our planet – and can correct the mistakes we have made.”
To advance this, RZSS is participating in Glasgow Science Centre’s Curious About Our Planet digital festival from February 18-20 (see details above) including the popular #GSCAtHome videos, tours from Edinburgh Zoo, and a chance to go behind the scenes with koalas, pandas, penguins and rhino, with live streams and the opportunity to meet some of the charity’s scientists and keepers.
“This is a great chance for young people to make a connection with those who are working with the animals, inspiring them to see the role they can play in the future to help protect the planet and its wildlife,” says Field, adding that he is excited by partnering with GSC.
“Curious About Our Planet is a wonderful title because when people are curious we can get them interested and then committed. This is an incredible project and it represents how all of us working in this field have got to collaborate, join forces and use every means possible to achieve positive change.”
Change for RZSS is being accomplished both at home, with the celebration of a record breeding year after 57 wildcat kittens were born within the UK conservation breeding programme in 2020, and overseas at the Budongo Conservation Field Station in 100,000 acres of Ugandan rainforest which combines leading-edge research with practical action to study and protect a community of nearly 700 wild chimpanzees.
“As we develop the research station out there, not only do we progress our understanding of primate behaviour but the local community can see the value of the habitat, how jobs, research scientists and therefore money are going into the area, and why we must take care of it,” Field points out.
Meanwhile, RZSS and National Museums Scotland are playing a central role in the establishment of the UK’s first national zoological biobank with facilities to improve the storage and distribution of animal genetic material for conservation and research.
It is described by Field as “our repository of life, a means to understanding the very basic building blocks of life and a research goldmine”.
Despite the scale of the biodiversity challenge, Field is optimistic that it can be faced down. “The power of science to deliver effective vaccines during the coronavirus pandemic has been phenomenal and we have shown that we can all make big shifts in policy and in the way that we live.”
Our response to climate change and the extinction crisis can be equally effective, he suggests. “We can do this by bringing everyone’s expertise together to promote environmentally responsible behaviours – and encourage a real momentum to persuade governments to adopt the best environmental policies.”
This article was brought to you in association with Gtlasgow Science Centre as part of The ‘s Climate For Change campaign