Climate change will affect everyone on the planet. Anthropogenic - in other words, caused by humans - no one will be able to escape its effects. It will not discriminate between rich and poor, nor between countries and species. In the short term there will be winners; some areas may benefit, for example, from a warming effect that is more conducive to agriculture, or more attractive to tourists. But in the long term all will lose. By the end of the century, most areas of the planet will be suffering negative effects that will outstrip the ability of communities to adapt. There is now evidence that ecosystems are starting to migrate altitudinally (uphill) and latitudinally (towards the poles) in search of cooler climes. And there is a growing recognition, including from the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), that millions of people are now moving home as environmental refugees in response to environmental changes such as drought, flooding and desertification (UNHCR 2016).
The Earth will always change and so must we
With its focus on changes over time and space, geography is a discipline with the conceptual toolkit to analyse environmental change. Geographers are interested in the temporalities and spatialities of environmental change, from the planetary scale down to small scale changes at the local level.
The Earth’s climate change has always changed, undergoing vast fluctuations that have played out over hundreds of millions of years. Contemporary climate change needs to be broadly understood as the result of interactions between these background ‘natural’ processes, and human interferences in the biosphere, in particular the emissions of greenhouse gases through fossil fuel burning.
The West has caused this damage and we are only a small country so I believe they should compensate us.
In 2008, I travelled to Bangladesh with an Open University film crew. We wanted to document the responses of the Bangladeshi people to environmental change for our course on international environmental policy vulnerable to sea level rise (DU311: Earth in crisis). We expected to find evidence of flooding in the south of the country, and we found this. But we found something else too.
It turns out that Bangladesh’s weather is becoming more extreme. Bangladesh has always suffered from cyclones, but there is scientific evidence that these are becoming more frequent and more intense due to anthropogenic climate change. One effect of this is that the saline frontier - the boundary between saline water and fresh water – is moving northwards.
Learning to cope after a severe cyclone
The village of Paikgacha, in Khulna province in the south-east of the country, was hit by a severe cyclone in 1988. This pushed saltwater in from the sea and upriver. After the storm had subsided, it was clear that the composition of the river water around the village was more saline.
There was one question that we asked all of our interviewees: what did they know of climate change, its causes and effects? We asked this of the professionals we interviewed in Dhaka, as well as the villagers of Paikgacha. Almost all our interviewees said that climate change is a problem caused by the developed countries of the north, from which poorer countries are suffering. The standout interviewee for me was with Nirapad Byne, a vegetable farmer who has adapted to the changed environment by growing saline-tolerant vegetable varieties.
On-camera he told us: “The West has caused this damage and we are only a small country so I believe they should compensate us”. But it is what he said off-camera that I remember the most. He spoke at length about the effects of environmental change in his village and how people have suffered from it. He spoke with a quiet dignity, and asked us to make sure that the people in the developed world knew about this. I promised that we would do so.
After we finished filming, Nirapad asked the camera crew to eat with his family. He was a good man who showed us real generosity. The conversation emphasised to me that the geographies of responsibility for contemporary climate change are not uniform; those causing the problem are not always those who suffer most from it.
Our film won a World Bank film competition, and if you are an Open University student, you can watch it here.
More on climate change and Geography Matters
Mariam Rashid talks about the vital work being done in Bangladesh, by organisations such as Prodipan.Listen now ❯Tackling the effects of climate change in Bangladesh
Is it possible to manage the risks presented by nature, such as too much rain at the wrong time of the year and very harsh frosts?Listen now ❯Weather derivatives - the financialization of weather
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How can ‘thinking through making’ facilitate new kinds of geographical enquiry?Read now ❯Investigating environmental futures through speculative design
James Torcello via Flickr under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license
Climate Change, Coastal Erosion and Flooding: The Thames Gateway and London
Climate change will lead to sea level rises and this will lead to enhanced coastal erosion. Professor David Humphreys explores the challenges that this will pose for the Thames Gateway in south-east England.Read now ❯Climate Change, Coastal Erosion and Flooding: The Thames Gateway and London
What links geography to anarchism? Dr Philip O’Sullivan finds the surprising connection lies with a Russian prince who died nearly 100 years ago.Listen now ❯Kropotkin, anarchism and geography: A discussion
What does environmental change sound like? Dr George Revill argues that sound can be a powerful way of conveying how places are transformed by climate change.Listen now ❯Sounds of environmental change
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This free course, From Brexit to the break-up of Britain?, sets the experience of Brexit in the context of the UK. It first analyses Brexit as a symptom of the political, economic and social geography of the UK, focusing on its uneven development in a country increasingly dominated by London and the South East of England. It then considers how the divisions within the UK (within England as well as between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) were reflected in the voting patterns of the 2016 referendum. Finally, the course reflects on the implications of these short-term and long-term trends for the UK’s future as a multinational state.Learn more ❯From Brexit to the break-up of Britain?
Explore your opinions alongside experts and other learners, to see whether a vote to leave the EU should have taken place.Take part now ❯Was it right to hold a Referendum on Brexit?
Potential NHS staff from outside of European Economic Area (EEA) will shortly find it easier to secure permission to work in the UK. Yet doctors and nurses from the EEA may no longer have the right to do so. Dr Parvati Raghuram looks at how the NHS has depended on foreign workers since its creation.Read now ❯International health service: How the NHS has always relied on overseas labour
Download your free 'A City in the Making' poster to accompany the OU/BBC series 'The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway'.Read now ❯Download your free 'A City in the Making' poster
A technological revolution is underway improving the lives of many who may benefit from additional assistance says human geographer, Dr Oliver Zanetti.Read now ❯The navigation apps that help the visually impaired
This free course will help you to navigate your own path through the complex landscape of smart cities. You’ll hear from smart city innovators and entrepreneurs, city leaders, communities and business, connecting with learners from around the world to reflect on issues facing smart cities of different sizes and situations.Learn more ❯Smart cities
The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 license
How do you know you are in a smart city?
Integrated urban technology is less apparent when it is functioning well says, Gillian Rose, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Oxford.Watch now ❯How do you know you are in a smart city?
Cutting-edge research is enabling the development of new potentially life-changing prototypes aimed at serving those with disabilities says, Dr Oliver Zanetti.Watch now ❯Five smart technologies helping the visually impaired
Shonil Bhagwat explains the yogic way of understanding how individual actions relate to global challenges.Read now ❯Can yoga help us achieve sustainable development goals?
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The Earth in Vision project explores the BBC archives of environment themed television and radio programmes from the last 70 years, looking at the potential of these archives as a digital resource as well as to illustrate the potential of digital broadcast archives for researchers.Watch now ❯Earth In Vision: A Collection
How have the films and radio programmes broadcast by the BBC shaped how we understand environmental change issues? Joe Smith shares his journey through the archives in the second part of a two part podcast series.Read now ❯Dropping the population bomb - 50 years of BBC environmental broadcasting, part two
Athole McLauchlan under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 license
Fifty years of BBC broadcasting about environmental change issues
How have the films and radio programmes broadcast by the BBC shaped how we understand environmental change issues? Joe Smith shares his journey through the archives in a two part podcast series.Listen now ❯Fifty years of BBC broadcasting about environmental change issues
How does tax avoidance create links between distant places and people? Why is something legal associated with such secrecy and morally dubious behaviour? Michael Pryke explains.Listen now ❯The Secret Geographies of Finance
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Sugar is a Contradiction - explore the cultural paradox of this ubiquitous ingredient, with Professor Steve Pile.Read now ❯One Lump or Two? Understanding the Place of Sugar - Part One
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The recent UK general election saw many parties pledge to ‘improve’ the environment. Vicky Johnson considers progress can be measured by more closely connecting the environment to economics.Listen now ❯Should Economics and the Environment work together?
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Sir David Attenborough and The Open University have had a long-standing relationship since the university's birth. David explains how that relationship came about and how it has developed over the years.Watch now ❯Sir David Attenborough and The Open University
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Jenny Meegan under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license
Change in the West of Ireland
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The public have been badly served by politics and the media on climate change. The presence of a David Attenborough blockbuster on the topic in a primetime slot shows things have changed for the better in the past year or two.Read now ❯What shall we tell the children?
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Dr Peter Wood, a Visiting Fellow with the Geography Discipline, argues that although methodological choices are often seen as technical decisions, they can actually be key to intellectual creativity.Read now ❯Methods in Motion: Getting on your bike, and looking for answers
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Copyright free: Pete DeSouza
Copenhagen is the last chance to save the world
As we approach the Copenhagen climate conference, Joe Smith suggests that we put too much emphasis on single eventsRead now ❯Copenhagen is the last chance to save the world
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Greenpeace’s 40th birthday is a good time to stop and ask where environmentalism is going. The OU's Joe Smith does just that in this thought-provoking article.Read now ❯Environmentalism at 40: middle age spread or new lease of life?
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