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
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
We live at a key moment in environment and society relations. Take a snapshot of the range of themes and issues explored in the OU module DD213 Environment and society through this introductory video.Watch now ❯Introduction to Environment and society
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 poster, 'A City in the Making'
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.Read 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?
How do cities bring places, relationships and networks together, and what sorts of politics do they create?Watch now ❯My Interest in Cities is Really an Interest in the Way People Live
This interactive map is a world first. It gives you the chance to explore a major international meeting on climate change as if you were there.Take part now ❯United Nations Climate Change Conference - COP21
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
Steve Pile looks at the changing geographies of sugar.Read now ❯Another spoonful? Understanding the Place of Sugar - Part Two
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
How do national parks manage the demands of different users, whilst still conserving natural beauty?Read now ❯Protecting Landscapes and Creating the Right Tools for the Job
Peter Wood shares his experiences researching cyclists - on both sides of the Atlantic.Listen now ❯Researching cycling in the US & the UK
Despite voters in 2014 choosing to stay in the United Kingdom, Gerry Mooney believes that in the long run, an Independent Scotland is inevitable. He explains why.Listen now ❯Why I believe 'yes' is only a matter of time
What can family photos tell us about households, gender roles and emerging technology? Professor Gillian Rose explores her research on family photography, and how this work interacts with her own experiences.Watch now ❯Family photos and what they mean
Does geography influence peoples’ sense of security and well-being?Watch now ❯Coping on the Coast: moral economies and liminality at the heart of things that matter
What technological challenges are faced by communities seeking to understand environmental change at different geographical scales?Read now ❯‘Citizen sensing’ and new forms of environmental monitoring
The UK government has confirmed that despite the path chosen by the US, the UK would honour the Paris Agreement. Here Shonil Bhagwat looks at the motivations and implications behind the US decision, and how international action on climate change will go on.Read now ❯Should we be worried about the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement?
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?
Learn about MK’s unique history of transport innovation, and how The Open University has been a part of the experiment.Watch now ❯Milton Keynes and the roots of 'Smart' transport
Why research Milton Keynes? Professor Gillian Rose introduces a study of how cities are increasingly using digital data to improve their management and create new ways of living.Watch now ❯Smart Cities in the Making: Learning from Milton Keynes
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
Where is Weetabix actually from? Prof. John Allen investigates.Read now ❯The Curious Geography of Weetabix: A Cereal Tale for Our Times
Stories about migrants, asylum seekers and refugees make media headlines almost every day. John Allen asks, what's the role of borders in this movement of people?Read now ❯Europe’s Borders in Question
Nick Bingham discusses 'smart cities' and how digital technologies are changing the ways in which cities are planned and maintained.Read now ❯Digital urban infrastructures: Smart cities in the making
Now that building a third runway at Heathrow ariport is offical government policy, we explore the costs and benefits of expanding Heathrow, using a geographical analysis.Read now ❯Heathrow third runway: who and where will benefit?
Jenny Meegan under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license
Change in the West of Ireland
Introducing a collection of articles asking 'How can unique and distinctive regions, like the West of Ireland, retain the qualities that make them unique while continuing to modernise and interact with the wider world?'Read now ❯Change in the West of Ireland
According to some estimates the snows of Kilimanjaro could vanish completely by 2030.Read now ❯The vanishing snows of Mount Kilimanjaro
The question of how Hungary approaches the memories of its Communist past has echoes for all cities with painful pasts.Read now ❯What is to be done about Lenin? Coping with the relics of past regimes
As people come to live in urban spaces, how do they come to terms with their surroundings? Gillian Rose explains some of the ways we make sense of our modern surroundings.Listen now ❯Mapping the city, taming the city
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?
‘Can we survive in freedom?’ The relationship between democracy and sustainability was framed in these terms by a prominent political scientist more than fifteen years ago.Read now ❯Democracy and sustainability: Can we survive in freedom?
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
Humour has a part to play in getting the message about climate change across.Read now ❯How many lightbulb jokes does it take to save the world?
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
At the beginning of the 21st century, more than half the world’s population live in cities. Issues about governance, intensification of social relationships, the impact of globalisation, and the way green spaces are utilised become ever more pressing concerns. The tracks on this album explore some of the challenges faced across the world as citizens and administrators adapt to ever increasing pressures on city spaces and resources. The material forms part of the course DD304, Understanding Cities.Listen now ❯Understanding Cities
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?
It might be useful to remind ourselves of the qualities that never come to be calculated when we take stock of our own and others’ worth to society.Read now ❯What exactly does 'worthy' look like?
Is education in Northern Ireland a vehicle for social cohesion or for perpetuating community divisions?Read now ❯Education in Northern Ireland: segregation, division and sectarianism?
Read this article outlining arguements in debate held under the auspices of the Social Sciences Student Connections, Big Conversation.Read now ❯Is public spending a drain on the economy or the mark of a civilised society?
The sight of UKIP's Nigel Farage in deep water prompted Joe Smith to write a personal note with a generous offer of help.Read now ❯Taken at the flood: An open letter to Nigel Farage