Category Archives: Environment

Playing the long game

IN the long grass beyond the last hut, slabs of greyish-white shark meat dry on wooden racks in the sun. This village, which I’m visiting as the paying guest of an ecotourism company, lacks electricity, has a single fresh water pump and is inaccessible by road. Like many others along the west coast of Madagascar, it looks to the sea for its food, income and transport. Malagasy villages tend to specialise when it comes to marine resources, and this one’s speciality is shark…

This article first appeared in Geographical Magazine in December 2017. To read it in full you have to subscribe.

Who names diseases?

REMEMBER the Naples Soldier, the vicious flu pandemic that swept the globe almost 100 years ago, infecting one in three people and killing up to 50 million? You probably don’t, but you might remember the Spanish flu, the name by which that pandemic is better known. ‘Naples Soldier’ was what the Spanish called it, after a catchy tune that was being played in local music halls at the time. They knew the origins of the disaster lay beyond their borders and, understandably, refused to take the blame…

 

This essay first appeared in Aeon on 23 May 2017. To continue reading, click here.

“I’ve always thought I’d be good at naming diseases,” muses Dan Piepenbring in The Paris Review (24 May 2017). “The problem with most disease names is that they have all these scary words in them: flu, disorder, virus. That’s bad for business. If I were in charge, I’d name them after deodorants (Aqua Reef, Cool Burst, Sport) or Yankee Candles (Bahama Breeze, Vanilla Cupcake, Clean Cotton). But get this: It’s not just one person naming all the world’s diseases. It’s a whole committee of international bureaucracies, which explains why so many of our world’s most dangerous illnesses have such lousy titles.” Read Dan here:

I Can Name Your Disease, and Other News

Swiss canton braces for tsunami

 

page11-nature_logoTHE land of chocolate and clocks could soon be known for something quite different: tsunamis. Authorities in Nidwalden, a canton in landlocked Switzerland, are factoring the risk of a tsunami in Lake Lucerne into their hazard plans. It is the first official acknowledgement of such a threat in Europe’s Alpine region — and comes in step with findings that the risk of tsunamis in the area, which is home to around 13 million people, is much higher than previously thought…

This article was first published in Nature on 4 September 2014. To continue reading, click here.

view-of-riggie-mountain-meadows-and-lake-lucerne

 

Wonder food

ns_logoIN April 1789, Lieutenant William Bligh set off from the Pacific island of Tahiti to sail halfway round the world to Jamaica. Twenty-three days into the voyage, his crew mutinied. They set him adrift in the Bounty’s launch, along with 18 men who were loyal to him, and dumped the ship’s cargo overboard. That cargo included 1000 breadfruit plants destined for the Jamaican sugar plantations, whose owners were clamouring for a cheap and reliable source of food for their slaves…

This article was first published in New Scientist on 28 June 2014. To continue reading, click here.