Student story: Becca on climate adaption and mitigation

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Former CAT MSc student and engineering volunteer Becca Warren writes about public speaking, building a shed on the roof of Manchester University, and working as a low carbon generation consultant.

This year I’ll be presenting at Greenbuild on ‘Climate Adaptation and Mitigation.’ Greenbuild is Manchester’s answer to Ecobuild – less celebrities, so no Kevin McCloud or Brian Cox, and a smaller exhibition but a great line up of presentations and workshops and a great event to present at. I did half an hour on the subject ‘What Will a Low Carbon Manchester Look Like?’ last year and had people standing three deep at the back by the time I had finished and so feel under pressure to do at least as good a job this year.

Given my public speaking abilities when I started an MSc at CAT in 2007 it’s remarkable that I’m not only able to do this but actually looking forward to it. My first presentation on the course – a short ten minutes on my first assignment about the use of natural ventilation in large buildings was an unmitigated disaster – I put too much information in, in a storyline which didn’t follow itself, didn’t practise it enough and stumbled and stuttered my way through what felt more like ten hours. Rob, our course leader, looked at me sympathetically on the way out and said “It’s not easy is it?”

My brain woke me up two days later, at two in the morning with a brilliant presentation on the same subject, delivered in a dynamic, Johnny Ball in ‘Think-of-a-number’ style, which would have involved sawing a cardboard box in half, remote control cars and audience participation. It received standing ovations in my imagination and gave me insomnia for three nights. I still think it would be great but have never got the opportunity to deliver it. I have, however, presented on a number of topics to a lot of different audiences – general renewables to festival go-ers at the Big Green Gathering, wind power to school children, BREEAM to landscape architects, district energy to university students and district heating to the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (they were a tough crowd).

I went into building services with a small engineering consultancy just after starting the course. We merged a year later with a much bigger company which has given me some great opportunities, not least by providing funding for my thesis experiment which involved building a shed on the roof of Manchester University and giving me a month off when I won a travel bursary in 2010 to go cycling round Northern Europe looking at community energy. Having spent the summer of 2007 volunteering at CAT with the engineering department and done a bit of building services early in my career (I’m talking a couple of summer jobs nearly twenty years ago) I had a blagger’s guide to the subject but no more. It’s been a steep learning curve, alongside the learning curve of the course after a nearly two decades out of academia but I’ve been lucky to have a great support network of my colleagues, course tutors and fellow students and the wider CAT network. It constantly delights me how many people have studied there or visited and what an inspiration it has been to so many people. It has certainly served me well so far – if I had chosen to do the course out of purely selfish reasons of job security and financial gain I couldn’t have picked much better. My actual desires to do something worthwhile, to work with good people and to have adventures have also been satisfied.

But anyway, back to Climate Adaptation and Mitigation. It’s a massive subject and has a number of different angles. I’ve been interested in it since reading ‘Six Degrees: Our future on a hotter planet’ (London: Fourth Estate, 2007) – Mark Lynas’s terrifying analysis of what each of the potential rises of global temperature might look like. Basically after three degrees feedback mechanisms make the remaining increases pretty damn likely – ending up with six degrees and a fire-storm ravaged planet on which only the hardiest of bacteria can survive. Grim stuff and hardly likely to inspire anyone to be a bit more energy efficient, holiday closer to home and build resilient communities – more likely to make people want to get drunk and party before we run out of time! (although I guess if they did it on home brew, with the lights off that would be a result of sorts). So whilst I will touch on this I’m going to focus on the (still entirely achievable) rise of 2 degrees and what that might look like.

There’s still some scary stuff like the water shortages throughout the Mediterranean which will surely see increases in population further north as people migrate to more hospitable climates and all the attendant challenges that can bring, and increased extreme weather events with hotter drier summers and more frequent floods in winter. But there are reasons for optimism too. Many of the adaptation measures will also enhance our quality of life. Greener public realms and green roof projects to provide shade and reduce heat islanding can improve biodiversity and create wildlife corridors through our urban areas. A focus on more localised and increasingly organic food production for food security and to reduce costs and emissions from transport and fertilisers will give us a seasonal diet once again and open the way for community based agriculture projects. We will need to address energy and waste on a local scale and whilst this is a huge challenge there are plenty of living projects, both here in the UK and further afield, from which we can learn. This is the story I want to tell. So – having procrastinated by writing this, instead of the presentation for long enough I’m ready to start on the real thing.
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Becca Warren started the MSc in Renewable Energy in the Built Environment at CAT in Sept 2007 and graduated in 2011. She works for Sinclair Knight Merz in Manchester as a low carbon generation consultant and is prepared to do public speaking in return for free biscuits. In 2010 she blogged about her travels in Northern Europe at www.kendale2010.blogspot.co.


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  • Lizzy Clark

    As an Undergrad at Manchester with a view to getting involved in very similar things to you, Becca, it’s so great to hear about the things that you’re doing in Manchester. Sometimes it feels like I’ll never meet like-minded people here in student land! (Which building is the shed on top of?!) Although I study Social Anthropology, I’m really hoping to work somewhere within the renewable energies scene, or perhaps in conservation more generally. It seems like I’ve missed the GreenBuild Expo by one day, frustratingly! But if you have any pointers or good places/people to approach-I’d greatly appreciate it!    Best, Lizzy.