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Geographer Summer 2011

The newsletter of the

Sunshine States The geography of happiness and well-being

Royal Scottish Geographical Society

In This Edition... •H  is Holiness The Dalai Lama on Happiness •E  xpert Views & Opinions: The World of Well-Being • L etter from the University of Strathclyde •O  n the Map: Philp’s Comic Map of Scotland •C  ountry in Focus: Bhutan •R  eader Offer: The Spirit Level plus other news,

“As citizens of the world, our unifying force, our strength must come from something that is not bound by nation, ethnicity or religion – from fundamental human values. Values shape the future of humanity.”

comments, books...

His Majesty Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, King of Bhutan

RSGS – Making the Connections Between People, Places & the Planet



The world of wealth & well-being


here are good reasons for RSGS to be happy right now.

It has been a long journey but, despite our continued financial fragility, I can see light at the end of the tunnel. In 2008, at the same time as we were given notice in Glasgow, we started the refurbishment of Lord John Murray House to convert it into the permanent headquarters of the Society, while simultaneously preparing the Society’s collections for transfer to temporary storage in Perth. The staff had to contend with moving into the office before the builder had finished and, by the summer of 2009, a new team of staff had been recruited. During that winter, we had to deal with an emergency move of the collections when their temporary storage froze up; the assistance of Perth & Kinross Council was invaluable at this time in making available some recently-vacated school premises. During 2009 and 2010, we were successful in securing all the funding for the building work on the Fair Maid’s House, and in May 2010, after years of discussion, the work began to restore and convert the Fair Maid’s House into an education and exhibition centre for geography. The fitting out and installation of the displays is proceeding apace and, by the time you receive your next edition of The Geographer, we will have our beautiful and, I hope, permanent, base open to the public. We will rely on volunteers initially, and will invite visitors to make a donation or, even better, take out membership of the Society. So, after three years of hard work, this happy geographer closes with two thoughts: I cannot thank enough our staff for their hard work and forbearance and, more importantly, resolute good humour throughout; and to those of you who have taken out Patron membership, my grateful thanks – it is a huge help to our fragile finances.

RSGS Centres News The RSGS Dumfries Centre has had a particularly good year – average attendances have grown to over 120, with the largest recorded attendance for the excellent talk by David Shukman, the BBC’s Science & Environment Correspondent, at which 220 people squeezed into Easterbrook Hall. Our thanks to Frank and all the committee for their continued hard work on behalf of RSGS. Two RSGS members in Glasgow have raised more than £200 for the Society by giving talks to a number of local organisations. We are grateful to them both for helping raise much-needed funds for the Society. If any member would like to give talks in their area on behalf of RSGS, we would love to hear from you.

Geographer gets married!

Congratulations to the new Earl and Countess of Strathearn. Prince William is of course a geography graduate of the University of St Andrews.

I Know Where I’m Going Remote Access to World Heritage Sites from St Kilda to Uluru This international conference, to be held in Edinburgh on 23rd-24th 23rd-24th November November 2011, will explore the potential and challenges created by new technologies to develop high-quality, remote-access, visitor experiences for UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other sites of cultural, historical and natural significance. The conference’s main objectives are to showcase the new technologies available, including the 3D laser scanning of St Kilda, and to debate the benefits and challenges these new technologies present. Keynote speakers will include Dr Mechtild Rössler of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre. See beholder/iknowwhereimgoing and for more information.

Barrie Brown Chairman RSGS, Lord John Murray House, 15-19 North Port, Perth, PH1 5LU tel: 01738 455050 email: Charity registered in Scotland no SC015599 The views expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily those of the RSGS. Masthead and cover picture: His Majesty Druk Gyalpo, King of Bhutan.

RSGS – Making the Connections Between People, Places & the Planet




Summer 2011

NEWS People • Places • Planet The Fair Maid’s House Project Fair Maid’s House Opening We are delighted to announce that we are planning to open the Fair Maid’s House to RSGS members and to the public as our new geographical education and exhibition centre on 21st July 2011. We intend that the centre will initially be open from 10.00am to 4.00pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, until the schools restart in the autumn. Thereafter, once we have been able to gauge both the demand from visitors and the availability of volunteers to man the centre, the hours may vary. Opening hours will be posted on our website.

RSGS Collections Find a New Home RSGS has a tremendous collection of maps, books, slides, images, diaries, globes, equipment, posters, tickets and other artefacts. We’re delighted to announce that, after two years languishing in off-site storage, awaiting construction of purpose-built accommodation in the Fair Maid’s House, the collections are now in their new quarters, where work begins to put them back in working order, ready for use.

New Volunteers Sign Up!

Inspiring Biographies Wanted We hope to establish a small biographical library in the Fair Maid’s House, so that visitors can read about the lives of some of the inspiring people associated with the RSGS over the years. We are looking for biographies and autobiographies of people who have received the Society’s prestigious Medals, or who have given public talks for the Society, or who have been actively involved in the Society’s affairs. Please let us know if you have any books that you think might be suitable, and would be willing to donate them – we are happy to acknowledge donors’ names in their books.

The massive move wasn’t a task for the faint-hearted, but happily it coincided with the genesis of a keen team of volunteers – Kenny Maclean, Bill Todd, and Tony Simpson, all map aficionados – willing to give their time to help. RSGS, like most charities, is very reliant on volunteers and we are grateful to the team for their enthusiasm. We would also like to thank Margaret Wilkes, Collections Committee Convener, and Bruce Gittings, Vice Chair, for their help with the move. We hope that other volunteers will continue to come forward, to help with our archives and office, and to welcome visitors to the Fair Maid’s House when it opens.

Can You Help? The good news continues, with recently gifted wooden bookshelves housing many of our archive volumes, and we want to keep this positive momentum going. Now that we have a proper home for our collections, we hope to replace some of the older, more unstable wooden map chests with more conservationally-sound steel chests, that would allow greater protection from fire, water and dust, extend our storage provision, and enhance the ambience of our new collections area. We’re looking for £5,000 to help purchase new chests (or would consider any suitable chests which others might be disposing of); Margaret Wilkes would like to hear from anyone who thinks they can help.

New RSGS Patron Members We are very pleased to welcome our new Patron members – 22 at the time of writing – and are grateful to them for offering much-needed additional support to the RSGS at this time. We look forward to welcoming them to their first special event, and hope they will enjoy their new involvement with the Society.

NEWS People • Places • Planet Forest regeneration devastated by wildfires

A Field Guide to Ice Glaciated areas are diverse and fascinating: it is hard to realise that solid ice can flow downhill, carrying everything in its path; that frozen cloud can load glaciers; that the sea and crevasses can smoke; that flowers can grow on the sea; that rocks can shatter; that the soil can sort itself into circles... This attractive booklet by James Fenton is an easy introduction to the landscapes of polar and other glacial regions, with clear photographs and brief descriptions of 90 types of icy feature.

The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) has estimated that the wildfires that raged across the Highlands in late April and early May caused at least £100,000 of damage to its forest regeneration project in Torridon and Kintail. The regeneration is part of a plan to join up existing patches of ancient woodland in some of Scotland’s most spectacular landscapes, with footpaths threading through the forest, linking the Moray Firth to Kintail. Pete Selman, NTS’s Director of Property & Visitor Services, said, “Despite the best efforts of the crews on the ground, once the fires reached the trees, the flames leapt as high as 40 feet. The loss

Scientists in the dock Scientists in Italy have been indicted on charges of manslaughter for failing to warn the residents of L’Aquila of the imminent magnitude-6.3 earthquake of 6th April 2009, which killed more than 300 people. Frequent tremors had been recorded in the surrounding Abruzzo region, culminating in a magnitude-4.0 earthquake on 30th March. After a meeting convened to ask the scientists whether a major

of the mature trees is heartbreaking to all those involved in forest regeneration in the area over many years.” An RSPB Scotland spokesman said that the wildfires could not have come at a worse time, with birds such as greenshank and © Willie Fraser / National Trust for Scotland lapwing establishing The ancient forest of Rothiemurchus nest sites or already sitting on narrowly avoided two disasters eggs. “We are in the thick of the after wild campers started fires breeding season, and the Highlands that then got out of control. Estate and Islands contain some of the owner Johnnie Grant said, “Once most important areas in Europe established, fire can take months to for ground-nesting birds, as well put out and the forest takes decades as some of our rarest and most cherished species.” to recover from the damage caused.” earthquake was on its way, and despite no record of the scientists referring to anything other than the unpredictability of the situation, Bernardo De Bernardinis, deputy technical head of the Civil Protection Agency, told reporters that “the scientific community tells us there is no danger, because there is an ongoing discharge of energy. The situation looks favourable.”

their minds after the committee’s

A group of local citizens later said that many of the earthquake’s victims had been planning to leave their homes, but had changed

rather than on prosecuting

Young Scot in Seven Summit Challenge The St Andrews student who conquered Mount Everest at the end of May spoke of his ‘immense pride’ in the University that made his successful trip possible. Twenty-two year old Geordie Stewart finally made it to the top of the world on his second attempt, having been forced to stop first time round to care for his sick guides. The achievement makes Geordie the youngest Scot to complete the Seven Summit Challenge – climbing the highest peak on each of the seven continents.

Travel to make a difference The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust makes 100 awards each year to people aged 18 and over, for the costs of overseas travel of between four and eight weeks, on projects that bring real benefits to the individuals and enable them to bring positive benefits to their communities or fields of interest. The categories for the 2012 awards are: Art History; Communities that Work; Discovery & Exploration; Education & Vocational Training; Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Innovation in the Public Services; Medical & Health; Science, Engineering & Technology; The Arts & Older People; and Open. For more information, and to apply on-line before 4th October 2011, go to

statements. In August 2009, they filed a formal request asking a prosecutor to investigate. Almost 4,000 researchers from 100 different countries have signed a letter to Giorgio Napolitano, Italy’s president, urging decision-makers to concentrate on “earthquake preparedness and risk mitigation scientists for failing to do something they cannot do yet — predict earthquakes.”

Moffat Book Events Make your way to Moffat on 15th-16th October thth 2011 for Moffat Book 15 16 October Events’ celebration of Scotland’s Family Tree, in association with Borders Forest Trust. Highlights will include Alistair Moffat on The Scots: A Genetic Journey, Count Nikolai Tolstoy on Moffat and Merlin, and Ruth Tittensor on Peat - Land & People, with a Reivers’ Banquet in Moffat’s atmospheric old Town Hall, and an escorted walk to Merlin’s Cave with the Moffat Ramblers. See www. for more information.




Summer 2011

NEWS People • Places • Planet Inspiring Speakers seek Generous Sponsors for Fascinating Talks

World record-breaking yachtswomen British yachtswoman Dee Caffari (who spoke for the RSGS in January 2010) and Spanish co-skipper Anna Corbella crossed the finish line of the Barcelona World Race on 13th April 2011, both having achieved a world record. Dee has now sailed non-stop around the planet more times than any other woman, and Anna set her own record as the first Spanish woman to circumnavigate the globe non-stop. “Sailing around the world just once in a lifetime is an amazing experience. To circumnavigate the planet non-stop for a third time and set another world record is an absolute privilege.” said Dee. “Every time you go down to the Southern Ocean and expose yourself to the extremes of nature you test your luck and, fortunately, mine has held so far. I am hoping that good fortune will continue, as I am not finished with round-the-world sailing just yet!”

The true value of nature Groundbreaking research by hundreds of UK scientists has formed the basis of a major new independent report, the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA), released in June, which reveals that nature is worth billions of pounds to the UK economy. The UK NEA has used new approaches to estimate the value of the natural world, by taking account of the economic, health and social benefits we get from nature. It shows that the benefits to our health and well-being, and our enjoyment of nature, have not always been fully appreciated or valued. For example, the contribution of inland wetlands to water quality is worth up to £1.5bn per year to the UK; bees and other pollinators are worth £430m per year to British agriculture; the amenity benefits of living close to rivers, coasts and other wetlands are worth up to £1.3bn per year to the UK; and the health benefits of living with a view of a green space are worth up to £300 per person per year. The UK NEA shows that the tendency to focus only on the market value of resources we can use and sell, such as timber, crops and fisheries, has led to the decline of some ecosystems and habitats through pollution, overexploitation, and land conversion. UK Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said at the launch, “The natural world is vital to our existence, providing us with essentials such as food, water and clean air, but also other cultural and health benefits not always fully appreciated because we get them for free.”

We are now finalising details of the 2011-12 core programme of illustrated talks. We have already booked several high-calibre speakers, including expert geologist and popular broadcaster Professor Iain Stewart; BBC Human Planet photographer Tim Allen; explorer and investigative journalist Oliver Steeds, whose reports have featured on Channel 4’s Unreported World; writer and horseman Jasper Winn, who kayaked 1,000 miles around Ireland; professional cave diver Phil Short, who has participated in shipwreck search projects around the world; and mountaineer Stephen Venables who, with two other outstanding climbers, followed Shackleton’s remarkable journey across South Georgia. And we are now confirming details with many other leading explorers, travellers, environmentalists, scientists, broadcasters, scholars, writers, photographers, and motivational speakers, who will speak about their latest adventures and about current issues of geographical concern. As an educational charity, we must secure sponsorship in order to deliver the best possible programme to as many people as possible. If you can help, please contact Susan Watt at RSGS HQ on 01738 455050.

The James Hutton Institute A new research ‘super institute’, combining the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute in Aberdeen and the Scottish Crop Research Institute in Invergowrie, has been launched to tackle key global issues such as food, energy and environmental security. Named after the Edinburgh-born founder of modern geology, one of the leading figures of the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment, the James Hutton Institute is the first body of its type in Europe, specialising in agricultural and environmental science. The UK’s chief scientist, Sir John Beddington, hailed the arrival of the new institute as an exciting development, saying, “I can’t over-emphasise the fact that we desperately need more people to work in institutes like this – we need more people to address the important applied problems of how we address our food, water and energy security needs.”

NEWS People • Places • Planet Mary’s Meals Collects The Loving Cup Mary’s Meals, the charity which sets up school feeding projects in communities where poverty and hunger stop children from gaining an education, has received Glasgow City’s highest honour, The Loving Cup, from Lord Provost Bob Winter. The Lord Provost’s Awards are held annually to honour men and women who have dedicated their professional lives to public service, worked selflessly for their communities, or distinguished themselves in business, the arts, sport or entertainment. Chief Executive Magnus MacFarlane– Barrow FRSGS commented, “It never ceases to amaze me how Mary’s Meals continues to gain support throughout the world, and we are delighted to accept the Loving Cup in recognition of all these beautiful acts of goodwill we are so lucky to receive and which have made Mary’s Meals possible.”

Grímsvötn 2011 Anthony Newton, University of Edinburgh After only one year, we were reminded again in May that Iceland is one of the most volcanically active places on Earth. Buried beneath Europe’s largest ice cap, Vatnajökull, Iceland’s most active volcano, Grímsvötn, which last erupted in November 2004, awoke with a powerful eruption. This again caused some problems for air travellers in Europe, although on a far smaller scale than last year’s Eyjafjallajökull eruption. In some ways this was a typical Grímsvötn eruption, with a basaltic eruption creating a column of ash and steam which emerged through the fractured and melted ice. Also, like many Grímsvötn eruptions, it only lasted a few days and most of the ash was erupted during the first week. Whilst Grímsvötn’s erupting did not surprise scientists, its intensity did. The 2011 Grímsvötn eruption was much larger than any recent activity in Iceland, with the eruption column reaching 20km during the initial phase of activity. Although Grímsvötn is some 60km from the nearest settlement, large quantities of ash blanketed farmland and settlements south and west of the volcano. Ash was thrown high into the atmosphere, and for a while travelled across northern Europe, temporarily grounding planes, with reports of ash falling to the ground across the British Isles. Samples from Orkney have been confirmed as coming from the eruption. By 22nd May, the eruption column height had decreased to 10km, and by 25th May, only small-scale activity was seen in the crater. The eruption ended on 28th May.

Coral mining sinks islands Poomarichan and Villanguchalli, two small islands in the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park, between India and Sri Lanka, have sunk into the sea. Mr S Balaji, director of the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve Trust (GOMBRT), said that fishermen had for decades indiscriminately and illegally mined invaluable coral reefs around the islands, for use in the construction industry. Designated in 1989, the biosphere reserve has about 3,600 species of marine flora and fauna, including the endemic dugong, or ‘sea cow’.

Grímsvötn will probably erupt again in the near future, and the authorities in Iceland are currently closely watching for any signs of renewed activity at both Hekla and Katla.

Himalayan glacial lakes Himalayan glacial lakes could pose a major hazard to population centres if they are ruptured by earthquakes, scientists say. The true risk to settlements and infrastructure is difficult to assess, but the Himalayan region is dotted with glacial lakes and is in a seismically active zone, with at least half a dozen minor tremors recorded every day. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, there have been at least 35 glacial lake outburst events in the area during the last century. But the increased risk from earthquake-induced rupture of glacial lakes has been rarely discussed. “Such a disaster is very much possible, more so, when we are expecting a big earthquake in the region now,” said Sushil Kumar, a geophysicist with the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology in India. “The main reason why we have not yet witnessed the outburst of glacial lakes because of earthquakes, is because the region has not been hit by big ones in recent decades. And when the last earthquakes hit the region, there were barely any glacial lakes.”

2010 Medallists We are pleased to announce the final three recipients of the RSGS’s prestigious medals for 2010. The Mungo Park Medal is awarded to Rune Gjeldnes, in recognition of his record as one of the world’s leading adventurers. The Geddes Environment Medal is awarded to the crew of the Plastiki, skippered by Jo Royle, in recognition of their original and inspiring adventure to highlight the issue of marine pollution. The Tivy Education Medal is awarded to Anita Ganeri, for her outstanding contribution to geography through the popular Horrible Geography series of books for children; we hope that Anita will be able to accept her Medal at an event in Perth in August.

People in the area have said that the Gulf of Mannar coral reefs saved them from destruction when the devastating tsunami struck in December 2004. Deepak Samuel, a marine biologist with the UN Development Programme, has warned that, with the threat of climate change in years to come, factors such as coral mining will have an accelerating effect on the submergence of many islands. See for more information.




Summer 2011

NEWS People • Places • Planet RSGS Vice-President in Everest Drama for Alzheimers We were pleased to hear of David HemplemanAdams’ second successful summit bid on Everest at the end of May, as leader of the Iceland Everest Expedition, along with team members Rodney Hogg, Graham Duff, and Justin Packshaw. This makes David the first Briton to summit by both the North and South Ridges.

David Hempleman-Adams at the summit. The four summiteers back at Base Camp: Graham Duff, Justin Packshaw, David Hempleman-Adams, Rodney Hogg.

Worryingly, however, some of the team were forced to spend the night at 8,300 metres on the descent, and tents and equipment at Camps 2 and 3 were shredded by high winds, so it was a great relief to hear of their safe return to Base Camp. The team aims to raise at least £1 million for Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Strathclyde Closing Geography – and Missing the Point? Letter from the University of Strathcly de

The University of Strathclyde announced in early May that it was putting a proposal to close the geography programme at Strathclyde out for consultation. Citing a decision within the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, that geography was not seen as a strategic area in its vision of strong multi-disciplinary social sciences or the university’s vision of being a leading international technological university, the proposal will, if accepted, end the distinctive human and environmental degree offered at Strathclyde. As the only course of its kind in Scotland, this would undoubtedly be a blow for Scottish geography. The RSGS has submitted a response to the consultation, encouraging the university to have more far-sighted vision and to recognise the fundamental point that geography is by its very nature a multidisciplinary subject. In an age of internet and mobile access, GPS and GIS, it is disappointing that the university and the faculty see geography as somehow peripheral, rather than integrally aligned to its core ambitions of technology and society. This proposal reinforces the importance of the RSGS continuing to encourage funding bodies and educationalists to recognise properly the scientific value of geography. As we went to print we received this letter from a student at Strathclyde.

Senior Strathclyde Lecturer Leading Commonwealth Games Research

As you may ha ve heard, the Un iversity of Strat withdraw from hclyde has prop Geography, alo osed to ng with Sociolog Music, and we y, Community ’re writing to yo Education and u for your supp ort. We are students of Geography and Sociology our view these at Strathclyde proposals are un and in justified and wi Geography and ll undermine the Sociology in Sc teaching of otland. If passe of both program d, the proposals mes, which no will see the end t only have a pr but also succes oven track recor sfully manage d in teaching to att rac t students from a social backgrou diverse range of nds. Of course , there are many performance, bu metrics which t we would like judge academic to sa y that our prog real enthusiasm rammes are tau which enhances ght with a our passion for the subject. The decision to withdraw from Ge ography and So ambition at Strat ciology is base hclyde to beco d on an me a technologic and, whilst acad al and internati emia is often cru onal university de ly divided betw and those in the een the STEM humanities and -based subjects social sciences, Geography and we believe the Sociology to be re is a case for made in this vis to be a disciplin ion. We underst e that manages and Geography to pr ov ide understandin cultures and ins g of global issue ight into conte mporary concern s, diverse If anything, Ge s including tho ography would se on technolo se em gy. to be a unique placed to draw discipline that together the mu is ideally lti-disciplinary am bit ion s at Strathclyde. We therefore be lieve the propos al to withdraw is bad for stude Geography and nts and bad for Sociology the University. support. We would grea tly appreciate yo ur

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Academics and policy makers are meeting to set out the research agenda exploring the impact of the 2014 Commonwealth Games on Glasgow and in Scotland. Coordinated by Dr Robert Rogerson, a senior lecturer in Geography at the University of Strathclyde, and legacy research coordinator for the Games, the group is exploring topics under the themes of health and well-being, urban and community regeneration, volunteering and sport, and sustainability and transport. Speaking about this prestigious new work stream, Dr Rogerson said, “The legacy has to be felt in areas such as sports and physical activity, community pride and identity, volunteering and tourism, and it has to involve many communities and people across the city of Glasgow. The legacy for Glasgow and its citizens will be unique and different from previous games, but understanding how this has been planned elsewhere will help Glasgow and other cities in future to prepare for hosting major events.” © University of Strathclyde

Opinion: The World of Wealth & Well-Being

Gross Domestic Bliss Mike Robinson, Chief Executive, RSGS There has been a great deal of interest recently in the quantification and re-evaluation of ‘happiness’, but does it deserve the political attention it is currently getting?

“The spirit of the age today demands social values as well as economic values. This means focusing not just on GDP, but on GWB – General Well-Being.” David Cameron MP

The latest in a list of high profile launches was the OECD’s Your Better Life Index, aimed at “allowing people to measure and compare their lives in a way that goes beyond traditional GDP numbers”. So what is driving this fascination? Are we all suddenly more miserable? Has the credit crunch undermined our sense of self? And how does our geography affect this?

The maps suggest a correlation between GDP (PPP) per capita and subjective well-being. But GDP is a rather crude and narrow measure: it’s easy to count, but it ignores the whole value of ‘natural capital’, estimated to be ‘worth’ more than twice global GDP.

Since the 1970s, evidence suggests that we have grown no happier despite increasing material wealth and health improvements. That is not to say we are not happy, simply that there is a threshold of basic material comfort beyond which our happiness is affected by more personal, subtle and psychological factors. This evident divergence between the state of our economic ‘value’ and our psychological sense of satisfaction has led to two clear areas of debate. The first is the reappraisal of the way we record and calculate economic value, in particular the pros and cons of GDP/GNP and their alternatives. The second is the detailed investigation of what makes us happy in the first place, how this varies by location and circumstance, and whether any patterns emerge from which we can draw lessons. The former is not a new discussion. Simon Kuznets, one of the men who invented GNP, was aware of its shortcomings, saying in 1934, “the welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income.” And in 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy famously told Congress, “The GNP includes air pollution and advertising for cigarettes… the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. GNP does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play… It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” GDP and GNP, however, remain the first, and often only, statistics given to describe whether our economy, and by inference the quality of our

lives, is good, bad or indifferent. This is in part, no doubt, because it is relatively easy to count, and it does tell us something useful. However, it doesn’t tell us everything, and there is a growing concern that we should either find another broader measure to compare alongside it, or change the measure altogether. The King of Bhutan chose the former, when he introduced a concept of ‘gross national happiness’ way back in 1972. And following the release of the Costanza report in the late 1990s, which identified that globally we were failing to take any account of the sustainability of the Earth’s life support systems, the UK’s Labour Government introduced a handful of ‘quality of life’ indicators. In 2008, the now Prime Minister David Cameron wrote an essay on GDP’s shortcomings in Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth, saying, “The spirit of the age today demands social values as well as economic values. This means focusing not just on GDP, but on GWB – General WellBeing… It goes to show what

most of us instinctively feel… that over-consumption of the world’s resources cannot satisfy our most inborn desires.” The EU has also been debating alternatives to GDP for some years. French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently commissioned the Stiglitz Commission to propose a way forward. If happiness is the ultimate measure of progress, is there a better way to count this than the one we currently rely on? The second area of discussion is about what makes us happy in the first place. Several studies and ‘movements’ have sprung up recently, including the Action for Happiness campaign. The movement is based on the premise that we can each affect our happiness, and that, despite massive material progress, people in Britain and the US are no happier than they were 50 years ago. They intend to address this. Another high profile launch was around The Spirit Level, leading to a long-term campaign – The Equality Trust ( The book represents 30 years of research by two of the UK’s leading




Summer 2011

professors of academic epidemiology, who have produced and mapped evidence to show that, in rich countries, a smaller gap between rich and poor means a happier, healthier, and more successful population. They go on to explain that, if the UK were more equal, everyone in our society would be better off. For example, their evidence suggests that if we halved inequality here, murder rates could halve, mental illness could reduce by two-thirds, obesity could halve, and imprisonment could reduce by 80%. Crucially, they also prove that these findings hold true when compared across different nations or regions. The longest-standing geographical comparison, though, has been in Holland, where Professor Ruut Veenhoven has for many years been compiling The World Database of Happiness, an ongoing register of scientific research on the subjective enjoyment of life across nations. Countries such as Iceland always fare well in such analyses, so is there something in Iceland’s geography, its awareness of the natural world, or its national psyche that explains this? Eric Weiner used this database as the basis for his highly entertaining book, The Geography of Bliss, in which he reported

from some of the countries Veenhoven had identified as being ‘happiest’. He visited the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Thailand, Britain, the US and India to compare and explore what made them ‘happy’, and for contrast he also visited Moldova to understand why it was so miserable. His book is a lighthearted look at the issue, but his conclusion is valid nonetheless: “Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way that we think. Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude.” His view was that happy places were happy in different ways, but that unhappy places often shared many similarities.

The index found that Britain “performs very well in overall wellbeing”, coming in 13th. Australia, Canada and Sweden ranked top, while Turkey came bottom, just below Mexico and Chile.

But is happiness the ultimate goal? Do we need all this effort to be reminded of its fundamental importance in our stressful adult lives? John Lennon perhaps sums this up best:

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

So how much of happiness is attitudinal and how much is geographical? By putting a price on happiness, do we risk creating economic reasons to undermine it? Do we risk overlooking basic economic gains in favour of more nebulous happiness? And in a period of ‘austerity’, is it a distraction to be promoting new ways of considering ‘progress’? Or can we only seek to improve everyone’s lives further, and to protect the environment and the ecosystem services on which we ultimately depend, by better accounting for the things we destroy and re-evaluating what matters in life? Clearly geography and a sense of place matter. Clearly our own attitudes to

Your Better Life Index The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has unveiled a new, interactive index that allows people to measure and compare their lives in a way that goes beyond traditional GDP. The Your Better Life Index aims to measure well-being and progress in the world’s richest nations, and allows citizens to compare lives across 34 countries, based on 11 dimensions – housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety, and work-life balance.

happiness make a difference. But perhaps we should reconsider what we count as important. And it is difficult to dispute the idea that the happier all the members in a society are, the happier the society is overall.

Delving deeper, Britain received high and above average scores in income, environment, governance and community, with nearly 95% saying they have someone they could rely on in times of need. However, black spots for Britain include health (the UK has the highest obesity rate in Europe) and education (70% of adults aged 25-64 have the equivalent of a high-school degree, below the OECD average of 73%). In perhaps the most subjective measure, life satisfaction, Britain ranked 15th; 68% of Britons were satisfied with their life, against an OECD average of 59%, perhaps showing a tendency to look on the bright side! See for more information.

Action for Happiness has developed these Ten Keys to Happier Living, based on a review of the latest scientific research relating to happiness.

Action for Happiness A new mass movement to create a happier society was launched in April. Action for Happiness was founded by three of the most influential thinkers in the worlds of economics, education, politics and social innovation – Lord Richard Layard, Geoff Mulgan and Anthony Seldon. Lord Layard said, “Our movement is based on a simple idea – if we want a happier society, individuals have got to create more happiness in the world around them.” Director Mark Williamson said, “With families and communities across the UK facing uncertain economic times, and big global challenges to tackle as a society, it may seem counter-intuitive to talk about happiness. But on the contrary, now more than ever we need to help people build their personal resilience and create a culture where we are less preoccupied with material wealth and more focused on each other’s happiness and well-being.”

Expert Views: The World of Wealth & Well-Being

Measuring our progress

Laura Stoll, Centre for Well-Being, New Economics Foundation nef

Measuring our progress can be downloaded free from publications/measuringour-progress

“The potential is huge. This is the first example of any government collecting well-being data in a nationallevel survey.”

Last November, the Prime Minister announced that from April 2011 the UK would start “measuring our progress as a country not just by how our economy is growing, but by how our lives are improving… not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life”. His speech promised that, with this information, future policy decisions would be made based on their impacts on well-being, rather than on purely economic outcomes. On reflection, it is evident that the aim of improving well-being already lies behind government action, but it is much less clear what this means in practice. This is an old debate: from the Ancient Greeks to modern psychologists, people have had different ideas about what the ‘good life’ is, how we can achieve it, and how we can measure it. For a long time it was assumed that economic wellbeing was a good proxy for overall well-being, and the measurement of social progress was dominated by economic indicators such as GDP. However, there has been growing acknowledgement that this data can’t give us the whole picture about human well-being, and that we need measures which reflect our own experiences of how our lives are going. There are two stages to using well-being as our vision of societal progress: measuring well-being and then using these measurements to shape policy. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) was tasked with devising a measure of national wellbeing and started by opening a ‘national debate’, asking the public what they thought should be considered part of ‘national well-being’. Over 20,000 people have participated in 170 nationwide events as well online. This July, the ONS will report the results of the consultation; the main themes appear to be job security, relationships, health, freedom of society, and spiritual beliefs. Happiness and

life satisfaction emerge as central to well-being, as well as trust, belonging, and identity. The ONS is also incorporating subjective questions about people’s experiences of life into two national surveys – the Integrated Household Survey (IHS), which surveys 200,000 adults annually, and the Opinions Survey. For the first year, the four IHS pilot questions are: •O  verall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays? •O  verall, how happy did you feel yesterday? •O  verall, how anxious did you feel yesterday? •O  verall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile? These questions are designed to cover a range of well-being dimensions: how people evaluate their life, the average positive and negative emotions experienced daily, and a ‘eudaimonic’ aspect – how fulfilling people find their lives. These questions will create an unprecedented amount of data, including on the ‘geography of happiness’. So how can these new data shape the business of policy-making? In nef’s recent report, Measuring our progress, we argued that wellbeing data will reveal new policy priorities and allow policy-makers to reconsider existing policy priorities. For example, although unemployment is already a concern for governments, well-being analysis reveals a greater impact on people’s lives than that implied by standard economic analysis, so arguably it should be even higher on the government agenda. Wellbeing data can also be used to provide better evidence on the likely impact of new policies, as well as estimating the value of interventions, and the impact of certain events, more accurately (and meaningfully) on people’s lives. The data will also allow us to identify inequalities in well-being: the IHS will provide information

about how well-being is distributed across the UK, down to the level of local authority and amongst different groups, for instance by age or ethnicity. Existing evidence from regional surveys indicates substantial geographic variation in levels of well-being: a recent survey of north-west England showed some rural areas with much lowerthan-expected well-being. At the international level, European Social Survey data revealed ‘trust and belonging’ was very low in the UK’s under 25 age-group. Knowing where well-being is low then provokes questions as to why, and what can be done to improve it.

National Accounts of Well-being can be downloaded free from

Of course, for this data to affect politics it needs to be presented in a way that resonates with people and ideally reflects a shared public experience – something on which people feel they can hold politicians to account. In addition, we argued that data must be comparable across countries and over time, to be meaningful. The potential is huge. This is the first example of any government collecting well-being data in a national-level survey. If it is taken seriously, this new measure has the power to challenge how we think about – and pursue – progress.




Summer 2011

It Matters What Matters To Scotland Professor Jan Bebbington, Professor of Accounting & Sustainable Development, and Director of St Andrews Sustainability Institute A growing list of organisations and individuals now say that the aspects of life that we most value – for example, quality of life and the health of our environment – are undervalued as a result of an over-reliance on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the critical measure of progress. Earlier this year, I chaired a group of Scottish thinkers who came together as a Round Table to explore how Scotland could develop better measurements of what really matters to its people. The group looked at the findings of the 2009 Stiglitz Report which emerged from the Commission set up by President Sarkozy, designed to advise on how better to measure economic performance and social progress. We assessed the relevance of its recommendations to Scotland. The purpose was to ensure that the strong social structures and healthy environment necessary to create a flourishing Scotland were not overlooked as a result of working to a measure mainly focused on economic activity. Put simply, GDP measures the busyness of our economy, but with oil spill clean-ups and road traffic accidents boosting GDP it is easy to see that it is not a sufficient measure of either sustainable development or our general wellbeing. We agreed that the Scottish Government had already taken promising steps towards challenging GDP’s status as the only measurement that matters, by introducing a new National Performance Framework (NPF) in 2007. The NPF was intended to provide a means of assessing performance towards achieving the clear single priority of “creating a more successful

country, with opportunities for all in Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth”. Unfortunately, we found that too much emphasis continues to be placed on the importance of GDP. We all share a sense that prosperity consists of more than material wealth. It includes the ability to give and receive love, to enjoy the respect of peers, to contribute to useful work, to participate in society generally, and to have a sense of belonging and trust in the community. Material wealth brings us food, shelter and some security, but beyond a certain level of development, the relationship between economic growth and increased prosperity weakens. The Round Table felt that the Scottish Government’s NPF should be better explained and

more widely recognised across the UK as a significant step forward, but we are also keen to see the new administration engage with and be guided by the Stiglitz Report in order to create a new improved framework and indicators. For example, better reporting on subjective views about well-being should be included, using the WarwickEdinburgh Mental Well-being measure. This identifies the common sources of happiness, testing whether people feel optimistic about the future, feel useful, relaxed, confident, good about themselves, loved, cheerful and interested in new things. It also analyses whether people have energy to spare, are

interested in other people, are able to deal with problems, feel close to other people, can think clearly, and are able to make up their own minds about things. More input and a better measure of the contribution made by the third sector to Scotland’s economy are also proposed. In the current parliamentary term, we urge the Scottish Government to work alongside wider civil society More than GDP: to host a much Measuring What Matters wider debate about Report of the Round Table on Measuring Economic Performance and Social Progress in Scotland the aspirations of Scotland and how The report is available at we can develop better measures of well-being that resonate with publications the whole population. We agreed with the Stiglitz Report’s fundamental point that, because of the complexity of our modern world, we need to break our focus on economic growth and instead focus our effort on delivering well-being, now and into the future. Recent events remind us that we need to be very concerned with how our economy is performing, but it is equally clear that we should not expect a strong economy to automatically deliver all that is important to us. Finally, no matter how well the Scottish Government performs in terms of setting new measures, the critical issue is connecting measurement to the actions that help Scotland towards its end goal. That means developing a sense of shared responsibility and partnership in both shaping the framework and aligning the work of local government and agencies.

“Put simply, GDP measures the busy-ness of our economy, but with oil spill cleanups and road traffic accidents boosting GDP it is easy to see that it is not a sufficient measure of either sustainable development or our general wellbeing.”

On the Map

Philp’s Comic Map of Scotland

Karla Baker, Bartholomew Archive Curator, Map Collections, National Library of Scotland


t only 41cm x 29cm, Philp`s Comic Map of Scotland is relatively diminutive, but it still packs a cartographic punch. The imaginative use of caricature reveals a side to maps that is seldom seen; their ability to be entertaining and amusing. The map was printed in 1882 for Andrew Philp, the father to a family of Scottish hoteliers that included his son and daughter-in-law. Between them, they could boast of hotels stretching from Rothesay to London and from Glasgow to Edinburgh. The apparent mirth of this map belies the fact that the Philp’s were rather sober people, literally in fact, as they were vocal supporters of the temperance movement, and all of their hotels were temperance hotels. Their flagship property was Philp’s Glenburn Hydropathic in Rothesay, the first of its type in Scotland. Opened in 1843 by Dr W Paterson, the property was acquired by Andrew Philp in 1881, but his tenure was shortlived. On 11th July 1891, the Glasgow Herald reported a devastating fire which ripped through the building, razing it to the ground and “lightening up the sky all round with a lurid glare”. This map was printed by the Edinburgh firm of John Bartholomew on 5th July 1882. Business ledgers from the Bartholomew Archive, housed in the National Library of Scotland, reveal that Bartholomew were tasked with “designing and lithographing Grotesque Scotland. Furnishing 620 copies, printed in colours on coated paper”. The bill came to £7-15-0. It remains unclear just what the purpose of this map was. It gives the impression of advertising but just how it was used is a mystery. The print run is unexpectedly small and it was printed on very good quality paper; far too good to have been pasted onto walls or handed out to passers-by. There are other comic maps of Scotland, symptomatic of a general trend towards diversification in maps. At their heart, maps pictorially convey information, but those produced with the additional intention to amuse, educate, advertise or surprise show just how versatile maps can be and the endlessly creative ways in which they can be used.



Expert View: Happiness


Summer 2011

His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet is a well-respected and often-quoted authority on happiness and well-being. We asked him if he would be kind enough to share his thoughts with us; this is his response.

MESSAGE TO THE RSGS The more I see of the world, the clearer it becomes that no matter what our situation, whether we are rich or poor, educated or not, of one race, gender, religion or another, we all wish to be happy and to avoid distress. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning,

education nor ideology affects this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment. We can go further and even say that the very purpose of life is happiness. Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring it about. There are two kinds of happiness – one that is a temporary pleasure derived primarily from material comfort alone

and another more enduring comfort that results from the thorough transformation and development of the mind. Obviously, of the two, the latter form of happiness is superior and more influential. We can see this in our own lives because when our mental state is calm and happy, we can easily put up with minor pains and physical discomforts. On

the other hand, when our mind is restless and upset, the most comfortable physical facilities do not make us happy. Since our state of mind is so important, the question arises whether we can train or improve it. Over the course of time human beings have developed various ways to shape the mind and we usually call them meditation. As

a simple Buddhist monk I have tried for a long time to meditate and derived immense benefit from this practice of training the mind. In addition, from my own limited experience I have found that the greatest degree of inner

tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the

greater our own sense of well-being becomes. Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others automatically

puts the mind at ease. If you are able to develop these on a personal level, you will immediately find that they are a true source of happiness. This is because of the profound interdependence we all share with one another.

However capable and skillful an individual may be, left alone, he or she will not survive. However vigorous and independent we may feel during the most prosperous periods of life, when we are sick or very young or very

old, we must depend on the support of others. Similarly, no matter how new the face or how different the dress and behaviour, there is no significant division between us and other people. It is foolish to dwell on external

differences, because our basic natures are the same. In view of the wider human society in which we live, I

believe that one way to ensure everyone’s peace and happiness is to cultivate a healthy respect for the diversity of other peoples and cultures, founded on an understanding of this fundamental sameness of all human beings. As human beings we are social animals, we live in societies in which the very basis of our existence is cooperation, mutual dependence. This cooperation is founded on an attitude of loving kindness towards each other. When we have that, there is peace and happiness within our families, our neighbourhoods, and within

society at large. On the other hand if we plot against each other, harbour resentment towards each other, we may

have an abundance of material facilities at our disposal, but we will have no happiness. Therefore, it is clear that a mind wishing to benefit other people and other sentient beings is the very basis of peace and happiness.

“...the very purpose of life is happiness.” June 1, 2011


Expert View: The World of Wealth & Well-Being


H f o y h p ra g o e G

Ad Bergsma is a psychologist and science writer. In May 2010, he defended his thesis Imperfectly Happy at the Erasmus University, Rotterdam. His work can be assessed at

“Happiness is not to be found in passivity, but in action.”

s s e n i p ap

ma Ad Bergs

“Animals are happy as long as they have health and enough to eat.” This is the famous opening remark by Bertrand Russell (1930) in his self-help book, The Conquest of Happiness. He adds that humans should have the same propensity, but lack it.

score even higher, but in countries such as Togo, Tanzania, Benin and Zimbabwe you would get a figure between 2.6 and 3.0. In countries with average happiness levels, such as China, Iran, India and the Philippines, the scores will be between 5.5 and 6.5. Some of this variation is psychological, but much of it is circumstantial.

For almost everybody, happiness is a goal in life, but some fail to flourish in the best of circumstances, whereas others are happy despite ill health and adversities.

If a mighty wizard would wave his magic wand at this widely multicultural audience, providing them all with peace, democracy, the rule of law, good healthcare, enough mental

In rich democratic countries, happiness is primarily dependent on psychological factors. The American psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky asks us to imagine a movie theatre full of a hundred people. Only a small portion of the happiness of this audience is explained by the circumstances of life, including seemingly important factors such as whether they are divorced or married, rich or poor, beautiful or plain, or whether they live in a suburban villa or in a backstreet alley. In her book, The How of Happiness, Lyubomirsky writes, “If, with a magic wand, we could put all moviegoers into the same set of circumstances, the difference in their happiness levels would be reduced by a measly 10%”. A much more important factor to explain happiness is the genetic makeup of the moviegoers and their intentional activity. Happiness is not to be found in passivity, but in action. If you picked guests from all corners of the world, the variation in answers to happiness surveys would be greatly amplified. If, for example, you ask an ‘average’ person in the United Kingdom the question, “Taking all things together on a scale of zero to ten, how happy would you say you are?”, then you will get an answer of 7.5. An average person from Denmark or Costa Rica would

health professionals, excellent educational opportunities, gender equality, civil liberties, wealth, effective government, free trade, and employment, then the variation in happiness scores in the theatre would be hugely reduced. Before the magical intervention, the public would have shown a more or less even distribution of people across the continuum from very unhappy to very happy. Now, all of a sudden, most would be a lot happier. All would resemble the Scottish people, of whom 28% claim to be very happy, 64% to be quite happy, 6% to be not very happy and 2% to be not happy at all. These figures are drawn from the World Database of Happiness (worlddatabaseofhappiness., an ongoing register of scientific research on the subjective enjoyment of life, which has brought together thousands of findings that are scattered

throughout many studies. The geographical distribution of happiness leads to the conclusion that the large majority of people will be happy in favourable circumstances, just like the animals Bertrand Russell has described. So for many people, with this minimum set of circumstances, the Earth is a pretty good place to inhabit. But there is still a lot of room for improvement in the lives of many others. We can remove a lot of circumstantial unhappiness, to be left with the unhappiness that is predominantly genetic or psychological. Happily this can be called progress, because it would involve a huge step towards the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers. Why do keen minds such as Russell and Lyubomirsky ignore the important circumstances and stress the psychological factors? The first reason may be that, if we try to explain how happy we are, we compare ourselves with our relatives, friends and neighbours. We notice the difference, but, for example, we fail to see that we all profit from the quality of our government. A second reason is the success of modern society, that has eliminated a lot of traditional sources of unhappiness, such as hunger, oppression and sexual abstinence. The better the external living conditions in society, the more the remaining differences in happiness depend on our own inner life abilities. As a result, the psychological factors that contribute to, or hamper, happiness will catch the eye more in modern society. A last factor is perhaps that free modern societies demand more self-direction and therefore better mental health. In the best of circumstances, life is what you make it. It is a shame so many people lack these circumstances.



Country in Focus: Bhutan


Summer 2011

Land of the Dragon Ian Edwards, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Everywhere you go in Bhutan you see huge phalluses painted on walls. They leave little to the imagination, but while some tourists may titter or tut, for the Bhutanese they are part of everyday religious observance. The penises are the symbol of Lama Drupka Kunley, a 15th century monk, revered throughout the region. Drupka Kunley despised piety and indulged in a personal style of Tantric Buddhism that embraced the Earthly delights of wine, women and song. The poetry of the ‘Divine Madman’ remains in print, and he is celebrated as a saint throughout Bhutan today, because and not despite his somewhat unconventional lifestyle. Hidden away in the folds of the Himalaya, between their giant neighbours, China to the north and India to the south, the Bhutanese have never found it necessary to conform to outside norms. The independent spirit of Drupka Kunley lives on in the unique, generations-old Buddhist society that has earned the country the reputation among travellers as a Shangri La. By the accepted global criteria, Bhutan is a poor country, and yet poverty is not the thing that comes to mind when you experience the elaborately painted and carved temple-fortresses called dzongs, or the substantial and skilfully crafted farm houses and neatly ordered fields of barley or buckwheat strung along the valley floors. Official Bhutanese government policy is that the Gross National Happiness is more important than the Gross National Product, and Bhutan proudly declines ‘poor nation’ status. Poverty, at least above a certain threshold when essential needs like food, warmth and shelter are met, is a relative term. Many Bhutanese have been so effectively isolated from the rest of the world for so long, they have nobody to compare themselves with. They

will not let their lack of material wealth get in the way of pursuing the personal goal of happiness and enlightenment that is at the heart of Buddhist philosophy. An important part of their Buddhist belief is a universal acceptance of the need to share with everybody within your immediate circle, regardless of how little or much you have. I was first struck by this when I took a visiting group of Bhutanese foresters to an Edinburgh restaurant. We ordered identical meals for everyone and these arrived on individual stainless steel trays, each with seven small bowls containing different dishes. Immediately they began sharing these out between everyone at the table – insisting that you sample each of their dishes, even when you had exactly the same on yours! Another heart-warming and slightly hilarious example occurred on one of our visits to Bhutan, as we returned back to Thimphu after a holiday weekend. On the last ridge before reaching the Thimphu valley, Docha La, the road was blocked by a minor traffic accident between a taxi and a bus. Soon there was quite a crowd of people, including several police, in animated discussion on the best means of clearing the road, something that was clearly going to take several hours to resolve. Meanwhile, people began piling out of cars, trucks and buses; small fires were lit; pots, pans and rice appeared, and very soon the bank holiday traffic jam had turned into a huge impromptu picnic! Sharing is taken even further with the practice of one man marrying two or more sisters, or a woman marrying two brothers. Although more common in the rural areas, the Fourth Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck (who coined the phrase Gross National Happiness), delighted his subjects by marrying four Queens,

so that none of the sisters would feel more favoured than the rest. This act of royal wisdom, avoiding sibling rivalry, was seen by the people as a noble and selfless act. Only when the Queens’ brother became Prime Minister was concern raised that too much power may have fallen to a single dynasty. This ultimately helped precipitate the introduction of a two-party democratic system into Bhutanese politics. The Fourth King presented this new concept of democracy personally through an epic consultation with the people, travelling the length and breadth of the Kingdom to meet the head of every family. This was his final act as monarch before abdicating at the age of 52 in favour of his son, the Fifth King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. Recently there have been worrying reports in the world’s press concerning an increase in suicides in Bhutan, among people of all ages. This certainly seems at odds with the country’s reputation for Gross National Happiness, and none of the explanations that have been offered seem convincing. Perhaps the reason lies in the slow but gradual infiltration into the country of a global culture, with a different notion of wealth distribution and resource sharing? Has this in some way weakened the defences of a nation against that most dangerous of global, endemic diseases – depression?

“I believe that Gross National Happiness today is a bridge between the fundamental values of kindness, equality, and humanity and the necessary pursuit of economic growth.” His Majesty Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, King of Bhutan

Opinion: The World of Wealth & Well-Being

Happy to be in Iceland Ingibjörg Rósa Björnsdóttir, Reporter

Image © Guðmundur Þór Kárason”

“...we don’t complain. We know it’s no use; winter comes and goes whether we moan about it or not.”

Image © Chris Chapman

For years, Icelanders have ranked in the top five on the ‘happiness barometer’, carefully calculated by the UN. And we‘re still up there, despite the financial collapse in 2008, the volcanic eruption in 2010 and the fact that there are more eruptions to come, the economy not recovering fast enough, and the constant havoc in the Parliament and the House of Government. You could say there‘s a bit of a chaos situation in Iceland, the aftermath of a society crashing hard, still trying to figure out what is up and what is down, who should be in charge and how things should be done. And yet we claim we’re happy. We might be dissatisfied with a few things, many things even, and eager for them to pick up, but we‘re still happy. I think it‘s partially because Icelanders don‘t like complaining. It is simply not in our nature to complain, not out loud that is. We might mumble something with our chin to our chest, but it‘s a matter of pride not to moan. Because by doing so, we‘d be admitting that we‘re not in total control of our own situation, that we’re in need of someone‘s help, thus admitting that we‘re not entirely independent. Not free. And that‘s the core of the Icelandic psyche, to be independent. After all, it’s why the settlers came to Iceland; so that they wouldn’t be ruled by someone they didn’t like answering to, and wouldn’t have to pay taxes they thought were

unjust. Ever since, the state of being a free, independent man has been valued more than material wealth; the act of earning a living honestly for yourself and your family has had more importance than leading a more comfortable life based on someone else’s providing. Which is why the nation was so disgusted upon realising that the flashy, self-proclaimed elite had only been living off a false wealth, forcing the whole country to build its future on false wealth too. So we’re definitely not unhappy now, knowing that at least we’re not caught in that madness anymore. In fact we’re relieved. It’s a relief to know the facts, good or bad. To know what the situation is, even if it’s bleak at the moment, because it gives you a sense of control over your own destiny. And that’s one of the key elements in attaining happiness, ask any psychologist. One aspect of this is how easy Icelanders find it to pack up and move in order to get a better job, or a job at all. A British friend of mine often comments on this. I had never thought of it before, but Icelanders seldom hesitate to take the leap in order to chase a better life. No one just sticks to the same place, unemployed and out of money, simply because it’s where he or she has always lived.

We move across the country or abroad if it means we can provide for ourselves and our family. In that sense we’re very mobile, so I guess we chase happiness rather than allow ourselves to dwell in circumstances that make us unhappy. Which answers one aspect of the question why Icelanders score high on the happy barometer; it’s because those currently living in Iceland are there because they’re happy to be there – the others have left. But the single most important factor in Icelanders’ happiness is that we are great adapters. In a country where it’s almost dark for three months in winter, and then endless days during summer, it’s vital to adapt. Surely this nation has been on the brink of surrender during harsh winters in the past, what with the cold, the wet, the darkness and poor provisions. But we know it’s only temporary and, come June, Iceland is the most spectacular place on Earth, with green pastures and heaths, mystical rock formations, blue mountains, sparkling glaciers, glistering waterfalls and summer nights as bright as day. There’s nothing like it, and it makes the thought of winter fade. So we endure and adapt. And we don’t complain. We know it’s no use; winter comes and goes whether we moan about it or not, governments come and go, the economy goes up and down, and it would be insane letting all these outside factors rule our happiness. Happiness is something we have control over, a decision. We’ve decided that here is where we want to be, and that we want to be happy, so we’re happy. We’re not happy despite anything, we’re just happy to be.



Expert View: The World of Wealth & Well-Being


The myth of the’happy poor’

Anna Barford

Happiness and stress are central

Sen points out, happiness can be

levels over an extended

to human well-being. Some

deceptive because bearing adversity

period impede our immune

suppose the poor to be happy

cheerfully does not mean there is

systems. Extreme or

because they are less materialistic

no adversity. The size of prison

extended stress can alter

and more focused on friendship.

populations, life expectancy, and

the body’s ability to regulate

This argument is sometimes

health may be better indicators of

blood pressure, or lead to

extended to imply that poverty even

societal well-being.

insulin resistance, blood

makes people happy.

To respond to these competing

References to the ‘happy poor’

assertions about the comparative

cropped up frequently in discussion

happiness of poorer people, it is

Returning to the intersection

groups that I ran for my PhD

worth questioning whether the poor

between inequality and happiness,

research on international attitudes

actually are happier than other

the psychological and physical

clots, abdominal obesity, and suppressed immune function.

reveal ignorance of the needs and

segments of society. Analysing data

connection between child well-

aspirations of the rural poor.

for 2006-08, the Health Survey for

being and income inequality in rich

England shows that the poor, and

countries. More unequal countries,

“Happiness can be deceptive because bearing adversity cheerfully does not mean there is no adversity.”

particularly poor women, are at

such as the UK and USA, have

Amartya Sen

much greater risk of mental illness

lower levels of child well-being

than any other income group (see

than more equal countries. Norway,


Denmark, Finland and Sweden

health impacts are not evenly

to inequality. A school teacher

% income quintile at high risk of mental illness

in Mexico City commented on

distributed within countries, or

one of the country’s poorest

between countries. Wilkinson

districts, “In Chiapas, there

noted that “health is socially

are people who are happy with

patterned and dependent

$2 per day.” Trainee teachers

upon the social context rather

in Nairobi expressed a similar

than simply on individual

sentiment, one suggesting

happenstance”. Inequality

that $2 is too much in the

affects this social patterning. The Spirit Level presents the

countryside. These comments

A trainee teacher in the south of England also alluded to the ‘happy poor’: “I’ve never lived on one dollar a day, but some people might just be genuinely happy with that, they’ve got enough for them to stay

In The Impact of Inequality, Richard

healthy and, ok, maybe that’s very

Wilkinson explains the connections

extreme, but, you know, who are we

between material inequality,

to say ‘poor them’.” This statement

emotional well-being, and health.

warns against pitying poor people,

Economic inequality is associated

suggesting that health and genuine

with higher stress and lower well-

happiness alleviate the worst of

being. In particular, social status,

poverty. The ‘happy poor’ argument

friendship, and stress in early life

is appealing, as many richer

influence emotional well-being.

people dislike feeling guilty about

Within hierarchical societies, some

their relative wealth. Denying that

are valued more than others, and

inequality is problematic, based on

Wilkinson reminds us that people

happiness being important and the

“are highly sensitive to feeling

poor being happy, offers a pretext

looked down on, being devalued,

for not thinking more deeply about

and being treated as second-

the impacts of inequality.

rate”. In more unequal societies,

However, not all of the research

hierarchies are more entrenched,

participants agreed. A retired

with lower social mobility.

teacher in northern England

Emotional well-being is important

suggested that happiness is not the

in and of itself, and stress has

issue. In focusing on happiness,

negative health effects. Stressful

we could overlook other issues that

situations lead us to produce more

are arguably easier to measure

of the ‘fight or flight’ hormone

and more important. As Amartya

cortisol. Heightened cortisol

have particularly enviable levels of child well-being. The same pattern is seen with adult mental illness: more unequal countries have higher levels of mental illness. Happiness clearly does matter. However, the notion that the poor are happy needs to be challenged. If anything, evidence suggests that

Anna Barford recently completed her PhD at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Geography.

the poor are not particularly happy. In any case, suffering adversity happily does not mean there are not serious problems to be addressed. As such, the argument that the poor are happy, and that this reduces responsibility to distribute resources more equally, should be treated with scepticism.

The Spirit Level is our Reader Offer this quarter. See for more on this subject.

Expert View: Dammed Ice On the Map

Himalayan Glaciers and Climate Change Douglas I Benn, Reader in Geography and Geosciences, University of St Andrews, and Professor of Glaciology, University Centre in Svalbard, Norway

“In arid parts of the range, glaciers provide a vital source of water during the dry summer months.”

Shrinkage of glaciers and ice sheets can have many widereaching impacts, affecting water resources, and causing flood hazards and sea-level rise. Glaciers in accessible regions such as Scandinavia and the European Alps have been intensively studied for many years, and their response to climate change can be predicted with a high level of confidence. For more remote areas, however, there are still huge gaps in our knowledge. This is particularly true in the Himalaya, where only a handful of the glaciers have been studied in detail, and rates of change are still very uncertain. Now, thanks to rigorous, detailed work by field scientists and remote sensing experts, we are getting close to understanding what is happening to the glaciers in this vast and inhospitable range. Measuring the response of Himalayan glaciers to climate change is a huge task – there are thousands of glaciers, many are at very high altitudes, and they are often difficult and dangerous to access. With the development of new remote sensing techniques, however, changes in glacier volume can now be measured over large areas, and regional patterns are beginning to emerge. In the Mount Everest region of Nepal, glacier changes

have been determined by comparing satellite images, including declassified spy images from the 1960s. These show that the glaciers are thinning at a rate close to the global average, around 30cm per year. In the Karakoram Mountains of Pakistan, some glaciers remain close to their 19th century extents, thanks to heavy snowfalls counteracting the effects of warming. In other areas, some glaciers have already vanished and more are set to follow. So, yes, things are changing, but it is likely that glaciers will be clinging to the world’s highest peaks for a long time to come. But if Himalayan glaciers are unlikely to vanish, those who live around the mountains still have cause for concern. In arid parts of the range, glaciers provide a vital source of water during the dry summer months. Shrinking glaciers mean less water, threatening the viability of communities unless alternative sources of water can be found. In other parts of the Himalaya, the problem is not too little water but too much. Lakes have formed between retreating glacier fronts and walls of old moraine, and if the ice dam should fail, torrents of water can destroy everything in their path. There is evidence that glacier lake outburst floods are increasing in frequency, although predicting where and when they will occur is no easy task. For the last 15 years, I have been visiting the Himalaya, trying to understand the forces that drive glacier change so we can predict what they will do next. With a small team of dedicated PhD students and colleagues, I have

seen dramatic changes firsthand, both on the surface and deep within the ice. Our efforts have focused on Ngozumpa Glacier, about 20km west of Mount Everest. It proved to be a good choice. Back in the 1990s, a small lake was beginning to form near the terminus of the glacier; by 2009, it covered an area of 260,000m2, with a volume of over 2,000,000m3. Lake growth is the end product of a cascade of processes that begins far up-glacier, in the shadow of the mountains. Rock and ice avalanches litter the glacier, forming a layer of rubble that increases in thickness as the underlying ice melts away. By the time it reaches the terminus of the glacier 25km away, the rubble layer is over 2m thick, insulating the underlying ice and reducing melt almost to zero. If the climate warms, this rubble layer prevents the front from melting, as it would in a normal, clean glacier. Instead, the greatest amount of melting is many kilometres up-glacier, where the rubble is thinner. So instead of shrinking back, the glacier melts down, flattening the surface slope of the ice. This has two effects. First, the thinner, flatter ice slows down and eventually stops moving. Second, hollows on the glacier fill with water, forming a mosaic of lakes on the dying glacier surface. At the same time, tunnels are carved into the ice by meltwater, eating the glacier away from the inside. Together, these processes can turn a living glacier tongue into a wasteland of water and rotten ice, ripe for turning into a large, unstable lake. In the Himalaya, shrinking glaciers will likely have local, not global effects. But for communities beside glacier-fed rivers, those effects can be devastating. With sufficient warning, and the traditional adaptability of mountain people, the worst of those effects can still be avoided.



Expert View: Speed Dating Rocks


Summer 2011

Cosmogenic nuclides and surface exposure dating Dr Derek Fabel, Lecturer, School of Geographical & Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow There is a widely held public perception that future global warming will cause the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets to melt. The idea is both plausible and frightening to the public (these two ice sheets hold sufficient water to raise global sea level by about 12m). But in reality, surface melting plays only a minimal role in the ice balance, and neither of the major ‘loss’ terms in the ice budget (iceberg calving, and melting beneath floating ice shelves) directly changes sea level. The key consideration is how future climatic conditions influence the ice currently grounded on the land and continental shelves, and being able to predict the future rates of change of large ice masses. The way to address this issue is to examine how past climate change has influenced large ice masses. Computer models of ice sheets, capable of making predictions, exist and are being refined, but they have yet to be adequately tested against data on the pattern and timing of a shrinking ice sheet. The necessary data cannot be obtained from active ice sheets. However, reconstructing the demise of an ice sheet that has disappeared, such as the British and Irish Ice Sheet (BIIS) that once covered much of the British Isles (see Fig 1), provides the data that will be critical in developing and testing the next generation of ice sheet models. When ice sheets melt and shrink, they leave behind distinct glacial landforms such as glacial erratics, moraines, meltwater channels and drumlins. By mapping the distribution of these landforms, it has been possible to begin to establish the pattern of retreat of

the BIIS (see Fig 2). To determine the timing of this retreat, we need to know when the landforms were actually left behind, and this poses a challenge that is being addressed in part by surface exposure dating. The Earth is continually being bombarded by galactic cosmic rays produced from the explosion of stars (super novae) within our galaxy. Nuclear interactions between these high-energy particles and rocks exposed at Earth’s surface create in-situ produced terrestrial cosmogenic nuclides. For example, beryllium-10 (10Be) is produced in quartz (SiO2) when high-energy cosmic ray particles collide and fragment oxygen-16 (16O) atoms. The production rates of these cosmogenic nuclides are almost unimaginably small – a few atoms per gram of rock per year. However, using intricate and timeconsuming sample preparation and accelerator mass spectrometry, we can detect and count cosmogenic nuclides in rocks. By measuring the concentration of cosmogenic nuclides, and knowing the rate at which they accumulate, we can determine how long a rock has been exposed to cosmic rays, ie the surface exposure age. Surface exposure dating is providing landform ages that were previously unattainable. For example, the ‘Parallel Roads’ of Glen Roy are the shorelines of former lakes created when the last glaciers to occupy the area dammed the valley. The shorelines were cut into the valley-sides by erosion that removed several meters of bedrock and exposed ‘fresh’ rock surfaces. The 10Be concentration in these surfaces yields a mean formation age of 11,500-11,900 years ago, confirming the ‘Parallel Roads’ were formed during an intense but short-lived period of climate cooling and glacial advance

Fig 1: Reconstruction of the BIIS at 27,000 years before present. Clark, C D, et al, Pattern and timing of retreat of the last British-Irish Ice Sheet, Quaternary Science Reviews (2010), doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2010.07.019

Fig 2: Reconstruction of the pattern of retreat of the BIIS, based on the disposition of glacial landforms. Solid black lines record palaeo-margins with evidence; dotted lines are interpolations between them.

View of middle Glen Roy, with the three prominent shorelines marking the levels of former ice dammed lakes.

known as the Loch Lomond Stadial, which lasted from 12,900-11,500 years ago. Surface exposure dating using in-situ produced terrestrial cosmogenic nuclides is a powerful tool for understanding both the history of the surface of the earth and rates of geomorphic and geological processes. It is a truly multidisciplinary technique, involving nuclear physics, engineering, chemistry, computing, and geomorphology. Surface exposure dating has played a significant role in re-invigorating the study of landscape evolution, from its past status as a qualitative discipline that had fallen into disfavour, to its current position of intense interest in the geosciences.

“The Earth is continually being bombarded by galactic cosmic rays produced from the explosion of stars (super novae).” © NASA/CXC/SAO


The World at Your Feet! Our playgroup map project appeal has so far raised more than £10,000 in individual donations and Gift Aid, to add to the small grants awarded by the People’s Postcode Lottery and other charitable trusts. We have now received the steel stencil, and have launched the first part of the project by painting a large world map on Perth Academy’s playground. We look forward to running the pilot project over the next two years, working with a few schools in different settings to develop, trial and assess various teaching resources and exercises, before rolling out the project to as many Scottish schools as possible. A big thank you to everyone who has donated so far; if you would still like to help, please visit or contact us at HQ.

RSGS Bartholomew Essay Competition Jim Stewart, RSGS Ayr Centre

In March, at the final talk of the season in Glasgow, Jim Carson OBE, former essay competition organiser, presented prizes to pupils from the winning primary and secondary schools for the 2010 competition. Sheena Barclay, Managing Director of Collins Cartographic, who generously provided the prizes, was very impressed by the standard of work, and by the range of topics chosen, from studies of individual countries or islands, to reports on global warming and developments in the rainforests.

Jim Carson and Sheena Barclay with the winning pupils, from left to right, Emma Hamilton, Samantha McMurray, Jon Pollock, Beth Coghlan, Lynsay Platt, Rhiannon Young. All pupils now attend Uddingston Grammar, although the first three were at Bothwell last year.

REF 2014 sub-panels announced We are delighted to announce that the new Scottish representatives on the REF 2014 Geography Subpanel are Professor Charles Withers from the University of Edinburgh, Professor Kevin Edwards from the University of Aberdeen, and Professor Chris Philo from the University of Glasgow.

The winning schools were Bothwell Primary School and Uddingston Grammar School, both in South Lanarkshire. The best three pupils in each school were given individual atlases and books, while both schools won class sets of atlases. Details of the 2011 competition are available on the RSGS and SAGT websites.

Stirling Schools Evening In March, RSGS Stirling Centre held an innovative and successful evening event for local secondary schools. Advised that the two most popular subjects in the Higher Geography syllabus were Rural Land Resources and Development & Health, the Centre Committee booked two speakers – a representative of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, and a doctor who had worked in Sierra Leone. Each spoke for about 40 minutes, then answered questions. No charge was made to the schools, and the costs of publicity, venue hire and light refreshments were covered by a small surplus from RSGS Stirling Centre’s regular Travellers Talks.

RSGS Expedition Grants Five Expedition Grants have been awarded: Studies of avian, reptile and amphibian diversity in Ecuador (University of Glasgow); Ecological survey program of the Barba Azul

The speaker on Development & Health, Dr Gail Haddock (centre), spent two years working with Voluntary Service Overseas at a remote hospital in Sierra Leone. Under the pen name Emily Joy, she wrote Green Oranges on Lion Mountain, proceeds of which go to two hospitals there.

Reserve, Bolivia (University of Glasgow); Carry out biodiversity inventories to assess the value for conservation of regenerating compared to primary tropical rainforest in the Manu Biosphere Reserve, Peru (University of Glasgow); Examining the nature

of environmental challenges in African cities brought about by rapid rates of urbanisation in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (University of Glasgow); A multidisciplinary research expedition to Kobokara, Madagascar (University of Edinburgh).


Geographer Cosmogenic analyses Dr Matteo Spagnolo, lecturer in physical geography, is the recipient of a NERC-CIAF grant that provides funding for 18 cosmogenic analyses. The project, entitled The effect of climate variability across the Alps on the age, number and size of glacier advances associated with the Younger Dryas, will investigate a series of Younger Dryas moraines in the Western Alps and integrate the results with other dated deposits on a west-east transect across the mountain chain. The project is closely linked to a Carnegie Trust funded project on Reconstructing the Younger Dryas Equilibrium Line Altitude in the Maritime Alps, covering logistic and field expenses.

rich source of plant and birdlife. This new mapping will allow the Government Foresters and local NGOs to plan the conservation and management of the savanna ecosystem much more carefully than has previously been possible.” See for more information, and for free educational resources for school or college use.

Dr Cameron consulted with local partners in Belize about the requirements for the satellite mapping.

University of Edinburgh Prime Meridian Professor Charles W J Withers FRSGS has been awarded a prestigious Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship, for two years beginning in autumn 2011, for a study entitled 0 degrees: The Historical Geography of the Prime Meridian. The research programme will examine why 0 degrees was chosen at Greenwich in 1884, the many precursor Prime Meridians before 1884, and the means by which national differences came together to achieve (near) international scientific consensus. Geographical instrumentation Professor Withers and Dr Fraser MacDonald have been awarded funding from the British Academy for a series of inter-disciplinary workshops on Geography, Technology and Instruments of Exploration, c1780-1960. The workshops, to be held in Edinburgh and in London between December 2011 and October 2012, will bring together geographers, instrument curators, historians of science, historians of technology and others, to advance new work on the importance of instruments and instrumentation in geographical exploration and in the history of geography. Mapping savannas in Belize As part of a three-year Darwin Initiative funded project, Dr Iain Cameron has now re-mapped areas of savanna throughout Belize from a mosaic of newly collected SPOT and ALOS satellite data. Project leader Dr Neil Stuart explained, “Whilst most people consider savanna to be a grass dominated ecosystem, tropical savannas often include woodlands which are a

Nick Clarke and Alice Malpass, analyses various ethical consumption practices from a political perspective. It tries to understand them as forms of political mobilization, campaigning, and lobbying – not in the sense of evaluating them from a preestablished position of what counts as politics or what makes politics more or less progressive – but in terms of trying to understand how these sorts of activities are indicative of changes in the way politics gets done now. This analysis is based on case studies undertaken in and around Bristol in the mid-2000s, especially focusing on fair trade campaigns of different sorts, and tries to make sense of the local dynamics of global solidarity politics. Theoretically, the book works through various approaches to understanding this sort of activity.

University of St Andrews Lowland savanna in the tropics is a mosaic of grass, woodland and wetland patches, making detailed mapping particularly challenging.

The Open University in Scotland Towns – a new OU/BBC series Due for broadcast in autumn 2011, this new series presented by Nick Crane aims to put towns back on the map, considering them as among the potentially most important sustainable communities of the 21st century. The towns featuring in the first series – Perth, Scarborough, Totnes and Ludlow – have rich and contrasting histories and geographies, with many diverse stories to be told. Using stunning visuals, maps, aerial footage and interviews with local residents, Towns seeks to uncover some of the rich and often neglected aspects of town life, considering some key questions such as “What makes towns work or fail?”, “Who are towns for?”, “In what ways are towns part of wider networks?”. The series will be supported by the OU’s free-to-access learning resource, OpenLearn, with specially written materials, photographs and images, maps and a rich array of additional learning resources.

Globalizing Responsibility: The political rationalities of ethical consumption This book, co-written by Clive Barnett (Reader in Human Geography) with Paul Cloke,

Svalbard Rocks Last summer, Doug Benn spent a month in the remote mountains of north-east Svalbard, investigating ancient glacial rocks as part of the NERC-funded GAINS project (Glacial Activity in Neoproterozoic Svalbard), led by Ian Fairchild (University of Birmingham). The expedition discovered exciting new evidence for climate change and glacier advance-retreat cycles in this remote period of Earth history. 2010 also saw the launch of SVALI (Stability and Variations of Arctic Land Ice), a pan-Scandinavian project that aims to develop new models of ice-sheet climate interactions. Doug is PI of the ‘Calving’ work package, which focuses on implementing new methods of modelling the dynamics of calving glaciers, to improve our ability to predict dynamic icesheet response to climate change, currently not included in IPCC projections.

Dr Carl Stevenson (University of Birmingham), with Late Precambrian strata in the background. Rocks at this locality provide an exceptionally clear window into the period of extreme glaciation popularly known as ‘Snowball Earth’.

University News

University of Aberdeen


Summer 2011

The RSGS’s academic journal is available from Taylor & Francis in hard copy or on-line at www. RSGJ and is free to all members.

Making Connections

Harvest Time in the Wakhan Corridor If you look at a map of Afghanistan, you’ll see in the very far east of the country a thin finger of land that just touches the Chinese border and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. This geopolitical anomaly is the Wakhan Corridor, which was created by the British in 1893 as a buffer between their interests in India and the Russian empire. The northern border is formed by the Amu Darya or Mother River, previously known as the river Oxus, which was named by the Greeks in the days before Alexander the Great. The southern border threads its

way through the peaks and passes of the Hindu Kush Mountains, following the arbitrary line drawn by Henry Mortimer Durrand which bears his name. The Wakhi people live in the valley floor as subsistence farmers. Their villages are predominantly located on the alluvial fans of the glacial streams flowing north from the Hindu Kush into the river Oxus. It is a tough existence, with food insecurity, landslides, flooding and the highest recorded maternal mortality rate in the world just some of the realities of life. However, one blessing is that the area has remained entirely peaceful due to its remote mountainous terrain. The Wakhi have to grow all their year’s food in the short summer, in order to survive the long cold winters which last from late September through to May. Due to

David James, Mountain Unity, Kabul the absence of trees, animal dung that might otherwise be used as fertilizer is burnt for fuel, and top soil is regularly washed away. To try and counter these problems, the Wakhi plant peas and wheat together as the peas add nitrates to the poor soil. In early September, the Wakhi work hard using basic techniques to get the harvest in before the onset of the snow. The peas and wheat are cut together using sickles. Threshing is done by teams of donkeys, and winnowing done with wooden pitch forks. It is backbreaking work but, with no means to generate income, a poor harvest could spell disaster for entire villages. See to learn more about the Wakhan and sustainable economic development initiatives.

What Geography Means To Me

An insight into the life of a working geographer


peregrine falcon flies in to a quarry face, carrying prey to its nest. I sit on the cliff nearby, satisfied that this pair will rear young successfully. This is a good outcome to a case that looked bleak. A quarry operator intended to blast beneath the nest all year, potentially disturbing the birds. But negotiations and guidance by RSPB and statutory bodies, backed by planning law, led to a satisfactory solution – a new working pattern, with the birds still inhabiting the quarry.

How does a working geographer fit into this? I cover Aberdeen to the Cairngorms for RSPB Scotland. I was faced with a classic ‘bird issue’ – but really it was a ‘land-use issue’, and Ian Francis often nature conservation is North East Scotland more about people than about Area Manager, animal ecology. My job is to RSPB Scotland

defend important birds, wildlife and their habitats against inappropriate development. This involves field skills and bird knowledge, but also knowledge of planning, law and economic forces, set against the physical background of the land. Hydrology, soils, topography, agriculture, forestry – all play a vital role in understanding and mitigating the excesses of human development. Wildlife lives in this complex landscape, and nature conservation must work with these forces. Studying geography is excellent background for dealing with nature conservation issues. You certainly need biological skills to do my work, but also a wide ranging knowledge of land and its management. My interest in birds comes from childhood, but my professional training is strongly geographical. My geography degree at Sheffield University was strong in biogeography, and my PhD at Aberystwyth examined peat

bog hydrology and the impacts of massive upland conifer afforestation. There, I learned how land use changes occur, and how complex and often dubious forces influence these. I realised how wildlife sits precariously in a human-dominated world, and became determined to work for its conservation. My career then took me to work in Africa, helping to conserve tropical rainforest birds, where again, tackling land use change was crucial. Geography covers many of the problems that need to be solved in the world. As pressures on the environment grow, we need people with that training. You have to get your hands dirty, and be interdisciplinary, but that mix of knowledge of wildlife and the physical and human background, and yes, even a bit of hanging, roped on, over a cliff, gives a unique perspective on nature conservation and many wider environmental issues.



Off The Beaten Track


Summer 2011

Climbing in Afghanistan Alan Halewood It began with the map. Twentyone years ago I was 19 and raking through a box of secondhand maps in a cardboard box in a Glasgow climbing shop. The writing on it was in Japanese, and mountains were triangles joined by straight lines for ridges. Most were white but a handful were shaded in black. The latitude and longitude were in English, and back at home a check of the atlas revealed that I was looking at a map of the Wakhan Corridor. This was a product of the ‘Great Game’, a strange geo-political quirk in Afghanistan. As I gazed at my map in 1990, the Soviets had only recently pulled out, but this was very much a country still at war and not an ideal location for my next expedition... but I didn’t forget. Fast forward to 2007, and a friend stationed in Pakistan with the Foreign Office was telling me about the Kyrgyz living in the isolated valleys of the Little Pamir, and how the time might be approaching when a mountaineering trip might be feasible.

Eventually in 2010, and with a different climbing partner (the diplomat hurt his back skiing), I was rattling round in the back of a battered four-wheel drive with our 18 year-old interpreter Hayat Khan, on his school holidays. The journey from Ishkashim (the last major town where we purchased supplies, met Hayat, and took tea with the police) to the end of the road at Sarhad took two days. We were accompanied for the first part of our journey by two BBC Scotland journalists, and we spent a good deal of that time watching our drivers rescuing each other’s vehicles from rivers and mud slides. At Sarhad we stayed with Qachi Beg. This guesthouse owner

personified the hospitality we were to meet over the next three weeks. The Ismaili Wakhi and the Sunni Kyrgyz alike treated us as nothing less than honoured guests. Whether we were paying for accommodation or not, we were met with courtesy and kindness in their yurts and houses. There was tea (endless brews of salty cher choi heated on burning yak dung) and naan bread in profusion, and advice and assistance was offered to help us on our journey. We trekked for six days to Kasch Goz, with Hayat and three local horsemen, crossing three major passes up to 4,885m. Our trip coincided with the flooding in Pakistan caused by torrential rains, leading to our horses being unable to carry loads in knee-deep mud, so we became the beasts of burden leading them unladen. We were also forced to shelter from the rains for a day, sharing a yurt with Nasim Morning, a sheep trader from Kabul. He was travelling with a wonderful collection of cutthroats and their yaks. These were laden with batteries, torches, solar panels, satellite dishes and DVD players for the Kyrgyz of the Little Pamir. The passes, normally snowfree, were also hard going, with deep fresh drifts. We arrived at the main Kyrgyz settlement, Kasch Goz, during a buzkashi match. Picture a sort of rugby played on horseback, with no teams and a headless goat’s carcass instead of a ball. We thought we were safely off the ‘pitch’, on a steep bank beside the flat plateau where the scrum of whipping, pushing, grabbing riders competed for the goat with their reins in their teeth. However we were rudely disabused of this notion when two dozen horses stampeded through the spectators, heedless of who was trampled in the quest for the ‘ball’. A change of horsemen was needed here to proceed into Kyrgyz territory, and two days later we left them behind to disappear for a few days into the Pamir i Wakhan range, which we believe to have been previously unexplored by westerners. After experiencing

some extremely loose rock (a sort of Cuillin Ridge made of cornflakes) and avalanche-prone snow, we returned, having made the first ascent of Koh e Iskander (5,561m). The journey home was made in better weather, with a small detour to climb the 5,327m Koh e Khar, Peak of the Donkey, named for its twin tower summit reminiscent of the ears of the beasts now carrying some of our baggage. Back in Sarhad, the adventure began a new chapter as we discovered that the road was washed out and our vehicles 50 miles away. We learnt to ride in a hurry as we had a plane to catch in Dushanbe! Travel in this area was possible with no danger of interference from insurgents or armed criminals in 2010 when over 70 western trekkers/mountaineers visited. Before arranging a future trip, it is important that you check with people on the ground in the local area as to the current situation. See for details.

“The passes, normally snow-free, were also hard going, with deep fresh drifts.”

Book Club

Dr Nick Baylis This is the ultimate ‘how to be happy’ handbook, offering a practical and effective range of happiness-building techniques, with advice on how to improve your work/life balance, increase self-esteem, nourish your mind and body, and nurture relationships with the ones you love. Dr Nick Baylis is a practicing therapist and former ‘Dr Feelgood’ for The Times Saturday Magazine, who has worked with everyone from young offenders to stressed airline pilots. In this book, he draws on the best ideas from every field, from hypnosis and energy therapy to positive psychology and Buddhism, providing a wealth of inspiring insights on how to relieve stress and achieve lasting contentment.

Ribbon of Wildness Peter Wright The Watershed of Scotland is a line that separates east from west, dividing those river basin areas which drain towards the North Sea from those which flow into the Atlantic Ocean. It meanders from Peel Fell on the

The Rime of the Modern Mariner Nick Hayes In this recasting of Coleridge’s famous poem, the fantastical voyage is now one of environmental disaster. Having set off to acquire a trivial material item, the mariner is becalmed in the North Pacific Gyre – a vast, hypoxic maelstrom of plastic waste – where he comes face to face with the consequences of man’s excessive consumption, in the form of wrathful gods, petroleum slicks and tsunamis, ghostly apparitions, and the great endangered creatures of the deep. Like his ancient antecedent, he too undergoes a dramatic epiphany, before wandering the world telling his story to others. This is a sumptuously crafted book – it looks and feels beautiful, the poetry is full of poignant alliteration, and the drawings exude character and humour. The painstaking effort involved in putting the verse and drawings together is evident in the final quality, and it seems a very fitting modern take on Coleridge’s classic. English border to Duncansby Head near John O`Groats. Over 745 miles, through almost every kind of terrain, the Watershed follows the high ground, offering wide vistas down almost every major river valley, into the heartlands of Scotland. Ribbon of Wildness gives a vivid

introduction to this hitherto largely unknown geographic feature, as the author discovers and walks the route, through landscapes of rock, bog, forest, moor and mountain, describing the evolving kaleidoscope of changing vistas, wide panoramas, ever present wildlife, and the vagaries of the weather.

The Spirit Level

Here Be Dragons

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

Dennis McCarthy

Why do we mistrust people more in the UK than in Japan? Why does America have higher rates of teenage pregnancy than France? What makes the Swedish thinner than the Greeks? The answer: inequality.

Why do we find polar bears only in the Arctic and penguins only in the Antarctic? Why are marsupials found only in Australia and South America? This book tells the fascinating story of biogeography, bringing together two great theories of life and Earth – evolution and plate tectonics. This is the story of how life has responded to, and has in turn altered, the everchanging Earth.

Based on years of research, this groundbreaking book shows how almost everything – from life expectancy to depression levels, violence to illiteracy – is affected by how equal, not by how wealthy, a society is; and that societies with a bigger gap between rich and poor are bad for everyone in them. It offers positive solutions to help us move towards a happier, fairer future, and has been heralded as providing a new way of thinking about ourselves and our communities.

We find animals and plants where we do because, over time, the continents have moved, separating and uniting in a long, slow dance; because sea levels have risen, cutting off one bit of land from another; because new and barren volcanic islands have risen up from the sea; and because animals and plants vary greatly in their ability to travel, and separation causes the formation of new species.

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Readers of The Geographer can purchase The Spirit Level for £7.99 (RRP £9.99), with free p&p. Order by calling the Penguin Bookshop on 0843 060 0021, quoting “Royal Scottish Geographical Society” and “ISBN 9780141032368”. Offer is subject to availability, and open to UK residents only. Please allow up to 14 days for delivery.

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The Rough Guide to Happiness

The Geographer: Happiness (Summer 2011)  

Sunshine States: The Geography of Happiness and Well-Being

The Geographer: Happiness (Summer 2011)  

Sunshine States: The Geography of Happiness and Well-Being