1. The UK's Future

 

Our environments and demographics are constantly changing. That is what makes Geography so current. Today, the UK's population is around 66.6 million, but it is projected to increase to an estimated 69.2 million in mid-2026. England is projected to grow more quickly than the other UK nations, with an increase by 5.9% between mid-2016 and mid-2026, compared to 4.2% for Northern Ireland, 3.2% for Scotland and 3.1% for Wales. Over the next 10 years, 46% of UK population growth is projected to result from more births than deaths (natural increase), with 54% resulting from net international migration. Looking further into the future, the UK population is projected to pass 70 million by mid-2029 and reach 77.1 million by 2050.

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that the UK's population is ageing. In 2016, there were 11.8 million people aged 65 and over in the UK, accounting for 18% of the population. By 2066, projections estimated that there will be 20.3 million people aged 65 and over in the UK, accounting for 26% of the population. This ageing population is driven by two factors. Firstly, improvements in life expectancy mean that people are living healthier and longer lives. The current life expectancy in the UK is 81 years. Secondly, a reduction in the fertility means that people are having less children and are having children later on in life. An ageing population brings both opportunities and challenges for the economy, services and society.

In 2019, the UK was the world's fifth largest economy with a GDP of $2.8 trillion US dollars. By 2050, the UK is expected to be the world's tenth largest economy with a GDP of $5.4 trillion US dollars. These are just predictions based on current economic growth and projections of development in these countries, so they should not be taken as fact, but we should consider what this information suggests about our future place in the world, especially post-Brexit.

The UK left the European Union in January 2020 and started a new relationship with the EU at the start of 2021. The result of this is that we have left a large trading bloc where all of our standards and regulations are the same. We will no longer have to pay for membership (currently $15.5 billion per year); however we no longer have access to free trade across the EU. The end of free movement of people between the EU and UK means that UK citizens no longer have the automatic right to work and live in any of the other EU nations. The EU also funds many infrastructure projects and gives farming subsidies to farmers, these will now need to be funded by the UK government (depending on their policies). Those who support leaving the EU argue that it will allow us to make trade deals with other countries outside of the EU which we cannot make as member.

Other changes to UK politics may be the rise in green policies as climate change starts to impact people through more frequent incidences of extreme weather such as heatwaves, drought and storms. In 2019, before Theresa May left office as Prime Minister, the Climate Change Act 2008 was amended so that the UK will end its contribution to climate change by 2050.

2. Urban change in Manchester

 

Manchester is the fastest growing city outside of London in the UK. A visit to the city centre reveals huge levels of construction with cranes covering the skyline and huge tower blocks being built all over the city. To understand Manchester today and in the future it’s important to remember what it was like in the past, pre industrial revolution, during the industrial revolution and through its post-industrial revolution decline and subsequent regeneration.

 

The industrial revolution changed Manchester from a small market town to one of the richest most rapidly growing cities in the UK thanks to the cotton industry. Manchester’s population boomed from around 70000 in 1801 to a peak of 766000 in 1931. After the decline of Manchester’s cotton industry caused through globalisation, the city went into decline and by 2001 its population had shrunk to 393000.

 

By the latter part of the 20th Century, housing that had been built to replace slums in areas such as Hulme had become dilapidated and unfit for use so many areas were demolished again to be replaced by a second wave of regeneration.

 

In 1996, an IRA bomb destroyed large parts of Manchester’s CBD, though fortunately nobody was killed. It acted as a catalyst to plans to regenerate the city. Many of the old 1960s and 1970s structures built in the city centre were demolished and the city centre underwent a period of regeneration. Old parts of the Arndale including an indoor bus station and bomb damaged areas were replaced and modernised. Streets were covered over to create new indoor malls.

 

The Metrolink opened initially in 1992 along 1 route through the city centre linking Bury and Altrincham. Today the network has 6 lines covering 62 miles and 93 stops across Greater Manchester. A link to the Trafford Centre will open between 2020 and 2021,

 

In 2006 the Beetham Tower was completed – the 2nd tallest residential building in the country at the time of building. It began a transformation of the city’s skyline. Today it is dwarfed by ever taller skyscrapers such as those nearing completion at Deansgate Square.

 

Former abandoned mills and factories have either been converted into shops or flats across the city or have been demolished to make way for new buildings. In Salford, the old abandoned docks have been redeveloped over the past 20 years and now incorporated Media City where the BBC and ITV make and broadcast tv programmes and films from. Many people have moved from London to work in Manchester as a result.

 

Whereas Manchester’s population once worked mainly in primary and secondary manufacturing industry, today it is the tertiary and quaternary sectors which dominate employment. Typical industries growing in the region include digital technologies, financial and legal services, education and research, entertainment and sports, tourism, media and property.

 

In Manchester’s city centre there was only a few hundred people actually living in the centre of town around 20 years ago. Today this has grown to over 30,000 and is set to continue increasing, however the properties being built are mainly flats aimed at young professionals and not families. Urbanisation brings several opportunities, especially jobs but it also creates many challenges such as air pollution from industry and traffic congestion which contributes to climate change and it increases hazard risk, the liklihood of people and property being affecting by earthquakes, volcanoes and wildfires. Furthermore, urbanisation creates the challenge of waste management. Rising standards of living have created a 'throw away culture' and much waste enters our oceans via rivers. 

3. Challenges of climate change

 

The major cause of climate change is the increase on greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These began to increase with the industrial revolution and have continued growing at greater rates ever since. The major cause of the increase in greenhouse gases is the burning of fossil fuels releasing CO2 into the atmosphere.

 

Scientists have projected how much the Earth’s climate can be expected to warm depending on international policies on the continued burning of fossil fuels. Our focus is on environmental changes. Melting is a significant environmental impact of climate change. Arctic sea ice has been decreasing since the 1970s, the ice sheets of  Greenland and Antarctica are melting at an increasing rate (particularly Greenland). Since 1900 global sea level has increased by 20 cms.

Sea level rises are caused not only by ice melting but by warmer ocean waters expanding as they warm.

 

Across the world, mountain (alpine) glaciers are melting and vanishing. Some mountain ranges may soon be ice free in the summer. It is thought that the loss of mountain glaciers could have an impact on the availability of fresh water.

 

Climate change is likely to cause an increase in extreme weather events such as increased drought, extreme precipitation, storms (hurricanes), coastal flooding and heat waves. This is likely to affect LICs more significantly than HICs. Bangladesh is a country particularly at risk. Impacts could include less freshwater in its rivers if the glaciers that feed them in the Himalayas shrink in size; rough seas could reduce fishing and salt water in rivers could kill fish; rising sea levels could displace 2050 people, many being forced to move away from the sea; tropical storms may become more severe; crops could fail due to the reduced availability of freshwater, sea level increase and riverbank erosion.

4. Environmental challenges - wildfires

 

Wildfires are uncontrollable fires that burn in the wildland vegetation, mostly in rural areas. Wildfires are not limited to a particular continent, they occur around the world, in forests, grasslands, savannas, and other ecosystems, and are not a new phenomenon. Although climate change could increase the risk of wildfires, the majority of wildfire are started by human activity. National Geographic suggest 4 out of every 5 wildfires are caused by humans.

In the last few years wildfires have had huge impacts around the word including California in the USA, Portugal in Europe and the Amazon Rainforest. They often occur during heatwaves or after a long dry spell when vegetation is particularly dry. Three things are needed for wildfires to start: fuel, oxygen and a heat source. Wildfires can start naturally from a lightning strike or can be caused by a human-made spark. Wildfires can be fuelled by wind, high temperatures, little rainfall and dry leaves and grass.

Recently, some of the worst outbreaks of wildfires have occurred across large areas of south east Australia, including some of its most populated areas. They are known as “bushfires” in Australia as the areas of vegetation burning is typically scrub or bushland rather than large trees (though forests are also affected). Bushfire seasons have been well known but have become been longer in duration due to extremely hot and dry conditions in Australia over recent months and years.

Wildfires have both physical and human impacts. Wildfires that devastate large areas have the potential to create their own localised weather systems. Hot air at the surface creates the atmospheric instability. The hot air generated by the fire will rise and any moisture in the air will cool and condense into small water droplets that attach to ash particles within the smoke allowing clouds to form. Clouds created in this way are called pyrocumulonimbus clouds, which means 'fire storm cloud'. Although they can bring rain which could help to extinguish the fire, they can also generate stronger winds that can spread the fire as well as dry lightning which can start more fires. The fires cause air pollution.

The impacts of the fires can have consequences further away from the source of the fire. During the Australian bushfires in 2020, plumes of smoke travelled across the Tasman Sea towards New Zealand. The ash fell to the ground there and landed in all areas including on its mountain glaciers. The darker colour of the ash on the ice impacts the Albedo effect meaning that the glaciers absorb more heat accelerating the pace at which they are melting.

In 2020 wildfires spread across California and Oregon. In September, over 500,000 people were under fire evacuation orders in Oregon - that was 10% of the area's population. This can be stressful as fires spread quickly and residents may not have time to pack their valuable and ensure pets are safe. The 2020 fire season across western America resulted in the deaths of 46 people. In California, 4,200 structures were burnt. The air pollution can result in respiratory problems, especially for people with asthma. It is estimated that between 1,200 and 3,000 deaths can be linked to adverse effects of smoke inhalation.

 

Fighting wildfires is a very dangerous job as the conditions can change very quickly and fire behaves in an unpredictable way. In western America, firefighters that are specially trained to extinguish wildfires are called 'hotshots'. In 2013, 19 out of 20 of the Granite Mountain Hotshots had to deploy their fire shelters but subsequently died in the Yarnell Hill Fire, Arizona. 

5. Environmental challenges - plastic

 

Plastic pollution has become one of the most prevalent contemporary environmental issues. Most of today's plastics are man-made and derived from crude oil and natural gas. Making plastic from fossil fuels is cheaper than the plastic made from plants. First, the fossil fuels are extracted and then sent to refineries where they are converted into ethylene or propylene. Then, materials are added so that the ethylene and propylene become resins. Resins are easily moulded into different shapes, especially under heat and pressure. Rising living standards have caused a significant increase in demand for all sorts of consumer goods, many consisting of plastic. This has caused a huge increase in waste. There are three approaches to waste management: burying it in the ground, burning it or recycling it. 

 

Plastic containers and packaging are no stranger to landfill sites. The majority of plastic is buried at landfill sites. As the rubbish breaks down it produces landfill gas made up of methane and carbon dioxide which contributes to the greenhouse effect. Plastic takes a long time to break down and produces smaller particles called microplastics. Microplastics never completely break down and remain in the environment. According to the WWF, it takes 20 years for a plastic bag to decompose, this extends to 200 years for a plastic straw and up to 450 years for a plastic bottle. 

 

Plastic waste is not just an issue on land, it travels to our oceans via rivers. Packaging, consumer products and fishing nets are just some of the plastic products found in our oceans. Around 8 million tonnes of plastic are added to the world's oceans every day with plastic accounting for 90% of the litter floating on surface of the oceans.

 

The world's oceans have currents in them caused by warm and cold water flowing around the world between the Equator and the poles. These currents converge and form circular movements known as gyres. Ocean currents carry light plastics into gyres where they become trapped and stuck in large areas of drifting plastic waste. The North Pacific gyre is just one of five main gyres which contain large quantities of plastic - it is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Eastern Garbage Patch is larger than the UK. This floating plastic can be mistaken for food and contributes to the deaths of millions of animals and birds every year as it prevents them from digesting proper foods leading to starvation. Whales might mistake a floating plastic bag for squid. Turtles are among those species that can become entangled in fishing nets or lines causing them to drown. The UN Environment Programme estimates that the impact of plastic pollution on marine life costs the global economy about $13 billion every year. 

 

The most obvious solutions are to produce less plastic waste and clean up existing waste. Across the world, organisations are reducing their plastic use. For example, many restaurants such as McDonalds and TGI Fridays now use paper straws instead of plastic. ASDA have recently opened its first Sustainability Store in Leeds which aims to save one million pieces of plastic per year. Furthermore, to reduce the consumption of single use carrier bags, the UK government introduced a new law in 2015 so that large retailers had to charge a minimum of 5p per single use carrier. 

 

The Great Ocean Clean Up is a project attempting to remove plastics from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Floating barriers or booms are used to collect plastic, return it to land and then recycle or reuse it where possible.