CLEARING THE AIR HAS BEEN SHORTLISTED FOR:

Welcome to my portfolio website: a highlights reel from my features journalism archive. I write about environmental and social issues.  

My first book, Clearing the Air: the beginning and the end of air pollution, published by Bloomsbury's Sigma Science, is out now. It was shortlisted for Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize in August, 2019.

Check out the tabs (top left) to browse by subject - and get in touch via my contact page. My publications include: The Financial Times, BBC, The Guardian, The Observer, The Sunday Times, New Scientist.


Could wooden buildings be a solution to climate change?

I’m standing in a seemingly ordinary construction site of an unremarkable office block in east London. The seven-storey building is about two-thirds complete – the basic structure and staircases are in place, with plastering and wiring just beginning. But as I walk around, something different slowly reveals itself. The construction site is quiet and clean – it even smells good. And there’s an awful lot of wood...

Why are people thirsty for 'raw water'?

“Anybody here drink water, but wish you could pay more for it?” In January 2018, the “raw water” movement was doing the rounds on the US TV comedy circuit, and it was Stephen Colbert’s turn on The Late Show. “Well, good news,” continued Colbert, “because the next big start-up craze in Silicon Valley is ‘raw water’… water that’s unfiltered, untreated and unsterilised. Wow, drinking that sounds unsane!”

Deadly air in our cities: the invisible killer

"In the winter you can taste and smell the pollution,” says Kylie ap Garth, drinking coffee in a cafe in Hackney, east London. “My eldest is eight and he has asthma. Being outside, he would have a tight chest and cough. I just assumed it was the cold weather. I didn’t realise there was a link to the cars.” She is not exaggerating. The main road from Bethnal Green tube station is clogged with traffic, the smell of diesel fumes mixing with smoke from barbecue grill restaurants and construction dust.

Why Britain’s rain can’t sustain its thirst

When it comes to water scarcity, the last place on Earth you’d think of is rain-soaked England. Winter here is cold and wet. It rains for what feels like weeks on end. Lawns squelch with saturated soil and garden water butts overflow, likely to be unused until April. The UK’s average annual rainfall is a sopping 1200mm, compared to the 300s in Afghanistan, or just double-figures in Egypt. Yet within a few short months, significant parts of the UK will be staring down the barrel of empty water butts...

How artificially brightened clouds could stop climate change

In June, 1991, something surprising happened to the Earth. Mount Pinatubo, in the Philippines, erupted. The pressure built up over centuries beneath this dormant volcano caused the second largest eruption of the 20th Century, spewing vast amounts of white ash and sulphates as high as the stratosphere – 10 km above the Earth’s surface. As a result, the average global temperature that year dropped by 0.6C. And for some researchers, that raised an interesting possibility. Could we do this on purpose, deliberately producing artificial clouds reduce global warming?

The outrageous plan to haul icebergs to Africa

If towing icebergs to hot, water-stressed regions sounds totally crazy to you, then consider this: the volume of water that breaks off Antarctica as icebergs each year is greater than the total global consumption of freshwater. And that stat doesn’t even include Arctic ice. This is pure freshwater, effectively wasted as it melts into the sea and contributes to rising sea levels. Does it sound less crazy now? This untapped flow of water has enticed scientists and entrepreneurs for over a century...

How to drink from the air

All air, from arid deserts to humid cities, contains water vapour – globally, an estimated 3,100 cubic miles (12,900 cubic kilometres) of water is suspended as humidity in the air around us. That’s five Lake Victoria’s (Africa’s great lake, at 2,700 cubic km). Or a whopping 418 times the volume of Loch Ness. But we’re not talking about clouds. This is the humidity in the air we breathe, that reappears as beads of water on the side of a cold drink, or as morning dew on blades of grass. And a technological race is underway to harvest it as drinking water. If the emerging ‘water from air’ (WFA) devices can crack it, it could go a long way towards solving the world’s freshwater problem.

Air pollution investigation by environmental journalist Tim Smedley in "major" acquisition by Bloomsbury Sigma

Bloomsbury Sigma has signed Clearing the Air by environmental journalist Tim Smedley in a "major" acquisition for the imprint. Jim Martin, publisher at Bloomsbury Sigma, acquired world rights to Smedley's Clearing the Air: The Beginning and the End of Air Pollution from Jenny Hewson of RCW Literary Agency. The title will investigate what pollutants are in the air, "what they do to us" and "what we can do about it". Smedley said: "Air pollution is on everyone's minds right now, with a backlash...

Public speaking fear is limiting your career

Glen Savage is about to go on stage wearing wings and a halo. He’s terrified. The year is 1961 and the five-year old Savage is playing the Archangel Gabriel in the nativity play at St James School in Brisbane, Australia. He has just one line: “Come here baby angels”. Little did he know then, but the fear and anxiety of that moment would go on to shape his entire career. “I just remember thinking that I can’t do it. I can’t speak in front of all those people”, Savage recalls. “I was absolutely

How the world’s biggest cities are fighting smog

For three days in March 2016, 10 London pigeons became famous. Seeing pigeons take to the sky from Primrose Hill in north London was not unusual in itself. But these pigeons were wearing backpacks. And the backpacks were monitoring air pollution. Once in the air, the backpacks sent live air-quality updates via tweets to the smartphones of the Londoners below. In almost all cases, the readings were not good. London’s air pollution problem has been getting worse for years, and it often rises to more than three times the European Union’s legal limit.

Why young Londoners are moving to houseboats

Many Londoners would be envious of the postcodes Matthew Winters has lived in: the likes of Broadway Market, Angel, Camden, and Little Venice are amongst the city’s most hip and expensive. Many more would covet his electricity bill: £600 ($754) for the next 15 years. How, then, is he only 24 and a resident of London for just two years? Winters, an actor, is part of a booming trend for houseboat living among young Londoners. And specifically for what’s known as a ‘continuous cruising’ (or ‘CC-in

The bank boss with an environmentalist bent

Despite becoming the UK’s managing director of Triodos bank this spring, Bevis Watts maintains that he is “first and foremost an environmentalist”. Triodos’s mission is to lend money only to those who promote “positive social, environmental and cultural change”. The Dutch bank, which has €12bn of assets under management, is part of a booming trend. In 2015, the responsible lending market in the UK grew 45 per cent, according to a report by the Community Development Finance Association and PwC. Mr Watts’s CV does not read like that of the average bank executive...

Careers you thought paid megabucks

We all know the type. The architects, property moguls and professors, who drive flashy cars and shower themselves with bank notes. Except the truth is, we only think we know their type. Our image of how much others are earning often doesn’t match the reality. While many professionals bring home above the national average wage, are they really as wealthy as we think given the years of student loans they rack up? BBC Capital set out to investigate...

Why leaders ignore new technology at their peril

Business leaders used to get by without knowing much about technology – they had an IT department to deal with that sort of thing. However, technology products and services now pervade every industry, and businesses that don’t understand them are in danger of being usurped. Uber’s impact on the taxi and automotive industries is a case in point. While established manufacturers and car hire firms continued to focus on hardware – the cars and the user experience – Uber’s simple software app linked...

Developing countries lead in clean energy

Renewable energy used to be deemed unaffordable for developing countries. Wind and solar were rich country luxuries, while 'third world' economies could only be expected to grow on a diet of dirty fossil fuels. As recently as June 2014, Bill Gates blogged: “Poor countries… can’t afford today’s expensive clean energy solutions and we can’t expect them to wait for the technology to get cheaper.” However, the past two years have seen this received wisdom turned on its head...
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