Welcome to my portfolio website: a highlights reel of my environmental journalism, book writing and talks.

My latest book The Last Drop: Solving the World’s Water Crisis, published by Picador, is out now. My first book Clearing the Air: the Beginning and the End of Air Pollution (Bloomsbury) was shortlisted for the Royal Society's Science Book Prize 2019.

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

Book review: The Last Drop: Solving the World’s Water Crisis by Tim Smedley — how Britain’s taps could run dry

I read most of Tim Smedley’s book about the world’s impending water shortage while wallowing in the bath. It’s where I do much of my reading, happily turning the pages for hours until my flatmates begin to hammer on the door of our only bathroom. From that vantage, the thesis of The Last Drop: Solving the World’s Water Crisis felt utterly improbable. How can we be on the brink of a water shortage, not only elsewhere but in grey and soggy Britain too, when it flows so easily and cheaply...

The Guardian Long Read: ‘Drought is... the next pandemic’

During the summer months in the Oxfordshire town where I live, I go swimming in the nearby 50-metre lido. With my inelegantly slow breaststroke, from time to time I accidentally gulp some of the pool’s opulent, chlorine-clean 5.9m litres of water. I stand a bottle of water at the end of the lane, to drink from halfway through my swim. I normally have a shower afterwards, even if I’ve showered that morning. I live a wet, drenched, quenched existence. But, as I discovered, this won’t last. I am living on borrowed time and borrowed water.

Is air pollution causing us to lose our sense of smell?

For many people, a bout of Covid-19 gave a first taste (or rather a lack of it) of what it is like to lose their sense of smell. Known as "anosmia", loss of smell can have a substantial effect on our overall wellbeing and quality of life. But while a sudden respiratory infection might lead to a temporary loss of this important sense, your sense of smell may well have been gradually eroding away for years due to something else – air pollution.

The pollution causing harmful algal blooms

It is the "smell of decay and death", says Beth Stauffer, from the University of Louisiana. "It has a physical presence. This layer of very striking greens and blueish greens…when you put your paddle in it, you can feel it."

She's describing the harmful algal blooms (HABs) that used to be more associated with marine environments. But in recent years they've been moving further inland and affecting freshwater systems, too. And scientists such as Stauffer are trying to find out why.

How I earned my dad stripes and built a zebra crossing

Never have I been so pleased to see a boy racer. It’s July 2019 and I’m standing next to a busy B road in Banbury, Oxfordshire, with an unusual delegation of adults. I say “adults” because it’s school pick-up time, 3pm, and we aren’t with any children.

I have invited the local councillor to see how this main road near a school, with no pedestrian crossing, forces parents and children to run across and hope for the best, twice a day...

How to mine precious metals in your home

With so many of us now stuck in our homes during the pandemic, long-postponed jobs such as clearing out the loft or attic may seem like a good way of keeping the monotony at bay. Perhaps sorting through the “drawer of junk” in the kitchen or cleaning out that over-stuffed cupboard in the spare room are rising up your to-do list. If you need a little extra motivation for the spring clean, though, there’s probably treasure hidden in there.

The toxic killers in our air too small to see

After years of headlines about air pollution, we’ve been misled on a few things about the world’s biggest environmental health problem. For example, we’re told that “PM2.5” – solid pollution particles measuring 2.5 micrometres or less – can pass through our lungs and into our blood stream.

But, in fact, the vast majority of them can’t.

The biggest killer of all never makes the headlines, isn’t regulated, and is barely talked about beyond niche scientific circles: it’s nanoparticles.

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.

The poisons released by melting Arctic ice

In 2012, Sue Natali arrived in Duvanny Yar, Siberia, for the first time. Then a postdoctoral research fellow studying the effects of thawing permafrost due to climate change, she had seen photos of this site many times. Rapid thawing at Duvanny Yar had caused a massive ground collapse – a “mega slump” – like a giant sinkhole in the middle of the Siberian tundra. But nothing had prepared her for seeing it in person.

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?
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