The inspiration behind this blog and newsletter

Around a decade ago I read a book that changed the lens that I view the world through.

David MacKay’s Sustainable Energy – without the hot air was the book I had been waiting for. In almost every field we get caught up in the weeds of problems and solutions. We repeat statements – often from the gut – without stress-testing them. We are too close to see the big picture.

MacKay took the opposite approach. He stepped back and crunched the data on what the UK’s energy system looked like in the present day, and how feasible a transition to net-zero would be. Not based on instincts, but on data. Big data. It was a breath of fresh air.

Remembering David MacKay and his Unique Approach

I now apply this approach to almost every issue. I try to get to the crux of the key questions we have about the world through data and research. David MacKay was the inspiration for this way of thinking. Sadly he passed away in 2016 – I wrote a dedication to him here.

I wanted to name this blog and newsletter after his approach. It was initially called ‘Sustainability - without the hot air’ until I learned that the term ‘without the hot air’ is copyrighted…

There’s one key difference between my blog and his approach. I don’t only look at energy. Sustainability spans a range of environmental impacts: from climate and energy, to food, deforestation the oceans, and resource consumption. Human wellbeing – how we all live a good life – is a key part of sustainability too.

This blog has the same approach and sentiment as MacKay, but will cover much more ground.

Who’s writing this?

I’ve been wrangling with data to understand the world’s problems for years. It’s both a job and a hobby. I’m Head of Research at Our World in Data, and a Senior Researcher at the University of Oxford. There we try to make the data and research on the world’s largest problems accessible and understandable for audiences of non-experts. We have millions of visitors every month.

You’ll often hear me on BBC News and various podcasts. I often write for other publications such as WIRED, BigThink, Works in Progress, and the BBC.

I’m also writing a book, with the publisher Chatto & Windus, an imprint at Penguin Random House. In it, I’ll look at the opportunity the world has to be the first generation that builds a sustainable world. Of course, I’ll be using data, not opinions, to do this.

I did all of my university degrees at the University of Edinburgh. I have a BSc in Environmental Geoscience; MSc in Carbon Management; and a PhD in atmospheric and environmental sciences. My PhD focused on the big question of how to feed everyone in the world a nutritious diet without wrecking the planet at the same time.

Where to find me

The best place to find me on social media is on Twitter at @_HannahRitchie.

You can find most of my other writing and data projects on Our World in Data.

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