Steve Keyworth, BSc (Hons) Geography, 1995
Future-proofing agriculture and unlocking the rewards of natural capital
‘I always find it incredible how little we know about our world,’ says Steve Keyworth BSc (Hons) Geographical Science ’95. As a founder and Director of Environment Systems, Steve has made his career a mission to change that.
The company works in environmental and agricultural applications throughout the world, providing consultancy and data services. Steve and his team shed light on what’s happening across a wide range of hot topics - from crop behaviour, to food security, to the implications of climate change for future agricultural production.
The data comes from diverse sources including satellites, climate forecasts and observation on the ground. Environment Systems analyse and conflate data to understand the present and model the future, illuminating opportunities and risks.
In Colombia, Steve’s company is exploring the impact of disease on bananas in different growing locations, helping to protect one of the world’s most popular fruits. In the Caribbean, they’re looking at precisely how a climate change-driven increase in hurricanes is making vital human assets, from fire stations to water works, vulnerable - and informing how to respond. And in Wales, they’re modelling what crops could be grown in the next 60 years and, in the process, discovering that novel crops such as tea could one day thrive there.
Underpinning everything Environment Systems does is a staff-owned ethics policy with the UN Sustainable Development Goals at its heart. Steve explains, ‘if we can contribute to delivering the Goals through innovation and intelligent use of data and technology, and help people get better insight into agriculture and environment, I would be very happy.’
One area that particularly excites Steve is the company’s work on natural capital. Put simply, this is about understanding the value of ‘goods and services’ provided by our natural environment - from carbon storage, to pollination.
For example, says Steve,‘there’s a huge policy push in the UK for planting more trees. But where should we and where can we? Trees are good for biodiversity, good for carbon storage and good for health and wellbeing. Also, good for minimising flooding. Planting trees can help slow down water flow into downstream towns and villages. And that, quite simply, can save lives. I think that’s pretty inspiring.’
Portsmouth introduced me to data, to relatively early GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and remote sensing, and to various other tools and techniques that flicked my light on and made me want to go out and explore them further and make use of them.
Steve credits his degree in Geographical Science from Portsmouth as a catalyst for the path his career has followed. He recalls, ‘Portsmouth introduced me to data, to relatively early GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and remote sensing, and to various other tools and techniques that flicked my light on and made me want to go out and explore them further and make use of them.’
These days, Steve has access to a wealth of relevant data through a host of up-to-the minute tools. So, how does he feel about humanity’s future in the face of climate change?
‘We’re extremely adaptable, extremely innovative. I think the challenge will be speed. In some areas we’re going to need to sharpen our tools and get quicker. But overall, I’m optimistic. We just have to get on with it.’
And when it comes to ‘getting on with’ responses to our changing climate, Steve is helping to set the pace.