Spotlight on... Professor Richard Taylor

This week we chat to Richard Taylor, Professor of Hydrogeology in the Department of Geography, who is off to COP26 in Glasgow on Sunday. Here, we find out about the top item on his agenda at COP26 and his favourite place - a scenic spot in eastern equatorial Africa.

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am a Professor of Hydrogeology in the Department of Geography. I teach undergraduate and post-graduate courses, supervise PhD students, and conduct research. My research focuses on groundwater-based solutions to expand and sustain water and food supplies in low-income countries of the tropics that are most affected by climate change but the least responsible for it - I am off to COP26 in Glasgow on Sunday for week two on adaptation and climate justice. 

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

21 years. Previously, I was a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto engaged in research in Uganda showing the presence of groundwater in quantities capable of sustaining wells can be traced to the long-term evolution of the landscape. I was then lured to the UK by an opportunity to do Post-Doctoral research at the Robens Centre for Public and Environmental Health where I could learn and study the threats posed by pathogenic bacteria and viruses to water supplies where sanitation is absent or inadequate. In London, I found a community of scientists similarly engaged in research with their counterparts in tropical Africa on poverty alleviation.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

Identifying a bias in the replenishment of groundwater in the tropics to heavy rainfalls. As global warming leads to fewer but heavier precipitation events - an effect that is three times as great in the tropics than it is in temperate London, this discovery has profound implications for the use of groundwater as a sustainable adaptation strategy to climate change in low-income countries of the tropics.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?

Top of my list is trying to convince high-income countries at COP26 that they share the same atmosphere with low-income countries in the tropics so their actions past and present have considerable ramifications for climate change in those countries whose per capita carbon footprints are negligible by comparison. Beyond this, it is working with colleagues in Tanzania to resolve how much water can be pumped sustainably from a wellfield that is sole supply of water to its rapidly growing national capital, Dodoma. The assessment is especially challenging because groundwater replenishment in this semi-arid location occurs episodically, just a couple of times each decade during El Niño events.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Salif Keita’s Moffou - Mali’s brilliant composer, musician and singer made this album when (to me) he was in his finest form.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian - an alternative bible.
Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance - the story and writing are truly exceptional.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

Five people are on a plane that is going to crash: Oprah, the Pope, Greta Thunberg, Donald Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci. There are only four parachutes.

Dr. Fauci takes one, says "I’ve got to live so I can find a cure for this pandemic and jumps out of the plane."

The Pope takes one, says "I have to be there to provide spiritual guidance to the faithful during this pandemic and he jumps out."

Donald Trump takes one, says "I have to live, I’m the smartest person in the world" and jumps out.

Oprah says to Greta, "You take the last one. I’ve lived a good life and yours is just beginning. You may save the world from climate change."

Greta says, "No worries. There is still one for each of us. The smartest man in the world just jumped out of the plane with my backpack."

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

William Du Bois, Rachel Carson, Mahatma Ghandi, Ché Guevara and Frida Kahlo.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Your instincts are right, never doubt them.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I speak Serbian, albeit with a Canadian accent.

What is your favourite place?

The Rwenzori Mountains.