IELTS Academic Reading – 4

IELTS Academic Reading – 4


In a land swept by typhoons and shaken by earthquakes, how has Japan’s tallest and seemingly flimsiest old buildings – 500 or so wooden pagodas-remained standing for centuries? Records show that only two have collapsed during the past 1400 years. Those that have disappeared were destroyed by fire as a result of lightning or civil war. The disastrous Hanshin earthquake in 1995 killed 6,400 people, toppled elevated highways, flattened office blocks and devastated the port area of Kobe. Yet it left the magnificent five-storey pagoda at the Toji temple in nearby Kyoto unscathed, though it levelled a number of buildings in the neighbourhood.

Japanese scholars have been mystified for ages about why these tall, slender buildings are so stable. It was only thirty years ago that the building industry felt confident enough to erect office blocks of steel and reinforced concrete that had more than a dozen floors. With its special shock absorbers to dampen the effect of sudden sideways movements from an earthquake, the thirty-six-storey Kasumigaseki building in central Tokyo-Japan’s first skyscraper–was considered a masterpiece of modern engineering when it was built in 1968.

Yet in 826, with only pegs and wedges to keep his wooden structure upright, the master builder Kobodaishi had no hesitation in sending his majestic Toji pagoda soaring fifty-five meters into the sky-nearly half as high as the Kasumigaseki skyscraper built some eleven centuries later. Clearly, Japanese carpenters of the day knew a few tricks about allowing a building to sway and settle itself rather than fight nature’s forces. But what sort of tricks?

The multi-storey pagoda came to Japan from China in the sixth century. As in China, they were first introduced with Buddhism and were attached to important temples. The Chinese built their pagodas in brick or stone, with inner staircases, and used them in later centuries mainly as watchtowers. When the pagoda reached Japan, however, its architecture was freely adapted to local conditions they were built less high, typically five rather than nine storeys, made mainly of wood and the staircase was dispensed with because the Japanese pagoda did not have any practical use but became more of an art object. Because of the typhoons that batter Japan in the summer, Japanese builders learned to extend the eaves of buildings further beyond the walls. This prevents rainwater gushing down the walls. Pagodas in China and Korea have nothing like the overhang that is found on pagodas in Japan.

The roof of a Japanese temple building can be made to overhang the sides of the structure by fifty percent or more of the building’s overall width. For the same reason, the builders of Japanese pagodas seem to have further increased their weight by choosing to cover these extended eaves not with the porcelain tiles of many Chinese pagodas but with much heavier earthenware tiles.

But this does not totally explain the great resilience of Japanese pagodas. Is the answer that, like a tall pine tree, the Japanese pagoda with its massive trunk-like central pillar known as shinbashira simply flexes and sways during a typhoon or earthquake) For centuries, many thought so. But the answer is not so simple because the startling thing is that the shinbashira actually carries no load at all. In fact, in some pagoda designs, it does not even rest on the ground, but is suspended from the

top of the pagoda-hanging loosely down through the middle of the building. The weight of the building is supported entirely by twelve outer and four inner columns.

And what is the role of the shinbashira, the central pillar? The best way to understand the shinbashira’s role is to watch a video made by Shuzo Ishida, a structural engineer at Kyoto Institute of Technology. Mr Ishida, known to his students as ‘Professor Pagoda’ because of his passion to understand the pagoda, has built a series of models and tested them on a ‘shaketable’ in his laboratory. In short, the shinbashira was acting like an enormous stationary pendulum. The ancient craftsmen, apparently without the assistance of very advanced mathematics, seemed to grasp the principles that were, more than a thousand years later, applied in the construction of Japan’s first skyscraper. What those early craftsmen had found by trial and error was that under pressure a pagoda’s loose stack of floors could be made to slither to and fro independent of one another. Viewed from the side, the pagoda seemed to be doing a snake dance with each consecutive floor moving in the opposite direction to its neighbours above and below. The shinbashira, running up through a hole in the centre of the building, constrained individual storeys from moving too far because, after moving a certain distance, they banged into it, transmitting energy away along the column.

Another strange feature of the Japanese pagoda is that, because the building tapers, with each successive floor plan being smaller than the one below, none of the vertical pillars that carry the weight of the building is connected to its corresponding pillar above. In other words, a five storey pagoda contains not even one pillar that travels right up through the building to carry the structural loads from the top to the bottom. More surprising is the fact that the individual storeys of a Japanese pagoda, unlike their counterparts elsewhere, are not actually connected to each other. They are simply stacked one on top of another like a pile of hats. Interestingly, such a design would not be permitted under current Japanese building regulations.

And the extra-wide eaves? Think of them as a tight rope walker balancing pole. The bigger the mass at each end of the pole, the easier it is for the tightrope walker to maintain his or her balance. The same holds true for a pagoda. ‘With the eaves extending out on all sides like balancing poles,’ says Mr. Ishida, ‘the building responds to even the most powerful jolt of an earthquake with a graceful swaying, never an abrupt shaking. Here again, Japanese master builders of a thousand years ago anticipated concepts of modern structural engineering.

Questions 1-4

Do the following statements agree with the claims of the writer in Reading Passage? In boxes 1-4 on your answer sheet, write

TRUE if the statement agrees with the claims of the writer

FALSE if the statement contradicts the claims of the writer

NOT GIVEN if there it impossible to say what the writer thinks about this

1 Only two Japanese pagodas have collapsed in 1400 years.

2 The Hanshin earthquake of 1995 destroyed the pagoda at the Toji temple.

3 The other buildings near the Toji pagoda had been built in the last 30 years.

4 The builders of pagodas knew how to absorb some of the power produced by severe weatherconditions.

Questions 5-10

Classify the following as typical of

A. both Chinese and Japanese pagodas

B. only Chinese pagodas

C. only Japanese pagodas

Write the correct letter, A, B or C, in boxes 5-10 on your answer sheet.

5 easy interior access to top

6 tiles on eaves

7 use as observation post

8 size of eaves up to half the width of the building

9 original religious purpose

10 floors fitting loosely over each other

Questions 11-13

Choose the correct letter, A, B or C.

Write the correct letter in boxes 11-13 on your answer sheet.

11 In a Japanese pagoda, the shinbashira

A bears the full weight of the building.

B bends under pressure like a tree.

C connects the floors with the foundations.

D stops the floors moving too far.

12 Shuzo Ishida performs experiments in order to

A improve skyscraper design.

B be able to build new pagodas.

C learn about the dynamics of pagodas.

D understand ancient mathematics.

13 The storeys of a Japanese pagoda are

A linked only by wood.

B fastened only to the central pillar.

C fitted loosely on top of each other.

D joined by special weights.

The True Cost of Food


For more than forty years the cost of food has been rising. It has now reached a point where a growing number of people believe that it is far too high and that bringing it down will be one of the great challenges of the twenty-first century. That cost, however, is not in immediate cash. In the West at least, most food is now far cheaper to buy in relative terms than it was in 1960. The cost is in the collateral damage of the very methods of food production that have made the food cheaper: in the pollution of water, the enervation of soil, the destruction of wildlife, the harm to animal welfare and the threat to human health caused by modern industrial agriculture.


First mechanisation, then mass use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, then monocultures, then battery rearing of livestock, and now genetic engineering– the onward march of intensive farming has seemed unstoppable in the last half-century, as the yields of produce have soared. But the damage it has caused has been colossal. In Britain, for example, many of our best-loved farmland birds, such as the skylark, the grey partridge, the lapwing and the corn bunting, have vanished from huge stretches of countryside, as have even more wild-flowers and insects. This is a direct result of the way we have produced our food in the last four decades. Thousands of miles of hedgerows, thousands of ponds have disappeared from the landscape. The faecal filth of salmon farming has driven wild salmon from many of the sea lochs and rivers of Scotland. Natural soil fertility is dropping in many areas because of continuous industrial fertiliser and pesticide use, while the growth of algae is increasing in lakes because of the fertiliser run-off.


Put it all together and it looks like a battlefield, but consumers rarely make the connection at the dinner table. That is mainly because the costs of all this damage are what economists refer to as externalities: they are outside the main transaction, which is for example producing and selling a field of wheat, and are borne directly by neither producers nor consumers. To many, the costs may not even appear to be financial at all, but merely aesthetic -a terrible shame, but nothing to do with money. And anyway they, as consumers of food, certainly aren’t paying for it, are they?


But the costs to society can actually be quantified and, when added up, can amount to staggering sums. A remarkable exercise in doing this has been carried out by one of the world’s leading thinkers on the future of agriculture, Professor Jules Pretty, Director of the Centre for Environment and Society at the University of Essex. Professor Pretty and his colleagues calculated the externalities of British agriculture for one particular year. They added up the costs of repairing the damage it caused and came up with a total figure of £2,343m. This is equivalent to £208 for every hectare of arable land and permanent pasture, almost as much again as the total government and EU spends on British farming in that year. And according to Professor Pretty, it was a conservative estimate.


The costs included: £120m for removal of pesticides; £16m for removal of nitrates; £55m for removal of phosphates and soil; £23m for the removal of the bug cryptosporidium from drinking water by water companies; £125m for damage to wildlife habitats, hedgerows and dry stone walls; £1,113m from emissions of gases likely to contribute to climate change; £106m from soil erosion

and organic carbon losses; £169m from food poisoning; and £607m from cattle disease. Professor Pretty draws a simple but memorable conclusion from all this: our food bills are actually threefold. We are paying for our supposedly cheaper food in three separate ways: once over the counter, secondly through our taxes, which provide the enormous subsidies propping up modern intensive farming, and thirdly to clean up the mess that modern farming leaves behind.


So can the true cost of food be brought down? Breaking away from industrial agriculture as the solution to hunger may be very hard for some countries, but in Britain, where the immediate need to supply food is less urgent, and the costs and the damage of intensive farming have been clearly seen, it may be more feasible. The government needs to create sustainable, competitive and diverse farming and food sectors, which will contribute to a thriving and sustainable rural economy, and advance environmental, economic, health, and animal welfare goals.


But if industrial agriculture is to be replaced, what is a viable alternative? Professor Pretty feels that organic farming would be too big a jump in thinking and in practices for many farmers. Furthermore, the price premium would put the product out of reach of many poorer consumers. He is recommending the immediate introduction of a ‘Greener Food Standard’, which would push the market towards more sustainable environmental practices than the current norm, while not requiring the full commitment to organic production. Such a standard would comprise agreed practices for different kinds of farming, covering agrochemical use, soil health, land management, water and energy use, food safety and animal health. It could go a long way, he says, to shifting consumers as well as farmers towards a more sustainable system of agriculture.

Questions 14-17

Reading Passage has seven paragraphs, A-G.

Which paragraph contains the following information?

Write the correct letter, A-G, in boxes 14-17 on your answer sheet. You may use any letter more than once.

14 a cost involved in purifying domestic water

15 the stages in the development of the farming industry

16 the term used to describe hidden costs

17 one effect of chemicals on water sources

Questions 18-21

Do the following statements agree with the claims of the writer in Reading Passage?

In boxes 18-21 on your answer sheet, write:

YES if the statement agrees with the claims of the writer

NO if the statement contradicts the claims of the writer

NOT GIVEN if it is impossible to say what the writer thinks about this

18 Several species of wildlife in the British countryside are declining.

19 The taste of food has deteriorated in recent years.

20 The financial costs of environmental damage are widely recognised.

21 One of the costs calculated by Professor Pretty was illness caused by food.

Questions 22- 26

Complete the summary below:

Choose no more than three words from the passage for each answer.

Write your answer in boxes 22-26 on your answer sheet.

Professor Pretty concludes that our 22…………….. are higher than most people realise, because we

make three different types of payment. He feels it is realistic to suggest that Britain should reduce its

reliance on 23…………………… . Although most farmers would be unable to adapt to 24 ……………………, Professor Pretty wants the government to initiate change by establishing what he refers to as a 25……………………… He feels this would help to change the attitudes of both 26 …………………… and………………… .

Questions 27-32

Reading Passage has seven paragraphs, A-G.

Choose the correct heading for paragraphs B-G from the list of headings below..

Write the correct number i-ix, in boxes 27-32 on your answer sheet.

List of Headings

i The reaction of the Inuit community to climate change

  1. Understanding of climate change remains limited
  1. Alternative sources of essential supplies
  1. Respect for Inuit opinion grows
  1. A healthier choice of food
  1. A difficult landscape
  1. Negative effects on well-being
  1. Alarm caused by unprecedented events in the Arctic
  1. The benefits of an easier existence

27 Paragraph B

28 Paragraph C

29 Paragraph D

30 Paragraph E

31 Paragraph F

32 Paragraph G

Climate change and the Inuit

The threat posed by climate change in the Arctic and the problems faced by Canada’s Inuit people

A Unusual incidents are being reported across the Arctic. Inuit families going off on snowmobiles toprepare their summer hunting camps have found themselves cut off from home by a sea of mud, following early thaws. There are reports of igloos losing their insulating properties as the snow drips and refreezes, of lakes draining into the sea as permafrost melts, and sea ice breaking up earlier than usual, carrying seals beyond the reach of hunters. Climate change may still be a rather abstract idea to most of us, but in the Arctic, it is already having dramatic effects – if summertime ice continues to shrink at its present rate, the Arctic Ocean could soon become virtually ice-free in summer. The knock-on effects are likely to include more warming, cloudier skies, increased precipitation and higher sea levels. Scientists are increasingly keen to find out what’s going on because they consider the Arctic the ‘canary in the mine’ for global warming – a warning of what’s in store for the rest of the world.

B For the Inuit the problem is urgent. They live in precarious balance with one of the toughestenvironments on earth. Climate change, whatever its causes, is a direct threat to their way of life. Nobody knows the Arctic as well as the locals, which is why they are not content simply to stand back and let outside experts tell them what’s happening. In Canada, where the Inuit people are jealously guarding their hard-won autonomy in the country’s newest territory, Nunavut, they believe their best hope of survival in this changing environment lies in combining their ancestral knowledge with the best of modern science. This is a challenge in itself.

C The Canadian Arctic is a vast, treeless polar desert that’s covered with snow for most of the year.Venture into this terrain and you get some idea of the hardships facing anyone who calls this home. Farming is out of the question and nature offers meagre pickings. Humans first settled in the Arctic a mere 4,500 years ago, surviving by exploiting sea mammals and fish. The environment tested them to the limits: sometimes the colonists were successful, sometimes they failed and vanished. But around a thousand years ago, one group emerged that was uniquely well adapted to cope with the Arctic environment. These Thule people moved in from Alaska, bringing kayaks, sleds, dogs, pottery and iron tools. They are the ancestors of today’s Inuit people.

D Life for the descendants of the Thule people is still harsh. Nunavut is 1.9 million square kilometresof rock and ice, and a handful of islands around the North Pole. It’s currently home to 2,500 people, all but a handful of them indigenous Inuit. Over the past 40 years, most have abandoned their nomadic ways and settled in the territory’s 28 isolated communities, but they still rely heavily on nature to provide food and clothing. Provisions available in local shops have to be flown into Nunavut on one of the most costly air networks in the world, or brought by supply ship during the few ice-free weeks of summer. It would cost a family around £7,000 a year to replace meat they obtained themselves through hunting with imported meat. Economic opportunities are scarce, and for many people state benefits are their only income.

E While the Inuit may not actually starve if hunting and trapping are curtailed by climate change,there has certainly been an impact on people’s health. Obesity, heart disease and diabetes are beginning to appear in a people for whom these have never before been problems. There has been a

crisis of identity as the traditional skills of hunting, trapping and preparing skins have begun to disappear. In Nunavut’s ‘igloo and email’ society, where adults who were born in igloos have children who may never have been out on the land, there’s a high incidence of depression.

F With so much at stake, the Inuit are determined to play a key role in teasing out the mysteries ofclimate change in the Arctic. Having survived there for centuries, they believe their wealth of traditional knowledge is vital to the task. And Western scientists are starting to draw on this wisdom, increasingly referred to as ‘Inuit Qaujimajatugangit’, or IQ. ‘In the early days, scientists ignored us when they came up here to study anything. They just figured these people don’t know very much so we won’t ask them,’ says John Amagoalik, an Inuit leader and politician. ‘But in recent years IQ has had much more credibility and weight.’ In fact it is now a requirement for anyone hoping to get permission to do research that they consult the communities, who are helping to set the research agenda to reflect their most important concerns. They can turn down applications from scientists they believe will work against their interests or research projects that will impinge too much on their daily lives and traditional activities.

G Some scientists doubt the value of traditional knowledge because the occupation of the Arcticdoesn’t go back far enough. Others, however, point out that the first weather stations in the far north date back just 50 years. There are still huge gaps in our environmental knowledge, and despite the scientific onslaught, many predictions are no more than best guesses. IQ could help to bridge the gap and resolve the tremendous uncertainty about how much of what we’re seeing is natural capriciousness and how much is the consequence of human activity.

Questions 33-40

Complete the summary of paragraphs C and D below.

Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from paragraphs C and D for each answer.

Write your answers in boxes 33-40 on your answer sheet.

If you visit the Canadian Arctic, you immediately appreciate the problems faced by people for whom this is home. It would clearly be impossible for the people to engage in 33……………….. as a means of supporting themselves. For thousands of years they have had to rely on catching 34……………….. and 35 ……………….. as a means of sustenance. The harsh surroundings saw many who tried to settlethere pushed to their limits, although some were successful. The 36……………….. people were an

example of the latter and for them the environment did not prove unmanageable. For the present inhabitants, life continues to be a struggle. The territory of Nunavut consists of little more than ice,

rock and a few 37……………….. . In recent years, many of them have been obliged to give up their 38……………….. lifestyle, but they continue to depend mainly on 39……………….. their food andclothes. 40……………….. produce is particularly expensive.


  1. TRUE
  2. FALSE
  4. TRUE
  5. B
  6. A
  7. B
  8. C
  9. A
  10. C
  11. D
  12. C
  13. C
  14. E
  15. B
  16. C
  17. B
  18. YES
  20. NO
  21. YES
  22. food bills/costs
  23. (modern) intensive farming
  24. organic farming
  25. Greener Food Standard
  26. farmers (and) consumers [In either order]
  27. i
  28. vi
  29. iii
  30. vii
  31. iv
  32. ii
  33. farming
  34. sea mammals
  35. fish
  36. Thule
  37. islands
  38. nomadic
  39. nature
  40. Imported

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