Saturday, 31 January 2009

peer pressure best for conserving energy

The New York Times reports:

'Robert Cialdini, a social psychologist at Arizona State University, studies how to get Americans — even those who did not care about the environment — to lower energy consumption. And while there are many ways, Dr. Cialdini said, few are as effective as comparing people with their peers.'

'In a 2004 experiment, he and a colleague left different messages on doorknobs in a middle-class neighborhood north of San Diego. One type urged the residents to conserve energy to save the earth for future generations; another emphasized financial savings. But the only kind of message to have any significant effect, Dr. Cialdini said, was one that said neighbors had already taken steps to curb their energy use.'

'“It is fundamental and primitive,” said Dr. Cialdini, who owns a stake in Positive Energy. “The mere perception of the normal behavior of those around us is very powerful.”' more ...

Friday, 30 January 2009

scene change

A couple of years ago it seemed almost impossible to persuade people, even dramaturgs and literary managers, that theatre and climate change might be related.

On Monday evening, Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, will be at the Tipping Point event at the National Theatre to launch the fund to commission new plays on the subject of climate change. Fullish report next week. more ...

Thursday, 29 January 2009

the 5% who make up two billion

As the Government narrowly wins the vote for the third runway at Heathow, the RSA's William Shaw links to a snappily-satirical short story by Helen Simpson that appeared in Granta 100.

In-flight Entertainment seats a climate-sceptic businessman (who doesn't know what he's talking about) next to a scientist (who does) on a long-haul flight from Heathrow to Chicago.

The story contains the standout stat that over two billion people flew last year even though 95% of the world's population has never been on a plane.

(Not unrelated: Britain has been warned by the European Commission for failing to comply with EU standards on air quality.) more ...

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

the pursuit of consumer goods

Current environmental arguments about consumerism, the good life, and plain living, have their origins in 17th and 18th century disputes.

This seems evident from a new book by the acclaimed Oxford historian Keith Thomas (left), author of two classics, Religion and the Decline of Magic and Man and the Natural World.

His latest The Ends of Life is subtitled 'Roads to Fulfilment in Early Modern England'. An extract from the chapter on 'taste' appears in the current History Today (hat-tip: A&L).

The online essay tracks the birth of the consumer society and the new appetite for shopping and household possessions. This led in turn to a backlash against 'immoderate purchasing' and the 'inordinate and unsatiable desire of having'.

Some felt luxury was effeminate and sapped the martial spirit. These critics harked back to a time of primitive simplicity. But others argued that consumption was the object of the economic process. Thomas writes,

'the values of civility, respectability, refinement and politeness were invoked to legitimise the unceasing acquisition of goods.'

'What we see during the 17th and 18th centuries is the gradual emergence of a new ideology, accepting the pursuit of consumer goods as a valid object of human endeavour and recognising that no limit could, or should, be put to it.'

(Portrait: Paul Brason.) more ...

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

more potent than ideas

Sunday's post about Nassim Taleb sent me back to The Black Swan where in the first chapter, Taleb writes:

'You need a story to displace a story. Metaphors and stories are far more potent (alas) than ideas; they are also easier to remember ... Ideas come and go, stories stay.'

It's another version of Buckminster Fuller's remark that you don’t change things by fighting the existing reality, you change things by building a new model that makes the existing one obsolete. (H-t. Theatre Ideas) It's why the arts have a key role to play in the way we come to terms with man-made climate change.

Two weeks ago, this blog noted that the New York Times had expanded its environment desk to bring in eight specialized reporters from the Science, National, Metro, Foreign, and Business desks. One day they'll bring in an arts correspondent too. It's not an add-on, the arts are critical. To quote Ted Hughes, 'What alters the imagination, alters everything.' more ...

Monday, 26 January 2009

the appeal they won't show

O370 60 60 900. more ...

Sunday, 25 January 2009

leave it the way we got it

Last April this blog wondered if the historian of the moment Herodotus wasn't positively Gaian in his sense that everything was connected and man went against nature at his peril.

Ben McGrath's New Yorker article on doomsayers (abstract here) finds Nassim Taleb, author of the bestseller Black Swan, also turning to Herodotus. He's thinking,

'more along the lines of 483 B.C., when Xerxes ordered the waters of the Hellespont whipped, out of frustration over the destruction of his bridges.'

'Xerxes' superstitious arrogance, Taleb felt, was no different from our own scientific arrogance, which has been building steadily since the Enlightenment, to the point where investment bankers believed they could eliminate the consequences of risky behaviour through the use of complex mathematics.'

'"We're just puppets to the gods," he said, "The gods don't want us to be too ambitious, too aggressive. The gods just want us to be subservient to nature. Leave the planet the way we got it.'" more ...

Saturday, 24 January 2009

when 'impartial' means 'weak'

This blog has written before about the BBC's misplaced sense of 'impartiality' (9/7/07). Too often, for instance, its coverage of climate change has reflected this binary mindset. This has allowed major pieces of scientific research to be rebutted by sceptics with no qualifications in the area.

It's not always the job of the journalist to present two sides of the story. That can be timorous and irresponsible. It's the job of the journalist to find the most authoritative and accurate information. That's impartial.

During the Live Earth concert, for instance, the Daily Telegraph reported:

'The BBC ordered Jonathan Ross to remind viewers of Live Earth that climate change may not have been caused by human activity, as the broadcaster tries to stay neutral on current affairs.'

How is it neutral to contradict the Royal Society, the National Academy of Sciences and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?

The fake ideal of impartiality has taken a terrific knock with the BBC's decision not to broadcast the DEC's humanitarian appeal* on behalf of the civilian population of Gaza (' to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC’s impartiality in the context of an ongoing news story').

Tony Benn attacks it here. Ben Bradshaw attacks it here. There's an example of a letter to BBC Complaints here. You can donate to the DEC Gaza Crisis appeal here.

The only good news is that many more people now know about the DEC appeal.

Update: ITV and Channel 4 agree to air appeal.

* The Disasters Emergency Committee is an umbrella organisation which includes Action Aid, British Red Cross, Cafod, Care International UK, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Help the Aged, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, and Save the Children. more ...

Friday, 23 January 2009

milking it

A major theme in Milk, the Sean Penn movie which opens in the UK today, is that you can't have political activism without a message of hope.

That's a tough call for climate-change campaigners when James Lovelock is available for interview. He tells this week's New Scientist that rising temperatures will place a huge pressure on food resources and the human population this century will probably shrink to one billion or less. more ...

Thursday, 22 January 2009

the top 20

Dot Earth reports that the Pew Research Center polled 1,503 American adults and found that global warming came bottom of the 20 issues surveyed.

The list in order of priority: the economy, jobs, terrorism, Social Security, education, energy, Medicare, health care, deficit reduction, health insurance, helping the poor, crime, moral decline, military, tax cuts, environment, immigration, lobbyists, trade policy, global warming. more ...

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

the number of doors we can open

'There is no limit to what we can show online'
- says the NT's director Nicholas Hytner, in a longish piece I've done for Intelligent Life -
'the number of doors we can open, the number of walls we can bring down.' more ...

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

one in seven billion

Guardian letter-writer says that Barack Obama is 'uniquely able, among all nearly 7 billion of us to bring about a reversal in C02 emissions and save civilisation'. more ...

just a minute

Climate change gets 55 seconds on Celebrity Big Brother. more ...

Monday, 19 January 2009

give it up for (the other) michelle

At the start of No Impact Man's blog (which I first wrote about in summer 2007), there was a winning sense that Colin Beavan's guilty Liberal idealism was on a collision course with his wife Michelle's 'Prada-wearing, Four Seasons-loving' lifestyle.

In the early months of NIM, Beavan was foisting his eco-fundamentalism onto his Manhattan wife and their young child, and hastily blogging his anxieties about doing so on his solar-powered computer - before the light went.

Nowadays the NIM blog is more like a support network for well-intentioned green people. But it's encouraging to learn that the movie-of-the-blog (what a new genre that is) keeps those early competing voices in the foreground. The LA Times says the movie could have been preachy and self-righteous, but turns out to be funny and informative.

'In large part, that's thanks to Michelle, who becomes our voice in the production -- from her admitted addiction to everything from shopping to coffee (no beans are grown within the roughly 250 mile radius they set for any of the food products they bought), to her discomfort with the composting bin in the house, complete with earthworms and, in the summer, flies.' more ...

Sunday, 18 January 2009

the tops

NASA's director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen, says Britain comes in at number one for emissions:

"On a per capita basis, Britain is responsible for more of the carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere than any other nation on Earth because it has been burning it from the dawn of the Industrial Revolution'.

(The runners-up: America comes second, Germany third.) more ...

tackling demand

Emma Thompson, Oscar-winning actor and screenwriter and last week's most high-profile opponent of Heathrow's expansion, says about the third runway:

'They say they're doing it because there's a demand. There might be a demand for child prostitution, but that doesn't make it moral! The demand for more cars and planes is immoral.' more ...

Saturday, 17 January 2009

seven up

At least seven movies at this year's Sundance festival, which opened this week, have strong environmental themes. more ...

Friday, 16 January 2009

hungry to hear about this

It's encouraging to see some parts of the mainstream media changing the way they think about environmentalism.

The Columbia Journalism Review reports that the New York Times is launching an environmental reporting unit that brings in eight specialized reporters from the Science, National, Metro, Foreign, and Business desks.

The CJR says the unit's editor, Erica Goode, hopes the Times’s more strategic, coordinated approach will capture the variety of ways in which a single environmental issue can touch people’s daily lives.

One example of this was an article in December about the 'passive house,' a new class of cheap and ultra-efficient home being pioneered in Germany (blogged here).

'I can’t emphasize enough how much interest in this subject there is among readers,' Goode said. 'That story immediately went to the top of the most e-mailed list and stayed there for quite awhile.'

'It’s clear that people are really hungry to hear about this stuff. And that was a story that combined some science, some business, some home, and some lifestyle—it went across the traditional boundaries of news departments.' (Ht: Dot Earth.) more ...

the answer is blogging in the wind

Roger McGuinn of The Byrds says there are fewer protest songs because there are more bloggers now.

Folk America, Barbican, London EC2 (020-7638 8891), Jan 21-22. more ...

waiting for the new code

Sam Mendes' production of The Cherry Orchard opened in New York this week. The cast includes Ethan Hawke, Simon Russell Beale (pic), Sinead Cusack and Rebecca Hall.

Chekhov's last play (it premiered in 1904) depicts a world on the verge of huge changes. The New York Times critic Ben Brantley sees parallels with today:

'People are always misspeaking in The Cherry Orchard, stupidly and hurtfully, because no language could properly reflect a shifting social order that has yet to assume any solid form.'

'The old codes don’t apply, but the new ones haven’t arrived yet. Which makes the early 20th century sound an awful lot like the early 21st century.'

(See the green side of Chekhov.) more ...

Thursday, 15 January 2009

more on naess

Grains of Sand recalls rock-climbing with Arne Naess (then in his 80s),

'I think I understood a little better a part of what this was about: absolute concentration and presence in the moment.'

New York Times piece here. Guardian obit here. Shorter but better obit in International Herald Tribune here. Yesterday's post has been expanded. more ...

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

arne naess

Like many others, we're saddened to hear news of the death of the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess (pic).

My co-editor Wallace Heim, who met him several times at Schumacher College and kept in touch, writes:

'He was one of the remarkable thinkers of the last century. His life's work was systematising Spinoza's Ethics, then profound work on Gandhi's non-violence, and the non-violence necessary after the Second World War to rebuild European relations. The League of Nations asked him to define democracy, and a few days later he had dozens of possible conditions and situations which could be considered democratic, depending on the cultural context. The institution said - 'No - we want one definition only.'

'Then, after retiring, he developed deep ecology and his version of eco-philosophy, deep ecology being a much more rigorous philosophy than the polemics over self-realisation, intrinsic value, or the superficial differences with social ecology would have it. He was not attracted to theatre, or not to the histrionic theatre of his childhood. He valued precision in thought and communication and getting the heart of an argument.'

'But his essays on emotion and on 'The Place of Joy in a World of Fact' and on 'Beautiful Action' are inspiring for both activism and performance.'

There's a video of Naess here, an essay by David Rothenberg on Naess here, and his selected works are here.

(This post was expanded 15/1/09) more ...

joining up the dots

'Don't let the puny pound and faltering economy ruin your plans. Whether it's a bargain-priced sunshine break in the Med or the luxury of a flat-bed flight to Sydney there's never been a better time to book, says Simon Calder'. Independent, 14 January 2009

'Aborigines in the harsh Outback will be among the Australians hardest hit by climate change.' Independent, 14 January 2009 more ...

'don't watch so much tv'

Last night's debate at the RSA on Chico Mendes, activism and environmental art wasn't really a debate at all (there was no exchange of competing views). But it was enjoyable and informative, and even, at times, inspiring.

The chair, theatre director Paul Heritage, explained the background to the Amazonia project. It was clear that the process of this year-long project, which had involved large-scale work with communities in Brazil and Lambeth, had been as much the point of the project as the Christmas production that had resulted at the Young Vic.

Elenira Mendes (pic) described her father's life and the circumstances of his assassination and explained how the Institute she has set up in his name is carrying his work forward.

The composer Jonathan Dove talked about his experience writing community operas. 'Whatever the story is, the message they're telling is: "If we work together we can achieve wonders".' He said, 'Protest songs can be turned round quickly. An opera takes several years to put on. It feels like time is running out and doing opera is a luxury.'

Greenpeace's Charlie Kronick said Chico Mendes had realised something that had taken 20 years for many environmentalists to understand. 'You can't separate environmental and social justice.' Kronick asked, 'What is the role of the arts?' His answer was: 'It's about transformation. What we do doesn't depend on what we know, but what we feel. That's what art does. It's transforming.'

The fashion designer Vivienne Westwood spoke about her campaign Active Resistance to Propaganda. 'Every time you look a word up in the dictionary, you're fighting for freedom. When you become an art lover, you stop being a consumer and start being a thinker.' Her motto was: You get out of life what you put into it. 'Popular culture is a contradiction in terms,' she said, 'It's very passive. Don't watch so much TV.' more ...

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

climate-change works for the stage

In summer 2001 I wrote a piece for The Ecologist about 'the world the stage forgot'. It argued that the biggest development in political thought in the 20th century had been environmentalism and this was an issue that had been almost entirely ignored by British theatre.

(The Ashden Directory went online in 2000 to detail exactly who was doing environmental work within the performing arts and where.)

Eight years on, and things are now changing fast. Last April, the writer Lawrence Weschler organised 'Climate of Concern', a festival in the US of nine short plays (including one by Don DeLillo).

Next month Tipping Point launches 'a major new project to develop a critical mass of artistic work conceived in the context of climate change.' The email says:

'With a focus on the performing arts, artists will be invited to submit projects that stimulate audiences towards the radical and imaginative thinking necessary to comprehend a world dominated by climate change.'

Awards of up to £30,000 will be available. The panel of judges includes John Ashton, the Foreign Secretary's Special Representative on Climate Change, theatre director Graham Devlin, NT executive director Nick Starr, choreographer Maresa von Stockert and broadcaster and academic Cecilia Wee. more ...

Monday, 12 January 2009

the artist's job

Tomorrow evening at the RSA, there's a welcome debate on one of this blog's regular themes: art and environmental activism. Introduced by the RSA's chief executive Matthew Taylor, the panel includes Elenira Mendes, Chico Mendes' daughter, the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, composer Jonathan Dove, Greenpeace's Charlie Kronick and Amazonia's director Paul Heritage.

What role might the arts have? In many respects activism is the opposite of art. When the Guardian reviewed Amazonia it said the production's preachiness made the reviewer want to rush out and 'lop down a tree'.

There are plenty of good reasons for keeping narrative art and activism apart. Noel Coward was unequivocal on the subject: 'propaganda is death in the theatre'. The New Yorker's film critic Anthony Lane has described eco-drama as 'a contradiction in terms'. The poet Gwyneth Lewis asks, 'How can writers become advocates for the natural world without propagandising and undermining their credibility.' And The Wire's Ed Burns says that stories get interesting when characters go against the writer's ideology.

It's Chekhov, perhaps, who offers the best way forward: he said it wasn't the artist's job to solve society's problems, but to state them correctly.

This blog will be covering tomorrow's debate and looking for some more answers. more ...

Sunday, 11 January 2009

when characters conflict with your ideology

How do you write well about a subject when you already know what you think about it?

Ed Burns and David Simon, the writers of The Wire, have written a new series, Generation Kill, about the Iraq war. It's based on Rolling Stone journalist Evan Wright's bestselling book about Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Burns is resolutely anti-war, but he tells the New Statesman,

'If you start empathising with the characters you'll find they do things that conflict with your ideology. That is good storytelling. It unsettles you.' more ...

Saturday, 10 January 2009

recycling clichés

A long time ago John Cleese said in an interview that he wished he could be paid £1 for every time a newspaper article said that 'comedy is a serious business'. It would be a nice little earner.

It would also be nice to get £1 every time a columnist (of a certain age) compared environmentalism with religion. Today's £1 would come from the Guardian's Simon Hoggart on the subject of recycling:

'Like so much associated with the green movement, this procedure has a religious quality. It even takes as long as the average church service. '

Hoggart goes on to compare wind turbines with church spires. He says they both have 'no practical value except as symbols of faith, visible to all.'

You'd have to be fairly incurious, or simply unable to google, not to find wind turbines that have practical value. Here's one, the Moel Moelogan Wind Farm in North Wales (above), which was an Ashden Award Winner. The text runs:

'Faced by the catastrophic decline in farming incomes, three Welsh hill-farming families set about harnessing their greatest natural asset - wind. Between them they formed a cooperative called Cwmni Gwynt Teg and have since developed, financed and built a wind farm on their own land.

Moel Moelogan now has two operational wind turbines that are producing electricity for the local grid system in Conwy County, Wales. The combined output of these turbines is 2.6 megawatts per hour - enough to supply 1,600 homes. Moel Moelogan is the first community project of its kind in the UK, being 100% locally owned and with all income generated remaining in the area.'

A lot more practical than recycling clichés. more ...

whales came from ancient deer

In his Dear Darwin letter on Radio 4, Professor Jerry Coyne informs Darwin (left) that we now have evidence that the sea was recolonised by mammals. In his Origin of Species Darwin had been correct in suggesting that whales arose from land animals, but Coyne says, 'you did get it wrong on one point'.

'You thought that they may have come from carnivores like bears, but we now know that this isn't really true. Instead the ancestral whale came from a small hooved animal, much like a deer, and in the last thirty years, we've discovered a whole series of intermediate fossils, spanning the gap from those ancient deer to modern whales, showing them losing their hind limbs, evolving flippers, and moving their breathing hole to the top of their head.'

(Our complete guide to 'whales on stage' is here.) more ...

Friday, 9 January 2009

'lazy and deceptive'

On 1 January 2009 the Daily Telegraph published an article headlined 'Greenhouse gases could have caused an ice age, claim scientists'. The article quite inaccurately quoted Professor Ian Fairchild. He has tried to correct this. He wrote to the paper. His letter hasn't been published. So he tried online. The science writer Ben Goldacre reports:

'Prof Fairchild has tried to post comments on the article which flatly misrepresents his own research, twice, but his comments have been rejected by the Telegraph’s online comment moderators, while 23 other comments have appeared.'

One comment, following Goldacre's post, gives the link to the Press Complaints Commission. It's here.*

Another comment, this time on Deltoid adds:

'I tried to post a comment at the 'Telegraph' asking if it's true that Fairchild's comments had been blocked. Nothing has appeared...'

A few months ago, the Telegraph reviewed Goldacre's book Bad Science and praised its 'crusade against lazy and deceptive writing about science'.

*The first three pars in the PCC's code of practice are:

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published.

iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

more ...

Thursday, 8 January 2009

the trick of it

The big theme that ran through Series Four of The Wire was education. There was more than one lesson here for environmentalists.

In Series Four the ex-cop Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski (left) had become a maths teacher at Edward Tilghman Middle School. In the early episodes he struggled to gain any control over his anarchic class. They had no interest in any of the usual maths problems.

One lunch break (in Episode 7) Prez sees his pupils playing cards and rolling dice. Some of them keep losing. Prez goes to the school storeroom and rifles through the old board games and finds some more sets of dice. With those, he teaches his whole class the laws of probability. 'There are only three ways to make a four, but to make a seven ...?'

Another teacher walks in and finds the classroom humming with activity (rolling dice, counting out Monopoly money). She looks impressed. Prez says, 'Trick 'em into thinking they aren't learning, and they do.' more ...

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

visions and grunts

An American publisher emailed, after reading my post Making Climate Change Hot, to mention a forthcoming book Getting Green Done, which argues 'we need fewer visionaries and more grunts'.

The RSA's William Shaw also saw my post and also reflects on the gap between great ideas and what's actually happening. He writes,

'The difficulty is not so much the lack of new models though, but the lack of success of those that are being worked on. There are dreams like Winy Maas's brilliant new city in Seoul, but in reality those dreams are proving extremely hard to make concrete.'

Shaw says that plans for Dongtan, the eco-city in China (which I wrote about here), 'appear to be slipping as economic will disappears.'

One activist who's very astute at closing the gap between ideas and actions is Van Jones (above), President of Green For All and the man who's 'greening the ghetto'. (He's profiled by Elizabeth Kolbert in this week's New Yorker).

My post had argued that groups like to hear messages from other people like them who share their values. Jones takes that one step further. He doesn't just change the way he speaks ('my street rap', 'my elite rap'), he has changed the way he listens.

'I’m not looking for the points of difference,' he tells Kolbert, 'I’m looking for the points of commonality. I’ve trained my mind so that people can say twenty-seven things that might be objectionable, but as soon as they say one, that twenty-eighth thing, that’s in the right direction, that’s where I’m going to go in the conversation.' more ...

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

getting those three digits out

This blog supports Bill McKibben's 350 Challenge.

(The current level of CO2 in the atmosphere is 384ppm. It needs to be brought down - at least - to 350ppm.)

Today McKibben tells the RSA's Arts and Ecology site that

'We need lots of art, graphic design, fine art, poster art, theatre, street theatre, to get those three digits out.' more ...

Monday, 5 January 2009

don't mess with celebrities

The worst thing we can do is develop a massive global campaign with international celebrities saying, 'Don’t mess with the planet!' But it’s possible to learn something about tackling climate change from the way Texas used celebrities to deal with its highway litter.

My article about Making Climate Change Hot appears in the current issue of Intelligent Life. more ...

faust, frankenstein or cassandra

A while back we noted George Monbiot's choice of Dr Faustus as the key play for our time. In Heat he quotes Marlowe's line 'The God thou servest is thine own appetite.' Dr Faustus is given 24 years to live 'in all voluptuousness'. After that, he has to surrender his soul. Monbiot writes: 'You could mistake this story for a metaphor of climate change.'

Others have taken the Faust story to represent man's endless quest to unlock the secrets of nature. It was this side that evidently appealed to Pamela Rosenberg, general director of San Francisco Opera, when she asked John Adams to compose 'an American Faust' based on J. Robert Oppenheimer.

In his fascinating review of the recent New York production of Doctor Atomic Daniel Mendelsohn explains why this was misjudged. Essentially, during the period covered by Doctor Atomic (the four weeks leading up to the test of the first atomic bomb) Oppenheimer wasn't 'confronted by soul-searing choices of the kind that would have made a good Faustian drama.' His concern was whether 'the gadget' would work.

Mendelsohn writes that the 19th century model, anyway, is Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein, 'an Enlightenment figure whose misplaced faith in scientific creation leads inevitably, tragically, to complete destruction.'

Meanwhile, we would suggest, climate-change scientists are closest to the prophetic Cassandra: 'No escape, my friends, not now.' more ...

Sunday, 4 January 2009

pitchfork remedies

naturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret

'You can drive out nature with a pitchfork, but she will always return'.

Horace, Epistles i. x. 24 more ...

Friday, 2 January 2009

better stuff

The great American biologist E. O. Wilson has stated plainly that buying too much stuff (or 'rising per capita consumption') is driving climate change.

That's a near-impossible subject for others to talk about without sounding (a) puritanical and/or (b) hypocritical and/or (c) pollyannaish. But some philosophical guidance was offered on the relationship between consumerism and the good life on this week's In Our Time. The key words are Aristotle and appetite.

Melvyn Bragg and his guests were discussing Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy when the conversation turned to Spinoza's Ethics and the idea that a 'right view' of the world would liberate us from all the things that cause us pain.

Roger Scruton said, 'The free man, the one who has this adequate conception of the world is also one whose moral character is utterly trustworthy because he sees things as they are, and doesn't put the kind of false valuation on his own appetites that less educated people would do.'

Bragg said, 'It's always about appetites, isn't it, really?'

Scruton said, 'Well, appetities are our problem.'

Bragg said, 'But they're our pleasure as well.'

Scruton said, 'Of course. This is why the Platonic view is so different in the end from the Aristotelian. The Aristotelian view is that we shouldn't abolish our appetites, and achieve the viewpoint of pure reason, that we should on the contrary educate them through the practice of virtue so that then we want the right things on the right occasions to the right extent, and that is what human fulfilment requires.'

High-minded then, the Aristotelian view, but not puritanical. more ...


Early in the new year comes the reminder there's a large strand within the arts (and design and fashion) that is resolutely ungreen. The fashion designer and Chanel boss, Karl Lagerfeld, thinks many modern attitudes are 'childish'.

This morning he told Today's Evan Davis that he loves SUVs:

'As long as they are legal, there is no reason not to use them. And if another car comes into me, or to you, you are sure you are going to survive without having your face cut to pieces.' more ...

Thursday, 1 January 2009

some good news to start 2009

'It's like that moment in The Graduate when someone pulls Benjamin to one side and whispers "Plastics!" in his ear.' Lord Stern tells Today's guest editor Jarvis Cocker that the investment in technological progress is one reason for optimism (Obama is another).

'Solar towers in the desert — as expressive of our aspirations as medieval cathedrals once were.' Ian McEwan looks forward to the aesthetic and scientific development of solar energy.

'Something spectacular happened in a small corner of the world': Bangladesh elects a democratic government.

The Independent gives 20 reasons to take up cycling. Reason 12, it's cool; reason 16, it's a thrill; reason 20, it's good for the soul. more ...