Tuesday, 30 March 2010


James Lovelock tells the Today programme that you can't expect to put a trillion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere without 'something nasty happening'. more ...

Monday, 29 March 2010

they'll do the asking themselves

Over at the RSA's arts and ecology blog, William Shaw argues: we shouldn’t be asking artists to make art about climate.

I agree to some extent that the practice of artists and performers, and how sustainable that practice is, can be considered separately from the content of the work. But not entirely separately. I agree that's it's impossible to trace the causal links between works of art and political engagement. I agree, also, that you can't ask artists 'to do climate'.

But we are living in a period of transition which is changing the nature of our imagination as profoundly as the Renaissance. (See, for instance, our world is a science fiction.) I've written elsewhere that over the last 20 years the IPCC reports have changed the way we think about ourselves:

it has led us to rethink the parameters of cause and effect, and costs, and personal responsibilities, and the interdependence of countries, and the trade-off between our lives and future generations 

It would be hard to see how artists could fail to want to engage with that. more ...

masdar mantra

The mantra at Masdar, the zero-carbon city that Norman Foster and Partners are building in the desert, is: Only use energy when you have exhausted design. (Costing The Earth, R4, tonight, 9pm) more ...

Friday, 26 March 2010


Margaret Atwood reviews E. O. Wilson's first work of fiction. more ...

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

an unexamined prejudice

The Ecologist runs an extract from a new essay about art and climate change by Jay Griffiths, author of Wild - An Elemental Journey.  In the essay, Griffiths argues that for most of human history culture has been rooted in nature (cultus means cultivation):

The unexamined prejudice against nature within aesthetics will come to seem as vacuous and cruel as racism or sexism for, despite the pretence that culture is antagonistic to nature, it never really has been.

(Ht: bridgetmck) more ...

Monday, 22 March 2010

when science meets art ... successfully

Kellie Payne has attended numerous 'art and science' events, but in this guest blog she argues that last weekend's day-long symposium Rising To The Climate Challenge: Artists and Scientists Imagine Tomorrow’s World was particularly successful. 

The Tate had paired with the Royal Society to present an impressive line-up of speakers, including artists Lucy Orta, Tomás Saraceno and the eminent land artist Agnes Denes. But its success could be attributed to another reason.

Kellie Payne writes:

Rather than framing the question as: 'how can artists help scientists communicate climate change?', last Saturday's symposium Rising To The Climate Challenge took the view that art and science had two very different perspectives to offer and much could come from their collaborations. Art’s role isn’t simply to reformulate and appealingly package the scientific messages; instead it has a more fundamental exploratory and imaginative role.

The climate science programme largely reflected the Royal Society’s priorities and included, along with the expected division of adaptation and mitigation a third one, geo-engineering. However, oceanographer and earth scientist Corinne Le Quéré , who introduced the topic, revealed that she was stuck with presenting it because none of the other speakers wanted it. Professor Le Quéré gave a well-balanced presentation comparing the various options’ effectiveness (predicted ˚C temperature change) versus the level of risk.

With more controversial options such as the frightening volcanic method, where artificial volcanoes are created in the atmosphere to reflect and reduce solar radiation, she demonstrated that even this was only a temporary fix. The volcanoes would need to continually be created because as soon as they ceased, CO2 levels in the atmosphere would rapidly return to pre-volcanic levels. A less risky option, managing earth radiation through afforestation was shown to be less effective, with a possible decrease in warming projected at only 1˚C.

Agnes Denes' land art was incorporated into the topic of geo-engineering because her large-scale works often drastically alter the landscape. In Finland she created Tree Mountain- A Living Time Capsule, building a conical mountain and planting it with 11,000 trees, and planting and harvesting a wheat field in central Manhattan (Wheatfield: A Confrontation). During her slide show, Denes explained that she likes to investigate the paradoxes of human existence: logic, evolution, time, sound, etc. and believes that by shaping and structuring the future we can control our own evolution.

Tomás Saraceno presented with an infectious energy, bursting with novel, if impractical ideas that included his floating ecosystems.  Saraceno makes bold and imaginative attempts to stretch the boundaries of our conceptions of space and gravity with his experimental floating pods. His presentation was paired nicely with Oxford social scientist Steve Rayner’s on adaptation. He focused on cities of the future and the importance of instituting greater flexibility within existing infrastructures in order to cope with future climate events such as extreme flooding. He admires Saraceno’s work, in particular his innovation with new materials, shapes, and possibilities of new patterns of organisation.

Rayner highlighted three typical art/science interactions. The first was demonstrated by a photograph of a diseased liver cell and represented the mode of seeing beauty in the scientific. The second was art’s influence on science (mainly through science fiction such as HG Wells and Jules Verne), the model of artists stimulating scientists with their work leading to new ideas and discourses. The third - which Rayner thought the most compelling - were the interactions between scientists and artists that occur when artists ‘do science through art’. Essentially, where the borders between the two are eliminated and artists employ scientific methodology in their creations, as demonstrated in Saraceno’s work.

The collaboration between scientific institutions and artists was illustrated in a discussion between the Natural History Museum’s Robert Bloomfield and artist Lucy Orta , whose upcoming exhibition at the Jerwood Gallery Perpetual Amazonia is extensively researched using the NHM’s entomology, botany and palaeontology collections. The exhibition will also be informed by Lucy and her partner Jorge’s expedition to the Peru with Cape Farewell in 2009.  Bloomfield specialises in biodiversity and stressed the importance of the interrelations between climate change and biodiversity loss and ecosystem services.

The event was recorded. Podcasts will be available soon on the Tate website. 
more ...

the importance of being artistic

Just written the latest ‘Rant’ - it appears as ‘Rant 33’ - for Axis, the online contemporary arts magazine.

The subject: Is art more important that the planet? more ...

Sunday, 21 March 2010

this isn't jazz

Sam Shepard tells an interviewer: 

We're not having a dialogue, this is question and answers. Dialogue is like jazz. Dialogue is creative. more ...

Friday, 19 March 2010

alienation can be 'vital, productive'

Three days ago, my co-editor Wallace Heim wrote a guest post about a recent philosophy conference she had attended in Liverpool on the theme of 'alienation and environment'. Her blog compared that event with a nearby exhibition by artists on environmental issues.

At one point, the blog said, the philosophers considered if there was something in the estrangement between humans and nature 'which is vital, productive, even necessary'.

It was a striking thought. I posted a comment asking: 'what kind of examples did people come up with?'

Wallace's detailed reply appears in two parts in the comment section. (Two parts because each comment can only run to 4,096 characters).

To quote two quick examples from her reply: feminism is discussed as a form of alienation and a critical process of change; and 'nature' is seen as deeply embedded in the materials that create the urban environment. more ...

Thursday, 18 March 2010

at last ... spring reaches cumbria

Following today's earlier blog about daffodils having reached Falmouth, Virginia, my co-editor, Wallace Heim, sends a pic (left) from Low Wood, Cumbria:

The first daffodils appeared yesterday. They're the wild variety up here, in the brambled edge between the woods and the village, on a fairly steep, stony slope. The cultivated ones, civicly planted along the roads, haven't blossomed yet.

(Low Wood's latitude and longitude are: north: 54°15"; west: 3°2")

On the Today programme on Tuesday, they asked: Where is spring? more ...

as the snow melts

A friend emailed yesterday to say how much she had liked:

the poetic and truly participatory project that was on your blog about school kids and postal workers tracking the flowering of daffodils and the coming of spring in the States.

The school was the Paideia School in Atlanta. After we blogged about the project, which charts the speed at which spring arrives each year along the east coast, my co-editor Kellie Gutman was asked by the teacher, Peter Richards, to be one of the spotters.

Kellie fits the target area for spotters, as she lives within five miles of Route 1, which runs from Florida to Maine, and takes in Miami, Jacksonville, Augusta, Columbia, Raleigh, Richmond, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, New York, New Haven, Providence, Boston, and Portland. Peter Richards sent her the postcard (above) ready to be filled out and mailed at the first sighting of a daffodil:

When you see the first outdoor daffodil blooming in your area, please let us know. We will send you the results of our research in the late spring.

Two weeks ago, Kellie went to the spot in her garden where she expects to see the first flower (left). Nothing but snow. But Boston hit 65 degrees this Wednesday and it's expected to be warm all week.

The first flower there may not make the first day of spring (20th-21st March), but the students at Paideia will be told as soon as it does.

Update: Peter Richards informs us that 'as of March 12th, the daffodils are up to Falmouth, Virginia.'

more ...

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

party on

This blog has a long-running interest in climate-change jokes. So it was good to hear, at the end of tonight’s episode of the new Radio 4 comedy series Party, that next week the clueless young political idealists are going to address the question of climate change. more ...

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

two views across the mersey

In this guest post, Wallace Heim, co-editor of the Ashden Directory, spends a day in Liverpool - first with philosophers, then with artists.

Two weeks ago, in sight of the Mersey, and within a 100 yards of one another, you could find two very different ways of looking at human relations with nature. At Liverpool University's Philosophy Department, a dozen professors and lecturers exchanged ideas on alienation and the environment. Across the street, High Tide’s latest exhibition of work by 11 artists opened at the Art & Design Academy.

The philosophers talked in a plain room around a table. We dived into meticulous explorations of how the human relates to the natural, and whether our perceived loss of touch from the natural world is justifiably the grounds for our current situation, or whether there is something in that estrangement which is vital, productive, even necessary.

A grappling with how to describe the experience and feeling of alienation moved alongside the historical and analytical exploration of it, through the Romantics, Marx, environmental ethics and new views on the built environment as ‘natural’.

Seeing the gallery with those ideas still swimming in my mind made me look for a similar prodding of that sore zone between human and nature, wanting to see more than a rush to represent the effects of the estrangement, or to show a better or more ecological connection, as valuable as those are. I wanted to be taken, through art, into that suspension where not everything is known and already given, a place of sideways, even dangerous, questions.

This wasn’t the theme of Mersey Basin, which was an exploration of rising sea levels, flooding and the ebb and flow of that shoreline. Works were composed of driftwood, mud, string, plastic detritus and woven wool. Some were juxtapositions of waste and beauty (Robyn Woolston, Gordon MacLellan), some had provocational intent (Àgata Alcañiz). Many artworks represented past conversations or performances, or long periods of attending to an environment, or of collaborations with scientists (Scott Thurston & Elizabeth Willow, James Brady & Stuart Carter).

Maps represented not only the present, but the ancient fluctuations of changing shorelines melding into projections of an uncertain future (Tim Pugh), and the visual pleasure of proposals forward for the Mersey Basin as a forested refuge for migrating species (David Haley).

The walking, marking and storytelling of the exhibition brought the materiality of the changing edge between sea and land into view. But the littoral could also describe the continually changing gap between the ‘human’ and ‘nature’, and it was the philosophers who excited this most sharply, almost painfully, and pushed against the shortcomings of current knowledge as our environments change.

Pic: 'Trees of Grace: Draughting Change': David Haley shows our blogger a map of the Mersey Basin and Pennines that illustrates how it would look with a changed shoreline and re-forestation. (Yvonne Haley)
more ...

Friday, 12 March 2010

hippy dippy

The Independent says Ian McEwan portrays the characters in the Cape Farewell section of his novel Solar as a 'motley crew of hippy-dippy ice sculptors and conceptual choreographers'. more ...

off topic

It is worth noting that theatre in the Noughties had little to say about some of the topics that people actually argue about: there were no major plays about the house-price boom, the ethics of choosing schools or, with only one or two exceptions, global warming.

'Blasted and After: New Writing in British Theatre' - Aleks Sierz more ...

the get-out clause

Ian McEwan explains why Solar, his novel about climate change, is a comedy.

The thing that would have killed the book for me, I’m sure, is if I’d taken up any sort of moral position. I needed a get-out clause. And the get-out clause is, this is an investigation of human nature, with some of the latitude thrown in by comedy.
more ...

solar panned

The Economist dismisses Ian McEwan's new novel Solar (published next week), which features a Nobel-winning scientist who travels to the North Pole:

the plot is barely credible and the scientific setting hard to recognise. more ...

Thursday, 11 March 2010


The best way to understand Avatar is to watch The Wizard of Oz. more ...

street talk

Scientists must acknowledge that they are in a street fight and that their relationship with the media really matters.  more ...

Monday, 8 March 2010


As Vandana Shiva suggested in her interview with us, there are strong links between cultural diversity and biodiversity. But as the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove also shows, cultural diversity can be at war with biodiversity . more ...

Saturday, 6 March 2010

dignified ignoramus

Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, chief climate adviser to Angela Merkel, says that writers :

usually think it is cool to know nothing about science. Being a complete ignoramus somehow makes them feel dignified.

eg: Clive James. more ...

Monday, 1 March 2010

the military understands risk

Professor Graciela Chichilnisky, who works on questions of risk and catastrophe, tells Andrew Marr (on R4's Start The Week) that while a large number of American politicians may not take climate change very seriously, the Pentagon does takes climate change very seriously.  more ...