Friday, 28 October 2011

Margaret Atwood is with the bears

Margaret Atwood and Helen Simpson discuss I'm With The Bears, a new collection of short stories about climate change, with Mariella Frostrup on BBC Radio 4's Open Book.

Helen Simpson says one problem of writing about climate change is the moralizing:

"That's about as popular as telling someone they need to lose weight. It's the nagging and being preached at element that is very hard to avoid around this subject”. more ...

Thursday, 20 October 2011

New metaphors for sustainability: 'A matter of time'

Nick Robins’ metaphor suggests a profound shift in our perceptions of time. Nick works in the policy, operational and financial dimensions of corporate accountability and sustainability. He is author of The Corporation that Changed the World: How the East India Company Shaped the Modern Multinational (2006) and in 2011 was rated as the leading analyst for climate change research in the ThomsonExtel survey.

In the end, sustainability is all about the allocation of the scarcest resource: time. How much time do we devote to what in the present, and how do we balance the imperatives of time past, time present and time future?

The task, then, is to defeat the ravages of geological time and transfer those things of value from one civilisation to the next, particularly now that we have passed during our lifetimes from the Holocene to the Anthropocene.

Nearly all of what we consider to be valuable in human society occupies a tiny fraction of our existence as a species (some 2 million years).

For me, Homer's Iliad is the archetype of human value across time. As the poet Christopher Logue discusses in the introduction to his recent interpretation, War Music, the Iliad is already a work that has survived the collapse of a number of civilisations through luck, persistence and care. But will it survive ours?

The Iliad was written perhaps in the 8th century BCE, some 2,800 years ago. For me, sustainability means enabling those in the future to have an equivalent chance to benefit from this fundamental text, constructing an arc into the future 2,800 years long. This means that my time horizon is (or should be) 4811 AD, far further out that the 2050 timelines of the climate negotiations or the 'seventh generation' thinking of the counter-culture.

The consequences of this shift in perspective are profound: we need to conceive sustainability as beyond culture and indeed language, as the transmission of value beyond time.

All the metaphors in our series so far are collected here.
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Monday, 17 October 2011

New metaphors for sustainability: the Kelo

We resume our series finding new metaphors for sustainability with the Kelo suggested by artist and researcher Amanda Thomson

For a few years now I have been spending a lot of time in some of the remnant Caledonia pine forests of Scotland, learning about their ecology, and making an ongoing piece of work called Dead Amongst the Living, which is ostensibly about the dead trees of these woodlands. Scots pines can live to be up to 300 years old, and even after they die, can stand for years before falling. In the middle of these woods, they sometimes stand pale like spectres amongst the greens, reds and browns of the living forest, and sometimes on the hills and moorlands of the north an occasional single tree reminds us of forests now long gone or the tenaciousness it has often taken to have survived.  

There’s a Finnish word a ranger told me, Kelo, which describes a standing tree which has died, dried out in the wind and yet remains standing, often for decades, only quietly and imperceptibly decaying. Like the shells of old croft houses in the far north west and on the islands, such trees stand to remind us of a different past, and are testament to earlier times.

Dead wood supports a huge amount of biodiversity when still standing, and once they have fallen they continue to form a crucial part of the living ecosystems of a pinewood; indeed, it is said they support more species when dead than they do when alive. These dead trees contain microhabitats for species which are not found elsewhere but which are vital to the ongoing health of the forest. They are havens for invertebrates, hold rare mosses, provide nutrients for lichens, fungi and liverworts. At each stage of their decay, they give something back to their surroundings and support different species at different stages of decomposition. When standing, they provide viewpoints for raptors and their holes and cavities provide nest sites for a range of woodland birds, including crested tits. Their rot holes are used by the larvae of rare hoverflies, green shield-moss grows on old stumps and capercaillie use the upturned root plates of the fallen for cover and for dust baths. Eventually, over a period of years, and by being broken down in a variety of ways, all of the nutrients which have been stored in the tree will make their way back in to the earth and replenish it.

For me, these dead trees contain an essential reminder about how in both physical and in psychic terms, things that seem no longer with us, things that might appear to be useless and redundant, and things that becomes invisible can continue to influence, support and nourish the present, and the living, in ways that we might not yet know, but will perhaps, in time, come to realise.
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Tuesday, 11 October 2011

New fables for the woods

Why does the ash tree have black buds? Why does the yew tree live so long? Why does the chestnut tree have white candles? In a series of new fables about woods, 19 writers started with a question of this sort and found their way to an answer by writing a short story.

The collection, Why Willows Weep is published by the Woodland Trust. According to the editors, some fables are like fairy tales, others like Greek myths, and some are completely off-the-wall.

The writers are William Fiennes, James Robertson, Richard Mabey, Tracy Chevalier (who edits the collection), Susan Elderkin, Rachel Billington, Blake Morrison, Maria McCann, Terence Blacker, Joanne Harris, Philippa Gregory, Catherine O'Flynn, Tahmima Anam, Maggie O'Farrell, Amanda Craig, Ali Smith, Philip Hensher, Salley Vickers and Kate Mosse.
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Thursday, 6 October 2011

My Last Car - final showings

My Last Car, commissioned by Tipping Point, I Move, and the Warwick Arts Centre, has its final performances today through Saturday at the Warwick Arts Centre.  Everyone remembers their first car; what if their present car were their last car?  The show looks at the influences the motor car has had on people's lives, and issues of sustainability.

The star is a soft-top Rover 216 broken down to its component parts.  My Last Car is both a gallery installation and a performance.  Information and tickets here.

My Last Car - Alan Dix, the man behind the wheel from imove on Vimeo.

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