Wednesday 31 December 2008

the birth of 'scientist'

2009 also sees the 40th anniversary of C. P. Snow's 'Two Cultures' lecture, which argued there was a deep split within the British educational system between the arts and the sciences.

(One sign of this, perhaps, has been the painfully slow response from those in the arts community to the implications of the IPCC reports. As science historian Nancy Oreskes says: 'there's a huge disconnect between what professional scientists have studied and learned in the last 30 years, and what is out there in the popular culture'.)

The split goes back a long way. On Monday's Start The Week, Richard Holmes, author of The Age of Wonder (blogged here), described - 39 mins in - the precise moment that the word 'scientist' was coined:

'There is a moment, it's 1833, you can pin it down, it's the third meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the breakaway from the Royal Society. They all meet in Cambridge. All the young scientists are there, so is the aged Coleridge, and they have this discussion: "What do we call ourselves?' And somebody suggests "scientists". That word did not exist until 1833.' more ...

Tuesday 30 December 2008

one did, one didn't

As 2009 marks the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first use of the telescope and the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, the New Scientist asked a bunch of thinkers to decide who was more important.

One showed us that we inhabit a tiny speck orbiting a tiny speck, all but lost among billions of specks in a galaxy (says philosopher Daniel Dennett). The other struck at the root of what it means to be human (says physicist Paul Davies).

This blog adds: one became the subject of a great play, the other didn't. more ...

Monday 29 December 2008

two wonderful things

Michael Frayn says Harold Pinter did two 'really wonderful things politically'. One was to go to Turkey and protest against the arrest of writers there. The other was his Nobel acceptance speech. more ...

Sunday 28 December 2008

how playwrights tackle politics

The many tributes to Harold Pinter have been followed by a couple of dissenting views that have concentrated on the playwright's political views.

Johann Hari has written witheringly about Pinter's support for Milosevic and Minette Marin has proposed 'an odd natural law of literature: creative writers are often silly political commentators'. Her list of examples, other than Pinter, includes Tolstoy, Brecht, Jean-Paul Sartre, V.S. Naipaul and Martin Amis. Her example of someone sane who stayed out of politics is Chekhov.

But Chekhov's journey in 1890 to the prison colony in Sakhalin, which he wrote about in The Island: Journey to Sakhalin, was deeply political. Chekhov travelled 4,000 miles by boat and coach to report on the conditions. He wrote:

'We have sent millions of men to rot in prison, have destroyed them - casually without thinking, barbarously ... have depraved them, have multiplied criminals, and the blame for all this we have thrown upon the gaolers and red-nosed superintendents. Now all educated Europe knows that it is not the superintendents that are to blame, but all of us ...'

(quoted in V. S. Pritchett's Chekhov - A Spirit Set Free)

Chekhov makes a direct connection between lives that are lived in places that are thousands of miles apart. He backs this up with meticulous and exhausting research. It's an example of the role of empathy in politics, a subject that is central to any fuller grasp of the implications of climate change. more ...

Saturday 27 December 2008

passive resistance

As public buildings - including theatres and museums - get lousy ratings for their CO2 emissions, it's timely to learn that in 'passive houses' outside Frankfurt the families use only 5% of the energy their parents' homes used and the new homes cost only 5% -7% more to build. more ...

Wednesday 24 December 2008

shoes of another

In a comment that follows his own post on Climate Change Denial, Roman Krznaric writes

"In her book Other People’s Shoes, the British Shakespearean actress Harriet Walter has written that actors ‘are the custodians of another person’s thoughts, and must locate them and reproduce them as faithfully as possible. This has nothing to do with interpretation or imitation. Accents and mannerisms are not the point. The exercise is to quieten our own ego and let another person speak.’ This approach to acting mirrors the imaginative act of empathising where we attempt to put ourselves in the shoes of another, and allow their thoughts and experiences to become part of us and guide us. To my mind, the more drama work around climate change, the better."

Krznaric's essay, ‘Empathy and Climate Change: Proposals for a Revolution of Human Relationships’, can be downloaded here. more ...

Monday 22 December 2008

lyrical precision

It was reading Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams that convinced Robert Macfarlane that 'lyricism was a function of precision - and that exact and exacting attention to the natural world was a kind of moral gaze.'

Macfarlane writes about what he has learnt from other nature writers in the Jan/Feb edition of Resurgence (not yet online). Macfarlane has also written about Lopez here. more ...

Sunday 21 December 2008

top appointment

'There is already widespread harm ... occurring from climate change. This is not just a problem for our children and our grandchildren.'

John Holdren, Harvard physicist and newly-appointed chief scientific adviser to the Obama administration. In his weekly radio address, Barack Obama shows how much he intends to differ from his predecessor,

'It's about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It's about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it's inconvenient – especially when it's inconvenient.' more ...

Saturday 20 December 2008

in two words

Newsweek has a feature on art and culture in the Bush era. The list of works the magazine thinks best catches the era runs: 'Battlestar Galactica', ‘American Idol’, Jeff Koons’s ‘Hanging Heart’, Jonathan Franzen's ‘The Corrections’, ‘Black Hawk Down’, ‘Borat’, Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’, Caryl Churchill's ‘Far Away’ and Rick Warren's 'The Purpose-Driven Life'.

One movie blogger writes,

'I don't know what "one work" I'd pick to represent the Bush years, but I do know which phrase I would select. It isn't "axis of evil," or "weapons of mass destruction" or "mission accomplished" or even "with us or against us." It's another Bush quote, a response to the implicit question of what Americans should do after 9/11. He responded: "Go shopping."' more ...

Friday 19 December 2008

the only question

Complicite's Simon McBurney gives a spot-on interview to American Theatre:

'Naturalism is not suited to the theatre because theatre is about communication with the audience. In the end the only question in the theatre is: How does the play become alive? In fact, theatre only exists in the mind of the audience - it does not exist on stage, or in a play. It only exists because the audience brings it alive.'

Hat-tip: Theatreforte more ...

Thursday 18 December 2008

endgames for artists

American installation artist James Turrell gets it:

'If people are going to transform their lives for the sake of reduced emissions, they must be moved and inspired to do so.'

(Hat-tip: Lily Oster.)

So too does David Cross:

'In addition to producing aesthetic and contemplative experiences, contemporary art and design should test concepts, assumptions and boundaries in everyday life, and imagine new ways — material and intellectual — of going about the world.'

(Hat-tip: WS.) more ...

Wednesday 17 December 2008

whales in driveways

'What we know of whales', writes Elin Kelsey, author of Watching Giants, 'we extrapolate from the tiny glimpses researchers get at the water surface, and even then, only by looking in the same old places.'

Studying whales has been compared to researching humans solely by watching them in their driveways.

The Ashden Directory has just posted three new articles about whales and the performing arts. We survey the writers and directors who have imagined the impossible - putting whales onstage. The philosopher and composer David Rothenberg attempts a new level of interspecies communication by playing jazz with whales. In the ancient Inuit fable of 'The Narwhal', storyteller Helen East finds a thoroughly modern story about whales and greed.

For the performing arts, there's a special challenge in interpreting the lives of animals and their habitats: so much that is essential cannot be contained on the stage. As concern over biodiversity and species extinction becomes acute, these issues call for new levels of imaginative engagement between audiences and performers.

In the New Scientist the philosopher A C Grayling writes about the complex social, emotional and cognitive lives of great apes with their 'self-awareness and capacities for affection and grief'.

He adds, 'It makes one think, and once one starts reflecting on ethical boundaries, it's hard not to conclude that they are best drawn as far out as possible.' more ...

Tuesday 16 December 2008

green ink

Ted Turner asked his arch-rival Rupert Murdoch to lunch after Murdoch announced his decision to reduce News Corp’s carbon footprint. As Mr Turner says, 'Who would have thought that after all these years an environmental gesture would give us the excuse to get together and bury the hatchet, but that’s exactly what we did?' more ...

Monday 15 December 2008

getting ready

GoS emails that Wallace Shawn's lines from The Fever about an amazing moment (‘before the day starts') reminds him of Philip Larkin’s Aubade.

'Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring

In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring

Intricate rented world begins to rouse.' more ...

Friday 12 December 2008

david lan gets it

The Young Vic's artistic director David Lan identifies two key issues in relation to theatre and climate change. One is the global interconnectedness of 21st century lives. The other is the 'impossibility' of controlling context when everyone arrives with their own ideas.

On interconnectedness: 'The premise one starts from is: "We want to learn". I suppose a lot of the impulse comes from a sense of wanting to live in the real world, and part of the process of being alive is constantly discovering that you don’t really understand what’s going on and you want to know a little bit more than you did last week and the realities of the way we live are so complicated, but as the last three months have made abundantly clear, we are also living in each other’s pockets. A complex financial situation in downtown Miami can cause a collapse of the banks in Reykjavik. Now, what does that mean about the way we create work in the theatre?'

On context: ' ... part of the job of producing is to try and control the way in which the audience receive what you are creating, by the context in which that is presented. If you are working in an area, like this Brazil project , which has a relationship to a set of ideas and arguments and actions about climate change, it is very, very, very hard, it is impossible, to control that context, because everybody comes at it with a set of their own ideas.'

Hat tip RSA. more ...

an amazing moment

Grains of Sand linked last week (2 Dec) to Chris Goodall’s observation that ‘the London opera houses have had more taxpayer money than the British marine power industry over the past few years.’ GoS adds, ‘It should not, of course, have to be either/or, and neither I nor, I am sure, Chris Goodall would want to suggest such a thing.’

One person who does describe these kinds of choices in terms of either/or, and who himself earns his living in the arts, is the playwright Wallace Shawn. In his thoroughly discomforting play The Fever (1991), he writes,

'And there’s an amazing moment: each day, before the day starts, before the market opens, before the bidding begins, there’s a moment of confusion. The money is silent, it hasn’t yet spoken. Its decisions are withheld, poised, perched, ready. Everyone knows that the world will not do everything today; if food is produced for the hungry children, then certain operas will not be performed; if certain performances are in fact given, then the food won’t be produced, and the children will die.'

The Royal Court's season of Wallace Shawn plays opens next Spring. more ...

Thursday 11 December 2008

the wire-cutter's art

Over at the RSA arts and ecology blog, William Shaw makes a good point about art and activism. John Vidal's Guardian report refers to the protester who breached the security at Kingsnorth power station (and crashed a giant 500MW turbine) as the 'green Banksy'. OK, the headline and text put the phrase in quote marks, but Shaw writes:

'Does that make anyone with a pair of wire cutters an artist? This would, of course, open the door to the Michael Stone defence becoming widespread. Michael Stone is, as you will recall, the convicted paramilitary murderer who was arrested trying to burst into Stormont armed with a gun and pipe bombs to murder Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, but justified his act by claiming it was "performance art"'.

see also on this blog: art, ads and agit-prop, keep it distinct, the message is not to have one, artists and activists and just asking.
more ...

the negotiator and the polemicist

There's a fascinating online exchange (in purely dramatic terms) between George Monbiot and Yvo de Boer, the UN's chief climate change negotiator. Here we meet two climate-change characters - the polemicist and the negotiator. The difference is nicely captured in the final moment in this 10-minute interview.

MONBIOT. You must be pretty relieved to see the end of President Bush.

DE BOER. No, not really. I was impressed by the change that he went through on global warming. I saw him launch a major economies process. I saw him initiate a new financial facility under the World Bank. He was trying to engage on this topic within what he perceived to be the economic realities and political realities of his country. And I respect that.

MONBIOT. So the UN's chief climate change negotiator is the only man on earth who doesn't think that President Bush was a disaster for climate change!

DE BOER. I don't think I'm the only person on earth. I think that he represents a number of political and economic realities that we need to respect if we are going to move forward in a way that holds water. more ...

Wednesday 10 December 2008

exit strategy

The Guardian's hostile review of Amazonia includes this fairly remarkable sentence: 'But it is the sheer po-faced earnestness of the turgid script that scuppers any joy, as if those making it thought that watching it would make us better people, when actually the preachiness makes you long to rush out and lop down a tree.' more ...

Tuesday 9 December 2008

mind the gap

One of the toughest challenges for climate-change campaigners is the gap that exists (in storytelling terms) between cause and effect. That gap is closing. It looks like lawyers may make the connections before dramatists do. more ...

Monday 8 December 2008

not very joined-up

It didn't pass anyone's notice, at today's Tipping Point
science event in London, that today's news had the Environment Secretary Ed Miliband advocating 'popular mobilisation' to tackle carbon emissions and 57 climate-change activists were arrested at Stansted. more ...

Sunday 7 December 2008


More people die each month on American roads than were killed in the September 11 attacks. But where, asks the TLS, is the war on cars?

(Instead: $15 billion aid package to pull Detroit's big three automakers from brink of collapse.) more ...

Friday 5 December 2008

coming of age

Andrew Revkin says his environmental reporting for the New York Times has evolved.

'Climate change is not the story of our time. Climate change is a subset of the story of our time, which is that we are coming of age on a finite planet and only just now recognizing that it is finite.' more ...

Thursday 4 December 2008


Protest Naomi Klein style.

'The only kind of protest she likes is the Yippie kind, theatrical enough to be entertaining and self-mocking enough to dilute the earnestness to a level that she can tolerate.' more ...

Wednesday 3 December 2008

renewable sponsors

Grains of Sand suggests those in the performing arts concerned about climate change should twin up with enlightened investors: 'Les Pêcheurs de Perles, brought to you by tidal power; Riders from the Sea, powered by offshore wind turbines.' more ...

Tuesday 2 December 2008

playwrights respond to other plays

Another one to add to reasons why theatres don't touch climate change is that people have held back from staging something that isn't quite good enough. (For a long time, the Full Monty's Simon Beaufoy was writing a climate-change play for the Tricycle, but it never appeared.) But maybe a few not-so-great plays about climate change would get the thing going.

The American playwright Christopher Shinn writes in the introduction to his Plays: 1 that he began his second play after seeing Shopping and Fucking ('I thought it was one of those plays that valorises the thing it claims to critique'.) Shinn says his university tutor Tony Kushner had 'put the idea into my head that playwrights can respond to plays they hate by writing new ones - I think he even told me he wrote Angels in America in response to some stupid Aids play.'

Angels in America appears in our timeline (1993) as the first play in which an angel descends to earth through a hole in the ozone layer. more ...

Friday 28 November 2008

what's sold in the free market of ideas

Alain de Botton finds himself having a little more time for Socrates' defence of cultural censorship as it appears in Plato's Republic. The argument there is that bad ideas can ruin your life.

'It won't escape the notice of any inhabitant of a large city that the thoughts which greet us in public places are overwhelmingly interested in directing our attention to the advantages of consuming deodorants, airline flights and blockbuster films. If we really lived in a free market of ideas, we should expect that we would occasionally hear a public defence of kindness or a paean to the wise aphorisms of Marcus Aurelius, but we don't, for the obvious reason that few gentle Buddhists or stalwart Stoics have the £100,000 necessary to start an effective ad campaign.'
more ...

Thursday 27 November 2008

the great green way

Broadway's taking steps to go green. But Wicked producer David Stone admits, 'The theater community has always been at the forefront of social change, and we have been left behind on this one a little bit.' more ...

Wednesday 26 November 2008

now or later

The most arresting line in David Hare's Gethsemane is a piece of reported speech. The Home Secretary, Meredith, is discussing her daughter Suzette's views, about asylum seekers and refugees, with her political advisor, Lori.

MEREDITH. Suzette says, 'Mum, it isn't a question of "They're poor and we're rich." It's "They're poor because we're rich." And if you can't see that, you can't see anything.'

Meredith doesn't see this, she says she can't see this (she doesn't have time), and the play doesn't pursue the point. But it's this area, the connection between our lives, here, and other lives, elsewhere, that would also be central to any drama that dealt with climate change.

A playwright who has a thrilling sense of how the world is connected is Christopher Shinn . His latest play Now or Later takes place on election night. The central character is John ('20, white') and his father is about to become President of the United States. A story has surfaced on several obscure blogs that John went to a student party dressed as Muhammad. (There were reasons for this.) As the play develops, this gossip spreads across the internet and John's father and his campaign team become increasingly fearful about the backlash in other countries (riots, death threats).

The play takes place in a hotel room, in real time, but it conveys a strong sense of the causal links (the because) that connect actions in one place with consequences in another. In that respect, it offers something of a model.
more ...

Tuesday 25 November 2008

instinct for the times

Philip Pullman has rightly called climate change 'the most important challenge the human race has ever faced'. But the news hasn't reached everyone. Take political playwrights.

Imagine someone in 50 years time trying to understand what people were thinking/feeling about climate change by reading some of the plays that had been staged in 2008. OK, so theatre isn't journalism. There's going to be a time-lag. But nearly 20 years after the first IPCC report, the answer would be: people weren't thinking about it at all. It had barely impinged.

In the Guardian, Michael Billington defends David Hare's Gethsemane, saying 'Hare may not be right about everything. But he has a far greater instinct for the times we live in than most of the critics who so routinely abuse him.'

If only that were the case. Unfortunately, as Pullman's remark makes clear, there are far more pressing political issues today than Gethsemane's plot about party fund-raising and a cabinet minister's daughter sleeping with an Oxbridge journalist. more ...

nine jumbos falling out of the sky

The Financial Times urges it readers to support its seasonal appeal for WaterAid. The article says that (according to Unicef) every day diarrhoea claims the lives of 4,300 children under the age of five.

WaterAid's head of policy says, 'If we had nine jumbo jets falling out of the sky every day, which is the equivalent, there’d be an immediate G8 summit.' more ...

Monday 24 November 2008

'the biggest scam in marketing history'

Bottled water: the more you think about it, the more daft it is.

(Ben Jonson would have smiled.) more ...

show and tell

No Impact Man recommends lifestyle redesign as a kind of political performance art. more ...

the return of thrift

Fay Weldon reviews India Knight's Thrift Book

A distaste for excess crept upon us unaware, pre-dating the credit crunch and the fear for jobs: one day, bottled water seemed normal; the next day not. One day, leaving the computer on all night seemed bold and trusting, a gesture of defiance; the next, it seemed a senseless waste.

If Fay Weldon had been following any of the low-impact blogs linked to on this blog, she might not have been caught unawares. more ...

keeping it in the family

A fortnight ago, this blog listed six reasons why theatres don't touch climate change. Here's another: playwrights only really like stories about families.

Sam Shepard, the American playwright, when asked why he wrote so much about family, answered: 'What else is there?'

As a subject, climate change is about a lot more than the emotional dynamics of individual families. more ...

Sunday 23 November 2008

how quickly plays date

OTTO. In my opinion the people running the country are capable people. The economy's doing well. They know what they're doing. Therefore.

LORI. Therefore what?

OTTO. Explain to me why this government shouldn't be in power for ever.

Gethsemane by David Hare (opened 12 November 2008). more ...

Friday 21 November 2008

missing link

As soon as I read Ian McEwan's piece on Barack Obama, climate change and global poverty, I wondered if Arts and Letters Daily would link to it.

Arts and Letters is the aggregator website that links to many of the most interesting articles that appear online (it has even linked to one of mine). The site's motto is veritas odit moras (truth hates delay). The McEwan piece would seem a natural link.

Here is one of our leading novelists writing about the most pressing issue of the day. The subject is central to his new novel. McEwan is well-informed. The article is excellent.

But there are some truths that editors like more than others. As long-term users of the site know, Arts and Letters doesn't like stuff that sounds at all green. It much prefers the stuff that's boisterously anti-green.

So whatever the Latin tag says about truth and delay, it may not be the place to find a link to McEwan's urgent and elegant article. more ...

Thursday 20 November 2008

the don't knows

'Often my characters don’t know what the issues of the play are.'

David Rabe more ...

Wednesday 19 November 2008

sweet rain of photons

Ian McEwan writes,

An alien landing on our planet and noticing how it was bathed in light would be amazed to learn that we believe ourselves to have an energy problem, that we ever should have thought of overheating or poisoning ourselves by burning fossil fuels or generating plutonium. Sunlight falls on us in a constant stream, a sweet rain of photons beyond counting. more ...

Tuesday 18 November 2008

bunch of eco-terms top list

Runners-up for the Oxford Word of the Year 2008 included frugalista, carrotmobbing, rewilding and staycation.

The winner describes the attempt to maximize gas mileage by making fuel-conserving adjustments to one’s car and one’s driving techniques, or ... hypermiling. more ...

the real thing

The Columbian vice president, Francisco Santos Calderon (left), says anyone who takes cocaine in the UK is responsible for the harm caused by landmines to the Colombian people and for breathtaking damage to the rainforest.

Related. Helen Mirren - Why I stopped taking cocaine. ('I had never grasped the full horrifying structure of what brings coke to our parties in Britain.')

more ...

Sunday 16 November 2008

the master says

'Propaganda is death in the theatre.’ Noel Coward more ...

Saturday 15 November 2008

freighted with inconsistencies

In discussing David Hare's Gethsemane, the Telegraph's Dominic Cavendish makes a point close to the one this blog has been making since it went online (see here, here, here, and here). He writes:

If we want a state-of-the-nation play that goes for broke, what we need, at the very least, is a leading Left-wing playwright prepared to hold a mirror up to the aspirations of his tribe: to confront the awkward fact that maybe it's not that the Left could do better that's the problem, but that the idea of "doing better" itself is freighted with inconsistencies.

It's by exploring these inconsistencies (and collisions and disjunctures) that the richest drama will emerge. The narrowness of the concerns of most political theatre means that it fails to grasp the broader/deeper implications of rising per capita consumption, finite resources and climate change. It isn't answers that are needed here, just awareness. more ...

Wednesday 12 November 2008

why theatres don't touch climate change

The nature of climate change (how it affects other people in other countries and how it will affect other people in other centuries) makes it a unique challenge to theatre.

The impact of individual actions spreads out, very diffusely, across time and place. It's hard to see how this can be addressed within the classical dramaturgical model of cause and effect. It's one reason why no major theatre has staged a play on the subject.

But there are five other reasons why theatres don't touch climate change.

1. Theatres think climate change is about science and so it's going to be extremely technical. But it isn't. It's about drama's core themes: human relationships, the way we live, what we value.

2. Theatres are worried they'll be accused of hypocrisy, so they are going to need to get their house in order first. But this is not a 'them and us' subject where you have to be whiter-than-white before you can talk about it. Everyone's implicated, everyone's involved. Theatres should be open about that.

3. Theatres are holding off engaging with this subject (as one theatre director told me) because they're not sure what they think about it. But not knowing what you think about something is the perfect moment to engage with it.

4. Theatres imagine the plays will either have to be agit-prop or apocalyptic and they don't want to do either. But climate change is driven (as the great American biologist E.O. Wilson has said) by our high levels of per capita consumption: where stuff comes from and where it goes. Climate change is about everyday life.

5. Many of the leading fossil fuel companies are prominent sponsors of the arts. Oh yes, good point.

Updates: Finally, a good play about climate change (9 May 2009); Green shoots of climate-change theatre (22 May 2009). more ...

Tuesday 11 November 2008

left or right isn't the question

The New York Times ran a piece last month which said that nearly all Broadway plays were liberal or left-wing. Last Sunday the Wall Street Journal's theatre critic, Terry Teachout, joined the debate

the problem with today's political theater is that its practitioners see their plays not as works of art but as means to an end. In such tedious exercises in left-wing agitprop as Sam Shepard's The God of Hell, Caryl Churchill's Drunk Enough to Say I Love You? and Tim Robbins's Embedded, we are presented with a black-and-white universe of victims and villains, a place where every deck is stacked and never is heard a surprising word.

Teachout didn't welcome the prospect of right-wing versions of issue-driven plays. He quoted Chekhov,

Anyone who says the artist's field is all answers and no questions has never done any writing. . . . It is the duty of the court to formulate the questions correctly, but it is up to each member of the jury to answer them according to his own preference.

The issue today is not whether playwrights are left-wing or right-wing (the terms are too broad to have any real use in this context), but whether playwrights are formulating the right questions correctly.

Climate change has ushered in pressing new ethical dilemmas about our responsibilities to people that we will never meet. These relationships are spatial and temporal: what A does in one country effects B in another; what C does in one century will effect D in another. These aren't easy issues to put on stage.

It's one reason why a major play has still to be written about it.

Teachout's article attacked here. (Ht. Theatre Ideas and Poor Player.) more ...

vegging out

The Blue Peter garden used to be full of tortoises and pretty pointless plants. Now it's going to grow vegetables. more ...

cold toes and driving rain

A fortnight ago this blog mentioned Run for the hills, a blog by Simon Lee, who'd left his job as chief executive of Changeworks and moved to a small croft in the north of Scotland to reduce his carbon footprint.

Lee was flattered, but puzzled, to discover from his Google stats that he was getting visits from this blog and the Ashden Directory.

A blog about theatre and climate change is always going to want to highlight examples about low impact lives and voluntary simplicity, from Diogenes and Wittgenstein to No Impact Man and Crunchy Chicken. Lee's is the latest. Yesterday, he writes, 'the main thing I'm concentrating on is how cold my toes are and just how wild the driving rain sounds against the velux windows.'

See also: blogging the good life. more ...

man and beast

A new play by Wallace Shawn, Grasses of 1000 Colours, opens at the Royal Court on 12 May 2009. Directed by Andre Gregory, Shawn's co-star in My Dinner Wth Andre, the new play stars Shawn and Miranda Richardson. Its theme, says the blurb, is the 'embattled relationship between man and beast'.

See also: Shawn wants Naomi Klein's audience. more ...

Monday 10 November 2008

ear plugs

There's no chance to link to Ian Parker's New Yorker profile for the Nov 10 issue about the new green guru and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (blogged here). The piece requires registration. But the profile - teasing and empathetic - is worth the price of the mag.

With Hot, Flat and Crowded, says Friedman, he has tried to address more than one audience, ('I'm here to speak out of two sides of my mouth.' ) In this respect, he distinguishes himself from the author of An Inconvenient Truth.

The problem with so much of the green argument previously, it spoke not even to half the country. I enormously admire Al Gore, and he's truly a hero of mine, but half the country sees him and plugs their ears, so Al Gore could not carry this thing, you know, on a national scale. more ...

blow ins

Barry Hines' 1968 novel Kes blew into schools, along with Ted Hughes' The Hawk in the Wind (1957) and mixed-ability teaching.

The kestrel and the hawk weren't domestic pets, they weren't cute, and they weren't subject to 'rescue' and operations on TV shows.

Kes is this week's Book at Bedtime. (R4, weekdays, 10.45pm.) more ...

science as he would like it

On Radio 4's Last Word the geneticist Steve Jones said the novelist Michael Crichton, who died last week, went 'beyond the limits of science but that is what science fiction is about'.

But Jones said that in his 2004 novel State of Fear, which attacks the idea that humans contribute to climate change, Crichton took on an anti-science agenda.

'It's science as he would like it rather than science as he imagines it and good science fiction doesn't turn on the science it turns on the imagination.'

(26 mins in.)
more ...

beyond the soundbite

'Even in the age of YouTube and the soundbite,' says the Sunday Times, 'Barack Obama has proved that soaring, sustained oratory still has great power.' Nice, that 'even'.

YouTube was a huge contributing factor. It allowed the public to listen to far more of Obama's speeches at far greater length than any TV network would have allowed. YouTube worked against the soundbite culture. more ...

stop and stay

For a society to change, the stories it tells itself have to change (that's the link between theatre and climate change). Over at Casaubon's Book, Sharon Astyk writes from the U.S. perspective,

We are no longer frontiersmen, pushing the limits, moving on and growing into the next place and the next. Instead, as Wendell Berry puts it, we must remember the counternarrative of those who came and stayed and loved a place. That narrative of stopping and staying must become our central counternarrative to the failed story of eternal growth and “always-more.”
more ...

Sunday 9 November 2008

sea change

'There’s never been a better time to explore the last true wilderness on earth,' says the narrator of Oceans, the BBC's new eight-part series. (BBC2, Wed 8pm.)

'This is plainly untrue,' says the Sunday Times previewer, 'as the rest of the programme goes on to show. Fifty years ago would have been much better.' more ...

austere and monkish

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (left) would not have had to worry about his carbon footprint. His rooms in Cambridge were almost bare of furniture. He didn't mind what he ate (it's said) so long as it was always the same thing. He even became a gardener in an Austrian monastery and slept in a potting shed.

The monkish austerity of his prose style in Tractacus Logico-Philosophicus, writes Terry Eagleton, was (among other things) a reaction against a Viennese world of cream cakes and swollen bodies. more ...

power points

In today's New York Times, Al Gore offers a five-part plan to repower America by producing 100% of its electricity from carbon-free sources within 10 years. more ...

change of mind

Seamus Heaney tells the Guardian, 'Environmental issues have to a large extent changed the mind of poetry ... at this stage nobody can have an uncomplicated Hopkinsian trust in the self-refreshing powers of nature.' (ht. gos) more ...

job creation

Seth Godin recommends three new jobs that any online company needs to fill. It might equally apply to theatre companies. 1) Community organiser. 2) Stats fiend. 3) Manager of freelancers. more ...

Saturday 8 November 2008

honey, i shrank the bees

Honeybees aren’t on the edge of going extinct. They're on the edge of not being able to provide all we’ve asked of them. (ht. dd.) more ...

three days in

Now he's got to do the crossword in pen. more ...

just over one per cent

Technorati has identified 133 million blogs. Only 1.5 million had any postings in the last seven days. more ...

the battle of narratives

The Obama camp was thrown by Sarah Palin's appointment, says Ryan Lizza in a New Yorker podcast, but chief strategist David Alexrod told the Obama staff not to worry, the Republicans had spoilt their story, they couldn't attack the Democrats anymore about inexperience. more ...

clips win

People spent 14.5 million hours watching Obama on YouTube. That kind of TV exposure would have cost $47 million, half of what the McCain campaign spent in total. more ...

generation ahead

McCain's chief strategist Steve Schmidt says viral information is now as important as network news. The Democrats were 'a generation ahead'.

Each party develops techniques, usually when they’re out of power, for the purpose of gaining power on the next election — need being the mother of all inventions. You saw Republicans pioneer direct mail in an earlier age. You saw, you know, the use of television advertising pioneered in an earlier age. You saw microtargeting—you know, the overlaying of consumer and consumer data against the voter file, earlier in the decade, to much effect. There’s been a profound leap forward in technology and from a community organizing perspective by the Obama campaign in this election. The Democratic Party is a generation ahead technologically. And the Republican Party is going to have to be competitive to catch up in a world where viral information is just as important as what might be in the network news.
more ...

crunch time

'Unfathomable chains of debt, double-speaking government departments, the robbing of Peter to pay Paul,' writes Rachel Cooke, 'All the themes of this dark autumn are here. Little Dorrit (BBC1) is 'a metaphor for the credit card age'. more ...

tea time

'For most of Top Gear's six million viewers the show is not really about cars at all,' writes Janice Turner, 'We make tea during the technical blah.' more ...


The 44th President-Elect loves Moby Dick, Casablanca and The Wire. And Harry Potter too. more ...

halving the health gap

The links between serious illnesses and poverty are well established, but this is the first time scientists have systematically shown that the health gap between rich and poor can be halved with the help of green spaces. more ...

Friday 7 November 2008

planet teen

Teenagers alone number one billion. more ...


W, Oliver Stone's movie about George W. Bush, opened in the UK today. It runs two hours and 11 minutes. (Extended trailer. W meets Laura here.) There are plenty of personal insights about Dad, Laura, Jeb, Texas, Iraq, oil, beer and baseball. But most revealing of all (about Stone and Bush), there isn't a single reference to climate change. more ...

jump start

The IEA says the oil price will rebound to more than $100 a barrel. 'I sure hope so,' says the Daily Dish, 'Nothing less will jump-start the non-carbon revolution.' more ...

help me

'Good evening,' said legendary theatre director Peter Brook to an audience, 'Now you must help me, because it is impossible to talk without knowing who one’s talking to.' more ...

plane talk

If the economic case for expanding Heathrow is nothing like as compelling as the government pretends, writes the Economist, the environmental arguments against remain as strong as ever. more ...

tolstoyan moment

The Anglo-Saxon model of unrestrained free-market capitalism, says the New Statesman, is fatally flawed

Even Alan Greenspan, the high priest of deregulation, has, like Ivan Ilyich in the famous Tolstoy story, had a moment of startling self-revelation that has left him confused about the purposes of his life's work.

He did not know what he thought he knew. What he thought was so is not the case. 'I have found a flaw,' he said in October, following the bank bailouts, 'I have been very distressed by that fact . . . Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders' equity, myself especially, are in a state of shocked disbelief.'
more ...

president: 1 senators: 0

In electing Obama as president, the country has lost its only black senator. more ...

the in-tray: 2

He faces many challenges, but the novelist Alice Walker tells the President-elect that he has one primary responsibility: 'to cultivate happiness in your own life.' more ...

Thursday 6 November 2008

a bit of obit

Arts and Letters Daily believes that the novelist Michael Crichton, who died yesterday, 'enraged enviomentalists' (sic). The bigger point (not one that A&L chooses to dwell on) is that he enraged scientists. more ...

attacking sophists

A biologist by training, Aristotle attacked the Sophists, such as Antiphon, who believed that there was a big difference between nature and culture. Antiphon thought humans were best served if they followed nature. Aristotle said no: we are naturally designed to live in cities and cultures. more ...

Wednesday 5 November 2008

just knowing

... a president elect has an arts policy document is something. Pdf. more ...

facing up

The first time Barack Obama's name figured on this blog was in May 2007 when the unlikely candidate for the Democratic nomination was quoted as saying that the country that had successfully faced down the tyranny of fascism and communism now had to challenge the tyranny of oil.

To some, this would have seemed a bold, even hyperbolic, remark. The idea that this represents the considered view of the 44th President of the United States is one of many cheering developments. more ...

meeting and mating

Best known as Alan Ayckbourn's home, Scarborough is going to renovate its old 8000-seater outdoor theatre. The head of the Central School of Speech and Drama explains,

If people want comfort they can get that at home. That’s not why they go out. They go out for the social experience – for meeting and mating, eating and dating. more ...

the in-tray

He reminded his audience that they were a nation at war, with an economy in trouble, living on a planet in peril. more ...

cutting through noise

Barack Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod (left), conceived of the campaign in the way a dramatist might conceive of a central character. As the New York Times wrote in April 2007,

Axelrod says that the way to cut through all the noise is to see campaigns as an author might, to understand that you need not just ideas but also a credible and authentic character, a distinct politics rooted in personality. more ...

Tuesday 4 November 2008

what do we do now?

The New York Times picks a movie that faces the morning after. more ...

wrong kind of kool

The obsession with Joe the Plumber suggests McCain has been drinking his own Kool-Aid. more ...

survival mode

The Times article about what a new American President might or might not do for the arts (blogged here) drew this immediate response from a Times reader,

Who CARES?...We are in survival mode right now. Anyone concerned with the President's role in the arts has got to be economically unaffected, or someone whose job is 'arts dependent'. If for one moment you think that the Arts are important enough to even be discussed right now, then get real.

But the opposite argument might also apply. Last week the anthropologist Grant McCracken wrote that during an economic downturn consumers move from 'a surging modality' where 'each purchase is an improvement on the last one' to a 'dwelling' one.

Now the consumer is focused on what is good about what one has. The consumer stops anticipating and starts savoring.

The arts offer plenty to savor. more ...

today's two elections

The Newsweek cover story says the rest of the world sees today's election more clearly than Americans do. 'In the United States, the pundits framed campaign '08 much as they framed the last election, and the one before. It was a small, almost local obsession with the horse race, with battleground states ... Outside of the United States, the election played large and transformational: a 21st-century man with whom the whole world can identify versus an old cold-warrior out of synch with the complex political and economic crises of our age. The election, it seemed, had morphed into a meta-election. If at home, especially as the election neared its end, Obama seemed to be playing down his blackness, his intellect, his eliteness and his progressive ideas, these were the qualities that more and more drew the rest of the world to him.'

more ...

of interest

When novelist Margaret Atwood opened her first bank account at the age of eight she found this thing called interest kept turning up in her account.
'Grown-ups said banks were real and tooth-fairies were unreal, but I wasn't sure that that was true and now it appears that banks too have an illusory quality.'
more ...

Monday 3 November 2008

hope and protest

How would an Obama administration affect the arts? There would be more protest.

The New Yorker's drama critic, John Lahr, says,

Historically, in times when there is change or hope, there is much more protest and wideranging opinion and activity in Broadway's experimental theatres. People feel that someone will listen. What we've had for the past eight years is a kind of torpor and resignation, and that's made theatre lose a lot of heat. I think there will be a lot more political, polemical stuff.
more ...

Sunday 2 November 2008

the context culprit

On a TV chat-show sofa, Richard Dreyfuss considers the threat to democracy, 'Television is the biggest culprit of all because it has destroyed context.' more ...

Friday 31 October 2008

related, surely

Charlotte Higgins' Guardian blog picks up on the New York Times piece (blogged here) about the under-representation of female playwrights. Her post adds up the male/female ratio of new plays at the National, the Donmar, the Almeida and the Royal Court. The numbers aren't good.

A major theme of this blog is that for more than ten years climate change has been the front page story that never makes it onto the main stage. It's noticeable that the only major playwright to have addressed the subject of climate change on stage is a woman. The two facts may not be unrelated. more ...

simple and effective

My editor at Intelligent Life writes:

I'm not convinced by the idea that instantly digestible = superficial. Great speakers from Jesus to Obama have come up with simple lines that run deep - 'Love your neighbour as yourself' for one. Rock music is full of them too. Give peace a chance... How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man? etc. The only thing wrong with the phrase 'simple but effective' is the but. The green movement, as you have written yourself, has not always found words to match the simple urgency of its message. more ...

thin art

A reader writes:

I definitely go with your frustration about anything that mentions climate change as being worth admiration. I think that plays into the view that rates the subject matter, and the potential effect, as being the justification for the art. How thin is that?

see also on this blog: two oppositions, art, ads and agit-prop, keep it distinct, the message is not to have one, artists and activists and just asking. more ...

Thursday 30 October 2008

marshall metaphor

What metaphor will characterise America's post-Bush attitude to the climate crisis? Some have spoken of a new Manhattan Project or an Apollo Programme, others still of a New Deal (see here). In Bill McKibben's New York Review article (linked here) about Thomas Friedman's new book (linked here), McKibben picks another analogy,

The controlling metaphor here is not the Manhattan Project or the Apollo moonshot; it is a Marshall Plan for carbons by which the global north makes up some of the difference between cheap coal and more expensive renewable energy for the global south ....
more ...

Tuesday 28 October 2008

two oppositions

A reader says yesterday's blog was 'harsh' on green advertising campaigns,

Are you saying that the connection between the language of consumerism to promote lifestyle choices necessarily produces superficial activities? I think that there's a connection between the aesthetics or the 'how' of a 'message' being delivered and the message itself. But I also think that for some people, the actions that they might take in response to that may be significant for them, meaningful for them, in ways that can't be predicted.

To clarify, there are two oppositions here. One is between green thinking and consumerism and the contradiction involved in using consumer techniques to push green messages. Consumer advertising has a dominant tone/style that's hip, jaunty and sexy and this tone largely crowds out other voices, emotions, experiences. It's as if green messages are having to dress up in someone else's clothes to gain any visibility. At some level, form affects content.

The other opposition is between advertising, which closes down meaning to push a single message, and art/literature, which opens up meaning and possibility and doesn't try to control how it's interpreted.

It's not that the activities that green campaigns promote are superficial. It's that a campaign poster or ad or video has to be instantly digestible. As a form of communication, that makes it superficial. The actions that flow may well be beneficial and meaningful, but judging that isn't part of critical discourse about the arts.

see also on this blog: art, ads and agit-prop, keep it distinct, the message is not to have one, artists and activists and just asking. more ...

Monday 27 October 2008

art, ads and agit-prop

This is a p.s. to keep it distinct which mentioned the 'tricky relationship' between art and green thinking. To spell this out further:

There's propaganda, which has a single message, and there's art, which has many possible interpretations, and then there's political art, which exists somewhere in between the two.

Any work that tries to raise public consciousness about an issue (and stimulate a response) would appear, broadly speaking, to be political art. That's a category, of course, that's embraced everything from Picasso's 'Guernica' to David Hare's Stuff Happens.

But there's also a vein of stylish and imaginative work emerging about climate change that has more to do with advertising than agit-prop (see here and here). That's laudable enough if it expresses your point of view (and it does mine).

But these projects* are going to value slickness, entertainment and superficiality. Why? Because they're employing the language and tone of consumerism to promote lifestyle choices. For many Greens, there's going to be an inherent contradiction there.

The range of creative responses to climate change is going to call for a new set of tools (a new taxonomy, perhaps). The first approach that comes to mind is the one that puts 'propaganda' at one end of the spectrum and 'art' at the other. But there'll be propaganda with high aesthetic value. And there'll be works that seem to be protesting but actually refuse to be pinned down. (Blowin' in the Wind would be a classic example from the Sixties.)

There's likely to be terrific tension between the urgency of the issue and the aesthetic challenges it presents (even assuming that this is something that needs to be aestheticised.) A critical framework is essential. Climate change is going to cause enough damage without it being responsible for a lot of bad art.

*Update: This wasn't clear enough. By 'projects', I meant the posters, ads, and videos, not the actions people take as a response to those. See two oppositions. more ...


Leading climate-change comic, Marcus Brigstocke, has a new panel show where everyone has a proper old dingdong. more ...

fraught business

In the November issue of Prospect, poet Gwyneth Lewis (left) attends a writers' symposium in Norwich on nature and culture and discovers this is 'an increasingly fraught business'. Lewis asks,

'how can writers become advocates for the natural world without propagandising and undermining their credibility.' (Subscriber link only.)

See also on this blog keep it distinct, the message is not to have one, artists and activists and just asking.

Update: the Book of Barely Imagined Beings blogged about Lewis's article on Saturday and defends some other contributors against the charge that they're 'old hat'. The post also seconds my remarks on art and activism. more ...

music and lyrics

Poet Laureate Andrew Motion is working on 'an exciting project on climate change' with composer Peter Maxwell Davies. more ...

Sunday 26 October 2008

nine days to go

Assuming November 4th ever comes ... Larry David more ...


The mosquito knows full well,
Small as he is he's a beast of prey.
But after all he only takes his bellyful,
He doesn't put my blood in the bank.

D. H. Lawrence
HT: Poetry Please more ...

Saturday 25 October 2008

ordinary joe

Playwright David Edgar weighs the dramatic impact of a new character, Joe the Plumber, in the third presidential debate. (Also, Steve Coll on this post-modern fable.) more ...

land of lost content

'The poetry is all being efficiently excised from our land.' Excerpt from Roger Deakin's diary published next week. more ...

not the reason 'y'

On Monday, female playwrights meet representatives of New York's Off Broadway and non-profit theatres. They want to know why only 10 out of the 40 plays by living American playwrights that are being presented at the 14 largest Off Broadway theatres are by women.

Playwright Theresa Rebeck says, 'I personally don’t think playwriting is a gene on a Y chromosome.' more ...

Thursday 23 October 2008

keep it distinct

Last week in Cambridge there was a very good CRASSH conference, organised by Benjamin Morris and Bradon Smith, on 'Representing Climate Change, Ecology Media and the Arts'.

Caspar Henderson read an extract from his Book of Barely Imagined Beings, Joe Smith spoke about his Cape Farewell trip, Michael Hrebeniak discussed the work of the postwar American poet Charles Olson, Abbie Garrington highlighted the unusual attentiveness in Kathleen Jamie's Findings and Jennifer Wallace described the impact of heavy industry on the tribal communities in Jharkhand as Robert Wallis showed his pictures, Ed Morris gave examples of the work of the Canary Project and Oliver Tickell outlined his new book Kyoto 2.

There were many other contributions. It was a rich couple of days. But if there was one underexplored area, it was the tricky relationship between the arts and scholarship on the one hand and activism and green thinking on the other. The best art is unlikely to be reducible to a single interpretation. The best advertising probably is.

It reminded me of part of a reply that Daniel Mendelsohn had made to a correspondent who had disagreed with his review of Brokebank Mountain. One sentence began, 'Because I am a critic (not an activist) ...' It might equally have started, 'Because I am an artist (not an activist) ...'

As more critics and artists engage with the issues of climate change, this is a distinction that is well worth exploring and, in many cases, preserving. more ...


$250,000 prize for a 2000-word piece of non-fiction. And the public decides. It's true. more ...

voting with his feet

For six years Simon Lee was chief executive for Changeworks. Now he's moved to a small croft in the north of Scotland to reduce his carbon footprint. In Run for the hills, he writes, 'If democracy can't defeat climate change I suspect climate change will defeat democracy anyway.' He posted that thought on No Impact Man's Open Discussion and was challenged to elaborate. more ...

that executive experience in full

Jason Jones interviews the current Wasilla mayor, Dianne Keller, for The Daily Show.

Jason Jones: Do you think being a small-town Mayor prepares you to be president of the United States?
Mayor Dianne Keller: An unequivocal yes.
JJ: How?
Mayor: How?
JJ: Let's say you have a problem with the fire department? What would you do?
Mayor: The city of Wasilla doesn't manage the fire department.
JJ: Ok, fine. Let's say there's something wrong with the school system?
Mayor: We don't do the school system.
JJ: Just pick any social service.
Mayor: We don't do social services in Wasilla...
JJ: Um, what do you do?
Mayor: What do we do in Wasilla?
JJ: Take me through the Mayor of Wasilla's day.
Mayor: (nod, nod, nod), Just different, different things on different, well Mondays at 10 o'clock we always have a staff meeting, and then, um, um, (long pause) every Thursday is a check-signing day, so I sign all the checks for the city of Wasilla--pay the bills...

HT for link and transcript: Crunchy Chicken more ...

getting it 50 years ago

This 1958 episode of the Bell Telephone Hour, 'The Unchained Goddess', sets out the threat of global warming that's posed by rising levels of CO2. more ...

what makes a good environmental film?

Leo Hickman nominates Koyaanisqatsi. more ...

Wednesday 22 October 2008

365 days of trash

One man's attempt to throw nothing away for a year. more ...

key attribute

On last week's Saturday Night Live, writes Tina Brown, Sarah Palin showed 'she had a key attribute for long-term political survival: the ability to pretend she finds humiliation amusing.' more ...

Tuesday 21 October 2008

where smart is heading

It's smart to use the things that are limitless and free. It's smart to think about where stuff comes from and ends up. It's even smarter to close the loop between the two. My piece for Intelligent Life about the low-carbon future. more ...

one per cent between them

Tina Fey did a B.A. in drama at University of Virginia, then took night classes at Second City, the improvisational theatre in Chicago, where she discovered she wanted 'to devote my life to improv'.

The Pew Research Centre has found that awareness of Fey's Sarah Palin sketches was running at 42%, only one per cent lower than Palin's own TV interviews. It's also had a significant impact on Palin's favourability ratings.

Since Palin has said that global warming is 'just God hugging us closer', Fey's performance may be the most influential role so far played by an actor in relation to climate change.

The Wiki entry has a good quote from a Fey interview about what she learnt from improv.

'When I started, improv had the biggest impact on my acting. I studied the usual acting methods at college—Stanislavsky and whatnot. But none of it really clicked for me. My problem with the traditional acting method was that I never understood what you were supposed to be thinking about when you’re onstage. But at Second City, I learned that your focus should be entirely on your partner. You take what they’re giving you and use it to build a scene. That opened it up for me. Suddenly it all made sense. It’s about your partner. Not what you’re going to say, not finding the perfect mannerisms or tics for your character, not what you’re going to eat later. Improv helped to distract me from my usual stage bullshit and put my focus somewhere else so that I could stop acting. I guess that’s what method acting is supposed to accomplish anyway. It distracts you so that your body and emotions can work freely. Improv is just a version of method acting that works for me.'
more ...

drrrrrrrrrill, baby, drrrrrrrrrill

Tina Fey asked the Saturday Night Live writer assigned to the Sarah Palin sketches to script in lots of words with Rs in them. 'She loves those Rs," Fey said. "William Ayerrrrrrrrrs and terrrrrorrrrists - I think she thinks there's oil in those Rs, she's digging deep.' more ...

part-time crusader

Edward Abbey

'Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast... a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it.' more ...

Monday 20 October 2008

waxing for longer

Malcolm Gladwell says lyric poetry isn't only a young person's game. Just look at the First XI.

'T. S. Eliot’s 'Prufrock', Robert Lowell’s 'Skunk Hour', Robert Frost’s 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening', 'William Carlos Williams’s 'Red Wheelbarrow', Elizabeth Bishop’s 'The Fish', Ezra Pound’s 'The River Merchant’s Wife', Sylvia Plath’s 'Daddy', Pound’s 'In a Station of the Metro', Frost’s 'Mending Wall', Wallace Stevens’s 'The Snow Man', and Williams’s 'The Dance'. Those eleven were composed at the ages of 23, 41, 48, 40, 29, 30, 30, 28, 38, 42, and 59, respectively.'
more ...

2012 is not about the olympics

Nobel prizewinner Rajendra Pachauri says,

'If there's no action before 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.'

quoted in Bill McKibben's review of Thomas Friedman's new book. more ...

from dismal science to deadly one

'We live on a planet with finite resources,' says the New Scientist, 'so why do we have an economic system in which all that matters is growth?' Special issue on how the economy is killing the earth. more ...

dazzling to be alive

Johann Hari says the Wall Street Crash hadn't happened for 80 years. The Arctic Crash hasn't happened for three million years:

This is, perversely, a dazzling time to be alive: every human being who ever lives will deal with the decisions we make here. If we disregard the voices of denial, Europe has a chance to do something extraordinary. We could be the people who saw this threat to our species coming and remade our societies to stop it. more ...

Tuesday 14 October 2008

what's wrong with sustainable

'I don't like the term,' says architect Mitchell Joachim. 'It's not evocative enough. You don't want your marriage to be sustainable. You want to be evolving, nurturing, learning.' more ...

return of the parrot

John Cleese says, 'I used to think Michael Palin was the funniest Palin on earth.'

But now he says there's a Palin in another parrot sketch.

Cleese says, 'Monty Python could have written this.' more ...

Monday 13 October 2008

aristotle in the usa

Hendrik Hertzberg:

If McCain loses, or even if he wins, his campaign will be remembered as a tragedy in the Aristotelian sense, in which a hero is ruined through some terrible choice of his own. One can only hope that the tragedy will be his alone, and not the nation’s. more ...

infected world

Theatre director Richard Olivier has used Henry V and The Tempest for teaching 'leadership skills'. This week he starts a 'Shakespeare and Sustainability' course at Schumacher College using As You Like It as the text. Key quote:

Give me leave To speak my mind
and I will through and through
Cleanse the foul body of the infected world,
If they will patiently receive my medicine.

More on Shakespeare and climate change. more ...

Sunday 12 October 2008

shift in concern

A shift in 'the traditional locus of moral concern', warns a disgruntled Theodore Dalrymple, means that

A man may be an irresponsible father, but that is more than compensated for by his deep concern about global warming, or foreign policy, or the food situation in Africa.

A false opposition: hard to imagine how a responsible father wouldn't be concerned about global warming. more ...

bottling out

Chris Patten's new book says it would require only $15bn to meet the United Nations Millennium Development goal of halving the number of people who lack access to safe drinking water, compared to 'the approximately $100bn a year spent on bottled water'. more ...

into neutral

To understand modern politics in Europe, writes Tom Holland, you have to understand Europe's Christian past

Neutrality, in the dimension of culture and religion, can never itself be a neutral concept: it is too much the product of Christian presumptions and history ever to rank as that. more ...


In a 1,200-word statement about his priorities for government David Cameron failed to mention the words 'environment' or 'climate change'. more ...

Saturday 11 October 2008

'theatre revels ...'

writes Guardian theatre blogger Andy Field,

'in the directness of its relationship with the real world. It is the perfect medium to begin playing with and making something wonderful out of our ever-more miserable weather.' more ...

out of the dark

When electrical problems at the Bush theatre took out the lighting, they scheduled a series of plays in natural light. more ...

Friday 10 October 2008

170,000 sign

Petition asks ABC to reconsider its ban on too 'controversial' ad that promotes alternative energy. more ...

topical developments

Most Victorian scientists kept faith

'with at least one major inheritance from the Romantic period: the belief that science should be conducted in a language available to all intelligent citizens, and that the public should always be educated both in its deepest fundamentals and in its most topical developments.'
more ...

a tragedy of shakespearian proportions

Because McCain did it to himself. more ...

the next great global industry

Thomas Friedman's new book is as much about America, he tells Elizabeth Kolbert, as it is about the next big thing - energy technology

the whole purpose of my book is to redefine green. To redefine it as a geo-political, geo-strategic, geo-economic, patriotic. Green is the new red, white and blue.
more ...

david miliband's either/or

'So the choice is not between an economic growth lifestyle and climate change—I think it is high carbon lifestyle versus low carbon lifestyle.' more ...

Thursday 9 October 2008

why he likes early cultures

The 2008 Nobel prize-winner for Literature, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio (left), says

The dawn of peoples is important because we seem now to be living in the dusk. You have the sense that we are getting near the end.

For those who haven't read Le Clézio, a French professor at Columbia University explains his appeal, 'There is a concern for civilizations, a concern for ecology.' more ...

disko days

We've been following Cape Farewell's Disko Bay trip here. They had a bigger boat, more people and better weather than last year. Our associate editor Kellie Gutman, who's been keeping up with the blogs, says:

the most prolific blogger is the comedian Marcus Brigstocke. But all of the crew is blogging, and they are often very long, thoughtful, introspective, descriptive blogs - which is quite a change from last year. We've just scratched the surface with our sampling. There are a lot more video clips as well, and the official photographer has snapped great photos. more ...

the romance of science

Jonathan Bate reviews Richard Holmes' new book The Age of Wonder

Building on a generation of revisionist scholarship that has been barely visible beyond the groves of academe, Holmes triumphantly shows that the Romantic age was one of symbiosis rather than opposition, in which scientists such as Sir Humphry Davy were also poets and poets such as Coleridge had a shaping influence on scientists - we discover indeed that it was Coleridge who was responsible for the early 19th-century invention of the term 'scientist' as an alternative to the older nomenclature 'natural philosopher'.

H-t: Bookslut more ...

doing even less

Nearly two in three opinion leaders (63%) think that sustainability is a low or non-priority for business - and close to half (47%) believe that businesses will do even less in the current economic climate. more ...

the ad ABC won't run

They'll take an ad from Chevron, but not this:

The solution to our climate crisis seems simple. Repower America with wind and solar. End our dependence on foreign oil. A stronger economy. So why are we still stuck with dirty and expensive energy? Because big oil spends hundreds of millions of dollars to block clean energy. Lobbyists, ads, even scandals. All to increase their profits, while America suffers. Breaking big oil's lock on our government ... Now that's change. We're the American people and we approve this message. more ...


So close to garbage, so far from language. more ...

the audition

He cynically picked a running mate with less care than theater directors give to picking a leading actor’s understudy. more ...

Wednesday 8 October 2008

nuts and bolts

Australian theatre critic Alison Croggon quotes the Austrian novelist Robert Musil (left), who maintained that,

'if there was to be real social change of any kind, what was required more than anything else was not idealists nor intellectuals, but managers: those who knew the nuts and bolts of creating and maintaining organisations, and understood how to change organisational structures.'

H-t: Theatre Ideas. more ...

Tuesday 7 October 2008


The U.S. has 5% of the world's population, says the Wall Street Journal, and burns 23% of the world's oil. But what's striking is the make-up of the carbon footprint.

'Industry -- including oil, steel, chemicals and cement -- produces 23% of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the McKinsey study. But a handful of other emission sources more directly controlled by consumers far outweigh industry when those sources are pooled together ... Consumer behavior affects virtually all man-made greenhouse-gas emissions because consumers drive the economy.' more ...