Saturday 31 May 2008

neolithic present (2)

More on the mainstream media's problems with science (see also here): the American columnist Charles Krauthammer did a degree in political science and economics and then trained in medicine, before getting a job as a psychiatrist. All good qualifications, no doubt, for writing about White House politics for the Washington Post, but not great credentials for writing about climate change.

His latest column suggests that it requires 'religious fervor' to believe in the current overwhelming scientific consensus. His example? Sir Isaac Newton's Laws of Motion could, he writes, 'after 200 years of unfailing experimental and experiential confirmation, be overthrown'.

If this is the case, says Climate Progress (struggling to conceal its contempt for this 'absurdly misleading' statement): 'Why aren't all our planes falling out of the sky?'

Oh, and that religious theme: at what point did peer-reviewed science become 'religious' and beltway journalism become rational, disinterested and objective? To repeat the quote from G. H. Hardy:

'the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had.'

H-t: GoS
more ...

Friday 30 May 2008

second climate-change opera

La Scala to stage Gore's Inconvenient Truth (h-t: Drudge). The Guardian has more.

The first review of the first climate-change opera here. more ...

Thursday 29 May 2008

the neolithic present

If you clicked on the link in border crossings to the wiki entry on two cultures you'll have seen a quote from the mathematician G.H.Hardy.

(GHH got his first mention on this blog as a character in David Leavitt's The Indian Clerk.)

Hardy noticed that when people bandied around the term 'intellectual', it didn't seem to apply to him.

Once or twice, he said, he asked very bright people around him to describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

'The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?'
He went on:

'I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question - such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you read? - not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had.'

This must be one explanation why the views on climate change of those who have 'trained' as journalists is allowed to compete for attention with the views of those who trained as climatologists.

pic: sculpture of Neolithic man, San Diego Museum of Man
more ...

Wednesday 28 May 2008

border crossings

A biology prof, David Sloan Wilson, author of Evolution for Everyone (left) and an English prof, Leslie Heywood, have created a new course that combines the two cultures:

'The students would be introduced to basic scientific tools like statistics and experimental design and to liberal arts staples like the importance of analyzing specific texts or documents closely, identifying their animating ideas and comparing them with the texts of other times'.

Another English prof, George Levine, author of Darwin Loves You, says:

'There is a kind of basic illiteracy on both sides and I find it a thrilling idea that people might be made to take pleasure in crossing the border.' more ...

Tuesday 27 May 2008

speaking of which

There have been four fundamental changes in information technology since humans learned to speak. The first took place around 4000 BC, the fourth took place in 1974, 1981 or 1998. But there's continuity still. more ...

killer stat

Viacom sues YouTube for failing to keep copyrighted material off its site. The BBC reports:

The company says the infringement also included the documentary An Inconvenient Truth which had been viewed "an astounding 1.5 billion times".

If the figure's accurate, some if, then that's public service broadcasting.

Hat-tip: John Naughton more ...

end-of-week meeting

No Impact Man has a meeting this Friday with his local New York congressman Jerrold Nadler. He's going to ask him to support 'an effective global warming mitigation policy that is based not on what is politically possible but on what is scientifically necessary.'

That means achieving the goal of no more than 350 ppm of atmospheric CO2.

First, NIM wants as many people as possible to blog about the upcoming meeting and to email Representative Nadler (details here for US citizens and non-US citizens). OK, done.

Second, NIM will also be asking Nadler to pass on a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. more ...

Monday 26 May 2008

lightning strikes

Simon Callow reviews Michael Frayn's essays on theatre and quotes the playwright's take on audiences:

'I sometimes feel that the skill of the audience is not sufficiently recognised.'

When it comes to the great moments in the theatre, Frayn writes:

'these epiphanies are not isolated events, of course. The charge builds and builds before the lightning strikes; and the particles in which the electricity is stored are the audience.'

Callow adds:

'which is as good an account of what actually happens in a theatre as I have ever read.' more ...

Sunday 25 May 2008

subversive activities

Here's a drama documentary about an event that, from an environmental perspective, was perhaps the worst piece of news in the last 10 years.

Recount follows the machinations around the Florida recount in 2000 that led to Bush's presidency. It stars Kevin Spacey and Denis Leary (pictured), John Hurt, Laura Dern, Tom Wilkinson and Ed Begley Jr. It's broadcast in US and Canada tonight. A preview in Salon says:

'It makes it painfully and inescapably clear that the Bush team, the GOP, and ultimately the five Republican justices on the Supreme Court, did nothing less than successfully subvert American democracy in order to get their man in office.' more ...

Saturday 24 May 2008

more on criminal behaviour

A reader writes:

'The government has a legal duty under the UK human rights act to protect life and property and keep people free from degrading treatment. If they're not doing enough to prepare for (or better still, prevent) climate change, they'll be breaching people's human rights.' more ...

Friday 23 May 2008

criminal behaviour

In legal functions, this blog raised again the question of criminal charges in regard to decisions and indecisions that affect climate change. A post this week at says that since the risks are so high, the use of scientific uncertainty as 'an excuse for doing nothing is ethically intolerable':

'Many types of risky behavior are criminal because societies believe dangerous behavior is irresponsible and should not be condoned. As a matter of ethics, a relevant question in the face of scientific uncertainty about harmful consequences of human behavior is whether there is a reasonable basis for concluding that serious harm to others could result from the behavior ... humans have understood the potential threat from climate change for over 100 years and the scientific support for this concern has been building with increasing speed over the last 30 years.' more ...

Thursday 22 May 2008


From the director of McLibel, a dramadoc about climate change called The Age of Stupid.

Pete Postlethwaite plays an old man in the devastated world of 2055 looking back at 2007 and asking: 'Why didn't we stop climate change when we had the chance?' more ...

Wednesday 21 May 2008

fail again. fail better.

'At your next staff meeting, raise a coffee mug to a recent project that went horribly wrong. Someone should be congratulated.'

The Artful Manager on risk and innovation in the arts. more ...

Tuesday 20 May 2008

number one number

Brighter Planet's 350 ChallengeThe author and activist Bill McKibben says 350 is the most important number in the world. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has to fall to 350 parts per million to avoid 'huge and irreversible damage'. It currently stands at 387 ppm.

'What we need most right now are on-the-ground examples for how to take the number 350 and drive it home: in art, in music, in political demonstrations, in any other way you can imagine.' more ...

Monday 19 May 2008

legal functions

There was a distinguished line-up at the Tricycle Theatre last night for a one-off performance of extracts from Philippe Sands' new book Torture Team. Sands' book details how half-a-dozen lawyers within the Bush administration paved the way for the introduction of torture.

The cast included Vanessa Redgrave, Corin Redgrave, Alex Jennings, Joanna Lumley and Sands himself. Perhaps the most compelling moments were the interviews with people who realised the wider implications of these legal machinations: Alberto Mora, General Counsel to the US Navy (played by Ron Cook) and Lt. Colonel Diane Beaver (played by Sally Giles).

Two film clips were also shown: one was a series of damning observations made by Senator Edward Kennedy about the Pentagon counsel William Haynes; the other was a clip from the judge's summing up in the 1961 movie Judgment at Nuremberg (with Spencer Tracy, above).

The significance of the movie to Guantanamo is that Judgment at Nuremberg was inspired by the 1947 case United States of America v. Josef Altstoetter et al. As Sands writes in his piece in the May issue of Vanity Fair,

'The case is famous because it appears to be the only one in which lawyers have ever been charged and convicted for committing international crimes through the performance of their legal functions.'

As Sands rightly stresses, it would be absurd to make any factual or historical comparisons. The point is to pursue 'the underlying principle'. The lawyers were seen to be accomplices.

This underlying principle must also apply to environmental crimes1 and decisions that relate to climate change. In his LRB essay On Thinning Ice2 the international lawyer Michael Byers says that so much is now known:

'Governments that today refuse to prevent climate change may well come to be regarded in the future as having perpetrated international crimes.'

One day, perhaps, the Tricycle Theatre will be staging a 'tribunal play' about that.

1See Timeline: (2007) Supreme Court rules greenhouse gases are pollutants
2 Summarised here. more ...

Sunday 18 May 2008

bridge the gap

Seema Sueko, artistic director of Mo'olelo Performing Arts Company (see how to green your theatre) gives a 20-minute online video interview with DramaBiz. Her aim is 'to bridge the gap between the arts and the environment'. Hat-tip: EcoTheater. more ...

Saturday 17 May 2008

genre of the day

So this week, the papers report, the amount of Co2 in the atmosphere reached its highest level in 650,000 years. We're destroying 1% of the world's species each year. Brazil's environment minister quits because she can't stop the destruction of the Amazon rain forest. And on it goes.

It seems unlikely that the first major play about climate change will be a tragedy, or an issue play, or a state-of-the-nation play or, even, more appropriately, a state-of-the-nations play.

It's most likely that it'll be a farce. That's the genre (as the Wiki entry puts it) that depicts human beings as 'vain, irrational, venal, infantile, and prone to automatic behavior'. more ...

Friday 16 May 2008

lighten up

The Open University's Lecturer in Environment, Joe Smith, likes the jokes about climate sceptics and thinks there should be more.

'The tendency to paint ‘climate change deniers’ in such dark terms has greatly inflated the value of their stock in the eyes of the media. In this sense the Lomborg franchise (and a very profitable one it is too) is a creation of the environmental NGO and science community’s own making.' more ...

Thursday 15 May 2008

hungry dogs

Playwright Wallace Shawn (left) wants a new audience. He says:

'Most people who go to plays are people who love theatre, which means people who love theatre the way it is right now, which in a way doesn’t include me.'

He finds just the sort of audience he's after when he goes to hear Naomi Klein do a book reading for The Shock Doctrine.

'The people in the audience were like hungry dogs being thrown meat by Naomi Klein. They were leaning forward so far they were practically on the stage. And they were responding to every word that she said. And they were just very, very, very alive. I wanted to stand up and say, “Hey, I’m doing a play tomorrow, why don’t you all come to it, I’ll give you free tickets!” Because I can tell you, a lot of the people who were there, I’m going to bet that they go to between zero and one play a year. Closer to zero.' more ...

Wednesday 14 May 2008

mostly about animals

In the Q&A session after his talk on Monday Timothy Morton suggested we were in a kind of Celtic twilight where we became most aware of things at the moment when we destroying them. He spoke of the sense of excitement, and then the sense of melancholy (and even mourning), that accompanies going 'deeper into the interconnectedness of everything'.

Morton said his next book The Ecological Thought would be 'mostly about animals'. It was clear that humans had been decentred by the dual impact of Darwin (who was 'really helpful for progressive ecological thinking') and Derrida ('deconstruction is ecology's best friend').

This kind of thinking (he didn't go on to say) would pose an extraordinary challenge for 21st-century playwrights: how to write plays in which humans were only bit-part players. more ...

Tuesday 13 May 2008


'We want the creative faculty to imagine that which we know'

- Shelley in Defence of Poetry.

Quoted by Timothy Morton in his talk on 'the ecological thought'. more ...

Monday 12 May 2008

show goes on

'My carbon footprint is disgusting.'

It's Thursday and Billy Elliot director Stephen Daldry has already crossed the Atlantic four times this week. He expects to cross it two more times by Saturday. more ...

Sunday 11 May 2008

smile and be a villain

In the new James Bond movie, the actor Mathieu Amalric (left) plays the bad guy, Dominic Greene, an environmental campaigner turned villain and expert at greenwash. Amalric says:

'Now that the Bonds are more realistic, you don't know who the villain is anymore - they don't have a metal jaw, they don't have a scar, they don't have an eye that bleeds. In this film, I don't have anything to help me be a villain; I just have my face. So maybe his weapon is his smile, like the mystery of the smile of Tony Blair.'

The latest Bond baddie is the owner of an eco-hotel in the Chilean desert, but says Grist,

'the hotel and "Save the Earth" shtick is just a front for Greene's plan to seize part of South America's water supply.' more ...

Saturday 10 May 2008

another eco gag

Woman walks snootily away from Man, who is holding out a bunch of flowers and saying, 'I bought you these solar-powered devices for carbon dioxide extraction.'

- cartoon in this week's New Scientist. Hat-tip: Grains of Sand. more ...

Friday 9 May 2008

the joke climate changes

A few months ago I wrote an article for Intelligent Life asking why there were no jokes about climate change. The largest A-Z joke book at the local Waterstones didn't have a single entry for 'climate change' or 'global warming' or 'environment' or 'earth' or 'planet'.

'This is our future,' the article said, 'rivers dry up, sea levels rise, animals become extinct--and there won't be a single blonde joke, or lightbulb joke, or three-men-walked-into-a-bar joke about any of it.'

To get things going (there had to be one entry) I came up with a lightbulb joke.

Q: How many climate sceptics does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: None. It's too early to say if the lightbulb needs changing.

In yesterday's Guardian there was another article asking why there were no jokes about climate change. As a sidebar, they printed the best of the eco-gags. There were six of them. This lightbulb joke was one of them.

If that doesn't prove there's a shortage, nothing does, but things are changing. The lightbulb joke was picked up by Hot Topic and linked to by Deltoid. People are now posting new lightbulb jokes of their own. Dozens of them. My favourite so far:

Q: How many climate sceptics does it take not to change a lightbulb?
A: Approximately 100. One to say that the current absence of light is the result of natural solar cycles and the other 99 to disseminate this finding through their 'science organisations' and oil industry funded think tanks.

The variety of the responses gives an idea of the number of points that can be made with a single lightbulb joke. Here's a pared-down selection:

Q: How many climate sceptics does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: None. It's more cost-effective to live in the dark.
A: None. We only know how to screw the planet.
A: None. Changing lightbulbs is for engineers.
A: None. Eventually the lightbulbs will right themselves.
A: First we need more research and we need more research about what that research will be.
A: I can't hear you! I can't hear you! I can't hear you! more ...

Thursday 8 May 2008

telling a green story

If you are trying to implement environmental change within a theatre, it's important to avoid the idea that this is just a new way of making people feel bad about themselves. The last thing anyone wants is another inspector with a clipboard going round checking up on them.

Each area of the theatre has its own processes (and carbon footprint) and the people who understand those areas best are the people working within them. So start by empowering those people. Make it clear that every aspect of a theatre reflects the creative energies and values of the theatre as a whole.

Don't talk about cuts, reductions and banning things. Talk about where things come from, where things go, and how those processes might be reimagined. It's this narrative, the one that runs from where things are sourced to where the waste ends up, that fundamentally reflects a theatre's place within its community.

Start with the view that everyone within the organisation can be smart and ingenious and think outside the box. Everyone in the building is involved in telling this story. more ...

Wednesday 7 May 2008

action stories

Some think that what's needed is a big state-funded scientific push like the Manhattan Project or the Apollo Program that will come up with radically new technologies to help solve climate change. Others think that what we need is a moral crusade like The Abolition of Slavery to change behaviour.

In his new essay Breaking the boundaries, Fred Steward says that neither analogy is helpful. He points to the internet, where a public initiative unleashed the private sector, and to America's New Deal in the 1930s (left) where 'local investments were orientated to job creation for civic purpose'.

Both offer, he says, more 'prospects of pervasive change'. more ...

Tuesday 6 May 2008

singular events

Last Thursday's post about theatre and the natural world was kindly linked to by Theatre Ideas and ecoTheater.

But on Saturday a book I'd ordered arrives which includes a section that expresses superbly what my post had been trying to say. The actor and academic Rush Rehm describes how for the last 500 years:

'the word "theatre" generally has meant a walled building that allows artists to exercise heightened aesthetic control by cutting out the natural world around them.'

He contrasts these conventions of theatrical realism with Greek theatre in the 5th century BC, which he describes as having a completely different theatrical 'aesthetic'. It was:

'aggressively public, part of the ongoing life of the city, subject to the forces of nature (the major dramatic festival took place in early spring, the lesser ones in winter), played against a backdrop of the polis, acted out on a beaten earth orchestra, with the land, sea, and sky beyond.

Roland Barthes observes that, in such performances, "the spectator's immersion in the complex polyphony of the open air (shifting sun, rising wind, flying birds, noises of the city) restores to the drama the singularity of the event."' more ...

Monday 5 May 2008

outside edge

Shakespeare in the park, by the castle and beside the sea. more ...

Sunday 4 May 2008

smug alert

In the new movie Baby Mama, Steve Martin plays the pony-tailed boss of a health food company. His performance hits the bull's-eye of eco-smugness. more ...

Saturday 3 May 2008

beyond number 10

'We've had a new Prime Minister, but political life doesn't feel new; it feels like more of the same. It's not like the Thatcher era, when reaction was in the air like the weather. Playwrights were dashing to their typewriters. This doesn't mean there's nothing to have opinions about. It means that an opinion isn't a play. A play is a more complex reaction. A worthwhile play is a reaction, but there needs to be an action to provoke it in the first place.' - Tom Stoppard

This quote appears in today's Independent, so sadly (unlike the blogosphere) there's no link to show us where or when this was said, or even if this is the full quote. Stoppard's thoughts don't sound quite as seamless as we might expect.

But the idea that playwrights might draw their inspiration from whoever is in Number 10 is a charmingly old-fashioned 'Westminster' view of politics. There are big political changes taking place, but many of these changes are attitudinal ones about green issues.

(The ex-Tory chancellor Nigel Lawson gets this. He just gets it wrong.)

The complex actions and reactions, for instance, between the oil and coal industries and climate change scientists should be sending playwrights dashing to their laptops. more ...

Friday 2 May 2008

most vulnerable location

Southampton. more ...

Thursday 1 May 2008

a little seasoning

There are blogs out there discussing a vision of theatre that is sustainable, decentralised and local (eg: here and here). But what about theatre that demonstrates another key environmental goal: seasonality? Most theatres' idea of seasonality is the Christmas panto.

Something has been lost when you know that you could see the same play done in pretty much exactly the same way at any time of the year. I'm not suggesting a theatre's season should start with Spring Awakening move onto Suddenly Last Summer and end with The Lion in Winter. I'm suggesting, as a very first step, that companies do more plays outdoors.

Not all plays, of course. There are formal qualities that make a play more of an 'outdoor' play than an 'indoor' one. It might be 'public' in its nature, it might not require a 'fourth wall', its dialogue might be essentially 'top-text', which would lend itself to a broader or rougher performance than a play that depended on the subtleties of 'sub-text'. Going to an indoor play, or 'winter play', then, would be a sharply contrasting experience to going to an outdoor or 'summer play'.

An outdoor promenade production, for instance, is not only likely to be quite different in content to a 'black-box' studio one, it also connects the theatre company and the audience to the surroundings in which it takes place.

Radio stations programme their content very carefully to reflect the stages of the day. Theatres rarely programme to reflect the stages of the year. To take another example, the Church calendar shows how intimately connected it is with seasonal changes: farmers could measure out their workload from Michaelmas to Candlemas to Andrewmas.

This is, of course, only one symptom of a much grander narrative. As Ted Hughes wrote, 'The story of the mind exiled from Nature is the story of Western Man.' When the mechanicals were planning their performance in front of Theseus and Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night's Dream, they looked in the almanac to check if the moon would be shining the night they played their play. Now there's a theatre company that's trying to maximise natural resources. more ...