Thursday 31 July 2008

artists on science

Flyover covers art in the American outback. It says, 'We have scientists on the arts, but where are the artists on science?'

In the UK this picture is changing, thanks in part to Cape Farewell and Tipping Point. A big moment will be the publication of Ian McEwan's climate-change novel. more ...

Wednesday 30 July 2008

barely articulated

Novelist and travel-writer Jonathan Raban suggests the real dividing line in America's 2004 general election was over environmentalism:

'Beneath the talk of Iraq, health care, terrorism, gun control, abortion and all the rest lay a barely articulated but passionate dispute about the nature of nature in America.'

(Interview, not article, online.) more ...

Tuesday 29 July 2008

ABC on scepticism

'Scepticism about climate change is still given astonishing prominence in some western media.' (Rowan Williams) more ...

Monday 28 July 2008

dilemma of green aesthetics

Composer Michael Berkeley writes, 'Those of us who support the government's determination to lower CO2 emissions, yet care passionately about preserving our most beautiful landscapes, are in a serious quandary.' more ...

Sunday 27 July 2008

you're right, so go away

It's quite something to review the three-hour TV thriller Burn Up without any mention of Bradley Whitford's blistering central performance, but the Sunday Times' TV columnist manages it. He'd rather riff on about why he doesn't like beards and sandals,

'the real inconvenient truth for the green movement is, as the old Jewish retail expression has it, in winning the argument they’ve lost the sale. They suffer the fatal flaw of being too smug to bear. There is a global resistance, not to the facts, but to environmentalists. It appears most of us would rather fry, drown or starve than be told what to do by a bearded git in sandals, and that’s a rather comforting and cussedly human truth. '

In other words, you're right, and I can't bear the fact that you're right (because of the way I imagine you look), so please just go away.

Look on the bright side - at least he says greens are right. more ...

lines clearly traced

It's not just that climate change is a very complicated issue, it also has another big drawback for playwrights and screenwriters: time lags. What we do today won't be visible for some time. What will be visible will be diffuse.

Perhaps the Protestant imagination is particularly resistant to climate change as a dramatic subject. (There was no such resistance to writing about the nuclear bomb.) In a recent book review, the novelist Claire Messud touched on the relationship between her own upbringing and the type of fiction it produces,

'Raised in an essentially Protestant setting, I had in youth absorbed, unawares, an essentially Protestant understanding of the world: one that strives for a rational grasp of events, one that espouses clarity, directness, and mastery. In fiction, this leads to largely linear narrative, in which the lines between cause and effect can be clearly traced, and in which, in spite of welcome complexity, there remains an underlying certainty of limits, boundaries, and order.'

Climate change is never going to offer all that. more ...

Saturday 26 July 2008

going wrong

Also in this LRB, Jenny Diski writes about the 'border territory' between waking and sleeping and tells a story about Jung,

'in which he asks his new patient, a pathologically anxious, blocked writer, to describe his day in detail. "Well, I wake, get up and . . ." "Stop," Jung says. "That’s where you’re going wrong." more ...

warming, waste ... water

In the last couple of years, the London Review of Books has published two big and important articles on green subjects. The first was John Lanchester's review of the current literature on climate change. The second was Andrew O'Hagan's piece of reportage on waste. In the issue that's just out the LRB publishes a third: James Meek writes a 10,000-word article about last year's flooding at Tewkesbury and the privatisation of water in Britain. more ...

Friday 25 July 2008

act local

I've only read the text, not seen the production, but it's easy to see why Lee Hall's terrific new play The Pitman Painters, the story of some miners in the North East who became a celebrated group of painters, has been such a success. (It opened at Live Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne and transferred to the National, where it returns again next year. After that, no doubt, it'll become a movie.)

Here were a group of Ashington miners in the 1930s, working ten-hour shifts, taking home about two pounds and six shillings a week, who started attending an Art Appreciation evening class, and then became painters. They painted the world they knew: the pityard, the dawn, the pugmill, whippets, playing dominoes in the pub, fish and chips, pigeon crees, and the colliery. People started to take notice of the Ashington Group.

In 1988 the art critic William Feaver wrote a book about them. Lee Hall, who also wrote Billy Elliot, has based his play on that book. 'Culture is for living, not commodification,' he writes in a preface, 'and art should be about taking part.' more ...

Thursday 24 July 2008

new field for theatre

Theatre's getting festive. Glastonbury has had theatre events in the past, but usually (says the Guardian) these have filled in the sad gaps before the comics got out of bed. This year's Latitude Festival was different.

As well as shows from the Royal Court, NT, RSC, Paines Plough, you could take tea on the lawn with the Jones, a family of refugees from global warming. Or head into the woods with Tangled Feet Theatre.

'I think it's probably better to try and respond to the environment that's here,' says Tangled Feet's Nathan Curry, 'rather than try to create a theatre in a field.' more ...

oil drama: 'crude', 'slick', 'important'

So what did they think? The Guardian's reviewer said that part one of Burn Up, BBC2's lively thriller about the oil industry and climate change, was still issue-led rather than story-led: in short, dramaganda. The Daily Telegraph's reviewer felt hit over the head with a green lecture. The Independent's reviewer said the plot 'contains nearly as many logical holes as it does good intentions'.

Everyone enjoyed the baddie, though. Mack, played by Bradley Whitford (left), was 'a born-again oil man,' wrote the Independent, 'sulphurously indifferent to global warming'. more ...

Wednesday 23 July 2008

fear as a bad reason

At the start of the week No Impact Man asked his readers what first step they would recommend to someone wanting to go green. Last time I checked there were 116 replies. Many of the steps are well-known: eat less meat, buy less, cycle more, recycle more, change bulbs, get solar panels, turn down your thermostat, and so on.

Some people made reading suggestions: the article 'Plastic Ocean', Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class, Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, Oliver James' Affluenza and Amory Lovins, Hunter Lovins and Paul Hawkins' Natural Capitalism.

But someone suggested as a first step talking to the person about fear. There was a link to a short article by Resurgence's editor Satish Kumar in which he writes, 'Fear is a bad reason for being an environmentalist ... Ecology or environmentalism is a way of life, not a way of crisis management.' more ...

Tuesday 22 July 2008

for better or worse

It’s not that you [the arts] can make a difference; it’s that, for better or for worse, everything that you do already makes a difference. - Philippe Cousteau, CEO, Earth Echo more ...

theatre of ideas

Tomorrow night sees part one of BBC2's climate-change thriller Burn Up. Since this is a blog about theatre and climate change, it seems timely to link to Denis Dutton's 1990 essay on the theatre of ideas. Dutton leaves the 'theatre of entertainment' to one side and examines a theatre of ideas that 'calls into question current human social arrangements'. He finds a rich tension in this form between the 'complexity of lived experience' that a good play presents and 'something that can be formulated in terms of generalization'. (Antigone would be a good example.) A thriller about climate change would also be looking to tick both boxes. We'll see. more ...

Monday 21 July 2008


Oil is everything, says one of the characters in this week's BBC thriller Burn Up. And because that's so, says Burn Up's writer Simon Beaufoy in the Mail on Sunday, its scarcity might just save us. He sees a glimmer of hope in oil hitting $147 a barrel. (Burn Up, 9pm Weds 23, 9pm Fri 25, BBC2). more ...

Sunday 20 July 2008

wall sockets

It remains impossible for most people to connect what comes out of their wall sockets to morality.
... But national security, or foreign oil dependency or high energy prices are all talking points that just might get a majority of Americans to support going green.
more ...

doomed species

Alan Ayckbourn, whose 71st play opens in Scarborough tomorrow, thinks the straight play is a doomed species.

'what I get really angry about is the terrible starvation of the theatre out of London ... the death of regional work is very serious. You pick up the programme of the average rep company and you find no individual voice - it's all co-productions with other theatres. Or it's 'devised' work, and most of that is rubbish.' more ...

blame the weather

The British are unusually fond of flying, says the Economist, 'among EU citizens, their propensity to jet abroad for holidays is beaten only by the Irish (inhabitants, like the British, of a wealthy island with a lot of dreadful weather).' more ...

Saturday 19 July 2008

everyman and the select few

Michael Frayn's new play Afterlife at the National, about Max Reinhardt's staging of the morality play Everyman, shows how the great director and impresario attempted to break down the barriers between theatre and audiences - a very Fraynian theme in itself (see Noises Off, Look, Look).

Reinhardt's goal was to bring Everyman to everyone. But, as so often, this involved substantial patronage from the very few. Wealth could not save the character of Everyman in the play, Frayn notes, but it could save Everyman the production. In a fascinating postscript, he writes,

'It sounds more and more like the situation in the British (and the German) theatre today, which struggles piously to present plays about poverty and degradation to an audience not very closely acquainted with either - and which has to be subsidised by the charitable efforts of people on even more remote terms with them.' more ...

Friday 18 July 2008

from war to web

'The best Ayckbourn play Alan Ayckbourn never wrote.' (From review of The Female of the Species here.)

The Germaine Greer-ish character is Margot, played by Eileen Atkins (left). Margot says the answer to so many questions these days – Where did you meet? Why did you break up? – is 'the internet'.

Sixty years ago, she says, it would have been 'the war'. more ...

debatable land

Robert Macfarlane thinks the new nature-writers will go 'fully post-pastoral' and move from the fields to the cities and 'the debatable lands where the natural and the urban mesh, cooperate and conflict'. (Richard Mabey went there in 1973.) more ...

christian right

Pope Benedict XVI says nonviolence, sustainable development, justice and care for the environment are of vital importance.

We await a nuanced response from the White House to this. Unless, that is, His Holiness is onto something.

(Latest: Nancy Pelosi blasts the two oil men in the White House. Al Gore says we'll kick fossil fuels if we tax what we burn. Tidal water power turbine gets plugged in ... ) more ...

mirror up to nature

In her journal for us, playwright Samantha Ellis chronicles the researches she undertook when writing The Last Wolf in Scotland. The plot revolves around the reintroduction of wolves in the Highlands, the local resistance and a mysterious outbreak of poisoning.

All these elements appear today, but in a French context, in the Independent's two-page story Alpine Murder Mystery. A shop-owner in the Maurienne area says that some local people feel victimised,

'They blame ecologists and city-dwellers and think that they want to get rid of shepherds and sheep and fill the mountains with wild animals. Some of them are very angry.' more ...

Thursday 17 July 2008

future is now

Stuart Jeffries in the Guardian spots the irony in the UK release of the summer's biggest blockbuster for kids,

'WALL-E is about a robot who has spent the past 700 years cleaning up an Earth that has long been rendered uninhabitable thanks to our wasteful lifestyles. Meanwhile our descendants - possibly because they never watched EcoBeebies - live aboard a space cruise ship on hovering chairs sucking down their meals through straws, becoming so fat they can hardly move, while constantly watching telly. That, the film implicitly warns its child audience, could be your future unless you shape up.' more ...

Wednesday 16 July 2008

half size

The Economist reviews Paul Roberts' The End of Food: 'A fruitful start would be to halve the size of portions in all American restaurants'. more ...

Tuesday 15 July 2008

story of ants

The great biologist E. O. Wilson is writing a novel called Anthill. But he's having some disagreements with his publisher. Dr Wilson wants ants to play a large role in the novel as there are so many lessons to be drawn from their behaviour. His publisher sees a larger role for humans. more ...

Monday 14 July 2008


'Lawns are nature purged of sex and death. No wonder Americans like them so much.' Michael Pollan

Quoted this week by Elizabeth Kolbert in Turf War. more ...


Among other things, 9/11 turned out to be bad for the rule of law. Which was bad for the environment. more ...

Sunday 13 July 2008

holding tight

Roger Deakin, the author of Waterlog and Wildwood, died in August 2006. Fans of his work will be fascinated by the latest Granta which contains extracts from his notebooks. (Notes from Walnut Tree Farm, the Suffolk ruin he moved to in 1969, will be published in October.) In one entry Deakin recalls the moment, aged 17, when he heard that his father had died.

'That might actually have been the moment that made me into a conservationist ... I didn't want to lose anything more. I had lost such a big part of my life, I needed to compensate by holding on tightly to everything else.'

In another entry the desire to conserve has become a passion for change.

'Why write? A writer needs a strong passion to change things, not just to reflect or report on them as they are. Mine is to promote a feeling for the importance of trees through a greater understanding of them, so that people don't just think of trees, as they mostly do now, but of each individual tree, and each kind of tree.' more ...

Saturday 12 July 2008

actor speaks

When Robert Redford first spoke out in the 1970s against the interests of the energy companies he was dismissed by the right as only an actor. 'That had a lot of weight,' he says, 'until Reagan was elected.' more ...

intrinsic elements

The latest Granta on 'The New Nature Writing' (not yet online) has pieces by Richard Mabey, Robert Macfarlane, Kathleen Jamie, Seamus Heaney, Jonathan Raban and others. In his intro, Granta editor Jason Cowley, quotes the short-story writer Lydia Peelle, who's making her first Granta appearance in this issue:

'The new nature writing,' she told me, 'rather than being pastoral or descriptive or simply a natural history essay, has got to be couched in stories - whether fiction or non-fiction - where we as humans are present. Not only as observers, but as intrinsic elements. I feel this is important, because we've got to reconnect ourselves to our environment and fellow species in every way we can, every chance we have. In my thinking, it is the tradition of the false notion of separation that has caused us so many problems and led to so much environmental degradation. I believe that it is our great challenge in the 21st century to remake the connection. I think our lives depend on it.'

See our last round-up of the new nature-writers here and our interview with Richard Mabey here.
more ...

Friday 11 July 2008

donkey's ears

Carrots, sticks ... and tambourines.

Energy specialist Andrew Warren says when it comes to green policies you need to get the donkey's attention. more ...

Thursday 10 July 2008


'The green belt is a Labour achievement and we mean to build on it.' (John Lanchester quotes the ex-deputy Prime Minister.) more ...


'So this baby seal walks into a club ... ' (Botz on NIM) more ...

Wednesday 9 July 2008


TV tie-ins and revivals of revivals have led to record attendances for the West End. 'Disturbing', says box office analyst. more ...

tightknit beats ad-hoc

The traditional Hollywood approach is to gather an ad-hoc collection of actors, producers and technicians for a film and then disband the group as soon as it's over. Some see this flat, decentralised approach as the corporation of the future.

Mavericks at Work author Bill Taylor says the creative geniuses at Pixar turn this approach on its head by succeeding as:

'a tightknit company of long-term collaborators who stick together, learn from one another, and strive to improve with every production.'

(Hat-tip to Laura at Theatre Tribe, a networking site for 'theatre people outside the box', who sees Pixar as a good example for the sort of theatre company where 'everybody is involved in every aspect'.)

Another piece about Pixar emphasises how long-term collaboration leads to innovation. Randy Nelson, dean of Pixar University, runs courses in drawing, screenwriting, improv and colour for all 700 staff members, from the senior executives and animators to chefs and janitors.

This way they plan to avoid what happened to Disney. Nelson says, 'We saw how the formula crept in. Everyone here loves the old Disney favorites, but we never want to do one of those movies where the audience can figure out there must be a song coming here or "He's an orphan, so he's going to have a fat little buddy."'
more ...

Tuesday 8 July 2008

trojan horse

Full Monty screenwriter Simon Beaufoy had the idea of 'concealing the potentially indigestible politics of climate change in the "Trojan horse" of a thriller'. The BBC's Burn Up will be broadcast late July. (Ht: Ian Curtis).

Beaufoy says the denial industry's 'apparent manipulation of the facts led me quickly down the path of a thriller.' It's perfect material. This blog said in February that Professor Naomi Oreskes' online lecture about the systematic undermining of science 'would make a great play: a dark battle of ideas with savage personal disputes and good old-fashioned skullduggery.'

This week the New Yorker stated categorically that eco-drama was a contradiction in terms. Let's see if Beaufoy proves that wrong.
more ...

repeating the joke

No Impact Man has asked for some eco-jokes, so I've put up my lightbulb one. I first wrote about why there were no jokes about climate change here and ended the piece with a lightbulb joke I'd just made up. A few months later The Guardian included it in their six best eco-gags (if that doesn't prove the shortage, nothing does). My one went:

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.

This got picked up by Hot Topic and Deltoid and lots of people added their own variations. Here's a pared-down selection of the others:

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!

Can jokes have an impact? Joe Smith, co-author of Do Good Lives Have To Cost The Earth? says it's important to lighten things up. Cartoonists tackle climate change here. The role of jokes in defeating communism is discussed here. more ...

Monday 7 July 2008

they can't shrug

Tom Wolfe thinks speech is entirely different from 'other survival benefits'.

'Only with speech can you ask the question, "Why?" Animals cannot ask why. In one way or another, they can ask what, where, and when. But they cannot ask why. I've never seen an animal shrug. When you shrug, you're trying to say, "I don't know why." And they also can't ask how.'

He discusses language, status and the unfathomable complexities of the brain with the cognitive neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga. (HT: BIB.) more ...

Sunday 6 July 2008

petrol heads

A timely parable on everything from the Iraq War to global warming.

There Will Be Blood. (Now out on DVD.) more ...

Saturday 5 July 2008

last two

'We are the first generation of human beings that are going to have to think like Noah. We are the first generation of humans who are going to have to think about saving the last two pairs.'

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat on 'the age of Noah'. more ...

Friday 4 July 2008

want not, waste not

Two-thirds of all the primary energy consumed in the world today is wasted, mostly in the form of heat that nobody wants or uses. more ...

Thursday 3 July 2008

caesar is listening

A good thread on Grains of Sand about Nicholas Stern and discount rates finishes with a dramatic image:

'Economic growth is the religion of our time. A high priest has prescribed (mostly) sense and wisdom. Caesar is listening. Let's endorse the message, rather than poking fun at the pile of steaming chicken entrails used to divine it.' more ...

Wednesday 2 July 2008

isolation booth

Salon on anti-science conservatives. 'It was as if they had been locked in an isolation booth for the past decade.' more ...

Tuesday 1 July 2008

flight decked

The cover of London's Time Out magazine features a 'Green Londoner' with a spiky grass hairdo. Inside there's an A-Z on how to 'Green Up Your Act" and extracts from its 'Free-Flight Europe' guidebook (left).

There's also an interview with Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, who was quoted by the Sunday Times two years ago as saying that 'flying is a sin'. He later accepted a challenge to stop flying for a year. The bishop defends his remarks:

'To think of oneself as a sinner is very good news because actually it means you can change. To be a victim, you're powerless, that's it. We're not victims. We choose to be a certain way and we have a range of choices. If you're a believer, you recognise you have responsibility to your neighbour, that in this interconnected world, the way in which we live here is connected to water levels in Bangladesh.' more ...