Thursday 31 December 2009

so that was 2009

This US diagram of the world's news shows that the most prominent topics included:

economic crisis, health care reform, Obama transition, Iran, auto industry collapse, US terrorism policies, swine flu, Michael Jackson death, Ted Kennedy death, Henry Louis Gates arrest, Fort Hood shootings, Pakistan, War in Gaza, Bernie Madoff and Somali Pilates.

As the NYT's Andy Revkin points out, where is climate? more ...

Wednesday 30 December 2009

high water mark

In his article 'Are environmentalists an endangered species?', Time contributor Stephan Faris argues the 2005 flooding of New Orleans:

marked the high-water mark of the environmental movement, the moment when it became clear that caring for nature was not altruistic, but ultimately selfish and self-protective.
more ...

Tuesday 29 December 2009

one hurts, the other's mad

One notable moment in Copenhagen came when Senator James Inhofe, who describes climate change as the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people, was told by a Der Speigel reporter: 'You're ridiculous.'

This puncturing remark suggested it was possible to see the conflict between climate scientists and climate 'sceptics' as a version of the familiar dramatic clash between reality and fantasy. In this case, one view was based on a vast amount of painstakingly-researched peer-reviewed evidence, and the other ... wasn't.

Dramas often show that making the transition from fantasy to reality is a painful process. Escapism is so much more attractive. Climate 'scepticism' is a kind of escapism. We'd all prefer it if we could live in a world where facts didn't intrude too harshly, one that's a little more like the movies.

In Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), these two worlds collide when a movie character steps out of the screen and enters everyday life. In Purple Rose, a waitress Cecilia (Mia Farrow) is in love with this movie character and has to choose between the on-screen character and the off-screen one. Cecilia chooses the latter, but he abandons her.

In a recent collection of interviews, Woody Allen has described this conflict in the movie in typically gloomy terms. He sees the choice between reality and fantasy as a lose-lose situation.

My perception is that you are forced to choose reality over fantasy and reality hurts you in the end, and fantasy is just madness.

pic: Mia Farrow as Cecilia, Purple Rose of Cairo more ...

Monday 28 December 2009

top doc

Ecorazzi lists its 10 Ten Eco-Documentaries of the decade

1. Who Killed The Electric Car? (2006) - Worldwide Gross: $1,764,304
2. The 11th Hour (2007) - Worldwide Gross: $985,207
3. An Inconvenient Truth (2006) - Worldwide Gross: $49,756,507
4. Earth (2007/2009) - Worldwide Gross: $108,729,338
5. The End of Suburbia (2004) No figure.
6. FOOD, INC. (2009) - Worldwide Gross: $4,467,205
7. The Cove (2009) - Worldwide Gross: $899,552
8. Earthlings (2005) No figure.
9. Fuel (2008) - Domestic Box Office Gross: $32,465
10. The Real Dirt on Farmer John (2005) - Box Office Gross: $103,714 more ...

Sunday 27 December 2009

true blue

This blog has written about the latest blockbuster Avatar as an anti-American, even anti-European, and certainly anti-colonial movie.

Alternatively, in New York, the Jungian analyst Heide Kolb sees Avatar as a 'constructive countervision to the catastrophe-mongering' of 2012.

One illustration is that the skin colour of the tribe, the Na'vi, which lives on the planet Pandora, is blue. Kolbe writes:

I have no doubt the makers of Avatar were aware of the blue god in Hindu mythology, Krishna. Krishna was the eighth reincarnation (avatar) of the Hindu God Vishnu. Significant similarities exist between Krishna and the Christ figure. Both were sent by a father god to challenge the tyranny of the ruling class. Both were considered divine and human.

Krishna is often depicted with a flute, which people found irresistible. Krishna was a rebel, a poet and a lover of many women in Hindu lore. This earthy behavior and the flute connect him to the Greek Pan and they are all aspects of the connection to the archetypal feminine that needed to be split off, denied and repressed ...

See: hit and myth more ...

Thursday 24 December 2009

first time

Unlike most commentators, Joe Smith, Senior Lecturer in Environment at the Open University, returned from Copenhagen, holding a glass half full.

However feeble the statements the fact remains that COP15 saw all the key players sit down and take this topic seriously – collectively - for the first time. more ...

Wednesday 23 December 2009

fly me to the moon

Over their short lifetimes many migratory birds fly a distance equivalent to that between earth and the moon. Some people call them courageous. Hope is a thing with feathers.

Grains of Sand more ...

Tuesday 22 December 2009

the one about the ordinary situation

Last year this blog asked where were all the green jokes? Quite a few surfaced on the internet after that, but still only a tiny fraction when you consider the scale of the subject.

So the blog tuned into this week's edition of Word of Mouth, which was looking at what makes a joke funny, to see if there were any tips for more laughs about climate change.

One guest on the programme, a professor of social sciences, explained there are lots of jokes about sex, race, and lavatories, and very few about gardening. We make jokes about topics that make us anxious or aggressive. (Well, climate change makes plenty of people anxious and aggressive.)

The prof explained that Freud had said jokes are a way of expressing things that we normally can't express and Henri Bergson had said laughter depends on an anaesthesia of the heart, a certain cruelty.

A classic joke has a structure, the prof went on: it's a fantasy story which builds to a punchline which - even though we know it's coming - will catch us unawares. (We know climate change is coming, but it will still catch us unawares.) But jokes are also culture-bound, they're often related to moments of embarrassment in ordinary situations.

So that was it. There aren't many climate change jokes because it isn't an ordinary situation. It isn't culture-bound. Or not yet.

Visual joke: Banksy in Camden more ...

Monday 21 December 2009

hit and myth

On Friday this blog wondered if an anti-American film could also be a blockbuster hit. The answer is yes. The BBC reports that Avatar has topped the North American box office, taking $73m (£45.3m) on its opening weekend.

In this weekend's Observer Philip French highlighted the shift in James Cameron's work from pro-American to anti-American:

In Cameron's Terminator films, the central allegory derives from the story of Christ. In his brilliant Aliens, the Marines were the embattled heroes in a Vietnam-style war against vicious extraterrestrials.

Avatar is the story of the colonisation of the Americas and the destruction of the native population and their culture between the arrival of Columbus through the massacre at Wounded Knee up to the bulldozing of the Amazon rainforests. Coupled with this are more recent acts of neocolonialism like Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Marines are now the despoiling enemy and the aliens the good guys, and thrown into the mix are references to
King Kong, Planet of the Apes and Bambi and echoes of H G Wells's The Time Machine.

(Though you could say that the people who colonised America and destroyed the native populations were Europeans, so the movie is also anti-European.) more ...

Sunday 20 December 2009

message in a bottle

Here's how you can show your sceptical friends that CO2 contributes to global warming - without even leaving your kitchen.

(This experiment comes courtesy of Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, left, space scientist, who demonstrated this on Newsnight last week.)

All you need are two plastic water bottles, two lamps, two thermometers, bicarbonate of soda, vinegar and tissues.

First pour a little vinegar on some bicarbonate of soda. This produces carbon dioxide. Dab the tissue in the mix and put that tissue in one of the bottles. Now one bottle contains atmospheric air and the other bottle contains atmospheric air with a greater concentration of CO2.

Then switch on the lamps facing each bottle (these act as sunlight) to warm up the jars. Leave for a few minutes and then read the temperatures inside each bottle.

The result: the bottle with the greater concentration of CO2 has a considerably higher temperature reading than the other one. more ...

Friday 18 December 2009

not bothered by parallels

The big new Christmas movie, James Cameron's Avatar, which opened yesterday, has some striking green themes.

There's deforestation: a truly massive tree gets destroyed. There's a threatened indigenous people: the home of the Na'vi tribe gets obliterated. And there's a new-agey idea that that there's a mutual thing going on between the people living in forest and the forest itself and there may even be scientific evidence (Sigourney Weaver tells us) of electro-magnetic impulses that allows the forest to act like a brain, communicating between its many constituent elements.

The baddies of the piece, of course, don't have such a sophisticated brain. What the US military has is muscle - a massive arsenal of weaponry which it aims to use ( 'shock and awe') to get the 'savages' moving out of an area where there they have discovered a very precious mineral called - yes! - 'unobtanium'.

This raises an interesting question. I assume you can't have a successful blockbuster movie that's anti-American. So there must be plenty of people watching this movie who aren't remotely bothered by the parallels suggested by the storyline.

Update: in this interview Cameron refers to the themes of imperialism and biodiversity and attacks the way America has 'had eight years of the oil lobbyists running the country'. But he points out that anti-imperialism is American too. 'You can take it back to the origins of America in a fight of rebels against an imperial dominating force.' Except the rebels in question were hardly fighting on behalf of indigenous people. more ...

Thursday 17 December 2009

when the ducks go

One of the great TV series of the Noughties - some say the greatest series ever - opened with a man in New Jersey having panic attacks because a family of ducks had stopped visiting his pool.

It was one of the few moments in The Sopranos when the natural world got a look in. Other than that, the series was driven by an unquenchable human appetite for food, drink, drugs, cash, violence, food, and more food.

There was never any sense where this food came from. The closest viewers came to seeing a supply chain was a lorry full of frozen turkeys. The lifestyle led by the Soprano family - the spacious McMansion, the wife's limitless soft-pastel wardrobe - offered an eerily kitsch contrast to the raw violence that paid for it.

The Sopranos is not the first drama to use wild ducks as a metaphor for a denatured society. In Ibsen's Wild Duck, nature has been confined and sentimentalised in a loft. In the 86 episodes of The Sopranos, it is markedly absent. Very few animals feature at all. In one episode, Tony's nephew is so high that he falls asleep on top of his girlfriend's small dog and suffocates it.

Whatever time of day it is, it is always night-time at the Bada Bing strip-club. The outdoors scenes usually take place on golf courses. The yacht is really only another bedroom location for Tony. When two fairly tough characters find themselves lost in the woods on a freezing night (in the acclaimed Pine Barrens episode) they have no idea how to survive.

The series depicts a self-enclosed cycle of consumption and exploitation that's graphic testament to what Ted Hughes once called 'the flight from nature'. That mix of entitlement and disregard, so vivid in The Sopranos, has led to Copenhagen. more ...

Wednesday 16 December 2009

roundheads and cavaliers

George Monbiot's short video interviews for the Guardian nicely illustrate the way different temperaments approach green issues. This was clear when Monbiot interviewed Yvo de Boer (the negotiator and the polemicist). It's also clear from today's encounter in Copenhagen with Boris Johnson: Monbiot was the roundhead, Johnson the cavalier.

Monbiot's point was that gas-guzzling cars not only produce large amounts of CO2, they also undermine other people's efforts to cut carbon emissions. He quoted George Orwell about rationing during the war. The exact quote - later posted online - goes:

The lady in the Rolls Royce car is more damaging to morale than a fleet of Goering's bombing planes.

Johnson shifted the ground. This wasn't a discussion about CO2, this was good old class rhetoric. Monbiot wanted to ban the fun things in life. In no time two conversations were going on.

BORIS: I think an electric Porsche presents you, George, with a very substantial ideological difficulty.

GEORGE: If it's low carbon -

BORIS: It's not low carbon. It's zero carbon.

GEORGE: Well, it depends where the electricity comes from.

BORIS: If it's renewably-sourced, it's potentially zero carbon. What is your attitude to a zero-carbon Porsche?

GEORGE: Fine. I'd drive one myself if I could afford it.

BORIS: Would you? '"I want a Porsche!" says George Monbiot.' I think we've got our headline.
more ...

Tuesday 15 December 2009

low impact woman

Several lines from Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun, currently playing at the Young Vic with Jane Horrocks (left), have a timely resonance.

For all her sharp-shooting, Annie Oakley emerges as a low impact woman: no diamonds, no pearls, no mansion, no yacht, no silver and no gold. Even wiser:

Got no checkbooks, got no banks,
Still, I'd like to express my thanks.
I've got the sun in the morning
And the moon at night
more ...

Monday 14 December 2009

twitter as good as today

The Today programme has been famously sneering about the vacuities of Twitter. But that in itself is just another news story it has missed. Here are five things this blog has learnt on Twitter this morning:

1. A new phrase: 'sustainable prosperity'. (ht: @drgrist)

2. The rate at which our footprint is growing: in 2006, the most recent year for which data is available, humanity’s footprint grew almost 2% from 2005, and 22% from a decade before. (ht: @EndOvershoot)

3. The rate of sea rise: a new study indicates sea rise rate tripled (ht: @tweetingdonal)

4. A new type of capitalism: a look into Monsanto's 'seed business' reveals what @stevesilberman calls 'DNA-based capitalism'. (ht: @Arch4HumanityND)

5. When it's darkest: tomorrow marks the earliest sunset for UK this year; although mornings get darker until January, it's now as dark as it gets pm. (ht: @AngusWillson @thegreatgar)

... and one great quote:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. - Martin Luther King Jr. (ht: @robertiannone)

Would this blog have learnt as much listening to the Today programme? more ...

Friday 11 December 2009

every corner

In a Q&A with the New Statesman, the chair of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, is asked if his Hindu faith shapes his attitude towards his work. His answer sheds some light on how he approaches negotiations in Copenhagen:

Well, I believe that whatever one does has to be based on consensus, and that one should minimise conflict in all one's actions. And I believe that the universe is one family, and that you have to be sensitive to every corner of the globe and to every section of human society. more ...

Thursday 10 December 2009

contingency plans

We've just published an interview with playwright Steve Waters about theatre and climate change. In the interview, Waters says:

- James Lovelock was an inspiration for the character of the ex-glaciologist in The Contingency Plan;

- climate change is a tragedy in strict dramaturgical terms;

- the reason David Hare and David Edgar have never written climate change plays is a real generational thing.

The Contingency Plan will be broadcast on Radio 3 this Sunday. The original cast are doing a reading of the play on 15 and 18 December. more ...

Wednesday 9 December 2009

get real

On the Guardian's theatre blog, playwright Steve Waters says we need drama that gets real about global warming, from Cockermouth to Copenhagen.

Bizarre to see Michael Billington in the same paper today applaud the newsworthiness of drama, saying that in the last decade people turned to plays to find out what was really going on.

Hard to imagine anyone in Copenhagen today turning to plays - other than the two by Steve Waters - to learn something about the biggest story of the decade. more ...

Tuesday 8 December 2009

the message and the messenger

From the the Culture Futures conference in Copenhagen:

Alison Tickell from Julie's Bicycle contrasted her approach towards making the rock industry cut its carbon footprint with the one taken by Live Earth in 2007 when rock stars with large carbon footprints tried to convince the rest of the world to change their lightbulbs.

Her advice was:

Sort yourself out first. Then you're coming from a place of authority.

Lead from example, not from aspiration.

Learn the science as it relates to your community.

The message is not the messenger.

(Juhi Shareef blogs about the first day of Culture Futures and also tweets about today's session.) more ...

Monday 7 December 2009


No blog today. En route to Copenhagen for arts and climate change seminar called Culture Futures. more ...

Saturday 5 December 2009

'surely unconscionable'

The Daily Telegraph carries a fair number of climate-sceptic columnists who are happy to advertise their lack of interest in science. Today one columnist writes: 'I have not so much as an O-level in physics or chemistry. All I do know is this ...'.

Another columnist writes grandly: 'And although I do not believe in climate-change catastrophe theory ...' as if it were a question of personal taste, like whether he preferred to take his holidays in Tuscany or the south of France.

But the paper's leading article today on Copenhagen is more thoughtful than you might expect from the articles that surround it:

Many of the proposals would be the right thing to do even without climate change: it is surely unconscionable, for example, for the current occupants of the Earth simply to continue extracting and exploiting a finite resource – such as fossil fuel – to the point of its depletion. more ...

Friday 4 December 2009

the story they say is a non-story

The New Scientist says there's no sign of a climate conspiracy in hacked emails. The Huffington Post runs the Six Most Dubious Claims About Supposed Global Warming Hoax. Nature states nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case.

Meanwhile we live through a media storm called 'climategate'. Been a great week for conspiracy nutters. more ...

Thursday 3 December 2009

free run with a non-scandal

Geoffrey Lean writes that environmental groups were unprepared for the swift boating of climate science:

From what has been publicized so far, there does not seem to be a great deal in the exposed messages, nothing that would remotely justify the widely touted claims that they prove that the whole edifice of global warming science to be a fraud. But the skeptics have had a free run with the non-scandal ...

Update: George Marshall made this swift boating point back on 22 Nov. (Thanks, CH.) more ...

Wednesday 2 December 2009

when conservatives don't like to conserve

The front page story of today's Independent is: 'Cameron hit by Tory backlash on environment'. Inside, there's a piece by former shadow Home Secretary David Davis in which he attacks greens and 'the ferocious determination to impose hair-shirt policies on the public.' Also, interestingly, there's a quote from Tory blogger Tim Montgomerie saying 'climate change really is an issue that can split conservative parties round the world.'

It's not surprising that it should be. In the Daily Dish yesterday, Andrew Sullivan considers why so many conservatives are, in fact, anti-conservation.

I have never understood why it is conservative to take an attitude toward the natural world of how best to exploit and use it entirely for short term benefit ... The conservative, it seems to me, will not be averse to using the planet to improve our lot, and will not be hostile to the forces of capitalism and self-interest that have generated such amazing wealth and abundance in the last three hundred years.

But a conservative will surely also want to be sure that he conserves this inheritance, for its own sake and also for his future use. He will want to husband the natural world, not rape it and throw it away. He will see the abandonment of all values to that of immediate gratification as a form of insanity, if not evil.

And he will want to ensure that his children will enjoy the world as he has.

These are deeply conservative instincts, humble in the face of nature, conscious of the need to preserve for the future, aware of the limits of exploitation.

Sullivan concludes:

And yet nothing is more alien to what now passes for American conservatism than this respect and care for nature. Which is why it isn't really conservative in any meaningful sense at all. more ...

Tuesday 1 December 2009

out of the window

Today 35 of the world’s leading climate research institutions gave a warning about sea level rises based on a report they've just completed called 'Antarctic Climate Change and Climate'.

Their warning is the front page story in today's Times. At the end of the story, The Times then asks Benny Peiser, director of the new Global Warming Policy Foundation, for a comment.

The GWPF website states that 'Our main purpose is to bring reason, integrity and balance to a debate that has become seriously unbalanced, irrationally alarmist, and all too often depressingly intolerant.'

Peiser refutes the report by saying:

'The predictions come in thick and fast, but we take them all with a pinch of salt. We look out of the window and it’s very cold, it
doesn’t seem to be warming.'

So a report from 35 climate research institutions is rejected by a guy saying, hey, look out the window, it's cold today. Not sure where the integrity and balance lies there.

Update: the former deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has noted that Lord Lawson, the chairman of the GWPF, is also chairman of CET, whose clients include Elf, Total, Shell, BP, Amoco, and Texaco.

As Prescott writes about GWPF, 'From what I can see it of, it is not so much a think tank as a petrol tank.' (Ht: Guardian.) more ...

Monday 30 November 2009

make it intimate, and you've lost it

In this new video interview for The Nation, playwright Tony Kushner, who wrote Angels in America, discusses 'nuclear numbing', 'dissociative states', the 'greed' lying behind the anti-global warming lobby, and the particular challenge for an artist in writing about climate change:

It's difficult to approximate, the minute you've made it intimate, you've lost what it is. It's as hard to grasp it in a work of art as it is to let it settle into your consciousness and to keep it alive there and not throw yourself out the window. So I struggle with that a lot, because I feel that I've backed away from it as a thing that I write about, partly because I don't really know how to address it head on. more ...

not a smidgen of evidence

To be clear: many now are claiming, in effect, that the world's best scientists, thousands of them, who have contributed to framing the statements on global warming issued by our own and most other governments, the IPCC, National Academy of Sciences, Royal Society, American Physical Society, and on and on, have been engaged for many decades in a massive, secret conspiracy. I don't think the stolen emails and computer code provide a smidgen of evidence for that.

Spencer Weart, science historian
(Director of the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics, 1971-2009) more ...

Sunday 29 November 2009

believe the buildings

Archive on 4 considered Lord Clark, who wrote and presented the landmark BBC series Civilisation.

Five minutes in, Clark stands in front of Notre Dame and asks, 'what is civilisation'? He says he can't define it in the abstract ('yet'), but knows it when he sees it, and he can see it in front of him.

If I had to say which was telling the truth about society, a speech by a minister of housing, or the actual buildings put up in his time, I should believe the buildings.
more ...

don't explain, don't exploit

You could argue that the environmental crisis is also an aesthetic one. In last night's BBC2 programme The Meaning of Beauty, philosopher Roger Scruton argues that things that are designed purely for their utility quickly end up as useless.

He quotes the early 18th-century philosopher Lord Shaftesbury in a Zen-like manner. Shaftesbury, he says,

is telling us to stop using things, stop explaining them and exploiting them, but to look at them instead. Then we will understand what they mean. The message of the flower is the flower. more ...

Saturday 28 November 2009

when the monkey walks

Only just come across this three-minute clip from Newsnight Review, where Trevor Nunn and Kevin Spacey discuss the Old Vic's production of Inherit The Wind and the unusual business of rehearsing with a monkey. Nunn says:

We do have a monkey in the play, as is required by the writing. When the monkey gets up on its hind legs and starts to walk ... I don't mean to say there's a friendly recognition, we're not all saying, 'Hi buddy', but you do understand something. more ...

Friday 27 November 2009

no-one laughs at the comic

The last 10 years have all been in the top 15 hottest years ever. You can catch the section from Question Time, where Melanie Philipps argues that climate change is a scam and temperatures are going down, here. Fortunately, Marcus Brigstocke is on hand to talk some sense.

An odd situation: the audience greets the comments of a supposedly serious columnist with laughter and listens to the words of a comedian with serious attention. more ...

Thursday 26 November 2009

same guy did both

We all know that some of the worst plays ever written were written by William Shakespeare. That doesn't affect the fact that he's the greatest writer who ever lived.

William Goldman, screenwriter more ...

Wednesday 25 November 2009

mugging up on cop15

With 12 days to go till 10,000 people - including this blogger - descend on Copenhagen (pic), there's a mass of background material appearing online.

The BBC has useful climate change pages with a dropdown glossary for anyone muddling 'CFC', 'CO2' and 'COP15'.

National Geographic has an excellent graphic that explains CO2 in terms of a carbon bathtub.

In its guide getting up to speed on the climate talks, Tcktcktck links to Grist's Copenhagen section and the Ecologist's Copenhagen in 60 seconds. more ...

Tuesday 24 November 2009

trust me

Here's one small clue as to why the story about the hacked CRU emails, and the idea that there's a worldwide conspiracy of scientists foisting global warming onto an unsuspecting public, has taken off.

The Times online features about 30 blogs and there's a page that lists all the blogs with a line that describes what each blog is about. These blogs range from Faith Central ('guide to religion and thought') to Tech Central ('Offbeat analysis of the world of high technology').

The eco blog, Green Central, has the tagline 'intelligent, informed insights you can trust'. This is the only blog on Times online that has to advertise it can be trusted. more ...


The climate crisis is also an epistemological crisis.

The RSA blog links to RETHINKclimate. more ...

Monday 23 November 2009

knowing where you're coming from

What Mike Hulme does in his new book Why We Disagree About Climate Change is a little like what Elliot Kupferberg, the Peter Bogdanovich character (pic), does in The Sopranos.

Both pick away at the seeming neutrality of the authority figure and reveal a dynamic that's more complicated and human.

The central thread of The Sopranos is the relationship between the volatile Mafia boss, Tony Soprano, and his immaculately composed psychiatrist, Dr Jennifer Melfi. Tony Soprano leads a violent and emotional life and once a week he explains how he feels about things to the rational and detached Dr Melfi.

But psychiatrists themselves go to see psychiatrists, so it's a dramatic moment when the tables turn, and Dr Melfi discusses her own troubles with her psychiatrist (played by Bogdanovich).

In the same way, Hulme argues in Why We Disagree About Climate Change that the climate change debate isn't simply about rational people trying to get irrational people to see some sense. Everyone who joins the climate change debate is operating within sets of values that need to be examined and understood.

These values inform our attitudes, for instance, to risk, science, justice, nature and culture. How we think about these subjects will largely determine how we think about climate change. We also tend to interpret the world (however subconsciously) through the great literary or Biblical narratives. And these stories resonate in very different ways.

To be effective in this climate change discussion, perhaps like psychiatrists, we need to find out first where we're coming from.

(A discussion of Mike Hulme's Why We Disagree About Climate Change takes place in London this evening as part of the Mediating Change Project.) more ...

Friday 20 November 2009

change of use

On R4's Today, there was a five-minute discussion about Thierry Henry's handball. The Times sportswriter Simon Barnes said:

Sport has gone through an extraordinary change of use. It was supposed to build character. It was why, in the 19th century, sport was codified and made much of in English education. These days we like sport because it reveals character and it's revealed a certain chunk of Thierry Henry's character. Sport is a fascinating form of entertainment. Sport has changed function.

There was another aspect to the discussion that mirrored other discussions about the credit crunch and MPs expenses. Many footballers, like many bankers and MPs, think it is the job of the officials, regulators or referees to ensure that people stick to the rules.

(The implications of this attitude for the environment are not hard to work out.) more ...

Thursday 19 November 2009

still more climelit

As well as choosing ('of course') a book by their Policy Director, nef's twitterer (@theneweconomics) also picks Herman Daly (pic) and Joshua Farley 's Ecological Economics and Herman Daly and John Cobb's For the Common Good.

The L.A. artist Rebecca Potts picks Weather Report: Art and Climate Change, which she tweets 'is a great exhibition catalog with an intro by Lucy Lippard'.

Bridget McKenzie, director of Flow Associates, tweets (as @bridgetmck) 'What about stealth #climelit' and suggests Alan Weisman's The World Without Us, Jay Griffiths' Wild and Anne Michaels' The Winter Vault.

@RETHINKclimate points to articles by Emma Ridgway, Bruno Latour and Mike Hulme on Climate&ART.

For more updates, go to #ClimeLit. more ...

Wednesday 18 November 2009

more climelit

ClimateStories picks Andrew Simms' Ecological Debt, Cornelia Parker picks Jeremy Leggett's Carbon War and Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes from A Catastrophe, and artsandecology picks Michael Braungart and William McDonough's Cradle to Cradle.

Joe Turner (@gentlemandad) picks David MacKay's Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air and goes on to answer why:

because we often talk ourselves out of any energy generating activity and it is salutary to remind ourselves of basic arithmetic more ...

Tuesday 17 November 2009

climelit, trueclime and climefiction

Over in the Twitterverse this afternoon, climateboom asked, 'what are you favourite books about climate change? and why?' He picked Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes From A Catastrophe.

This blog suggested a new genre #ClimeLit. climateboom replied

as opposed to #climefiction - which would be the oeuvre of Nigel Lawson, Christopher Booker et al?

An hour later climateboom rounded up the suggestions from 'the distributed office':

David Holmgren's Future Scenarios, George Monbiot's Heat, Mark Lynas's Six Degrees, Clive Hamilton's Growth Fetish, George Marshall's Carbon Detox, David Archer's The Long Thaw (pic), anything by John Houghton, Mann and Kump's Dire Predictions, Mike Hulme's Why We Disagree About Climate Change and Debi Glior's The Trouble with Dragons.

No mention yet of Margaret Atwood, Kim Stanley Robinson or Steve Waters. Or James Lovelock or Cormac McCarthy.

Update: Societas_ adds Alistair McIntosh's Hell and High Water, but says, 'Most fav books on climate change not yet in print!' Ian McEwan's new novel could be the one.

Maybe we need #climelit for Atwood, McEwan, #trueclime for Monbiot, Lynas, and #climefiction for Lawson, Booker. more ...

poetry and protest

When Daniel Defoe visited the Lake District, he thought it was hideous, even more hideous than Wales. By the time William Wordsworth (pic) had written about the Lake District, everything had changed - including the property prices.

On R4's Start the Week, the environmental historian Harriet Ritvo explained how the changing perception of the Lake District led to the first green coalition of interests to oppose a major new development.

Her new book The Dawn of Green - reviewed in the THES here and the Independent here - details how Wordsworth was responsible for a set of associations that turned the Lake District into 'a national sacred space'.

Start The Week's host Tom Sutcliffe remarked on how

an artist, as it were, composing poems, can set in motion a cultural change which has huge consequences
more ...

Monday 16 November 2009

the comfort of spiders

One of the obits on this week's Last Word was for the Chinese historian Nien Cheng, who was placed in solitary confinement for six years during the Cultural Revolution and who wrote the memoir Life and Death in Shanghai.

In a radio clip on Last Word, Cheng recalled that in six years of solitary confinement she never heard a friendly voice or saw a smiling face. But there was one thing that helped ease the psychological pressure:

I saw this spider. It was a living thing. And I watched it make a web. I became a friend of this tiny little spider, watching him was comforting to me. I watched him the first thing I got out of bed, and I watched him until I couldn't see it was so dark.
more ...

Friday 13 November 2009


Over at the RSA's Arts and Ecology blog, there's a write-up about Wednesday's interview in Cambridge with Steve Waters. more ...


all human thought, 'savage' or not, was built up from binary opposites such as hot and cold, night and day, raw and cooked, good and bad. Round these concepts whole societies, as well as stories, were organised.

Obit. Claude Lévi-Strauss more ...

Thursday 12 November 2009

on air

Steve Waters' climate-change plays The Contingency Plan will be broadcast on Radio 3 on 13th December. more ...

Wednesday 11 November 2009

strange religion

The Guardian has an interview with sci-fi writer Kim Stanley Robinson about his new book Galileo's Dream.

In Galileo's time, science was clashing with religion; today, Robinson believes, we're living in a "Galilean moment" again, in which climate change means science has become politicised. This time, though, the clash is with capitalism.

"There are cultural forces in our society which say, you can save the world or else you can make a profit, and they'll say sorry, we have to make a profit. So we have a strange religion now."
more ...

Tuesday 10 November 2009

bail-outs and bonuses

A couple of years ago, Al Gore was addressing a group of bankers in London, telling them (in essence) that one of the main things that screwed up the environment was the City's unhealthy emphasis on driving up their quarterly figures. This hunger for short-term profits - which Adam Smith himself argued against - was deeply unsustainable. (In this respect, a play about modern corporations is also a play about climate change.) Maybe, even then, the banks weren't listening because they knew that whatever damage they caused, they couldn't fail.

In the current issue of the LRB John Lanchester gives a fairly precise example of the incredible deal that banks have negotiated:

Goldman Sachs, the biggest of the investment banks, was rescued from insolvency by a taxpayer injection of $10 billion last October; then it collected another $12.9 billion in credit default swap insurance, also provided by the taxpayer, thanks to the bail-out of AIG; then it announced that it was paying itself $16.7 billion in pay and bonuses for the first three quarters of this year

If you think this is wrong, well, they don't. Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, told the Sunday Times, he was doing 'God's work'.

pic: 'Enron' by Lucy Prebble (Royal Court) more ...

Monday 9 November 2009

in the viewfinder

As affecting visual narratives about climate change increase in number, it's timely to read Jonathan Raban's new essay on the interplay between pastoral and propaganda in the photos of Walker Evans, Marion Post and Dorothea Lange:

Like a Tudor court poet contemplating a shepherd, the owner of the camera was rich beyond the dreams of the people in the viewfinder

pic. Dorothea Lange: 'Migrant Mother' more ...

Friday 6 November 2009

the habituated imagination

Next week, I'm interviewing playwright Steve Waters, author of the terrific climate-change doublebill The Contingency Plan, in front of a live audience at Cambridge.

By way of homework, I've just read a paper, 'Heatmapping', which Waters delivered at a conference in Bath in 2007. The paper is about theatre and climate change and it links (in different ways) Aeschylus's The Persians, Sophocles's Antigone and Goethe's Faust with James Lovelock, Mike Davis, Jared Diamond and John Gray.

Anyone familiar with this blog will recognise the effort to make connections between those classic plays and these modern commentators. But for many, theatre and climate change isn't an obvious match, it's almost a ludicrous one. Waters rightly suggests in his paper that there's something in the way that theatre has reacted (or rather not reacted) to climate change which is indicative of something much deeper. He writes:

Climate Change seems to elude dramatisation, perhaps because it presents not only a challenge to the habits of everyday life, it challenges the habituated imagination itself, it challenges the very bases of story-telling. more ...

Thursday 5 November 2009

verb that works

Spring Coppice discusses why, when it comes to climate change, 'hope' works better than 'optimism'.

(It's a verb with its sleeves rolled up.) more ...

Wednesday 4 November 2009

playwright for today

Playwright Steve Waters wrote The Contingency Plan, the acclaimed double-bill about climate change, which premiered at the Bush Theatre in May.

(See this blog's posts on TCP: and here it is, where the ice goes, and googling waters. See also Finally, a good play about climate change).

I'll be interviewing Steve Waters in Cambridge next Wednesday as part of CRASSH's series 'Cultures of Climate Change' .

Venue: Judith E. Wilson Drama Studio, Faculty of English, West Road, Cambridge. Time: 5.15pm. more ...

Tuesday 3 November 2009

the short answer

In his lecture tonight at Gresham College, Professor Kenneth Costa, chairman of Lazard International, argues that Adam Smith is much misunderstood.

In a short version of the lecture that appears in today's FT he writes that Adam Smith believed that:

the economy could not function properly without ethical foundations. He did not believe that people should act with complete disregard for each other.

The Professor asks:

Why do we seem to think otherwise? Why do we seem to have lost the grammar of ethical discourse, at least in business?

He answers his own question with a single phrase: 'short-term gains'. more ...

Monday 2 November 2009

alan bennett regrets passing of censorship

Stage censorship was abolished in 1968, the year of Alan Bennett's first play. So, he says, he was never been 'seriously incommoded' by it.

But for other reasons, the playwright regrets its abolition:

insofar as it seemed to me to deplete significantly the armoury of the dramatist. With censorship there was a line between what one could and couldn’t say and the nearer one got to this line the greater the tension: how candid did one dare to be? Would the men kiss or the women fondle? After censorship went, the dramatist had to manufacture tension of his/her own. more ...

harder we work, more we believe

One of this blog's favourite bloggers, Samantha Ellis, has just been to Fantastic Mr Fox and loved it.

Samantha wrote a journal for us about her time researching wolves and rewilding when writing her play The Last Wolf in Scotland.

Fantastic Mr Fox turns out to be a paean to the crunchy side of nature with Mr Fox giving an impassioned defence of wildness. But Samantha was also struck by the stop-motion filming, which made her realise how much she hated CGI:

The more you can see the joins, the more you're aware that these are handmade puppets being photographed, moved a tiny bit, then photographed again, the more real it seems. I think we believe more when we have to work a bit harder to suspend disbelief. more ...

Friday 30 October 2009

out of time

You don't expect Radio 4's In Our Time to end on a cliffhanger, but this week's discussion about Schopenhauer (left) closed with an ending that wouldn't have shamed EastEnders.

There had been terrific commentary on Schopenhauer's use of Eastern philosophy, his views on desire and boredom, the role of art - and music in particular, and his modern attitude towards the treatment of animals.

Melvyn Bragg went on to ask Béatrice Han-Pile, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex, about Schopenhauer's influence on Hardy, Lawrence and Camus. Her reply concentrated on Camus:

He took two ideas from Schopenhauer. One is that ultimately life is meaningless and the other is that we are doomed to suffer. And he put that in what he called 'the paradox of the absurd', namely on the one hand we are bound to look for meaning in our lives, that's just what we do, and on the other hand, if we take a cold hard look at the universe, then we see there's no ultimate meaning there. And -

Just as we reached that 'and' - 42 minutes into the programme - when this very lucid professsor looked as if she was on the verge of reconciling two of the biggest ideas going, Bragg suddenly glanced at the clock:

I'm sorry. My fault. I've completely messed up the timing. Thank you. more ...

Thursday 29 October 2009

it's all the rest

If you ask a scientist how much more CO2 do you think we should add to the atmosphere, the answer is going to be none.

All the rest is economics.

Gavin A. Schmidt, climate scientist. more ...

Wednesday 28 October 2009

ever decreasing circles

The US Department of Defense, or DOD, consumes more energy than Bangladesh and Bangladesh has a population of 162 million. Yet one of the major roles of the US military is to protect US energy supplies.

Let's think this through: if the military wasn't quite so large, the country wouldn't need quite so much energy, which would mean the military wouldn't have to be quite so large, which would mean ... more ...

ibsen gets it

In Ibsen's The Wild Duck the elderly Ekdal, who has suffered disgrace and imprisonment, sounds as if he's been reading Jared Diamond's Collapse.

Or he has seen this YouTube clip where David Attenborough explains what happened on Easter Island. Or he has studied Dr Seuss's drawings for The Lorax.

In the second act, the elderly Ekdal asks the merchant's son, Gregers, about the forest they both know around Hoydal.

EKDAL: How does the forest look up there now? Still good, eh?
GREGERS: Not as good in your day. It's been thinned out a lot.
EKDAL: Thinned out? Chopped down? Bad things will come of that. The forest'll have its revenge.
(Trans. Michael Meyer.)

The Wild Duck depicts a number of characters who have retreated from the real world into a make-believe one. The way that Ekdal and his son keep the animals in the attic is just one example. (Another of the play's green angles: Ibsen's wild duck presents the first laboratory animal on stage.)

pic: poster for Christopher Morahan's 1979 production at the National Theatre. more ...

Monday 26 October 2009

sorry, don't want to discuss it

Well, Andrew Marr gets it, even if Clive James doesn't. In an interview to publicise his new book and TV series, The Making of Modern Britain, Marr tells The Times that the greatest challenge facing politicians today is the impact of climate change.

On our security, on migration, on food, on the natural world, on how we are all going to live. And no politician will talk about it.

Marr goes on to compare it to another great looming disaster from which many people averted their eyes.

I think there is a parallel with appeasement. In the 1930s, if you wanted to know what was going on in Nazi Germany, the evidence was there. But most people didn’t want to listen, they didn’t discuss it, it was far too nasty a subject.
more ...

the one thing he knows is wrong

Clive James proves yet again that clever people can make very silly points. Especially when they are not really interested in the subject they're discussing. He writes:

Whether or not you believe that the earth might have been getting warmer lately, if you are sceptical about whether mankind is the cause of it, the scepticism can be enough to get you called a denialist.

The casual use of 'whether or not' and 'might' at the start at that sentence is simply untenable. (See graph below.) James tries to turn his admiration for Montaigne, and the idea of not taking everything on trust, into some kind of justification for siding with so-called 'sceptics' in the climate change debate. All good scientists are sceptics.

He writes that he knows next to nothing about climate change. The one thing he says he does know about the subject is that the number of scientists who voice scepticism has lately been increasing. Well, the one thing he knows is wrong too.

He would only have to read the science historian Spencer R. Weart's The Discovery of Global Warming to learn that precisely the opposite is the case. It took many decades for the majority of scientists to accept the idea of human-induced climate change. What convinced them was the evidence. That's how scepticism works. more ...

Sunday 25 October 2009

cognitive dissonance

Fewer Americans See Solid Evidence of Global Warming more ...

Thursday 22 October 2009

what i write plays for

For two years, the playwright Samantha Ellis kept a journal for us as she researched a new play about the plans to reintroduce wolves to the Scottish Highlands, a process known as 'faunal rewilding'.

This week Samantha is in Leeds for a student production of that play, The Last Wolf in Scotland.

As Samantha writes on her own blog,

It’s amazing (and surreal) to come up and find 30 people working on the play, all in T-shirts with the name of the play on, grappling with the plays various challenges—knitting, mending fences, gralloching stags, having wild sex on the Caledonian Sleeper—a lot of business.

Then 'Hungry Like The Wolf' starts blaring out, and the cast, mostly 18-year-olds and surely new to Duran Duran, are rocking out on the stage, clambering over the steeldeck that represents the Highlands, and this is what I write plays for, to see that energy and passion brought to a story I came up with on my own in my room

(If you are unsure what 'gralloching' entails, the Deer Commission for Scotland provides a slideshow of photos and diagrams.) more ...

Wednesday 21 October 2009

main complaint, it doesn't work

This blog didn't mention that if you were going to complain about the DECC's £6m advertising campaign, you would do so, as springcoppice notes, on the grounds that

the ineffectual nature of negative future scenarios as a spur to action has been well documented. more ...

what we're complaining about

This is really quite encouraging.

More than 22,000 people have complained to the Press Complaints Commission over Jan Moir's piece in the Daily Mail about Stephen Gately's death.

Whereas the Advertising Standards Authority has received only 357 complaints about the £6m campaign launched by the Department of Energy and Climate Change that states that climate change is human-induced.

So 22,000 people object to an article they see as homophobic and 357 people object to the DECC's campaign on the grounds that there is no scientific evidence of climate change or that there's a division of scientific opinion on the issue and that the ad should therefore not have attributed global warming to human activity.

Feels like progress. more ...

Tuesday 20 October 2009

fight or flight

In the latest edition of Intelligent Life, I've done an article on to fly or not to fly. Three useful comments have been posted below it.

The first says: isn't going veggie more effective than not flying?

The second says: there's both a practical and a symbolic element to giving up air travel as it's used - conspicuously in the arts - as an indicator of success.

(This comment was from the RSA's Arts and Ecology editor William Shaw. Hat tip: his feature on artists and flying largely underpinned the article I wrote.)

The third says: the market gives people the right to fly, but the pollution created by the flight should be calculated into the ticket price.

On this subject: Costing The Earth examines guilt-free flying. It's often said that aviation contributes 2% of emissions, but new research shows the figure is almost 5%. more ...

Monday 19 October 2009


A healthy dose of critical comment has already been levelled at Superfreakonomics, the follow-up to the entertaining bestseller Freakonomics (4m copies sold). The list of mistakes that has now been itemised probably runs longer than the chapter on global warming that appears in the book.

Tim Lambert at Deltoid has had to link once more to his Global Warming Sceptic Bingo because the Superfreakonomics chapter manages to tick five of the boxes. They are:

global warming is a religion, ice cores show warming comes first, ice age predicted in the 70s, water vapour dominates and climate modelling isn't scientific.

Update: the award-winning journalist Eric Pooley on writes: Freakonomics Guys Flunk Science of Climate Change. more ...

Friday 16 October 2009

when everyone's a maverick

This blog has written before (in relation to Arts and Letters Daily) about how one of the most powerful motives in journalism is the desire to be a maverick. It's as if the only opinion that's going to get heard is a contrarian one.

In a post on his blog titled 'A counterintuitive train wreck' the Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman picks up on Joe Romm's verdict on Superfreakonomics to say how often the temptation to be counterintuitive can just be 'plain, unforgivably wrong'. more ...

Thursday 15 October 2009

shiver of kinship

Tom Holland, the author of Millennium: the End of the World and the Forging of Christendom", visits the Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler exhibition at the British Museum and sees a story for today in what happened to the great city of Tenochhuacan.

He writes:

Whatever the proximate causes of the city's fall in the 7th century AD, few archaeologists today doubt the ultimate reason: the exhaustion of the ecosystem on which it had depended. Teotihuacán died because it had lived fatally beyond its means.

To visit the British Museum's magnificent exhibition, and survey the wondrous yet terrifying fragments of an obliterated civilisation, is to shiver with a sense of unexpected kinship.
more ...

Tuesday 13 October 2009

setting trends

It's a recurrent theme on this blog that green issues, democracy and new social media are closely connected. This morning provides a perfect example.

The number one trending topic on Twitter is the subject that the Guardian isn't allowed to write about. #Trafigura

This is a story about pollution, human rights, gagging orders, the mainstream media and the power of Twitter. It's also a spectacular example of disastrous PR. (See Streisand Effect.) Even Stephen Fry has tweeted about it (826, 669 followers).

But nothing on the BBC news so far. Here's an earlier Newsnight report on dumping of poisonous waste along the Ivory Coast .

Favourite Twitter quote: @chickyog: I'd like the whole world to know about my blog. How much do Carter-Ruck charge for an injunction? more ...

Sunday 11 October 2009

beyond 1.0 thinking

David de Rothschild (left) is about to sail a 60ft catamaran across the Pacific Ocean to publicise the vast amount of plastic garbage that has collected in the sea. His boat is made out of 'upcyclable' plastic.

Unlike Shackleton and Scott, Fiennes and Branson, de Rothschild says he is not in it for glory or brand awareness; rather, he wants to redefine what adventures themselves might be about.

The purpose of the voyage, he says, is not just to point to problems ("1.0 thinking") but to come up with solutions that might be scalable in other areas. more ...

feast day

"Something for everybody and it's free." The Food Programme reports on feasts and Feast on the Bridge, which we cover here. more ...

Saturday 10 October 2009

little too smug

We in the arts are just a little too smug (says the Independent) about seeing areas such as science, industry and finance as not worth bothering to master. more ...

Thursday 8 October 2009

untruth triumphs

The most immoral and, so far, most successful, disinformation campaign in US history.

That is, the effort, largely funded by conservatives and fossil fuel companies, to deny climate science and delay the urgent action. more ...