Tuesday 30 June 2009

shining light

One of the winners of the TippingPoint commissions, The LightSwitch Project by the LightSwitch Collective, features the British film and stage actor Toby Jones (left). The show asks the question: 'what happens when you switch on a light?' The press release says the performance:

'connects the individual to the implications of their actions and their place in the world.' more ...

ed miliband's summer reading

Seen here. (Discussed here.) more ...

the recipients

The winners of the TippingPoint commissions are: Manchester International Festival (£30,000), The LightSwitch Project by the LightSwitch Collective (£15,000), Trashcatchers' Carnival by Project Phakama UK (20,000), and Third Ring Out by Metis Arts (£15,000). more ...

Monday 29 June 2009

decent proposals

Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, will announce the award winners of the TippingPoint Commissions at the National Theatre tonight at 6.40pm.

In an email, TippingPoint says it received:

'an overwhelming number of proposals from directors, writers, choreographers, composers, and art-makers for performative work to stimulate audiences towards the radical and imaginative thinking necessary to comprehend a world dominated by climate change.'

Ashdenizen will be tweeting the event. [Update: Apologies. Technical hitch - this didn't happen.]

(See climate-change works for the stage.) more ...

develop an association

Shepard Fairley, the artist who did the Obama poster, has done one in support of Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi.

At Artinfo he defends himself against the charge that he takes complex subjects and turns them into cool posters.

'That’s a very pessimistic viewpoint, but also I think it’s not accurate to say that most people want to find out about issues because they actually give a shit and want to expand their minds. They need to develop an association with something on their own terms, and then decide to investigate, rather than being told, “This is what you should care about.”'
more ...

what you'd have to believe

The Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman nails the irresponsibility and immorality of the 200-plus House representatives who voted against last Friday's climate-change bill.

'Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday’s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been “perpetrated out of the scientific community.” I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.'
more ...

on the move

The classic definition of refugees - tossed between states by war or tyranny - is outdated. more ...

Friday 26 June 2009

changing the odds some

The writer, environmentalist and founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben, tells Greenpeace that he's mostly given up being optimistic or pessimistic.

'Our odds are not incredibly good of success, but I wake up every day saying "What can I do to change the odds some?" It's not impossible the task that we have. We're not going to stop global warming, but slowing it to the point where we can cope with it, remains within the realm of possibility.' more ...

earth singer

Michael Jackson's 'Earth Song' was his biggest-selling UK single. Leo Hickman writes:

'The song is a very rare thing: a hit record with a powerful message about our impact on the environment. How many others can you think of? Joni Mitchell's 'Big Yellow Taxi'? Marvin Gaye's 'Mercy Mercy Me'? The Pixie's 'Monkey Gone to Heaven'? All great records, but none of them come close in terms of sales when compared to 'Earth Song'.' more ...

two major shifts

Climate change has always been a cultural question: what do we value?

With 23 weeks till Copenhagen, Gordon Brown today outlines 'the road map' in terms of two major shifts in how we think.

'The first is to think not in political or economic cycles ... And the second is to think anew about how we judge success as a society ... In the end, without environmental stewardship, there can be no sustainable prosperity and no sustainable social justice.'

It's slightly weird. After 10 years as Chancellor and two years as Prime Minister, he's telling the rest of us not to think in political and economic cycles and how we need to redefine success.

As Nassim 'Black Swan' Taleb says in one of only four tweets: 'Those who did not see the problem ... will not see the solution.' more ...

the minister's bedside book

The Energy and Climate Change minister Ed Miliband was live-blogging at the Guardian this morning. One questioner asked about David Mackay's new book Sustainable Energy - Without The Hot Air. Miliband replied:

'MacKay's a smart guy. His book is by my bedside and my permanent secretary keeps telling me I have to finish it!'

Keep reading, Ed.

(My article about MacKay's book says: 'It's geek heaven: full of killer stats that you immediately want to pass on'.) more ...

Wednesday 24 June 2009

disruptive element

Over at the RSA's arts & ecology blog, Caleb Klaces offers another take on the themes discussed at Changing Climate Stories.

Klaces says the description that afternoon of early Greenpeace protests as 'Dada-ist' highlights one more role that art has. It can help 'make space by being disruptive of language and norms'. more ...

what makes a difference

If you’re concerned about your personal finances, or energy security or climate change, and you want to cut down on your use of fossil fuels, Sustainable Energy—Without the Hot Air explains which actions make a significant difference and which make very little. more ...

Tuesday 23 June 2009

journeys into the future

If postmodernism created narratives in which time became uncertain, writes springcoppice (elaborating on points she made at last weekend's discussion on Changing Climate Stories), then today's urgent concerns about where climate change is going pushes us to think about time in a very different way.

'we are in an era that is, as a result of these journeys into the future, peculiarly self-reflexive. We look back at our present efforts to address climate change, to tell adequate stories about that process of change, with the critical eye of our imagined future selves. What we discovered on Saturday was that we all – as various kinds of storyteller – had an acute sense of our place in a globally warmed generation.'
more ...

Monday 22 June 2009

the action of telling stories

On Saturday afternoon, 15 people - writers, academics, activists - sat round a table for three hours discussing climate-change stories. The theme was displacement and migration.

It wasn't planned this way but, looking through my notes, we discussed the subject in political, formal and aesthetic, and practical terms. Here's a sample of the points made.

The way in which we tell climate-change stories is a political act.

(i) After Hurricane Katrina, for instance, the displaced inhabitants of New Orleans could be described as 'refugees', 'diasporees' or - the term insisted on by some NGOs - 'clients'.

(ii) The meta-narrative of climate change can be imposed on poorer societies by richer ones (we've given you the problem, now we're giving you the way to interpret it).

(iii) Local politicians can adopt this, opportunistically, as a way of increasing their profile. If you are interested in the stories of a community remaining vibrant within that community, you may want to resist the introduction of overarching stories from outside.

(iv) Poverty and environmental degradation are intimately connected. Poor people are experts on poverty. They know a large part of the problem is official corruption and weak infrastructure.

(iv) Migrants enrich societies. As someone who had to flee New Orleans wittily wrote in public to the prospective hosts who had offered hospitality, 'One thing's for sure - your food is about to get better.'

Climate change impacts on formal and aesthetic questions

(i) Climate change is altering our sense of structure in fiction. In particular, the treatment of time. This change is not primarily driven by experimental interest in form, but by the urgency of the subject matter. Eg: Age of Stupid.

(ii) Climate-change narratives can be worthy, monotone/monochrome and second-rate. Art is complicated. It finds beauty in tragedy. Humour captures our attention. So too does heroism and hope.

(iii) We can describe what's happening now and what we imagine things will be like in the future. But it's hard to convey the process that will carry us between the two points.

A story about activism is itself activism

(i) After the action (eg: shutting down Kingsnorth) comes the story about the action (A Time Comes), and the story is also an action.

(ii) Climate change insists we revise our sense of place in the world. This is not a simple question of problem-solving. We need to hear from many voices. We need a rich politics of climate change.

[Seminar sponsored by Artists Project Earth and hosted by Artsadmin. Food provided by Moro.] more ...

Saturday 20 June 2009

from humdrum places

Sam Knight reports from Ghana on climate-change migrants for the Financial Times:

'Most stories about environmental migration have focused on three or four so-called “canaries”: the first human habitats set to disappear. These range from the village of Shismaref in Alaska, which is falling into the sea, to entire states, like the low-lying Maldives, which now has a fund to buy land abroad for its 400,000 citizens.'

'But these stark cases do not represent the future facing most people who might become climate migrants. Friends of the Earth, which shares the 250 million estimate of environmental refugees by 2050, puts the total number of displaced people from small island states like the Maldives at 1 million. The other 249 million will come from humdrum places more like Nandom: poor, agricultural societies that have existed for a long time in marginal climates, with little room for error, but now find themselves struggling to support their populations.'

[This blog takes part today in a seminar Changing Climate Stories about migration and displacement.] more ...

Friday 19 June 2009

stories of almost everyone

This blog is taking part in a seminar tomorrow called 'Changing Climate Stories'. It's part of the 'Two Degrees' week at Artsadmin.

The point of the seminar is to discuss the way people imagine and tell stories about climate change.

Some of tomorrow's group (which includes poets, academics and activists) are also bloggers, and very good ones: Dan Box (Journey To The Sinking Islands), Samantha Ellis (here), Abbie Garrington (springcoppice), Caspar Henderson (The Book of Barely Imagined Beings and Grains of Sand), Caleb Klaces (RSA arts & ecology) and Joe Smith (Open2.net).

Many MSM commentators were dismissive, first of blogs, then of Twitter. But nothing could have demonstrated the power of new media more vividly than this week's events in Iran.

There's a connection between democracy and cultural diversity, and also between cultural diversity and biodiversity, and that connection isn't merely metaphorical. The people who will be most affected by climate change - the poorest of the poor - will have to struggle to get heard.

And stories are the best way to reach a wider audience. Especially if the stories are short, well-written and online.

The veteran American editor and historian Lewis Lapham once dismissed blogs; he now modestly plans to turn blogging into an art form:

'The internet lends itself to compression, to short form. There’s a wonderful new book by Eduardo Galeano called Mirrors. I could teach myself how to write an entry along the lines of the kinds you see in the book - stories that have an aperçu. He can sometimes within the space of 600 words tell a small and illuminating story.'

The subtitle of Mirrors? 'Stories of Almost Everyone'. It's one model for changing climate stories.

pic: House of Mirrors
more ...

Thursday 18 June 2009

just doubled

American Footprints reports:

'the new projections, published this month in the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate, indicate a median probability of surface warming of 5.2 degrees Celsius by 2100, with a 90% probability range of 3.5 to 7.4 degrees.

This can be compared to a median projected increase in the 2003 study of just 2.4 degrees.'
more ...

outspent and outmanoeuvred

A new history of anti-smoking documents the cigarette’s journey from patriotic necessity ('Don't forget the cigarettes for Tommy') to pariah status. In 1997 the Master Settlement Agreement forced the tobacco firms to pay up $246 billion, much of it spent on anti-smoking measures.

After decades of barefaced lying (in the Economist's words), Big Tobacco had found itself outspent and outmanoeuvred.

(The links between Big Tobacco and the climate-change denial industry are outlined here.) more ...

Wednesday 17 June 2009

puppets on a theme

A book that's been a big influence on artists Heather and Ivan Morison is Russell Hoban's 1980 novel Riddley Walker, which takes place 2000 years after a nuclear war. Civilisation has collapsed and the governing ideas of the society are transmitted by travelling puppeteers.

The Morisons are now devising their own puppet shows about what life will be like in 100 or 200 years' time. Heather Morison says,

'a lot of information we are getting at the moment about what might happen to us in the future and things you ought to do, it is just information. It just goes in one ear and out the other a lot. Unless it is made easy for you to do things then you don’t really bother. But if you hear a story it can enchant you and you can also tell it to someone else as well.' more ...

Tuesday 16 June 2009

distant tugs

Joshua Greene, cognitive neuroscientist and philosopher, explains why we care most about what is closest to hand.

'Nature endowed us with tuggable heartstrings, a crucial design feature for creatures whose survival depends on cooperation. But nature couldn't foresee that our survival might someday depend on cooperation across oceans and continents, and so neglected to outfit us with heartstrings that are readily tugged from a distance.' (Ht: A&L) more ...

the long view

The man who came up with the concept of 'viral marketing' and coined the term 'digital natives' says that our current crisis began 500 years ago with the first corporations. more ...

Monday 15 June 2009

blithe spirit

Stephen Daldry spends half his life in the air. more ...

those who teach, fly

William Shaw points out that Helen Simpson's short story Tipping Point has been published online.

It's a sharp monologue by an English academic whose relationship with his German girlfriend Angelika has recently ended. He could never adopt her green principles. In his world, flying is part of teaching.

'In September I'm attending a weekend conference on Performance Art at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. I'm not going by coach. There's a seminar on Storm und Drang in Tokyo this autumn, as well as my Cardiff-based sister's wedding party in Seville. After that there's an invitation to the Sydney Festival to promote my new book, and the usual theatre conference at Berkeley in spring. All paid for, of course, except the return ticket to Seville, which cost me precisely £11 - just about manageable even on an academic's meagre stipend.' more ...

Sunday 14 June 2009

not the usual pieties

William Skidelsky writes that a recurring theme in some new collections of short stories is climate change:

A masterclass in this respect is offered by Helen Simpson's The Tipping Point, the wry internal monologue of an English professor who, while driving to give a seminar in the Highlands, remembers an affair he had with a German environmental activist. It's a brilliant, subtle piece of writing that manages to subvert the usual pieties, recasting the concerns of the activist girlfriend as hysterically unreasonable ('You were in a constant state of alarm. I wanted you to talk about me, about you and me, but the apocalyptic zeitgeist intruded'). more ...

Saturday 13 June 2009

green moves

Today's Independent reports that Broadway has been transformed as Mayor Bloomberg closes much of the street to traffic.

Other good news (all this in today's NYT): Venetians dump bottled water in favour of tap water, wind farms are good for wild salmon, and there's a big waiting list for the third-generation Prius. more ...

Thursday 11 June 2009

it never happens

In Where I Was From, her book on California, Joan Didion debunks the Golden State's myth of rugged individualism and shows how greatly its economy has benefited from state subsidies from Washington.

In today's Independent Malcolm Gladwell goes further in unpicking the American Dream. He says America isn't the place to get rich. Not unless, that is, you're rich already.

'Once you are rich in America you stay rich... but if you are at the bottom it just never happens, statistically, it never happens that people make it. And that's very different from western European counties.' more ...

Wednesday 10 June 2009

festival fliers

This year's Edinburgh Fringe features a nicely-green show in which the audience travels through the city on bikes to eavesdrop on other cyclists' thoughts and record their own.

First question they might ponder: how many of us drove or flew here?

If you drive to Edinburgh you will get through about 1,350 tonnes of precursor plant material each way. more ...

Tuesday 9 June 2009

home sweet home

Le Monde considers the electoral impact of televising Home, Yann Arthus-Bertrand's movie about the planet, two days before the European vote.

It was broadcast on France 2 and attracted an audience of eight million.The debate that followed was watched by three million.

The result in the elections? Le Monde's front page headline says, 'les ecologistes triomphent'. more ...

pay out

Shell pays out $15.5m over Saro-Wiwa killing.

In an email, long-term campaigners Ben, Ed, Richard, Dan, and James, from remember saro-wiwa and PLATFORM, call it 'a first, and crucial step on a long road'.

(On the Ashden Directory, PLATFORM features on the database. Their audio opera - the first climate-change opera - received its first review here. Also James Marriott writes about the way he researches. And Dan Gretton appears in our DVD on climate change and theatre. ) more ...

Monday 8 June 2009

what can't be said

On this morning's Start The Week, the director Katie Mitchell asks John Keane, author of The Life and Death of Democracy, about the arts and the development of democracy, from the Greeks onwards, and the function artists might have today. Keane replies:

'It's a long story, but this connection begins most clearly in the Greek world where, for example, theatre - tragedy and comedy - operate in parallel to the polis, to the decision-making assembly. Theatre is theatre for the citizens. There is, for example, the election by lot of judges. The chorus - all-male, playing female roles - utters things that are not otherwise said. So there is a very strong and deep connection between democracy and theatre.'

'The rest of the story is incredibly complicated. During the 20th century, we see growing tensions between parliamentary democracy and art, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Through art can be expressed things that cannot be said or cannot be done within the field of formal politics.'

The distinction seems slight, but significant. For the Greeks, it was 'not otherwise said'; for us, it is 'cannot be said'.

(9 mins in; this quote abridged.) more ...

Sunday 7 June 2009

artistic nature

Is nature artistic? David Attenborough gives the example of the male bower birds:

'who build nests or corridors of twigs and then put glittering beetle wings or shells on these nests. Then the female goes around looking at the bowers, and picks the guy with the best-looking nest. She's not saying he's a better father; it's an aesthetic attraction.' more ...


Rock may have its roots in rural American music - blues and country - but the band British Sea Power says that these days walking in the outdoors is seen as the antithesis of rock music. more ...

Friday 5 June 2009

lost in aviation

The anthropologist Grant McCracken sums up flying as an experience for business people:

'canceled flights, late arrives, missed connections, lost luggage, being forced to sit in a plane on the ground because the airline wants to protect its on-time departure rating. The list goes on. In the early days, air travel was something glamorous. Now it's more like a kidnapping by amateurs.'

So much easier, he says, to stay where you are:

'compare the investment you are obliged to make to get from your desk to the boardroom at the end of the hall to all the things you need to get from New York to and from Chicago.'

His solution for businesses? Live face-to-face communication over the network. What it needs is some very smart marketing to push adoption of the technology (that already exists) over the tipping point.

(Our new online DVD on 'theatre in a time of climate instability' is an effort towards non-flying transatlantic conversation.)

Pic: Heathrow more ...

better than titanic

Before he was appointed Obama's Secretary of Energy, Steve Chu made a four-minute video about climate change called Titanic - The Sequel.

Last week Chu attended the Nobel Laureate dinner in London, where he was quizzed about the analogy. He says he's still looking for a better one. more ...

Thursday 4 June 2009

take the money and stay home

Slow travel expert Ed Gillespie blogs at Futerra about the Ashden Directory DVD and tells a similar story about declining an invitation to fly to Chicago to take part in a conference on art and activism. He offered:

to take the money they would have coughed up for my hotel and air fare and instead make a film for them, with the option of a teleconference phone-in for post-presentation Q&A.

They agreed. His YouTube film is here. more ...

Tuesday 2 June 2009

the greek divide

Maybe, when it comes to who thinks what about climate change, the real question is one of temperament.

The Greeks were onto this. Your mind either turns to Prometheus, and the idea that humans are endlessly inventive and resourceful and they can steal fire from the gods, or your mind turns to Icarus and hubris, and the idea that flying that close to the sun may not be such a great idea.

This temperamental divide is well-illustrated over at the RSA's Art and Ecology blog, where the art critic J.J. Charlesworth takes blogger Wlliam Shaw to task for publicising artists - well, poets, in this case - who have decided not to fly because of the impact that aviation has.

Charlesworth sees this as a moralising campaign for restraint, austerity and self-denial and suggests we think positive and invent a solar-powered plane.

(Pic: Matisse Icarus) more ...

Monday 1 June 2009

going the distance

Imagine if not-flying became a smart career move in the arts.

Instead of appearing in person on another continent, you preferred to record your interviews (as we've just done), or publish an exchange (as, inspiringly, the poets John Kinsella and Melanie Challenger have just done), and the fact that these now appeared online led to a wider audience getting to know your work.

Imagine, too, if people who were keen to reduce the impact of aviation went out of their way to support the best work by artists who had decided not to fly.

(Why wait? If you'd like to buy a book by John Kinsella click here; if you'd like to buy a book by Melanie Challenger click here.)

pic. Galatea by Melanie Challenger more ...