Wednesday 30 September 2009

a prophet on profit

Energy guru Amory Lovins is the featured guest in the Economist's online debate about climate change and fossil fuels. He says:

climate solutions are not costly but profitable, because saving fuel costs less than buying fuel.

Lovins then lists a wide range of solutions, before adding:

Had my analyses of these opportunities been adopted when first published [1976], we would not all be worrying today about climate change, oil dependence, or Iran and North Korea.
more ...

Tuesday 29 September 2009

art and activism

One of the most encouraging developments, for any of us following the intersection between the arts and the environment, has been the growth of the RSA's Arts and Ecology website and blog.

The RSA's Arts and Ecology Centre was set up in 2005 by the arts curator Michaela Crimmin and in the last two years - thanks to the website editor William Shaw - the blog has quickly established itself as a go-to guide for what's going on.

The latest development is a social network platform: Arts for Cop15 - Art and Activism Copenhagen 09. This blog has just signed up (its 53rd member). Someone please, make yourself the 54th. more ...

Saturday 26 September 2009

biotic art

Robert Macfarlane rereads Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang and considers whether literature can inspire activism. This website gets a mention:

Over the past few years in Britain, there has been a heavy investment in the idea that creative responses to environmental crisis might – to borrow a phrase from Margaret Atwood's new eco-dystopia, After The Flood – "move public opinion in a more biosphere-friendly direction".

Organisations such as TippingPoint, Cape Farewell, the Ashden Directory and the RSA (with its ambitious Arts & Ecology programme) and the Cambridge-based Cultures of Climate Change group have brought environmental scientists together with sculptors, poets, novelists, dancers, dramatists, essayists and poets to puzzle out the potentials of biotically-minded art
more ...

Friday 25 September 2009

pop it on a postcard

On p2 of today's Guardian, the paper advertises a 'special environment issue' in Saturday's Review. Artists and thinkers have been asked to contribute a response to the climate crisis. The contributors include David Attenborough, Michael Craig-Martin, Margaret Atwood, Carol Ann Duffy and Helen Simpson. The section is titled 'Postcards to the Planet'.

The Guardian says:

We challenged top writers and artists to come up with their responses to climate change, and they responded with dozens of original works of art.
more ...

Thursday 24 September 2009

ho hum

The Journal of Consumer Research has investigated the attitudes of Hummer owners and discovers that they

employ the ideology of American foundational myths, such as the "rugged individual," and the "boundless frontier" to construct themselves as moral protagonists. They often believe they represent a bastion again anti-American discourses evoked by their critics. more ...

Wednesday 23 September 2009

celebrate the collision

When the literary critic Raymond Williams published The Country and The City in 1973 he showed how authors had contrasted the two places since classical times.

But now, thanks to the dead hand of agribusiness, there's often a greater variety of wildlife in the city than there is in the country.

The old approach when it came to notable green spaces in urban areas was to ring-fence a little bit of the country in the city. But this is changing. New projects, such as the High Line in Manhattan (pic), thrive on the juxtaposition. Martin Filler writes

The High Line marks a radical departure from the Classical model of the public park as rus in urbe —"country in city"—epitomized by London's Hyde Park and New York's Central Park, which allow one to imagine having been transported to an idyllic countryside. What makes walking the High Line such an intriguing experience is the way in which it celebrates rather than obviates the collision of natural and manmade environments. more ...

Tuesday 22 September 2009

two conflicting values

It's hard not to write about America - historically, the world's largest emitter of CO2 - when you're writing about climate change, and hard when writing about America not to write about America's sense of itself - its exceptionalism and spirit of individualism. Because at the heart of any debate on climate change lies the relationship and/or responsibilities that exist between the individual and the group. (Or between one country and other countries.) For any playwright, this would be the great theme.

A new book on marriage The Marriage Go Round by Andrew Cherlin offers a useful slant on this. It's well known that Americans treat marriage very seriously. But one of the details that jumps out from Cherlin's book is that a child in the U.S. has a greater chance of seeing his married parents break up than a child of unmarried parents in Sweden. The author explains this strange finding in this way:

I think Americans have two conflicting values in their heads: one is the high value placed on marriage and other is the high value placed on personal choice and individualism.
more ...

Monday 21 September 2009

almost extinct notion

The biographer Richard Holmes, author of the prize-winning Age of Wonder, believes the idea of 'two cultures' is very outdated as we are now living in:

'a great age of popular science writing, on both sides of the Atlantic. Richard Fortey, Oliver Sacks, James Gleick, Dava Sobel, Janet Browne, Simon Singh, Martin Rees ... So I like to think the notion of two cultures will soon become entirely extinct, like the dinosaurs. Unless of course we fail to heed science, and become extinct ourselves first, through climate change.' more ...

Friday 18 September 2009

stories of now

The US science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson is guest editor of this week's New Scientist. He writes a piece himself on stories of now:

the literature that best expresses our time, that speaks to our time, is science fiction. How could it be otherwise? Our world is a science fiction.

This is important, because you need the literature of your time. You can't get the meaning of our life in 2009 from historical fiction, nor from science alone.
more ...

Thursday 17 September 2009

the art of escape

In his new book Dancing in the Dark, a cultural history of America during the Depression, Morris Dickstein writes:

The arts bound people together in a collaborative effort to interpret and alleviate their plight.

But he notes:

A culture’s forms of escape, if they can be called escape, are as significant and revealing as its social criticism.

(Reviewed here.) more ...

Tuesday 15 September 2009

against 'brochure theatre'

David Hare says his new play about the credit crunch, The Power of Yes, is also about the theatre.

Large institutions have become arthritic in the way they programme and in their reliance on what Ken Campbell memorably called 'brochure theatre'. It seems a long time since Peter Brook's 'US' in the 1960s, when the RSC gave a director and a group of writers the freedom to tackle a big theme – in that case, Vietnam – without knowing what the end product would be.
more ...

Monday 14 September 2009

love in a green climate

The TV writer Jennifer Cowan's first novel Earthgirl ("Ages 14 and up") has a 16-year old heroine, Sabine, who turns into an eco-warrior.

In an interview earlier this year, the author discussed her take on Young Adult fiction:

I found that books that were issue-oriented seemed heavy handed, and books that were fun and chatty were frivolous and at times a bit morally bankrupt.

Cowan set out to do a chatty book - there are lots of blog entries with genuine urls - that was also a morality struggle. Online, Earthgirl continues to blog and to tweet. There's a Facebook page too.

Earthgirl is a book about love, friendship and the environment and how these three can clash. In yesterday's New York Times, the critic Regina Marler writes

I remember college friends discovering the animal rights movement; they described suddenly perceiving a layer of cruelty under everything around them.

This is Sabine’s awakening, subtly and thoroughly explored by the author. Sabine begins to realize the rippling social and ecological effects of her smallest choices: an exhilarating but exhausting process, during which she loses her two best friends.
more ...

Friday 11 September 2009

whatever can be done

The lead two-page book review in this week's New Statesman has John Gray writing about a 20-page pamphlet by Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine titled The Dark Mountain Manifesto. Gray suggests that the authors' hopes, that the collapse of our current civilisation would lead to a better world, is only another version of the fairy-tale myth of progress. But Gray does agree that:

A change of sensibility in the arts would be highly desirable. The new perspective that is needed, however, is the opposite of apocalyptic.

When confronted with problems that are insoluble, Gray argues:

the most useful response is not to await disaster in the hope that the difficulties will magically disappear. It is to do whatever can be done, knowing that it will not amount to much. Stoical acceptance of this kind is practically unthinkable at present - an age when emotional self-expression is valued more than anything else. Still, stoicism will be needed if civilised life is to survive an environmental crisis that cannot now be avoided. more ...

Thursday 10 September 2009

changing places

On Radio 4's Book Club, the travel writer/English don Robert Macfarlane considers defecting to the Geography department as that's where the most interesting things are happening. more ...

it's the culture, stupid

The problem is not a problem of technology. The problem is not a problem of too much carbon dioxide. The problem is not a problem of global warming. The problem is not a problem of waste. All of those things are symptoms of the problem. The problem is the way that we are thinking. The problem is fundamentally a cultural problem. It's at the level of our culture that this illness is happening.

Thom Hartmann, in The 11th Hour (53 mins in). more ...

Wednesday 9 September 2009

going up

The failure of aviation to play its full part could mean that the rest of the economy has to reduce its emissions by 90% instead of 80%.

David Kennedy, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), says air travel not sacrosanct.

Update: Age of Stupid director Franny Armstrong debates aviation on Newsnight this evening with Climate minister Ed Miliband.

Update: Mark Lynas writes: 'Do you care about your children? Then stop flying. The industry is perhaps the most unsustainable on the planet.' more ...

Monday 7 September 2009

six degrees of ... opera

Mark Lynas to compose opera with Deborah Grayson based on his bestseller Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet. more ...

Sunday 6 September 2009

coal's enduring claim to fame

A few weeks ago, I suggested to a friend that it would be impossible for a revival of one of D. H. Lawrence's plays to have the same impact today that it did when Peter Gill directed A Collier's Friday Night, The Daughter-in-Law and The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd at the Royal Court in 1968. An audience now might well look at the whole business of coal-mining in an ironic light.

This month the BFI presents a series of movies about coal. In yesterday's Guardian, Ian Jack perfectly summarises the change in our attitude that has taken place:

Until the 1990s the history of the British coal industry could be seen in different ways – socially (greyhounds, comradeship), sentimentally (granddad), politically (struggle and strikes), geologically, economically, even aesthetically.

But from a far higher elevation, perhaps that of eternity, all these interpretations will seem like whisperings in Lilliput. The coal industry's most enduring claim to fame, should history endure, is its vanguard position among the causes of global warming.
more ...

Friday 4 September 2009

torrent of optimism

William Shaw also picks up on Bill McKibben's article for Grist, which celebrates the new torrent of art about climate change. In his piece McKibben said that artists are:

the antibodies of the cultural bloodstream. They sense trouble early, and rally to isolate and expose and defeat it.

(This blog countered: 'It would be nice if this were true. But it isn't.')

Shaw agrees. He suggests that identifying artists as the antibodies of the cultural bloodstream might be:

a hopelessly romantic idea, part of McKibben’s relentless optimism, an optimism that has sustained him for 20 years and more as a campaigner?

McKibben's torrent-of-art piece has a cheerleading ring to it. He's a critic and an activist (and very impressive in both roles) and in this recent Grist article he's clearly writing as an activist.

The trouble is, if art about climate change is going to have any genuine impact, it must meet critical standards, not campaigning ones. Otherwise, it's just marketing. more ...

Thursday 3 September 2009

open road

The movie version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road has just been screened at the Venice Film Festival. The movie stars Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron, with Kodi Smit-McPhee as the boy.

The Independent says:

It plays like a dystopian version of Huck Finn ...

In creating this barren taciturn world, it was obviously more fun to be one of the production designers than the dialogue writer.

If sometimes the film's earnestness bordered on the 'inadvertently comic' (says the reviewer) overall it was 'absorbing and affecting'. more ...

Wednesday 2 September 2009

cutting down on the 2%

The Ashden Directory signed up to the 10:10 campaign yesterday and joined the 1000s of other organisations and individuals who have pledged to cut their CO2 emissions by 10% in 2010.

The Ashden Directory has never calculated its carbon footprint. It's edited by three people working part-time from their homes. The main emissions - we assume - come from the three computers we use and our heavy reliance on the internet. When we have worked out an estimate for that, along with the other aspects of the website's footprint, we will publish the figure and take steps to reduce it.

A report from Climate Group last week suggested that computers, printers, mobile phones and the widgets that accompany them account for 2% of total emissions. more ...

Tuesday 1 September 2009


Photographers look down on the mass of early signatories at the launch of the 10:10 campaign and ask everyone to 'look this way' and 'smile'. (Location: Turbine Hall, Tate Modern.)

But here were a bunch of people who weren't at all happy about the idea of climate change.

Go on early signatories: put on a frown, furrow some brows. more ...

playwright clicks on the link

Just signed up for the Guardian's 10:10 campaign, which is a pledge 'to make efforts to reduce carbon footprints by 10% during the year 2010.'

The special 10:10 supplement has many worthies from the arts lending their support, including Colin Firth, Anthony Horowitz and Tamsin Greig. Some of their remarks are disarmingly - even astonishingly - frank.

The prominent playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah, for instance, admits:

'I spend very little time thinking about the environment and I feel very bad about that. I have been challenging social justice for years and never thinking to make the link to environmental justice.'
more ...