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 ...

Tuesday 6 October 2009

the 5% right

Flights are the fastest-growing polluter in transport, and 95% of the world’s population has never been on a plane.

My Going Green column asks: Do the rest of us have a right to fly? more ...

Monday 5 October 2009

wider the better

The headline runs: 'BBC Worldwide bans short-haul executive flights'.

Very good news. But that's BBC Worldwide, one part of the BBC empire.

A better headline would be: 'BBC bans shorthaul executive flights worldwide.' more ...

Sunday 4 October 2009

pressure point

There's a Japanese word, gaiatsu, that means "external pressure". That's what the campaign is all about. Ric O'Barry, the man who trained the dolphins that played Flipper, says The Cove is gaiatsu-plus. 'It's really going to piss them off.' more ...

Thursday 1 October 2009

thin, narrow and superficial

In this blogger's experience, it's all-too-easy for a commitment to green issues to become a quick way of making judgements about other people and their actions. In that respect, it's just another form of puritanism.

In his essay on the historian Thomas Carlyle, the Victorian writer John Morley captures the wrongheadedness of this approach:

Nowhere has Puritanism done us more harm than in ... leading us to take all breadth, and colour, and diversity, and fine discrimination, out of our judgements of men, reducing them to thin, narrow, and superficial pronouncements upon the letter of their morality, or the precise conformity of their opinions to accepted standards of truth, religious or other.

Among other evils which it has afflicted, this inability to conceive of conduct except as either right or wrong, and correspondingly in the intellectual order, of teaching except as either true or false, is at the bottom of that fatal spirit of parti-pris, which has led to the rooting of so much injustice, disorder, immobilty, and darkness in English intelligence.

'Carlyle', Critical Miscellanies, quoted in The Victorian Frame of Mind, p.172 more ...