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 ...