Tuesday 31 August 2010

the effects of entitlement

It's this blogger's view that Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is the most influential 100 pages of the last 110 years. For those interested in climate change and culture, its special achievement is that it's a work of art that addresses an immediate moral concern - the slave trade in the Congo - but gives that concern a much wider and deeper significance.

Some credit for its current status as one of the most widely studied texts in our culture must go to others. T. S. Eliot took the epigraph for 'The Hollow Men' (1925) from the novella. Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre did a radio version in 1939. (Welles' screenplay can be read here). In 1979 Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now introduced the story, in a very different context, to a new generation of filmgoers.

And now there's a graphic novel by Catherine Anyango. The graphic artist describes the book's relevance today in terms which will be familiar to those following the climate change debate:

It's about the idea of entitlement; [how] through the ages we enforce our feelings of entitlement in whatever way that age will allow from Leopold II owning the Congo as a private possession to the corporations involved with blood diamonds. The effects of entitlement have not so much gone out of fashion as out of sight. more ...

it's the book that's rare

In Jonathan Franzen's new novel Freedom - the book that Americans will be talking about in the coming weeks -  the husband, Walter, resigns from working for a mining company and moves into nature conservation. In particular, he tries to save a small woodland bird, the Cerulean warbler (left). A study of a marriage, Freedom also asks what exactly the cost is of Western affluence. The Economist says, 'Freedom is one of those rare books that starts well and then takes off.' more ...

Monday 30 August 2010

how thatcher went green

In Radio 4's Uncertain Climate we learn how Sir Crispin Tickell explained climate change to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on a flight back from Paris to London.

Tickell had been at the same school, Westminster, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson.

(Lawson, a doubter then as now, thought Tickell's exposition on climate change was just "Crispin being Crispin".) more ...

Sunday 29 August 2010

what germaine greer did for the greeks

In OedipusEnders, the comedian Natalie Haynes considers what Greek tragedies have in common with soap operas.

One of the interviewees, Edith Hall, Professor of Classics and Drama at Royal Holloway, University of London, explains (11 mins in) that both put female characters at the centre of the drama. In the post-war period, there had been persistent efforts to idealise patriarchal values and the nuclear family. No-one could suggest that The Oresteia, Medea or Oedipus does that.

The revival of Greek drama in Britain, Professor Hall points out, coincided with the second wave of feminism and the publication of Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch (1970).

(It's no coincidence that the early Seventies also saw the rise of environmentalism.)

Pic: Germaine Greer in 1970. more ...

Saturday 28 August 2010

up and coming

The long list for the Guardian's First Book Award includes Steven Amsterdam's episodic novel Things We Didn't See Coming, which considers 'how we might retain our humanity in a future ruled by environmental and technological catastrophe'. The novel was published this month in the UK. The Sunday Times praised its 'mordant humour'. Extract here.

Amsterdam explains his approach:

For the narrator, the trouble isn’t the plague. The trouble is that he’s got this irresponsible girlfriend. The trouble isn’t the floodwaters. The trouble is where is he going to eat? Where is he going to sleep? When is he going to get laid?

(See also climelit, trueclime and climefiction, more climelit, still more climelit, tween verbs and vanishing act.) more ...

Friday 27 August 2010

his concern back then

The Guardian's Tim Radford re-reads his 1979 edition of James Lovelock's Gaia:

it would be another nine years before global warming exploded as a political concern. In fact, on page 149, Lovelock is rather more concerned about the fate of the next ice age more ...

big smear, small apology

The Sunday Telegraph eventually apologises for lies about the IPCC chairman, Dr Pachauri.

Starting Monday morning on Radio 4, Roger Harrabin asks whether the arguments surrounding climate change can ever be won.

Pic: Ronald Reagan, or The Man Who Stripped the Solar Panels from the White House. (The links between climate change disinformation and the tobacco industry are detailed here and here.)

more ...

Thursday 26 August 2010

the ambiguity bomb

The author Tom McCarthy believes car parks should replace theatres because:

Car parks are really fascinating spaces, full of geometry, technology and menace; anything could happen in them.

He also explains the degree to which his work is political:

All art is political inasmuch as it takes place within the space of the polis, and involves language and social relations and the Symbolic Order in general. But I never make work that's polemic, or that has a message. That's not what art's there for. What's genuinely radical about good art is that it detonates a kind of ambiguity-bomb at the heart of the polis. That's true from Aeschylus to Joyce.

(See also Zadie Smith on Two Paths for the Novel.)  more ...

Wednesday 25 August 2010

a topical theme for the new york state theater

Two years ago this blog listed six reasons why theatres won't touch climate change. The final reason was: "Many of the leading fossil fuel companies are prominent sponsors of the arts."Things have moved on since then. Most recently the National has staged a climate-change play.

But Jane Mayer's remarkable profile of the oil and gas billionaires, the Koch brothers (blogged below), reminds us how deeply and persistently the richest fund disinformation about climate change.

David H. Koch has also given $100 million to the New York State Theater (above).

The David H. Koch theater presents the work of the New York City Opera and the New York City Ballet, but it would be very cheering if the New York State Theater demonstrated its artistic independence and staged a piece that was as urgent, well-informed and witty as Steve Waters' climate-change play The Contingency Plan.

No serious theatre - whoever's name it carries - should fiddle while Rome burns. more ...

Tuesday 24 August 2010

the gift that keeps taking

The New Yorker profile of the billionaire Koch brothers who bankroll climate denial is a must-read.

Among many interesting aspects in Jane Mayer's article is the role that major arts institutions play as grateful recipients of their considerable largesse. The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History has the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins which shows how humans evolve by adapting to climate change:

An interactive game in the exhibit suggests that humans will continue to adapt to climate change in the future. People may build “underground cities,” developing “short, compact bodies” or “curved spines,” so that “moving around in tight spaces will be no problem.”

(Koch Industries has been named one of the top ten air polluters in the US.)

Joe Romm writes that the New Yorker profile is:

doubly devastating because the New Yorker remains one of the few major magazines that still fact checks line by line. more ...

Monday 23 August 2010

tween verbs

MIL says the post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel The Hunger Games is "The Road for the tween set":

The operative verbs here are not “shop” and “text” but “maim” and “run”, and also “stab”, “gore” and “filter pond water with iodine droplets”.

More on The Road and post-apocalyptic narratives. more ...

Sunday 22 August 2010

two words missing

Quite a feat: Will Hutton has managed to write 3,500 words in today's Observer about the troubled legacy the baby boomers have left the next generation without mentioning the words 'climate change'. more ...

Saturday 21 August 2010

the ticking clock

Why is it, Frank Kermode asked, when the alarm clock by our bed goes "tick-tick", the brain insists on hearing "tick-tock"? The reason, he suggests, is our human addiction to beginnings and (even more addictively) endings. more ...

Thursday 19 August 2010

buzz buzz

500 performers from the National Youth Theatre are swarming across London today presenting a series of performances to raise awareness about the plight of the honeybee. This blogger saw 100 NYT actors with yellow umbrellas performing the Fibonacci Sequence. (Someone at the end of the line was explaining to passers-by what was happening.)  More. Plus S_warm on twitter or hashtag #swarm. more ...

green thought for the day

Andrew Dobson, author of Green Political Thought, responds to Paul Kingsnorth's Confessions of a recovering environmentalist:

"environmental justice” ... is not an optional extra but an absolutely necessary feature of any commitment to a progressive transition to a low-energy world. more ...

bush playwrights go online

The Bush has a website Bushgreen (ht: Guardian's theatre blog) where you can submit plays and publish plays online.

It also has a bunch of interviews with Bush playwrights, including Steve Waters, who wrote the first good play about climate change. At the moment, he says, he's writing a screenplay of The Contingency Plan and a new play for the Donmar. (See our Steve Waters interview and googling waters.) more ...

Wednesday 18 August 2010

flowers and the curve of the eye

In this guest post, Wallace Heim, co-editor of the Ashden Directory, responds to Franc's recent comment.

Flowers are the perfect size for imagining. In an essay on the vivacity of flowers and the imagination, the philosopher Elaine Scarry (left) finds that because flowers can be seen so completely by the human eye, they easily ‘sit in the realm in front of our face and migrate into the interior of what Aristotle called "our large moist brains".’

Scarry writes about flowers in poetry, daydreams, conversations and painting. They are so vivid in imagination because their size means the concentration of detail and colour is more intense than if looking at a landscape or large animal. The curve and shape of petals ‘breaks over’ the curve of the human eye. They move in an arc between the material and the immaterial, blooming and fading, like the imagination itself. ‘We were made for each other.’

With ‘Flowers on Stage’, we wondered what vivacity flowers have in theatre, whether seeing them at that distance and in that ‘landscape’ could have a similar intensity of imagination, while coming from a different kind of experience.

Thank you, Franc, for offering your vivid responses.

Scarry, Elaine, (1997). ‘Imagining Flowers: Perceptual Mimesis (Particularly Delphinium). Representations. 57: 90-115.

See our 'flowers on stage' series: flowers on stage: the poppy, flowers on stage: the daffodil, flowers on stage: the lotus, flowers on stage: the lungwort; flowers on stage: ‘breath of life’, flowers on stage: kudzu and flowers on stage: snake's head fritillaries more ...

in recovery

I was dealing with environmentalists with no attachment to any actual environment.

Paul Kingsnorth's Confessions of a recovering environmentalist (Ht: A&L) more ...

Tuesday 17 August 2010

learnt behaviour

Climate Progress quotes Epictetus in relation to climate contrarians: 'It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.' more ...

cossacks on the champs-elysées

Even when people know about climate change, and trust the science, it still doesn't change their behaviour. This might be termed, as Earthquakes in London suggests - with its Cabaret-style setting - the 'Weimer effect'. (See recent comment from webcowgirl.)

There's no shortage of other examples of fiddling while Rome burns. In The Seven Ages of Paris, Alistair Horne writes about Paris in the early years of the 19th century as a city distracted by new galleries, buildings, promenades, theatre and opera.

Even the loss of the Grand Armée in the retreat from Moscow in 1812 hardly disturbed the rhythm of life in the capital. Only the actual appearance of Cossacks on the Champs-Elysées in 1814 could do that. more ...

Monday 16 August 2010

one stop shop

The smart new aggregate website The Browser has excellent sections on Energy & Environment and Books, Arts & Ideas. In the 'Five Books' section, the BBC's David Shukman picks ones on environmental change. more ...

Friday 13 August 2010

too crazy for cartoons

The Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles tries hard to think of something as stupid as ignoring the conclusions of 98% of scientists who work in this field. His answer:

Gary Larson did a cartoon about two guys crawling across a desert, dying of thirst. They have come upon a drinking fountain. One is letting it run without drinking and saying he's going to let it run until it gets cold. That's about as sensible as the debate on climate change.

H-t: ClimateProgress

Update: ChrisD at CP points to Toles' climate change cartoon two days ago: “First climate change came for Russia, but I didn’t care because I wasn’t Russian…” more ...

Wednesday 11 August 2010

pieces fit together

Science isn’t a house of cards, ready to topple if you remove one line of evidence. Instead, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle. As the body of evidence builds, we get a clearer picture of what’s driving our climate. We now have many lines of evidence all pointing to a single, consistent answer.

John Cook summarises the 10 indicators of a human fingerprint on climate change more ...

Monday 9 August 2010

songs and roses

There are more songs about roses than any other flower. But check out songs on gardenias, cherry blossoms, poinciana ...

See our 'flowers on stage' series: flowers on stage: the poppy, flowers on stage: the daffodil, flowers on stage: the lotus, flowers on stage: the lungwort; flowers on stage: ‘breath of life’, flowers on stage: kudzu and flowers on stage: snake's head fritillaries more ...

Saturday 7 August 2010

what sherlock would have concluded

The BBC's summer success Sherlock ends tomorrow night. In a very short time, the nation has once again fallen in love with the great detective's powers of deduction. If only that fascination could be taken a step further.

Two years ago, Chris Rapley, a passionate Holmesian and head of the Science Museum, told me that had Sherlock Holmes brought his forensic skills to the subject of climate change, he would have been in no doubt.

Sherlock Holmes used to have this adage that however unlikely and uncomfortable your conclusion may be, if all other possibilities had been ruled out, you were probably right. Nobody would be happier than me if tomorrow, or later today, it turned out that for some reason we had got it all completely wrong and actually we can carry on using fossil fuels and there's no problem and everything's great. It just isn't going to happen. Because all the evidence is that that is not true. And Sherlock Holmes would have concluded that quite quickly.

pic:  Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson in 'Sherlock' more ...

Friday 6 August 2010

four stars, preachy, or lightweight

You get some idea about the anodyne treatment of climate change in Earthquakes in London from the reviews. The Daily Telegraph's critic describes himself as 'a crusty climate-change sceptic'. He gave the show four stars.

The American expat blogger Webcowgirl still found the play preachy:

if I want to read about climate change, all I have to do is pick up the paper any day of the week; it’s covered extensively in the news. I don’t go to the theater to hear this all over again: I go to learn about people and what makes them tick ...

This is a key point. Does Earthquakes add anything you couldn't read in the papers? Webcowgirl adds:

if you are very concerned about climate change you will probably find this a wonderful show.

Andrew from West End Whingers replies in a comment below:

I think if you are very concerned about climate change you will probably find this frustratingly lightweight and somewhat patronising.

I agree. But also, if you accept what the great majority of climate scientists are saying, then there isn't an opposition between 'climate change', on the one hand, and learning 'about people and what makes them tick', on the other. There's a relationship there. Only Earthquakes doesn't bring that to life.

see also: when it's not either/or, guess who? and 10 things you need to know about 'earthquakes in london' more ...

look forward in anger

Bill McKibben responds to the U.S. Senate's inaction over climate change in an article for TomDispatch, 'We’re hot as hell and we’re not going to take it any more'. McKibben argues that says no-one comes out to fight for weak or watered-down legislation. He urges readers to raise their game:

It took a decade after the Montgomery bus boycott to get the Voting Rights Act. But if there hadn't been a movement, then the Voting Rights Act would have passed in ... never. We may need to get arrested. We definitely need art, and music, and disciplined, nonviolent, but very real anger. more ...

Thursday 5 August 2010

10 things you need to know about 'earthquakes in london'

1. Earthquakes in London is the National Theatre's first climate change play.

2. The writer, Mike Bartlett, had a big critical hit last year with Cock; the director, Rupert Goold, had an even bigger hit with Enron.

3. Earthquakes lasts three hours; a big sprawling story that spans from 1968 to 2525 with a cast of 70-80 characters.

4. The central figure of the scientist, Robert Crannock, an atmospheric physicist with three estranged daughters, is based on James Lovelock (the science, not the relationship with the daughters). Crannock studies earth systems. He thinks its a waste of time to recycle. He believes the planet can only cope with a billion people (and five billion will have to go).

5. Bartlett was inspired by a quote from Lovelock comparing the current situation to the Weimar: "Enjoy it while you can." In theatre, Weimar Germany equals Cabaret. So the set is a cocktail bar that snakes through the auditorium with members of audience sitting on bar stools or leaning against railings, and actors performing on the bar table: Cabaret meets climate change.

6. Add to this, multiple plot lines: one daughter is Environment Minister in a Coalition Government with a marriage on the rocks who is tempted to join the aviation industry; another is about to have a baby and is married to a guy who writes loo books for Christmas; a third is an alcoholic who goes for one night with a guy who next morning wants to blackmail her because his family are climate change victims in Eritrea.

7. What you get is a disjuncture between the plotiness of the play and the showy big-night-out manner in which it's been staged. The production is colourful and immersive (see 5), you can be sitting only inches away from the characters, but that doesn't take you deeper into the lives of the characters.

8. The punchiest speech in the text is the attack on the baby boomer generation for wrecking the planet ('We've got about five years left before it's too late, so you'll forgive me if I don't wait for the next election'), but - see 7 - it doesn't have the impact on stage it has in the text.

9. In the last 15 months there have been two climate change plays with James Lovelock characters in them. The other was Steve Waters' doublebill The Contingency Plan. (One actor, Geoffrey Streatfeild, has been in both.)

10. Earthquakes has Lia Williams and Bill Paterson in it. But The Contingency Plan was better: more focussed, more authoritative, more laughs. more ...

Wednesday 4 August 2010

guess who?

The pivotal character in Mike Bartlett's Earthquakes in London, which opened tonight at the National Theatre, has:

no interest in recycling, insulating his home or getting "a bag for life". He works in a shed, from where he studies a planet which can only sustain one billion people. He says the planet is going to get rid of the other five billion. more ...

when it's not either/or

Mike Bartlett's play Earthquakes in London, opens at the National tonight. It's about climate change. Bartlett tells the Financial Times that it's an 'either/or' subject, which of course it isn't:

It’s very difficult to find objective truth about climate change. Everyone has a reason to emphasise one thing or the other. Either it’s a huge catastrophe and it’s really going to hit within a hundred years. Or we’re fine. It could be either way.

Maybe the characters talk more sense. more ...

Tuesday 3 August 2010

so farewell then ... incandescent bulb

The obit. H-t: MIL more ...

Monday 2 August 2010

did you hear the one about the wood?

My relationship with comedians is that I book them and that's what we talk about. Then I started introducing another question into the conversation: 'Would you like to plant a tree in the Comedy Wood?'

Comedy producer Geoff Rowe more ...