Friday 25 March 2011

how much more interested are we in first signs of spring than first signs of winter? answer: 16 times

How much more interested are we in the first signs of spring than the first signs of winter? Here are the stats when you search on Google for the following phrases:

"Signs of spring" 1,120,000
"Sign of spring" 6,540,000
"Signs of summer" 893,000
"Sign of summer" 183,000
"Signs of fall" 344,000
"Sign of fall" 386,000
"Signs of autumn" 221,000
"Sign of autumn" 219,000
"Signs of winter" 136,000
"Sign of winter" 328,000

Add the "sign" and "signs" for each season (and combine the totals for "autumn" and "fall") and you get:

Spring 7,660,000
Summer 1,076,000
Fall/Autumn 1,170,000
Winter 464,000

The result? There is seven times more interest in spring than in summer. There is six and a half times more interest in spring than in autumn and there is a whopping 16.5 times more interest in the arrival of spring than the arrival of winter. more ...

Thursday 24 March 2011

not all the science in hollywood movies is bad

In today's Material World, Quentin Cooper discusses Hollywood and science with David Kirby, Lecturer in Science Communication at Manchester University and author of Lab Coats in Hollywood (2011).

Their pick of the Hollywood movies where the science is actually quite good includes Contact, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Beautiful Mind, Finding Nemo, Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff more ...

Tuesday 22 March 2011

what you're doing when you flick the switch

At yesterday's TippingPoint Science Day, Professor Mark Maslin, director of the Environment Institute at UCL, used a vivid phrase to describe the action of switching on a lightbulb: "You are burning fossilised sunlight".
more ...

Monday 21 March 2011

reading thoreau

Much of Thoreau’s work can be read as a kind of apologia for attuned idleness. more ...

Friday 18 March 2011

happening events

In her review of the TV series Sarah Palin's Alaska, Janet Malcolm, author of Reading Chekhov, makes this general remark about the surreal aspect of TV reality series.

Something always seems a little off in reality television. You don’t believe that what you are seeing happened in the way it is shown to have happened, any more than you think that the man in the Magritte was born with an apple attached to his face. more ...

Thursday 17 March 2011

online survey on the way performing artists travel in europe

On The Move is working with Julie’s Bicycle to create a guide to the environmentally sustainable movement of performing arts and artists in Europe. They have asked people to contribute to an online survey with ideas, experiences and contacts. more ...

Wednesday 16 March 2011

workshop on history and climate

This blog is participating in a series of workshops entitled Cultural Spaces of Climate. The second workshop on "historising climate" takes place today at the Royal Geographical Society.

Topics range from "weather and climate in colonial Bombay" and "changing meanings of storm surges" to "the role of the Met Office in the coal shortages of 1947". More to follow. more ...

Tuesday 15 March 2011

what canute shares with lemmings, ostriches and luddites (they've been terribly misunderstood)

King Canute (or Cnut) wasn't trying to show his followers that he had power over the waves, lemmings do not commit mass suicide, ostriches don't bury their heads in the sand - and Luddites weren't against new technology (they just wanted jobs). 
more ...

Sunday 13 March 2011

economist wonders if hunter-gatherers got it right

Monik Gupta has translated posts from ashdenizen for Oeko Fakt. In this guest post, Monik links our blog about Heart of Darkness with research at the Max Planck Institute.

The recent post about Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and its central theme of consumption of resources in the world, resonates strongly in the German broadsheet Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Astrid Matthey, a scholar at the Max Planck Institute for Economics, questions the widely-held belief that increased wealth and prosperity is closely related to increased well-being, citing research which fails to show such a relationship both in industrial as well as currently developing countries.

"We can no longer afford to leave it to each individual whether to say 'no thanks' in a society focused on consumption; simply because saying 'no thanks' is so incredibly hard for the homo relativus as long as consumption is the measure of all things ... it doesn't allow for the degree to which our current lifestyle threatens the global provision of resources and world peace."

"National Geographic reports on a community of hunter-gatherers in Africa (pic), who happily spend a major part of the day with leisure time, instead of 'striving for more'. Concluding, the author asks: 'What do they know, which we have forgotten?'"

See German version of post about climate change jokes
The other post that's been translated into German is about two very different plays about climate change. There's no exact translation, Monik says, for the English expression "about bloody time", so he went for the politer Das wird aber auch langsam Zeit.
more ...

freedom of opinion as a farce

In his article on Rwanda, Stephen W Smith writes:

‘Freedom of opinion is a farce,’ Hannah Arendt wrote in 1966 in ‘Truth and Politics’, ‘unless factual information is guaranteed and the facts themselves are not in dispute.’ The problem with Rwanda is not only that opinions and facts have parted company but that opinion takes precedence.

Not just with Rwanda, with climate change too. more ...

Friday 11 March 2011

a book that changed the world

It's not always easy to find examples of works of art or literature that have actually changed the world. But here's a good one.

In the week of the Oscars, Ban Ki-moon went to Hollywood to encourage writers and directors to write about climate change. In an online discussion afterwards on Climate Progress, the screenwriter Richard Brenne quoted the remark Abraham Lincoln made to Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852).

Lincoln said: "Are you the little woman that started this great war?" more ...

Wednesday 9 March 2011

spring's progress: from chiffchaffs in cheddar gorge to snow on the shady side of the street in boston

The view from Kellie's window on the sunny side of the street
The zoologist @lillashaw tweeted BBC Springwatch today to wonder when she would hear the first chiff-chaff of the year. Forget the frogs, the bees and the buds:

"for me that officially marks the arrival of #ukspring
This weekend, @lillashaw says in another tweet, she is off to Cheddar Gorge to listen out for any chiffchaffs:

"that's where I heard them first this time last yr :)"

Meanwhile, our America-based co-editor Kellie Gutman sends an update on spring's late arrival in Boston:

The Paideia School in Atlanta tracks the rate of spring's arrival all along the East Coast by plotting exactly when the first daffodil is seen all the way along the 2,377 miles Route 1. It has been getting postcards from spotters of the first daffodil since January. Last year my Boston postcard reported a daffodil on March 30th.

Spring is reaching us slowly. A Boston friend has seen a snowdrop in a neighbor's garden. The snowpack on my front lawn has now disappeared, although across the street, on the shady side, there are still large piles. Today the temperature is right where it should be; the buds on the apple trees along the fence are starting to form and the ground is beginning to thaw.

But students at Paideia should be warned: it will probably be April before the first daffodil appears on our street.

Last year we followed this project in the speed of springthe melting snow and the results for 2010.
more ...

Tuesday 8 March 2011

someone's doing nicely out of libya

The Financial Times reports today, on its "Markets & Investing" page, that

"The growing political crisis in Libya and the Middle East is driving huge gains for some of the world's largest commodity hedge funds ... Commodities in general have performed well for the past nine months, since agricultural prices began to rise ..."

In the Guardian, the economist Jayati Ghosh reminds us how closely oil and food are linked:

"Oil prices directly and indirectly enter into all other prices through higher fuel costs in production and transport. Agriculture is directly affected, so food prices will rise further, worsening the resurgent food crisis."

Huge gains, then, for hedge funds when oil goes up and food goes up. more ...

Monday 7 March 2011

let's wait for the other facebook

The Facebook that's revealed in The Social Network is a fairly sour story of people trying to cash in on a privileged education. The Facebook that's revealed in the revolutions in North Africa is about democracy, freedom, courage and self-determination. Maybe one day someone will make a movie about that. It might win best picture. 
more ...

Wednesday 2 March 2011

people get capitalism, they don't get sustainable development

Futerra has a useful series of tweets from the Big Sustainability Summit. One of the quotes, from Jonathan Porritt, was about what people needed to know about sustainable development, or SD.

Porritt said: 'SD doesn't need a headline - how many people really know what capitalism means?'

But there's a difference. People know what capitalism means because they experience it every day. They don't experience sustainable development every day. SD could do with some headlines. more ...

comedy doesn't have to float free

Wallace Heim responds to Nicholas Lezard's suggestion in the Guardian that Ian McEwan's novel "Solar" is hampered because you can't have a comedy about climate change:

It's curious that Nicholas Lezard (pic) thinks comedy floats free of the world. Comedy, classically, is quotidian. It is all about the everyday, the bumbling, ridiculous, faltering, sometimes obscene manifestations of the everyday, ordinary world. It is classical tragedy that is freer of the ordinary world. That's not to say in the intervening centuries the comedic and the tragic haven't changed, intertwined and adapted to each other and new situations, as they might again now. Maybe it is that the dark laughs in Solar are out of place, an old type of comedy that can't grasp the situation. more ...

Tuesday 1 March 2011

the whoa-that-is-so-wow school of nature-writing

The New York speech writer Clark Whelton has written a smart piece about the linguistic virus that he calls vagueness. It opens with a lovely example:

I recently watched a television program in which a woman described a baby squirrel that she had found in her yard. “And he was like, you know, ‘Helloooo, what are you looking at?’ and stuff, and I’m like, you know, ‘Can I, like, pick you up?,’ and he goes, like, ‘Brrrp brrrp brrrp,’ and I’m like, you know, ‘Whoa, that is so wow!

Shelton writes, a little sternly, that the woman "never said anything specific about her encounter with the squirrel".

Meanwhile, for those who do like specifics in their nature-writing, Richard Mabey's new book is here and Robert Macfarlane's latest essay is here. more ...