Tag Archives: science!

It’s been a long, long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.

I don’t do this often, but this is important:

Please, please, please go to the cinema and watch this film this weekend.

The Age of Stupid

If you’re in Edinburgh, it’s showing at the Filmhouse for a week from this Friday, with a bunch of events around the screenings in association with the lovely people of Take One: Action, and on this page you can find local screenings throughout the UK. I watched the premiere on Sunday night, and apart from anything else, it’s bloody brilliant – it really is the most thought-provoking, outlook-changing, unmissable, oddly life-affirming £6 you’ll spend in a good while.

There are terrifying, horrifying moments – as stomach-lurching and spine-shivering as anything from War of the Worlds or 28 Days Later – but this isn’t science fiction. Instead, you find yourself shuddering at things like the realisation that about 40% of natural gas is still being burned off at source across Nigeria‘s 1000 onshore oil wells. Yes, that’s the same natural gas that we use to cook and heat our homes: according to the World Bank, over 100 billion cubic metres of it – that’s the combined annual gas consumption of Germany and France – are ‘flared’, uselessly spewing filthy, toxic smoke into the air, every year, apparently because it’s not easy enough for oil companies to make a profit storing and exporting the fuel. In Nigeria, the practice continues despite the new law prohibiting it from 1 January 2009. Much like the High Court ruling that prohibited it from 2005, then.

It’s difficult not to feel appalled at moments like this – but that’s not the whole story. The Age of Stupid, like our world itself, is beautifully put together, inspiring and frightening by turns; part-disaster movie, part-cautionary tale. There’s no knight in shining armour, no fairy godmother, and no straightforward way to a happy ending, but for me, some of the most thought-provoking moments are genuinely uplifting. Watch the excellently named Alvin DuVernay III – the Shell employee who lost his home and everything he owned, but saved the lives of more than 100 of his neighbours in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina – sitting in a jazz bar and reflecting on what he’s learned from the experience about materialism and the way Americans use energy, the way we all live, and tell me you’ve seen a more – good GOD I hate this word and can’t believe I’m about to use it – heartwarming scene in a film this year.

Incidentally, from filmmaker Franny Armstrong’s fascinating backstage diary: [Alvin] is haunted by all the people he didn’t save. He said he “lost his humanity” that day – because he was so focused on getting as many people as possible that sometimes he snapped when people asked if they could bring lots of luggage or go back for something they forgot. Now he says he wants to find all those people and apologise for being short with them.

If that dude has lost his humanity, there’s a lot of us could really do with finding some of it.

Anyway, got distracted there, my point is: it’s pretty easy to feel tiny in the face of climate change. It’s easy to feel terrified, to feel there’s nothing you can do to help avert the forthcoming catastrophe – in short, to freak out. Easy, but certainly not logical – this is our world, our generation, and this is real change that’s happening now, to us. This is why Age of Stupid media producer, brilliant animator and all-round mensch Leo Murray wants you to

Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip

Very seriously, if you don’t see The Age of Stupid (which would be, well, stupid), if you don’t even read this whole post, then please, please DO take 10 minutes to watch Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip. It’s short, it’s easy, it’s free, it’s got some ace artwork, and it might just change your life. On peut le voir en français ici, and it’s also available in Deutsch, Español, Nederlands, Türkçe and English with subtitles.

Another of the most resonant moments in The Age of Stupid, for me, was a quiet reflection from an Englishman. Piers Guy, a windfarm developer who’s struggling to achieve positive change against the disturbingly blinkered ‘not in my back yard’-ism of a snobbish, Home Counties tweed-wearing set, stands in Airfield Farm, near Bedfordshire, and is reminded of the war and how the land got its name: “You only have to look at the terrible things in our history, which everyone regrets now”, he muses, “massacres, the Holocaust, and a lot of that was just going along with what was the predominant thinking at the time.”

And this is it, this is what I needed: the reminder that yes, massive social, economic and political changes for the better can happen. More than that, they do happen, must happen, and will happen, and relatively fast.24.358

A hundred years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to vote, and it’d be massively unlikely for me to go to university – but as early as the 70s the UK had a female Prime Minister (granted, she was a shit one, but that’s beside the point here). Sixty years ago, black children in the USA were segregated into ‘Negro’ schools, and couldn’t ride buses or trains, use drinking fountains, or play sports with their white peers; today the President is black. These changes have happened within living memory, and there’s more – the film goes into the (rather exciting) possibilities for going forward into a cleaner, greener future and working to achieve a position of global energy equality, which will unsurprisingly involve the US and Europe seriously (though gradually) downsizing our fossil fuel consumption. (Al Gore: ‘They’re seeing the writing on every wall’).

My grandparents, probably some of your parents, remember life during wartime – living in fear through Blitzkrieg over London, and worse in Poland and the former USSR; losing brothers to the fighting, watching children die from treatable diseases. And they remember dealing with serious shortages – they remember the rationing of clothes, petrol, soap, sugar, meat, fat, then bread, then potatoes. Nobody’s asking our generation to give up our lives for our freedom and principles, and we’re not even talking about rationing bread, more like rationing the time we spend with big-screen TVs, XBoxes, cheap flights. Unquestionably we can face this fight. It’s started in the Maldives, it’s coming to Copenhagen this year.

We can do this, we can survive – and more than that, we can and we will live low impact.


Newsflash: Bikes are still amazing!

Who’s with me (pictured)?

Pete Postlethwaite is with me.

And finally, bonus fun, whimsical and actually rather beautiful link by way of a reward for having read this far: check out Leo and Bill’s creation of the universe with milk and a fishbowl.

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News from nowhere

Come gather ’round people, wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimming
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

over

“My point would be that there’s nothing in the ice core that gives us any cause for comfort,” said Dr Eric Wolff from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
“There’s nothing that suggests that the Earth will take care of the increase in carbon dioxide.
The ice core suggests that the increase in carbon dioxide will definitely give us a climate change that will be dangerous.”

I don’t know if you can see
The changes that have come over me
In these last few days I’ve been afraid
That I might drift away

[“A]nd while you live you will see all round you people engaged in making others live lives which are not their own, while they themselves care nothing for their own real lives – men who hate life though they fear death. Go back and be the happier for having seen us, for having added a little hope to your struggle. Go on living while you may, striving, with whatsoever pain and labour needs must be, to build up little by little the new day of fellowship, and rest, and happiness.”

Yes, surely! and if others can see it as I have seen it, then it may be called a vision rather than a dream.



It is because everything I have fought for and that all campaigners for social justice have ever fought for – food, clean water, shelter, security – is jeopardised by climate change. Those who claim to identify a conflict between environmentalism and humanitarianism have either failed to read the science or have refused to understand it.

CONTENTS:

Bob DYLAN, The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1963). Alice ROSS, photograph: Kingsnorth coal and oil-fired power station, England (2008). Yoshitomo NARA, sprout the ambassador (2001). Dougie MACLEAN, Caledonia (1979). William MORRIS, Acanthus wallpaper (1875). William MORRIS, News from Nowhere (1890). Alice ROSS, photograph: skies above Kingsnorth crossed by power lines (2008). George MONBIOT, The stakes could not be higher. Everything hinges on stopping coal (2008).

I know what you talk about in your sleep.

A quick note of some things that have been happening: I look out of windows. I go to parties. I enjoy the kind warm light of summer evenings and I stay up late. I write letters. I go for walks, I go for bike rides, I try to capture little moments and pieces of things. I try to hold on. I smile, I grin, I laugh, and I make other people laugh. I kiss. I remember.

I went to the zoo in the course of my voluntary work (meaning I didn’t have my camera) and I saw a black jaguar. It was just insanely beautiful. I will have to go back.

I grow beans! P gave me a scarlet runner bean one night, I planted it in my kitchen and was enchanted, thrilled, delighted to see it grow.

weekend
So then I asked him for another one for my office and he gave me three so my colleagues could join the fun – ‘in the spirit of competition’, he said. The race is on. D’s is the tallest and mine is the smallest, right now, which is sort of like our bodies as well. Slow and steady. The one in the kitchen is huge and it’s tying itself in knots, but I think in a happy way.

I went to a party and met lots of people, some of whom were lovely; I talked to people I’d met before and people I only ever see at parties. In the morning, a boy who is an experimental physicist at CERN sat and kindly explained to me about subatomic particles, and the large hadron collider, and the Higgs boson, and why it was important. He wanted to know why I was interested, and seemed happy with my explanation. Behind him, the large kitchen window treated us to a view of the gradually changing sky as the sun came up, from darkness into the most beautiful, bright, pure, sunny day I’ve seen in ages. Conor brought up Richard P. Feynman, quoted something from What Do You Care What Other People Think?. He seemed pleased that I’d heard of him before, knew something about him, as with Murray Gell-Mann, Max Planck, ALICE, singularities and everything else for which I have Laurence to thank. In RPF’s case, actually, it is not L but my parents, I read a book or two of his from their shelves when I was younger, I feel I should state this, I don’t know why.

Here’s one of my favourite things he wrote, on the same note:

Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars — mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is “mere”. I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination — stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern — of which I am a part… What is the pattern or the meaning or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little more about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?
(The Feynman Lectures on Physics, 1964)

I walked on home through the morning and everything shone. With dew and new sunlight, but also with something else, I think.

Last night I went to Medina with P and we heard the most amazing thing, a lean man in a check shirt and black beard stepped up on to the modest little stage and he sang; in the yellow and red light he made a thousand wonderful sounds using only his voice, with a loop pedal gently stroking layers upon layers of resonant rhythms, of murmurs and howls… There’s no way that words are ever going to get close to explaining it. And yeah, there were other performers, there was other music as well. But Wounded Knee and his wondrous wandering lament for Phil O’Donnell blew my tiny mind.
I talked to Simon Kirby who is one of my most admired living people and I hadn’t seen him for ages. I hugged him, in fact. I hope I did not make a fool of myself. Si told us about an upcoming installation he’s working on, where bamboo robots will make traditional Chinese music float in and out of home-grown Scottish leaves and blossoms, echoes fading through the midsummer night’s air. Sometimes, I think I must have dreamed things but actually they were real. I can’t wait.
We stayed out late and lay in the grass in the big dark park because we didn’t feel like going home yet; it was a school night but fuck it, I wanted to see stars. Then as I walked home, savouring again the strange bluish quiet of a deserted Princes Street, I listened to my mp3 player and it played (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding? What, indeed.

In the morning I had an email, a sort of free-association free-verse, from Rémy who was one of the loveliest people I’d met at the party; we’d bonded over our mutual love of notes and notebooks, and I’d hoped I’d hear from him again sometime.

alice's afternoon off
It was strictly too sunny to be at work, and I felt funny and fuzzy from lack of sleep, so I just took the afternoon off and rode my bike around in Holyrood Park and it looked like this.

This is my life and it’s pretty fucking incredible, you know.