Lovely photos from Hania after she, Jake, Gene and Gaia trundled across to Hill House today to see Pat and Tim (now one week away from his 98th birthday), alongside my sisters Caroline and Tessa, and niece Lydia. Wonderful, despite various trials and tribulations along the way, to see the generations mixing it up in this way.
December has been such a frenzy that I haven’t managed any entries for a while, but am planning to catch up over the holidays. But was saddened to read of the death of James Erlichman in yesterday’s Guardian. Always liked him and admired his stances on major topics, among them antibiotic resistance and the BSE crisis. a lighthouse to steer by.
And I also recall a piece he did, I think for The Independent, on my role at the more commercial edge of environmentalism. It must have been in 1988 or 1989 – a big article, built around a large cartoon, either of a wolf wearing a sheepskin or vice versa. I genuinely can’t recall which way around it was. The cutting is probably in one of the boxes of cuttings in the summerhouse/garden shed.
But I have mightily appreciated the periodic challenges of such fair, honest and determined critics . While it’s comforting when one-time challengers, like the late Teddy Goldsmith, declare their growing grasp and support for a different line of attack, it’s more useful if lighthouses don ‘t drift over time. In my experience, James didn’t
We move out of 2 Bloomsbury Place on 20 December, after more than 10 years. Quite a milestone. But a fair amount of excitement about our impending move to Somerset House. A big draw for me, apart from the proximity to the Thames (which I wrote about in New Scientist in 1977), is the history of the place. A sense that Volans is finally beginning to emerge from its extended chrysalis phase.
Across to The Wilton Arms in Belgravia this evening for a 40th anniversary celebration drink with some of those who have worked for Environmental Data Services (ENDS) since we founded the cmpany in 1978.
Including myself, there were three (out of six over the decades) former Editors of the ENDS Report present. First double gin and tonic I have ordered in living memory.
Nice piece in the latest issue on the story so far, though if you read it without knowing the history you might conclude that Elaine (who found Marek Mayer through his partner, author Sue Gee, both Sue and Elaine involved with publishers Wildwood House on the floor below us at TEST in our Floral Street offices, now long-since demolished) had gone on to marry Marek.
Something of a surprise for Sue and I, were it true. Particularly since by the time Marek hove in view, Elaine and I had been together for well over a decade – having met in 1968.
A fascinating trip to Warsaw, my first, for EcoVadis, where I have been on the Scientific Committee for around a decade. And here’s a bit of the section of the new book I wrote after the trip:
“There is a crack, a crack in everything,” intoned the late, lamented Leonard Cohen, “That’s how the lightgets in.” In the same way, reality sometimes cracks open in front of our eyes—andwe get a glimpse, an X-ray vision, of the future. That happened to me early in December 2018 while I was sketching out the early chapters of [the book].
A dozen of us were sitting in the offices of Paris-based supply chain management firm EcoVadis on the twenty-sixth floor of Warsaw’s Spektrum Tower. Outside, and all around us, impenetrable rain clouds hung low across the city.
Ironically, we were discussing how to illuminate darker corners of the global supply chains that feed today’s globalized economies.
Winking through the murk below were the lights of construction cranes. They were hard at work erecting a new version of a city largely levelled by the Nazis in 1944—and then held in an iron grip for decades by victorious Soviet occupiers.
Indeed, when the cloud began to clear a little, we could increasingly make out the brutal shape of one of Europe’s ugliest skyscrapers. Originally known as the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science (or Pałac Kultury i Nauki imienia Józefa Stalina), it was stripped of every trace of the dictator during a later period of destalinization.
Originally, positioned as a gift to Poland from the Soviet people, the Babel-like structure has attracted many ungrateful nicknames over the years. Among the nicknames used by Varsovians, I learned, are Pekin (or “Beijing”, because of the building’s abbreviated name PKiN) and Pajac (meaning “clown”, a word that sounds close to Pałac).
Less common—but more memorable—nicknames include Stalin’s Syringe, the Elephant in Lacy Underwear, the Russian Wedding Cake, or even Chuj Stalina (Stalin’s Dick).
Like the thousands of laborers who toiled on the original Tower of Babel, those who worked on the Palace of Culture and Science could hardly have imagined today’s world. Yet when the Berlin Wall was breached in 1989, a previously unimaginable crack opened up in communist reality, with capitalism increasingly running rampant.
All around the Spektrum Tower we saw high-rise buildings emerging from the murk, many sporting the logos of international companies like EY, Marriott and Mercedes.
But current forms of capitalism are under existential pressure, too, from several directions. On the same day that we looked down on Warsaw, climate leaders from around the world were looking around the city of Katowice, the heart of Poland’s coal-producing region.
And, if media reports were to believed, many were wondering why their annual climate summit had been parachuted into Katowice, the dark heart of Poland’s fossil fuels economy.
Have never had much of an appetite for sports cars, but there’s something about Vienna. Last time I was here, for example, Elaine had me driving a Tesla around the grounds of a castle.
This time, here to speak at an Austria Glas Recycling event, I caught sight of this Jaguar E-type cake, just around the corner from a Tesla store. For some reason former Foreign Office Buffoon Boris Johnson and having one’s cake and eating it came to mind.
A rather extraordinary day, starting with blood-letting at the doctors’ surgery in Barnes, then a meeting with Luke Fletcher and his colleague Rebecca Bruce of lawyers Bates Wells & Braithwaite, with whom I have a long history going back to Earthlife, I think, and certainly to The Environment Foundation, on a possible new structure for Volans.
Then Louise and I walked along the north bank of the Thames to Somerset House, where we met Yinka for lunch at the Spring Restaurant. Then we went to see people about possibly taking a space in Somerset House – and took a look at one possibility.
After which I did a call with Cathy Runciman of Atlas of the Future, though the wifi blindspots in Somerset House were a bit of an issue.
Then I walked up through Covent Garden, before walking across to Clerkenwell and Zetter‘s for a wonderful dinner with Elaine, Gaia and Paul.
Flew in from London today to Köln for the 8th International Conference on Sustainability & Responsibility, themed around ‘Responsible Leadership in Times of Transformation’.
My session yesterday involved a debate on our recall of the Triple Bottom Line, with challenges from René Schmidpeter of the Cologne Business School. Very energetic audience participation.
A high point of the event was when UN Global Compact co-founder Georg Kell told me from the stage that I had been a great inspiration to him, though he told me later in the day that when I first challenged him early on his role as head of the Compact he was tempted to think of me as an “arrogant bastard”.
The Lifetime Achievement Ward went to Professor Robert Eccles of Harvard and now the Saïd Business School. Also a member of the Volans Advisory Board, as it happens.
In the evening, it was profoundly moving to hear from the city’s mayor, Henriette Reker. The subject of an assassination attempt in October 2015, she has been a brave champion of refugee rights.
Reminded me of talking to a Syrian refugee at the Paretz event, who had come to Berlin three years ago – and found the transition immensely tough. Mayor Reker is a symbol of the best of humankind when faced with the twin challenges of forced migration and acculturation.
She was followed by an extraordinary dance troupe, apparently one of 30 in the city, which spend much of the year practising for the annual carnival. Amazing energy and gymnastics. Uplifting, in every sense.
I began this blog with an entry reporting on a visit to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, on 30 September 2003. The blog element of the website has gone through several iterations since, with older material still available on this site.
Like so many things in my life, blog entries blur the boundaries between the personal and the professional. As explained on the Home Page, the website and the blog are part platform for ongoing projects, part autobiography, and part accountability mechanism.
In this new iteration of the site, the ‘Comments’ function has been reanimated. Please do make use of it.