The electoral upset, for all it may, just possibly, open up prospects of a softer stupidity in terms of Brexit, has once again amped up the uncertainty. That said, the skewering of the Hard-Brexit-as-our-first-and-obvious-choice camp gives me a modicum of hope.
Once again, a strong sense of an old order coming apart at the seams – and new ones struggling even harder than normal to be born. Am reading Stephen D. King’s Grave New World at the moment, which also amps up the sense of impending something. Britain a nation at sea and at odds with itself. But at least young people are voting, even if they’re now yet reading the small print on the pack.
In the midst of all this, a few photos that sum up my June to date:
On the subject of books, one I read and enjoyed recently was The Adventures of John B lake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship, by Philip Pullman, with art by Fred Fordham. Great fun – and interesting to see something in the news within the past few days about the new breed of autonomous vessels, a new form of ghost ship.
And then this morning, I stumbled across Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s book, Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth, published last year. Love the central idea that we have to think of 10 reasons why Earth should not be destroyed by aliens. Working on it …
Delighted to see UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner using our Waves 5-to-6 diagram from our recent Breakthrough Business Models report. With thanks for the heads to Kevin Moss of WRI, who co-hosted our Breakthrough session in Washington, DC in January, see 29 January entry.
When I was finishing off my postgraduate degree in city planning in 1973-74, I was fascinated by the future of oceans – including as a future human habitat. I devoured books like Arthur C. Clarke’s Deep Range. And explored avenues into the aquaculture industry, although sensible advice I got at the time persuaded me to head in different directions.
Then when I did a short report for Herman Kahn’s Hudson Institute in the late 1970s, while I was still with John Robert’s TEST, I forecast four big environmental issues in the early 21st century. The first, now largely under control, we are told, was stratospheric ozone depletion. The second climate change. The third new forms of genetic toxicity. And the fourth revolved around the health of the World Ocean.
Talking with the CEO of a major environmental NGO a week or two back, I focused on the fourth of these again – arguing that the oceans are make or break for the rest of the planet. Then The Economist ran its ‘Ocean Warning’ front cover, plus other coverage, a few days later.
Then today I came across the Radical Ocean Futures #ArtScience project developed by the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Am hoovering bring it up. Have long found sci-fi fascinating – and particularly when accompanies with powerful visualisations. That’s exactly what we get here.
I love the Lovelace idea in the first of the four scenarios, in which the oceans are hauled back from the brink. And here’s some the text explaining how that future plays out:
It all started with Lovelace – an outstanding innovation in artificial intelligence. Lovelace was based on a neural network created by a wily collective of hackers and whistle-blowers but very soon supported by tech companies, progressive governments, and ordinary citizens from 100 countries. Lovelace ripped through corporate empires and their shell companies within shell companies within shell companies exposing their rotting cores, one by one. For the first time the world had fulfilled the promise of big data in support of citizenship. Lovelace achieved the improbable, near total transparency of information.
Unsurprisingly, there are dark scenarios, too. One, The Rime of the Last Fisherman, is accompanied by the image below. We really don’t want to go there.
A week of ups and downs. Read Yael Neeman’s wonderful, haunting book We Were The Future, a memoir of being raised on a kibbutz in the heyday and then relative decline of the movement. and there have been moment this week when some in the climate action movement must have felt the same, as the Donald ducked out of the Paris climate accord – or at least signalled his intention to leave.
Ironic to hear him say he was doing it for Pittsburgh, not Paris, and then see Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto say his city wanted to remain.
I very much like President Macron’s line, now a hashtag: #MakeThePlanetGreatAgain.
Paul Krugman has suggested that Trump may even have done this out of spite, which his eyes (above) would suggest is not impossible. Some even suggest that it’s pay-back for the infamous white-knuckle hand-shake with President Macron. And I wondered who initiated that …?
Are the politics of the playground playing out in climate change?
On the upside, work continues apace on our impending Carbon Productivity Basecamp, slated for 14 June. And I did my latest round of blogs on Geoffrey West’s insightful new book, Scale: The Universal Laws of Life and Death in Organisms, Cities and Companies.
Encouraging sense of scientific rigour throughout the book, a useful counter-blast to all those CEOs and others who say they are on a sustainability trajectory simply because they think so.
And intriguing to think through what we can do to keep the sustainability movement scaling, in ways that the kibbutz movement didn’t. One shared barrier may be the sense of inevitable sacrifice in pursuit of a higher cause, though just maybe the exponential growth in the affordability of renewable energy might tip the scales over the next generation or three.
Arrived in Dorset late Sunday, having found the M3 closed between Junctions 2 and 3 and being forced to drive around via Newbury. Staying in Higher Melcombe Manor, where we are greeted by Alfie, the brindled Lurcher. Our host is Michael Woodhouse, who used to be a BA pilot – and who I was sure I had seen at least once on flights hither and thither.
On Monday, across to see our neighbours from Barnes, Stewart and Deborah Lloyd-Jones, who live in nearby Ansty. They take us a daylong tour in their Freelander of this part of Dorset, including a stunning wild garlic/ramson wood near Milton Abbey, Rawlsbury Camp (alongside Bulbarrow Hill), and my longstanding favourite haunt from Bryanston School days, Hambledon Hill.
Atop Hambledon, we sat to admire the surrounding landscapes, me slightly above Elaine and Stewart. Monty, who has been splashing in a nearby mill pond, came and sat beside me, leaning in. Very touching, but dampening.
Then an adventure began, in part of a not entirely welcome sort. We drove out to Chettle with Stewart and Deborah for dinner at the Castleman Hotel. Gin and tonics on the lawn before moving in for the meal, by way of sprawling sofas. A 40-minute drive, but well worth the trip. Only when we got back to Higher Melcombe Manor did I realise I had lost my iPhone somewhere along the way.
Since I had shown Elaine images of Hambledon Hill, I knew it was after that. But no sign in our car or in the Freelander. So on Tuesday morning we drove back to Chettel, to dig into the sofas and enquire whether the phone had been found. No such luck, so we drove back to the manor house.
Then spent a glorious day on the Arne Peninsula, at the RSPB nature reserve, and in nearby Corfe, where we were blown away by the castle, itself blown up after an extended siege by the Parliamentarians. Knew of the Lady Mary Bankes story since history lessons in the early 1960s.
Adored both places – and the had a magical home-made Seville orange marmalade clotted cream and blueberry, lemon and thyme scone tea at the National Trust’s tearooms hard by the main castle gate.
Then back to the manor house, where I let Richard Johnson back at Volans know that the iPhone had gone AWOL. He promptly suggested that I use the ‘Find my iPhone’ service that I thought had been disabled when we rebooted the phone a few days back. What a surprise then to see the satellite search function zooming down, of all places, into Chettle – and what looked very much like the Castleman Hotel.
So back there we drove, for the third time. Then when I switched on my laptop in the reception area, the search function zoomed through the hotel and out into the garden, hovering exactly where we had sat out for drinks the previous evening. And when we went out, we quickly found the phone lying on the grass.
An amazing demonstration of the growing power (and potential intrusiveness, in the wrong hands) of modern technology.
Then, on Wednesday, we trundled off to Salisbury, walking around and through the Cathedral. After Ely Cathedral, this has to be my second favourite in the UK, alongside Westminster Abbey. Wonderful choral practice under way, with the choir master stopping and starting the young choristers, who then repeatedly took off into angelic harmonies. Not my normal sort of music, but mind-bindingly wonderful.
Very struck by William Pye’s font, too, reflecting everything around in deep, still waters, while the overflows tinkled away on either side.
Having seen a representation of Old Sarum in the Cathedral when we were looking at the copy of the Magna Carta, I decided on the instant that we should go there – which we promptly did. A stunning site, with its motte and bailey Norman castle dropped into an almost perfectly circular Iron Age fortress.
I had known Old Sarum’s notorious history as a rotten borough from Bryanston days, but had somehow never visited. Joyous.
Then back into the Volvo (which after more than 15 years in the family has only just hit 50,000 miles, suggesting that it is urban sculpture for most of its life) and home, along an M3 which now back in operation.
One of the towering figures in the professional landscape when I started working on environmental issues in the early 1970s was Walt Patterson. Alongside Amory Lovins, at Friends of the Earth, he helped put sustainable energy on the map – in the process denting wider enthusiasm for nuclear power.
Elaine and I took the train to Amersham today for Walt’s 80th birthday party – wonderful turn-out: those shown in the picture were about a third of the attendees at any one time. A great man, a huge influence, and wonderful to be invited to such a gathering of the tribes.
Among those I was able to catch up with were Tom Burke (a previous executive director of Friends of the Earth, and a co-author with me of a couple of books back in the day, The Green Capitalists and Green Pages*), Nigel Haigh (who I worked with in the early 1990s at the Merlin Ecology Fund, when we were part of an advisory board convened by Tessa Tennant) and Richard Macrory (who started my ongoing relationship with Imperial College back in the early 1990s).
Nigel, Tom, Elaine and I travelled back together on the train to Marylebone, comparing notes on the deep history of environmentalism and the sustainable business movement in the UK. One idea we were toying with by the end of the journey was an oral history of environmentalism. I have long wondered about the possibility of creating a real or virtual museum of environmentalism, so this had that beast stirring again at the bottom of the pond.
Took Walt a bottle of Nyetimber English ‘champagne’, which I love. One of the few good things that can be said about climate change in this country.
* Due to be republished later this year by Routledge. When I first heard the suggestion I couldn’t imagine what the book would have to offer in today’s world. But was persuaded by the publishers – and on rereading the book, which includes 50 essays by leading figures at the time – that this was some sort of milestone. It laid out much of the agenda that the sustainability industry has subsequently worked to address.
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.