ignore this at your peril…

Eight years ago, governments pledged to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. Richard Black, BBC Environment correspondent, says it is clear that the pledge will not be met. Today the UN is launching the International Year of Biodiversity and promoting these messages.

  • humans are part of nature’s rich diversity and have the power to protect or destroy it.
  • biodiversity is essential for sustaining the living networks and systems that provide us all with vital services our lives depend on.
  • human activity is causing diversity of life on Earth to be lost at a greatly accelerated rate; but we can prevent this loss
  • achievements to safeguard biodiversity have been made but we need to do much more and we must act urgently.

The parallels with climate change are clear; growing awareness and tokenistic calls for government action. We ignore the natural world at our peril. It’s arrogance to assume that the planet will continue to provide when we don’t understand the force that drives it and are unable to replicate its life or beauty. We should respect a power that lies beyond our control but unfortunately most people don’t seem to think this way. Their narrow mindedness will sooner rather than later enforce lifestyle-changing effects on us all.

What did the ‘F’ Word ever do for us?

Its 40 years since the first National Women’s Liberation conference was held in the UK; since the language of the Female Eunuch and Sexual Politics and the media reveled in castigating  women as bra-burning, man-bashing dykes.

During WW2 women were given opportunities to support the war effort and take on traditional male roles,. Then they were relegated to the domestic sphere. Gender expectations swung from one extreme to the other. It’s no coincidence that female fashion in the 1950s promoted the forerunner of Barbie; nipped in waistlines and pushed out breasts. Feminism was a reaction to cultural repression, to the curtailing of women’s freedom to participate on an equal social and economic level with men. It tackled gender discriminations such as equal pay and employment opportunities. But the free love, free spirit ethos of the 1960’s overlooked one crucial issue; responsibility for childcare. At the end of the day, someone has to position themselves in the private sphere and tend the domestic hearth. To achieve equality took more than raising consciousness, it required a fundamental shift of the status of mother and housewife; accepting them as valued occupations in their own right. Instead, equal employment opportunities today often involve paying other women to take on the childcare and domestic commitments instead.

The legacy of feminism is increased gender controls. There is a clear cultural backlash through media induced social pressure to conform to an idealised female identity; one that defies nature and is impossible to achieve. Predominant images of women are airbrushed into thin perfection. It’s laudable to display a pre-pregnancy body within weeks of giving birth. The mantra ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ is supported by anorexia focused websites and the promotion of the size zero ‘celebrity’ as a role model. Pressure on young women to conform to a stereotyped image of femininity has never been greater nor the female body so diminished. Parallels with the onset of the feminist movement 40 years ago are striking suggesting that activism against body politics cannot be very far away.

Happy New Year 2010

Welcome to 2010; the winter of the great freeze with yet more snow to come. The reality of climate change is challenged. While Britain shivers, recorded temperatures in other areas of the globe are said to be 5-10 degrees warmer than usual. Current debate centres round the difference between weather which is unpredictable and climate change which is a trend; they are two separate things.

It seems that every new online article reveals the value of the internet to incorporate public opinion. Comments remain the stars of the show. Their pertinent quotes and links to other resources are a continual source of relevant information. Along with an erudite mix of wit, humour and sheer ignorance, they offer a greater variety and interest than any one single journalist could ever achieve. Daily printed news sheets cannot hope to compete with this acerbic mix. One thing is for certain; analogue news can never be the same again.

Sixes and sevens and eights

Quick, study your Christmas cards for snowflakes lest they be falsely represented. There are six sides to a snowflake; any more or less is heresy. Comments to this piece about Professor Thomas Koop,  specialist in ice crystal formation at the University of Bielefled, Germany, who is upset about the corruption of  snowflakes, include pretty flaky arguments, crystallising opinion, sixism in science and, my favourite so far, hell hath no flurry like a scientist scorned.   Internet journalism at its best!

analogue roots, digital futures

Check out the RewindVintageMuseum  Those of us in the digital age, with analogue roots, are a unique generation. We remember a different time, when mobile technology meant a transistor radio. A time before the marriage of the words media and digital. As media technology developed so we possessed it greedily.  Stored away in lofts and attics we probably still do, unable to let go because of the memories it contains. Our first LPs, compilation cassettes, family video tapes and boxes of photograph albums. As analogue evolved into digital, this memorabilia has become archaic. It represents a life that has moved on. We have the media but can no longer access the message.  

Digital media is one dimensional. You can’t get attached to a mp3 track. It isn’t significant like an album cover. There’s no personal investment. A download won’t increase in value or become collectable. Those days are gone.

What will be the memorabilia of the future? An empty digital photo frame? We laugh at the Betamax VCR but it’s got no intrinsic value; like walkmans and ipods it was functional; with that function removed, it’s junk. Like old fridges and washing machines, it begs the question of what to do with redundant technology. Future focus may be on content rather than means of transmission. Single, not multiple, devices could answer problems with waste. Individuality would derive from the customisation of virtual portals, My Space style, meaning we wouldn’t just access digital data, we’d have to learn to work with it too.

A Digital Britain needs to recycle more efficiently. Especially electronics and their packaging. So much of what we throw away this Christmas will end up in landfill. That’s not sustainable practice. The invisibility of virtual delivery has to be something to celebrate; inevitably the next step will be to reduce the means by which we access it.

Copenhagen conclusions

What happened in Copenhagen depends on what you read but overall there was no conclusion.  Richard Black at the BBC suggests eight separate reasons for failure to reach an agreement. In the Guardian Mark Lynas blames China while George Monbiot blames the US. The Independent typically blames no one and offers an impartial overview of climate change issues in 2009  instead.  As always, the comments to these articles offer a diverse cross-section of individual opinions.

It’s the darkest time of year when the sun is at its lowest point. For thousands of years people have celebrated the time when it changes direction and starts to rise again. Via the sun, our climate controls us; it rules our ability to grow food and take advantage of natural resources. Nations go to war over suspected WMDs yet human behaviour suspected of risking the eco-balance is debated adfinitum with no conclusive actions.

Whether climate change is man made or the result of natural cycles, it’s happening. Better to change our own lifestyles and demonstrate proactivity as in the ‘collective wisdom of the crowd’. Individually, we can all resolve to recycle, eat seasonal fruit and vegetables and where ever possible leave the car at home. It’s one solution in 2010 that we can all be a part of.

Climate Change; a new religion

Climate change is the new religion. Your beliefs define you. You can be a global warmer, a sceptic or simply not interested. The first or second is preferable. It’s better to have considered the arguments than not thought about them at all.  The volume of information is daunting. Like a religion, it’s provided by those with faith, who have belief in their doctrines, so impartiality can be difficult to find. Warning, entering the debates may cause more confusion than demystification. The science is lauded and denied in equal parts.

The science is mostly about Co2 emissions (the greenhouse effect). Human activity is responsible needs to reduce C02 to 350 parts per million (ppm). Target atmospheric CO2: Where should humanity aim? (Hansen et. al. 2008) claims  the level in Sept 2008 was 385 ppm. Hansen recommends phasing out all coal use (except where CO2 is captured) and ‘adopting agricultural and forestry practices that sequester carbon concluding’. The paper concludes “Humanity today, collectively, must face the uncomfortable fact that industrial civilization itself has become the principal driver of global climate….The greatest danger is continued ignorance and denial, which could make tragic consequences unavoidable.”

The opposition is an eclectic mix of politics, The sun is the cause of global warming (or not). Natural variations create climate change. The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar predicts a significant change in sunspot activity December 31 2012. The Optimum Population Trust call for reductions in population. The Global Warming Policy Foundation challenges government policy for mitigating the effects of global warming without saying why. Deniers and Sceptics (Top Ten) applauded the hacked email exchanges from the Climatic Research foundation at UEA as conclusive evidence that the science was flawed. The CND (all these years on) are saying nuclear power is not the answer. Then there is the BNP and the conspiracy theorists who see climate change as a front for political domination led by the FBI, CBI, Illuminati, socialists, communists; take your pick.  

Al Gore is either a hero or a fake depending on which side you are on. Apart from his Inconvenient Truth, other offerings for the record include 11th Hour , the Age of Stupid   and the Esoteric Agenda. I’ll throw Zietgiest into the mix; after all Christmas is a time for fantasy.

Catching up on Copenhagen

Coverage of the conference on climate change is muted. Usually the media loves promoting dramatic pictures of icebergs collapsing into the sea as evidence for global warming. But it’s all quiet.

If our carbon footprints are heading us towards doomsday, you would expect Copenhagen to be daily news. The absence of headline coverage is suspicious. It suggests official confusion as to which climate change lobby has it right – the believers or the sceptics. In the face of their conflicting evidence it’s difficult to know what to believe. But you would think that regardless of the science, we can’t treat our planet with disrespect and there be no consequences. I side with the global warmers and instinctively feel that our planet is a beautiful, self regulating place. We’re lucky to live here. The power of nature is uncontrollable and we should respect that. I have less sympathy for the sceptics; I’m suspicious of their connections with multinational corporations. The argument that changes are not only exaggerated, but natural and cyclical, sit ill with vested interests in encouraging us to carry on regardless.

Landfill worries me. Buried batteries poison the earth; as do plastic and polystyrene. It’s difficult to see how chemicals discharged into rivers, or deforestation and agricultural practices right on our doorsteps, are not affecting the ecosystem. Even closer to home is the absence of bees. Copenhagen is too far away; heads of governments too concerned with themselves to care about the planet. Change has to begin at home. Change the way we shop, cook, recycle, grow vegetables. The most wasteful time of the year is fast approaching. As we throw away all the packaging, and other Christmas debris,  spare a thought for the planet and resolve to be green.

I like Christmas but…

It’s hard to avoid Christmas; not that wanting to is indicative of any Bah Humbug syndrome but the proliferation of tat in the shops gets on my nerves. Likewise the queues at the checkout when I want to purchase some non-Christmas item like a sandwich or a bottle of coke.

It’s the expectation of presents that grieves me most. In particular the notion of ‘must-haves’; this year Mr Squiggles and the debut cd by Susan Boyle.  I remain convinced that the lead-poisoning scare is a ploy started by a rival toy company looking to oust Go Go Pets from the best seller list. As for Susan Boyle I’ve listened to her on Amazon and she has a great voice but so has Amy Winehouse, kdlaing and Cecily Raines; Cecily who? My point exactly. There are many fabulous voices out there; the difference with Susan Boyle is that the full promotion wagon is racing you towards the checkouts with the sole aim of parting you from your money. The ‘must-have’ syndrome has nothing to do with the product; it’s what possession of the product says about you. Creating this sort of demand is a marketing dream and Christmas is the peak time of year for its fulfilment.

The cardinal points mark the sun’s 12 month journey around the sky. Quarter markers are the Spring and Autumn Equinox and the Summer and Winter Solstice. At around the 21st December the sun sinks to its lowest point and stays there for around three days, seemingly stationary, before changing direction and starting to rise again. This sign that the sun was reborn traditionally signalled 12 days of celebration. Throughout time there are records of cultural partying at or shortly after the winter solstice; all connected in one way or another with a god or a hero returning from the dead.

It’s good to have time off with family and friends at Christmas; have a few drinks, wind down and reflect before another year starts all over again. What’s less good is the commercial materialism that accompanies it and is increasing into a madness that most people can’t afford and don’t really want to get caught up in. Mark the date in your calendar of the Winder Solstice on 21st December and spare a thought for the real meaning of Christmas.