Tag: climate change

Men in White Coats …

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When my Word Generator app threw up likely, the idea of ‘fact vs opinion’ came to mind. We are entitled to our own opinions, I’ve heard it said, but we are not entitled to our own facts. Hmm. Fact … or opinion?

Let’s not panic nor get manic
If those boffins show we’re doomed.
Keep your cool while some paid fool
Explains how global warming zoomed.
Let’s pretend we’re experts, too!
You go first. What say you?

 

 

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images: Gigall & IPCC

 

Sweet Dreams

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Ouch!

The brutal truth behind this comic representation is hard to face – any laugh the cartoon evokes is likely to be a bitter one.

By way of preparation for my own writing I’ve been reading the poems of John Clare, an agricultural worker whose life was blighted by the forced enclosure of common land almost two hundred years ago. People fled the countryside in droves for the towns and cities.

In his rough verse with its gentle dialect, Clare describes somewhat sadly how a sustainable way of life lasting many centuries gave way to the first stirrings of capitalist agribusiness. With hindsight we can glimpse in his words the beginnings of the process whereby relatively balanced ecologies mutated into sterile farming factories run by machine.

Is it too far-fetched, I wonder, to imagine a future where this process is reversed – where humankind and the natural world have once again learned to co-exist in symbiotic harmony? I read this from a report on the Hay book festival in today’s Guardian Review:

Climate is at the forefront of the minds of novelists, particularly John Lanchester and Amitav Ghosh, the latter recalling being caught in a freak tornado … ‘In novel after novel, I tried to write about this … and I could never do it … What happens in real life is more improbable than what happens in a book – and this is the paradox of the modern novel,’ he said.

Lanchester … championed the ‘moral obligation to be optimistic, because … if we despair we won’t act’. Most of the people set to be affected by the climate emergency are yet to be born. ‘That’s why works of the imagination are so important,’ Lanchester said. ‘In effect we are having to imagine these people into being and then act on behalf of their interests. This is a new thing.’

In the spirit of this, I wonder if it’s possible to read John Clare’s words not only as the chronicle of a tragic past but also as the prophesy of a more hopeful future?

 

The Moors

Far spread the moorey ground a level scene
Bespread with rush and one eternal green
That never felt the rage of blundering plough
Though centurys wreathed spring’s blossoms on its brow
Still meeting plains that stretched them far away
In uncheckt shadows of green brown, and grey
Unbounded freedom ruled the wandering scene
Nor fence of ownership crept in between
To hide the prospect of the following eye
Its only bondage was the circling sky
One mighty flat undwarfed by bush and tree
Spread its faint shadow of immensity
And lost itself, which seemed to eke its bounds
In the blue mist the horizon’s edge surrounds
Now this sweet vision of my boyish hours
Free as spring clouds and wild as summer flowers
Is faded all – a hope that blossomed free,
And hath been once, no more shall ever be
Inclosure came and trampled on the grave
Of labour’s rights and left the poor a slave
And memory’s pride ere want to wealth did bow
Is both the shadow and the substance now
The sheep and cows were free to range as then
Where change might prompt nor felt the bonds of men
Cows went and came, with evening morn and night,
To the wild pasture as their common right
And sheep, unfolded with the rising sun
Heard the swains shout and felt their freedom won
Tracked the red fallow field and heath and plain
Then met the brook and drank and roamed again
The brook that dribbled on as clear as glass
Beneath the roots they hid among the grass
While the glad shepherd traced their tracks along
Free as the lark and happy as her song
But now all’s fled and flats of many a dye
That seemed to lengthen with the following eye
Moors, loosing from the sight, far, smooth, and blea
Where swoopt the plover in its pleasure free
Are vanished now with commons wild and gay
As poet’s visions of life’s early day
Mulberry-bushes where the boy would run
To fill his hands with fruit are grubbed and done
And hedgrow-briars – flower-lovers overjoyed
Came and got flower-pots – these are all destroyed
And sky-bound moors in mangled garbs are left
Like mighty giants of their limbs bereft
Fence now meets fence in owners’ little bounds
Of field and meadow large as garden grounds
In little parcels little minds to please
With men and flocks imprisoned ill at ease
Each little path that led its pleasant way
As sweet as morning leading night astray
Where little flowers bloomed round a varied host
That travel felt delighted to be lost
Nor grudged the steps that he had ta-en as vain
When right roads traced his journeys and again –
Nay, on a broken tree he’d sit awhile
To see the moors and fields and meadows smile
Sometimes with cowslaps smothered – then all white
With daiseys – then the summer’s splendid sight
Of cornfields crimson o’er the headache bloomd
Like splendid armys for the battle plumed
He gazed upon them with wild fancy’s eye
As fallen landscapes from an evening sky
These paths are stopt – the rude philistine’s thrall
Is laid upon them and destroyed them all
Each little tyrant with his little sign
Shows where man claims earth glows no more divine
But paths to freedom and to childhood dear
A board sticks up to notice ‘no road here’
And on the tree with ivy overhung
The hated sign by vulgar taste is hung
As tho’ the very birds should learn to know
When they go there they must no further go
Thus, with the poor, scared freedom bade goodbye
And much they feel it in the smothered sigh
And birds and trees and flowers without a name
All sighed when lawless law’s enclosure came
And dreams of plunder in such rebel schemes
Have found too truly that they were but dreams.

John Clare

Unfinished Business

Another find from my folders, this sonnet – thanks to young people around the world – isn’t yet history!

Once upon a time we wandered wild
And free to choose from nature’s mighty store –
But all too soon, alas, we were beguiled
By dreams of staying put and having more.
As seedbanks swelled, our heads began to fill
With visions of a life spent free of toil –
The clink of gold and silver in the till,
The clash of bronze and iron, the glug of oil.
We built ourselves a glass and concrete prison
And spread consumer culture round the world –
With economic growth our only mission,
The planet warmed and giant oceans boiled.
Our story ends where history began –
A choice to make, if make it still we can.

October 2012

 

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Image: Financial Times

Another story in 100 words: Regeneration

For her fifth birthday she got a corner of the garden, a little bed of her very own. She emptied a seed-packet on the glistening earth and rushed out next morning, expecting to see a crop of beautiful flowers.

Hopes dashed, she’d just discovered nature’s way – left to time, all things come to fruition.

Now older, seasoned, she wonders at toddler-tantrums from so-called grown-ups still screaming for the-moon-on-a-stick – her tomorrow, theirs today?

Impatient again, she watches seeds of protest shoot across her shining screen and rushes out to a blossoming of banners and bright futures planted afresh in youthful minds.

 

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Image: The Guardian

Stimulus: crop, left and bed from https://randomwordgenerator.com/

Vault Finding #7

We tell ourselves stories in order to live.   –  Joan Didion

Stories give our lives shape and significance. They connect us with others – family, friends, workmates, community members. I read somewhere that there may be an upper limit to the number of people with whom I can maintain stable social relationships – relationships where I know who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. The number suggested was 150.

Not sure where that leaves me when it comes to social media! I have 238 Facebook  friends and 649 WordPress followers so, statistically-speaking, I’m way out of my social depth. In practice, of course, Facebook’s main attraction is private messaging and only a small fraction of my WordPress followers ever respond to my posts. My circle is surprisingly – and perhaps comfortingly – intimate.

Beyond that, I view social media as an extra pair of eyes (and ears) to tell me more about the book of the world – to discover stories that help me find my place on the page. And maybe tell a few of my own.

My previous post told the story of how I responded to a story on Facebook with a different story of my own. If stories seek to shape us, we can shape stories. Our online world may be heating up – verbal warming, you could say – but story competitions are as old as the hills.

When you’re in a bar or café, listen to any group of friends trying to top one another’s anecdotes and it’s easy to envisage a similar healthy rivalry between our hunter-gatherer ancestors around the camp fires. Who has the best stories, the ones that capture past and future in a timeless moment? Who can perform magic and banish, if only for a while, the dark?

The brighter our lights, however, the darker appears the night. Michelle at The Green Study ended her response to my previous post with a resonant thought:

I feel strongly that we must curate what feeds our minds, lest we fall prey to the same ignorance and ugly strategies.

This reminds me of something Scott Fitzgerald wrote:

Either you think — or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you.

We think best by constructing stories – our own accounts of how the world works. Every sentence contains the germ of a story that could grow into a whole world. Try it with any of those I’ve quoted. As Fitzgerald implies, storytelling is like a muscle that weakens with disuse. We can forget how to tell good stories and also how to tell whether other people’s stories are any good.

Looking back through my unused drafts, I found this wonderful little video of a storytelling master sharing a few secrets of his craft. No jargon and no jiggery-pokery, just a piece of chalk and some cheeky humour.

How good a writer is Vonnegut? One of my favourite passages comes from his novel Slaughterhouse Five, loosely based on his experiences as a prisoner-of-war:

It was a movie about American bombers in World War II and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this: American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers , and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans though and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.

Fact or fiction? Like many either/or questions, this presents us with a false dichotomy. The phrase true story is itself an oxymoron. Vonnegut offers an untruth but, by running factually accurate events backwards, he presents us with a deeper truth.

You can always trust Friedrich Nietzsche to muddy the waters still further. He believed there are no absolute truths, just different perspectives:

There are no facts, only interpretations.

To take a topical example, a climate scientist who maintains that global temperatures should not rise by more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels might raise an eyebrow over this – but even science is a story constructed around observed evidence. I should add, in the interests of balance, that other stories are available.

The question is, however, whose story do you believe?

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Our common sense, allied to a skilled reading of stories, rejects this ludicrous scenario – unless, of course, we have shares in fossil fuels …

Complacent? You betcha! Almost certainly, my pension depends upon investments in all manner of dodgy doings. The complexity of the modern world means we’re all complicit in catastrophe. This morning I heard climate-change activist and former Ireland president Mary Robinson admit that she was ‘a prisoner of hope’ in her belief that we can avoid disaster. Everything, it seems, depends on the story you choose to believe.

To end this ‘story’ on an upward curve, I’ll end with two amusing ‘stories’ from Private Eye magazine’s Pseuds Corner:

Xenofuturists unite! Join the Antivoid Alliance in the pink space of fugitive rationality. Explore how technology, inhumanism and the agency of noise meet a burning demand to re-open the possibilities of a divergent now.

                                     from the Hastings Arts Festival programme

 

Amelia Singer will offer guests wines that have been specially paired with sections of Sue Prideaux’s upcoming biography of Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘I Am Dynamite!’

                               a wine-tasting event at the publishers Faber & Faber

I’ve signed you up for both of them, OK?

Renga to Return

Here is the finished poem.

I am very grateful to those who have contributed their own words. Their sites, all of which I can recommend, are hyperlinked below.

10 lines are mine – the first and final tankas.

Eyes down for stray coins
Or lonesome tweets. So what, if
Dull skies lack twitter?

Where are the swifts blown? Summer’s
On hold till they’re back on course.

Of course, coins enrich,
as much as the swift’s sweet song,
while tweets leave minds dull.

Autumn, elevate my thoughts
on gentle, warming updrafts.                                     theceaselessreaderwrites

Random thoughts sail away
thinking of winter’s cold breath,
for a time to come.

Summer’s warmth will carry us
through the snow, and biting winds!                         Alex

or perhaps stardust–
sparks lingering, seasonless
and filled with wishes come true                                memadtwo

But now with winds low
Bathed in a silver moonlight
I dream of fortune.

Coins tossed in a sacred well
To protect the innocent.                                              Christine Valentor

The seasons return,
Untainted by human hand,
Playgrounds for fresh thoughts.

Look – old nests new tenanted –
And above, tweets and cartwheels.

 

 

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Image: Oxford Mail

Paris Discord

Thought I’d mark this miserable moment and subsequent news of the US withdrawing from the Paris Accord with a little lament, an acrostic using the WordPress Daily Prompt Brassy:

B arge past those wimps – let them get used to a brave new world where
R udeness rules and everything is up for grabs!
A ir, earth, water – the very
S tuff of beauteous life herself
S old to the highest bidder. Going, going,
Y es, g o i n g …

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