Tag Archives: Climate Change

Children, theatre, death and climate change

I recently went to see The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer, an award-winning one-man children’s show that blends puppetry, multimedia, animation, technology, projection, and live and recorded music.

Alvin Sputnik tells the tale of one man’s journey to save a post-apocalyptic world in which rising sea levels have killed billions of people, Those who are left live in a sort of uber-Venice, where farms perch precariously on top of skyscrapers and their inhabitants sit on their verandas and fish the seas all day long. Scientists have tried everything to ‘save’ the earth: floating islands (sank), space-probing the universe for inhabitable planets (we are alone), giant sponges (rotting), chemically altering sea salt (epic fail). In a last effort they believe there may be a ‘second earth’ inside the earth’s core, an idea reminiscent of Jules Verne’s 1864 novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth. The scientists recruit crusaders to journey into the sea and activate a volcanic eruption that they believe will force the second earth to the surface.

“Many of you will die,” the brave crusaders are told by their Commander; “In fact, you will all probably die, but that is a risk I am willing to take.”

Alvin signs up as a crusader, so that he may swim in search of the soul of his dead wife, which, represented by a bobbing light globe, has slipped into the sea and down into its depths, away from Alvin’s life.

Alvin Sputnik is cute and funny – a little foam ball atop of the puppeteer’s hand, with fingers for limbs. He can swim, walk, dance, hug, and even do the moonwalk – he is the perfect hero for a children’s show.

And yet, despite the charm of the central character, the issues this show is dealing with are profound, particularly given its status as a children’s show: climate change and the extinction of much of the world’s population, the death of a loved one, the continued living presence of a soul, the self-sacrifice of an individual, and lack of acceptance of death of a loved one.

One of the interesting things about attending artistic shows with children (and live theatre certainly has more resonance here than a pre-recorded film) is that they have not developed a ‘theatre-etiquette’ of behavioural rules while watching a show. As such, they often vocalise feelings and questions which most adult-going audience members internalise. Normally, I find vocalisation from audiences frustrating and distracting (self-entitling and self-righteous members of artistic institutions, complaining or doddering elderly, or too-cute children) but in this instance I was fascinated to see how much of the youthful audience (about one third of which was under the age of ten) responded to these themes.

I was particularly moved by a small boy sitting behind me – let’s call him Tom, for the sake of ease.

At one point Alvin rows from house to house, trying to find the scientist’s headquarters. Tom asks, “where is that”, to which his mother replies, “that is earth”. “What is earth?” “That’s where we live.” “Why is there so much water Mummy?” “It’s just pretend, honey.”

Although really, with the ever-present and increasingly-accepted reality of climate change, island states preparing for their eventual submersion, and the creation of new human rights laws to deal with environmental refugees, how much of this story really will be just pretend by the time these audience members have grown up?

Further questions arose from Tom as to why Alvin is crying, what the bobbing light is and how it relates to Alvin’s wife. The mother explains that the light is the soul of Alvin’s wife, but that although the soul continues to live, Alvin’s wife herself is really dead. “It’s just pretend,” the mother repeats.

Tom’s response perfectly captures way art can blur the boundaries between what is real, what is ‘pretend’, what is a depiction of what is real, and how to tell the difference between these, or indeed whether there even is a clearly defined difference.

How confusing would it be, at eight-odd years of age, to discriminate between an alive person, a dead person, and an alive soul; an earth where we live that is simultaneously a pretend version of where we live; and why you would accept to go on a mission in which you will probably die.

Probably, at eight years of age, many of these concepts are beyond one’s immediate comprehension. While I am no psychologist, I would hope that recollections from this performance would perhaps be stowed away for future grappling, or as reference points for the inevitable dawning realisation of the meaning and impacts of death.

There have been many studies and documentation about the role of entertainment to educate children about death, and in particular the reaction children have toward death in Disney movies. Certainly in my own experience I have vivid memories of crying profusely during Bambi at the point in which Bambi’s mother dies, and of the relevance it had for me in coming to understand that my own mother would one day die too. I remember that it was not the way that Bambi’s mother dies (spoiler: she is shot) that particularly got to me, but rather the very extended amount of time it takes Bambi to realise that his mother has been shot. He thinks his mother is also escaping with him, running just behind him, and is elated upon reaching a hiding place. When he turns around to share his excitement with his mother it seems an age before he finally comes to realise that his mother is dead.

While I was doing some research for this blog I re-watched this scene in Bambi, and his dawning realisation only lasts for a couple of minutes. Nonetheless, to me as a child the points of realisation appeared to take forever: the mix of excitement at reaching safety, of the expectation of sharing a feeling of happiness with your mother, the confusion at the absence of your mother, the excruciatingly slowly dawning awareness of what has happened, and that he must come to his own realisation without the guidance of another loved one. It was that slow and detailed process of Bambi’s realisation which really hit home on the reality of death and what kind of an impact losing your mother could have. In fact, from the research that I did it, Bambi and The Lion King are costantly referenced as the two hardest-hitting Disney shows for young audiences, and which seem to have most resonance for those in their twenties. All of which is to say, that entertainment and performance has a crucial role to play in educating children about the reality and inevitability of death.

While much of this post is a review of Alvin Sputnik, I particularly wanted to explore the importance of performances such as this for children: not only to understand the reality of death, but also its educative and preparatory value in exposing children to the reality of climate change, the changes that may happen to the planet, the ceasing of the earth as we know it, and the deaths which are likely to occur as a result of this change.

It seems to me that in a world in which the extent of climate change is still much debated, and in which at a political level the establishment of measures to mitigate climate change is glacially slow (pardon the pun), it is really in the arts and in performances such as this, particularly those which reach a young audience, in which education about and preparation for the reality of climate change is able to happen. This will hopefully make some difference to the way humanity develops response measures during this coming generation’s life-time.

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer is created and performed by Tim Watts. It is a Weeping Spoon Production, currently produced by the Perth Theatre Company.

http://www.weepingspoon.com/AlvinSputnik/Welcome.html

Chucking Bricks in Christchurch

Christchurch has lost it’s chimneys. Perhaps it should have lost them before this. Tens of thousands of homes now have holes in their ceilings after their chimneys collapsed in the feburary earthquake, and now residents can’t light fires when they need them most. I am not a great fan of chimneys anyway. We don’t live in the stone age, and just plain burning stuff is a stone age way of heating, no matter how romantic it may be. If going to the toilet on the footpath was romantic, then it’d be behaviour on a par environmentally with heating your home by using a fire.

But Christchurch was a city built disregarding it’s environment anyway. Someone just let a town sprawl out over a shallow windless depression of drained marshland, and then let people heat everything in it with coal and wood. Many of them still did until a few weeks back. I used to live in Lytellton and cycle to work in Christchurch over the bridle path track. I’d crest that hill, sweating, at 8.30am of an autumn morning, and ahead would be a lake of coal smoke with a few tall buildings poking up through it. I’ve commuted by bicycle in Los Angeles and London as well, and Christchurch was worse to ride in than either because of it’s dependence on this insane victorian style of heating.

I like a room with a mantlepiece and a fireplace, but I really just like leaning on the mantlepiece and pretending to smoke a pipe. A fireplace nicely breaks up a boring wall, and is handy for putting bookshelves up on each side of, but actually lighting a fire in an open fireplace isn’t something that happens much in my experience. Uncontained wood burns with amazing swiftness, and almost all the heat produced by it goes straight up the chimney and warms the globe rather than warming you. Woodburners of course aren’t quite so inefficient, and they don’t need those two or three metric tonnes of brick that you can feel hanging over you in these shakey isles either. Woodburners just need a shaft of pipe, and that isn’t going to collapse and hurt anyone, or take a large chunk of roof down with it either.

I’ve lived in many old houses with chimneys, and I’ve liked all those houses, so it’s odd that I should be arguing against a part of them, but I just can’t help myself. Chimneys are inefficient, and whilst I love old buildings, I’ve never seen chimneys as being defining points of their character. If you’ve ever looked across the London rooftops, out over that sea of grotty victorian and edwardian sprawl that ends in an assault of brick on the sky, you’ll know that it’s one of the most sordid and grimy views that the world has. All that those ranks of chimneys speak of is the bad old industrial revolution. Child labour, coal smoke, the mill-worker’s failing lungs, the seamstress’s clouded eyes.

I haven’t liked the old houses I’ve lived in because they’ve had chimneys, but because they’ve been beautiful houses, even if sometimes their charm has been that of decaying grandeur. One house in Aro Valley had two chimneys that were unusable and lacked witches hats, but also had a peaked roof with a fine view. We ran left and right speaker cables down the chimneys and set a waterproofed speaker atop each, and lo, with the addition of a decent ladder a summer of fun afternoons was born.

There was another hatless chimney which used to moan oddly on windy nights. When it started to smell as well as moan I excavated it and found a dead possum atop of a lot of wet 80’s newspapers that were stuffed up there. I buried the possum, gave up on heating the room, and just put some ferns in the fireplace to catch the drips. They thrived. I didn’t.

An issue like redundant chimneys in New Zealand feels a very small thing to be concerned about in respect of the serious devastation in Japan, a country that’s never been cursed with these weighty pieces of victorian architecture. In the context of Japan’s earthquake I could grumble about nuclear power, or our insane reliance on oil, and what is more I could argue with much more force and vigour about these things than I can about chimneys. But people have long been talking about the problems with nuclear power and with oil, and no-one’s listened, and nothing’s changed, and in the mean time I might as well make an argument for getting rid of these mildly dangerous and mostly obsolete structures all around us. I doubt that the powers that be have much vested interest in chimneys, so here we might actually make a difference.

I just feel that rooftops are prime places for better things. All of our energy comes from the sun in some way (except for geologic energy and nuclear energy, and we’ve had enough of those), and rooftops are sun-traps. Brick chimneys aren’t hard to dismantle either if you tackle them carefully in a top-down fashion. I feel more people should get up there and do things with all that sun-drenched space.

You could divert your guttering to collect rainwater for the garden, or throw up a solar water-heating panel. I know of people who’ve successfully dissembled their chimney down to the mantlepiece without even putting up scaffolding.   Sure, a non-structural chimney is work to remove, but it’s not difficult work. And then you’ve got a fine hole just waiting for a skylight.

And a pile of bricks for the garden.

 

Marcus McShane

 

 

For practical advice:

http://forum.doityourself.com/fireplaces-heating-stoves-flues-chimneys/197333-removing-chimney.html

http://www.ehow.com/how_5034337_remove-victorian-brick-chimney.html

 

 

Cc update

I’m completely confused by whats happening to the climate change movement.  Since China effectively destroyed any last trace of hope for something to happen at the Copenhagen Conference there has been a stunning silence from most parties.  It must be a tactic of withdraw, gather energy and re-strategize.  In recent days there has been a few interesting developments which I’ll link to here.

The first is Scientific legend James Lovelock, who is in his 90s now and awesomely is going to be one of the first people to head into space on a commercial space flight, has commented humanity is ‘too stupid to prevent climate change’, which is sort of insulting but one can’t help but feel that we are showing a remarkable inability to rationally change our behavior in the face of overwhelming evidence.

“I don’t think we’re yet evolved to the point where we’re clever enough to handle a complex a situation as climate change. The inertia of humans is so huge that you can’t really do anything meaningful.”

“One of the main obstructions to meaningful action is “modern democracy”, he added. “Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.”

This point seems worthy of discussion.  If the imperfect political democratic processes we use are too slow to deal with a crises, then how to we assure that the temporary seizure of the power is done reasonably.  The example of war that Lovelock is a depressing precedent for how executive power is often abused, think Iraq, Vietnam, Falklands etc.  This also raises the strange prospect that China iron grip over its large populous and industry maybe the one thing that can safe us from ourselves.

One of the more ridiculous statements made by Climate Change sceptics is that scientists are riding a gravy train of funding which encourages them to support CG.  Given the awesome power of Industrial and Corporate lobbyist and the clear examples of two-bit CG scientist skeptics getting flown around the world to promote the skeptic view this always struck me as a mis-directed charge.  Greenpeace has just released a report that gets in behind the lobbyists and shows the vast money that goes into supporting the corporate position.  Report identifies Koch Industries giving $73m to climate sceptic groups ‘spreading inaccurate and misleading information’

The obvious line to draw between these two articles is that its not so much humanity that is too stupid to deal with this crises, but that we are allowing ourselves to be held ransom by powerful self interested groups that to acknowledge a reality which might threaten their power or their modes of existence.

The question is, given limited time, how to we get out of this bind?

Should to Shall

pal·in·drome (p?l?n-dr?m) n.

  1. A word, phrase, verse, or sentence that reads the same backward or forward. For example: A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!
  2. A segment of double-stranded DNA in which the nucleotide sequence of one strand reads in reverse order to that of the complementary strand.

The dictionary definition aligning  language with DNA makes for a convenient metaphor. Words are after all much like the building blocks of our whole whatchamacallit matrix.

In the video below, the words make the opposite of a palindrome. Instead of reading the same  both forwards and backwards, the message is the exact opposite when read in reverse, reclaiming the pessimistic view that there’s just no hope in our generation. It’s likely to warm the cockles of your heart.

The video has been youtube’s version of an Avatar blockbuster. It was made for a competition with AARP – American Association of Retired Persons – that strange “NGO”/insurance provider for people over 50. Even stranger, it was inspired by this political advertisement from Argentina.

Continue reading Should to Shall

The Fire this Time: Copenhagen and the War for the Future

This is some very very good writing taken from this website called WorldChanging.com. Go there and read it.

“That which is unsustainable cannot go on. Unsustainable things that are propped up too long snap and collapse suddenly. Our way of life is unsustainable. The sooner we transform our economy into one that can generate sustainable prosperity, the better off we’ll be, and with every passing day, the risks of catastrophe grow larger and more certain. We need change now.

These shouldn’t be radical statements; they’re all demonstrably true. Yet they cleave right down the middle of what is fast becoming the largest generation gap in at least 40 years, a growing split between people under 30 and people over 60.

When confronted with generational conflict, we naturally tend to see the elders as seasoned and realistic, and the youth as passionate and ethical, and to seek a middle ground of tempered realism. Middle ground is going to become increasingly hard to find in this debate, though. That’s because realism now means very different, incompatible things to the two generations.

And this is what most older observers seem to refuse to understand: The world looks dramatically different if the year 2050 is one you’re likely to be alive to see. To younger people, Copenhagen isn’t some do-gooder meeting; it’s the first major battle in a war for the future. Their future. I’m in my middle years, in between the two groups, yet even I can see that this war is about to get a lot more heated—far more heated than anything we’ve seen in half a century. To younger people, this isn’t just policy, it’s personal.

To be young and aware today is to see your elders burning our civilization down around our ears. To hear scientists tell us we’re in the final countdown, with the risk of runaway climate change (along with the ecosystem collapses and horrific human suffering it will bring) mounting with every day we run business as usual. To hear nearly a chorus of credible voices—from doctors and scientists to retired generals and former bankers— warning that to lose this fight is to lose everything that makes our world livable and gives the future hope.

You wouldn’t think a war could start over such simple ideas.

To be young and aware is to see old people—from the U.S. Senate to Wall Street, from newspaper editorial desks to corporate boardrooms—stalling action on every front, spouting platitudes about “balance,” committing themselves wholeheartedly to actions to be undertaken long after they’ve retired and died. To be told that the world’s scientists are participating in a giant hoax; to be chided for not understanding how the real world works; to be warned that doing the right thing will bankrupt us; to be told that not wanting to melt the ice caps and circle the equator in deserts makes you too radical to take seriously.

To be young and aware is to know you’re being lied to; to know that a bright green future is possible; to know that we can reimagine the world, rebuild our cities, redesign our lives, retool our factories, distribute innovation and creativity and all live in a world that is not only better than the alternative, but much better than the world we have now.

To be young and aware is to suspect that, in the end, the debate about climate action isn’t about substance, but about rich old men trying to squeeze every last dollar, euro, and yen from their investments in outdated industries. It is to agree with the environmentalist Paul Hawken that we have an economy that steals the future, sells it in the present, and calls it GDP. It is to begin to see your elders as cannibals with golf clubs.”

…continue here for more,

but what are your thoughts?

Reproduction of the Copenhagen Editorial

Well, Copenhagen has begun.  What has been called the most important meeting in human history has started, it will be analysed and discussed to death in the media so I won’t go into anything here apart from reproducing the extraordinary Copenhagen Editorial that has just been published in 56 papers in 45 countries around the world.  It is clear and well written document about the present need for urgency.  Here it is:

Fourteen days to seal history’s judgment on this generation

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

Continue reading Reproduction of the Copenhagen Editorial

Climate Change Camp NZ

The world waits with collective breath held to see if the upcoming Copenhagen conference can produce anything more than hot air.   To coincide with this epic global event is the first NZ version of the climate change camps that have been run in England for some years.  The British version of the climate camps describes itself

“The Climate Camp is a place for anyone who wants to take action on climate change; for anyone who’s fed up with empty government rhetoric and corporate spin; for anyone who’s worried that the small steps they’re taking aren’t enough to match the scale of the problem; and for anyone who’s worried about our future and wants to do something about it.

I’ve been wondering in the past few years why humanity was so will to make significant sacrifices in the 20th Century for causes such as gender equality, ending apartheid, anti-nuclear campaigns, gay rights to name a few, yet when we face what is arguably the most significant and likely threat to our survival on the planet as it is today we are timid, unsure and uncommitted.   As the younger generation we have some cause to be angry with the powers that have been ignoring  climate science for 3o or years,  but if we don’t take action now to alter our cause then we are equally responsible for the damaging centuries to come.   We can complain about the short-sightness of politicians all we want, we can be dismayed at the mis direction of economists, and we can be angry with the baby boomers for blowing the greatest generation of wealth we may ever know, but if we don’t take take responsibility to act when the time is called for then we are merely a silent part of the problem.

So when grass roots events like the NZ Climate Camp come along it is a great chance to educate ourselves and direct our actions positively.  Have a look at the nice website, and contact them if you have anything to offer.

Camp for Climate Action Aotearoa

siwinner

Its hotting up!

With the critical Copenhagen meeting coming up soon the debate about global warming and the appropriate response is finally reaching the intensity it deserves.  In New Z, the current Minister for the Environment is leading the government to a very mild commitment of 15% and appallingly this is been sold to the population based on incorrrect and misleading data.  This tactic shows either a remarkable willingness to deceive the public, or a embarrasing lack of understanding of what is probably the most important issue of our lifetimes.A fantastic analysis by Keith Ng of Public Address of this can be found at:  Public Address

Over at the Guardian, George Manbiot has taken aim at one of the commonly cited complaints from Climate Change deniers that they are being censored. “One of the allegations made repeatedly by climate change deniers is that they are being censored. There’s just one problem with this claim: they have yet to produce a single valid example. On the other hand, there are hundreds of examples of direct attempts to censor climate scientists.

Read the Guardian Article here.

I’m still dismayed by the popular response to the dangers coming our way.  We were more than willing to fight for Civil rights, Womens liberations, end to wars, and even saving the whales…

Why now when the biggest danger we have known is staring us in the face we are unable to muster a good strong response? Is it because there is no easy enemy apart from ourselves?

Stark Reminder

We should mostly be aware of the importance of the time we exist in, and how the next few years ahead of us are critical in dealing with  the various economic and environmental threats we face.  It is however important to remind ourselves of the nature of these threats.  This is a very well elaborated talk from Jeremy Rifkin.  Don’t let his slightly annoying delivery get in the way of the importance of what his is discussing. Quite inspirational.

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