My kinds of place.
Archive for May, 2007
From John Vidal’s article on the Stansted airport expansion:
The Stansted public inquiry, which began today and may last six months, will be the greatest test yet of the government’s direction. BAA, which owns Stansted, wants to greatly expand the existing capacity of Britain’s leading “cheap flights” airport by 40%, from 25 to 35 million passengers a year, and later to double the size of the airport with a second runway. This will be good for business, good for jobs, good for the UK, good for the local economy and good for families wanting to go on holiday, they say.On the other side, the environment groups are spitting. Stansted is their new line in the sand, the Newbury of the airways, the unacceptable face of constant economic growth. Allowing the airport to expand to take another 200 flights or more a day, they say, signals that BAA does not care a fig for national commitments to climate change. Impassioned Inuits on the frontline of climate change, scientists and others will show that for all the government’s huff and puff about global warming, the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions are still rising; and if Stansted is allowed to keep growing, then we will never meet our targets.
But this inquiry is not just about climate change. This is a beautiful part of Essex, treasured by very many people for its countryside and community. Already, people from miles around the airport testify to how the quality of life in the region is rapidly deteriorating as cheap flights literally take off. Those living closest to the airport, tell of the constant noise and light pollution; further afield, the fly parking and increased road traffic, the litter and the accidents, the whole faster speed of life, is said to be becoming unbearable.
I’m glad he wrote the last paragraph. This is about the kind of life the government encourages us to live. Some might say it’s not the government’s role to dictate. I agree. But there’s no question governments and planners the world over influence the choices available to people. John Vidal is prepared to bet £10 the government will have a change of heart and at last draw a line in the sand.
Whilst I think Simon Schama’s History of Britain DVD series excellent and enjoyable, it upholds the long, noble tradition of history primarily being about homo sapiens. In my view, all the visuals, and places visited by the series’ production team reinforce the notion that the ‘Britain’ in the title is merely backdrop and scene-setting to the real drama, the human one. The perspective that homo sapiens is of a different order to the rest of the natural world (an order that’s self-contained, separate and uniquely capable and innovative) could be more self-fulfilling prophecy than definitive truth. It’s a perspective that’s a tad simplistic and fails to grapple with the paradox of us being both apart from and a part of the wider world – IMHO. So how can this paradox be better conveyed through a museum-cum-exhibition? I wonder…
Food for thought is this video about our close, more-than-human relative, the bonobo monkey. Savage-Rumbaugh moves me more than the strained, reverential tones of Sir Richard Attenborough, probably because she’s coming from a place of lived knowledge, where she interacts with and gets to know her subject as a subject. I’ve always found Attenborough difficult to listen to, probably because he has tended to operate using describing knowledge, relating information about his objects of interest as objects. From my perspective, it’s sadly little surprise that the bonobo is close to extinction. If they have to be in a zoo, let’s not shield the public’s gaze from bonobos, just because of their very-human sexual behaviour. Or would this be voyeuristic? If so, what then is a zoo?
From today’s Guardian Unlimited:
Alarmed by the effeminacy of the violet-hued blob Tinky Winky, Ewa Sowinska, a [Polish] government official in charge of children’s rights, has asked psychologists to determine whether the TV show promotes homosexuality, which could lead to a recommendation to take it off the air.
An article on Neil MacGregor’s talk at the Hay Festival relays the lovely anecdote of C19th European slave traders meeting West African kings to find the kings already owning European objects… from the C.14th. I agree with MacGregor in that we need new ways of doing/engaging with history, and I like the aspiration of running the British Museum as a means to cement connections between people. I also intuitively feel that there are dimensions of ‘doing’ history that need consciously acknowledging: its poetry, its storytelling role in evoking experience, and its connections with the living world and contemporary place.
In 2006, Chinese government ministries closed down 3,176 enterprises because of environmental pollution. And I’ve just heard on the grapevine – though can’t find confirmation on the net, yet – that companies doing business with China from January 2008 will need to have a sustainability policy in place. Some good news, then… if, of course, you still have a job.
Jeremy Leggett, head of Solar Century, has just heard David Milliband, the UK Environment Minister, speak about climate change at the Hay-on-Wye Literature Festival. Promising signals from the Government seem to have come to little, what with the reinstatement of the nuclear option by the prime minister; Leggett has some interesting things to say about institutional predispositions in the Civil Service.
Renewables and efficiency have not been given a chance to show what they are capable of in the UK. I now believe that is primarily because of a particular culture that exists at senior levels in the civil service, especially the DTI. This culture holds that grown-ups get their energy from big central power plants, always have and always will. A few bolt-on adjustments to the status quo might be needed because of climate change, but not a whole new paradigm.The DTI energy mandarins simply do not have the belief, in the right places, that there are new, decentralised ways of powering our economies so long as we enable markets for them in the short term. In that, they are missing the things seen as obvious by their counterparts in Japan, Germany, California and other places.
I suspect the organisation of the various government departments may also be a detrimental influence. Their structuring probably isn’t equipped to handle these new technologies: where does the development of renewables fit? DEFRA, DTI, 10 Downing St, Treasury? It sounds like a classic systems issue of definining boundaries. As a result of a lack of vision and clarity, I doubt there is good coordination between them on this, given the apparent failure of the Government to practice what they said they would do early on when they came to power, namely, to think and act in more joined-up ways. (I also suspect that Blair’s principle driver in his nuclear-energy decision is to ensure a domestic supply of fissile material for submarines, so the MoD is probably also lurking in a corner of this particular bun fight.)
Interesting post by Ray Ison on fundamentalism, which he suggests operates in both scientific and religious spheres as a way of evading responsibility. This is rather a, if not the, big and hot potato. It’s one that makes my earlobes begin to twitch, what with my history as an undergraduate theologian who studied the relationship between science and religion. I’m happy letting that conversation run on without me for the time being, though. But it’s a potentially good one nonetheless.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m making preparations already for an art installation that’ll be part of a rural sculpture trail, held next year in 2008. An idea I’m kicking around is to build a cloud chamber in the woodland glade. Here’s my initial design:
Putting the design to paper helped in talking it through with my father (who owns the land) and a builder – the brilliant Alan – who thinks it’s feasible but will need some design input if he’s to get involved; specifically an elevation and clarity about the structure of the roof. I’d like to make the walls with straw bales and cover the whole thing with earth. Rectangular straw bales should be cheap and reasonably available locally, but most farmers produce huge circular bales today that aren’t much cop as building bricks.
The idea of the cloud chamber is a version of the age-old camera obscura, utilised by a British land artist, Chris Drury, for example, as he did in Kent:
It works like a pinhole camera, with optical lenses being unnecessary, and the light of the sun being enough to project an image onto some kind of backdrop, in this case the ground. Of course, it is possible to use lenses and a bit of simple technical wizardry to create a crystal clear image, like that of a US-based photographer who sets his kit up in city office blocks or hotel rooms; I suspect either way – au naturel or urban chic – is enchanting but, to be frank, I of course prefer au naturel.