Quote of the week

Pretty clear…

best things

(Photo taken in a surfer’s changing room Manu Bay, New Zealand (thanks Simon))

Elephants and Morphic Fields

Okay then, here’s one of those stories you either dismiss as crazy, suggest is coincidence or consider the possibility that there maybe more to the world that we current understand.  I’m in the latter group because if one dismisses anything that one doesn’t understand that just smacks of arrogance to me.  The arrogance of believing that our understanding and view of the world is complete and anything that doesn’t conform to that is ‘wrong’.   A bit like the ‘flat earth-ists’, or the ‘earth is at the centre of universe-ists’.

The story also fits in with Rupert Sheldrake’s work on Morphic Fields – for example the idea that dogs have a telepathic relationship with their owners.

Crazy dogs and elephants or there is more to than things that we understand?

Author and legendary conservationist Lawrence Anthony died March 2. His family tells of a solemn procession of Elephants that defies human explanation.
For 12 hours, two herds of wild South African elephants slowly made their way through the Zululand bush until they reached the house of late author Lawrence Anthony, the conservationist who saved their lives.The formerly violent, rogue elephants, destined to be shot a few years ago as pests, were rescued and rehabilitated by Anthony, who had grown up in the bush and was known as the “Elephant Whisperer.”
For two days the herds loitered at Anthony’s rural compound on the vast Thula Thula game reserve in the South African KwaZulu – to say good-bye to the man they loved. But how did they know he had died? Known for his unique ability to calm traumatized elephants, Anthony had become a legend. He is the author of three books, Babylon Ark, detailing his efforts to rescue the animals at Baghdad Zoo during the Iraqi war, the forthcoming The Last Rhinos, and his bestselling The Elephant Whisperer.
There are two elephant herds at Thula Thula. According to his son Dylan, both arrived at the Anthony family compound shortly after Anthony’s death.“They had not visited the house for a year and a half and it must have taken them about 12 hours to make the journey,” Dylan is quoted in various local news accounts. “The first herd arrived on Sunday and the second herd, a day later. They all hung around for about two days before making their way back into the bush.”Elephants have long been known to mourn their dead. In India, baby elephants often are raised with a boy who will be their lifelong “mahout.” The pair develop legendary bonds – and it is not
Uncommon for one to waste away without a will to live after the death of the other.
A line of elephants approaching the Anthony house, but these are wild elephants in the 21st century, not some Rudyard Kipling novel.The first herd to arrive at Thula Thula several years ago were violent. They hated humans. Anthony found himself fighting a desperate battle for their survival and their trust, which he detailed in The Elephant Whisperer:“It was 4:45 a.m. And I was standing in front of Nana, an enraged wild elephant, pleading with her in desperation. Both our lives depended on it. The only thing separating us was an 8,000-volt electric fence that she was preparing to flatten and make her escape.“Nana, the matriarch of her herd, tensed her enormous frame and flared her ears.“’Don’t do it, Nana,’ I said, as calmly as I could. She stood there, motionless but tense. The rest of the herd froze.“’This is your home now,’ I continued. ‘Please don’t do it, girl.’I felt her eyes boring into me.
Anthony, Nana and calf “’They’ll kill you all if you break out. This is your home now. You have no need to run any more.’“Suddenly, the absurdity of the situation struck me,” Anthony writes. “Here I was in pitch darkness, talking to a wild female elephant with a baby, the most dangerous possible combination, as if we were having a friendly chat. But I meant every word. ‘You will all die if you go. Stay here. I will be here with you and it’s a good place.’“She took another step forward. I could see her tense up again, preparing to snap the electric wire and be out, the rest of the herd smashing after her in a flash.“I was in their path, and would only have seconds to scramble out of their way and climb the nearest tree. I wondered if I would be fast enough to avoid being trampled. Possibly not.“Then something happened between Nana and me, some tiny spark of recognition, flaring for the briefest of moments. Then it was gone. Nana turned and melted into the bush. The rest of the herd followed. I couldn’t explain what had happened between us, but it gave me the
first glimmer of hope since the elephants had first thundered into my life.”
Elephants gathering at the Anthony home It had all started several weeks earlier with a phone call from an elephant welfare organization. Would Anthony be interested in adopting a problem herd of wild elephants? They lived on a game reserve 600 miles away and were “troublesome,” recalled Anthony.“They had a tendency to break out of reserves and the owners wanted to get rid of them fast. If we didn’t take them, they would be shot.“The woman explained, ‘The matriarch is an amazing escape artist and has worked out how to break through electric fences. She just twists the wire around her tusks until it snaps, or takes the pain and smashes through.’“’Why me?’ I asked.“’I’ve heard you have a way with animals. You’re right for them. Or maybe they’re right for you.’”What followed was heart-breaking. One of the females and her baby were shot and killed in the round-up, trying to evade capture.
The French version of “The Elephant Whisperer”“When they arrived, they were thumping the inside of the trailer like a gigantic drum. We sedated them with a pole-sized syringe, and once they had calmed down, the door slid open and the matriarch emerged, followed by her baby bull, three females and an 11-year-old bull.”Last off was the 15-year-old son of the dead mother. “He stared at us,” writes Anthony, “flared his ears and with a trumpet of rage, charged, pulling up just short of the fence in front of us.“His mother and baby sister had been shot before his eyes, and here he was, just a teenager, defending his herd. David, my head ranger, named him Mnumzane, which in Zulu means ‘Sir.’ We christened the matriarch Nana, and the second female-in-command, the most feisty, Frankie, after my wife.“We had erected a giant enclosure within the reserve to keep them safe until they became calm enough to move out into the reserve proper.“Nana gathered her clan, loped up to the fence and stretched out her trunk, touching the electric wires. The 8,000-volt charge sent a jolt shuddering through her bulk. She backed off. Then, with her family in tow, she strode the entire perimeter of the enclosure, pointing her trunk at the wire to check for vibrations from the electric current.
“As I went to bed that night, I noticed the elephants lining up along the fence, facing out towards their former home. It looked ominous. I was woken several hours later by one of the reserve’s rangers, shouting, ‘The elephants have gone! They’ve broken out!’ The two adult elephants had worked as a team to fell a tree, smashing it onto the electric fence and then charging out of the enclosure.
“I scrambled together a search party and we raced to the border of the game reserve, but we were too late. The fence was down and the animals had broken out.
“They had somehow found the generator that powered the electric fence around the reserve. After trampling it like a tin can, they had pulled the concrete-embedded fence posts out of the ground like matchsticks, and headed north.”
The reserve staff chased them – but had competition.
“We met a group of locals carrying large caliber rifles, who claimed the elephants were ‘fair game’ now. On our radios we heard the wildlife authorities were issuing elephant rifles to staff. It was now a simple race against time.”
Anthony managed to get the herd back onto Thula Thula property, but problems had just begun:
“Their bid for freedom had, if anything, increased their resentment at being kept in captivity. Nana watched my every move, hostility seeping from every pore, her family behind her. There was no doubt that sooner or later they were going to make another break for freedom.
“Then, in a flash, came the answer. I would live with the herd. To save their lives, I would stay with them, feed them, talk to them. But, most importantly, be with them day and night. We all had to get to know each other.”
It worked, as the book describes in detail, notes the London Daily Mail newspaper.
Anthony was later offered another troubled elephant – one that was all alone because the rest of her herd had been shot or sold, and which feared humans. He had to start the process all over again.
And as his reputation spread, more “troublesome” elephants were brought to Thula Thula.
So, how after Anthony’s death, did the reserve’s elephants — grazing miles away in distant parts of the park — know?
“A good man died suddenly,” says Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, Ph.D., “and from miles and miles away, two herds of elephants, sensing that they had lost a beloved human friend, moved in a solemn, almost ‘funereal’ procession to make a call on the bereaved family at the deceased man’s home.”
“If there ever were a time, when we can truly sense the wondrous ‘interconnectedness of all beings,’ it is when we reflect on the elephants of Thula Thula. A man’s heart’s stops, and hundreds of elephants’ hearts are grieving. This man’s oh-so-abundantly loving heart offered healing to these elephants, and now, they came to pay loving homage to their friend.”
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Too early to tell

Been mildly obsessed with not watching the news given recent events with, for example, Jimmy Savile and the Newtown shootings.  This desire to step out of the constant news cycle has been guided by thoughts from Adam Curtis in this interview and Will Self in this great example from the fantastic Point of View series on BBC Radio.  They both suggest that the need for the news industry to always have something to say distorts our understanding and perception of the world.  That ‘now’ is the most important thing no … hold on … here’s another story that’s now more important.  This constant presence that the latest thing is always the most important thing with little or no analysis or context as to why or for the story being told is similar in many ways to Twitter and blogging (ahem).  This way of seeing the world can clearly be seen as extending out into consumerism with ever shortening fashion cycles and technology updates (soft and hard).

The latest is all you need to be concerned with.

So, it was refreshing to come across two different stories recently.

nixchou

The first was about a supposed conversation, in 1972, between Richard Nixon and the then Chinese Prime Minister Chou En Lai.  When Tricky Dicky asked En Lai what he thought of the historic impact of the French Revolution, he apparently replied ‘Too early to tell’.

Ishmael_book cover

The second is an excellent novel – Ishmael by Daniel Quinn (thanks Chris).  It’s about a telepathic conversation between a man and a gorilla.  In it, the gorilla provides a time-line of humanity and suggests that the beginning and root of mans unsustainable attitudes and behaviour began with the Agricultural Revolution c.12,000 years ago.  This is when we decided to override the natural balance and take control of our own food supply thus beginning the chain of events which has seen us override the natural balance into the precarious environmental state that we see today.

This lack of seeing the longer view is really fascinating. We seem to see things on a shorter and shorter time horizon, arguably with less and less understanding of the context from which those events arise from.   Maybe we should be listening to the gorilla and asking about the impact of events 12,000 years ago?  But I think the answer to that might be ‘it’s too early to tell’.

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Responsible for Reality

Been very much off the radar recently as I’ve been putting the finishing touches to my Masters paper, but as part of this, had what I think is a good thought.  Well, I like it.  It goes something like this:

‘What is reality?’ is a question that’s come up ALOT on the course for me, but I’ve come to realise something quite important about it.  ‘Reality’ is what I experience in the moment.  It is what is happening right now as I’m tying this and right now as you’re reading it.  What happened a minute ago is not reality as it’s the past.  What’s going to happen in a minutes time is not reality as that’s the future.  The only definite thing I can be sure about; the only reality that is certain is what is happening in this lived moment.  This precise moment and only this moment is true and real.  As a result I have a responsibility to decide what I want that reality to be.  Do I want it be full of interesting things or boring things?  Do I want it to be relaxing or stressful?  I have to take that responsibility for myself.  A large part of the reality I experience is what I can see and what I can hear – what I get from my senses.  As a result, my surroundings count for a lot when it comes to my reality.  Therefore, what stimulus do I want to be receiving?  Do I want to spend more time seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting things that make me feel good, whether they be things of beauty, uplifting people and good food?  Is that the reality that I want?  Or do I want to spend more time seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting things that make me feel bad?  Like ugly things, people that bring me down or poor food?  Is that the reality that I want?  This is my responsibility.

But more than this, because others affect my reality it is of course true that I affect theirs.  So, what reality do I want to create for them and myself?  I have that responsibility as well.  I believe that everyone has that responsibility.  If I am in people’s lives then I am affect their lived experience.  So, what way do I want to affect their reality?  Do I want to try and make it a more positive experience?  Do I want to say things that I think that they will like and appreciate?  Or do I want to make it an average experience?  Or a negative experience?  Every act has an impact so I need to decide what I want to do.  This isn’t about buying gifts to make things better, this is about how I converse and ‘am’ in the moment.  About being someone I’d want to be around, or someone I might be indifferent to, someone who moans alot or someone that isn’t very pleasant?  It’s pretty simple really.

The interesting thing about this comes to TV and advertising.  People are exposed to lots of TV and advertising – upwards of 4 hours a day.  As a TV company or an advertiser, what is the reality you want to create for people?  What is your point of view on what that experience should be?  Is it about creating content which presents the viewer with someone you know they will compare themselves to?  Is that a good thing?  Is it about watching people trying to beat each other in a reality show?  Is that a good thing?  Is it about people working together to achieve something?  Is that a good thing?  No content is neutral.  Everything affects the nature of people’s reality and so if you’re in the content business you should have an editorial point of view on the nature of reality that you are trying to create.  That is the reality.

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Letter from the Future

Since the doom-laden post about the recent Bill McKibben piece in Rolling Stone, it was good to come across a project from Sustainable Wales (thanks Chris).  It’s called Letters from the Future whereby they’ve got writers to ‘send back’ letters from parents to children based on their projections of what life will be like then.

Things will have changed (obv.) but certainly more positive than how McKibben would have us see it.  (That’s not to say that McKibben hasn’t go it more right though of course).

Anyway, it’s good that artists are engaging in this stuff.  Here’s a sample:

 

2030.  Letter to a son.

By Robert Minhinnick 

You said I was mad but I wanted to show you. So I collected rainwater, then found an oak tree. Not long ago I couldn’t have told you one thing about an oak. But around here oaks used to cover everything. That’s why you see the word deri so often. See, I’m learning from the landscape. And from you.

Then I found the oak tree’s galls, which are blisters on the leaves. I scraped them off and crushed them. Next I added some copper sulphate crystals that were hanging about in the garage – grandad used them to get a better blue from the hydrangeas. Last, I bought some gum arabic from that new art shop where Pound World was. Mixed it up. And I’m writing this down in my own ink.

Okay, I could have sent an attachment zinging round the planet. But I want to show you maybe we can’t rely on electricity forever. You know the ration hours: 7am till 11am, 6pm till 9pm.

But the young adapt quickly. When the government abandoned the Severn Barrage last year, it made us think. All that wasted effort and money, with a gap of only five miles from where they’d started over at Brean Down, and down in Lavernock, our side. But it wouldn’t return the investment. So now there are two enormous concrete piers in the Severn. Everybody calls it a catastrophe. But we can learn from it. The graffiti’ s fantastic they say.

One of my blogging butties calls these days the dangerous here and now. I love that phrase. Because, dangerous or not, this now is the best time of my life.

Yes, it’s different from the past. People say it’s ‘the Emergency’. But somehow it’s more real. I’ve learned to look around and ask what’s here – the land, the weather – and be involved in it all. I think about history and how it made us. Language, even. After all this time Welsh makes sense. Now I know what melin and pandy mean, and why those places are called what they’re called. Melin and pandy and ton and gwaith and nant. How they explain the land and what we do with it. As if words themselves were the landscape. Words like deri.

But you know I’m not one of the new Luddites. Moaning on in sackcloth they’ve woven themselves. Or the smug greenies, saying I-told-you-so. Those tipi villages on the banks of the Taff and the Rhymni? You won’t catch me there. Look, I’m not knocking it because in a way the Jeremiahs were right. But I still have faith in The Web. There’s wisdom there for all to find. Yes, the Web will stop that dog-eat-dog attitude we had before the banking crash. And that attitude is still a threat.

The Web shows we cannot return to the old life before the Emergency. There’ll never be business as usual again. Oil was finite and we wasted it. Then all the alternatives, like ethanol, caused problems.

But there’s a billion bloggers out there with ingenious schemes. And an infinity of practical tips. Where did this ink come from? The Web of course. It’s adapted from a medieval recipe.

Wind? The turbines on Mynydd Maendy are vital now. But the thousands of wind farms will never happen. A windmill is beautiful, turbines big as the Eiffel Tower are scary. As to solar, it’s coming. Ha ha. The government says hang on, it’s almost here. Latest plan is painting solar cells on to houses. I’m not holding my breath. But you’ll see it.

True, I never thought we’d run out of… things. There I was, playing Assassin’s Creed on the Play Station, with a takeaway chicken tikka in a polystyrene tray on the desk, a 35p energy drink in an aluminium can, which I’d crumple and chuck, to wash it down. Your father the eco-criminal.

As to politicians, they were always too late. Politics tried to catch up but events just raced away. Suddenly we were telling schools to teach kids to grow food. And how to cook that food. Because the parents, including me, were clueless. We were brought up on TV dinners, so children like you were in charge.

All down to energy, see. And resources. They realised that energy was too important to waste building another rugby stadium.  The government was screaming about making it a producer society, not a consumer society. Because we’d consumed too much. We’d become locusts. So now we had to learn to produce. And I don’t mean plasma screens and Domino’s pizzas, I mean vegetables and DIY manuals and clean water and, yes, art.

The government came up with was a slogan. They’re good at slogans. Nobody spoke about your carbon footprint any more. It was too late for that. But your ‘intellectual footprint’ was the official phrase now. Make yours as big as possible.

After the National Curriculum was abandoned schools became more independent. And they’re smaller, like the one in our street. Cooking, IT, practical science and DIY before 11.a.m when the power’s on. Then gardening, language, maths and the arts – poetry, painting, music – when it’s off.  Brilliant.

Thinking back, I liked school. But when I left I couldn’t boil an egg, grow spuds, change a plug, a tyre or a ball cock. Result? Grief all my life. Now the children run in, happy to learn. And all these schools have their own windmills.

Libraries too. There’s queues for the books and CDs. I used to think libraries were for old people. That libraries weren’t cool.  Well nobody says cool anymore.  We use love instead. And you know what I love? Reading those haiku things in kitchen candlelight. Just little poems, brilliant things, flickering on the page as the candle flame twists and our shadows conspire. I know some off by heart. Here’s one by this character, Issa. Around the time the ironworks were coming to Dowlais, Issa was wandering around Japan, writing poems. Just like some are doing here.

A bath when you’re born

and a bath when you die.

How stupid.

Why has it taken me fifty years to discover that? How stupid. Then there’s that pub, the Old House, in Llangynwyd. They say the building dates from 1150. Apparently they’ve started these triban writing competitions there again. Harder than haiku. It was the centre for local writers, centuries back, and it’s going great. Too far for us to get to, but good to know about. Cracking website, but they say you can’t beat it live.

I remember 2000, the fuel crisis. A warning we ignored. But suddenly oil became too precious to waste making crisp packets. Biofuel? Another pipe dream. All it meant was using a field to grow a crop to turn into a liquid to put into a petroltank so we could drive to see the Dan yr Ogof dinosaurs. Remember them? Now petrol and ethanol are rationed, and boy, are they expensive.

‘Stay home’ is our new mantra. To grow food. To produce, not consume.  Oh yes, consuming is over. We’re producers now. Got to be. And we look after our water. Here, of course, we’ve ample. But it takes energy to pump and heat it. These water wheels they’re building are fine with me, and Dwr Cymru has used sonar to track the tributaries of the Great Spring of Glamorgan.

No, I’d never heard of it before. But six million gallons of fresh water were coming out at Ewenni every day, the cleanest water you’ll ever taste. From a glacier that melted ten thousand years ago in the Beacons.

What’s also great are the seaweed farms down in Ogmore. They were growing it for biofuel, but people said, no, we’ll eat it. The first man doing it is a hero there. He had a driftwood bonfire going and boiled a ton of the stuff. And gave it away, like a soup kitchen. But this was laverbread and the idea’s taken off.

As I keep saying, any food shortages will be sorted out by the new Genetic Engineering Institute. It’s being built near Chepstow, where the army camp was. No-one can get near, it’s all hush hush.

Yes, there are thousands of great schemes. That’s why they’re calling this period the People’s Renaissance. Creativity is a duty now. It could keep us alive. You won’t remember, but we were going to build the new Hollywood on the opencast at Llanharri. True! Well someone’s planting a sweet chestnut forest there now. Government wants us to eat nuts and bake with nut flour. Why not when it’s so much warmer?

Strange but you see more smoke than before. There’s coal being burned. Illegal yes, but it’s all around us. Gangs go into shafts and opencast craters because of black market prices. Okay, I’ve done it myself. There’s that ton in the back garden, because we can’t trust the gas coming through. Yes, for some the black economy is the only economy. You can get mutton and venison, petrol or bio. But it costs.

Around here we were almost ready for the Emergency. After 200 years, we still had roots in the co-operative movement. So we’re good at working together. And all those time-banking schemes, like Creation in Blaengarw, have really expanded. Credit unions are flourishing, while the local currencies are fine by me. Just don’t end up being paid in Treorci dollars when you live in Troedyrhiw.

Yes, we were ready. And it’s better now. I actually talk to neighbours, and we make sure the oldsters are fine. Funny, I used to think Neighbourhood Watch was consumer paranoia. Middle class people scared of losing their X Boxes. But it’s just about mucking in. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?

Hey, real writing’s hard work. I’ll stop now because the neighbours are coming round. Plus your uncle in his latest electric car. Flash git, but he’s bringing his luxury nettle soup. Because Saturday night is story night.  Everybody cooks and we share the booze. Yes, that gooseberry wine. From the south side of the allotment. Like a good Sauvignon Blanc. And we’ll sit in the candlelight, telling our stories. You see, that’s what I’ve learned. That everybody has a story. You have so many already, in so few years. Yet before all this, I never had the chance to tell mine.

Yes, I love story telling. It’s why we’re on the planet. To tell stories about how it was in the past, or what we’re doing in this dangerous here and now. First time when they asked me to join in, I was scared. Didn’t have a clue. But now when I’ve finished telling a tale, and people laugh or slap me on the back, or are quiet for a moment, it seems the most important thing I’ll ever do. Hey, maybe I’ll read this. Maybe I will.

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Sahara causes the Amazon

No.  Really.

In a wonderful example of the complexity of the natural world, there’s a study that shows that half of the nutrients that are used to create the lush Amazonian rainforest are blown over in the wind from the Sahara desert.  I shit you not.  Here’s an edited summary from the marvelous Boing Boing:

“The rainforest is amazing, but the soil it produces isn’t very nutrient rich. All the minerals and nutrients that fertilize the rainforest have to come from someplace else. Specifically: Africa. Scientists have known for a while that this natural fertilizer is crossing the Atlantic in the form of dust storms, but science writer Colin Schultz ran across a 2006 paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters that not only produces evidence for a much larger trans-oceanic transfer of dust than was previously assumed … it also pinpoints the exact (and astoundingly small) location where all the fertilizer in the Amazon is coming from.

The research paper, itself, is pleasantly readable, as far as these things go, so I’m going to quote directly from it. One quick note before I launch into this quote. The authors are measuring the mass of the dust in teragrams (or Tg). As you’re trying to wrap your head around this, it might be helpful to know that 1 Tg = 1 million tons.

A total of 140 (± 40) Tg is deposited in the Atlantic ocean and 50 (± 15) Tg reach and fertilize the Amazon basin. This is four times an older estimate, explaining a paradox regarding the source of nutrients to the Amazon forest. Swap et al suggested that while the source for minerals and nutrients in the Amazon is the dust from Africa, it was estimated that only 13 Tg of dust per year actually arrive in the Amazon. However, they pointed out that 50 Tg are needed to balance the Amazon nutrient budget.

Here we show a remarkable arrangement in nature in which the mineral dust arriving at the Amazon basin from the Sahara actually originates from a single source of only ~ 0.5% of the size of the Amazon: the Bodélé depression. Located northeast of Lake Chad (17°N, 18°E) near the northern border of the Sahel, it is known to be the most vigorous source for dust over the entire globe.

The place the dust is coming from is a single, highly specific region. As Alexis Madrigal pointed out at The Atlantic, we’re talking about a patch of desert only 1/3 the size of Florida supplying the nutrient needs of a jungle that is roughly the same size as all 48 contiguous United States. Mind, blown.”

Indeed.  As the bonus ball, here’s a radio interview with the author of the report:

 

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Changing the world is the only fit work for a grown man

That’s a quote from an ad man called Howard Luck Gossage (great name; great quote) and is the title of a new biography about him.

He ran his own agency in San Francisco back the 1960s when all the action was taking place in New York (Bill Bernback, David Ogilvy, Rosser Reeves).  He had, what seemed at the time and perhaps still now, some pretty crazy ideas about the way advertising should work, which now that I no longer work in an agency, seem exceedingly sensible.  From the book, they include:

Didn’t believe that it was all about growth and the money.  It was about maintaining the quality of the creative work and the culture of the agency.  The agency never grew to be more than 15 people.

He thought about the point of advertising.  As he put it “there is precious little awareness, and no real enquiry into the economic, sociologic or philosophic bases of advertising”.  I would say that this is still the case. I was raised to believe that the point of advertising is to make money for the agency and make money for the client.  No sociologic or philosophic enquiry there.

He believed that pumping out advertising with no real sense of who was receiving it and how it was being received was not only wasteful but unethical.  He said: “I will go further and say that it is not only wrong to attempt to influence an audience without involving it but it is unethical and dishonest”.  Strong words, but this kind of accounts for, at a guess, more than 50% of advertising these days.

He had a theory of the way things work (cybernetics, via Norbert Weiner) which could be applied to advertising.  Cybernetics (roughly) is about recognising that there are feedback loops in the natural world.  So for Gossage, he saw the creation of information loops as beneficial and indeed a life-enhancing way of making people respect others and accept responsibility for their actions.  So, his ads featured ways to engage the audience so that they could help create the next round of work.  No feedback, change the ads.  By involving the consumer and getting their input into the campaign, it was evident that they were enjoying the work and more work would evolve that encouraged further feedback.

In this “he viewed advertising less as a commercial bludgeon and more as a conversation between equals”.  And “people like to be treated as human beings rather than consumers and they react very well to it”.  ‘Go Compare’ anyone?

He was, perhaps unsurprisingly, anti-billboards because he believed that no media owner had the right to sell that media because a billboard interrupted a view that belonged to the people.

One of Gossage’s ads that stopped the Grand Canyon getting flooded

He ended up working on saving the Grand Canyon from getting flooded (via an ad campaign), then helped make the Sierra Club famous before using his skills to launch Friends of the Earth.  To him, this is what advertising should be for: “advertising was too valuable an instrument to waste on commercial products…it justified its existence only when it was used for social purposes”.

So, he said all this, but was also well ahead of his time in terms of thinking about social media, PR-generated stunts and interactive.  What’s interesting is that the back cover of the book is full of modern-day advertising greats talking about how great Gossage was.  For example, Jeff Goodby says “The best of Gossage is the best of advertising ever done, and what’s really amazing is the the work he did foretold what’s happening on the internet and social media right now”.   To me, it’s more interesting to take his thinking in the round – to consider the points that I’ve highlighted above, not just the interactive/social media bit.  It would make for a very different, more purposeful industry, where that purpose is beyond just trying to make money and sell stuff.  Maybe one day more of his ideas will come to pass.  I hope so.

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The simple choice that will determine our future

During the Masters I’ve seen some scary charts and statistics about the speed at which we’re either pumping C02 into the atmosphere or destroying rainforest or the like.  I don’t put these on this blog as they’re just too depressing.

However, I got sent this recently published article from Rolling Stone magazine.  Written by Bill McKibben, it is the most compelling, powerful and scary piece I’ve seen on our predicament.  The reason I’m posting it is because I think it can represent an important moment in whether we, as humans, decide whether we want to act and stop Climate Change.

So, why is it so compelling, powerful and scary?  Because McKibben, to make the things really simple for everyone, has boiled the whole issue down to three numbers.  That’s all you need to know.  Three numbers.

Those numbers are:

2 degrees Celsius:  Scientists agree that this is the upper limit that its safe for us to warm the planet before the wheels start to fall off.  Read that as massive, unpredictable environmental events that will cripple global food supplies, put countries under water, cause water and food wars.  All that stuff and more.  Not good.

565 Gigatons:  This is the amount of carbon dioxide (give or take) that humans can pour into the atmosphere before we reach that 2 degree celsius figure. On current course, we’ll get there mid-century i.e. in about 40 years.

2,795 Gigatons:  This is the amount of carbon contained within the proven oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies and fossil-fuel countries (e.g. Saudi or Kuwait).  Yes, 2,795 is roughly five times bigger than 565.   So, the answer is simple, right?  Stop the energy companies and countries from getting it out of the ground and burning it.  However, whilst the reserves are still in the soil, it’s already economically above ground on balance sheets and in government spending plans.  To prevent those companies and countries from getting the reserves out of the ground is to effectively cripple them.  And those companies and countries are amongst the most powerful in the world.  As McKibben puts it:

“If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn’t pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both. Do the math: 2,795 is five times 565. That’s how the story ends.”

So, if the fossil-fuel companies and countries keep their reserves in their pants we might all survive.  If they don’t, then we don’t.  It’s that simple.

So here’s the deal.  We, the people, have to act to keep the carbon in the ground.  We have to do it because governments have proven that can’t act collectively (see Copenhagen and Rio+20) and big business want to grow.  So, we have to lobby those companies and countries and/or dramatically lower our own footprints and come to terms considerable changes in lifestyle that will entail.  Life will be different and in some ways harder.  If we fail to make that choice and act then life will become much, much more difficult than if we had acted.

So, the choice is clear.  And if we don’t act, now that we know the risks, then frankly, we kinda deserve what we get.  In about 40 years.  Just sayin’ how it is.  Is this depressing?  Actually, no.  This is about taking control, having agency and having some say in what happens in the future, rather than having that future thrust upon us.  It’s all about how you frame it.

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Chance and Change

Been a fan of Richard Long and his Landscape Art for sometime but hadn’t seen any art about Nature that I’d liked for a while.  I then came across this dude, Herman de Vries:

As well as having an awesome beard, he trained as a biologist and then got into art.  (He’s standing next to different clays and muds from around the world as paint).  What he does isn’t that original – displaying Nature,  But he does it in a beautiful way – so, a collage of leaves:

A series of twigs:

Different bits of Nature within a consistent sized frame:

Going into the field, placing a frame behind the grass and photographing it.  So it’s as a live as you can get it:

From…..

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Loop to Loop

How does systemic change happen?  That’s a big question but fortunately, here’s a very simple and powerful explanation.  It’s the Two Loops model from the Berkana Institute:

I think it’s excellent because it at least gives a clear model to start from and think about.  It’s also easy to see interesting examples of this happening in lots of categories.  So, she talks about energy and education and then there’s also finance with the Finance Innovation Lab.

However, there’s a very big gap between the existing loop and the new one.  In thinking about it, I don’t think that’s quite right.  This is because I don’t think if we go from the current loop to a more sustainable one then its going to take the outright collapse of the existing system to give birth to the new one.  The way its drawn is that there is no link and carryover.  I don’t think this is right because, given the nature of business, there are people in business (in the existing loop) that are evolving and already trying out more sustainable ways of doing business that can easily work in the new loop.


So, if the existing system collapses and with it, the idea of the publicly-listed business then it’s likely that co-operatives can be a new way to do business in the new loop.  (Loads of assumptions in here, obv.)  But, John Lewis, the Co-operative are already doing this successfully in the existing loop.  Does this mean that they will not survive the collapse?  Or should they be re-framed as examples of how businesses can successfully work in the new loop?  To be seen a ‘loop-crossers’ or similar?  Similarly, charity shops, freecycle and ebay can be seen as businesses that work very well in the current loop and would be likely to be ‘loop-crossers’ as well.

So, business has always been about creative destruction and it just so happens that some current businesses have evolved in such a way that they’ll do well if we transition to a different loop sometime in the future.  So, if Berkana are right (and it makes a lot of sense to me), then I think that it’s okay to not be as pessimistic as the gap between the two loops suggest.

If you want to get pessimistic you also have to accept that the new loop could be anything, not just a more sustainable one.  Say fascism for example.  Like what happened in Germany when their existing loop collapsed in the 1920/30s.  Just saying.

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