In Praise of Plastic Bags

Sacs PlastiquesA really long time ago (well, you can see from the item above it was 1997), I spotted this entrancing poster in St Savin in France and desperately desired some copies of it. Look at all the shapes and sizes of bags gathered here.  I simply had to have it. We tracked down the exposition but alas it was Mardi and fermi. But the kind owner invited us in for coffee and showed us the sacs plastiques and gave us lots of posters. (There was a wondrous cave of plastic bags of every possible configuation but I loved the poster the most.)

So I salute this long-ago exhibition of the wonders of the throwaway plastic bag. It seems to me that the aim of packaging is to stop you in your tracks from throwing it away and instead make you place it in your Cabinet of Curiosities, preserved for posterity.

Here are some more pieces of packaging that were too exciting to be thrown away:

amarettiThis amaretti packet was the inspiration for the cover of The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon. baking powderA never-ending recursion of tins decorate this baking powder.boy pateI don’t know what lies within this tin – it could be a sort of pâté of little boy. FlanThis FLAN is promising dinner party quality elegance with a hint of flamenco..

ploppThe very jolly PLOPP bar packet, and its friend, the DING DONG.ding dongFollowed by the reassuring tin for Sure Shield Laxatives.sure shield

This PUDING sounds delicious, especially in čokoládový flavour.

pudingThese always seem too beautiful to ever throw away.treacleAnd this is the piece of packaging that started off the story of Hermelin.Cheese Box

So now there is a Plastic Bag Tax, which is mildly inconvenient and some might say futile (in terms of the scale of waste plastic altogether) – but it does show the surprising effectiveness of a smallish tax-based nudge to change behaviour. ….hmmm – what to change next…?

 

PS: Thanks to Whit & Caroline for Plopp, Ding Dong & Boy Pâté.

Wrestling the Octopus

OctosketchsmHere we go again. Every time you think you’ve got all the tentacles covered, another one springs up brandishing something surprising.

Perhaps the tactic is all wrong. Perhaps the Octopus isn’t wrestling after all. Perhaps this is just ordinary Octopus behaviour, an octopus offering. Time to shake hands with the octopus. Repeatedly.

OctoboxsmPS: If you want an octopus to wrestle with too, here are a couple of favourites…

OctoScarrypoulpe colossal 02

The Global Marshmallow Test

(Or: Can you eat your planet and have it too?…)

Global Marshmallow newHere’s a delicious planet, perfectly formed and heaving with life. We’ve had three billion years of pretty good weather, give or take an ice age and the odd mass extinction. But big changes have been happening in the last 10 000 years. The graph of wild animal numbers has gone into free fall. There’s been a huge change in land use to grow food for humans, and the Earth’s settings have been adjusted to new and experimental levels due to extra carbon dioxide in the atmospheric mix. Carbon dioxide is a Good Thing – we’d be too cold for life without it. But a little too much has a big effect on climate. The Earth is a huge old system and the more you find out about past climates the more you wonder what long wild ride is being unleashed right now.


We know we have to do something about this. But the Something we have to do has to be quite a big thing, to really make an impact. Maybe it means treating CO2 as if it is an amazingly expensive and rare resource, to be used very sparingly, as if we’re completely running out of the stuff. And maybe it involves setting some limits: setting aside some sea to be no fishing zones, setting aside our forest to stay forest, and realising that as a species we are the only one that can try to regulate our population to a level that our planet can accommodate. But all these things are givey-uppy things: someone has to not fish, someone has to find another living, someone has to decide to have less children than they might like. Nature is really messy and inconvenient and eats our crops and probably us too if we let it. We might decide to make carbon really expensive so we use it more carefully – but then someone has to find life is more expensive. Like you. And me.

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Does a struggle have to happen – can Now-Us take a hit for Future-Us?

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So that’s the Global Marshmallow Test facing us; do we have the power to imagine how extremely grateful future beings will be to us if we leave the wondrous carboniferous fossil fuels buried for now. (They might even need them in a few hundred years time if there’s an unexpected ice age.) And how grateful they might be to us for having put up with the inconvenience of animals and their habitats so they could inherit some of the bizarre treasure of the extraordinary beings that evolution has produced that share the world with us.

PS: Here’s the proper fabulous picture of the Plumb-Pudding in Danger by Gillray in case you were missing it:pudding-smallPPS: How? Here’s James Hansen on the idea of a Carbon Fee and Dividend (payable to all taxpayers) (on page 5)

Here’s Hansen’s Ted Talk.

PPPS: Here’s a brilliant lecture by Dr Scott Wing about how the climate of 55 million years ago can tell us a lot about now.

The Marshmallow Test

marshmallowHere’s a yummy marshmallow. You know you want it. Of course you want it. But if you can resist its charms for 20 minutes, I will give you double marshmallow. Or something even more delicious that you actually like. Can you wait?

This was the Marshmallow Test, an experiment administered to 4 year old children by Walter Mischel. Many gave in almost immediately, the lure of the mallow was too strong. But some prevailed. They did things like not looking at the mallow, or giving themselves quiet peptalks, or distracting themselves from thoughts of the mallow by singing or making funny faces. And they got through. They followed the tested children’s progress for 40 years, and it seemed that children who were more successful at the Marshmallow Test were more sucessful in later life.

Whatever the validity of the research, the Marshmallow Test highlights the inner struggle we all have to face between the interests of our present selves and the happiness of our future self. Now-Me wants a triple gin and tonic, but Future-Me tomorrow is going to wish Now-Me hadn’t had it. How can the faint calls of Future-Me from tomorrow win against Now-Me’s intense desire for gin? The same goes with late night cheese eating, pensions, and procrastination. How can Future-Me reach into the past, grab Now-Me by the shoulders, and convince Now-Me that going to bed before 1.30am will make everyone happier all round? (And put down that Gruyère, Now-Me!)

Either Future-Me needs a top-notch time machine, or Now-Me needs a more conscientious imagination to make poor Future-Me more tangible.

But we’ll leave Now-Me and Future-Me locked in their eternal struggle and turn instead to The Global Marshmallow Test.

To Be Continued: coming next: The Global Marshmallow Test – watch out for it, Future-You!

Colossal Head

It’s rainy. It’s the school holidays. This week we’ve been sketching a bit in the good ol’ museums of Oxford, and then eating cake.

Giant salamander & aardvark in NHM:

SalamanderSAardvarkSThe great god Sobek in the Asmolean:

Sobek…and a colossal marble head of Apollo.   Colossal headSThe cake in all museums has been very fine.

The Wild Verges Award

You’re perambulating along, by foot or bike or car (or whatever your preference), and you see a particularly lovely patch of roadside wilderness that has been allowed to grow untrimmed, and now it’s waving gently in the breeze. You may want to say “Well done!” And now you can, with the Sketching Weakly Wild Verges Award. Simply cut out & nominate the stretch of road where your lovely verge was, and send to your local county council strimming department.

Cut out & keepPersonally I’d nominate the top of the A4144 where it meets the A423 in Oxford.

And this bit of Regent’s Park for nice Cow Parsley:

Regents park