(Or: Can you eat your planet and have it too?…)
Here’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.
Does a struggle have to happen – can Now-Us take a hit for Future-Us?
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:PPS: 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.
Here’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!
Today’s recipe: cook up an Earth-like planet.
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.
Personally 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:
Our street tends to be often perilously bedeckled with dog poo. Usually right outside our own doorstep, where there is a lamp post. To help stop occasions of dismay at inadvertently stepping in an offering, Sketching Weakly brings you the Cut-Out & Keep Turd Alert Flags.All you need to make them is: scissors, Pritt stick, cocktail sticks, a small amount of cardboard box, and a print out of this pdf (see link below):
Now you can draw attention to a hazardous dropping, and also try & match the poo with its possible creator.
Make sure you don’t step in the same turd twice.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, Port Meadow in Oxford looked like this:
Now it looks like this:
Maybe, with a bit of effort, it could have been worse…
Today Oxford University’s Congregation decides what should be done about this; quite a lot of people favour taking a floor off.
Sketching Weakly wonders whether slightly more radical action could be needed.
Why pay a person to do something when a Bot could do it instead?
Personally I like buying things from people. I reckon if nobody used the Bots they’d have to take them away.
If you find a noisy and intrusive ShopBot is getting on your nerves, here’s a handy label to keep in your bag and glue onto it:
So which is the object which really does live in the Pitt Rivers?
the Magic Bun with Healing Powers. Here’s a picture of the bun:
I thought the bun was 78 years old, but that information isn’t on its label. How did one use it to cure a cold? Nibble it lightly? Or put under the pillow? Or just inhale its scent? (which might be difficult if you have a cold.)
There isn’t a Ghost in a Bottle at the Pitt Rivers, but there is a Witch in a Bottle. Here she is:
The label describes how it was got from an old lady living near Hove in about 1915, who said: “And they do say there be a witch in it, and if you let un out there’ll be a peck o’ trouble.”
So we’ll be leaving that one well alone then…
One of these objects actually is in a drawer at the Pitt Rivers Museum…but which one?