Friday, 16 November 2012

New Networks for Nature Conference

Just a quick round up of the day, not exhaustive - just some things that struck me.  It is a great conference, a bit like Communicate in some ways, but more a random selection of ideas about where art meets science - with some fantastic science thrown in.  Today that was provided by a great hero of mine - and probably the nicest academic on the planet - Prof Nick Davies.  He gave a talk on the trickery of cuckoos, which is jaw-droppingly fascinating.  He also highlighted the fact that we humans can be duped quite easily, responding to signals without much thought (as a host species is duped by the cuckoo chick).  In a Newcastle Uni psychology experiment a vending machine was installed and an honesty box next to it.  The psychologists put either a pair of eyes or a picture of flowers  - changed them frequently - on the machine then recorded the days that got the most honest payments, and those that had very few.  On "flower" days, lots of people didn't pay.  On "staring eyes days" lots did, especially if the eyes looked fierce.

When the psychologists asked those using the machine why they responded to the picture of eyes differently to the flowers, not one person said they noticed the pictures on the machine at all- it was subliminal.  It got me thinking.  Maybe people think of God like the eyes, staring disapprovingly at them?

There was art, music, poetry and debate.  Some memorable quotes through the day:

"Professors of Creative Writing, traffic wardens and charity shops are 3 of the main growth areas of the recent times."  Jim Perrin.

Whitman wrote about "the religion of the landscape."  It is sometimes hard to follow because "nature can often seem rude and uncomprehending to humans.  But persevere and you will find that it holds within it the divine."

Michael McCarthy - the Catholic church has been woeful in its response to the environment.  And don't say St Francis - he's just a charming aside!

Connor Jameson talked about his book Silent Spring Revisited, a tribute to Rachel Carson.  In his talk he quoted "The trouble with America is that no one has read the minutes of the last meeting" (That applies to many countries, including the UK in many ways!)

Rachel Carson wrote that there is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrain of nature - a reassurance that night follows day and spring follows winter.

The debate panel (Fiona Reynolds, Mark Avery, Peter Melchett and Peter Marren - chaired by Michael McCarthy of the Independent) discussed many issues - how to engage the younger generation, is it too late to save many species, was it wrong to cull Ruddy Ducks, does politics get the environment?

Quite a lot of talk about spirituality - but only in passing - notably by Fiona Reynolds.  This conference is showing that nature is moving out of the domain of the anorak and binoculars and into much broader territory occupied by those who were once suspicious and dismissive of the natural world.

The artist Bruce Pearson gave a passionate talk about his work in Antarctica and how he captured by accident a world on the edge of collapse.  He spent time on Bird Island and S Georgia in the 80s and 90s, just before albatross number crashed due to long line fishing and other problems.  Bis paintings are sublime.

Thanks to the organisers for putting on such an interesting day.

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