I don’t always post everything I write here, so I thought I’d just share a link to some of my recent science writing. Most of these are things I wanted to make sure I understood well enough to explain them clearly to a class of 13 and 14 year olds.
Kids in Britain don’t play outside so much these days. Where our parents were left to roam at will, and their parents wandered much further still, the children of the early twenty-first century are mostly kept indoors. It isn’t safe to go out – the traffic is dreadful, kids have terrible accidents, everyone knows that the streets are packed with paedophiles and murderers. Nobody knows their neighbours well enough to be sure they won’t eat their kids if they get half a chance.
What would kids do outdoors, anyway, even if they make it that far? Why would they want to play in the grass and shrubs, up and under the trees, when they can stay at home and spend their time playing on computers and smartphones?
This is a problem, if you believe that humans need time with nature to stay sane and physically healthy – and I think the evidence is strong. This is why David Bond appointed himself Marketing Director for nature, and made this film, Project Wild Thing. Marketing nature might be a faintly obnoxious concept, but it’s not hard to see where he’s coming from. The outside world, with its bugs and its plants and its dirt, has to compete for the attention of our children (and adults) against a vast array of highly profitable, heavily advertised consumer goods and activities. What chance does it have?
Bond, the director and star of the film, talks to a range of marketing and branding consultants to brainstorm and market-test ideas on how to ‘sell’ nature to a generation that sometimes seems to have trouble seeing the point of it, and to parents who might think it’s a nice idea, but worry about the dangers of letting their children go wild. The conceit works, as something to hang a film off, and helps to generate some solid practical ideas, but it also underlies its main problems – the film is heavily dominated by upper-middle-class white men, often talking about branding. This is bound to make some viewers wince, understandably, and it’s not clear that it helps that many of the kids he talks to are brown-skinned and often female.
He also talks to a number of conservationists, naturalists and activists, including wildlife presenter Chris Packham and Jay Griffiths, the author of ‘Kith‘, as well as my brother Leo, who talks about outdoors play non-profit Monkey-Do. All make very good points about human nature and our relationships with risk, play and the outdoors, feeding into the strategies suggested for getting kids playing outside.
The film is informative, infuriating and really very entertaining, but I am glad to say it is just one result of the whole process. They also put together a simple, nicely designed app for smartphones, ‘WildTime‘, designed to provide a wealth of ideas about how to engage with the natural world, for anyone for whom it doesn’t seem obvious (and for many children, itisn’t obvious until they actually get out there). Perhaps most importantly, The Wild Network is a growing group of organisations concerned with connecting kids with nature, including the RSPB, the National Trust, the NHS Sustainable Development Unit and hundreds of others. Perhaps these trends can be reversed yet, both in Britain and around the world, but it’s going to take a lot of work yet.
Climate Camp (or the Camp for Climate Action, in full) is a reaction to the failures of our governments to take anything like the steps that science tells us will be necessary to avert catastrophic climate change, and to the failures of our democratic system to represent dissenting voices. When even majority opinions are readily ignored if they conflict with the plans of the ruling powers, people are encouraged to take politics into their own hands.
Continue reading Climate Camp
My brother, Leo Murray, is an animator as well as an activist. He made this film for his animation master’s degree at the Royal College of Arts, and I was very impressed indeed with the job he did of communicating the science, visually and verbally – beautiful use of animation to convey scientific concepts, and an interesting blackboard-inspired style. The full script includes extensive journal references to back up what he’s saying.
I maintain the web page for the film, though I didn’t do most of the design. I have also helped to coordinate the translations, which now exist for most of the major European languages, with several Asian versions on their way too. It’s been great to see it get watched online by well over 100,000 people, but this is still not nearly enough – the message is very important indeed, and this film conveys it remarkably well, packing a whole lot of information into a very short time in a very watchable style. At this point it would be particularly valuable if people could spread the word more outside of the English-speaking world.
What this is about is that climate change is probably a much bigger threat than anybody realised even a few years ago. We’ve been hearing more and more about it in the news, but I think it’s still not so clear to most people why – I suspect the increased coverage is often written off as media hype, rather than a reflection of the fact we really ought to be much more worried than we thought we needed to be.
The IPCC’s last report erred very much on the conservative side, as is the nature of reports which must be agreed to by all parties. Newer evidence had trouble getting fitted in, so it did not really even try to assess the importance of positive feedback loops in all of this, which has only recently started to become clear. Essentially, there is good reason to think that some of the changes caused by warming will feed back into themselves to cause more warming, potentially leading to runaway climate change in a frighteningly short time – we’re talking several degrees of warming over just a few decades here, and possibly less than ten years to effect the changes needed to prevent this from happening.
There is of course some uncertainty in all of this, and it may yet turn out that the situation is not nearly as bad as it looks… and that’s really just as well, because if it is as bad as it looks, I don’t much fancy humankind’s chances of doing what we need to before it’s too late. It’s not too late yet though…