Saturday, September 22, 2012

If you're not panicking, you don't understand

This week’s New Scientist (22 Sept) features geoengineering - the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system, in order to moderate global warming. Until recently I used to think this was the preserve of crazies. But I've become alarmed at the increasing number of scientists who are saying it's got to be done. The latest was in The Guardian this week.

Arctic scientist Prof Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University says "we must not only urgently reduce CO2 emissions but must urgently examine other ways of slowing global warming, such as the various geoengineering ideas that have been put forward."

Don't get me wrong, geoengineering doesn't stop being crazy just because some scientists promote it. Without a doubt it's a contender for loopiest idea in the history of humanity. But when scientists start to advocate a loopy scheme, it puts me in mind of the humorous postcard that says “If you're not panicking that’s because you don't understand the situation”. 

There's a whole more to say on this when I get round to it.  Could the effects of geoengineering be worse than climate change? Who decides? Does even talking about it take the urgency out of fossil fuel reductions? Is it too late to talk about fossil fuel reductions? Is it too late to be squeamish about geoengineering seeing as we've already been doing it on a gargantuan scale for 200 years?  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Robert Emmet: Let no man write my epitaph

"Trial of Robert Emmet. Emmet replying to the verdict of high treason, Sept. 19, 1803."
(c. 1866, print, Library of Congress)

This day 209 years ago Robert Emmet made his famous address from the dock on the eve of his execution. Emmet was a member of the United Irishmen who in 1803 led an ill-fated rebellion in Dublin. Tried by a British Court in Dublin's Session House on September 19, 1803, he was hanged the following day in Thomas Street. He was 25 years old.

The speech was delivered to the court after it had convicted him of high treason. It is described as impromptu, and doubtless in large part it was, though the peroration in my opinion was clearly composed. 

The speech concludes:

My lords, you are impatient for the sacrifice. The blood which you seek is not congealed by the artificial terrors which surround your victim; it circulates warmly and unruffled, through the channels which God created for noble purposes, but which you are bent to destroy, for purposes so grievous, that they cry to heaven.

Be yet patient! I have but a few words more to say. I am going to my cold and silent grave. My lamp of life is nearly extinguished. My race is run. The grave opens to receive me, and I sink into its bosom!

I have but one request to ask at my departure from this world: it is the charity of its silence. Let no man write my epitaph: for as no man who knows my motives dare now vindicate them, let not prejudice or ignorance asperse them. Let them and me repose in obscurity and peace, and my tomb remain uninscribed, until other times, and other men, can do justice to my character. When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written. I have done.

Full text of the speech, including interruptions from the court. Formally, Emmet was exercising his right to make a plea for clemency; but in actuality he accepted the sentence of execution as already an accomplished fact, and used his address to establish his reputation in the eyes of his countrymen and of history, and to clear his name from the supposition that he intended to sell Ireland’s independence to the French.

Eileen's father's favourite song "Bold Robert Emmett" features the story that Emmet could have made good his escape after the failed rebellion, but for turning back to say farewell to his fiancĂ©e Sarah Curran. According to The World’s Famous Orations, 1906 (the source I've used for the speech), two years afterward Sarah Curran married an officer of some distinction in the Royal Staff Corps, Major Sturgeon, but she died in Sicily a few months later—it is said of a broken heart.

The same book notes that at his execution Emmet, in passing out of his cell, met a turnkey who had been kind to him. Fettered as he was he could not shake hands with him, but in stead kissed him on the cheek. The turnkey is said to have fainted then and there and not to have recovered until after Emmet was hanged and his head severed from his body.

Page 137 of The Worlds Famous Orations Vol VI Ireland 1775-1902, William Jennings Bryan Editor in Chief, New York, 1906

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Crime and punishment

On Tuesday these two cows invaded my woodland garden. I was not a happy man. The next picture shows them being expelled pursued by the angels of the Lord.