Joseph Nightingale
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Peter Sellers, in the 1964 film, plays the eponymous Dr Strangelove, a mad nuclear scientist and former Nazi. The film parodies the absurdities of the Cold War and the unfolding world order. Nuclear Armageddon loomed on the horizon, and the outbreak of a Third World War was a real possibility.

They were simpler times.

At one point, facing imminent destruction, Strangelove proposes starting a breeding program once the nuclear fallout subsides down a mineshaft, in the bowels of the Earth. Now that’s sticking your head in the sand. Today, Strangelovian absurdity reigns as we battle to contain the ravenousness of too many people, not the risks of having too few. …


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Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

Overpopulation is a dirty word.

Politicians talk about climate change and plastic pollution; conservationists preach of mass extinction and deforestation. We decry the erosion of our soils and contamination of our water.

But, heaven forbid, you suggest there are too many people. That’s a cardinal sin: it’s blaming the voter base. It’s questioning our core biological instinct. Life is good; people are even better.

That hasn’t stopped a daring few.

Back in 1798, Thomas Malthus — a cleric and scholar — was the first to preach the dangers of never-ending population growth. Writing in ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population’, Malthus explained that every increase in food production did not lead to increased nutrition, but ever more people. Agriculture was a Ponzi scheme.


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Credit to: Magnus D @ Flickr

Strange it seems, in 2020, to still be debating the existence of climate change. Forest fires. A scorching arctic. Sea level rise. Desertification. Mass extinction. Melting glaciers. Collapsing ice sheets. The evidence surrounds us and overwhelms us. Nor, is the underlying science controversial or even new, as I explore in ‘Seven Points You Need to Know About Climate Change.’

As with everything these days, climate change has become polarised. With neither side giving credence to the other, or even hearing a word they say.

Recent research by Pew found only 34% of self-identified modern Republicans and 15% of conservative Republicans believed human-made climate change was underway. Climate scientists themselves have become totems of mistrust. A miserly 11% of conservative Republicans thought that scientists understood the causes of climate change well; if it was happening at all. …


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Beavers are industrious little critters, voraciously chowing down on a tasty tree trunk to build their iconic dams (which stretch up to a half-mile long!), beavers are as determined as they are ingenious. In fact, they’re so assiduous they’re our go to metaphor — to ‘beaver away’ or be ‘busy as a beaver’ are common idioms commending hard work.

Don’t let our language fool you. We’ve not always been on good terms with our furry friends. The two extant species, the North American and Eurasia beavers, almost went extinct in recent centuries due to our appetite for beaver meat, furs, and castoreum — a molasses-like goo, used in perfume and cooking, which surprisingly smells like vanilla. …


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In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 has turned the world upside down; striking down old habits and assumptions, as we scramble to control the pandemic. Central to our efforts has been social distancing. People are staying home fearful of catching the virus or spreading it; only venturing out to get groceries, or for their daily dose of exercise. City centres have shut down, factories have closed. If aliens arrived tomorrow, they’d quickly get the message: we’re closed for business.

However, in our abrupt absence, the environment is undergoing a metamorphosis. As the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum. …


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Science is not sacred. It holds no regard for myths or magic. And despite a history bursting with legendary figures, from Newton to Einstein, science cares little for their lives, just their ideas. Sentimentality has been banished to the arts.

There is one notable exception, however. A hidden Eden, a virgin island. Nature’s private collection, whose discovery sparked the boldest of biological theories.

In this land that time forgot, nature takes her time. Giant tortoises plod through misty meadows, marine iguanas bask in the sun, entertained by Sally Lightfoot crabs who dance upon the rocks. …


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What do you need to live? What are the absolute essentials? As much as you might protest, you don’t need your iPhone, nor super-fast fibre-optic broadband, even if the flickering of router lights sends you into a frenzied withdrawal. You can drop the sneaky Friday night beer or the Monday morning coffee. Put simply; the niceties are not necessary.

So, what are the basics?

At a push, most guess air, food, and water. If you’re feeling decadent, you might throw in some shelter. …


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https://bedelgeuse.tumblr.com/

Down in the subterranean gloom, in the Chauvet Cave of Southern France, lies an unexpected treasure. Not a dragon’s hoard, or a bizarre blind biological marvel swimming in the silent sunken waters. Instead, we find something distinctly human, a vast mural of animals, surviving as a time capsule from a long-forgotten world.

On the stone walls, cave lions and hyenas, leopards and bears, and herds of horses, aurochs, and mammoths painted in charcoal and ochre — once illuminated by our ancestors, they would have danced upon the walls in the flickering firelight. The filmmaker Werner Herzog christened this sanctuary, ‘The Cave of Forgotten Dreams’. …


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Photo by Ren Ran on Unsplash

Our world is defined as much by what we forget, as what we remember. The billions of memories lost to time distort our perceptions with their absence. Add a healthy dose of lies and half-truths, and the past becomes a murky place, the truth almost indecipherable.

It isn’t just a problem for historians. Ecologists continuously try to decipher what landscapes once looked like, back when they were pristine. What was once grassland, and what was once forest? Are the highlands of Scotland or the moorlands of England natural? Or are they the sign of ecological collapse — a degraded landscape? And, where do we draw the line? In a changing landscape, who gets to say what the natural world should look like? …


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Thomas Cole — Destruction (1836), the fourth of five paintings, from the series: The Course of Empire

Why do so many of us doubt climatologists? Casting aspersions on their motives, ignoring their work, and dismissing their warnings.

Amitav Ghosh hinted at an answer in ‘The Great Derangement’, ‘Contrary to what I might like to think, my life is not guided by reason; it is ruled rather by the inertia of habitual motion.’ Are we trapped in the mindset of yesteryear, like the Generals always planning for the last war?

Or, is it that we are simply incredulous, dumbstruck, as if visiting a fortune-teller, who upon inspecting the tea leaves pronounces your doom? Climatologists are often branded scaremongers, hyperbolic loons, Socratically corrupting the youth with visions of apocalypse. …

Joseph Nightingale

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