This week, I chat with Rebecca Giggs on her new book looking at humanity through the lens of the whale. There is video and a transcript. Self-recommending.
I do a panel chat with FSCI looking at the state and future of sustainability reporting. What it can and maybe can not do. (1 hour, YouTube, summary below).
I am holding a “salon” again chatting about my micro grants idea and sustainable development. Nov 14, 7pm UK.
My hair seems be growing back to some degree (I have seemingly the areata form of alopecia) but it does remind me of my previous reflection of hair loss - particularly the impact on black women.
I note my predictions for a likely COVID vaccine before year end or very early next year look increasingly likely. The Pfizer vaccine looks like it works. And the chances for the Moderna vaccine are likely up (as Moderna is mRNA like Pfizer's) with the Oxford/AZ vaccine also still running. That is 2 more possible hits before Jan 2021…
And for the UK at least, there is limited vaccine hesistancy. Unlike the US.... Note France is even worse though.
And this data is why - I think - the UK government tipped over into lockdown.
We discuss the award winning book, Fathoms: the world in the whale by Rebecca Giggs. Our conversation covers seeing the history of humanity through the lens of the whale, activism movements, and the poetic in writing. Whales as an extractive industry and why the book is not prescriptive in what we might do.
We play overrated/underrated. Rebecca rates: cicadas, snails, worms and plankton. We end with the process of writing. Why mechanical keyboards might help, and writing in bursts.
“….My picture of whaling was the Victorian era. It's the same time as like people were applying leeches to their bodies for medicine, and using smelling salts. And that is where I had popped Whaling in my mind.
And though I had heard of course, about the 1980s save the whale campaigns because I was born in the mid 1980s. I sort of vaguely conscious of that green movement, but I understood whaling to have tailed off well before that, as it turns out, that's not the case, many people attribute and believe that whaling declined because of some invisible hand of the market that came in, with things like kerosine and petroleum and thermo-plastic, and essentially replace the product, the products that whales were being used for.
So in the 19th century to take step back, whales were exploited for their oil and for their baleens. We talked about their baleens - these bristly mouth substance that was used in everything from surgical stitching to hula hoops and police batons.
Do you have this expression in Britain “to whale on somebody” That's from the canes that used to be used in schools as corporate punishment for children.
They were made from this baleen substance - so we whale on somebody to hurt somebody is to cane them with - literally -a piece of whale. Then the oil really was part of the late industrial revolution. It was a lubricant in machinery. it was used in textile factories, but most importantly it was an amazing illuminant and went into lamps and candles. It wasn't just an industrial product. It changed the conditions of production because once you had a reliable, long burning illuminant factory hours could be extended shop floor hours could be extended. It had a huge influence on not just the speed of automation, but the way the economy worked at large, then we jumped forward to the 21st century.
You think here are all these other cheapest substances that are going to replace whaling. That didn't happen. What ended up happening was the products that the oil went into, changed.
They became a different market, they became luxury goods. They got affiliated with the space race, which is bizarre. They ended up in the tiny little shutters that are on satellite cameras.
The proponents of the whale oil business really went to great lengths to get them into soap, and into margarine as well. So it was really a cornerstone of new hygiene practices and the diet of the working class.
But ultimately, we needed cultural change to affect economic change in this area because fossil fuels meant that we could exploit whales to a far greater degree. We could see them with faster ships. We had refrigeration on those ships. We could obtain species of whales that were much larger, and hadn't been hunted in the 19th century because we had big mechanical boats. and so there was a kind of Whaling Olympics. There was a surge in the sixties, of whale hunting, by a lot of major Western nations. There’s this lesson. We did need a kind of collective cultural change to enforce that pivot away from whaling….”
“….I think that it's common to look back now and view those anti-whaling campaigns as effectively benevolent animal welfare campaigns. Whereas in actual fact, they fit more neatly into a model of dealing with globalized environmental problems. So this, you have to remember as an era in which the ozone layer is becoming very topical, Chernobyl is only just in the rearview mirror. So that idea of kind of cross border radioactivity, is a concern. The acid rain clouds in some parts of Europe has similarly multi nation multi-state problems and saving the high seas - having some kind of connection to the planetary dimensions of the wider ocean was hard until we had a global animal like the whale to empathize with.
And I think about this a lot in terms of that question of how do you tell global stories now, because for myself, you know, when I hear about the melting ice caps, or I hear about levels of CO2 and, the atmosphere worldwide. It activates for me sadness and grief, - the dimensions of it are kind of too big to wrap my head around.
I find it is hard to empathize with the changing biosphere on that vast level.
Whereas in the early part of this book, I describe a whale beaching, in Western Australia, in Perth, where I'm from. I went down to see this beached whale. There were all these people standing around, it a macabre carnival atmosphere, all these families with their children, and some people brought their pets down, but there was an attitude that was “at last… here is the body …we knew there was trouble.”
We knew things were changing in the ocean. We heard vaguely about acidification or plastic pollution, but we lacked the kind of sensory apparatus to apprehend it.
We can't taste the oceans acidity, and we rarely, unless we go to the big plastic guys actually encountered the dimensions of microplastic and plastic pollution as extremes. And so the arrival of a whale on the beachfront had this kind of mood of…here is the body… here is the event that kind of gives flesh to our environmental conscience.
The activism of the eighties around whales was very much about a globalized environmental citizenry. It was intended to be about protecting things that you would never encounter.
You could feel for the whale, even if you lived in a high rise building in an urban environment, it mattered to you that the planet wasn't denuded of its largest animals.
I think that question of having empathy and compassion for the unmet thing is really sharp in this point in time, because we are going to be called to care for things in the future that we don't have either a genetic connection to, it's not about our families. They're not part of our tribe. We're going to have to care for people who live very far away from us. We're going to have to care for environments like the polar environments that are on totally uninhabited
How to standardise ESG reporting: a discussion with Veronica Poole (Deloitte), Paul Lee (investor adviser), Ben Yeoh (RBC) and Chris Fidler (CFAI).
Why you should watch: Many of us find the alphabet soup around ESG reporting – from the bodies involved to the names of different initiatives – baffling. This discussion, involving experts on accounting, investing and financial analysis, points to a way forward. It entails giving authority to a global standard-setter to harmonise the reporting rules. The issues include: what is “material” to different audiences, what can actually be measured, the impact of public policy, and how to capture a range of potential outcomes.
Summary (H/T Sarah-Jane Dominic):
"…comparability and measurement of ESG areas is not as simple as some would want you to believe. …standardisation is not the panacea to all of the ills around ESG reporting and decisions based upon it, and ….that the supposed absence of a single standard is a reason to do nothing…."
You tube video here: https://youtu.be/dXynd9dp8Qw
Although Mark Clark asks me why a permanent home for TCFD didn't come up...
My friend Jason Mitchell hosts a great sustainability podcast. Two podcasts worth noting out of many are Paul Polman ex-CEO Unilever and Anna Rosling Rönnlund on factfulness and Climate.
Anna runs GapMinder and Dollar Street. Dollar Street gives you an insightful view into how people live in different regions and incomes. Anna suggests we are ignorant of our ignorance and that's a stumbling block.
I will outline ideas in Impact and the approach of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I will also discuss how microgrants might be a useful way of making impact. I will discuss my own microgrant programme. Nov 14, 7pm.
(Archive) Me on hair loss:
Thanks for reading. Feel free to forward this letter to anyone you think might be interested in signing up.
Archive and repeat words below. Stay well, Stay safe, Ben
Micro-grants. £10K for positive impact people.