If you have time for only one item, I'd check out my podcast chat with poet Rishi Dastidar on writing, being a poet and why poets always have other jobs.
➳Grief books, a reflection on death
➳How is the energy transistion going?
➳Our sci-fi story for the future of Piccadilly Circus
➳My conversation with leading British poet, Rishi Dastidar
➳Mark Rober and his autistic son
➳Possibility of lab escape COVID origins
➳Adam Tooze on Paul Krugman (understanding Biden economics)
➳Learning particle physics with high school maths
➳Mya-Rose Craig aka Birdgirl podcast chat with me
➳Save date for Sustainability Accelerator Unconference
➳Save date for Speake Easy | Mingle
Sustainability Accelerator Unconference on 23 July. Save the Date.
-Do you have ideas to solve climate challenges?
-Are you underwhelmed by traditional conferences?
-Are you seeking a forum for participatory cross-silo ideas discussion?
Come to the Sustainability Accelerator Unconference. We intend to solve the problem of unproductive sustainability conferences by applying participatory techniques (OpenSpace) in an UnConference. What? An innovative conference format bringing cross-silo thinkers and doers together on Sustainability challenges. Where: Chatham House, 23 July. Save the Date.
And Speak Easy meets Mingle. Come mingle with creatives, investors, sustainability thinkers; left, right, up, down. 1 July, evening, Chatham House. Save the Date.
Grief books: One of my best friends died when I was 19. My father died when I was 20. I witnessed the last breath of both of them. I heard the death rattle. The rattle is aptly named, I think to myself whenever I hear the term.
I was reading an essay by Mayukh Sen, Grief Books*, which made the observation that many of us acquire grief books. A piece of writing that ferries us around through loss: allowing us to feel less alone.
My father had been sick with lung cancer for three years, the final of the many illnesses I had seen disturb his body since I was a child. The inevitability of his loss did not suffer its blow. I was 25 when he died and I could count the people I knew who had endured the loss of a parent before that age on one hand. His loss felt unbearably cruel in a way I could not articulate. So I became cruel to the world in return. If a friend expressed sympathy in ways that felt incorrect to me, I killed them off, the excision a bid for self-preservation. Any generosity I had was reserved for those who had touched grief like, even strangers.
Myself, when my father died, I did not know a single friend my age who had lost a parent. I did not know other friends who had lost close friends either. And while I did not excise friends in the way Sen describes there were plenty of friends who I judged could not or did not understand the circumstances very well. Where as some others - strangers even - did understand.
For grief can be very singular and difficult if not impossible to share - although the willingness to share, can be a shared impulse. Still on that day, when I read that page - juggling the distractions of an autistic son bouncing along an overground train - I recognised a truth in the way I had used books as grief books. I recognised the genre of grief books he describes (cancer writing; the memoirs of grief, such as The Year Of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion). I felt for a few moments a spasm of grief and recalled the death moments of my friend and of my father. Moments that never truly leave me.
I’ve commented that there are events which occur when afterwards you feel changed. Perhaps changed enough to feel a different person. The first kiss, the first love; the first death of a loved one. That these seminal changes are hard, if not also impossible, to relate to people who have not experienced them.
My father found some comfort in reading what Sen describes as a genre of “cancer writing”. He read John Diamond* as he was dying of cancer. My father could relate to Diamond in a way he could not to us, with our lives ahead of us. Cathartic and sad every time my father read a new piece. Both losing an inevitable race at the same time.
I remember my early set of grief books being CS Lewis’ Grief Observed, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. I am not religious, but I still recommend people to CS Lewis - particularly if they have a Christian faith - today. I had grief food. Memories of grief food.
Stodgy British puddings like jam Roly-Polys (picutre above), bread and butter pudding, and spotted dick conjure my father’s joy and sweet tooth at such dishes. In my cupboard, I have an inexpensive and well used bowl from my dead friend. She would have been happy it has been so well used. (A short blog reflecting on grief books).
I have an insightful podcast + videocast with leading British poet, Rishi Dastidar.
Rishi Dastidar and I chat about life, poetry, writing and poets always having another job. Rishi gives advice on how to be a poet, embracing Insta poets and whether last lines are harder than first lines, or second books harder than first books; and why we love lists and why we need to pay more attention to verbs. Blog, video and podcast here.
I wrote a short story with Anoushka as part of my idea of a recording story bench in a future Piccadilly Circus. You can hear me read it as part of this interactive model.
What will Piccadilly Circus look like in 100 years? I wrote a story and contributed an idea of a "story bench". Can you find me in 2035? (yes that's me above)
From AI-driven buildings to insect markets and canals, Futurescape London, a 3D digital model, allows the public to explore the future of city centres. Explore Futurescape to see what Piccadilly Circus could look like in 2035, 2060, 2090 and 2121. Explore this future model of Piccadilly circus.
JP Morgan / Vaclav Smil on state of energy transition. A balanced view of the world on where we are on current energy transition.
How is the global energy transition going? Taken together, the aggregate impact of nuclear, hydroelectric and solar/wind generation reduced global reliance on fossil fuels from ~95% of primary energy in 1975 to ~85% in 2020. In other words, energy transitions take a long time and lots of money. The IEA expects fossil fuel reliance to decline at a more rapid pace now, fueled in part by “Big Oil” companies becoming “Big Energy” companiesand by a faster global EV transition.
In 2021 renewables are for the first time expected to garner more capital spending than upstream oil & gas. This process is influenced by diverging costs of capital: 3%-5% for solar and wind, 10%-15% for natural gas and up to 20% for oil projects.
However, the IEA still projects that 70%-75% of global primary energy consumption may be met via fossil fuels in the year 2040. Why don’t rapid wind and solar price declines translate into faster decarbonization? As we will discuss, renewable energy is still mostly used to generate electricity, and electricity as a share of final energy consumption on a global basis is still just 18%.
In other words, direct use of fossil fuels is still the primary mover in the modern world, as the demise of fossil fuels continues to be prematurely declared by energy futurists. As shown in the last three charts, wind/solar capacity is growing and gains in renewable electricity generation are impressive, but in primary energy terms they are much smaller…”
A long read of Adam Tooze on Paul Krugman. Paul Krugman’s latest collection of essays, Arguing with Zombies, first appeared in January 2020. Not only was it quickly buried by Covid, but he missed out on a thing all too rare for a pundit: the opportunity to declare victory. A year later, in Joe Biden’s Washington, Krugmanism rules. The gigantic scale of the $1.9 trillion Biden rescue plan, and now the proposed $2 trillion infrastructure investment programme, are testament to a rearrangement of the relationship between economic expertise and politics in the Democratic Party, a rearrangement which Krugman anticipated and for which Arguing with Zombies makes a powerful case. Insightful if you want to understand current Biden economic thinking. (27 min LRB review post)
These notes provide a gentle, but detailed, introduction to particle physics, using little more than high school mathematics. They are written, in part, for the CERN summer school. By David Tong. Good if you'd like to explore or know someone who wants to learn about particle physics.
Popular YouTuber and science bod, Mark Rober, makes a video of autism and his son. All his videos are great for children and science. This one is a personal look and glimpse of autism in one family.
Science writer, Nicholas Wade looks at the lab accident origins thesis for COVID. It's long and detailed, and I've had to up my assessment that this is a plausible thesis, although I really don't know what weights to give the evidence. You can assess for yourself.
....I’ll describe the two theories, explain why each is plausible, and then ask which provides the better explanation of the available facts. It’s important to note that so far there is no direct evidence for either theory. Each depends on a set of reasonable conjectures but so far lacks proof. So I have only clues, not conclusions, to offer. But those clues point in a specific direction. And having inferred that direction, I’m going to delineate some of the strands in this tangled skein of disaster. (Long blog here)
In my occasional podcast chat series I talk with birdgirl aka Mya-Rose Craig. We chat about her love of birding touching upon birdsong and the mysteries of migration. We discuss accessibility to nature, activism what in birding terms is a “lifer” and how to “pish”.
Pishing…. “Oh, no, it's a real thing, but I can't even do it very well. So this is going to be very embarrassing, but pishing is basically, birders making a funny sound that makes the birds around you go, what's that funny sound. So they hop out into the open to try and figure out what that funny sound is. And weirdly there are not many sounds that do this, pishing is one of the few that pretty much always works, at least with lots of birds. And this is going to be very embarrassing now, but it's basically like a, pshh,pshh,pshh like over and over louder and quieter. And for some reason that always gets the birds out.” Transcript and video here. And podcast version
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.
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