Carbon irony

As the storyteller for TEDxExeter, I had the honour of being invited to the speaker dinner the preceding evening. For the first two courses – yes we moved at half time – I sat next to Antony Turner of Carbon Sense and Carbon Visuals. The next day, he spoke about his work on “Making Greenhouse Gases Visible”. Among some wonderful imagery, he flew us around the public buildings of Exeter, or more accurately around the columns representing their carbon emissions.

Here’s a view of Exeter from the north, showing the data in Google Earth. Each coloured column is a public building. The colour indicates the Display Energy Certificate rating, from G (red) up to A (green), and the height indicates the carbon emissions per square metre.

Exeter carbon

The highest column in red is the Met Office. The Met Office building has an ‘excellent’ energy-efficiency rating, and most of the emissions are due to the immense amount of energy required to power and cool the supercomputers used in weather prediction and climate research – the climate research which informs government policy and negotiating positions on climate change. The irony!

The second highest column in orange is the Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Trust (aka hospital). Irony upon irony that a place of healing is contributing to the climate change that has already had, and will have more and more, impacts on human health.

In London, the carbon columns dwarf Tower Bridge and Big Ben. With reference to my previous post, perhaps this sort of striking imagery is one way in which science can engage people’s hearts and emotions. As Antony said in his talk, “we need to be able to see the cause of our problems in the landscapes of our lives”, because “it’s pictures that helps stories come alive”.

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Science and heart

Last night, I heard Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter, speak at Sheldon’s Friday Fringe about “The Church and Civil Partnerships”. He spoke about his own experience and the journeys that the state and the church have been on, the need for equality, but the pitfalls of trying to move too fast. He came across as genuine and tactically astute. If only he were still my MP, and the constituency boundary changes in 2010 hadn’t shifted Topsham and St Loyes out of Exeter and into East Devon!

He prefaced his talk with some science. It’s almost indisputable that hetero- or homosexuality are innate, rather than learned, and there is increasing evidence of a genetic basis. But people don’t believe what they believe because of the science. It’s the same with climate change. People think and make decisions with their hearts or emotions, rather than their heads, and are much happier to stay with outdated beliefs than to change their prejudices or their lifestyles.

Last Friday, I was the storyteller (cool name for blogger) at the first TEDxExeter, a festival of ideas worth spreading on the theme of “Sustainability and Our Interconnected World”. You’d have thought that an event about ideas would have been interesting, cerebral, perhaps even inspiring. But one of the most telling responses was the openness to the emotional and spiritual. For example:

  • @GeekDadGamer : The only framework I have to make sense of @TEDxExeter is a spiritual one. Not expected that, or the emotion.
  • @KirstiAfS : Reflecting on an inspiring day at #TEDxExeter & what engaged me most: personal stories (especially from childhood ) + passion. And Taiko!
  • @TPiMBWAcademic : @BandiMbubi Amazing speech, absolutely deserved the standing ovation! pure inspiration! tears in my eyes #MakingTheDifference #TEDxExeter

So, a question: how best can science be used to engage the heart and emotions?

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