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Tuesday, 29 December 2009

A walk in the snow

I set out down the lane beyond Brin Croft, walking gingerly over the almost invisible cattle grid, striding on through boot deep snow. The terriers romped ahead into the dusk. A near full moon rose over the taller pines above the esker.
Where the sheep huddled, I turned downhill along the fence on a familiar path to the river, now knee-deep, feeling my way with my stick. Stepping into a deeper patch I pitched laughing into a drift. Only the tails of the terrier's showed - wagging periscopes. The river came in sight, black between white islands.
I lurched along the bank; the dogs plunging ahead came to the bridge blocked by a fallen birch and I, covered in snow turning to ice, knelt and crawled under. The path on the west side of the Farnack had been trodden already and was easy to follow. I held the fence on my left; occasional branches on my right. Lulu begged me to throw a stick. "Oh no. You want to play otter but no!" The dogs rushed ahead yapping. Dark figures appeared. "Hi there." A man and a boy pulling a sledge. "So beautiful! He'll remember" I said. The stranger replied "Yes, but unfortunately he is from Switzerland." "Ah. So this is normal?" We smiled and passed. The light lessened in the west, replaced by the moon's through the trees on the opposite bank. I glimpsed the warm yellow square of my mother's bedroom in Brin Croft above the steep slope where the river turns a corner. In minutes we were crossing the meadow, picking my way up the slope on which we'd sledged - Amy, Guy, me and Richard - before Christmas.
I was powdered with ice, small chunks in my boots, feeling warm and happy. In the porch at Brin Croft I towelled the dogs, shoved my iced socks, gloves and jacket in the tumble drier and tied my soaked boots on a radiator. Then tea and buttered toast with candied Scottish honey in front of the wood stove, chatting to my mother, as when back from such a walk as a boy - in those days on the slopes of Glen Affric and along the banks of the Beaulieu river above Cannich at Fasnakyle for Christmas.
* * *
Over 2009 climate change became ineluctably politicised. I'm a foot soldier in at least one of the ignorant armies milling at the gates of a new faculty. Climatology has become an issue for the ballot box, requiring us to tick bits of paper to be dropped through a slot - pro or con, either/or, for/against, "ayes to the left, nays to the right" - diverting us from the fuzzy world of conjecture, hypothesis, method, raw data, doubt and scepticism. I've been interested, for years, in the messy interface at the heart of government, between administration - in this case as a host for science and the getting of empirical evidence - and politics. My inherited political interest in the environment has jumped too far ahead of my knowledge of the science.
In governmental terms, there's a disconnect. As the political profile of climate change becomes more and more prominent (though golfing adultery attracted about as much public interest during COP15), too few politicians are properly briefed on the evidence while being required by the electorate to take stances on climate change that will determine the vote. In the administrative world, including the world of scientific professionals, there is much political naivety about the way evidence informs politics.
I've realised over 2009 how ignorant I am. I realise what an enormous amount I need to learn before I can even qualify as a sceptic, let alone participate in informed discussion about the findings of Climate Science. In this I am like a politician who aspires to govern, who sees the need to bridge the gap between science and politics; who knows that scientists and politicians need to 'inhabit each other's worlds'.
A summary from a free-lance science writer, Kurt Kleiner, in one of the bridging initiatives to which I'm referring, from Nature Reports - the news behind the science, the science behind the news. Someone convinced that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax will likely say my sources are irremediably biased, but I'm less interested in opinions of the 'convinced' - while recognising their political weight. I want to wander the realm of doubt - id est science (see Kurt Kleiner again) - while keeping my faith that we've fallen far short of our duty of stewardship to the Earth. [See back here and here in Democracy Street]
See also the article to which Kurt Kleiner refers by Professor John Ioannidis at the University of Ioannina Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. What a tasty morsel for the convinced.
* * * *
I've just discovered - no 'disambiguated' as Wikipedia describes it - a new term - Millet - via a conference at the University of Athens on 14 January 2010 'From millet communities to minorities: Greek Orthodox in the Ottoman Empire ~ Turkey and Muslims in Greece, 1830s – 1939'. This came via the very useful Hellas/Greece portal, which led me to IOS - virus in Greek - a group of journalists criticising nationalism and other shortcoming of the Hellenic legal apparatus. Through thematic articles published Sundays in Eleutherothypia, this group covers topics such as the Muslim minority, school textbooks, the requirement to declare religion on identity cards...
hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhHear the silence

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Simon Baddeley