Sunday, October 1, 2017

Zeitz Mocaa

I am not an art freak.  Nevertheless, the transformation of a 1920's grain silo into a modern art gallery sounded sufficiently unusual to deserve at least a visit.  
I still had qualms. To my eyes, too much of what passes as "African Art" is naive at best, childish at worst.  Would this have any level of sophistication?
I should not have worried. I entered a very ordinary loading platform, complete with rails still on the floor. A metre or so inside, and I was in a cathedral of a space, with the old silos sliced in graceful curves.
                                                       Image courtesy Zeitz Mocaa
Overhead was a glass roof; some of the silo remnants were dangling threateningly; some housed spiral staircases, and others, lifts. I took a lift to the sixth floor, and stepped out into a sculpture garden. Stepping was gingerish at first, because I was walking on the glass roof, and very aware of six floors of drop beneath my feet.  My head told me it was perfectly safe; the pit of my stomach told me quite the reverse!
There followed three hours of visual stimulation. Round a circuit of cubical galleries, some containing no more than a small picture on each wall, then down a floor. There was a wonderful triptych involving a zebra, by Athi-Patra Ruga - a great example of the technique of using high-definition ink-jet printing. Kudzanai Chiurai was prolific;  his protest posters were a hoot, and his Lyeza film explored a sort of Last Supper theme very creatively. Nandipha Mntambo did magical things with cow hides - some of her creations could have graced grand balls. Mary Sibande's Opportunity was superbly sculpted, with a charging horse to end all charges.  It did not matter that a room full of hanging bricks (Kendall Geers) and another of hanging beer bottles (Lungiswa Gquanta) were trite, or that Penny Siopsis had a whole wall which would have been better covered by graffiti - there was enough creativity elsewhere to take away the bad taste.  Towards the end, William Kentridge's Dance was 12 minutes of sheer bliss - a vast panorama covering three walls, inviting total immersion and succeeding brilliantly.
The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art is a fantastic addition to the list of Cape Town's attractions.  Don't miss it!
 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

How green WAS my valley!

We are all "green." We love nature. We will do all we can to save it from being ravaged by mankind. But there is a problem. As Einstein remarked Raffiniert ist der Herr Gott, aber boshaft ist er nicht,” roughly translated as "The Good Lord may be subtle, but He is not malicious."
This should be a warning that you must at all costs avoid being what I call a "galloping green." There is no point in plunging ahead when you think you have spotted a problem. Just remember, there is always a simple, straightforward solution to virtually every problem, and that solution is invariably wrong. You have to think before you act. Gut feeling for nature could do damage, not solve the problem!
There is a wonderful example in the latest Nature journal, http://www.nature.com/news/gridlock-over-italy-s-olive-tree-deaths-starts-to-ease-1.19939. Down in Puglia, the heel of the boot which is Italy, some olive trees started dying.  The plant pathologists identified a foreign bacterium, Xylella fastidiosa, as the culprit. They recommended uprooting the infected trees and everything within 100m of it.
But the local green movement was against this.  They "knew" all about diseases of olive trees, and were not going to allow 1 000 year old specimens to be uprooted. They chained themselves to the infected trees to prevent them being taken down; they went to court to stop the "massacre." They convinced the Puglian judge that the problem was fungal, not bacterial, and that they were expert in handling olive trees attacked by fungi.  The judge believed them.
And so the problem has spread through the whole of Puglia, some 200 000ha of olive groves, and is moving steadily north.  It has taken six months, but the judgement has been reversed - probably not too late to save the rest of Italy's crop. 
But Puglia is doomed, dead trees everywhere.  And the bacterium seems to have spread - to coastal Spain, across the Adriatic to Greece. All because the tree huggers thought they had the answer. Sometimes one thinks green is the colour beloved by the Devil himself!

The pseudo-disaster of dropping the Paris Accord

There has been an outcry over the American decision to renege on the Paris Accord.  Indeed, one professor went so far as to describe it as a “deeply immoral reprehensible act.”
Yet no-one who read President Trump’s speech can have been left in any doubt that there were sound economic reasons behind his decision. “Compliance with the terms of the Paris Accord and the onerous energy restrictions it has placed on the United States could cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025 according to the National Economic Research Associates.  This includes 440,000 fewer manufacturing jobs. . .”  “the Paris Accord … includes yet another scheme to redistribute wealth out of the United States through the so-called Green Climate Fund — nice name — which calls for developed countries to send $100 billion to developing countries all on top of America’s existing and massive foreign aid payments.”
When you realize that  China is America’s greatest trading rival as well as being a ‘developing country’, you can understand the American reluctance to send it aid.  
The good Professor even suggested America could not “opt out of the laws of physics.” Again, it is clear that he is ignoring large sections of what President Trump actually said. “Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100.  Tiny, tiny amount.  In fact, 14 days of carbon emissions from China alone would wipe out the gains from … America's expected reductions in the year 2030, after we have had to spend billions and billions of dollars, lost jobs, closed factories, and suffered much higher energy costs for our businesses and for our homes.”
The people who are ignoring the laws of physics are those on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  They are interpreting the laws of physics in such a way as to attempt to convince us that climate catastrophe is just round the corner.  It clearly isn’t.
None of their longer-term predictions have come true. The Arctic ice didn’t disappear in 2010. The greenhouse gases have shot up in this millennium, but the thermometer has barely budged.  The actual records of rainfall show no significant global trends, and there is a statistically insignificant drop in the number and violence of cyclones.  Yes, it’s got warmer – which mean that fewer old people die in winter.  Yes, there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, so plant life is flourishing and the planet, seen from space, is measurably greener.
Our Professor claims “The effects of climate change will hit … poorer communities … more than the rich.”  What he overlooks is that the Paris Accord in effect asks nations to avoid fossil fuels, even though for many they are the cheapest and most effective primary sources of energy. China is building some 200GW of new coal-fired power stations; India is building nearly 600GW; Africa has 120GW planned; and Pakistan, which has long relied on hydropower, is building 60GW. Even Germany, practically the home of renewable energy, has recently built 10GW of coal-fired power. For comparison, South Africa’s total capacity is about 45GW.
Yes, renewable energy is now on a cost parity with many other sources of energy; but renewable energy makes up only a tiny fraction (<2%)of the world’s energy supply and is already proving more difficult to distribute than the dispatchable sources. So it is the Paris Accord that will impact poorer societies, not climate change – particularly as the Green Climate Fund appears a dead duck.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The scourging of the denialist

It is a remarkable phenomenon, that if you say you doubt that human beings have much of an influence on the climate, you are treated as a kind of pariah. In the US, for instance, a very nice, intelligent woman called Judith Curry has recently walked out of her academic post. She has merely expressed doubts, and has done so clearly and honestly for a number of years.  I have watched several hours of videos of her addressing professional societies and government bodies, and have been struck by her ability to communicate her doubts succinctly and openly. Yet she has been vilified by many of her colleagues, struggled to find funding for her research, and had her students unfairly criticized in turn.

There was the infamous case of two American physicists, Soon and Baliunas, who wrote a review paper, summarizing the literature on global temperatures around 1400CE. Review papers are generally uncontroversial; they merely pull together a range of findings by other people. Soon and Baliunas dug up some 200 peer-reviewed studies of medieval temperatures, the great majority of which found that it had been significantly warmer than it is today. Wine in Scotland, tropical fruits in Rome, worldwide such evidence of the Medieval Warm Period.

However, a group who depended on the human warming hypothesis had produced a graph which failed to show any such period. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had seized on their graph to show unprecedented warming in the 20th century. The graph even acquired a name - the Hockey Stick.  The inconvenient review had to be killed! And killed it was.  By the time the dust had settled, even the journal which had allowed the review to appear had disappeared.

Just to make matters worse, the Hockey Stick showing no Medieval Warming Period was found to be faked.  The underlying mathematics had been wrongly applied, and there had been reliance on the width of tree rings to estimate the historical temperatures - but the tree rings went the wrong way when measured against modern temperatures.  So the modern tree-ring data was deleted, and replaced with the temperature record.  As scientific chicanery went, it has few equals.

A few years ago, the SA National Energy Association [SANEA], local representative of the World Energy Council, did me the honour of awarding me their Energy Award. Shortly after that they had a presentation at one of the monthly meetings in Cape Town from a True Believer from Johannesburg. What he had to say was highly questionable, but in the few minutes after the meeting there was no time to ask the really searching questions. So I asked the SANEA Secretary if he could find me a slot to respond to the highly charged material the True Believer had presented. At all the meetings, there were requests for future topics and speakers, so I felt the request was perfectly reasonable.
  
Three years down the road, I am still waiting. 

There's none so deaf as will not hear.