15 March 2020

Tears and fears

We were back at Smiths for another Ockham's Razor recording. OR is the famed principle of parsimony but it's also an ABC RN series where invitees speak for ~10 mins on science-related topics of their choice. This session was less well attended than the previous one we attended, presumably given this time of Coronavirus. (I write within the incubation period of that event, but at least I am alone at my desk). There were six speakers in two sets of three, introduced by host Bernie Hobbs. Bec Colvin (ANU) spoke of binaries in the discussion of climate change and the related dysfunctional conflicts. She posited three causes/considerations: ideological bundling, importance of the messenger and importance of framing. Yep, I can see all this and they are all relevant to good discussion, but I thought further of issues of truth and its accepted sources, the obstinate commitment of Tea Party right wing, media and think tanks and funding for climate denial. But fair enough: we agreed on these further issues when we chatted and she only had 10 minutes! Meredith Hope (ANU) spoke about water and the Murray and specifically a project to combine photos, videos and "sonification" of riverine sounds into a public display. The Music School in involved in this. Sadjad Soltanzadeh (UNSW) talked of the power of teams in sports. A classic example is the "Miracle on Ice" where a US team of college-level amateurs with a fitting tactical plan beat a Russian team of professional sporties. The themes were: there's no such thing as a perfect team, numbers are overrated and team cohesion if more important that star players. Michelle McCann (Solarshare and ex-ANU) spoke on the expansion of solar farms offering some hope on climate. Her visit to a huge solar farm led her to call it a "massive array of hope". Michelle has twice held the world record for most efficient solar cells, so she knows something. And a final call: keep anger and have hope (essentially Gramsci's "Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will"). Clint Therakam (UNSW Space) spoke on satellites, their capabilities, design and build and future, reminding us of small amateur groups who have built satellites. BTW, the requirements are power, comms, computers (from Raspberry Pi up, from $66), sensors, guidance and housing. Not easy but not impossible. Kate Grarock (ANBG) spoke of nature as her "happy place" and retreat, of hiking and species discovery and the sorrows of our recent fires and smoke and hailstorm and the deflation of her environmentally aware friends. This is "just a taste" of our climate future but nature is "incredible at recovery". Of course there's only so much one can impart in 10 minutes and, if you are interested in science, you may be aware of all these matters. Nonetheless, these are fascinating insights and welcoming encounters. For me, the most intriguing aspects were a discussion with Bec at interval where she expanded on issues of climate communications (and promised me a copy of her recent paper) and the intensely touching and revealing fact that two speakers were on the verge of tears while speaking of climate: this in the context of warnings of civilisational collapse. This is telling. Let no-one say we weren't warned.

ABC Radio National recorded six sessions of Ockham's Razor at Smiths. Bernie Hobbs (host) introduced Bec Colvin, Meredith Hope, Sadjad Soltanzadeh, Michelle McCann, Clint Therakam and Kate Grarock

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