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Posts Tagged ‘BBC Radio 4

The book! Part Four: Finding happiness.

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Aristotle is reputed to have said, “Happiness depends on ourselves.

For someone born nearly 2,400 years ago, at the time of penning this book, Aristotle’s (384 to 322 BCE) words of wisdom resonate very much with these modern times. Even granting the fact that Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and a scientist, it still has me in awe of the man. Consider, when one thinks about Aristotle’s reflections on mankind so long ago and finds, some 2,400 years later, that in a sense, in a very real sense, nothing much about the aspect of our happiness is new. Certainly when it comes to the behaviours of homo sapiens!

To underpin that last observation, that seeking happiness still fascinates us, just a few days ago (November 2104) I read an item on the BBC website reporting that a Google engineer, Chade-Meng Tan, “claims he has the secret to a contented, stress-free life.” The BBC reporter, David G Allan, author of the article, went on to write, “Deep inside the global tech behemoth Google sits an engineer with an unusual job description: to make people happier and the world more peaceful.

From Aristotle to Google – Talk about plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

Nevertheless, if the source of our happiness is something that has been known for thousands of years, why do we have the sense that happiness is elusive, (I use the word ‘we’ in the broad sense.), why the reason that happiness seems as far away from the common, everyday experience as the white, snowy peak of a magnificent mountain shining out from a dark, blue sky?

How can we understand more about happiness; whether or not it is, indeed, elusive?

Well there’s only one place to start looking for the answer to that question in these modern times and that’s a Google search! Wow! No shortage of places to go looking: that search for the word ‘happiness’ produced the response – About 50,000,000 results (0.15 seconds)! And a bonus: I laughed out aloud when I saw that figure.

50 million results! Happiness doesn’t appears to be that elusive after all!

Let’s come at the question of happiness from a different angle. What about happiness from the perspective of good mental health?

The leading mental health charity in the UK is the organisation MIND. Their website, not surprisingly, poses the question: What do we mean by good mental health? Then offers the response: “Good mental health isn’t something you have, but something you do. To be mentally healthy you must value and accept yourself.

See there’s the prescience of Aristotle again!

MIND continues the response to the question by underlining how we should “… care about yourself and you care for yourself. …. love yourself, not hate yourself. …. look after your physical health”, reminding us all to “eat well, sleep well, exercise and enjoy yourself.”

Gretchen Rubin, an expert on the topic of happiness and the author of several books on this aspect of us humans, has researched happiness for many years. Her conclusions are the following: that happiness is found in the enjoyment of ordinary things, in the everyday and in cherishing the small things in our lives.

There’s a distinct theme appearing here. All the way from Aristotle: That whether or not I am happy comes down to one person and one person alone: me! Happiness is about my response to my world; my world around me.

It doesn’t take much to see the incredible importance of being good to oneself. That finding happiness is firmly on the same page as self-compassion.

That is reinforced by Ruth Nina Welsh, a freelance writer specialising in lifestyle, wellbeing and self-help, and a former counsellor and coach (and, notwithstanding, an erstwhile musician). Ruth, on her website Be Your Own Counsellor and Coach, reminds us to, “see yourself as being a valuable person in your own right.” Then later, adding: “If you value yourself, you don’t expect people to reject you. You aren’t frightened of other people. You can be open, and so you enjoy good relationships.

Conclusion: It is totally clear that how we see ourselves is central to every decision we make. People who value and accept themselves, the essence of self-happiness, cope with life in ways that are just not available to people who are not happy with who they are.

That strikes me that being happy with ourself should be the first thing we should say to ourselves in the morning, and the last thing we should think about as we drop off to sleep.

Thus having spent a few paragraphs looking at happiness in its own right, how do we bring happiness into the central proposition of this section of the book: Of change in thoughts and deeds? How can happiness be a positive tool for change?

To put into context the need for change in our thoughts and deeds, let’s look back over our shoulders at the past fifty years or more and realise that despite the relentless growth in incomes, across the vast majority of countries, we are no happier than we were those five decades ago. Indeed, some might argue that we are much less happy. Certainly, in this same period of fifty years, we have seen an increase in wider social issues, including a very worrying rise in anxiety and depression in our young people.

If the premise that change is essential, that there is a growing motivation to turn away from where we, as in mankind, seem to be heading, and seek more peaceful and harmonious times, then finding happiness, as with faith in goodness, is an important ingredient but on its own does not deliver change.

For more years than I care to remember, BBC Radio 4 has been broadcasting a ten-minute programme: A Point of View; usually on a Friday evening if my memory serves me well. Back in 2013, writer and broadcaster, Al Kennedy, presented A Point of View on the theme of Why embracing change is the key to happiness. The ideas behind that programme were also published on the BBC News Magazine website: A Point of View: Why embracing change is the key to happiness. Al Kennedy proposing that, “Human happiness may rely on our ability to conquer a natural fear of upsetting the status quo.

Al Kennedy touched on a familiar aspect of change, “If you’re like me, you won’t want to change. Even if things aren’t wonderful, but are familiar, I would rather stay with what I know. Why meddle with something for which there is a Latin, and therefore authoritative, term: the status quo.

Thus, Al reminds us, that seeing happiness as a key to change, may be putting it in the wrong order. We have to welcome change, have it as a fundamental part of who we are and trust that this is the path to happiness. Back to Al Kennedy: “And every analysis of what makes lucky and happy people lucky and happy demonstrates they adapt fast and well to new situations and people, and so are defended by complex social circles and acclimatised to change.

That BBC article concludes, again with Al Kennedy’s words: “Approaching the changing reality of reality with sensible flexibility is the best strategy for happiness. I don’t believe it, but it’s true. And if I can change my mind, I can change anything else I need to.

Notions of Rome not being built in a single day come to mind. Or that other one about even the longest journey starting out with a single step.

Silly old me! Still looking for more sayings to crystallise the essence of happiness and the best one is right under my nose. The one that opened this chapter. From the wise Aristotle: “Happiness depends on ourselves.

1296 words Copyright 2014: Paul Handover

Written by Paul Handover

November 26, 2014 at 00:30

Rob Hopkins and ‘engaged optimism’.

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A wonderful enlightened approach to the challenges facing our beautiful planet.

Rob Hopkins is a remarkable fellow.  In so many ways he is the most unlikely person to have kicked off almost single-handedly, a gathering world-wide revolution.

Rob Hopkins

There’s a very good description of the man on his Transition Culture website, from which I have republished this segment,

He is the co-founder of Transition Town Totnes and of the Transition Network. This grew out of many years experience in education, teaching permaculture and natural building, and setting up the first 2 year full-time permaculture course in the world, at Kinsale Further Education College in Ireland, as well as co-ordinating the first eco-village development in Ireland to be granted planning permission.

He is author of ‘The Transition Handbook: from oil dependence to local resilience’, which has been published in a number of languages, and which was voted the 5th most popular book taken on holiday by MPs during the summer of 2008, and more recently of ‘The Transition Companion: making your community more resilient in uncertain times’, published in October 2011.  He publishes the blog www.transitionculture.org, recently voted ‘the 4th best green blog in the UK’(!).  He tweets as @robintransition, and and recently came 11th in the PeerIndex-driven Sustainability Drivers List.

I am as guilty as the next person in promoting ‘doom and gloom’ when it comes to what mankind is doing to this planet.  I devoted a couple of thousand words to that theme in a guest sermon that appeared on Learning from Dogs a week ago.  That’s not to say that unless mankind, in the millions, changes in significant ways then avoiding a catastrophy to our species, and many others, is going to be hugely difficult.

But motivating us all to change is far better undertaken from a position of positive guidance and inspiration, than out of fear!

So when Jean and I listened to a recent BBC radio broadcast by Rob as part of the BBC Radio 4 Four Thought series we were blown away by the guidance and inspiration that Rob presented.

It’s 15 minutes of hope, and you too can listen to it from anywhere in the world by going here or by going here.

This is how the BBC introduces the programme,

Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition Culture movement, believes that “engaged optimism” is the best way to face the global challenges of the future, be it climate change, oil supplies running out or the economic downturn. He believes initiatives enabling people to produce their own goods and services locally – from solar powered bottled beer to micro currencies like the Brixton pound – are the best way to build community resilience. Four Thought is a series of talks in which speakers give a personal viewpoint recorded in front of an audience at the RSA in London.
Producer: Sheila Cook.

So do listen to the programme and then click across to the Transition Culture website where Rob has posted a transcript of his talk.  Please, whatever your plans today find time to listen to the programme and read the transcript.  Here’s how Rob closes his talk,

I often end talks I give with Arundhati Roy’s quote “another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day I can hear her breathing”.  I think we might adapt her quote, so that, in the context of this bottom-up drive for more resilient communities, communities better prepared for uncertain times, it is not only a case of hearing another world breathing, but being able to see her around us, already setting up local businesses, reviving her local economy, setting up bakeries, breweries, food hubs, mentoring scores of young people with business ideas, attracting inward social investment finance, creating the models whereby people can invest in their communities and see them being strengthened and supported.

That’s why I get out of bed in the morning, because I feel that the potential in our getting this right is so exquisite that it’s all I can do, and because the grim predictability of what will happen if we do nothing is just unthinkable, especially in relation to the challenge of climate change.  If we are able to turn things around on the scale we need to turn them around on, to replace vulnerability, carbon intensity and fragility with resilience, it will be an achievement our children will tell tales about, sing songs about.  I hope I am there to hear them.  Thank you.

Another world is on her way!

Another beautiful world is on her way!

Anthropocene era gaining legs

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We really may be on the verge of a new geological period.

Just a couple of weeks ago, on the 16th May, I wrote an article called The Anthropocene period.  It was based on both a BBC radio programme and a conference called “The Anthropocene: A New Epoch of Geological Time?”

So imagine my surprise when I collected this week’s copy of The Economist from my mail-box last Saturday.  The cover page boldly illustrated a lead article within, as this picture shows.

US edition, May 28th

The leader is headlined, ‘Humans have changed the way the world works.  Now they have to change the way they think about it, too.’  The first two paragraphs of that leader explain,

THE Earth is a big thing; if you divided it up evenly among its 7 billion inhabitants, they would get almost 1 trillion tonnes each. To think that the workings of so vast an entity could be lastingly changed by a species that has been scampering across its surface for less than 1% of 1% of its history seems, on the face of it, absurd. But it is not. Humans have become a force of nature reshaping the planet on a geological scale—but at a far-faster-than-geological speed.

A single engineering project, the Syncrude mine in the Athabasca tar sands, involves moving 30 billion tonnes of earth—twice the amount of sediment that flows down all the rivers in the world in a year. That sediment flow itself, meanwhile, is shrinking; almost 50,000 large dams have over the past half- century cut the flow by nearly a fifth. That is one reason why the Earth’s deltas, home to hundreds of millions of people, are eroding away faster than they can be replenished.

There’s also a video on The Economist website of an interview with Dr. Erle Ellis, associate professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland.  That video link is here.

That Economist lead article concludes,

Recycling the planet

How frightened should people be about this? It would be odd not to be worried. The planet’s history contains many less stable and clement eras than the Holocene. Who is to say that human action might not tip the planet into new instability?

Some will want simply to put the clock back. But returning to the way things were is neither realistic nor morally tenable. A planet that could soon be supporting as many as 10 billion human beings has to work differently from the one that held 1 billion people, mostly peasants, 200 years ago. The challenge of the Anthropocene is to use human ingenuity to set things up so that the planet can accomplish its 21st-century task.

Increasing the planet’s resilience will probably involve a few dramatic changes and a lot of fiddling. An example of the former could be geoengineering. Today the copious carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere is left for nature to pick up, which it cannot do fast enough. Although the technologies are still nascent, the idea that humans might help remove carbon from the skies as well as put it there is a reasonable Anthropocene expectation; it wouldn’t stop climate change any time soon, but it might shorten its lease, and reduce the changes in ocean chemistry that excess carbon brings about.

More often the answer will be fiddling—finding ways to apply human muscle with the grain of nature, rather than against it, and help it in its inbuilt tendency to recycle things. Human interference in the nitrogen cycle has made far more nitrogen available to plants and animals; it has done much less to help the planet deal with all that nitrogen when they have finished with it. Instead we suffer ever more coastal “dead zones” overrun by nitrogen-fed algal blooms. Quite small things, such as smarter farming and better sewage treatment, could help a lot.

For humans to be intimately involved in many interconnected processes at a planetary scale carries huge risks. But it is possible to add to the planet’s resilience, often through simple and piecemeal actions, if they are well thought through. And one of the messages of the Anthropocene is that piecemeal actions can quickly add up to planetary change.

We are living in interesting times!

Finally, more of Dr. Ellis may be watched on the following YouTube video.

The Anthropocene period

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Is this a new geological age?

Before moving to the thrust of this article, let me say that of the few things that I miss now living in Arizona, British draft beer and BBC Radio 4 are top of the list.  Radio 4 have long broadcast a splendid 30-minute summary of science matters under the banner of Material World.  It was the broadcast on May 12th that had a very powerful except that I will present here.  The programme is available to listen online.  This is how the BBC wrote up the summary,

Researchers from all over the world and various disciplines gathered together in London for a conference called “The Anthropocene: A New Epoch of Geological Time?” The term “Anthropocene” was coined by Professor Paul Crutzen of the Max Planck Institute in 2002 to suggest human activity has had such an irreversible affect on our planet, that we have entered into a new geological period, influenced by humans. The conference aimed to discuss the various research projects studying the Anthropocene, as well as to discuss whether or not it should be formalised as a geological “Epoch”. What actually is the Anthropocene, why are so many disciplines researching it and what difference will it make if it is formalized? Quentin finds out from Leicester University geologist Dr. Jan Zalasiewicz, and ecologist Professor Erle Ellis from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Elsewhere on the BBC website, a fuller summary of the conference was written up by Howard Falcon-Lang, Royal Holloway, University of London.  I have taken the liberty of publishing that summary, minus the photographs, below, simply because it’s so important a read.

Anthropocene: Have humans created a new geological age?

By Howard Falcon-Lang Royal Holloway, University of London, 10th May 2011

Human civilisation developed in a cosy cradle.

Over the last 11,700 years – an epoch that geologists call the Holocene – climate has remained remarkably stable. This allowed humans to plan ahead, inventing agriculture, cities, communication networks and new forms of energy.

Some geologists now believe that human activity has so irrevocably altered our planet that we have entered a new geological age.

This proposed new epoch – dubbed the Anthropocene – was discussed at a major conference held at the Geological Society in London on Wednesday. Yet some experts say that defining this “human age” is much more than about understanding our place in history. Instead, our whole future may depend on it.

The term, the Anthropocene, was coined over a decade ago by Nobel Laureate chemist, Paul Crutzen. Professor Crutzen recalls: “I was at a conference where someone said something about the Holocene. I suddenly thought this was wrong. The world has changed too much. No, we are in the Anthropocene. I just made up the word on the spur of the moment. Everyone was shocked. But it seems to have stuck.”

But is Professor Crutzen correct? Has the Earth really flipped into a new geological epoch – and if so, why is this important?

Back to the beginning

Dr Jan Zalasiewicz of the University of Leicester is one of the leading proponents of the Anthropocene theory. He told BBC News: “Simply put, our planet no longer functions in the way that it once did. Atmosphere, climate, oceans, ecosystems… they’re all now operating outside Holocene norms. This strongly suggests we’ve crossed an epoch boundary.” Dr Zalasiewicz added: “There are three ideas about when the Anthropocene began. Some people think it kicked off thousands of years ago with the rise of agriculture, but really those first farmers didn’t change the planet much. Others put the boundary around 1800. That was the year that human population hit one billion and carbon dioxide started to significantly rise due to the burning of fossil fuels in the Industrial Revolution,” he explained. Dr Zalasiewicz continued, “However, the really big changes didn’t get going until the end of the Second World War – and that’s another candidate for the boundary.”

To formally define a new epoch, geologists must show how it can be recognised in the layers of mud that will eventually form rocks. As it turns out, there is enormous practical advantage in fixing 1945 as the beginning of the Anthropocene.

“1945 was the dawn of the nuclear age,” explained Dr Zalasiewicz. “Sediments deposited worldwide that year contain a tell-tale radioactive signature from the first atom bomb tests in the States”. So, thousands of years from now, geologists (if any still exist) will be able to place their finger on that very layer of mud.

Extraordinary times?

Nonetheless, the choice of 1945 for start of the Anthropocene is much more than just convenient. It coincides with an event that Professor Will Steffen of the Australian National University describes as the “Great Acceleration”. Professor Steffen told the BBC: “A few years ago, I plotted graphs to track the growth of human society from 1800 to the present day. What I saw was quite unexpected – a remarkable speeding up after the Second World War”.

In that time, the human population has more than doubled to an astounding 6.9 billion. However, much more significantly, Professor Steffen believes, the global economy has increased ten-fold over the same period.

“Population growth is not the big issue here. The real problem is that we’re becoming wealthier and consuming exponentially more resources,” he explained.

This insatiable consumption has placed enormous stresses on our planet. Writing in the prestigious journal Nature, Professor Steffen and colleagues recently identified nine “life support systems” essential for human life on Earth. They warned that two of these – climate and the nitrogen cycle – are in danger of failing, while a third – biodiversity – is already in meltdown.

“One of the most worrying features of the Great Acceleration is biodiversity loss,” Professor Steffen said. “Species extinction is currently running 100 to 1000 times faster than background levels, and will increase further this century. When humans look back… the Anthropocene will probably represent one of the six biggest extinctions in our planet’s history.” This would put it on a par with the event that wiped out the dinosaurs.

But perhaps more alarming is the possibility that the pronounced global warming seen at the start of the proposed Anthropocene epoch could be irreversible. “Will climate change prove to be a short-term spike that quickly returns to normal, or are we seeing a long term move to a new stable state?” asked Professor Steffen. “That’s the million dollar question.”

If the Anthropocene does develop into a long-lived period of much warmer climate, then there may be one very small consolation: the fossil record of modern human society is likely to be preserved in amazing detail.

Dr Mike Ellis of the British Geological Survey told BBC News: “As a result of rising sea level, scientists of the future will be able to explore the relics of whole cities buried in mud”.

Preserved buildings

In New Orleans, large areas of the city are already below sea level. The disastrous combination of rising sea level and subsidence of the Mississippi Delta on which it is built suggest that it will succumb at some point in the future. Although the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts less than a metre of sea level rise over the next 90 years, more than five metres of sea level rise is possible over the coming centuries as the Greenland and West Antarctic ice caps melt.

Sea level rise of this magnitude will mean that the lower storeys of buildings will be preserved intact. Such “urban strata will be a unique, widespread and easily recognisable feature of the sedimentary deposits of the human age”, Dr Ellis commented.

Geologists of the future may also hunt for other, more unusual, “markers” of the Anthropocene epoch, such as the traces of plastic packaging in sediments.

But geologists like Dr Mark Williams from the University of Leicester hold much more serious concerns: “One of the main reasons we developed the Anthropocene concept was to quantify present-day change and compare it with the geological record,” he explained. “Only when we do so, can we critically assess the pace and degree of change that we’re currently experiencing.”

Dr Williams added that while the Anthropocene has yet to run its course, “all the signs are that the human age will be a stand-out event in the 4.5 billion year history of the Earth”.

We certainly do live in interesting times!

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