Tag: Martin Rees Baron Rees of Ludlow

What We Still Don’t Know? Part 2

Why Are We Here?

On Tuesday, I introduced the first of three films hosted by Lord Martin Rees.  That was called Are We Alone.  I do hope many of you were able to watch that.  Film two is also from the website Top Documentary Films and the link is here.  But, again, the film is available in 5 parts from YouTube and follows below.

In total, just around an hour to watch and well worth while.  You will find, believer in God or not, that there are some deeply spiritual aspects to Martin Rees’ wonderful presentation.

Everything you thought you knew about the universe is wrong. It’s made of atoms, right?

Wrong. Atoms only account for a measly 15% of everything that exists!

The mass of the universe consists of something so mysterious and elusive that it has been dubbed ‘dark matter’.

The final film of the trilogy will be presented on Learning from Dogs next Tuesday, the 17th January.

What We Still Don’t Know?

Are we truly alone?

On the 5th January, I presented a piece, called Life and the Cosmos, that was based on a deeply interesting lecture given by Britain’s Lord Martin Rees at the University of Melbourne’s Medical School in 2010.  I wrote that I was going to pick up on some of the points made by Lord Rees in that lecture and I do so starting today.

On the website Top Documentary Films there is a collection of three films, originally shown on Channel 4 television in the UK, under the broad banner of What We Still Don’t Know?  They make deeply fascinating viewing.  Luckily they appear to be available on YouTube as well, thus can be included directly in this Post.  However, if you have any problems with the YouTube versions then click here.

So here is the first programme, Are We Alone?

Are we alone? Sir Martin explores the possibility that life exists on planets beyond our own. He unveils an unsettling scientific debate that has startling consequences for us Earthlings. Do you believe in aliens? Why are we here? Everything you thought you knew about the universe is wrong. It’s made of atoms, right? Wrong. Atoms only account for a measly 15% of everything that exists. The mass of the universe consists of something so mysterious and elusive that it has been dubbed ‘dark matter’. Are we real? There is a fundamental chasm in our understanding of ourselves, the universe, and everything. To solve this, Sir Martin takes us on a mind-boggling journey through multiple universes to post-biological life. On the way we learn of the disturbing possibility that we could be the product of someone else’s experiment.

The second programme Why Are We Here? will be presented on Learning from Dogs on Thursday.

Keystone XL pipeline

Spread the word as far and wide as possible!

Yesterday I received an email from 350.org as part of their mailing to all 350.org supporters.  I have previously written a number of times, for example see here and here, about this proposed project and why it is so important to have it rejected.

Yesterday I published a lecture given in Melbourne by Britain’s eminent Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees.  Lord Rees concluded his lecture with the call for us to take better care of our own planet. He, like many others, recognises the unique place in history that we occupy. For the first time a single species is capable of exerting profound changes on the Earth’s natural and physical environments.

Over and over again, scientists are reporting the rise in climate temperature of Planet Earth and the implications thereof if we do not wakeup soon to changing our ways.  The Keystone pipeline is a huge potential mistake!

Bill McKibben of 350.org

Anyway, to the letter issued by 350.org – note the link to send a message to President Obama works – please use it!

Direct threats from Big Oil over Keystone XL

01/05/12, 11:43am

Here’s the email that Bill McKibben just sent to US 350.org supporters who have been working on Keystone XL:

Just in case you thought there was anything subtle about the Keystone battle, you need to hear what the president of the American Petroleum Institute — the oil industry’s #1 front group — said yesterday: if the President doesn’t approve the project there will “huge political consequences.”

That’s as direct a threat as you’re ever going to hear in DC, and it shows just how mad you made the oil industry last year by exposing Keystone for the climate-killing danger it is.  And the oil industry can obviously make good on their threats — they’ve got all the money on earth, and thanks to Citizens United they can use it without restriction in our elections. They’re not used to ever losing.So far the Obama administration is standing firm in the face of Big Oil’s bullying — the White House made it completely clear last month that if the oil industry and its harem in Congress forced a speeded-up review, it would lead to an outright rejection of the permit for the pipeline. We expect they’ll keep their word.

Here’s what I think we need to do.

1- Let the president know you’ve got his back when he rejects the pipeline. Tell him that addressing climate change is the key to our future, and that you’re glad he’s not bending.

2- Take the offensive against the oil industry. If they’re going to try and ram Keystone down our throats we’re going to try and take away something they hold dear, the handouts that Congress gives them each and every year. They’re the richest industry on earth, they’re doing great damage to the planet — and they expect us to pay for it with our tax dollars.

Can you send a quick note to President Obama covering those two key points? 

Click here to send a message to the President: www.350.org/stand-strong

Here’s the note I’m sending:

President Obama: Thank you for opposing the rushed Keystone XL pipeline permit. Responding to climate change is critical to preserving our collective future, and I hope this is a first step towards the dramatic changes we need to avoid catastrophe. PS: Please take handouts for the fossil fuel industry out of next year’s budget. There are people in America who need that money more.

There’s lots more to be done, of course. In the slightly longer run, we’ve got to take on the greatest subsidy of all: the special privilege that Congress gives the fossil fuel industry to use the atmosphere as an open sewer into which to dump its carbon for free.But today — right now, in the face of this kind of straight-up bullying — it’s time to punch back. We’re nonviolent, but we’re not wimps.


Life and the cosmos

A powerful lecture by the eminent Lord Martin Rees

Martin Rees at Jodrell Bank, 2007

I came across this interview a few days ago in connection with some book research that I was undertaking.  Please don’t be put off by the 56 minute length because Martin Rees is one of the most pre-eminent cosmologists around today, as well as being the UK’s Astronomer Royal since 1995.

Make a promise to yourself to settle down sometime soon and watch the lecture, given at the University of Melbourne’s Medical School in 2010.  And a warning! I going to pick up on some of the important points made by Martin Rees in a couple of posts next week.

Here’s how the lecture was reported by the Australian science website, SixOne Science,

Lord Rees in Melbourne

In a packed Sunderland Lecture Theatre in the University of Melbourne’s Medical School, Lord Martin Rees gave the inaugural Derek Denton Lecture in Science and the Arts. Lord Rees, an eminent and accomplished astrophysicist and cosmologist, is coming to the end of his five year tenure as the president of The Royal Society. The event even managed to attract or Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, who entered without a noticeable entourage and with no fanfare, and the Governor of Victoria, Professor David de Kretser, a scientist himself.

The lecture was entitled “Life and the Cosmos”, a grand and sweeping title if ever there was one. It seemed like an impossible amount of material to cover in the allotted hour. However, Rees delivered an entertaining, humorous account of life from the big bang, through the formation of stars and galaxies, to the origins of life and perhaps the biggest crowd pleaser, the search for extra-terrestrial life. Most in the lecture theatre would not have learnt anything new, but this lecture was aimed at a general audience and the material was interesting enough to keep everyone interested for the hour despite being squashed into an ageing undergraduate lecture theatre complete with squeaky desks and a slightly musty smell. Perhaps Mr. Rudd was sufficiently uncomfortable to increase university funding, we can hope.

Whist this was predominately an overview of the subject material, Rees expressed some opinions about space exploration. He seemed torn between his human curiosity and the cost of human exploration. Given the advances in robotic exploration vehicles, Rees has difficulty in justifying the cost of sending humans on planetary exploration missions. Perhaps the best case for robotic exploration was made by the amazing photos he showed from the surfaces of Mars (photos) and Titan (photos), a moon of Saturn. Interestingly, Rees believes that if human exploration does proceed in the future it will be led by the Chinese or groups of private individuals. He also raised the issue of exploitation of other planets, something not often mentioned in the debate over human space travel. We need to decide if other bodies in our solar system are open for exploitation or if they should be preserved as wilderness, in a similar way to Antarctica. Given the pressures faced by places like Antarctica and the Amazon this will be an important debate should human exploration resume.

Rees concluded his lecture with the almost obligatory call for us to take better care or our own planet. He, like many others, recognises the unique place in history that we occupy. For the first time a single species is capable of exerting profound changes on the Earth’s natural and physical environments (although it might be argued that the first photosynthesizing cyanobacteria had a similarly singular influence by increasing the proportion of oxygen in the atmosphere). It is interesting to note that he does not see colonisation of other planets as a solution as the Earth is still the only known planet capable of sustaining us. Although he did discuss the likelihood of discovering Earth-like planets (pretty good given advances in technology). However, Rees did not paint an overly pessimistic picture and he generally came across as optimistic and enthusiastic about the future.

The organisers of the Derek Denton Lecture series should be commended for attracting such a high profile speaker for the first of the series. Hopefully the series will be successful, and if so may need to be moved to a bigger venue. If you want to see the lecture it will soon be available here. The next lecture of this series hasn’t been announced yet, it will be on the Arts, but you can check here for future public events at The University of Melbourne.