Our Country’s Good was a great treat this afternoon at St. James’ Theatre, London. The production capitalised on the intimate atmosphere of this brand-new theatre, with the superb sound creating a realistic impression of being surrounded by Australian wildlife.
We know this play well having produced it with our local group some years ago, but what a superb piece it is. Based on a true event it tells how the enlightened governor of an 18th century prison camp in Australia stuck his neck out and got one of his officers to organise the prisoners into producing, of all things, a play. Trying to introduce some civilisation amongst the savagery. And ultimately succeeding.
So we have a scenario for discussing what plays, and indeed art itself, are for. And we have a contrast between the brutality and degradation of daily life in the camp, depicted here in horrible detail, and the emerging humanity of the disparate cast. A clever device, which we also used to the full in our production, was the doubling of parts. So that, for example, the gentle and reviled prisoner who has been forced into the role of hangman becomes, by donning a wig and uniform jacket, the most vicious and sadistic of the officers. Thus the fact that there is a common humanity beneath the most contrasting exteriors is symbolised in the very structure of the play.
There are really beautiful scenes: I remember loving the prisoner explaining his passion for words when we did the play years ago, this afternoon it was all the more moving to hear it again, and so beautifully performed. There is the hilarious first rehearsal of the play when a prisoner who once saw Garrick himself perform insists on overacting. Another in which a trustee takes his sulking woman out for a trip in a rowing boat and she gradually unbends to him. And so on. It is a parable of so much that is important today. It’s a superb production, in a superb new venue, and we are aglow with the memory tonight.
The key point that has emerged for me during and since the meeting is that personal theories about climate change, yours or mine, are of no significance whatsoever. The only thing that we non-experts should legitimately concern ourselves with is which of the two stories about climate change we can trust. Because it is clear that there are two stories. And they are diametrically opposed to one another. One calls for urgent global action; the other urges inaction. If we back the wrong one, or undermine our politicians in their attempts to back the right one, the consequences, we are being warned, could be beyond our imagination.
In deciding which story to trust, the suggestion I made at the meeting was that we should look at the language being used. I picked out two characteristic signs of material that should arouse suspicion: CERTAINTY and VITRIOL. Having reiterated the principle that science is never ‘certain’, I gave a number of examples of what I meant by ‘vitriol’. These made a big impression on the audience, especially the personal message from a well-known journalist I invited to the meeting, which I allowed people to read as a slide. To these two tell-tale signs we can now add a third, as described in two of the links below — ‘occult funding by vested interests’. And when these three come together to contradict the consensus view of global scientific expertise on such an overwhelmingly important issue I for one have not the slightest doubt where I will continue to place my trust.
There have been some important developments in the month since the meeting, some are shocking, but some are wonderfully encouraging. Here is my selection in chronological order:
15 February: Secret funding helped build vast network of climate denial thinktanksAnonymous billionaires donated $120m to more than 100 anti-climate groups working to discredit climate change science How Donors Trust distributed millions to anti-climate groupshttp://gu.com/p/3dnyn/tw
And here are the links I promised to sources of trustworthy information:
Federal Advisory Committee. The best source for the current state of knowledge seems to me to be the Climate Assessment Report which this American body made public in draft a few days before our meeting. http://ncadac.globalchange.gov/ I cannot see how anyone could read the conclusions of this immensely authoritative and clearly-written report and persist in trying to undermine attempts to respond to the threat we all face.
The National Academies (of US Sciences) Video explaining how scientists have arrived at the current state of knowledge about recent climate change and its causes. Concluding words: “The picture that emerges from all of these data sets is clear and consistent – the earth is warming” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IuVzcp39rs&feature=youtu.be
Skeptical Sciencewww.skepticalscience.com‘Explaining climate change science & rebutting global warming misinformation’. This is a brilliant site which provides clear answers to the queries deniers keep on raising. There is even a smartphone app so that you can look up replies in the pub. (For one thing you can see clearly why it is a misnomer to call deniers ‘skeptics’)
Finally, here is the latest pie chart by James Powell, showing the miniscule number of peer-reviewed scientific papers which deny that global warming is caused by humans (Look for the green dot) The excellent website is at jamespowell.org – the methods and criteria are detailed there so that anyone can repeat the survey for themselves if they doubt the findings.
3 important letters in the Guardian of 23 February 2013
Catherine Hopewell (Letters, 21 February) hits the nail on the head. It’s the target culture which has all but destroyed the professions of social work, education and health, replacing care and common humanity with an obsessive drive for “results”, scored by tick-box assessments on computer databases. In the last 10 years I have seen the social work service for children, young people and families distorted beyond recognition by the need to feed the Ofsted-driven target machine and, to that end, on management instruction, have held “meetings” in the school holidays when nobody could attend, undertaken home visits to families when nobody was in and manipulated my work in all sorts of ways to meet targets rather than real human needs.
The culmination was working in an organisation where personal supervision and team meetings focused on reading out the results of individual and collective “scores” on the data spread-sheet. Children were never mentioned at all. The target culture can be traced back to the Thatcher era, continuing under Blair and Brown, with even more vigour and added spin. Taking care of people cannot be reduced to tick boxes, spreadsheets and scores. It is high time the fightback began and people were given the help they need. My target is to ignore the next five targets I am given. Kevin Morgan Beaminster, Dorset
• Over 30 years as a hospital doctor leads me to concur about the morale-destroying effects of the target-driven culture. The idea of a vocation to help other human beings has all but gone and I fear that we are reaping the effects in our next generation of doctors, teachers and social workers. The Francis report highlights some of the appalling results when targets become more important than humanity (which of course is not readily amenable to measurement). I would welcome the creation of a multi-professional forum in which people-orientated work values, and the quality of care that results from treating both service users and staff as valued human beings, could be resurrected before it is too late. Dr Diana Brighouse Chichester, West Sussex
• As a teacher I have seen the negative impact that tick-box targets can have. Tick boxes rarely have much to do with the real day-to-day challenges. They are a tool designed to empower managers, not to help public-facing staff. Competition may drive efficiency in the private sector, but in education we do not want winners and losers. We want every child to be given the best possible classroom experience. What we really need is a culture of trust and co-operation. Alun Gordon London