Generally Speaking

Inca stonework visited

Ever since I first heard about the Incas at high school in the States I have wanted to see the famous mortar-less stonework in Peru and find out how it was done.  One of our guides in Peru last month told me the answer. Big smile, palms up and wide apart, he revealed it to me at last – “It’s a mystery“.

The corridor leading to the temple of the Sun at the top of the citadel at Olantaytambo

Some mystery. No metals harder than copper (or at least bronze); no wheel; no arch; no writing; no horses, no cattle – just camelids. Primitive ceramics, primitive art. Yet here is masonry without any explanation that I find remotely plausible. Huge stones fitted together. Perfectly, not just at the surface, but in three dimensions. Some of a  softish stone, but also some of granite. People kept muttering about “trial and error” but they can’t ever have tried leveling the legs of a chair that way.

Inca masonry in a street in Cusco

Of course we saw the big, famous places, and as it happens all of my photos of those, apart from the ones I took on my phone, are lost on a faulty memory card. But luckily I filled the doomed card and switched to the one from my wife’s camera for the last few days. And I want to share some pictures taken after that, while we were still in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. I think they illustrate something about this new world masonry which is radically different from the classical architecture with which we are familiar. I mean the way the South American stonework ‘grows’, almost organically, out of the natural bedrock.

I hope this little gallery of pictures will illustrate what I mean:

Quite apart from the beauty of the wonderfully interlocking stonework, evolved to withstand earthquakes, the intimate way it is fitted to the underlying rock seems as different as it could possibly be from the formally planned foundations of, say, a Greek temple.


What are we doing to our climate? Some links for people attending my talk today…

As promised, here are some links for people who attended my talk at St Mary’s, Clapham on Wednesday 18 June, 2014

1. Hilarious video showing what a statistically valid ‘debate’ about climate change would actually look like: (4.9 million views and counting – updated January 2015))
Sending up the folly of ‘false balance’ in reporting of climate change issues by media such as Fox News and (disgracefully) the BBC:

2. IPCC reports : Climate Change 2014

The links take you to the menu for each report – I particularly recommend the videos, and especially the first one.

Working Group 1: The Physical Science Basis

259 authors from 39 countries

Key messages:

  1. The warming of the Climate system is unequivocal
  2. Human influence on the climate system is clear
  3. Continued Greenhouse gas emissions will cause further climate change

“Therefore we conclude: Limiting climate change requires substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Working Group 2: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability

309 authors from 70 countries

Adaptation and mitigation are complementary

Working Group 3: Mitigation of Climate Change

235 authors from 57 countries

Global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut in half by mid-century and further after that.

Complete transformation in the energy system – especially electricity generation.

The atmosphere is a common resource – free dump for greenhouse gases

We need a broad portfolio of approaches

3. The five stages of Climate denial (beautifully exemplified in the Murdoch press, including The Wall Street Journal )
Stage 1: Deny the problem exists   it does
Stage 2: Deny we’re the cause we are 2b: deny the scientific consensus it’s 97%
Stage 3: Deny it’s a problem it is
Stage 4: Deny we can solve it (too expensive, will hurt the poor, etc.) the exact opposite of the truth
Stage 5: Say it’s too late anyway it isn’t, quite, no thanks to Murdoch

4. Five pieces of ice news revealing earth’s ice cover is in serious decline

  1. Antarctic ice melt is twice as fast as 10 years ago
  2. West Antarctic Glaciers are collapsing and it’s “unstoppable” – 2-3 metre sea level rise may take several centuries
  3. The Greenland Ice sheet could melt faster than previously thought
  4. Other ice caps and glaciers in the northern hemisphere are melting faster too
  5. Soot from forest fires contributed to unusually large Greenland surface melt in 2012

5. Northern hemisphere hits carbon dioxide milestone in April Reuter report 26 May Read the denialists’ comments at the bottom if you’ve got a strong stomach.

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