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Observers Room: John Thackara

MONTHLY EMAIL NEWSLETTER: JUNE 2011


Cognitive Acupuncture

In my box labelled 'old clippings: keep' is a front page from The Guardian in 1985. 'Life on the Planet under Threat' reads the teaser — before directing the reader to 'See page 13, International News'. There, another grim environmental report was reviewed in grinding detail. This was my most vivid encounter with our capacity to deal with unwelcome news by — well, ignoring it. Having learned, as a young journalist, that nobody would read my precious stories from beginning to end, and that they'd be wrapped around fish and chips within 24 hours, I've long understood the value of little-and-often. This is why I like tweeting. It's never a big deal if someone — or everyone — ignores an unwelcome story; I can just keep peppering away. This past month, for example, I've tweeted the happy news that renewable energy cannot sustain an energy-intensive society; we don't have enough copper for electric cars; and 4,000 pharmaceutical contaminants are being discharged into Europe's environment. I assume you treat these tweets like a late night horror channel and skim, or snore, right through them. But I have a cunning plan: you'll get so fed up with this drip drip drip of bad news that you'll storm out of the house and go find a human being to talk to. That way you'll become an xskooler.

Oh, and when I tried to Google that Guardian headline? The fourth hit was a piece in lifeandstyle called "Is The British Curry Under Threat".

NEWSLETTER ARCHIVE >>


JOHN THACKARA

Sweat Equity Infra

It's hard not to be impressed by the Millau Viaduct that's down the road from where I live in France. The tallest bridge in the world boasts an eight-span steel roadway, is supported supported by seven huge concrete pylons, and weighs 36,000 tons.
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JOHN THACKARA

From Ecstasy to Exergy: Running Out of Easy Copper

Built in 1978 by German steel company Krupp, the giant Bagger 288 was designed for open mining trenching. It took more than five years and $100 million to design and manufacture. It can move more than 76,000 cubic meters (~2,700,000 cubic ft) of coal, rock, and earth in a day.
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JOHN THACKARA

From Participatory Mapping to Coastal Livelihoods

I'm a huge fan of the Buckminster Fuller Challenge. The annual international design award grants $100,000 to support the development and implementation of a “bold, visionary, tangible initiative that is focused on a well-defined need of critical importance.”
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JOHN THACKARA

Energy: A Sense of Loss

Whenever electricity is transmitted from one place to another a certain amount is simply lost. In older grids, energy is wasted overcoming resistance in the lines themselves. In extremely high voltage lines, so-called corona discharge losses (as shown in the image above) can offset the lower resistance losses.
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JOHN THACKARA

Open: A Survival Issue

In 1909, Peter Kropotkin was asked whether it was possible to learn a trade so difficult as gardening is, from books. "Yes, it is possible" he replied, "but a necessary condition of success, in work on the land, is communicativeness — continual friendly intercourse with your neighbors."
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JOHN THACKARA

A Smooth Journey

Two images have preoccupied me in recent days.

The first one was taken in a lounge at a Paris airport. On the tv screen were images of the revolt that is unfolding, bloodily, in Yemen. But the sound was off. The second image that's bugged me is this new shot of Unit 3 at Fukushima.
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JOHN THACKARA: RECENT ESSAY


Off-Grid Water

Off-Grid Water

Strategies and resources for water conservation.
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More essays by John Thackara >>

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Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change
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