Taking the Long View: Further together

As TEDxExeter has approached – only one week to go now! – I have become ever more appreciative of the huge amount of teamwork that has gone into putting on the event. It really has been a privilege to work with some brilliant lovely people over the past three-and-a-half years, and experience the energy that is generated from collaborating on a common goal… and see something good grow out of it.

It has also been a privilege to hear and write about some of the stories that have arisen from TEDxExeter and some of the impacts it has made in Exeter and further afield.

So in tribute to my fellow TEDx-ers, here are some quotations about how we can go further together.

The first is from Al Gore about the need to work together and quickly on climate change:

There’s an old African proverb that says “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We have to go far – quickly. And that means we have to quickly find a way to change the world’s consciousness about exactly what we’re facing, and why we have to work to solve it.

Then there is this from Dean Koontz in “From the Corner of His Eye”, channelling the idea of the butterfly effect:

Each smallest act of kindness – even just words of hope when they are needed, the remembrance of a birthday, a compliment that engenders a smile – reverberates across great distances and spans of time, affecting lives unknown to the one whose generous spirit was the source of this good echo, because kindness is passed on and grows each time it’s passed, until a simple courtesy becomes an act of selfless courage years later and far away. Likewise, each small meanness, each thoughtless expression of hatred, each envious and bitter act, regardless of how petty, can inspire others, and is therefore the seed that ultimately produces evil fruit, poisoning people whom you have never met and never will.

I first came across “The Big Mo” through being glued to The West Wing, and it’s very pertinent at the, er, mo. It’s related to the snowball effect, hopefully in the sense of a virtuous circle as more people get on board your good idea. Here’s the definition from Wikipedia:

The Big Mo (“Big Momentum”) is behavioural momentum that operates on a large scale. The concept originally applied to sporting events in the 1960s in the United States… Successful teams were said to have “The Big Mo” on their side. This has since extended [to] situations in which momentum is a driving factor, such as during political campaigns, social upheavals, economic cycles, and financial bubbles.

There is of course a related TED talk…

…and a related quote from Mahatma Gandhi, because no list of quotes is complete without Gandhi:

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

 And finally, no list of quotes about working together is complete without Margaret Mead:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Taking the Long View: Up the Women

VoteWill you be voting in the General Election on 7 May?

In 1915, to coincide with Magna Carta’s 700th anniversary, the suffragette campaigner Helena Normanton published an essay on ‘Magna Carta and Women’. She argued that the disenfranchisement of women contravened Magna Carta’s clauses 39 and 40, which are still valid under the charter of 1225:

(39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

(40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

For Normanton, “it is expressly contrary to Magna Carta to refuse, deny, or delay, right or justice. The right of the franchise is still unconstitutionally withheld from women, but the spirit of Magna Carta sounds a trumpet-call to them to struggle ever more valiantly to realise its noble ideal.” Normanton went on to become the first female barrister to practise in England.

Because of Clause 40, Magna Carta has come to symbolize equality under the law. And although it includes one example of blatant discrimination against women in Clause 54 – “No one shall be arrested or imprisoned on the appeal of a woman for the death of any person except her husband.” – it also contains some protections for women, like the protection of a widow’s marriage portion or inheritance in Clause 7, and the right of a widow to refuse to marry in Clause 8.

So why did it take so long to achieve universal suffrage – not until 1918 for men and 1928 for women – in Britain? This Spring, there was a fascinating series on BBC2 about “Suffragettes Forever! The Story of Women and Power”, in which Amanda Vickery traced the long history of the struggle for women’s political rights.

Vickery notes that the struggle is still going on today, a message that was echoed by the concurrent programme “Hillary Clinton: The Power of Women”. In 1995, Clinton made a ground-breaking speech in Beijing, challenging the world to treat women’s rights as human rights, but twenty years later change for the world’s women has been patchy at best.

The Fawcett Society, named for the suffragist campaigner Millicent Fawcett, says: “While there is much to be celebrated in women’s lives today, the UK’s record on women’s rights is still poor. Women and girls are exposed to inequality, discrimination and harassment, and face significant barriers to achieving their full potential.”

Our 2015 speaker Michelle Ryan researches the phenomenon of the glass cliff, whereby women (and members of other minority groups) are more likely to be placed in leadership positions which are risky or precarious.

In the parliament which has just been dissolved, just 148 of the 650 MPs are women, and just five of 22 Cabinet ministers. Since both percentages are 23%, I suppose Cabinet is at least representative of Parliament, but they compare poorly with Afghanistan, where 28% of MPs are women.

All of which is why it is damaging that there is a gender ‘turnout gap’ in general elections, with fewer women voting than men, and indeed that turnout has fallen across the board.

Politics is relevant to women and men alike, to anyone that uses the NHS, or drives or takes public transport, or buys food, or works or is on benefits or receives a pension.

So I ask you to honour the long view taken by those who campaigned for voting rights and equality. Take a long view yourself regarding what you think is right for the UK. Register to vote by 20 April, and use it on 7 May.

Taking the Long View: If you go down to the woods today…

…you may not find anything left. Following on from my last post about Climate, I want to consider the related issues of trees and afforestation.

Forests, especially the equatorial rainforests, are the lungs of the planet. They breathe in carbon dioxide, and breathe out oxygen. Without them we wouldn’t be here in the first place, and now they scrub much of our excess carbon emissions out of the atmosphere. NOAA’s observations of carbon dioxide concentrations show the strong seasonal cycle, caused by the variation in growth of vegetation in the land mass of the Northern Hemisphere. The rainforest also affects rainfall patterns, with the Amazonian rainforest transferring moisture inland, as well as being a treasure trove of biodiversity. Trees purify our water, and provide us with of fuel, medicine and raw materials.

And there’s the rub, and why instead of protecting and cherishing woodland and forests, humans are laying waste to them. Oh, and they also get in the way of palm oil plantations and beefburger ranches, and so thousands of acres are just slashed and burned. Yet another example of short-termist Darwin-award-worthy human activity.

REDD, the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries, paid for by developed countries, was one of the few agreed deals that came out of the Copenhagen climate negotiations in 2009. Unfortunately, it could counteract indigenous rights.

Which is why we need organisations like Global Witness, who uncover illegal industrial logging in the Tropics, as Patrick Alley described at TEDxExeter 2014; and Cool Earth, whose work with indigenous communities to put endangered forest out of reach of loggers we will hear about at TEDxExeter 2015.

And we need people with the vision to replant forests, even though they may not see the results of their labours. People like Wangari Maathai, who started the Green Belt Movement and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She said: “If you destroy the forest then the river will stop flowing, the rains will become irregular, the crops will fail and you will die of hunger and starvation.” The campaign encouraged women to think ecologically and to plant trees in their local environments – more than 50 million across a number of African countries – but she also saw tree-planting in a broader perspective which included democracy, women’s rights, and international solidarity.

At TEDxExeter 2013, we heard about the long view to the future taken by the builders of the dining hall at New College Oxford. Kirsty Schneeburger described how they planted oak trees in order that there might be timber available to replace the ceiling hundreds of years later.

Earlier in March, the Eden Project was in the news for its scheme to preserve Californian coastal redwoods for future generations. At 115m in height, they are the tallest living things on the planet, but almost all have been cut down and the remaining trees are under threat from drought, forest fires and changes to the local foggy, chilly climate. Conditions at Eden are apparently perfect for redwoods, and clones have been flown in to create a new plantation. Tim Smit says: “The idea is that when they grow they will be seen for miles around and become a new landmark. Planting saplings which could exceed the height of a 30-storey building and live for 4,000 years requires a different kind of planning.”

These last two examples are relatively small, but for the people who Maathai encouraged until her death in 2011, and for the human race as a whole, taking the long view of our forests is a question of survival.

Taking the Long View: Climate change and knitting

In the summer, Alan Rusbridger is stepping down after 20 years of editing the Guardian. In advance, he tried to anticipate whether he would have any regrets… only one: “that we had not done justice to this huge, overshadowing, overwhelming issue of how climate change will probably, within the lifetime of our children, cause untold havoc and stress to our species.”

Changes to the climate rarely make it to the front page or the home page. They are happening, but they are happening too slowly for the fast-paced news cycle or the time-poor reader. And many of the changes are not yet news, but exist as predictions, scenarios and probabilities: “There may be untold catastrophes, famines, floods, droughts, wars, migrations and sufferings just around the corner. But that is futurology, not news, so it is not going to force itself on any front page any time soon.”

Which is why the Guardian is taking the long view: putting climate, “the biggest story in the world”, on its front page every Friday; and campaigning to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

It is a timely campaign. This year is vital, as governments are meeting in Paris in December, and hopefully they will come to a ground-breaking agreement on the climate. They need our support and encouragement.

During Lent – 18th February to 4th April – the Church of England in the South West is running a Carbon Fast. Instead of giving up chocolate, it is 40 days to reflect on how we affect our planet and consider what we can do to reduce our carbon footprint. Roughly concurrently, from 6th March to 19th April in Bristol Cathedral, I am exhibiting “A Stitch in Time”, 3D knitted representations of a series of greenhouse gases that are implicated in climate change.

CO2Human activity has caused the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to increase from 287 parts per million before the Industrial Revolution to 400 parts per million today. But carbon dioxide is just one of many greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. How much each gas contributes – its Global Warming Potential – depends on its structure, its emissions and concentration in the atmosphere, and how long-lasting it is. For example, the concentration of nitrous oxide is much lower, but its lifetime in the atmosphere is 121 years, and it has a Global Warming Potential nearly 300 times as much as carbon dioxide.

Reducing our emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases substantially, as we urgently need to, still requires doing something countercultural. Knitting also requires being countercultural. The making of “A Stitch in Time” required presence in the moment and attentiveness; there are no short cuts to knitting. At times, it became a contemplative practice, each stitch a mantra. At other times, I found myself mulling over the issue. The slowness in the making led me into a deeper care and concern for the planet, and attention to how the audience might understand the issue and take the long view.

Taking the Long View: The telescope

For my second post on the theme of “Taking the Long View”, I’m literally taking the long view.

Telescope: tele- +‎ -scope, from Latin telescopium, from Ancient Greek τηλεσκόπος (tēleskópos, “far-seeing”), from τῆλε (têle, “afar”) + σκοπέω (skopéō, “I look at”).

This is not a history of the telescope, merely a smattering of quite interesting factoids.

First, and Inevitably, answering “Galileo” to the question “Who invented the telescope?” would trigger the full QI klaxon and flashing lights. The first recorded telescopes appeared in the Netherlands in 1608. The first person to make a drawing of the moon through a telescope was English. Later in 1609, Galileo built his own telescopes, improving on existing designs, and published his findings. It is also quite interesting to consider how historical misconceptions arise. Being the first to publish and nearly being burnt at the stake for it probably helped Galileo get ahead.

A demonstration of the telescope by Galileo at a reception in 1611 prompted the coining of the word, but by whom? Was it the Greek mathematician Giovanni Demisiani, or Prince Frederick Sesi?

How do you measure the distance from the earth to the sun? In 1716 Edmund Halley (he of the comet) illustrated that it could be calculated by timing the transit of Venus across the sun’s face, which led to Captain James Cook’s first voyage around the world in 1769.

Cook himself was one of the astronomers on board Endeavour. The other was Charles Green, and they trained others on board as observers. The voyage to Tahiti took about eight months, about as long as it would take modern astronauts to reach Mars. They set up three portable observatories on the islands of Tahiti and Moorea, with instruments supplied by the Royal Society and Royal Observatory. The telescopes included Gregorian reflectors fitted with micrometers. Isaac Newton may have been the first to build a reflecting telescope in 1668, but not the first to design one. That was Scottish mathematician James Gregory five years earlier.

The weather smiled on Cook, Green et al, although their observations were sabotaged by the “black drop effect”. Neverthless, the observations taken on 3 June 1769 gave the distance from the earth to the sun as 93,726,900 miles, about 0.8% out. Not bad!

Both this and the earlier unsuccessful attempt in 1761 were international endeavours, with observations taken across the globe. Even though Britain and France were at war or in competition, each granted safe passage to the other’s astronomers. But Cook had other sealed orders to open after the transit – to seek and claim Terra Australis Incognita. This led to the charting of New Zealand and eastern Australia, including Botany Bay.

At the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, Nelson received an order transmitted by signal flag to withdraw his ships. Except he didn’t receive it, but lifted his telescope to his blind eye and said “I really do not see the signal”, thereby coining the phrase ‘to turn a blind eye’. Cursory googling reveals no extra details about the telescope.

Nowadays, telescopes are big enough to have names. But imagination has not kept up with gigantism. The Very Large Telescope, or VLT, is an array of four 8.2m reflecting telescopes in the Atacama desert in Chile. The Southern African Large Telescope, or SALT (kudos for the acronym), is in South Africa, in the Karoo. And the Very Large Array, or VLA, is a radio telescope in New Mexico.

Jocelyn Bell spent two years of her PhD building a radio telescope in a field, in theory to study quasars, but in practice to discover pulsars in 1967… for which she didn’t receive the Nobel Prize. Today, the rather more splendid sounding Interplanetary Scintillation Array looks as though it could be used to grow hops.

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990, and is still in operation. It has taken some remarkable pictures, including this HD panoramic view of the Andromeda Galaxy (see also video below), and done some science too. Apparently, anyone can apply for time on the telescope, including 13 amateur astronomers between 1990-97. Here’s how.

Finally, there will be a solar eclipse on 20th March. Don’t point a telescope directly at the sun. Enjoy!

Taking the Long View: Magna Carta

2015 seems to be quite a significant year for anniversaries: the 1000th of Cnut’s invasion of England; the 750th of Simon de Montfort’s first ‘English parliament’; the 600th of Agincourt; the 200th of Waterloo; the 70th of VE day; and, of course, the 60th of The Lord of the Rings and the 50th of The Sound of Music. But it was the 800th of Magna Carta that was the inspiration behind this year’s theme.

It was a case of from the sublime to the sublime. On the Friday I was live blogging at TEDxExeter 2014, and on the Saturday and Sunday I was singing the services at Salisbury Cathedral. Salisbury hosts the best-preserved of the four remaining copies of the original version of Magna Carta – two of the others are in the British Library and the fourth in Lincoln Cathedral – and it was on view with interpretation in the Chapter House. I posted my response on Facebook: “Just had a major weepy moment viewing the Magna Carta at Salisbury. The calligraphy is exquisite, but it’s the clauses that are still in force that got me, enshrining our human rights and the law. I feel profoundly grateful to live in a country that has maintained these rights since 1215.”

From that encounter was born my desire to somehow put Magna Carta on the stage at TEDxExeter 2015. The influence it has had over so many years on the UK’s unwritten constitution, coupled with my understanding that long-termism was needed to address the challenge of climate change, led me to suggest taking the long view as a possible theme… and so it came to pass.

Dan Jones will be speaking at TEDxExeter 2015 about Magna Carta, so I will write no more, except to provide some interesting links:

And also to say… after a brief sojourn in London, Salisbury’s copy is now on show again in a new exhibition at the Cathedral. It’s well worth experiencing.

UPDATE: Dan has sadly withdrawn from speaking at TEDxExeter 2015.

Unveiling the new design for TEDxExeter 2015

Until now, the TEDxExeter design has been fairly low-key, and we’ve been doing the work within the team. But we’ve been thinking for a while about wanting a distinctive design for each year’s theme; the ‘D’ of ‘TED’ stands for Design, after all! And after TEDxExeter 2014, Dacors Design approached us about doing some pro bono work.

So today sees the unveiling of the all new design for TEDxExeter 2015 “Taking the Long View” on our website and social media platforms. We’re very grateful to Dacors, and hope you like the new look.

Dom Course from Dacors explains…

Whilst exploring ideas about time, perspective and views through binoculars or telescopes; we stumbled across a traditional kaleidoscope toy. And we couldn’t put it down.

The images are hypnotic and instantly reminded us of the sort of montage sequence used to represent time travel in vintage sci-fi films.

As you move a kaleidoscope you settle on the more pleasing patterns or mandalas. The images give the illusion of infinity and can evoke cellular growth, religious iconography or just make a pretty pattern.

A slight move can ruin it or make it better, but the change is throughout the image.

We feel the kaleidoscope images are suitably complex and abstract to illustrate the wide range of talks covered by a TEDxExeter event. They represent the idea of how a slight change here and now can make huge changes everywhere in the future; and how all things – especially people’s ideas, actions and subsequent outcomes – are interlinked.

Save the date!

TEDxExeter 2015 “Taking the Long View” will take place on 24th April 2015 at the Exeter Northcott Theatre.

Please don’t contact the team about tickets. At the time of writing, we expect them to be available from the Northcott Box Office from the end of November. More soon…


We would be interested in hearing from you if your company would like to sponsor TEDxExeter 2015.

Please email claire@tedxexeter.com if you would like to know more.

TEDxExeter 2015 – Taking the Long View

We are delighted to be able to announce that TEDxExeter will once again be happening in the Exeter Northcott Theatre on 24 April 2015, with the theme “Taking the Long View”.

It is a truism to say that our present has been shaped by our past, but some events and cultures have had a more lasting impact than others. For example*, 2015 will be the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, yet several clauses are still in effect, in particular the right to due legal process. 2015 will also see the 750th anniversary of the meeting of Simon de Montfort’s parliament, the first English parliament without royal authorisation. The 9th century Persia gave us algebra and algorithms. What did the Romans ever do for us? Quite a lot! Then, of course, the ancient Greeks invented democracy, and many doctors still swear the Hippocratic oath.

Many of these innovations were made to solve immediate problems, without any thought to future generations. By contrast, we have an example of taking the long view to the future in the builders of the dining hall at New College Oxford. Kirsty Schneeburger described in her TEDxExeter 2013 talk how they planted oak trees in order that there might be timber available to replace the ceiling hundreds of years later.

At TEDxExeter 2015 we aim to take the long view back into the past, and explore how it has shaped the world we now live in. We want to ask about what responsibilities the past places on us in the way we live now and how we innovate. We will also take the long view to the future. In the present time, we bemoan the short-termism of much political and economic decision-making, and if we are honest our personal decisions are rife with short-termism too. How can taking the long view into the future reveal and help us to understand the challenges that face us now, and shape the way we live and the decisions we make?

We very much look forward to seeing you there.

* Disclaimer: The examples given are no indication of what subjects our speakers might explore!