08 May 2011

Big Yellow Taxi

Gosh, what absence from here. It hasn't been total neglect though because I have been storing blog post ideas in the back of my mind :) I've drowned myself in university work lately, or at least attempted to...it's been hectic to say the least and it's only going to get worse with exams at the end of this month - very nervous.

First place to start with this post is a follow-up on the last one. I wish I was still on camp. I'm going to do my report on the mistletoe project I think...but that's an issue I'll worry about next weekend :P Sent my Sea Shepherd forms to Laurens de Groot so that could be an interesting one. Excited to hear back from him...

The obvious follow-up from the last post, the only one that really matters actually - Attenborough. Can't believe it's taken me this long to write about it... He came to speak as a part of UCT's open lecture series and the next day for a private Q&A with the zoology postgrad students. To start off the UCT choir gave the most mind-blowing performance, ending with a piece with rainforest noises and a thunderstorm - brilliant, so realistic. Then, just as you're recovering from that, Sir David Attenborough comes on stage. Max Price, the vice-chancellor and Phil Hockey, head of the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute of Ornithology introduced him, and then he took the mic. Seeing him in the flesh and hearing that voice is indescribable. It's a voice we've all grown up with, narrating so many programs, but having it speak to you is something else. He spoke about the life and discoveries of Alfred Russel Wallace - the man who filled huge gaps in Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection - and his fascination with birds of paradise. Nothing I write can do justice to what a brilliant speaker and story-teller he is, or how charming he is. He's such an inspiring human being. UCT will be putting the talk online, the first part is below. Also watch his documentary Attenborough in Paradise, similar to the talk :) Oh and he believes in the yeti's existence. Brilliant.

I recently saw my first TED talk, something that's been recommended to me by sooo many people. I watched the one given by Al Gore on New Thinking on the Climate Crisis. You can basically think of it as an add-on to An Inconvenient Truth, he's got some new slides on new climate change information, presented in the same manner as his initial slide show that the movie was on. It's definitely worth a watch. I think they should re-release Inconvenient Truth with these new slides so that people know the fight against climate change hasn't stagnated and it's still a very real issue. There's also another little one where he gives a list of 15 things we can do to avert the climate crisis. It's not a very depressing doomsday one and he makes a lot of fun of himself so it's also a great watch. Ah, I love Al Gore :) Thinking of watching Inconvenient Truth after this in fact. And speaking of documentaries..

I've been thinking a lot about the role that natural history documentaries, Animal Planet and all those channels play in education. It sounds like quite an obvious observation to make, but they're such priceless tools in environmental education. I can definitely speak for myself in saying so. You learn  the most obscure things from documentaries. It's quite cool when in random conversation, you find that just from hours of watching Animal Planet or National Geographic, you know things that your friends with multiple life/earth science degrees don't :P Normally people would tell you it's useless knowledge, where in life is any of that going to be applicable? But when you're in first year biology courses and you know more than any 18 year old should know about cephalopods and cnidarians - thank you BBC. But even for conservation purposes, nothing creates environmental sensitivity more than a simple awareness of the world around you. Once you've seen an episode of say Planet Earth, then you know what it is you're fighting to preserve and you understand why it's important. I recently caught the end of a really powerful documentary and only realised at the end that it was HOME, a project of Yann Arthus Bertrand - the Earth from Above photographer I spoke about in Sounds of Science. If you have unlimited internet, you can watch HOME in full on youtube. Definitely something I must do. Bertrand's bird's eye perspective of Earth is so moving, every single image. The point of the film is basically to stress that earth is the only home we have and to show how humans are disturbing the balance. Reading into it, I've just discovered that he also did a TED talk, which I assume is also worth a watch. If not the film, then have a look at Bertrand's website, the combination of the music that plays with his photographs, it's chilling. Pictures are worth so much more than words. Unless you're Attenborough, he's got both on his side :P

When I think of where I am now, the interests that I'm pursuing, I'd saw I owe about 50% of that to TV or books I had as a child. The other half I owe to being brought up travelling every three years, exposed to things like the Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Zanzibar so early in life. But that aside, I think if enough parents encouraged their children to watch these programs or bought them the right books, we could raise an army of young naturalists and environmentalists :) What a world we'd have. So anyway, in this mood, I've decided I  need to share some of the things I grew up on...

A huge rediscovery I made last week, Childcraft :) Who had these? 3,4 and 6 affected me a lot. About Animals, combined with this computer game we had in school in Tanzania, had me convinced that I wanted to be a zoo keeper when I grew up. My quest to find that game again and play it is never ending by the way. Nature in Danger was just depressing. It has these pages where they rate species by how endangered they are, even including the ones that are already extinct. So it's like "it's too late to save these ones, but here's some that are alive but on the brink and may just go extinct anyway!". No, I lie, it's not that pessimistic. But it's still represented in quite a shocking way. And number 6, Our World, that one's just brilliant in talking about all these natural phenomena and land forms and that whole aspect of natural history. The one I remember most was this photo of Giant's Causeway. Such a strange place, as a kid you look at it and just wonder, "how?". Actually I still don't know the answer to that one... Aah, Childcraft has so many images that have been burned into my brain forever. Very special. 


Somehow I'm suddenly remembering all these books and things I saw as a child that never left me. Childcraft is one of those, but how about Animal Ark! It was this series of children's books about these two kids Mandy and James. Their parents are vets who always get these exciting cases and Mandy and James always jump in and help them out when say there's a pregnant golden retriever abandoned on Christmas about to give birth to her litter, or more exotic - there's a hippo somewhere in Africa trapped in mud but it's mother won't leave its side. What an amazing series. I remember I wanted to write my own version when I was living in London. On weekends I'd gather all my Animal Ark books into a pile by the computer and start writing my own little story. It never quite took off the way I planned :( And my mom would always get mad at me for making a mess and bringing every book I own into the family room :S

Another book I absolutely have to mention, it honestly changed me. I found it once in London in the library next to my school completely by accident, took it home and read it twice. "What will it take?: A deeper approach to nature conservation". It's just a basic book about the current environmental crisis, failures and successes in the past, what needs to be done, etc. But it opened my eyes. It starts off with the lyrics of Big Yellow Taxi and then goes into stories about mercury and DDT poisoning, poaching, oil spills, all these horror stories. It's a bit sad actually because going through it now, it's a little bit of a fundamentalist book and there's some bits of it that annoy me a bit just for being so biased...that said, it was a great starting point :) And it's where I first read one of the most valuable quotes, "Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself."

Upcoming news. Not much of it really. Unless I have more childhood flashbacks that actually have little to do with my blog then I technically shouldn't be posting much for a while again :P Good news, season 4 of Whale Wars will start broadcasting around the time I get to India so I get to be up to date :)

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