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In Our Time: Ice Ages

Friday 15 February 2013, 12:04

Melvyn Bragg Melvyn Bragg

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Editor's note: In Thursday's programme Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed Ice Ages. As always the programme is available to listen to online or to download and keep - AI.

Ice Ages Ice Ages



It was a close call.  After the programme Jane Francis and Carrie Lear continued to talk about the climbing count of CO2 which was pumping up global warming, in their opinion, which would lead most dramatically to mass flooding.  On the programme Richard Corfield did not join in very enthusiastically, pointing out that the CO2 count had been at least twice as high quite recently (geologically speaking) and even higher than that a bit before recently.  The situation was beginning to develop into a relevant, contemporary conversation about climate change and the final bell was a merciful release.  There was no thought of the ingenuity of men and women combating what would be a gradual increase (if it happens) of rising sea levels - we could have looked at the Dutch in the sixteenth century onwards.  But I strayed from my task.

The grim conclusion of Jane Francis was never to buy or rent a house on a flood plain, always to buy or rent a house on a hill, or take a tent, or anything, as long as it's on a hill and, I think Richard Corfield added, fortify it.  Well, well.

Left Broadcasting House to see a rough cut of a film about David Hare.  The last time there was a television profile of him was in 1983 on the South Bank Show.  His eloquence and his thoughtfulness are almost in a league of their own.  We talked about his plays over the last ten years, concentrating especially on the verbatim plays - Stuff Happens, etc.

Working in a cutting room with a director and a film editor is as good as it gets for me in television.  It has an intensity comparable to that which is called for on In Our Time.  Shaping, shaving this sentence, reorganising, finding the right length and the pulse of a particular episode in a film or a scene.  There's nothing as satisfying as thinking you've got it right and seeing in front of your eyes the results of what you think is right.  Of course, in a few days' time your view might change, but as a thing of the moment, it takes some beating.

Then off to do some commentary for a film on Alfie Boe - an extraordinary fairytale story which seems to be one of the regular performance-related stories of the last hundred years, i.e. a variant on rags to riches.

Then a decent stretching of the legs before one of the great pleasures in life - lunch with an old pal.  In this case an old and close pal and the unique pleasure of total trust, non-agenda, ease.  One of the great benefits of ageing.

And then a lovely walk round Green Park in the sun, past the monument to Bomber Command through whose columns you can see Number One, London, the house of Wellington.  War beckons to war across Hyde Park Corner.

And then down into St James's Park with the ducks enjoying the sunshine.  Or do they?  We'll never know what they think or even if they think as we think.  Sublimely they take no notice of us except when we offer them crumbs, but that's nothing more than duck-love.  An old and rather large man, a man who came straight from the Orthodox streets of Jerusalem, pushing a small child in a pram and beaming like someone in an extremely happy novel.  He stopped the pushchair, pulled out a carefully wrapped piece of cake and offered it to the child.  He dropped it and picked it up, and with just the slightest glance round gave the child back the cake, which after so much care had been - well, contaminated is too strong a word but let's say desterilised by contact with the ground.  A young woman with her boyfriend/partner epitomised Valentine's Day.  She, dressed in tight black with red tulips, earnestly photographing - yes - the ducks, and he, hovering to put his arm around her when she had finished this exacting task.

The area around Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament quite remarkably free of people today.  Is everybody preparing for Valentine's night, or is this the subdued beginning of the Easter journey after Ash Wednesday?

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    A very informative programme specifically entitled 'Ice Ages' but, of course, it ended with a very brief discussion of the present and near-future climate situation. However, no inclusion in that discussion was made about present rate of change compared to that of the very near past. Nor was there any emphasis on the relatively static temperatures over the last 15kyrs allowing us to develop. A huge missed opportunity of great import. Due to unnecessary provocative comments by MB, I cannot help feel that an uninformed listener may have left the programme with the impression that greenhouse warming is a good thing for us. At least twice MB suggested that rising temperatures has been good for our evolution, ho-ho.

    Well, when the current rapid global and local human overpopulation has starved our resources and wrecked ecosystems and everything around us, enhanced by fuel burning accelerated climate change, at such a rate to cause great conflict, strife and death, perhaps that point can be made again. Rapid change forces rapid evolution (if any of us are able); but that is going to be far from a pleasant experience given projected resource and population growth rate ratios.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    After the 41 minute mark Cornfield makes a couple of comments that are problematic. "Geo-engineering" as a solution to climate change?

    If he said afterward that he doubts that human activity has anything or much to do with the current warming trend, it's pretty sad. More than 80% of the world's scientists believe so.

    Common sense would lead one to believe so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    The programme was very misleading. It appears to have been peddling the myth that we are living on a CO2-deficient planet in the midst of a cooler-than-average period of Earth history? This is either deeply disingenuous or misconceived and – either way – implies extremely high levels of ideological prejudice and/or willful blindness.

    The Earth has indeed been much colder in its very distant past (>600MaBP) – and CO2 levels have also since been much higher at times – but none of this is relevant to the situation in which humanity now finds itself: Modern civilisation emerged as a result of 10k years of relative climate and sea level stability. Industrialisation has brought this stability to a very sudden end.

    I am therefore deeply disappointed that the BBC could have produced and broadcast such a misleading programme: It suggests that they have been penetrated by ‘deep cover’ climate sceptics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I listened to the show, and found it very stimulating. Thanks. However, i support completely what martin Lack mentioned above.

    It was hard to accept. 70 meters + flooding was not mentioned, in particular. The colossal certainty of the honorable (?) experts oozing about with authority grated on my nerves. Because I am afraid that I know better.

    OK, lots of the details are correct, indeed. The problem is the big picture attached to the little details. It’s full of pernicious oversimplifications, and semantic drift. And it all points out one way: OK, it’s going to be a big change, but we have seen worse before, especially when there was not enough CO2.

    Several remarks: First I do not like the certainty of these experts, especially about CO2 levels. When I hear: the CO2 used to be 12 times more, I am not persuaded. They can keep on repeating it, I am skeptical.

    They forget to mention those sky high multiples are hotly contested. And not just by me. That’s dishonest.

    Ah yes, as the essay http://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/fragile-earth-syndrome/ pointed out, the Habitable Zone drifted OUT CONSIDERABLY. Those (official) experts are blissfully UNAWARE of this crucial fact. OK, I am the first (to my knowledge) to point to that evidence. Crucial evidence.

    One thing I don’t like at all is the semantics they kept insisting on. Same story, in depth. It’s misleading to oppose “ICEHOUSE” with “greenhouse” Earth. We are always in a greenhouse world. The Earth would freeze solid without CO2 greenhouse.

    Then they tell us the Earth froze over 800 million years ago. That too is controversial, even superficially, although I mentioned it many times myself. Yet, when those scientists claim with authority that the Earth became like Europa, they are JUST LYING. That’s TOTALLY excluded. are they paid to be absurd? What else?

    Indeed Earth has always very active volcanoes, they belch out CO2. If Earth was really a SNOWBALL (“Snowball Earth Theory”), the CO2 would be unable to captured and stored, by the soil, so it would build up very quickly, and a massive greenhouse would lead to high temps and melting of the presumed iceshield. INSTANTANEOUSLY.

    There was extensive glaciation during Snowball Earth… I do believe that. But Earth did not really become simply a Snowball, and certainly NOT like Europa…. This is a totally grotesque misunderstanding of planetary climatology.

    Europa is covered by a solid iceshield, kilometers thick. Maybe 50 kilometers thick. Earth was NEVER like that

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    OK, my comment was too long, and got cut off. Here is the end:

    ...But Earth did not really

    become simply a Snowball, and certainly NOT like Europa…. This is a totally grotesque

    misunderstanding of planetary climatology.

    Europa is covered by a solid iceshield, kilometers thick. Maybe 50 kilometers thick. Earth was

    NEVER like that. Also, they are dishonest when not mentioning that “Snowball Earth” has been

    contested. Recently. Some scientists think it did not really happen at all.

    So sorry, this show tried to present extravagantly high CO2 levels as a good thing.

    They forgot to mention dragonflies were 2 feet across in the Carboniferous Era, and scorpions three

    feet long. Life was very different…

    Long is the arm of the carbon burning industry, subtle its mind, great its wealth…


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