Saturday, 27 March 2010

Give the orangutan a break

Greenpeace are putting pressure on Nestle to stop using palm oil grown on land cleared of rainforest, especially in Indonesia where forest clearances are threatening the orangutan with extinction. Nestle has succeeded in banning Greenpeace's campaign video from Youtube, so the charity is asking us to spread it across the internet despite Nestle. So here it is, but first a warning - it's quite grisly and not to be watched if you're eating:

Nestle is the world's largest food and drink company so their actions have real impact. They use 320,000 tons of palm oil a year, and doubled their use of the product in the past three years. Much of it comes from plantations grown on cleared rainforests, accelerating climate change and driving extinctions. You can find a simple email to sign and send to Nestle here. In this case, I think sending an email is probably worth doing as the campaign is causing yet more bad publicity for Nestle, who could well follow the example set by Unilever and Kraft and cancel contracts with companies involved in forest clearances.

Palm oil production is driving the extinction of orangutans, one of the human species closest living relatives. Over 80% of their habitat has already been destroyed and it is estimated that the ape could go extinct in just ten years. They are particularly at risk because of their low reproductive rate; a female matures at ten to fifteen years old and can then give birth only every six to eight years. EDGE explains their vulnerability: 'Many of the remaining populations, particularly in Sumatra number fewer than 250 individuals. These small, isolated populations do not have the capacity to recover from population declines. A slight rise in female mortality rate of just 1-2% can drive a local population to extinction.'

Monday, 8 March 2010

Fontainebleau in March

We spent a long Sunday exploring the forest of Fontainebleau. Moving between areas of bright green Scots Pines and stretches of still bare Beeches and Oaks felt a little like passing backwards and forwards between spring and winter.
Vegetation struggled to break through the thick layers of fallen leaves and needles, but the leaves in the sunlight had their own colour and warmth.
The forest's character felt quite changeable, full of hidden pleasures, like these Silver Birches complementing the green Pines.
Curiously shaped rocks attract boulderers, and we saw some working across the sandstone, or hunting between the trees for challenges, with their mattresses strapped to their backs so that they could cushion the ground beneath their climbs.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

A thin city

At noon on the first Wednesday of every month air raid sirens boom across Paris. The first time I heard this back in November the sound took me by surprise. I looked into the street to see if anything was happening, but all the Montparnassians below me walked calmly on, so I shrugged it off too. Hearing the alarm today, it already sounded familiar. The siren tells you exactly where and when you are: Paris, first Wednesday, 12 noon. But that precise present is shadowed by the city’s past, and fears for the future. The alarms are a test, to ensure that the sirens still work and can be used to warn citizens of danger in the case of future catastrophes. They also recall the dangers Paris has already survived, violence that has taken place here.

Victims of the Shoah, named at the Paris Museum of the Shoah (source)

You can barely walk down a street in this area without encountering a memorial, especially to people killed during the German occupation of 1940-44. On my way to our post office yesterday, for example, I passed a primary school with a plaque above the main door dedicated to the Jewish children taken from that school to the camps. The long unknown history of the house we live in troubles me in a way that of the Victorian house I grew up in never did. I remember that this city has endured revolutions and invasions, that it tests its sirens because of real experience.

Last year I blogged about Mircea Cantor’s Monument for the end of the world, a sculpture that tries to ‘commemorate’ a future event. I asked whether cities should build monuments not just to events in their past, but to think about lives to come. In a very dark way, the Paris sirens do this.

France is currently recovering from a natural disaster – the weekend’s storm killed over 50 people in France and swollen tides flooded towns along the Atlantic coast.

La-Faute-sur-Mer on Monday

In the capital we woke to strong winds but no damage. Today the sun is shining brightly, it’s March, spring does finally feel close, and the siren has come and gone. The alarm might be a signal of time’s continuity, its regularity, or perhaps it signals time’s rips, traumas and tears.