Chris Packham: "We are in a fight to save life on Earth"
New Humanist
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4d ago
Chris Packham is holding a page of A4 paper up to the camera. It’s covered in handwriting, detailing 38 tasks. As we speak online on a Monday morning, he tells me, “I’m recovering from this, which was my weekend to-do list.” Most things seem to be ticked off. He’s ferociously productive. He says he doesn’t need much sleep, makes notes on his phone when he goes to bed (“apparently that’s bad for me”) and wakes up thinking about the tasks for the day. Right now, he needs to fix his electric car because the handbrake is jammed. I’m sure he’ll be driving again soon. It’s hard to imagine Packham a ..read more
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The woman who discovered black holes
New Humanist
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1w ago
A black hole is a bottomless pit in the fabric of space-time into which stuff, including light, plummets, never to be seen again. The term paints so vivid an image that it has entered everyday language, and we commonly talk of losing this or that “down a black hole”. Ironically, such a metaphorical black hole has swallowed up the name of the woman who co-discovered these celestial objects: Louise Webster. I write about Webster in my new book, A Crack in Everything. An Australian who grew up in Brisbane, she was the only woman in her physics class at the University of Adelaide in the early 196 ..read more
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Cleaning up the cosmos
New Humanist
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1w ago
The sky and the land were once connected, far more than they are today, according to the Gamilaroi people of Eastern Australia. In their creation stories, a traumatic event occurred aeons ago, which ripped humanity apart from the skies above. Other indigenous groups across the country teach similar stories, and many perform ceremonies to rebuild their bonds with Sky Country. As humans become an increasingly space-faring species, we might feel we’re getting closer to our Sun, the planets and stars. But our off-world activities have deposited thousands of man-made objects in our planet’s orbit ..read more
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Book review: "Rough Beast" by Máiría Cahill
New Humanist
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2w ago
Rough Beast: My Story and the Reality of Sinn Féin (Bloomsbury) by Máiría Cahill Máiría Cahill began her political life as a teenager. She belonged to one of west Belfast’s most venerable republican families, and so was considered Irish republican royalty. The events described in her book Rough Beast – but most of all her personal courage and unwillingness to be silenced – have since turned her into Sinn Féin’s most effective and feared modern-day critic. The book’s title harks back to Yeats’ famous poem “The Second Coming”, conjuring the collapse of civilisation, where the “rough beast” in t ..read more
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What dust can tell us about modernity
New Humanist
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2w ago
Dust: The Modern World in a Trillion Particles (Hodder & Stoughton) by Jay Owens It was around three o’clock in the afternoon, on a spring Sunday in the Oklahoma Panhandle in 1935. In the house, Ada Kearns remembered, the radio was on. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t. “This is Dodge City,” the announcer said abruptly. “We’re going off the air.” A vast storm cloud was racing south across the Great Plains. The temperature dropped 30 degrees Fahrenheit, the sky turned purple. The storm carried so much static it shorted electrical equipment. “You think, ‘Well that’s the end of time,’” another e ..read more
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Tropical modernism
New Humanist
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3w ago
When Kwame Nkrumah became prime minister of the British colony of the Gold Coast in 1952, you could argue it had been a short time coming. Seven years earlier, in 1945, he had been living in London, organising with other revolutionaries and anti-colonialists, and planning the fifth Pan-African Congress. The driving idea behind pan-Africanism, which dates back to the early 19th century, is the political union of all people of African descent. Yet up to that point, the question of how to achieve such a union remained elusive, lacking as it did any real political means with which to further its ..read more
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Wrong side of history?
New Humanist
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1M ago
If the internet has a favourite argument, it can be summed up in four words – that whoever is against one’s own opinion must be on the “wrong side of history”. The argument’s main strength seems to be its versatility. It can be (and often is) deployed on issues ranging from how we tackle the climate crisis to the correct approach to helping children with gender dysphoria; from eating meat to Black Lives Matter; from abortion rights to the nuances, or lack thereof, of the Israel–Hamas conflict. Let’s pause for a second. Is an imagined future audience really the best judge of our actions today ..read more
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Great thinkers and their clutter
New Humanist
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1M ago
There is a painting of the late Peter Higgs, the Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist, that hangs in a science building at the University of Edinburgh. It shows him staring out with a pencil in his shirt pocket. He’d told the artist Ken Currie that he only needed a pencil and paper for his work. Currie spent time with Higgs in his Edinburgh flat, and told me in 2014 about Higgs’s extensive collection of vinyl records and “all sorts of books on painters which I noticed were arranged in alphabetical order”. He continued: “You go into his apartment in Edinburgh and it’s all very 70s retro s ..read more
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What's behind the rise of allergies?
New Humanist
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1M ago
We’re becoming more allergic to things. It is estimated that the global incidence of food allergy rose from around 3 per cent of the population in 1960 to around 7 per cent in 2018. More patients are ending up in hospitals, too. Between 2013 and 2019, the number of admissions for children in England due to anaphylaxis, a severe reaction to allergies, rose by 72 per cent. Why is this happening? One popular theory is that we live in a more hygienic society and so we’re not exposed to as many microbes. It was first put forward in 1989 when researcher David Strachan conducted a study of large fam ..read more
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The environmental cost of denim
New Humanist
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1M ago
Blue jeans are not green. The crux of the environmental problem lies in indigo, the dye responsible for denim’s characteristic colour. Unlike most dyes, indigo is insoluble in water, necessitating a complex process to adhere it to fabric. This involves chemically reducing the dye to a water-soluble, colourless form that can be absorbed by cotton. Once exposed to air, the indigo reverts to its insoluble, vibrant blue state. This transformation requires substantial volumes of water – around 100 litres per pair of jeans – and a cocktail of harsh chemicals. The environmental toll is compounded in ..read more
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