Paradise Lost in the Restaurant

Tags: Feist, Joe Smith, Jude Kelly, Lemn Sissay, Ruth Little

Crew perform Paradise Lost on a global warming expedition
Leslie Feist, Lemn Sissay and Ruth Little performing Paradise Lost.

We’ve spent the morning popping in and out of the restaurant for a read through of Paradise Lost – everyone read a few lines. Not looked at the text for more than a decade but feels the natural thing to do here and now as we sail south back to port. A couple of my posts have referred to people’s anxieties about the Baffin Boot sized carbon footprint that coming on this trip entails. Sin and redemption are so woven into western culture that we shouldn’t be surprised that we frame these questions about individual responsibility in terms of sin and the pursuit of redemption. A few years ago Patriarch Bartholemew (leader of the orthodox church) announced that environmental harm was a sin (the Pope followed suit soon after). Of course they have a natural advantage over science and policy people when it comes to finding a language that seems to have the right kind of scale: they’ve been phrasemaking on the big questions for centuries.

But we might yet work towards a secular language, a set of references, that help us make sense of the moment we’re in. This expedition is an experiment, a model society, a mad throw together of very different personalities and talents. And we’ve been busy, creative and above all happy. This afternoon a session on positivity in response to climate change. Marcus Brigstocke ran the session & asked me to talk about the book I edited with Andrew Simms from new economics foundation ‘Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth’. My vanity satisfied by finding that the essays have made a big impact on his work and he’s been pushing it on friends. I’m hoping that some of the people here on the boat will contribute to another product of the Interdependence Day project – the Encyclopedia of Interdependence that I’ll be working on over the next couple of years with my wife Renata Tyszczuk.

To sign off I’m going to borrow a quote from Ian McEwan’s brilliant essay written in the wake of an earlier Cape Farewell voyage A Boot Room in The Frozen North. The piece plays off the gradual collapse of civilised behaviour in the wet, cold, cramped boot room of the ship. He concludes thus:

‘We must not be too hard on ourselves. If you were banished to another galaxy tomorrow, you would soon be fatally homesick for your brothers and sisters and all their flaws: somewhat co-operative, somewhat selfish, and very funny. But we will not rescue the earth from our own depredations until we understand ourselves a little more, even if we accept that we can never really change our natures. All boot rooms need good systems so that flawed creatures can use them well. Good science will serve us well, but only good rules will save the boot room. Leave nothing to idealism or outrage, or even good art. (We know in our hearts that the very best art is entirely and splendidly useless). On our last morning, when all the packing has been done and the last reluctant skidoo had been started up, and as the pure northern air is rent by the howls and stink of our machines, our tirelessly tolerant hosts (as forgiving as God has not yet learned to be ) come down the gang plank and set down on the ice a vast plastic sack with all the recovered gear found in every corner of the ship. A few of us gather around this treasure, and poke about in it, not ashamed or even faintly embarrassed, but innocently amazed. Here’s our stuff! Where’s it been hiding all this time? We barely know ourselves, and our collective nature is still a source of wonder – why else write fiction? We haven’t stopped surprising ourselves yet, and the fate of all our boot rooms hangs in the balance.”

Read more of Joe’s posts, and his colleagues’ responses, on the Science, Technology and Nature Blog.