Silent Running – a seed for environmental activism

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Brief existence

As a teenager I read mainly science fiction novels as I thought that humanity would soon be progressing into this wonderful technological future. How wrong I was. Then for what seemed a very short time, maybe only a week and only at a few cinemas the 1972 film, Silent Running, was shown. I and a good friend managed to see it and from what I remember it wasn’t just because it was a science fiction film it was the environmental aspects that I took away with me.

Unfortunately, I didn’t do anything about it and ended up working in IT. In those days that was one of the industries where the money was and for some it still is. If you can find employment in that industry of course. Through the years I have occasionally thought of Silent Running as it did leave an impression on me. In the 80s I got involved in a local Friends of the Earth group. Collecting cardboard and paper in a car park once a month wasn’t very popular in those days and we were probably thought of as cranks and hippies.

I was interested in science in general and in 1990 enrolled in a 4 year part time evening BSc course at Birkbeck College in London studying Environmental Science. A 4 year slog and at the end of it I continued to work in IT. My interest in science, especially environmental science, continued but IT paid the bills. It did until two years ago when redundancy from the corporate money death machine gave me the chance to make a change to my life for the better.

Since then I have been reading everything I can find on what is happening to Earth systems. Just before the Corona virus shut everything down I was planning on going to a lecture at Gresham College called, Good Gardeners of Planet Earth? The Vision of Silent Running. Jim Endersby gave the lecture from home so I watch it this evening. In it he discusses the film and the philosophy of how humans are actually gardeners in terms of our agriculture. It is an interesting lecture looking at the discovery of the new world, Thomas More, Francis Bacon, Natural Theology, Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley before bringing us back full circle to the relevance of the film to the current environmental crisis.

It’s worth watching the lecture, Good Gardeners of Planet Earth?, and the film which still inspires me today.

Barren Ground – Bruce Hornsby and the Range

This song from the album A Night on the Town was released in 1990 and two things that year that were special for me were that I started my mature student’s Environmental Science degree course at Birkbeck College in London and the image that came to be named Pale Blue Dot was taken by Voyager 1.

The song is very emotive for anyone who is an environmentalist and talks about how we were back then creating all sorts of problems for people in the future for the sake of unsustainable wealth. Here we are thirty years later and nothing has changed. Humanity is living beyond the means of the planet to support it as a species. The current locust plague sweeping across parts of Africa will eat itself to death by consuming everything in its path or it will fall to numbers where the remaining vegetation can support its population numbers. Humans don’t like to think of themselves being similar to a plague of locusts but we are, in fact we are worse.

There are many songs, books, poems and other forms of words and media out there depicting what we human locusts have done and are doing to the world but few are acting on them. Worse still, our elected leaders are not acting on them or the scientific evidence of our effect as a species on the planet we live on.

Time to listen to the song and act upon it.

Barren Ground

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