Cygnets and Swan Necks – a Case of Lead Poisoning?

Cygnets on 10th May, about a week old

Meet the new arrivals.  At a pool close to where I live in the south of England, I’ve been following the progress of these cygnets since their birth five weeks ago; the  picture and the video were taken about a week after hatching.

The same breeding pair has built a nest in the same spot for the last four years: sometimes they get lucky – othertimes it looks like they go through the motions – or maybe the youngsters get dispatched by predators  before I see them.

And for sure, it’s not all sweetness and light.  Since I shot the video, one of the cygnets has developed a problem with its neck.

Swans , and particularly cygnets in their first year, are vulnerable to a host of threats: from natural predators like herons, crows, magpies and foxes;

to a bunch of man-made hazards including:  being shot at, getting caught up with fishing tackle, lead poisoning, being attacked by pet dogs, crashing into electricity pylons, and getting run down by cars.   Even well-meaning but misguided feeding can be injurious – mouldy bread is poisonous to swans.

When I visited the brood on 30th May, when the cygnets were about three weeks old, I noticed one of their number struggling to keep its head up.  That might be caused by an injury, but it’s also a known symptom of lead poisoning.

Cygnets on 30th May, one is having trouble holding its head up
Lead fishing sinker weights are banned in the UK

As Doreen Graham of the Scottish Society for the Protection of Animals said in this 2007 BBC report : “Lead poisoning is quite easy to identify in a swan because they cannot lift their heads and their heads are resting on their backs”.  There was a particularly bad spate of lead poisoning during the 1960s, although since then, with a ban on lead fishing weights, or sinkers, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) believes the problem has diminished.

Lead shotgun pellets are the other likely culprit.  There are bans or restrictions on the use of lead shot throughout the UK, with detail variations across the devolved constituencies; but there’s always the danger of legacy poisoning from old pellets lying in the reeds or on the pool bed.

All swans rest their heads and necks at times – it’s how they rest and sleep; but this one’s doing it most of the time, standing out from the group:

The other cygnets appear to sense the difference,  taking the occasional peck at their handicapped sibling:

While the parents appear indifferent:

Fast forward to 8th June, when the cygnets are a month old, and at first sight there’s an improvement: it’s all heads-up in this convoy.  But on closer inspection, number 4 from the left isn’t quite right:

Cygnets on 8th June

and in this pre-roost preening session, there’s clearly still a problem:

As twilight deepens, the female swan, or pen, climbs into the nest, followed by the cygnets:

It’s easy to make up stories, but here a parent appears to attend the neck of one of the cygnets (I can’t confirm it’s ‘the’ cygnet):

And they settle for the night:

For now, the afflicted cygnet appears to be growing at a normal rate and, despite some earlier sniping by siblings, appears to be accepted by the group.   I’ll be keeping an eye on this family  over the coming weeks and update the blog with any developments.


 UPDATE 8 July

Happy ending.  Here’s the whole crew on 19th June – 11 days after the pics above.   All six cygnets holding their heads up high.  I’ve only just got round to updating, but if they’ve got this far they’re probably going to make the distance.  Whatever was wrong with the afflicted cygnet seems to have worked itself through/out.  (Not that these guys aren’t still in a warzone.)



Lead gunshot ‘poisoning UK birds’ (BBC News October 2012)



1. The Swan Sanctuary

2.RSPB – Mute Swans

3. North West Swan Study (

4. The Threats to Wildlife from Pollution (Conservation Issues UK)

A Bone to Pick with Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Before heading back to LA from Santa Barbara last week, Erin and I made a final stop at the local natural history museum.  I’ve blogged before about how great this place is. Not the largest of museums, but somehow managing to cover all the traditional departments through locally themed exhibits – and all in the most beautiful location.

whale skull at santa barbara museum of natural history
Whale skull at Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, June 2010 (Photo:Tim Jones)

In the 18 months since our last visit, two new exhibitions have appeared, and the bird gallery has reopened following renovation.  But to our surprise, all that is left of the museum’s flagship exhibit – a 72ft Blue Whale skeleton – is it’s head.

The complete whale skeleton in 2008 (Photo:Tim Jones)

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Nice spot..... (Photo:Tim Jones)

For the 20 year old skeleton, one of only five on display in the USA, is in need of a major overhaul.  The skull will be completely replaced, and the remaining bones will be refurbished or replaced.

The $500,000 needed to complete the work is being raised by inviting donors to sponsor individual bones and sections of the skeleton through the ‘Buy-A-Bone’ scheme (links to the Museum’s website).

The right to name this particular Balaenoptera musculus has already gone – for a cool $100k.  But the skull and vertebral column are still up for grabs at $75k and $137k respectively; most of the ribs are available at $25k each, the left flipper at $13k, or one of twelve carpal bones can be yours for the pocket money sum of $500.

So go ahead – pick your bone!

Science and Art at the Getty

It’s turning into quite an artsy fortnight.  On Thursday, I went to see Getty CEO Jim Wood interviewed at Caltech, then a visit with dinner at the Getty Center itself on Saturday night, before on Monday taking my chances with the holiday crowds at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).  Between times I’ve been viewing some wonderful examples of Arts & Crafts era houses in Pasadena, and learning about the origins of Californian en plein air outdoor painting.  A few notes on the Caltech event…..

Getty Museum
The Getty Center, Los Angeles (Photo:Tim Jones)

‘Science and Art’ featured J.Paul Getty Trust President and CEO Jim Wood talking with broadcaster Madeleine Brand.

Despite the wide-open title, the conversation focused on the Getty’s expertise in artifact conservation, and an upcoming series of region-wide exhibitions intended to show how post-WWII Californian art was influenced by the science and technology of the period.

Wood began by describing the full extent of the Getty’s capabilities beyond the public face of the Museum, and how its scientists have developed conservation techniques that are deployed on  conservation projects around the world. These range from the restoration of flood-damaged panels in Florence to the recovery of poorly preserved mosaics in Damascus.

The upcoming exhibition series will feature artists from Los Angeles, and cover the 1945-1980 period of rapid industrial development and space exploration.   Californian artists in particular stayed close to technological developments at this time, and incorporated emerging new materials and techniques into their art.  The period is coincident with the Cold War, so it will be interesting to watch for any cultural references in that direction (I’m thinking of the type of arts exhibits from the USA featured in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Cold War Modern exhibition last year).

The Q&A kicked off refreshingly backwards with Jim Wood suggesting it’s important to understand the differences between art and science.  He takes the view that science deals with progress – it moves towards a goal; but art – while evolving, doesn’t do that; it’s less about facts than ideas.  All in all though, despite Wood’s best efforts, these forays into more philosophical territory didn’t really get picked up on by the interviewer or the audience; something of a missed opportunity I felt.

Getty Center Restaurant
Getty Center Restaurant (Photo:Tim Jones)

There was an interesting question to Wood on the role of art as a tool to explain difficult scientific concepts; had such art been produced, and should it be preserved?  Making a distinction between illustrative and creative art, Wood suggested scientifically illustrative works were likely to be valued; but more for their documentary than artistic qualities.  For me, the role of illustrative art is undeniable – look at the depictions of cosmological concepts in popular physics books.  The role for creative art in science communication is more ambiguous.  It can tell us about prevailing cultural attitudes towards science and technology – back to the Cold War again, consider those swirling atoms and mushroom cloud depictions of atomic power.   But it’s less obvious – to me at least – how an abstract artistic aesthetic might translate into, or inform, science.

Getty Center
Getty Center (Photo:Tim Jones)

Wood was asked how we decide when it is right to return an artifact fully to it’s original state – as the conservator’s toolkit gets ever more impressive?  It seems there are some difficult calls, but it’s more usual to conserve than restore.

That brought to mind a whole area of science-art interaction that the evening hadn’t touched upon: the use of technology for artifact simulation and display, whereby an original piece is presented next to a simulation of how the item would have originally appeared.  I’m thinking here of Roman and Greek statues in their original livery, the brightly painted interiors of Catholic cathedrals, and projection techniques that bring faded tapestries – however temporarily – back to life.  I digress; but for more on the topic, here’s a nice piece on statuary,  ‘Gods in Color’, from the Boston Globe.

Anyway, that was a very brief update on my brush with science and art at Caltech and the Getty.

Incidentally, one important feature of the Getty Center that Wood didn’t mention is its restaurant, commendable as much for its location as the food. Perched high overlooking the Los Angeles  basin towards the ocean, the views are an inspiration to artist and scientist alike.

The Open Ground – Biodiversity, Science & the Imagination (Podcast of conference proceedings)

In June last year, Conservation Today ran a one day public conference – The Open Ground – to raise awareness of issues around biodiversity.  Rather bravely I thought, the event aimed to provoke discussion by combining a range of scientific and artistic perspectives.

Will Pearse

Colleague and fellow science communicator Emma Quilligan at the time wrote up the conference at Nature Network.  Now, browsing my archives, I’ve rediscovered the audio I made with Conservation Today as a record of the event, but which we never published.  Now for the first time, and with organiser Will Pearse’s endorsement, here are the recordings for those who were unable to join on the day.

As Emma says, The Open Ground itself is something of an exercise in diversity.  The panelists range from academic to activist, and include some well known public faces such as the scientist and TV presenter Armand Leroi, and the prize-winning poet and Charles Darwin descendant Ruth Padel.


The proceedings are split into three sessions, each comprising three speaker presentations followed by a panel discussion with audience Q&A.  The sound can be streamed by pressing the arrow on the player, or downloaded from the link below each player.  Without the speakers’ slides, some of the audio isn’t going to make sense; but for the most part it does, and as some of the most interesting discussion comes in the panel sessions, it’s less of a deal.

Clearly all the participants are speaking for themselves, and the views and opinions expressed don’t necessarily represent my own take on things.  That said, if anyone wants to strike up a comment thread on any of the content, feel free.


Introduction by Will Pearse (Conservation Today)


Session 1 – The Necessities of Conservation

Dr Sam Turvey, Dr Emily Nicholson and Caspar Henderson on the challenges conservationists face.

Caspar Henderson, Dr Sam Turvey, Dr Emily Nicholson (photo: Tim Jones)

Presentations – Session 1


Panel Discussion – Session 1


Session 2 – Biodiversity and the Imagination

Prof. Ruth Padel, Dr Jamie Lorimer, and Melanie Challenger look at biodiversity from the perspective of literature, culture and society.

Dr Jamie Lorimer, Prof.Ruth Padel, Melanie Challenger (photo: Tim Jones)

Presentations – Session 2


Panel Discussion – Session 2


Session 3 – Biodiversity Futures

Prof. Armand Leroi, Prof. John Fa, and Steve Roest on topics ranging from the trade in bushmeat to depletion of the oceans.

Prof. John Fa, Steve Roest, Prof. Armand Leroi (photo: Tim Jones)

Presentations – Session 3


Panel Discussion – Session 3


Few more photos……

Armand LeroiRuth PadelJohn FaFelix WhittonTom

(photos: Tim Jones)

Related Links

Guardian Blog on The Open Ground (pre-event)

Announcement on Zoonomian

One Forest Fire Too Close to Home

South Western California is one of the world’s most bio-diverse habitats.  The San Gabriel Mountains, north of Los Angeles and south of the Mojave desert, are home to large mammals: including deer, bear, mountain lion and bobcat.  Raccoon and skunk are stealthy night-time visitors to the back gardens of residents, who by day enjoy the company of humming birds, golden oriels and scrub jays.  Lizards scamper on sun-baked rocks, while praying mantis sway, poised – for lunch.

If this all sounds a little wistful, it’s because I’ve enjoyed this region at its best in a form that now – literally – no longer exists.  For in August and September  of this year, 250 square miles of it was destroyed in one of the largest forest fires California has experienced in modern times.  Here is  a time-lapse video of the fire spreading behind NASA JPL, and below that a picture of the local aftermath taken by my wife, Erin.

Station Fire: Brown Mountain Burning #1 from Dan Finnerty on Vimeo.

Scorched Earth in the San Gabriel Mountains
Scorched Earth left by the Station Fire in the San Gabriel Mountains (photo: Erin Conel Jones)

I have to confess that while many thousands of wild animals – including some endangered species – perished in the fire, my immediate thoughts were for my in-laws.  Living in the foothills north of Pasadena, they sat out their fire under a mandatory evacuation order, pondering the fate of house and home in front of a hotel TV in downtown LA.

Thankfully, save for a messy rainfall of ash in the yard, this personal story ended happily (although we remain girded for de-vegetated mudslides induced by the winter rains).  The same cannot be said for the local fauna and flora – or for that matter the carbon footprint of California.

Animals caught in forest fires may run away, bury themselves, or burn and die.  The so-called Station Fire (it started near a ranger station) was unusually intense and fast-moving, making it confusing and difficult to out-run; the charred carcasses of normally brisk bears, deer, and mountain lions were found amongst the smouldering tree stumps.

Those animals sufficiently fleet of foot to escape the immediate effects of a fire still face loss of habitat and possible starvation.  On this occasion, the local populace was put on alert for more frequent visitations from displaced animals and asked to cut some slack for the potentially more dangerous coyote (i.e. don’t just shoot it).

Smaller land animals, such as the endangered Mountain Red-legged Frog; and fish like the Speckled Dace and Arroyo Chub may yet face their greatest challenge with the arrival of winter flood-waters, when ground unsupported by vegetation, but loaded with harmful rock fragments, will wash into fast flowing stream beds.

We might stand back at this point and declare the Station Fire to be just another part of  a natural cycle that has developed over the eons.  Whether a fire is started through an act of arson (as suspected in this case) or by lightning, forest fires invigorate fire-adapted ecosystems – don’t they?

The answer is yes and no –  and this debate won’t end any time soon.  The issues centre on the degree and speed with which man has altered the region’s natural ecosystem.

Fire-suppression policies, whereby unnaturally high fuel stocks are allowed to build up (e.g. pine needles), and forest management practices – for example how densely the forests are allowed to grow – have been blamed as contributors to the intensity and extent of the Station Fire.

But there is no denying that with man on the scene there are fewer places a large cat or bear can move to when fire strikes (a mountain lion was spotted in my in-laws’ drive – and that was before the fire).

Ironically perhaps, this region of California is home to several man-made animal sanctuaries, the inmates of which were themselves threatened by the recent fire.

The Roar Foundation at Shambala Preserve, run by actress Tippi Hedren (of Hitchcock’s ‘Birds’ fame) went on standby to evacuate its collection of large cats – including Michael Jackson’s tigers; and most of the 400 animals at the Wildlife Waystation Sanctuary – including a sizeable collection of chimpanzees – were evacuated to Los Angeles Zoo.   I’m pleased to say my gibbon friends at nearby Santa Clarita were oblivious to this incident.

Now the fire is over, scientists and economists alike are poring over the barely cooled embers to assess the full impact and inform future policy.  There is still much to do, but the concensus so far seems to be that the ecosystem as far as plant-life goes will recover.   The fate of the various displaced animal species is much less certain or understood.

Besides the impact of forest fires on the immediate ecosystem and its inhabitants, incidents like this put us in mind of how deforestation of all types influences the balance of greenhouse gases and global warming.

This is a huge subject in its own right, and another complicating factor to be absorbed by those nations negotiating ahead of Copenhagen.  This 2007 article from ScienceDaily gives some indication of the scale of the impact, pointing to research showing how a single fire season in some North American States can generate CO2 equivalent to that State’s annual emissions from entire man-made sectors such as transport or energy.  And this before a consideration of the feedback effect of rising temperatures on the frequency of fires and complications associated with the impact of smoky particulates.

All in all, a fuller analysis of this aspect – on this blog at least  – is going to have wait for a future post.

Also of interest:

Sparks fly over study suggesting wild fires cut CO2 (The Guardian)

Kids Leave Dirty Footprints

Want to reduce your emissions? Forget about the gas guzzler, holidaying at home, or buying local produce; cut your “carbon legacy” and have fewer children, says new research.


In recent weeks I’ve attended two public discussions dealing with the big-picture issues of sustainability and balancing development with conservation, and neither of them did much to allay my fears or educate me about the threats associated with population growth.

I may be joining the wrong events, but it seems all too easy to miss population off the formal agenda, or leave it to a brave audience member to raise the issue at question time – when it can be scooted over or dismissed with a glib reply.  A popular counter to worries over population growth in developed countries – at home as it were – is to state that growth is mainly happening in the developing world, where per capita consumption is relatively low.  For me, that seems to ignore the medium term consumption aspirations of developing countries (look at how fast China has moved) and underplays the ratio of the impact of an individual’s consumption between the developed and developing worlds.  But I suspect most of us don’t really know what to think, and lack meaningful data to work it out for ourselves.

Now that position has improved somewhat, with the publishing this month of a formal analysis of these very issues by researchers from Oregon State University.  Murtaugh’s and Schlax’s paper: ‘Reproduction and the carbon legacy of individuals‘ is published in the journal Global Environmental Change, and also  downloadable as a pdf here.  In the authors own words:

Here we estimate the extra emissions of fossil carbon dioxide that an average individual causes when he or she chooses to have children. The summed emissions of a person’s descendants, weighted by their relatedness to him, may far exceed the lifetime emissions produced by the original parent.

It’s more usual to work out an individual lifetime’s worth of carbon footprint.  But in the Oregon study, a parent is instantly given the burden of half their child’s carbon impact, and a quarter of the carbon impact from their child’s prospective child; and so forth.  When the numbers are worked through, and comparisons are made between the developed and developing world, it’s apparent that not having that extra kid is a great way to save the planet. According to the authors’ data, the impact of that decision far outweighs that of other good citizen actions – like downsizing the family car.  The figures I find most provocative are the comparisons of the impact of children born in different countries.  Take the USA and Bangladesh for example: I’d assumed just on a gut feeling that a US child’s carbon footprint would be 20 or 30 times that of a child born in Bangladesh.  The figures in the new paper, with the children’s decendents accounted for, put the ratio at 168:1 – equivalent to average carbon emissions of 56t and 9441t for the Bangladesh and US cases respectively.

The carbon reduction figures presented for the various lifestyle changes we can make, and calculated over an 80 year period, range from 17 metric tonnes CO2 saved by recycling materials, to 148 metric tonnes by increasing automobile gas mileage from 20 to 30 mpg.  Those numbers can be compared with the 9441t of emissions that could be avoided by not having an extra child.

This paper is written in the spirit of presenting data as an input for informed discussion.  The authors don’t take a moral position on human rights and population control – that’s for the politicians with the people to sort out.  And it’s not too far a stretch to make the analogy between this situation and  that which existed when the global warming debate was put on a more data-rich, objective, footing by the issuing of the Stern Report in 2006.  However the detail and assumptions in this work may be criticised, as surely they will be, it’s good to see some quantification around this complex piece of the sustainability jigsaw.


Paul A. Murtaugh a,*, Michael G. Schlax b ‘Reproduction and the carbon legacies of individuals’, Global Environmental Change 19 (2009) 14–20

(Originally posted at


Also of Interest

Is population growth out of control (BBC September 2013)

The Business of Conservation

Conservation, business, and the Olive Ridley Turtle.  This article was originally published at ConservationToday.Org

Olive Ridley Turtle (c)

It’s almost exactly a year since I left my job as director for procurement strategy and development at Corus, the Anglo-Dutch steel business owned by India’sTata Steel Group.  I  have happy memories of meeting Indian colleagues in Kolkota and visiting Tata’s operations at Jamshedpur.  So it’s been especially disappointing to watch over the year a progressive sickening of relations between Tata Steel, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and Greenpeace, over the issue of the Olive Ridley Turtle.

Briefly, the case concerns the potential impact on the turtles beaching behaviour of the construction, by a Tata JV company, of a deep water port at Dhamra, on India’s Bengal coast. The case is complex and unresolved to the satisfaction of all parties, particularly Greenpeace, who have criticised the nature of the IUCN’s engagement with Tata. I don’t plan to dissect the case here; starting points for that can be found at these sites: IUCN press release (2008)Dhamra Port Company StatementGreenpeace.

Rather, the case prompts reflection on  the broader relationship between business and the environment – including conservation.  My message is that a business-like and emotion-free relationship is requisite, and that negative criticisms (founded or not) of individual involvements by organisations like the IUCN should not distract from the essential wisdom of their philosophy for business engagement.

As Mohammed Valli Moosa, President of the IUCN has said:

We  are living in an era of global economic expansion.  The private sector is a major player in this period of unprecedented development.  Business has a responsibility to the global environment.  Business has to do more than just avoid prosecution.”

(source: Partnerships for the Planet)

Moosa here is not showing anti-business sentiment; indeed, he questions the way the conservation movement has traditionally engaged with business, as in this report by the New York Times on the occasion of the 2008 World Conservation Congress.

Part of the IUCN’s role is to provide a forum where traditionally divergent views and stakeholders can find solutions that don’t reject the market, but work with it, and has established the Business and Biodiversity Programme (BBP) to support its goals.

The IUCN helps businesses like Shell, Holcim, and Tata to formulate best practice standards and improved conservation policies.  The approach is consciously ‘pragmatic’ (IUCN’s term).  Dialogue does not mean an absence of criticism; the IUCN have challenged Shell on an energy  strategy that focuses on biofuels over wind and solar (link to report here).   On the Dhamra project, the IUCN have in an agreement with Tata advised on the possible impact and mitigation of environmental concerns, although not to the satisfaction, particularly, of Greenpeace.  References in the various chat forums around the case allude to ‘greenwashing’ and abandonment of the ‘precautionary principle’ – implying some kind of sell-out to big business.

Engagement with business and business management principles is far from a sell-out.  By attaching an economic value to the social cost of environmental impact, Nicolas Stern’s report on climate change caught the attention of the political and business world like never before.  Businesses are coming to realise energy efficiencies and GHG emissions reduction can be achieved profitably through technology and improved corporate housekeeping.  The motivation for these actions is becoming less a response to protest and more a simple case of delivering to shareholder approved corporate plans; manifest not only in the glossy pages of corporate social responsibility or environmental reports, but embedded in the financial plans owned by company CFOs.  It is in the conservationists interest as well that businesses make this mind-set internally sustainable, and should be encouraging businesses to include environmental expertise on their boards – maybe in a non-executive director capacity.   Governments have a critical role in removing obfuscating sudsidies and making transparent the true costs of commodities and supply chains to businesses and private individuals.

Tension between business and conservationist goals will not reduce further until a true costing of impacts is agreed and worked to.  As that develops, we must guard against the equation being muddied by subjective judgements and emotion.  In the meantime, a degree of compromise is requisite on both sides, and a recognition that more can be achieved as a team, even one working under constructive tension.

‘The Open Ground’ – Conservation Event in London

Some of you may know that in addition to Zoonomian, I’m a contributing editor at, the conservation group run by post-graduate students from Imperial College under the leadership of Will Pearse.

Open Ground - come along on 20th June
Open Ground - come along on 20th June

So it’s a great pleasure now to introduce this first one day conference organised by ConservationToday, and to encourage you to sign up and go along.

The Open Ground conference will explore the common ground between the wider arts and sciences in conservation – taking place on the 20th of June in London.

It will feature:

* John Fa – Director of conservation science at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

Armand Leroi – Professor at Imperial College London and BBC presenter of ‘Darwin’s Lost Voyage’

* Sam Turvey – involved with the Yangtze River Dolphin, ZSL

Ruth Padel – former Professor of Poetry at Oxford and prize-winning author of ‘Darwin: a life in poems’

…and many more!

You can find out more about the event and book your ticket on-line HERE AT ConservationToday.Org

And, here is the conference poster for you to download.   Spread the word !

UPDATE Feb 2010

The audio of proceedings is here.

Earth Hour – Consciousness Raised? (a bit?)

Well that’s the World Wildlife Fund’s ‘Earth Hour’ over and done with for another year.

(Artwork - Gareth)

At least that’s the cynic’s (realists?) view of this annual attempt to get the world’s lights switched off for an hour, on a rolling cycle from 8.30 – 9.30 pm, across the globe.   It’s just happened in the UK.

I’ve heard the arguments for and against what some see as a ‘stunt’.   I support it all the same.

Whatever else the organisers intended, events like this raise consciousness in those they touch – even if that excludes the worst offenders.

Against that is the view that one-off gestures make people feel good at the time, but that real benefit is lost in ‘business as usual’ during the year.  I’ve not seen any statistics, so won’t comment; maybe the WWF have done the research?

But I can’t get excited about criticism that people might actually use more power during the ‘lights out’ hour.   On balance, I hope there’s a reduction, but don’t see it as a huge deal if not.   I feel guiltier when I’m using power.

Events like Earth Hour raise consciousness; an essential ingredient in any discussion on global warming, religion, famine, conservation, or any number of contentious science-related issues.    The Earth Hour critics are right that you can’t force people to act, but you can nudge them in the right direction.   This is a preparing of the ground, warming people up gently so they don’t melt when faced with the full real cost of energy.   And rather than giving the impression that turning out lights will save the planet, Earth Hour might just spur some to follow up on the detail of the broader picture.

Next year maybe we need the ‘leave the X5 in the garage for a month stunt’, or the ‘cancel one of the two long-haul hols. stunt’?   A sustainable planet will require fundamental life-style changes –  to paraphrase Sir David King (again, sorry) at this year’s Darwin Day lecture: things won’t really sort themselves out until girls stop fancying blokes in Ferraris…… (go figure).

I did hugely exciting stuff in my dark hour.  First, I checked out the appartment building and found the lighting pattern pretty much as I remember it from any other Saturday night (no control – my not being scientific, sad, or both, enough to photograph the place over the two previous weeks).   Then to the supermarket with my re-useable plastic bag (by now I’m visibly radiating good-citizenship with my raised consciousness before me), arriving home 20 minutes early and requiring the PC be prematurely re-activated as a light source.

In that 20 minutes, I did the back-of-fag-packet calculation that a billion people (the WWF target) turning off a 100W  bulb = 100,000 MW or 200 power-stations at 500MW  or 100 at 1000MW.   My personal saving was much less than 100W, at  22W  for the 2 x 11W  fluorescent lamps we run in the lounge which, as a fraction of the power used by the 300W  TV  and 150W PC  found in most homes, supports the critics numerical case.   But if you think that’s what it’s about,  you’re missing the point.

Anyhow, off to phone my other half who’s in the USA at the mo’ – need to get those double Earth Hour Brownie Points.