Ramadan thoughts June 2018

My Muslim friends are into the last 10 days of their annual Fast. I admire their fortitude when the Fast falls during a high latitude summer – 16 or more hours without so much as a drop of water is quite a feat. Yet they are full of joy, and like a marathon runner will emerge from the process with a feeling of achievement, gained in solidarity with their brothers & sisters. There’s even quite a lot of medical evidence that fasting is very good for humans. Ramadan also raises my awareness of the persecution that my Muslim friends & neighbours go through. Like Jews in the 1930s, their community and religion is vilified by many – and we all know where that hatred can lead.

In common with many of my Christian friends, I know that most of my Muslim friends have no problem reconciling their faith in a creator deity with the day to day reality of scientific method and discovery. Indeed from the Quran they quote me many passages that implore humankind to seek knowledge, to explore, even to travel outside the bounds of this Earth and explore the deep ocean, and seek natural treasures therein. We are reminded constantly in the Islamic scriptures that humans are ‘calipha‘ – stewards and protectors of this Earth, and will be judged accordingly.

In the secular west it’s easy to dismiss believers in the old religions as backwards, believers in superstition & nonsense – but faith binds communities, gives a sense of belonging and purpose, enables people to find meaning in lives that may be very challenging. We shouldn’t dismiss belief as without value, whilst of course resisting compulsion in religion and ensuring that believers live in peace with those who don’t share their world view.

Ramadan Mubarak 🙂

Above the clouds

Writing as the teenage Boeing 777 winds her way west at 500 mph across the Atlantic against a strong headwind. The ocean 32000 feet below is full of white caps, it’s a wild windy day down there beneath the scattered cumulus. The wings are grubby – I wonder when British Airways last gave them a good scrub? Friendly Irish-American young woman sat next to me makes for pleasant company but we’re leaving each other in peace to watch movies or read after a lacklustre economy class meal. Passing cirrus now.

I’m headed for Houston, the warm Texan welcome awaits and sunshine too after the snow and frost of Britain. Really big seas below as we pass south of Iceland. Glad I’m up here in the comfort of window seat 32k.

(Pause for 4 days…)

Waiting for the flight home. Have yet again enjoyed the enthusiasm, generous hospitality and friendliness of Texans. Learned a lot, did my presentations & lectures and had a pleasant evening last night hosted of all places by the local Chopard Boutique. Don’t think I can stretch to $16700 for the less expensive watches there but they looked after us well and good networking was done.

Like many Brits I really do like the USA, and enjoy the contrasts with my own country. America has so much space, and of course when you grow up watching the American Dream on TV & in the cinema much seems familiar. I like that the cars are ludicrously big and some make a lovely V8 rumble, that they have names like Dodge and Pontiac and Chevrolet – where do those names come from? They spell America. I like going to Wendy’s and iHop, buying root beer and shopping for Texan boots at Cavender’s. The shop assistants instantly spot my accent and act extra friendly, they ask me what I think of President Trump – I’m polite but say I like America but am not sure if their Commander in Chief has our back anymore. They agree things have gone a little weird and apologise for the craziness in the White House. I reassure them that I don’t mind “America First” – any good President has a primary responsibility for their own country – but I’m nervous about international impact of the current direction of travel. Amazing how much you can learn about a country in just a few minutes of conversation.

I’ll be flying home soon so will post this before I go into internet darkness.

More from me in April.

Cyprus impressions

Just back from my first trip to Cyprus, an underwater robotics conference in Nicosia. While I was there it was heartening to see how the young people in Cyprus seem to bear little malice towards their neighbours in the Turkish-occupied part of the island, instead they hope earnestly for reconciliation between the two communities. It gives me real hope for the future, though on the negative side the present rather authoritarian government in Turkey is probably not going to be inclined towards supporting reunification on Cyprus. We might have to wait another decade or two, which is unfortunate.

I visited the occupied part of Nicosia, crossing at the Ledra gate, and enjoyed watching Sufi dervishes whirl in the ruins next to the former Catholic cathedral.

Later on my visit I had the opportunity to visit the new Russian and Romanian Orthodox churches, and the women’s monastery near Nicosia. Faith is faltering among the young, but the efforts of Bishop Athanasios of Limassol are bearing fruit, as this charismatic former monk of Mount Athos re-energises the Orthodox Church on the Island.

Cyprus faces many challenges in an unstable part of the world, even climate change is having a significant impact as summers gets seriously hot. The good people there deserve our prayers and support, the island is a microcosm of problems faced by much larger nations.

Deep Sea Mining – should we do it?

At the moment, we have a just about fit-for-purpose legal regime to regulate extraction of metals and minerals from the deep ocean floor thanks to UNCLOS and the International Seabed Authority, but so far humans haven’t really given seabed mining a good hard go. It’s probably just as well – there are huge gaps in our knowledge about deep sea ecosystems, the possible environmental impacts of large scale mining and recovery times.

However the day will come when terrestrial resources are so depleted, or the choice is between mining a virgin rain forest versus the ocean floor, when the hard choices will have to be made. When that day comes (and it may be some way in the future – asteroid mining may turn out to be cheaper) we certainly have the technology to do it, the knowledge gaps are largely about biological impacts, also some on chemistry (how will exposing new rock faces impact deepwater oxygen content?) and geological processes. So before it starts, we must do the research.

  • What lives down there?
  • How much space does the mine require?
  • How many years will it operate?
  • What techniques will be used to extract the resource?
  • Will there be remediation works afterwards?
  • Who ‘owns’ the site? Where are the profits going?

There are increasing amounts of information out there, and fortunately there’s not too much of a goldrush just yet so we do have some time to get it right.

Steve 19.2.18

Welcome

For Lent 2018 my wife suggested I ‘fast’ from Facebook – much harder for me than giving up beer or chocolate, and I was curious to see how much time I’d save not browsing the posts. Within a few days I was getting messages from people I didn’t realise followed my posts, asking when I’d be back, so perhaps it’s time I started a blog.

I’ll mainly be posting on the subjects I care about – sustainable industries, caring for the global Ocean, building a just and peaceful world for the many, not the few.

It will include things about defence, technology, politics but also about faith & friendship with those who have different views & religious affiliations. I believe that humans are complex spiritual creatures not just drones pre-programmed to eat & reproduce. Enjoy the blog,

Steve