30 December 2009

The Beagle Project is back online

It's alive, UHLIIIIVE! The Beagle Project domain that is. Sorry for the week-long black-out. Service is now restored and our website and email are up and running again. *blots forehead with hankie*

The bad news is that all emails to addresses ending '@thebeagleproject.com' during the last week were bounced back. If you have tried to email one of us during the period 22-29 December, please do re-send now. Thanks for your patience.

27 December 2009

Domain is down/open thread

Our website is down, including all emails ending @thebeagleproject.com. We're working on it, but for now please communicate with us in one of the following ways:
  1. Leave a comment under this post, which will serve as an open thread for project communication until the domain is back up.
  2. If you're on twitter, send a mention or direct message to @beagleproject
  3. Email me here.
Year-end post coming soon...

178 years ago today

As opening lines to great adventure stories go, it's one of the best:

After having been twice driven back by heavy southwestern gales, Her Majesty's ship Beagle, a ten-gun brig, under the command of Captain Fitz Roy, R. N., sailed from Devonport on the 27th of December, 1831.

Brings a lump to my throat every time I read it.

11 December 2009

'In a moment overthrown'

Darwin's first big theory wasn't evolution by natural selection, it was a mechanism for the formation of coral reefs and atolls. The story of Darwin and corals is beautifully narrated by David Dobbs in his book Reef Madness: Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the Meaning of Coral, which I'm nearly finished reading now and plan to review here later.

Today I'm writing to add our support to the global call for action to save coral reefs from extinction by climate change, ocean acidification, pollution and overfishing:

Coral reefs and climate change, a message for Copenhagen from Earth Touch on Vimeo.

Watching this I couldn't help recalling how, at the end of his Journal of Researches (a.k.a. The Voyage of the Beagle), Darwin wrote,
'Among the other most remarkable spectacles which we have beheld, may be ranked the stars of the southern hemisphere—the water-spout—the glacier leading its blue stream of ice in a bold precipice overhanging the sea—a lagoon island raised by the coral-forming polypi—an active volcano—and the overwhelming effects of a violent earthquake. The three latter phenomena, perhaps, possess for me a peculiar interest, from their intimate connexion with the geological structure of the world. The earthquake must however, be to every one a most impressive event : the earth, considered from our earliest childhood as the type of solidity, has oscillated like a thin crust beneath our feet; and in seeing the most beautiful and laboured works of man in a moment overthrown, we feel the insignificance of his boasted power.'
That last thought is especially poignant now that we are seeing the most beautiful and laboured works of nature in a moment overthrown.... by us.

We'll need sailing vessels, Part II (repost)

Originally posted on 9 January, 2008.

In Part I of this post I wrote about an important but oft overlooked message to be carried by the new Beagle: that a return to sailboats as a viable form of transportation is an essential piece of the climate-saving puzzle.

Today, I stumbled upon this BBC video hilariously entitled Ship using 'sail' technology, with sail in quotes, just like that, as if the BBC thought its readers might not be sure what sails were for.

My laughter turned to cheers, however, when I watched the video, which reports that the first cargo ship to harness wind power in more than a century is going to sail across the Atlantic this year.

'The age of sail may not be past,' it begins. 'In the age of climate change, windpower is making a remarkable comeback.'

According to the video, the new merchant ship is equipped with something called a SkySail, a high-tech 160 square-metre kite that will deliver 20% savings in CO2 emissions and fuel costs, which is equivalent to $1600 US Dollars per day.

The video ends by echoing the hopes of SkySail's developers, that the SkySail's maiden voyage will 'herald a new age of sail'.

SkySail in action

9 December 2009

Why we need a new Beagle (reason 4,283)

Edward O. Wilson on a recent Guardian Science Extra podcast (quote begins at 11:27):

You couldn't duplicate Darwin today. We have lots of young men and women now with comparable dedication, but they can't develop the way that Darwin did. There is no equivalent opportunity like the voyage of the Beagle.

Not yet, Prof. Wilson.

Not yet.

We'll need sailing vessels (repost)

Originally posted on 9 April 2007.

"If we want to make it to the future, we'll need sailing vessels" writes Dmitry Orlov of Boston, Massachusetts in the second of a trio of can-do environmental citizenship stories from Orion Magazine's new department Making Other Arrangements.

By "make it to the future", Orlov means maintenance of a functional civilisation in an environmentally sustainable future. Sailboats will figure heavily, Orlov argues, and in doing so he reminds us that a 21st Century Beagle should fly the flag for more than just science.

"Sailors and their ships run on food and water and wind—all renewable" writes Orlov. "Sailboats can be made from renewable materials as well: wood, hemp, flax, and pitch ... the trends that will once again make sailing a viable form of transportation are already in place."


Always a rich source of segues, Orion this month offers up yet another Beagle aim. In "Leave No Child Inside" (for those who understandably tune out American politics, this is a play on George Bush's No Child Left Behind strategy that many argue leaves plenty of children behind), Richard Louv paints an achingly appealing picture of a future in which children and nature are reconnected as a central function of education.

"Such a future is embodied in the nature-themed schools that have begun sprouting up nationwide," writes Louv, "like the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center Preschool, where, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in April 2006 'a 4-year-old can tell the difference between squirrel and rabbit tracks—even if he can’t yet read any of the writing on a map.'"

And so should be the Beagle: a floating nature-themed school that gets youngsters outside and fosters their native intelligence of nature amongst other virtues. And on these I'll give Orlov the last word: "The culture of sailing is rich, ancient, and largely intact. It is also a culture that fosters competence, fitness, self-reliance, and courage, which are all sadly missing from the world we see around us."

7 December 2009

The new Beagle won't just promote science-based action on climate change, she'll embody it

A Greenpeace vessel floats offshore to welcome flights arriving at Copenhagen airport (Kreutzmann Nanna/AP).

As anyone not locked in a closet knows, a certain climate change summit is taking place this week in Denmark. There's already lots being written and even more said about it, so we just want to add this one thing: sails, people.

Hopenhagen, they're calling it, and that's just what we're all doing: hoping it's successful. But at The Beagle Project we also believe that hope isn't enough. We all need to take action on climate change, not just look to politicians. And so I give you our climate change pledge:

The new Beagle will:
  • be a research platform to investigate climate change (and its inextricable link to biodiversity change)
  • carry the urgent message of the need for climate action to audiences literally around the world
  • celebrate her namesake's captain Robert Fitzroy who founded the science of weather forecasting (he coined the term 'forecast'), established the use of the then-new telegraph to transmit weather reports so that storm warning cones could be raised in ports saving countless lives and established the Met Office, today a leader in climate change science
  • embody the commitment to climate action by traveling mainly under the power of that greenest of green energy sources - wind
Be on the lookout for reposts this week on the contributions sailing vessels can make to solving the climate crisis.