THE apocalyptic Four Last Things on which we are focusing our Advent attention seem to be at least one too few. The final programme in David Attenborough’s magnificent series Frozen Planet (BBC1, Wednesday of last week) spelled out the signs of a phenomenon that should be added to make Five — global warming. And we cannot defer this cataclysm until the parousia, which, on past form, is fairly unlikely to happen until well after we have shuffled off this mortal coil. It is taking place now.
Attenborough showed irrefutable film evidence from his earlier expeditions: glaciers are shorter and flowing to the sea to melt twice as fast as 20 years ago; ice fields are shrinking; there is now open sea where once summer ice covered all. Submarine surveys prove that not only is there a far smaller area of ice, but that it is much thinner. Whereas the northern ice-cap used to reflect the sun’s heat back into space, the newly opened sea heats up, thus melting ice even quicker.
This is disastrous news for many of those who have evolved a delicate survival in the world’s most inhospitable climes — and such species include, of course, humankind: not just the Inuit, but all who are affected by that 50-centimetre rise in global sea-levels by the end of this century if current Arctic trends are not reversed — millions upon millions of people.
And, if the Antarctic ice-sheet, which locks up 75 per cent of the earth’s fresh water, were to melt, as its fringes are, then sea levels would rise by 60 metres, with scarcely imaginable results. It is salutary to observe how Attenborough has developed his concerns to a global perspective: what life on earth might there be, in 100 years’ time?
At least, while we are still here, we can seek to make life as creative and as communal as possible, and The Big Bread Experiment (BBC2, Monday to Wednesday of last week) showed that a C of E curate can still make a surprising difference.
The Revd Cath Vickers felt that, to replace some missing community spirit in Bedale, north Yorkshire, a bread-making circle would be just the thing. The idea developed into the setting up of a bread-making co-operative, and the renovation of an ancient watermill. As we find so often, the personal development and empowerment of those involved seemed as significant a result as the industry created.
Come Bell-Ringing with Charles Hazlewood (BBC4, Wednesday of last week) inspired, I regret, almost as much irritation as delight: delight, because the Exercise at last received proper national TV attention; irritation, because Hazlewood’s aim of creating a piece of music with three separate bell-towers, all heard from one spot, was hampered by the time it took him to realise what wheel-hung bells can and cannot do. Even worse, he kept talking about “the limitations” of the bells.
You do not carp about a piano because it has not got pipes, or blame a trumpet for not being able to play chords — but Hazlewood never really forgave the bells for not playing melodies. He should attend to some 20th-century musical theorists: John Cage, for example, would have no problem in recognising the strictly mathematical process of ringing a Method as music of the highest — and perhaps most divinely inspired — form.