Monday, November 27, 2006

Sustainability: good news about methane

An unexpected piece of good news seems to have been little covered: the fact that the quantity of methane in the atmosphere has stopped rising, as the BBC reported the other day.

It sounds arcane but methane, which apparently arises from sources as rich and varied as
  • melting Siberian permafrost
  • gas production and
  • both ends of the humble cow
is a potent greenhouse gas. Anyone who reads about sustainability will have come across stories about (for example) giant methane burps from the deep ocean ending life as we know it. Here's one. Methane is, we are told 21 times worse than an equivalent amount of CO2 and is responsible for 20% of all global warming, if you can rely on the climate models, which you can't.

Anyhow the good news is that, after rising to 150% of its pre-industrial levels, the global atmostpheric methane level hasn't budged for the past seven years, and may even start falling. This may even be a result of various conservation attempts over the years, including farmers bottling the stuff as it comes out of cows (let's not picture this in our minds) and then selling it or using to power their milking parlours.

Not, in other words, like this cartoon:

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Society: HMP Grendon

Just come back from an open day at HMP Grendon, a unique prison in the system that is set up as a 'therapeutic community'. You have to be in prison for quite serious offences, and you have to ask to be referred to this prison. Each morning, the inmates in each wing meet for an hour and a half of group (I guess cognitive) therapy.

In this way they unbottle, for perhaps the first time, their story and their feelings, and face up to their crimes.

At this Open Day, perhaps a dozen inmates spoke to an audience of psychologists, lawyers, prison visitors, other prison officers, students, random other visitors, and me, telling how they had been changed through HMP Grendon. They were all sex offenders, rapists, murderers and people who had committed violent burglaries. Some themes that came up over and over again:

  • Sexual abuse in childhood, usually from family members
  • No love expressed in the family home -- quite moving to see these big, ugly, tattooed men describing how their mothers didn't want to help them or the fathers brutalized them; how they never knew a hug.
  • Very low self-esteem, hidden for decades under bravado and machismo
  • Drug taking and violence to ease the pain
  • Having been desensitised to violence -- being violent to express their anger, but not being aware of the hurt they were causing others.
Other prisons versus HMP Grendon
Some interesting comments regarding other prisons rather than this one:
  • Free availability of drugs. One inmate described how he smoked 'the weed' and thus dozed through his first long sentence in the Young Offenders Institute. Another said told how he felt at home in one London prison, since there were both drugs and fights a-plenty,
  • Other prisons teach you not to trust. Instead you learn to lie to probation, go on courses so as to get parole, watch your back. At Grendon they seemed to go for (and often found) honesty and group accountability.
  • Remorse that you were caught, not that you did what you did.
Reality check
Prisoners' views on different prison regimes were also interesting:
  • You can even blag your way through HMP Grendon -- though many don't. Many do indeed face the painful process of self-disclosure.
  • Liberal regimes only increase prisoners' exploitation of them. You need both justice applied firmly and opportunity to change.
  • You can't excuse adult crimes because of childhood abuse -- there are 'innocent children', but not 'innocent adults'. You have to face up to both -- the terrible things done to you or that happened to you; the terrible things you yourself did.
  • Many guys had had many opportunities to change presented to them, before they decided to take one of them up.
The overall impression, though, was of a bunch of guys (at least, the guys on show) who were facing up to their crimes, their pasts, their present situation, and taking responsibility. Spending time with one or two of the prisoners, I saw something I'd never seen in a jail before -- peace and even joy.

A challenge to me also before the day was finished: on the way out, do I shake hands with a man who admitted on stage to grooming and controlling children, planning and then carrying out violent sexual attacks on them? Do I wish him God's blessing?

Here's a view from the inside on the prison