Going, Gone

Just a short time ago, I posted some images of the prolonged and glorious autumn we’ve been enjoying here in eastern France. A time to revel in the moment, because it passes all too quickly.

My favorite old oak tree. Photos: PKR

My favorite old oak tree, last week.
Photos: PKR

And see, that suspension of the seasonal march is coming to an end, the first snows are anticipated for the end of the week.

Time to bring in any last stragglers from the garden, cover sensitive bushes and trees in a winter coat, give the lawn a final once over and wait for the freeze.

My favorite old oak tree, this week.

My favorite old oak tree, this week.

The good news is, with every turn of the screw, no matter how much beauty seems to be scattered on the ground, no matter how cold and bitter it may seem, there is always a promise at the end of another spring.


Science and Peace: CERN at 60

Last week I had the privilege of attending a series of lectures, 60 Years of Science for Peace, held in the CERN Globe as a part of the celebration to mark CERN’s 60th anniversary. Considering we live just down the road from the Globe, I didn’t have far to travel, but it’s a nice journey to take nonetheless.

The CERN Globe, an exhibition and lecture hall. Photo: Jean-Claude Rifflard/CERN

The CERN Globe, an exhibition and lecture hall.
Photo: Jean-Claude Rifflard/CERN

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, was founded in the 1950s as a research institution, but it also had a key secondary function: that of fostering cooperation and collaboration between countries that had only just emerged from World War II. It provided a place where scientists could work together across political, linguistic, cultural and national lines by sharing research goals, methodology, resources and outcomes.

People from countries that had been at war worked side-by-side. Throughout the Cold War, CERN was one of the places where lines of communication remained open across the Iron Curtain.

There have been countless side benefits and developments over the decades that are the direct or indirect result of research done through CERN, from medical advances to computer technology, but seems particularly fitting that one of CERN’s major collateral contributions was the creation of the World Wide Web as a means of facilitating communication.

Sitting around me at the lectures were rows of CERN scientists, most of whom communicate with one another in English or French – but who come from dozens of different countries around the world.

CERN at 60 Source: CERN

CERN at 60
Source: CERN

One aspect of life at CERN that I’ve always found interesting is that while the scale of science that goes on there might be grand, the atmosphere is relaxed and collegial. The main cafeteria at lunch time is packed, abuzz, and the long tables and close seating encourage conversation.

Having lunch at the CERN cafeteria might mean sitting amongst a few Nobel laureates, or it might not – but what is striking is how much of the casual conversation in shared languages revolves around the free exchange of ideas. And it’s all open to the public.

This is the opposite of academics toiling away in an ivory tower.

So today I’d just like to tip my hat to the work of an organization that does more than just research the fundamentals of physical world: Truly open discussion and communication between people of vastly different backgrounds and beliefs is one of the best means of immunizing against misunderstanding and prejudice, whether intellectual or otherwise.

Thank you, Dr. Mandela

One of the many legacies left behind by the great Nelson Mandela will be his attention to conservation issues and his awareness of the role these issues play in society. In honor of his life, I thought I would highlight one of his many laudable projects today, one that brought together the dual challenges of conservation and peace.

Dr. Nelson Mandela, who passed away on 6 December 2013, was a founding member of the Peace Parks Foundation, together with Dr Anton Rupert and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.

In Dr. Mandela’s words: “I know of no political movement, no philosophy, no ideology, which does not agree with the peace parks concept as we see it going into fruition today. It is a concept that can be embraced by all.

“In a world beset by conflicts and division, peace is one of the cornerstones of the future. Peace parks are a building block in this process, not only in our region, but potentially in the entire world.”

Nelson Mandela opens a gate between South Africa and Mozambique, creating a corridor for elephants to freely cross transnational boundaries. Photo: Tony Weaver / PPF

Nelson Mandela opens a gate between South Africa and Mozambique to allow elephants to be moved from South Africa’s Kruger National Park to a protected area in Limpopo National Park..
Photo: Tony Weaver / PPF

Peace parks are also known as transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs). The Southern African Development Community(SADC) Protocol on Wildlife Conservation and Law Enforcement of 1999 defines a TFCA as “the area or component of a large ecological region that straddles the boundaries of two or more countries, encompassing one or more protected areas as well as multiple resource use areas”.

The Protocol commits the SADC Member States to promote the conservation of shared wildlife resources through the establishment of transfrontier conservation areas.

From the Peace Parks Foundation website: “The establishment and development of peace parks is a dynamic, exciting and multi-faceted approach to jointly manage natural resources across political boundaries.

“Peace parks are about co-existence between humans and nature, about promoting regional peace and stability, conserving biodiversity and stimulating job creation by developing nature conservation as a land-use option.”