Salons 2013 

Fracking and the Future of Energy

Date: Monday 25 November 2013

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Room

Speakers: James Woudhuysen & Andrew Cooper

The discovery of enormous resources of readily exploitable shale gas, as well as other ‘unconventional’ sources of energy, seem to have transformed the previously pessimistic discussion of looming energy crisis. Already in the US, the ‘shale gas revolution’ has slashed prices and opened-up the prospect of energy self-sufficiency. While in the UK, with a fifth of the UK’s existing energy capacity expected to close over the next decade, Chancellor George Osborne has declared that “gas would be the largest source of electricity in coming years”.

Those in favour of embracing the ‘dash for gas’ argue that it is a flexible fuel that can provide plentiful supplies of cheaper energy for decades into the future. They also argue that gas, which produces lower carbon emissions than coal, can act as a bridge fuel while cheaper low-carbon and renewable energy sources are being developed. However, while gas is seen as abundant and ‘clean’, the process of getting at it through ‘fracking’ has met with hostility from environmentalists and local residents who fear the adverse effects of its widespread use in the UK.

Opponents of fracking argue that it risks groundwater contamination, methane gas leakage and seismic activity; as well as destroying the landscape. In addition, for those who believe that time is running out to minimise the effects of catastrophic climate change, exploiting new gas reserves will not only add directly to the problem of man-made global warming, but could also further delay decarbonisation by distracting energy firms and governments from investing in renewable energy sources.

So should the UK embrace the ‘dash for gas’, or concentrate on developing a low carbon economy?  And does the process of fracking represent “real and substantial risks to people and the environments”, or are those risks manageable, and even “exaggerated”?

Should We Legalise Assisted Dying? 

Date: Tuesday 1 October 2013

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Room

Speakers: Ray TallisKevin YuillLynn HaggerPeter D. Williams

Chair: Pauline Hadaway

A satellite event for the Battle of Ideas 2013 festival of debate

The question of assisted dying has rarely been out of the media spotlight in recent years. Although the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill was blocked by the House of Lords in 2006, a spate of TV dramas, documentary films, and high-profile cases have lead to renewed debate about introducing a change to the law to assist terminally ill people who request the ‘right to die’; including a new Assisted Dying Bill tabled before the House of Lords in May 2013.

Proponents of assisted dying aim to give people the ability to control their destiny. But many are also concerned that loosening the law would be a slippery slope leading to an increasing prevalence of assisted suicide, and would open the door to euthanasia. Others worry a change to the law would signal a cultural acceptance of suicide more generally. Critics, both secular and religious, oppose any new legislation. They emphasise the value of life and argue for a focus on prolonging life or on palliative care, suggesting that legalising assisted dying would irretrievably transform the relationship between doctors and patients. Advocates of assisted dying retort that legalisation would allow the practice to be publicly regulated and scrutinised.

Does the right to die at the time and manner that one wishes follow directly from the right to choose how one lives? Or should suicide always be discouraged? How does the concept of ‘dignity’ fit in to this discussion? And why has the assisted dying debate come to assume such cultural and political importance in recent years?

The Leeds 'Summer Salon' on Nietzsche 

Date: Wednesday 10 July 2013

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Room

Speaker: Nick Jones

Friedrich Nietzsche is one of those philosophers we’ve all heard of but maybe know little, or nothing, about. Yet his writings, almost wholly neglected during his lifetime, have had a lasting and controversial legacy. According to Michael Tanner, in his Very Short Introduction to Nietzsche, among those who have found inspiration in his work include: ‘anarchists, feminists, Nazis, religious cultists, Socialists, Marxists, vegetarians, avant-garde artists, devotees of physical culture, and archconservatives’.

Sometimes considered the ‘godfather’ of post-modernism, Nietzsche argued that there is no such thing as the truth external to our own intellectual institutions and practices – the truth is always relative to our own perspectives and interpretations, even in science. He was an atheist who declared ‘the death of God’, and at various times railed against almost every aspect of contemporary civilisation; urging the rejection of the moral values and practices that are the legacy of Judeo-Christianity. Yet he also celebrated energy, individualism and ‘greatness’; declaring we should ‘Live dangerously!’.

So what were Nietzsche’s ideas and what has been their influence? And is he still relevant today? Whether you want to contribute your own ideas about Nietzsche, or simply want to know more - or something - about his philosophy, come and join the audience at the Leeds Salon.

Who's Afraid of Inequality?

Date: Wednesday 22 May 2013

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Room

Speakers: Daniel Ben-AmiDanny DorlingMartin O'Neill

There is a broad consensus that growing inequalities within Western societies underlie most of today’s social and economic problems. For President Obama, inequality is ‘the defining issue of our time’; while David Cameron has railed against ‘the incredible inequality of the modern world’. And this is not just seen as a global issue, but a local one as well. For Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn: ‘The single biggest issue we face in the city is about how we overcome the gap between those with wealth and opportunity and those without’.

Whether it’s the Occupy movement’s targeting of the top ‘1%’, the arguments of best-selling book The Spirit Level, or the promotion of the ‘happiness agenda’ to combat the ‘paradox of prosperity’, inequality is seen as the cause of the current economic crisis, and a threat to personal health and social cohesion. The answer to the problems of inequality, some argue, is a more sustainable economic model and a fairer distribution of wealth, in which the excesses of the rich, and even economic growth itself, are restrained in the interests of all.

But is inequality the symptom or the cause of our current problems? And are we in danger of confusing what we mean by equality and conflating the economic with the political? The modern idea of equality originated in the Enlightenment and was inextricably linked to the ideas of freedom and progress. But if restraint is seen as necessary in the pursuit of a less unequal society, isn’t there a danger of not only undermining economic growth but of opening up all our lives to greater state regulation and interference?

What Is Good Art?

Date: Tuesday 12 March 2013

Venue: Leeds Art Gallery, Henry Moore Room

Speakers: Tiffany JenkinsNigel WalshKenneth HayAntonia Stowe

Part of Leeds Art Gallery's current 'Dawn Chorus' exhibition

Who is the better painter, Jack Vettriano or David Hockney?  Who the better sculptor Antony Gormley or Henry Moore? Who is the better installation artist Damien Hirst or Marcel Duchamp? And do any of these even compare to the past masters from the Renaissance to Picasso? And does it matter?

The definition of art itself, let alone of good art, has always been contested, with people often agreeing to disagree. Yet in the past three decades the very idea that we can exercise aesthetic judgment has been denounced as suspect and elitist, so much so that we seem to have given up disagreeing about the quality of works of art altogether, at least in public.

Yet everyday people are forced to exercise judgment both in private and public life:  art galleries have to decide what art to show; schools, universities and art colleges what art to put on the curriculum; art teachers what marks to give their pupils’ work; critics and judges of art competitions must give a verdict and justify their choices.

In practice, the literary and artistic canons live on, though in an uncontested form, and when there are controversies, these are seldom about the quality of the art itself but about its political or social ‘message’.

So, is aesthetic judgment is still necessary and possible in our non-judgmental age? And why does art matter anyway?

Regulating Relationships

Date: Monday 18 February 2013

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Room

Speakers: Helen ReeceKatie RussellNik Peasgood.

In recent years there’s been growing concern around issues of violence against women. In 2010, the Home Office published its action plan ‘Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls’. And in December 2012, with the support of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, it launched the second part of a campaign targeted at teenage relationships, which includes the current TV ad ‘If you could see yourself’.

There is also an emphasis on teen relationships in the new amendment to the Domestic Violence, Crimes and Victims Act 2004, to be introduced in March this year. This will adopt a new definition of domestic violence which includes any incidents of non-violent controlling and coercive behaviour between anyone who is or has been in any type of intimate relationship, including 16-18 years-olds.

This new definition brings it into line with other influential definitions of domestic violence, and has been welcomed by both the police and groups working with victims of domestic violence, who argue that it ‘has always been grossly under-reported’. The broadening definition, it is hoped, will provide greater protection to women and young girls from abusive partners and relationships, while raising awareness of an issue which it is estimated will affect 1 in 4 women in their lifetime.

However, others argue that in the law adopting such a broad definition of domestic violence - that extends beyond the home and ‘that does not even centre on, let alone restrict itself to, physical acts’ – it risks both exaggerating instances of domestic violence, while watering-down serious instances of physical abuse. In addition, they argue, the rhetoric of violence not only leads to distrust of informality and intimacy in human relations, but invites the state in to regulate relationships.

So, will greater legislation help those suffering from domestic violence and other forms of abuse? Or does this risk opening up informal and intimate relations to state scrutiny and regulation? And why have we seen a rise in campaigns and legislation around issues of violence against women? Does this reflect greater awareness of the real, often hidden, problems of domestic and sexual violence, or a change in the way we view men, women and intimate relationships?



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