Signing Off

by Bryan Walker on October 31, 2012

I am regretfully giving up writing regular posts for Hot Topic. Age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease affecting central vision, has been advancing for some years and has come to the point where reading of the kind on which I have depended for my posts has become difficult and laborious. It’s four years since Gareth invited me to contribute to Hot Topic and I have been grateful for the opportunity. The full seriousness of climate change dawned on me about seven years ago and though for a time I had some opportunity to voice my concern through the pages of the Waikato Times, that terminated when the paper started talking about the need to ‘balance’ what I regarded as a straightforward communication of mainstream science.

Happily Hot Topic suffers from no inclination to balance science with denial. It has given me the chance to use the time available to a retired person to read and then review many books and reports by climate scientists and science writers and experts in associated fields. It has also allowed me to express the hopes and fears that mingle in the mind of anyone who understands the urgency of the climate crisis, and to chastise leaders who think we can somehow both mitigate climate change and burn all the fossil fuels.

I turned 80 this year, and my concern over climate change only grows with advancing years. I’m more pessimistic than I was four years ago about the possibility of significant action being taken soon to rein in emissions. But the urging must continue and the science be respected. Gareth stands out in the New Zealand setting for his commitment on both these counts and I have felt fortunate to be associated with his efforts and the support of the intelligent and knowledgeable commenters and contributors which Hot Topic enjoys.

Gareth adds:

It’s been my great privilege to provide a platform for Bryan’s writing over the last four years. In that time he has reviewed dozens of books (click the book reviews tab to get an idea of just how prolific he has been), held the government to account for its wrong-headed policy making and failures of vision, and provided a carefully considered and highly valuable moral perspective on the problem we all confront. If Hot Topic has achieved anything in recent years, it is in no small part due to his efforts — not least in keeping the blog running when I disappeared overseas or on holiday.

Thanks for all your words, Bryan, and the very best of wishes for this latest phase of your retirement.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob Taylor October 31, 2012 at 11:08 am

Thanks, Bryan, you will be missed. I have bought many of the books you recommended over the years, and appreciate your insight and compassion in these difficult times.

bill October 31, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Thanks indeed for all your hard work and your gentlemanly manner, Bryan – as for Rob above, you’ve inspired me on many occasions to think ‘gee, I really need to read that book’ and my Kindle stands as a testament to the power of your reviews! Enjoy retirement 2.0…

y-not October 31, 2012 at 12:36 pm

You will be missed by me and by many other invisible Hot-Topic readers who have learned from you well informed approach to carbon issues. Thanks.

viv k October 31, 2012 at 1:31 pm

I will miss your valuable contributions on the issue of climate change. If only there was a cure for your eye condition. I hope you have easy access to lots of podcasts and audiobooks.

noelfuller October 31, 2012 at 3:11 pm

My shelf is far far better stocked with climate related books than any local branch of the Auckland public library (what are they about?), partly because of your reviews. Thankyou.


Lynley Hood October 31, 2012 at 4:07 pm

You will be missed by this reader who shares your frustration. I read your post (in enlarged text) before working on the paper I’m presenting at a book conference in Dunedin next month. The title is “On Becoming Illiterate”. The abstract reads:
I’m a scientist by training and a writer by occupation. Two years ago I lost the central vision in my left eye, suddenly and permanently. Then the vision in my right eye began to deteriorate. At that point the effortless pleasure of reading became a struggle.
The challenge of adapting brought with it the challenge of making sense of my loss. Reading used to be as natural and necessary to me as breathing. Now, as I grieve for the books I can no longer read, I ask myself: what exactly is it about reading the printed word that listening to audiobooks and reading e-books cannot replace?
Popular claims about the smell and feel of books explain nothing. When The Wind in the Willows took me into the skin of Toad and I came back transformed, something far more profound than smell and feel was at work.
In my paper I will describe the journey that took me into the extraordinary neuroscience of the reading brain. There I learnt that the mysterious power of books, the power that allows us to leave our own consciousness and enter the consciousness of another person, another age, another culture, lies in the speed and effortlessness with which we decode and comprehend the symbols on the printed page. When avid readers say that, in some inchoate, unsatisfactory way, audiobooks and e-books “are just not the same”, they’re right, and modern neuroscience can help us understand why.

Bryan Walker October 31, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Lynley, when I remember the pleasure I had from your biography of Sylvia Ashton Warner and being utterly gripped by A City Possessed I can credit that the printed book has a power not easily matched. On the other hand I’m cheered by some of the splendid reading in today’s audiobooks (I’ve been practising listening to some for a few years now). Whether they can fill my days as well as the printed word remains to be seen. Enlarged font on Kindle is serving an interim function and at present giving me the pleasure of catching up on neglected or forgotten classics, free of charge but at the cost of very frequent pressing of the page button (not to be compared with turning a real page). But your paper will be delving into deeper matters. Will it be available on the internet in any form?

Lynley Hood October 31, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Bryan – I have all sorts of mixed feelings about audiobooks & e-books, which I’m trying to put into sensible form in my paper – not sure what will become of it, but if you send your email address to me at – I’ll send you a copy.

Tony October 31, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Thanks Bryan for your thoughtful input to this forum.

On MD I assume you are familiar with the role of lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation in slowing the process:

Bryan Walker October 31, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Thanks Tony. Yes, I’ve been taking the supplement for some years. My ophthalmologist is alert to any possibilities of slowing the progression of the disease.

Macro October 31, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Dear Bryan.
My very sincere thanks for your work over the past 4 years. I have read all of your reviews with avid interest, and they have never failed to provide an honest and accurate assessment of the subject in hand . Your reviews have always lead me to seek out the books for further reading, and I know that your reviews will be sorely missed by all.
My wife is a specialist educator in visual disabilities, and I understand fully the condition that now forces you to give up this work.
All our very best wishes to you.
Kind Regards
Malcolm Croft

Thomas October 31, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Many thanks indeed Bryan for the though provoking and well researched posts that you have shared with your readership at this blog.
I wish you well indeed and hope that you can find peace and happiness in your next steps in life! Your contributions will be much missed!

andyS October 31, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Even though we don’t agree on most things, I hope you enjoy your retirement and find some joy in the world that you can share with your friends and family.

All the best

viv k October 31, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Lynley, when and where are you presenting your paper? It sounds fascinating. Just before checking on Hot topic I read Julian Barnes’ article, ‘My life as a bibliophile’ (a friend passes on the guardian weekly) you have probably already read it, but I expect it is online for others who may be interested. In response to anyone who thinks I am getting off topic, I would like to point out that books sequester carbon.

Lynley Hood October 31, 2012 at 8:57 pm

I’d missed Julian Barnes’ piece, so thanks for that Viv. I’m presenting my paper on 16 Nov at the Thinking Through Books conference at Otago university.

tom October 31, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Well now Bryan, in this thank you I’d like admit how your writing fooled me somewhat. I thought, y’see, that of a 50+ professional—never an 80+ pro.

This speaks volumes in support of a theory about people—that is that a secret held adds dignity to the holder. Well done for that. So very well done and I daresay also on Gareth’s account.

With my respects

AndrewH October 31, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Hi Bryan – I’d never have guessed at eighty either. Though you undoubtedly deserve a retirement I hope you will still be able to pop in here from time to time.
Thank you for your great contribution.

RW October 31, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Best wishes Bryan.

Beaker October 31, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Many thanks Bryan. I will miss your articles.

noelfuller October 31, 2012 at 10:54 pm

When my mother lost most of her sight she resorted to audiobooks. I confess lurking in the corridor listening to them too at times, discussion could follow.


samv November 1, 2012 at 6:17 am

Because of your reviews, I have read many more books on climate change than I otherwise would have. Your consistently accurate summaries have allowed me to spend my reading time focused, reading about the topics which really interest me. In short you have facilitated the transfer of inspiration from the authors to my mind, and I thank you!

Johnmacmot November 1, 2012 at 6:37 am

Many thanks for your reviews, Bryan. Like others, I have bought a number of books as a result of your comments. All the best.

CTG November 1, 2012 at 7:00 am

I’ll add my thanks also, Bryan. Your writing shows tremendous compassion, something that is sadly lacking in this debate. I hope the example you have set rubs off on more people.

Carol Cowan November 1, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Bryan, I had a little cry when i read your post. Thank you so much for all you have done for us, especially for sharing so many books (and I have bought a few of them). Your work will be missed. I wish you all the best.

SCM November 1, 2012 at 11:09 pm

Hi Bryan
I’ll miss your thoughtful reviews and posts. I hope you won’t disappear entirely from Hot Topic though. I am sorry to hear about your vision problems .
All the best for the future.

Bryan Walker November 2, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Thank you all for your very kind comments. I appreciate them greatly. And I’m writing this on a day when on the strength of Bloomberg I’m allowing myself tiny stirrings of hope that the US may yet start to take climate change seriously. Although I wrote of my pessimism in the post I’m also mindful that change can sometimes happen suddenly. I recall Eric Pooley in his book The Climate War quoting AlAlexis de Tocqueville saying long ago that in the US, events ‘can move from the impossible to the inevitable without ever stopping at the probable.’ Too much to hope perhaps, but…

Anyway, thanks again to you all, and keep battling.

noelfuller November 2, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Yes Bryan, I have been taking note. During TV1′s coverage on the day Sandy made landfall they interviewed a young NZ woman in NY whos said near as I can recall: “The elephant in the room is climate change. The presidential candidates are not talking about it but everyone else is.”

Tonight TV1, TV3 and Prime all addressed the question of a Sandy-climate change connection and Al Jazeera devoted quite a bit of news to discussions linking climate change and sandy so it seems with Bloomberg’s endorsement of Obama explicitly with respect to climate change the elephant is on the election agenda whatever the candidates might think.


MrSmith November 2, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Thank-you Brian, the fight to save the Humans will continue altho Im skeptical weather that’s such a good idea.

nicky November 3, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Bryan I want to thank you wholeheartedly for your posts. I have always found your posts so engaging and eloquent, something that this field doesn’t make easy. I will truly miss your writing. I also have you to thank for leading me to Hot topic some years ago when I first began to read more widely on the subject of climate change. I had read an article in a paper that you had penned on wind power and found myself so enthused to read what seemed like a sane and informed point of view (days before the editor brought in “balance” perhaps!! ) and in googling your name I got to Hot Topic. Have been a firm follower ever since. warmest wishes and sincerest thanks

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