Ai Weiwei, climate sceptics and the buzz of ideas

How The Light Gets In, the ideas festival at Hay, has been fantastic this weekend. The mix of talks and music, chat and food, must be near perfect. In just three seasons, the founders have established a buzzing event that feels like it is a crucial part of your cultural and intellectual calendar.

The talks go online. So a couple of vignettes I stumbled on, by-and-by.

In one weekend, not one but two flesh’n’blood scientists who are climate change sceptics. Actually, one came across as a climate crank. But the other, Kevin Warwick, is respected for his work in cybernetics. I couldn’t quite work out whether his scepticism hangs on future projections of climate change, rather than the evidence of change here and now. There’s reason for the former wariness, on the basis that second-guessing the future requires a confidence that science understands all that’s at play in climate systems, which presumably it doesn’t. But nonetheless, he was sat alongside an environmentalist who adopts the overwhelming scientific consensus and clearly wasn’t having it.

In one weekend, just one scholar of Chinese religions, but one who is at least two packed into one: Martin Palmer. He is invariably fascinating and fresh to hear. Sitting in the green room, we were talking about China, and the current wave of cultural suppressions, notably the imprisonment of Ai Weiwei. It’s distressing, but can be set alongside the current wave of cultural liberations, he told me. He himself has just been booked for a nationwide TV discussion on Daoism and the future of the country. It will include politicians of the highest rank. Daoism has a future: it’s official. That’s remarkable. So how to explain the pull in different directions? There’s a power struggle underway, ahead of the shuffling of the political cards next year. But do see the good alongside the bad.