Chapter 8 – Magisterium Strikes Back

Dr Field was waiting for them on the way past the senior common room after supper the following Monday.
‘A word if you don’t mind, George!’ George went over to Dr Field, while Tom and David carried on. Rhan stopped, waiting and listening, a little way off.
‘I have heard from Dr Bloom that you were making very negative contributions to the sustainability lecture and that it was particularly inappropriate as it gave a poor impression to an external lecturer. I gather that you objected to the way sustainability is being addressed?’
‘I am very sorry sir. It won’t happen again.’
‘Good. Let’s not argue about petty issues with lecturers again. Please apologise to Dr Bloom.’
‘Yes sir.’
‘But,’ interceded Rhan, ‘George was only pointing out that high-carbon materials are likely to cause real trouble.’ Dr Field’s head shot up at the intervention of the tall, hitherto-shy fresher. ‘He just pointed out that there were real risks that needed to be assessed if concrete only yields sustainability benefits in hundreds of years’ time. The lecturer was pushing his concrete product and ridiculed George for worrying about climate change.’
‘Yes, I have heard all about George’s opinions on tipping points and ice melt. Do you think that you are the first to raise such issues? I think you will find that there are senior professors throughout the university who know much more about this and who may take a different line from George here. For that reason, we aim to teach the standard current view on such issues, which only requires moderate cuts rather than giving up all design in concrete and steel. We simply cannot have scaremongering in front of a guest speaker. None of the professional engineering institutions officially warn against the use of cement, concrete or steel, and none of them suggest, as far as I am aware, that the use of these products is dangerous and should be stopped. They only ask that they are designed more efficiently, aiming at cutting materials by a few percent. Bigger cuts might be required in the future, but not now. Universities concentrate on what is wanted.’
There was a pause while Dr Field let his words sink in before he continued.
‘You will know that the rector of this college is a leading economist. She had the honour of presenting a lecture to the Royal Academy a few years ago. In that lecture she stated unequivocally that the best way to find solutions to any climate change problem involved keeping the economy strong and vibrant. Drastic attempts to reduce carbon emissions will not be sustainable. That advice was well received and has been effectively adopted by the UK government and the rest of the world. Enough said. Good evening.’
Dr Field returned to the senior common room, leaving the two students standing there in silence. It was Rhan who appeared most upset.
‘So was that the Magisterium clamping down? Or is it the Ministry of Magic stating that You-Know-Who can never come back? Or Saruman advising that Sauron, the necromancer, can be left alone because the ring will never be found?’
‘It doesn’t really matter,’ George responded calmly, smiling at Rhan’s fury. ‘Thanks for trying to help and for standing up for me, but they’re not interested in life-and-death issues. Do you always live in a fictional world? Anyway…one of those three didn’t come from this college, so doesn’t count.’
‘So is our life here just a fiction?’ Rhan asked, ignoring George’s question and looking around the beautiful enclosed front quad, which by chance happened to be empty at that moment. There were only the two of them, reluctant to retreat from the scene on this mild and still evening. George had nonchalantly stepped onto the stone at the corner of the grass and balanced, looking down on his partner who was shouldering the indignation on his behalf.
Artificial light, escaping through windows and from occasional lanterns, merely suggested the veiled secrets of the college buildings which hung back, skulking in the shadow, away from the open lawn and surrounding walkway. Only a distant cacophony of chat, music and laughter, mostly emanating from the undercroft bar beneath the dining hall, confirmed that modern life was continuing around them.
‘I no longer feel so sure about reality.’ Rhan continued her considerations concerning fact and fiction. ‘This whole place is beginning to feel like something from Alice in Wonderland. Now even you want to pretend that your statements in the sustainability lecture were untrue, unreal, or just never happened. No wonder I feel the one around here who is obviously mad! Have we wandered over a line in those graphs we did last week, where vectors indicate directions in the unreal, mathematical i-plane, where imaginary data can suddenly become real again, just by interaction with another imaginary function?’
George listened, fascinated to hear Rhan philosophising so eloquently about a subject that he and she had so recently been cursing in the run-up to their tutorial.
‘After that sustainability lecture,’ she continued, ‘I checked through my notes and decided that they were trying to hide the low-carbon issues. Just as you said, “sustainability” appears to be a term that can mean anything to anyone.’ She kicked a pebble along the path beside the grass square as she spoke. ‘I was told about climate change at school in both Syria and Sunderland, yet out in the real world, no one talks or thinks about it. How strange is that? But you – you know stuff! You say something sensible, almost for the first time this term, but then just melt back into the crowd with everyone else when challenged. Yet it was you who had the reprimand, not me! So why am I the angry one? You stand perched on that stone, as placid as the caterpillar smoking his hubble-bubble, as though everything you said about climate change was just an academic debate that will affect no one!’
‘Come on!’ he said, smiling at her, but denying nothing. ‘Let’s go to your room for one of those weird and wacky teas.’