Charles Nevin: The answer is blowing in the wind

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The Independent Online

Popular song's powerful and insistent, even relentless, quest for deeper knowledge has not, I feel, been sufficiently recognised. One thinks of, for example, "What becomes of the broken hearted?", "Why do fools fall in love?", and Donny Osmond's all-encompassingly thoughtful "Why?".

And now Professor Stephen Hawking has reminded me of the wisdom of that under-rated reggae performer-philosopher, Johnny Nash: "There are more questions than answers. And the more I find out the less I know. Yeah, the more I find out the less I know."

The professor, you see, having posed a pretty big question on the internet - "How can the human race survive the next hundred years? - has now posted this: "I don't know the answer."

As he is a professor, that's not quite true, of course. He goes on to say that our future must be to spread out into space, but that this won't happen for at least 100 years; in the meantime, he suggests the best hope lies in genetic engineering that would make us "wise and less aggressive".

As you would expect, scientific solutions. But it seems to me that there might be other things that we can do which don't call for quite so much lab work, employing instead different kinds of imagination, targeting goals that would make life more of a positive, inspiring proposition. Remember, contentment and optimism are the motors that allow responsible behaviour to thrive.

Consider how much unsustainable activity that damages the health of both ourselves and the planet is done for consolation: the drink, the food, the long hot bath, all to make up for various disappointments.

So, clearly, we have to up the enjoyment in being green. Worthiness is not enough. For too long fun has been selfishly monopolised by excess. Planet saving needs more of the feelgood factor so brilliantly exploited by Bob Geldof, Bono and Richard Curtis in Live Aid and 8 and Comic Relief: help given, conscience displayed and appeased, he gets the chance to play "I Don't Like Mondays" to more than 47 people, we get the chance to be condescending about Dido: perfect. Well, apart from Dido, obviously.

So let's move away from the doom thing and make survival more of a giggle, starting with a pep-up to this government plan for home carbon audits. Stephen Fry, for example, might be persuaded to write The Lighter Side of Loft Insulation. We could have a quiz show, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Solar Panel, Ant and Dec could pay surprise visits to check on household equipment energy saving, Stand By For a Good Kicking, and I can see a terrific family sitcom with the same theme, Not Remotely Funny, with something, hopefully, for Dame Judi and a cheeky teenager with glasses.

There's been quite a bit of resistance to David Cameron putting a wind turbine on his house, hasn't there? But what if they played a merry tune, or made farting noises? In connection with which, I was intrigued to see that Professor Hawking was recently spotted at a folk festival, so perhaps the answer is blowing in the wind, after all.

Other thoughts for centennial survival? Plenty. Persuade George Bush's daughters not to go into politics. Make the Bishop of London Air Vice Marshal and chief of the defence staff. Put Monty Panesar in charge of asteroid interception. Get the North Koreans to hand over their nuclear programme to the firm that's building Wembley. Iran might think about Sven Goran Eriksson for theirs. The Home Office could advise China on economic development. And the Prime Minister could go on holiday.

Beware of seasonal flashpoints

My monitoring of top seasonal stories continues. No sign of sheep rolling over cattlegrids yet; a slight fauna shortage, in fact, apart from the woman bitten by a squirrel in Swindon, three Bigfoot sightings in Oklahoma, and, of course, the guard dog, left, that ate Elvis's teddy bear in Somerset. Still, we have had the World Santa Claus Convention in Copenhagen, vegetables - Tesco are introducing a square melon - and a UFO sighting outside Sunderland.

I was also excited by a neighbour flashpoint new to me - wind chime rage - but the hot action has been, as you would expect, at the seaside, with an "X-Factor-style" contest for donkeys (won last year by Nosey from Paignton), and the first Man Traps Testicles in Deckchair story, complete with traditional opening: "A Croatian man got a nasty surprise when ..."

Take care out there.

* Having mentioned recently that the smallest pub in Britain is The Nutshell in Bury St Edmunds, I must tell you that the title has now been claimed by The Signal Box (which is what it was), eight feet square, Cleethorpes. Still, I maintain that The Nutshell (15 by 7 and a half) is the smallest funniest pub in Britain, as it has a sign welcoming coach parties.

Health experts, meanwhile, are divided over this move to smaller pubs. Although it will discourage big drinkers, there remain clear issues with the newly identified problem of erect imbibing (the so- called "vertical drinking") and its dread consequence, yes, indeed, another one, I'm afraid: jostle rage.

My view, as a fan of intimate spaces, is that friction is easily avoided if you drink when the barman shouts "now!" and there aren't too many lefthanders in. I should also, as a rule, avoid karaoke night. Cheers.