I was struck this morning by a comment, made on the radio.

Looking at the aftermath of the earthquake in Italy, the reporter started her report by reflecting on the beauty of the flowers and nature around her. 

She then went on to contrast this with the devastation all around her; caused by the same earth.

I remain struck by this observation. Struck because it seemed to hold something.

As I reflected, I was struck again by a report showing a picture of a clock on a tower in Amatrice. 

The tower was still standing and the clock was frozen at 3.39am.

The article beside the picture said that the 13th Century tower stood whilst the nearby Romolo Capranica School, restored in 2012 supposedly to anti-seismic standards, had collapsed.


I was then interested to hear of a nun escaping with her life from a collapsing church because she hid under a bed.

How is the frame of a bed safer than a building? I wondered. How is an old tower standing when a new school falls?

I reflected then on Ai Weiwei’s sculpture “Straight” which I saw in 2015. It was inspired by the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake in which over 5,000 school children died.

Weiwei was struck when he realised that many of the buildings that collapsed, did so because of their construction.

They should have contained steel reinforcing rebars but they didn’t. 

Schools and public buildings had suffered most through this error of construction. They had been built cheaply. 


Wei Wei bought all the rebars he could from the incident and had them straightened. He then made a work of art from the bars.

His piece asked us to consider these deaths and why the people had died.

I then read an article in which Dario Nanni of the Italian architects’ council who said that this week’s quake’s impact had been exacerbated by the widespread use of concrete rather than wooden beams.

In Nanni’s words “These indestructible beams hit walls like a hammer… that is why so many houses collapse”

I’m struck by the clock, the bed, the rebars and the wood but most of all I am struck the image of hard concrete.

“Rubble” is the deathly word the reports all seem to repeat again and again.

Hard, brutish, unmoving rubble. 

I see that it is buildings and the way that we choose to build them that kills people.

It is not the earth. The earth has always moved and always will. 

The reporter was right to reflect on the beauty of the earth and to contrast that to the destruction all around her. 

From GDP to GFP

As I plan the next stretch of open water, between September and Christmas, there is one thing I have decided to focus on. That thing is GFP. 

GFP is Good For Planet. It’s a way of asking – should I do this or not? 

GFP is a measure of goodness not GDP grossness. It is not about money or quantifiable return. It is simply a question of whether this thing is good and in what way. GFP takes me away from everything always coming down to questions of money. 

Good is a question that asks me –  “How is what I am doing contributing to the planet rather than taking away from it?”

Unlike GDP,this is not about stuff – unless maybe I can maybe get rid of some of it – this is about finding creative solutions that don’t involve more stuff. It’s about using what’s already there better. 

“Planet” encompases everything living. It includes human life as a part and that is the point – we are part of the whole. I want to go back to the origin of the word “eco” – to its Greek origin “oikos” – the whole house – not my greedy bit of it.

That’s all – a simple, practical measure- controlled by the bit I control, me. 

What is the GFP of this thing I am about to do?