I have to plead guilty to a climate change defying secret. The other day was spent at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway annual Steam Gala, a celebration of steam engines on the famously beautiful heritage railway in the North York moors. With beer tents along the way. There could come a time when heritage railways are the last big users of coal in the UK. God knows what will happen when coal sells for more per ounce than gold, or indeed when it ceases to be available at all. The nostalgia of these events can’t just be about steam engines—many people never experienced the original era of steam which expired in the mid-sixties. These fearsome machines now preserve memories of an innocent age, when little of what industrial society did was seemingly of much consequence and the nightmare of climate change was unknown.
As we were borne along in our still fusty smelling BR Mk. 1 carriages (the smell of old BR carriages never seems to disappear) through Levisham, Goathland and Grosmont it was hard not to notice that the vast bulk of passengers were all of a certain age. Being mainly pensioners I couldn’t help but imagine that most of them voted for Brexit and that somehow this kind of nostalgia trip would encourage them in their faith in the idea of a greater, lost nationhood symbolised by the best of our glorious heritage chuffing away at the front, the great British invention, the steam engine. This kind of nostalgia for a simpler time could, I thought, also be captured by the fact that despite gentle admonitions posted on carriage windows, fully 80% of the travellers couldn’t be arsed to wear Covid masks. Well, there wasn’t Covid in the 1950s was there? Oh, and by the way we’ve all been double jabbed so what’s the point?
But by way of light relief, at Levisham a tiny (by comparison) steam engine was shifting a few freight wagons up and down the track. This engaging little machine was called No. 8 Lucie, and whilst it was built in Britain in 1890, it went to serve tram services in Brussels (AARRRGGHHHH!). Brexiteers may have had to avert their eyes.
Those freight wagons at Levisham made me wonder. Why has nobody mentioned rail freight as a long term solution to some of our HGV distribution problems? Bring back the branch lines!
It appears the energy market is in meltdown, with gas prices shooting through the roof. Some of the UK’s smaller supply companies are facing ruin since it appears they didn’t sufficiently ‘hedge’ their future contracts and were offering consumers unrealistically low prices (how else do you build market share?). The problem with our energy supply is not just the result of a market blip as ministers would have us believe but a long-term lack of attention by governments of all stripes. This complacency is partly the consequence of an over-reliance on a ‘hub and spoke’ distribution model which requires large generators, such as nuclear. This model naturally concentrates more influence in the hands of a powerful political lobby, in which it has to be said nuclear is one of the most savvy. When Tony Blair wobbled on the issue of new nuclear power back in the early 2000s, the nuclear industry went into overdrive—and Blair didn’t need much persuading to get back on board. In the meantime, despite all the hype, the renewable sector was treated as a Cinderella, an expensive and unreliable sideshow. This contrasts with Denmark and to a certain extent Germany where renewables developed rapidly thanks to a different ownership model, where local communities could own and profit from their own renewable assets. This might be described as the ‘honeycomb’ model, which not only lessens local resistance to e.g. windfarms but builds resilience into the distribution system.
Couldn’t Labour ministers have learnt about this from the Danes? The answer is they could if they had the will, but despite rhetoric about mutuals and co-operation, the Labour government was in awe of big business. So when we bailed out the banks in 2008 we were too timid to use their power to invest in green energy or take on environmental concerns. Vested interests and Gordon Brown’s lack of vision partly explains how we are now hostage to the wild swings of an energy market (and climate crisis) bordering on being out of control.
After my blog on the 12th, wondering whether the ‘left’ could be resurgent, two results have come in which support the proposition. There has to be a caveat entered here of course, which is to say that how one defines the ‘left’ is very loose. If the left in the US means the Democratic Party many familiar with European-style left politics would poo-poo the idea. Anyway, the Governor of California, Democrat Gavin Newsom handsomely saw off a Republican attempt to depose him in a recall vote. I will chance my arm and say that it’s probably a bit better to have a Democrat than a Republican, not least when US Republicans are leaning further into the waters of neo-fascism. Then another result: Norway’s ‘left wing opposition’ has toppled a conservative government of eight years’ standing. Since I know nothing of Norwegian politics I have no idea what drove this result or indeed whether it is particularly good or bad. But Prime Minister Trudeau may be taking some comfort that the tide is washing his way. Canada’s election is tomorrow.
There is an overwhelming need to start a new contest which would result in an award at a glitzy ceremony broadcast to a worldwide audience with mouths agape in anticipation of bucket loads of sugary popcorn and mind-numbing commentary. Yes, I am talking about the new Nobel Prize (style) Global Award for the Gobshite of the Year. To qualify to enter this prestigious competition you must already (obviously) be famous and will be able to point to the number of times your fatuous opinions have been shared or ’liked.’ Your social media loveability will be a key arbiter of your potential to win, not merely the number of times you have spouted verifiably mental twaddle. People do that all the time, and whilst they can indeed be gobshites most of them don’t have the panache to enter this race.
Now let’s look at some contenders. Today’s news is that Piers Morgan has won a multi-million pound, multi-media contract with Rupert Murdoch to appear in every corner of the land, to compete I would say on a par with lamp-posts as one of the most ubiquitous of the nation’s termini for bitter, dog leg-high squirts. Maybe that’s putting too fine a point on it. If Peirs entertains sufficiently to earn his keep why take the piss out of him? Good on yer mate!
The battles at so-called ‘GB News’ point to the re-emergence of another contender for the ’Gobshite of the Year’ award. Yes, our old friend Nigel Farage, a man who will most certainly refuse to take his MEP’s pension, has entertained some of the population with his outstanding analytical mind. His recent foray into attacking the Royal National Lifeboat Service (for rescuing migrants in the English Channel) has shown his rare ability to connect with the very people he most championed during the Brexit debacle. He seems not to know that a great many of the brave souls who serve in the RNLI are fishermen and women—donating their time for nothing. Sadly, Nigel’s chances of winning Gobshite of the Year have plummeted after that intervention, but curiously in a competition of this kind, shouldn’t they have increased?
Naturally a true Gobshite like Boris Johnson has a very good chance of winning. The frightening thing here is that he is Prime Minister, so unlike Morgan and Farage he currently exercises real power. Perhaps that attribute should elevate him to a super-status Gobshite, on a par with Trump. Perhaps he could be palmed off with a life-time achievement award, for it surely is a great achievement to expose the inadequacies of our ‘democracy’ in quite the way he has done. Here arises an ontological problem: Johnson may be altering political reality to the extent that he could no longer qualify as a ‘gobshite’ on the grounds that he will have changed our entire discourse on what it means to be a gobshite. It’s the new norm, where being a gobshite simply makes no impression at all.
I’m not sure this competition will gain many sponsors.
OK. Who’s following the Canadian general election news? Not many here in the UK I suspect, since there is very little reporting of it. The election takes place on the 20th September, after the incumbent, Trudeau Jr. announced a snap poll. The most recent opinion polls put him just ahead of the Conservatives, whilst the left-wing New Democrat Party comes third, some way behind those two—par for the course, but I guess they could win enough support to prop up Trudeau’s Liberals if Justin, now it seems beardless again fails to gain sufficient seats to win an overall majority.
It seems that the British media, are (predictably) more interested in the German general election which follows six days later. Here it seems the Christian Democrats might be headed to defeat and the Social Democrat Party (SPD) now look well placed, with the Greens also in contention. The Greens may shortly be in coalition with the SPD.
All this may give rise to hopes that the ‘left’ is regaining stature with the electorate, that the populist wave is ebbing. Wise heads will say this is some kind of ‘Biden effect,’ piggy backing on a pandemic effect too. Perhaps there’s some truth in that, but I will hold my breath. And now it’s just been reported here in Blighty that a YouGov poll has put Starmer’s Labour Party ahead of the Tories by two points. Not exactly a position poised for victory (I think Labour would need something like a 9% swing to win an overall majority) but cause for some comrades to imagine Starmer is at least doing something right.
It is so often said that governments lose elections, oppositions don’t win them. Maybe that was an old saw for ‘normal’ times, like just another iteration of ‘muggings’s turn.’ But party loyalties are not what they were. The game now is much more transactional, which I suppose is an outcome of our shift from being ‘citizens’ to ‘consumers.’ If that is the case, the left needs to sharpen its act, since as we may well see in next year’s US midterm elections what was lauded as a delightful rose turns out to be a rotten cabbage.
Anyway, the swirling mists in our crystal ball may clear a little, starting in Canada on the 20th September.
Below I reproduce an (open access) editorial published in 200 medical journals around the world. The rising tide of voices calling for real action to slow down climate change is reaching new highs but so are the floods, as New York discovered last week. For the record, I have to state that I don't think any of our 'leaders' have the courage or, in some cases even the intelligence to grapple with this problem. They just want more green friendly fertilizer for the long grass . . .
Call for emergency action to limit global temperature increases, restore biodiversity, and protect healthBMJ 2021; 374 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n1734 (Published 06 September 2021)Cite this as: BMJ 2021;374:n1734
The UN General Assembly in September 2021 will bring countries together at a critical time for marshalling collective action to tackle the global environmental crisis. They will meet again at the biodiversity summit in Kunming, China, and the climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow, UK. Ahead of these pivotal meetings, we—the editors of health journals worldwide—call for urgent action to keep average global temperature increases below 1.5°C, halt the destruction of nature, and protect health.
Health is already being harmed by global temperature increases and the destruction of the natural world, a state of affairs health professionals have been bringing attention to for decades.1 The science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1.5°C above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse.23 Despite the world’s necessary preoccupation with covid-19, we cannot wait for the pandemic to pass to rapidly reduce emissions.
Reflecting the severity of the moment, this editorial appears in health journals across the world. We are united in recognising that only fundamental and equitable changes to societies will reverse our current trajectory.
The risks to health of increases above 1.5°C are now well established.2 Indeed, no temperature rise is “safe.” In the past 20 years, heat related mortality among people aged over 65 has increased by more than 50%.4 Higher temperatures have brought increased dehydration and renal function loss, dermatological malignancies, tropical infections, adverse mental health outcomes, pregnancy complications, allergies, and cardiovascular and pulmonary morbidity and mortality.56 Harms disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, including children, older populations, ethnic minorities, poorer communities, and those with underlying health problems.24
Global heating is also contributing to the decline in global yield potential for major crops, falling by 1.8-5.6% since 1981; this, together with the effects of extreme weather and soil depletion, is hampering efforts to reduce undernutrition.4 Thriving ecosystems are essential to human health, and the widespread destruction of nature, including habitats and species, is eroding water and food security and increasing the chance of pandemics.378
The consequences of the environmental crisis fall disproportionately on those countries and communities that have contributed least to the problem and are least able to mitigate the harms. Yet no country, no matter how wealthy, can shield itself from these impacts. Allowing the consequences to fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable will breed more conflict, food insecurity, forced displacement, and zoonotic disease—with severe implications for all countries and communities. As with the covid-19 pandemic, we are globally as strong as our weakest member.
Rises above 1.5°C increase the chance of reaching tipping points in natural systems that could lock the world into an acutely unstable state. This would critically impair our ability to mitigate harms and to prevent catastrophic, runaway environmental change.910
Global targets are not enoughEncouragingly, many governments, financial institutions, and businesses are setting targets to reach net-zero emissions, including targets for 2030. The cost of renewable energy is dropping rapidly. Many countries are aiming to protect at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans by 2030.11
These promises are not enough. Targets are easy to set and hard to achieve. They are yet to be matched with credible short and longer term plans to accelerate cleaner technologies and transform societies. Emissions reduction plans do not adequately incorporate health considerations.12 Concern is growing that temperature rises above 1.5°C are beginning to be seen as inevitable, or even acceptable, to powerful members of the global community.13 Relatedly, current strategies for reducing emissions to net zero by the middle of the century implausibly assume that the world will acquire great capabilities to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.1415
This insufficient action means that temperature increases are likely to be well in excess of 2°C,16 a catastrophic outcome for health and environmental stability. Critically, the destruction of nature does not have parity of esteem with the climate element of the crisis, and every single global target to restore biodiversity loss by 2020 was missed.17 This is an overall environmental crisis.18
Health professionals are united with environmental scientists, businesses, and many others in rejecting that this outcome is inevitable. More can and must be done now—in Glasgow and Kunming—and in the immediate years that follow. We join health professionals worldwide who have already supported calls for rapid action.119
Equity must be at the centre of the global response. Contributing a fair share to the global effort means that reduction commitments must account for the cumulative, historical contribution each country has made to emissions, as well as its current emissions and capacity to respond. Wealthier countries will have to cut emissions more quickly, making reductions by 2030 beyond those currently proposed2021 and reaching net-zero emissions before 2050. Similar targets and emergency action are needed for biodiversity loss and the wider destruction of the natural world.
To achieve these targets, governments must make fundamental changes to how our societies and economies are organised and how we live. The current strategy of encouraging markets to swap dirty for cleaner technologies is not enough. Governments must intervene to support the redesign of transport systems, cities, production and distribution of food, markets for financial investments, health systems, and much more. Global coordination is needed to ensure that the rush for cleaner technologies does not come at the cost of more environmental destruction and human exploitation.
Many governments met the threat of the covid-19 pandemic with unprecedented funding. The environmental crisis demands a similar emergency response. Huge investment will be needed, beyond what is being considered or delivered anywhere in the world. But such investments will produce huge positive health and economic outcomes. These include high quality jobs, reduced air pollution, increased physical activity, and improved housing and diet. Better air quality alone would realise health benefits that easily offset the global costs of emissions reductions.22
These measures will also improve the social and economic determinants of health, the poor state of which may have made populations more vulnerable to the covid-19 pandemic.23 But the changes cannot be achieved through a return to damaging austerity policies or the continuation of the large inequalities of wealth and power within and between countries.
Cooperation hinges on wealthy nations doing moreIn particular, countries that have disproportionately created the environmental crisis must do more to support low and middle income countries to build cleaner, healthier, and more resilient societies. High income countries must meet and go beyond their outstanding commitment to provide $100bn a year, making up for any shortfall in 2020 and increasing contributions to and beyond 2025. Funding must be equally split between mitigation and adaptation, including improving the resilience of health systems.
Financing should be through grants rather than loans, building local capabilities and truly empowering communities, and should come alongside forgiving large debts, which constrain the agency of so many low income countries. Additional funding must be marshalled to compensate for inevitable loss and damage caused by the consequences of the environmental crisis.
As health professionals, we must do all we can to aid the transition to a sustainable, fairer, resilient, and healthier world. Alongside acting to reduce the harm from the environmental crisis, we should proactively contribute to global prevention of further damage and action on the root causes of the crisis. We must hold global leaders to account and continue to educate others about the health risks of the crisis. We must join in the work to achieve environmentally sustainable health systems before 2040, recognising that this will mean changing clinical practice. Health institutions have already divested more than $42bn of assets from fossil fuels; others should join them.4
The greatest threat to global public health is the continued failure of world leaders to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5°C and to restore nature. Urgent, society-wide changes must be made and will lead to a fairer and healthier world. We, as editors of health journals, call for governments and other leaders to act, marking 2021 as the year that the world finally changes course.
AcknowledgmentsThis editorial is being published simultaneously in many international journals. Please see the full list here: https://www.bmj.com/content/full-list-authors-and-signatories-climate-emergency-editorial-september-2021
What do we want?
A decently funded health and social care system!
When do we want it?
At the next general election when we might know a teensy-weensy bit more about the country’s economic circumstances!
Why not now, haven’t you thought about it for long enough?
Because we’re afraid of our own shadow!
That pretty much is an accurate executive summary of an interview conducted on the Today programme this morning with Labour’s shadow social care minister. I have rarely heard such a dire performance of toe-curling, on-message politico non-speak. Is this the kind of thing that’s enthusing the voters? Does the party seriously think it can delay saying anything specific, positive and concrete on such a subject until a few months before the election? Clearly the answer is yes. The right wing Starmerites had a field day criticising Corbyn for bombarding the electorate with too many policy announcements in the run-up to the last election. Now they want to avoid scrutiny and save their big announcements until it is too late this time. But maybe they haven’t got any big announcements to make?
+What a laugh. The Daily Express reports on concerns that new EU rules on car safety technology, which will be applied in Britain threaten to make drivers lazy and lethargic. Fitting speed limiters to new cars will ‘reduce drivers’ adrenalin’ and make them sleepy. That’s debatable of course, but it is clear that the UK is still having to abide by common rules agreed by the dreaded ‘Brussels bureaucrats.’ Wasn’t it all supposed to change after Brexit? Another aspect of the Express story caught my eye:
"The European Commission has said the limiters could prevent as many as 140,000 serious road traffic injuries by 2038. The tools are part of their bid to reach net zero road deaths by 2050."
Net zero road deaths? Is this a new take on that brilliant concept of ‘net zero?’ Is a net zero road death one in which you get killed but somebody else has a baby?
+In the Telegraph (I get to see these rags on the Microsoft newsfeed) there’s a lot of Tory hand wringing going on about a potential tax rise to pay for health and social care, the costs of which are spiralling out of control. A tax rise would break a Tory manifesto promise not to raise taxes. But why can’t they just use the £350 million a week they were going to spend on the NHS saved from leaving the EU? That’s £18,200,000,000 a year, far more than even the NHS are asking for. What happened to it?
+It seems to me that the insurance industry is one of the biggest socialist enterprises which capitalists are willing to tolerate without much dissent. This may of course be because some capitalist investments simply wouldn’t happen if they weren’t underwritten. Of course, there are many examples of governments becoming the insurer of last resort, propping up banks, keeping hospitals running, subsidising businesses with furlough schemes, etc., etc. At least with insurance companies, you might imagine that capitalist businesses may have to pay the premium which is appropriate to the risk, whereas corporate taxation is there to be avoided where possible. I have faith that it will be insurance companies that define the future of e.g. fossil fuel industries rather than governments which are at the beck and call of powerful lobbies. But the pace of market forces to a considerable degree is determined by the politics, even if Mother Nature’s hand is now more readily engaging us with the here and now of climate change. Even Biden has had to declare that the New York inundation was caused by climate change. But he’s still licensing new fossil fuel exploration on a massive scale. The problem here of course is that many people will find themselves uninsurable or will have hefty increases in their premiums. There need to be new ways of sharing risk.
Of course, the insurance industry is not without its capitalistic faults. I was put in mind of the nature of this due to the fact that I have just, yet again changed insurers to escape the ‘loyalty premium’ which is the penalty you pay if you don’t shop around at each renewal. I’ve just saved £90. But shopping around will be less attractive next year, as new rules come in to ensure that continuing customers never pay more than new customers, lured in as they are by introductory discounts. This is socialism at work, where we all pay at bit more for those who maybe don’t have the wherewithal to shop around. Errmm—why do you have to shop around in the first place?
+Listening to Max Richter’s ‘Voices’ album, which sets the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights to his trademark ethereal music, I am wondering which of those rights the Taliban will be keen to respect? Let’s start with all being born equal. In their case, that right only applies to 50% of the population. Then again, I wonder if there’s a single country on the planet that applies the UNDHR in earnest.
+Following on from my blog two days ago, thinking about why Labour is so stuck in its managerialist inertia (an inertia which of course can only be addressed by repeating some form of Groundhog Day Maoist self-destructive bureaucratic reinvention) I think I need to ask why we have a so-called Scottish Labour Party, a so-called Welsh Labour Party but no so-called English Labour Party? What is so wrong with the notion of English Labour? Well, of course, the answer may be that we have instead, e.g. Yorkshire and The (eh?) Humber Labour, we have West Midlands Labour, etc., etc. But who, if asked, would say they came from the West Midlands or proudly declare “I’m from Yorkshire and The Humber?” Such fictitious identities are meaningless, but mean a lot to people who for whatever reason want to downplay genuine identity in deference to centralised authority. It reminds me of when John Prescott pressed home with his not so devolutionary plans to give a say to local people over their spatial strategies, all with a new tier of well-paid reps to gas on about it. Voters up North gave that nebulous idea a resounding kick in its vacuous bollocks.
+I am continuing my exploration of my ancient vinyl and have to say I am quite impressed with Hawkwind, circa 1971. ‘In Search of Space’ could be the life theme of Elon Musk (b. 1971) but it isn’t. Instead these hippies were quite prescient about the way things were going long before James Hansen warned the US Congress of the threat of climate change 17 years later. Hawkwind sang
We took the wrong steps years ago
I think about the things we should have done before
And the way things are going the end is about to fall
Look around and see the warnings close at hand
Already weeds are writing their scriptures in the sand
The album came in a very well produced fold-out sleeve and contained a cheaply produced booklet ‘The Hawkwind Log’ which I had never actually noticed before, since it was hidden in the sleeve. This is the complete works, a collector’s item to be sure! (ebay says anything between £10 and £190.) Anyway, it’s not for sale. This 50-year old piece of vinyl has reminded me of something to be cherished.
+The expulsion of the BBC’s Russia correspondent Sarah Rainsford has led to some media harrumphing about the growing Putin clampdown on free speech. Quite rightly. But we are hearing a lot less about Tory plans in the UK to do precisely the same thing. The journal of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (North) carries the full story regarding the UK government’s proposals Legislation to Counter State Threats (Hostile State Activity). Read it at MediaNorthSept2021-Web2-1.pdf It’s all part of a very authoritarian British coup.