It'll soon be time for my annual NHS check-up. I seem to be generally in good shape (did a ten-mile walk last week without the need for an ambulance) but I am worried about my blood pressure, which is slightly above where it ought to be. I wonder what causes this? Perhaps the letter below just sent off to the Guardian may help explain it. (If it's published I will at least have the same thrill as Man City winning the triple, in this case having three letters published in one month. But I'm not holding out much hope.)
Philip Hammond (‘No-deal Brexit would be a betrayal – Hammond’ 21st May) is making a big mistake when he says he wants to respect ‘the British people’s decision to leave.’ His aping of the Brexiteer’s language is not only fallacious it is also dehumanising, in that it suggests a homogeneity that clearly doesn’t exist. The phrase could conceivably be legitimised if 50% + one had voted to leave the E.U. As it was, 37.4% voted leave and 34.7% voted remain. The other 27.9% were insufficiently motivated by the idea either way to bother to vote (which hardly suggests they harboured a burning desire to change the status quo.) Now it seems I, a remain voter am either not one of ‘the people’ or could only be considered so if I accepted a false premise. In this context, I'll go with the former.
Thinking a bit more about my blog yesterday about the Anthropocene (and the River Tees), I found myself wondering why exactly we (some of us anyway, relatively few) worry about climate change. What exactly is it that we think is going to happen, apart from heatwaves, drought, flooding, fires, various extinctions (including sections of our own species) and the like?
One of the key reference points that features in much climate change thinking is the year 2100 – within the lifespans of many people born today. By 2100, if the average temperature rise is not kept within 1.5 degrees Celsius, a host of horrible things will happen. Indeed, we’re beginning to see them happening now. But I’ve never seen what is predicted for say the year 2300. Of course, you might argue that is simply too far into the future to make any guesses – after all, perhaps we will succeed in containing the average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, all thanks to the Paris Agreement of 2015 which calls upon nations to promise most sincerely to do their best. A fantasy mission statement if there ever was one.
Perhaps I have become fatalist on this subject, but reading of a recent report from the IMF (IMF working paper 19/89) which suggests that global direct and indirect subsidies to the fossil fuel industry in 2017 were $5.2 trillion (down barely a titch from $5.3 trillion in 2015) I think I have good reason to be fatalist. Even a right-on guy like Justin Trudeau dare not challenge the Alberta tar sands, never mind Donald no-brain Trump and his outright climate change denial (is that better or worse than Trudeau’s stance?). So, 2100 is the year when if we don’t change course now everything is going to be terrible. Coastal cities (where much of the world’s population lives) will have to drastically do something or other if they are to survive. We’ll have to find new forms of food (GM looms large) and with the disappearance of glaciers (especially in the Himalayas) water wars are a definite probability. The latter issue will affect more than just the nuclear armed nations of China, India and Pakistan of course: the United States will also have its own internal water resource issues, and that, for some reason, doesn’t instill confidence in the greatest nation on earth’s ability to behave rationally. Food and water scarcity are but two horsemen of the apocalypse. Thankfully, 2100, the crunch year for all this to come to pass still seems a long way off, doesn’t it?
So why 2100? It is a long way off and most of us will be dead by then. But it’s near enough now for some of us still to be alive. It’s far enough off to imagine that solutions may work by then, but still far off enough for most of us not to have to worry if they don’t (a key point in democracies). We think we have a time frame in other words which is relevant, yet is somehow irrelevant. Such a timescale is beyond our imagination yet still somehow within the scope of our imagination. Unlike say, 2300. Frankly, who gives a fuck about what happens in 2300?
At the heart of the conversation about climate change, we have a disconnect between our desire for the continuity of the status quo (which implies action on our part) and our belief that the status quo is practically eternal (which suggests that actually everything will take care of itself). They must have felt the same way in circa 400 C.E. Rome. My thinking about what will life be like in 2300 is to suggest that yes, of course it will be very different, and what has adhered for centuries will be no more; in getting to 2300 there will be a lot of pain, and no doubt well beyond; a new dark age perhaps? Who knows. My point is that life on this planet is so resilient it won’t be wiped out, and perhaps in 15 centuries time this patch of human history will be seen as the Great Cleansing, or the end of an experiment. Not much consolation for today, I know. But civilisations come and go, just like species.
I was fortunate enough on Saturday to join a floating, creative thinking workshop on the River Tees, hosted by a practice called Matterlurgy, (comprising artists Helena Hunter and Mark Peter Wright) which focused on the river’s history and ecology. I think one of the most surprising things was that the river, from Yarm to the edge of Middlesbrough is a green corridor flanked by trees, fields and wildlife, when what one expects to find in such an industrialised area is dereliction and bleak frontages. The river’s banks do change to the industrial when it reaches its tidal portion, there is still a significant commercial traffic on that stretch. But where we were, the legacy of the early industrial revolution had largely been eradicated. Nature has reclaimed the banks, and various creatures have established their homes here, including a seal (which somehow has passed upstream through the tidal barrier). One could take an optimistic view of this – over time nature reclaims lost territory. Our harmful human footprint can be reversed, and some form of balance restored. This I think is one of the great imponderables of climate change. The world as a living organism has evolved through several global traumas and still survives with a huge variety of life. What is different now perhaps is the suddenness of change within the human timescale. We think one hundred years is a long time, when in planetary history it doesn’t even qualify as a blink. When measured in geological timescales, the Anthropocene may be one of the shortest. Were that to be so, Gaia might breathe a sigh of relief. The interfering experiment might be over.
Once again, news from Venezuela has dried up – although we have heard that government and opposition representatives have met in Oslo for talks. That will no doubt be a cause for concern in the White House. Thwarted again! So I read a post on Counterpunch today which provides an eye witness account of very recent life in Venezuela. The writer seems to provide a balanced account, but as always with these things there could be a desire to see positively only those things you want to see positively, and perhaps be nudged in that direction by your hosts. But even factoring in that possibility, there is a very different picture here to that projected by hysterical western journalists from the mainstream media, who for some obvious reasons search for ‘good’ conflict stories which make for better news. Read the article here.
David Cameron, undoubtedly one of Britain’s most distinguished Prime Ministers (ever), is being paid an advance of £800,000 for his memoirs. I can’t quite get my head round how the publishers hope to recoup their money from a pile of books which will be remaindered before you can say David Cameron. I doubt we’ll learn anything new about e.g. penises and pig’s heads. Anyway (moving on), I hope Theresa has a good agent. She’ll have time on her hands soon, and her tell-all story will be a guaranteed page turner for those who find trampling around in farmers’ fields a turn-on. On the other hand, is there a story of a life which could enthuse one with as much anticipation as hers? Will she have the gall to write a memoir? Even the Daily Mail might baulk at the thought of publishing it. On yet another hand – to be generous – she could write a memoir of just the last three years, a kiss and tell account of the ‘bastards’ (as John Major described some of his colleagues), telling Brexit as it was, namely a story of the Tory Party in meltdown. But she won’t. There’s something about the phrase ‘vicar’s daughter’ which seems to sum her up, even if being a vicar’s daughter means nothing at all. I’m a quarry manager’s son, and I can’t think how that could possibly influence anyone’s opinion of me. Yet still, I rather hope that once the sad woman is released from her self-imposed purgatory she decides it’s best to let rip. Go on, Theresa, in your new found freedom, you might have something interesting to say. Chapter One: ‘Let Me Be Honest.’ It has a ring to it. Chapter Two: 'Let Me Be Clear.' Chapter Three: 'Let Me Be' (etc., etc.)
Could it get any worse? With Theresa May’s departure now inevitable the fate of the country will shortly be in the hands of 100,000 or so blue rinses and shooting stick retards who will choose her successor, and that person as we are told repeatedly is likely to be the incompetent and vain Boris Johnson, a man whose failings are so manifold he is seen as, ridiculously, some kind of antidote to our malaise. His likely election as leader of the Tories will mean a no deal Brexit, and that, so far as it goes will be his manifesto. He will have until 2022 to do his wrecking, and whatever happens then it may be too late to remedy the damage. I can’t see him wanting to test his popularity sooner. His hubris will prevent it. So what happens then? How will we fare under this incapable man? Maybe (always looking for the bright side) he will finally and merely demonstrate that the UK is up the swannee without a paddle, and he will be thrown overboard when he faces the wrath of a serially dejected electorate. Then it is possible that Labour will be left to make good the mess. But as history shows, there’s no reward for doing what is necessary to make good your predecessor's mess.
I have been investigating Bernard’s Dilemma. This I have named after the noted historian of British imperialism and an arch-Remainer, Bernard Porter, who wonders whether despite being a Labour supporter, the referendum-like nature of the E.U. Parliamentary elections on the 23rd May might justify him voting for a clear pro-Remain party (which sadly Labour is not. Yet, anyway.) The headline figures from this election will be the number of seats gained or lost and/or vote share. Given the vagaries of the D’Hondt system of proportional voting used in these elections, it can be a complex job figuring out quite how many seats a certain party will end up with, so I suspect vote share will be the clearest guide to the electorate’s wishes. But let’s not even count on that – the polling figures are currently all over the place, although they consistently show the Brexit party in top slot with Labour second. One figure which I think will probably be quite predictable is for turnout, which in the Yorkshire and Humber region was 33.5% in 2014. I suspect it will remain in the same area. Then, UKIP (now clearly replaced by the Brexit party) won 31.1% of the vote and Labour came in on 29.3%. What everybody seems to agree on is that the Tories will do considerably worse this time round. Labour, it is believed will also fare worse, but not as bad as the Tories.
In 2014 UKIP won 3 seats, Labour 2 and Tories 1 seat in the Yorkshire and Humber Region. Based on a Comres national poll conducted 10-12 May (Brexit 27%, Lab 25%, Con 15%, LD 13% and Green 7%) the LibDems could possibly win back a seat – reducing the Brexit party to 2. It would be between them and Brexit on the sixth round of voting. Labour and Conservatives would have the same number as before. I am not sure this would signal very much. If the turnout of 2014 was exactly replicated this time round, but the vote divided up as the Comres poll suggests, then the clear Brexit parties (Brexit/Con) would win 544,614 votes; ‘sitting on the fence’ (Labour) 324,175; definite Remain (Green/LibDem) 343,625. I suppose it might well be argued that potentially the biggest influence on Labour’s future position would be a big swing behind the Remain parties (which of course includes ‘Change UK’). The only problem with that at the moment is that none of the polls suggest it’s likely there will be such a shift to the remain position. I think it is a bit wishful to assume that this election can simply be treated as an in/out binary choice. It is not a referendum, although some people, e.g. Farage wish to talk it up that way.
Anyway, I will not vote as if it were. It happens that the top-listed regional Labour candidate is Richard Corbett, an ardent remainer who is also leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Group and so also a member of Labour’s NEC. I am happy to entrust the remain cause in Richard’s hands. The remain camp within the Labour Party needs to be strengthened, not weakened, and given the hostile environment Corbyn’s Labour faces generally, the party’s vote share needs to be kept as high as possible. There won’t be that many people sitting down and wondering how the D’Hondt system divvied out the seats. But I’m counting on the probability that Farage’s crowd will – even if they believe it’s all a foreign plot whatever the result.
An organisation calling itself ‘Labour Against Anti-Semitism’ (LAAS) has sent a dossier of ’15,000’ screenshots LAAS “has systematically collected and detailed evidence of Labour Party members promoting anti-semitic views and tropes across a range of social media platforms.” This is news that appeared in the Times of Israel, quoting LAAS spokesperson Euan Phillips. The report provides no examples of these offending screenshots, no explanation as to how LAAS could possibly have got data on who is or isn’t a Labour Party member, and no explanation why this supposed two-year long ‘detailed’ investigation only now has been submitted to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I wonder how LAAS has kept this news under its hat for so long. I wonder how LAAS, which appears to have Twitter and Facebook accounts but no website or other contact details is democratically accountable. How is it funded? Who are its members? Who is Euan Phillips, its spokesperson?
In search of some answers I came across an article in Jewish News (see https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/why-i-had-to-resign-as-chair-of-my-local-labour-party/ ) where Euan tells why he had to give up his ‘appointment’ (eh?) of chair of his CLP because of the institutionalisation of anti-semitism in the Labour Party. By way of actual evidence of this (as opposed to the assertion) he said this: “Our sense of optimism that change could come internally was dealt a serious blow in January when the hard left took over Labour’s NEC, the body charged with overseeing, among other things, party discipline.” This repeats the accusation that is often made: to be left wing is to be anti-semitic. But what about the huge pile of disciplinary cases which it appears the ‘hard left’ are so dismissive of? Why won’t Euan tell us at least what language has been used (obviously we don’t want to know the identity of the alleged culprits)? I have to wonder whether that wonderfully flexibly applied word ‘trope’ plays a major part in this? There are clearly very precise anti-semitic tropes but there are also applications of the word which can be applied liberally to any statement depending on your desire to contextualise something as anti-semitic. Various forms of criticism of Israel would fall into this category – especially as the Labour Party (stupidly in my opinion) has signed up to the catch-all ‘any criticism of Israel’ IHRA definition of anti-semitism.
But perhaps there is, or at least was evidence of institutional racism in the Labour Party. This has been identified by Jon Lansman in an article for Labour List published on the 14th May. Here, Lansman refers to email leaks which he says show that some staff in Labour’s Compliance Unit were deliberately slowing down the resolution of complaints about anti-semitism in order to set up the Corbyn leadership for a fall. I have to say that as a former (junior) Labour Party staffer, I can well believe this. During the period of the cult of Tony Blair, the use of disciplinary cases one way or the other was a useful tool in the Party’s kitbag, to defenestrate the unwanted. I cite the example of Liz Davies, briefly the PPC for Leeds North East but somebody from the wrong side of the fence in Islington.
In the present circumstances, to say that what Lansman describes means that the whole Labour Party is institutionally anti-Semitic is, as most members know, vastly exaggerated and flawed. But evidence of the nature exposed by Lansman does not feature in this narrative, nor is it searched for. I have been reading Institutionally Antisemitic: Contemporary Left Antisemitism and the Crisis in the British Labour Party by Prof. Alan Johnson (http://fathomjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Institutionally-Antisemitic-Report-FINAL-5.pdf - bias alert: this is published by the British Israel Communications and Research Centre, for whom Johnson works) and here, what purports to be a major study of the subject only seems able to unearth evidence which fits the theory. I have yet to find any countervailing evidence within it. I am confident this study will be quoted in aid many times in the future. It was only published a couple of months ago. The 130 cases Johnson quotes do not in my view all stand up to scrutiny, but there is no doubt that there are, within a minute number of Labour Party members anti-Semitic views held which need exposing and expelling. I hope Lansman’s take on this gets attention, although it hasn’t done so in the Guardian yet for some reason. Perhaps they could follow up the story. The leaked emails Lansman refers to are here: https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexwickham/leaked-emails-reveal-labours-compliance-unit-took-months-to
I attended the launch of Labour's Green Industrial Strategy yesterday in Scarborough. The meeting was addressed by Rebecca Long-Bailey, our Shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary, who gave a good analysis of how we need to plan a green economy which is both green and delivers social justice. Too often in the past we have focused on the latter at the expense of the former. I had a chat with Rebecca afterwards, and as a result I have sent a brief analysis of the Climate Change Committee's report on achieving a net zero carbon UK by 2050. Thankfully, Rebecca indicated that a Labour government would seek to advance the year by which net zero carbon is achieved.
Here's my take on the report, some of which I looked at in my last blog post.
I’ve been wading through the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) report on the UK’s chances of getting to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This is a document written in terms emollient enough for even the current government not to be too offended. Its assessment of current progress towards an 80% reduction in CO2 by 2050 (the existing target) does not use inflammatory language, but is nevertheless a severe indictment of government action. For example (page 176):
Delivery must progress with far greater urgency. Many current plans are insufficiently ambitious; others are proceeding too slowly, even for the current 80% target:
‒ 2040 is too late for the phase-out of petrol and diesel cars and vans, and current plans for delivering this are too vague.
‒ Over ten years after the Climate Change Act was passed, there is still no serious plan for decarbonising UK heating systems and no large-scale trials have begun for either heat pumps or hydrogen.
‒ Carbon capture (usage) and storage (CCUS), which is crucial to the delivery of net-zero GHG emissions and strategically important to the UK economy, is yet to get started. While global progress has also been slow, there are now 43 large-scale projects operating or under development around the world, but none in the UK.
‒ Afforestation targets for 20,000 hectares/year across the UK nations (due to increase to 27,000 by 2025), are not being delivered, with less than 10,000 hectares planted on average over the last five years. The voluntary approach that has been pursued so far for agriculture is not delivering reductions in emissions.
Of course, if this were put directly to members of this dissembling apology of a government, all we would hear about is how ‘tackling climate change is an absolute priority’ – which, as ever in such cases leaves one wondering if the government has any priorities whatsoever. Yes, of course – I nearly forgot – Brexit means Brexit. If the Tories had paid as much attention to climate change as they have to Brexit we could probably achieve net zero emissions by 2040.
Thus the CCC report cleverly seeks to make the new 2050 target digestible, and when it was released it was largely met with a sigh of relief that life could go on pretty much as normal. That’s what ministers want to hear. The problem is, that’s what they’ve always heard, and because the message is delivered in a relatively kindly fashion, it has led to the backsliding as outlined in the extract above. There’s always another day, que sera, sera. The report however does make the important point that the UK has the capacity to lead the world in decarbonising, and thankfully suggests that we have what amounts to a moral obligation to do so, given our historic responsibility.
But despite all its graphs and charts, there is a kind of lacuna in the heart of the CCC report, i.e. an absence of precise timings for policy delivery – the most we see are limited to decades or half decades. Obviously, one couldn’t say that by e.g. March 31st 2027 all new vehicles will be electric, but the more flexibility the report allows politicians to take advantage of, the less it has credibility in my eyes. The CCC must be aware of this weakness, given the number of times it refers to the mismatch between government ambition and actual delivery. If we are currently failing to meet our present ambitions, will this report really improve matters? One can’t blame the CCC entirely for being somewhat speculative. It refers, almost in passing to new nuclear as helping us towards the 2050 goal. But new nuclear projects are notorious for being delayed. We can see this now with the government’s current plans for new nuclear in complete chaos, and looking uncertain to say the least.
The report seems to have an idea that so far as our behaviour s concerned, only relatively minor tweaks will be necessary. Eat a bit less red meat. Fly a bit less. On moving about, it says (page 188):
Shifting to more sustainable modes of transport could be a cost-effective alternative to private car ownership, depending on location. This could mean more walking and cycling (which would also provide health benefits by increasing the amount of physical activity people do) or low-carbon public transport (electric buses and trains) for longer journeys. (emphasis added)
Could be?? Is it the report’s contention that we should, regardless, retain the option of private car ownership? Shouldn’t it read should mean more walking and cycling, there should be more (and cheaper) public transport? I only found one other mention of rail in the report (page 200). Perhaps the report’s authors are all too aware of our current Transport Secretary’s incompetence, and have thrown their hands up in despair.
Anyway, I haven’t quite finished reading the report yet, and this afternoon I’m off to hear Rebecca Long-Bailey launch Labour’s Green Industrial Strategy, so I will seek to find out if she thinks this report is adequate. It can’t be considered so if we now believe we face a climate emergency. More on this later.