Yesterday’s climate strike was a worthwhile exercise, at least in raising awareness of the issue. But not a lot stopped (confession: I was on my way down to the Scarborough Jazz Festival). There will be plenty more opportunities of course. What must be said is that real shockwaves would be felt by particularly western governments if there was a consumer strike. This might involve, e.g. no more flying, not replacing the car, not buying clothes for a couple of years, going vegan. Doing this on a mass scale would save people a lot of money, but also put millions out of work (although I can see opportunities here for service industries). So it won’t happen—it doesn’t fit the growth-led economic model governments rely on to stay in power. That I’m afraid sums up their lack of imagination. It would be far easier to address the issues raised by a consumer strike than it will be to deal with the consequences of climate change. Some people predict the Brexit economic impact on the UK economy could be a minus 5% on economic growth. Could be a good thing if it reduces carbon emissions . .
But there won’t be a consumer strike. Fed on a daily diet of buy, buy, buy and adverts which portray ever happy people in photoshopped bliss (which reminds me of the Jehovah’s Witnesses portrayal of heaven, albeit without cars) the addiction to consumerism is hard to resist by ordinary mortals.
Thinking of a plausible, and technologically possible shift to a low or no carbon economy would necessarily require us to slow down a bit. One example—long distance flying. Instead of pouring their spare cash into space tourism projects for their fellow billionaires, Branson and Musk would do everyone a favour if they invested in new, large sailing ships. Perhaps with battery powered stabilisers. Sailing ships?! How backward! But how else can we follow in Greta’s footsteps? Such ships could be at sea within a very short timescale, and I bet they would be very popular. Airships too for that matter—contrary to opinion, they had a good safety record. We can all recall the photos of the Hindenburg crashing in flames, and we can all remember the same happening to Concorde. There were no survivors of the latter, on the former there were 97 people—and two thirds of them survived. So the message is: slow down!
It would be easy enough for governments to legislate to slow things down. But in the absence of such laws, individual action on climate change will often seem pointless when so many others are still wedded to unsustainable consumption. How is it that cars are getting bigger - on Britain's roads? There is no law of physics that I'm aware of which states that cars have to get bigger. When everyday you see utterly useless developments taking place, in effect mandated by government, where's the incentive to change?
An episode of the BBC’s Hardtalk programme (shown 15th August—I’ve only just caught up with it) has caused a bit of a stir, as well it might since the subject was climate change and the guest was Roger Hallam, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion. His uncompromising defence of civil disobedience rather unsettled the host Stephen Sackler. What has sparked something of a debate in climate change circles is Hallam’s statement that six billion people are doomed. A sober assessment of this claim can be found here. Putting a figure on what climate change will do to the size of the global population is bound to be fraught with difficulty. But where I think Hallam was spot on was him saying that compared to the disruption Extinction Rebellion might cause, the civil disruption that will follow in the footsteps of one climate catastrophe after another will be a thousand times worse. And the trouble with that is that we don’t know quite when it will begin to hurt. Hallam pointed to the likely starvation that will spark a response which no government will be prepared for.
The problem with the climate change narrative, which is changing far too slowly is that it has been framed in the context of what the world might be like in 2100—almost as if nothing will happen between now and then. But if six billion were to die ‘by 2100’ it stands to reason that some will have already been struck down by the impact of climate change. I think this is indubitably the case, but of course nobody wants to say it’s definitively the case just yet lest they be seen as alarmist. Hallam is quite prepared to be alarmist and I wish him the best of luck.
It is now ten years since my book Too Little, Too Late: the politics of climate change was published. I have taken a quick dip into it, and I can only observe that if the politics have changed since 2009, it’s for the worse. Carbon emissions have risen dramatically since then. Fossil fuel subsidies have risen massively since then. The elites, as Hallam repeatedly refers to the enemies of action, continue to lie—or deny. Sackler suggested to Hallam that he was a revolutionary, as if perhaps this was just another iteration an of anti-capitalist movement. The point to remember is that revolutionaries don’t start revolutions: circumstances do. A lesson Lenin may have learned when he dashed to Russia after his longed-for revolution had already begun.
The former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was on the BBC Today programme’s ‘Thought for the Day’ slot this morning. On the morning after Israel’s general election, in which the two leading parties both espouse the annexation of more Palestinian territory (much of which is already under military occupation) I thought he might have something to say about that. Perhaps some soothing, thoughtful and inspirational insights? Not a bit of it. All we got was a paean of praise for outgoing presenter John Humphrys (who at 76 should have gone ages ago. Ooopps! Ageist!) What a pleasant little club. But I wonder if Sacks could recall what Humphrys said about Though for the Day? ‘Deeply boring.’ Say no more.
But I will say more! According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, conducted by the National Centre for Social Research, the UK population is now 52% non-religious. Perhaps, like the 51.9% who voted for Brexit, our voices must be obeyed! Do or die! Thankfully, for most of the non-religious majority in this country, there is no compulsive behaviour disorder which makes us believe that everybody else has to think as we do—although the time has obviously come to disestablish the Church of England. Only 12% of the population describe themselves as ‘Anglican.’
So it was good to see that a British jury unanimously found an 80-year old woman not guilty of the murder of her 81-year old husband who was terminally ill with bowel cancer. This was clearly a case of compassion above all else, not something driven by religious—or any other kind—of dogma.
A brilliant letter in the Guardian this morning, in response to a leader comment that the Lib Dems were the party of Keynes and Beveridge:
'The Lib Dems . . . home to Keynes and Beveridge?' No I don't think so. The Liberal Democrat party came into existence in 1989. Its only taste of power since then would have Keynes and Beveridge turning in their graves.’
Yes, I confess to writing it.
The Lib Dem conference stage backdrop carried various demands: ‘DEMAND BETTER FOR SCHOOLS DEMAND BETTER FOR OUR COMMUNITIES DEMAND BETTER FOR THE NHS DEMAND BETTER FOR THE ARMED FORCES DEMAND BETTER FOR . .’ - you get the drift. All this I suppose is part of DEMAND BETTER FOR AMNESIACS — an essential condition for being a Liberal Democrat these days.
I have just booked a couple of train journeys with Transpennine Express—an activity I have performed for donkey’s years. Their website tells me I have seats reserved, but doesn’t provide seat numbers. This means that on busy trains there is a much greater likelihood of having to ask somebody to move, or to stand—wishing to avoid an argument. The statement that ’you have seats reserved’ is therefore somewhat disingenuous. I thought I would try out the ’live chat’ function on the website to see why things had changed—for the worse. This is as far as I got:
Started at: 16th September 2019 at 17:59
Pre-Ticket Data I have just booked seats for a journey next month. I'm told seats have been reserved but have not been given seat numbers. This means in effect that seats have not been reserved since anyone with an (e.g. any time ticket) could take the seats available. What's going on? Have I got a reservation or not?
Kyle K 18:01: Good evening , thank you for using our live chat. You're speaking to Kyle on the TPE Web Support team.
Colin Challen 18:02: Hello. Have you got my message?
Kyle K 18:04: Yes, if you have selected reserved seats then the seats will be reserved. However you will not have a specific seat. You can sit in any seat that has the "reserved" ticket above.
Colin Challen 18:05: Is this a permanent change - it will still make life more difficult especially on busy trains
Kyle K 18:06: This is only the case on some journeys at certain times of the day.
Kyle K 18:10: Thank you for chatting with me today. As I have not received a reply from you for some time now, I am going to have to end the chat. If there is anything further I can help with, please do not hesitate to come back to me.
I was typing my reply when I was timed out. I’m not blaming Kyle K. here by the way. I suspect Transpennine Express have some glitch in their system which has simply prevented them from doing what they always did in the past, namely to issue reservations for actual seats. Apart from getting cheaper tickets one of the main points of booking in advance was to get a guaranteed seat. No longer it seems. I shall be interested to see what the explanation is. Having complained I am fully expecting some techno-goobledgook heading into my in-box.
Meanwhile I think I ought to start a crowdfunding exercise to help me over the distress.
+It seems that Johnson is going to defy the law and still go for Brexit on the 31st October with or without a deal. It also seems that his poll ratings have gone up. He sits in No.10 dreaming of how his ‘strong leadership’ model is going to pay off handsomely. He is like an arsonist who sets fires in order to reap the reward when he rings 999 to report the conflagration. It’s very disappointing, if the polls are correct, that so many of my fellow citizens can’t see through this irresponsible gamble.
+At the LibDem conference: watch out Jo, Chuka will be eyeing up your job faster than your comrades can say ‘wacky baccy.’
+Swinson was on the Today programme this morning trying to sound firm and decisive. The former minister for austerity misery even had the effrontery to suggest that the social contract was broken and lots of people were feeling the pinch. I hope there’s some vents in the roof of the Bournemouth conference centre to ensure that the stench can escape.
+The Guardian has apparently changed a leader comment which posited that David Cameron had demonstrated his privileged concerns thus: ‘Even his experience of the NHS, which looked after his severely disabled son, has been that of the better functioning and better funded parts of the system. Had he been forced to wrestle with the understaffed and over-managed hospitals of much of England, or had he been trying to get the system to look after a dying parent rather than a dying child, he might have understood a little of the damage that his policies have done.’ (copied from the Spectator website) Why can’t the Guardian stand up for the truth? Apparently they’ve made a humble apology to Cameron. Cameron has yet to apologise for the thousands of people who died as a result of austerity.
+Despite being the same age as me (66) Tony Blair looks 10 years older. The cares of office. At least Cameron will not suffer the same fate, he can just be Photoshopped. Again.
+ Type into Google ‘How much has Brexit cost so far?’ and you get a variety of answers with one thing in common—a bloody lot. The hit on the economy is said to be around £500 million a week. Direct government expenditure also runs into the billions. The government seems reluctant to release all the figures. But this is a bonanza for consultants and others out for a quick buck. They must be very disappointed that Chris ‘Failing’ Grayling left government. He was personally responsible for much of the waste. He should be made to pay some of it back.
+I feel certain that the first case in his in-tray for our new ‘anti-Semitism tsar,’ Baron Mann of Uphisownarse will be the notorious matter of Jacob Rees Mogg, Leader of the House and all-round dunderhead. Little reported anywhere was his use of the word ‘Illuminati’ when describing the anti-no deal Brexit legislation proposers, prime amongst whom was Oliver Letwin, who is Jewish, ably facilitated by Speaker Bercow who is also Jewish. Why should Mann pick up this file? He could start by reading this article published on the Jewish Voice for Labour website. He might also consider Rees Mogg’s retweeting of the German far right, anti-semitic AfD party’s material last April - see here. Now why is it that I don’t think we will hear a dickybird about any of this from Johnson’s newly ennobled Useful Idiot?
+I’m afraid Corbyn is done for. His stance on Brexit has been praised by none other than Tony Blair in today’s Sunday Mirror. ‘Tony Blair has said that despite his disagreements with Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader had acted “very sensibly and skilfully” in his efforts to block a no-deal Brexit.’ This opens the door to all manner of realignments. The Blairites in the PLP will be confused, even tearful, wondering what to do next. Is this part of a deeper, as yet indecipherable plot, a bold blinder in this interminable game of chess?
+Over in Canada, now in general election mode we must wait and see whether the rise of right-wing populism sweeps the Tories into power. Meanwhile much amusement can be had reading Gordon Prentice’s blog. He aims to question all his local wannabe MP candidates, and the first interview has already taken place, leaving Liberal chancer Tony van Bynen looking decidedly foolish. It makes you wonder why anyone would vote for such a dope. But we’ve had to ask that question many times in the past, and there is still no definitive answer.
I’ve just been finishing off John Gray’s Heresies, Against Progress and Other Illusions, published in 2004. We still had a Blair government then, we had Bush in the White House and Saddam Hussein was in hiding. It makes for an interesting read to see with the benefit of hindsight how Gray’s prognosis of the international scene actually worked out. The final judgement of history on those days has yet to be delivered—we’re only talking 15 years ago—but Gray is generally on the mark. His piece ‘For Europe’s sake, Britain must stay out,’ written in May 2003 is especially prescient. Staying out then was staying out of the Eurozone, not the E.U. Gray’s argument was that if Britain had less influence in Europe, the E.U. would be a more powerful counter balance to the U.S. We saw the most powerful demonstration of our fraught U.S./E.U. ‘bridge’ act in the run-up to the Iraq war, when most European leaders, led by Jacques Chirac opposed Bush’s war. Blair’s only role was not to gain influence with Bush, but to give W's non-United Nations approved war some smattering of legitimacy.
Today, the Middle East predictably continues to muddy U.S./E.U. relations. Trump’s abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal; Trump’s unilateral blessing of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; his fraught stand-off with Russia over Syria (with consequences in Turkey). The inconsistency of American foreign policy stands in marked contrast to the hammered out position of Europe, which is developed through what is necessarily a more collegiate approach.
Now we are navigating similar waters, with the obvious consequences of Brexit and a Trump White House combining to make us an even less significant player in international politics. A country adrift, waiting to be picked up by the pirates of the Potomac. Perhaps, as Gray suggested in 2003, Europe would be better off without us. Which in my mind reconfirms my view that we would be better off with them. I am willing to bet that future U.K. Prime Ministers (not this one) will be champing at the bit to get back into European modes of thinking. As the saying goes, you won’t know the value of something until you’ve lost it.
A trip to York yesterday took my mind off the continuing turmoil that is the everlasting diet of news disseminators and consumers. A visit to Ken Spelman’s bookshop on Micklegate generally comes first. Bookshops of this calibre are havens of tranquillity indeed, although my visit was interrupted by some guy who came in expecting to find his wife there, meanwhile protesting that they had more books at home than the shop itself and that he didn’t need any more. What a wozzack, as we might say colloquially: you can never get enough books. I came away with Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained, which I hope will fill in a few gaps for me. At £6 I’m not minded to worry too much if I’m still left pondering the mystery of consciousness. It may just be a trick of the imagination. At the Oxfam bookshop down the road I bought John Gray’s Heresies: Against Progress and Other Illusions, published in 2004 and comprising some of his articles for the New Statesman. His first article in this collection concludes ‘Believers in progress are seeking from technology what they once looked for in political ideologies, and before that in religion: salvation from themselves.’ That article is dated April 9th, 1999—the eve of the millennium, now a generation ago.
Coincidentally yesterday I received an email from an outfit called ‘Energy for Humanity’ which was headed in strictly layperson’s terms PETITION TO INCLUDE NUCLEAR IN THE EU SUSTAINABLE FINANCE TAXONOMY (caps. in the original). We can live in hope can’t we? Isn’t this exactly what Gray was railing against, not secularism v. religion but secularism as religion? Redemption through technology, a kind of mass indulgence scheme that buys us individuals out of responsibility? Also, and fittingly in this particular case an impossibility given the short timescales on the climate change front and long timescales on delivering new nuclear. At least Energy for Humanity were honest enough to admit that their research was funded by EDF—although, of course, that didn’t influence their editorial control.
I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Gray’s book. Yesterday’s heresy may be today’s fake news and tomorrow’s truth, and then we’ll find that what goes round comes round all over again. Meanwhile, some of us will be privileged (or not) to witness how nature deals with these anthropocentric dilemmas.
I read an article yesterday in Counterpunch which would never see the light of day anywhere else. It suggests that Libya under Colonel Gaddafi was the most prosperous, educated and genuinely free democracy in Africa. Well, this is not what we’ve been led to believe is it? Didn’t we liberate enslaved Libyans from this despotic regime in 2011? Wasn’t Cameron and Sarkozy cheered to the rafters when they briefly stood on Libyan soil after Gaddafi’s rather brutal demise?
Sometimes, even if you don’t believe it, it is worth reading an alternative narrative—because there could be some truth in it. I’m not sure that anyone would objectively argue that Libya prior to 2011 was a place they would choose to live, but what about today? The country is by any standard in a far worse state then it was prior to 2011, secret police or not. The Counterpunch article makes claims which are worth reading because they are counterintuitive, but they could all be tested against the historical record. For example, the treatment of women as equals with rights to education, equal pay, etc. That’s not something you would find in an Islamic theocracy.
I have doubts about the greater claims of this article, but it is well worth reading. It leads me to remark on something that has always been controversial, namely Tony Blair’s war record. There’s no doubting the folly and mendacious deceptions that paved the way to Iraq, but Blair was widely derided (and wrongly in my view) for meeting Gaddafi in his desert tent. He also met Assad in Syria. In his own messianic way, Blair thought he could somehow rein in their excesses and bring these nasty chaps into some kind of reformist mode. I am sure that Blair’s faith came into this, not just in his own charisma but also through his everyday conversations with God. I wish he had actually succeeded in his mission in those two countries, but perhaps his faith ran ahead of itself. As it is now, the instability of Libya and Syria are two of the greatest threats to European stability, and neither appear to have an endgame in sight (although with Russia’s assistance, things are beginning to look a little clearer in Syria).
As I write this news has come in that the warmonger John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor has either been sacked or has resigned. This perhaps is good news. We’ll only know when we find out who his replacement is. I wonder who is really running Trump. He has so far—amazingly—avoided more war than most of his predecessors, including the sainted Obama. One day, we’ll be revising the old canard that any two countries with a MacDonald’s restaurant would never go to war with each other. So I’m hoping and praying that Moscow finally gets its Trump Tower—along with Tripoli, Damascus, Tehran and Pyongyang.