Gender is an often discussed topic, but a neglected perspective of climate change policy. Mig...
Gender is an often discussed topic, but a neglected perspective of climate change policy. Mig...
To its inhabitants a city can feel like an island. If you are one of the many billions of peo...
The countless millions who follow this blog will be aware of a rainforest campaign that I and some mates have started, named The Size of Herefordshire. Its aim is to help protect area of rainforest in north eastern Peru the size of the county in which we happily dwell. This part of Peru is the terrain of an indigenous people, the Wampi. Not long ago, the Wampi got together and declared their territory an `autonomous region’ within Peru. Basically, they are singing the old Woodie Guthrie song “This Land is Our Land” - they are exerting their right to resist the loggers and miners and oilmen who have their eyes on their 1.4 million hectares of their rainforest. The British charity The Forest Peoples Programme is helping them do this, not least by getting their legal rights to their land mapped and accepted.
The Size of Herefordshire is aiming to protect little more than a fifth of this land but in truth in the nature of rainforest is such that we will possibly protect much more by feeding money to the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) and thence to the Wampis. Our principle fund-raising tool is ingenious – an online interactive map which allows people to choose parcels of Herefordshire, click on them and cough up a fiver. The parcel is then theirs and corresponds to helping protect at least that amount of rainforest. The fiver plus gift aid goes in its entirety straight to the FPP. (All can be seen at www.sizeofherefordshire.org).
I think this is a diamond-brilliant concept. It came not out of my head but those of clever people working in Cardiff for Acclimatize, the climate change consultancy. Two weeks ago we publicly launched the campaign in Herefordshire with articles in the local papers and interviews on BBC Hereford and Worcester.
Already the concept seems to be catching attention. The online map, developed by the ingenious Ian Short of Pragsys, is starting to show dark green squares where people have sponsored their land parcels. There are a few major blocks where hugely generous people have dug deep but largely the squares are being filled by small donations.
Last Saturday, The Size of Herefordshire had a stand at the River Carnival, a wonderfully varied festival of fun and good causes along the banks of the River Wye. People made nice noises when we explained how we are trying to help the Wampis and the rainforest, on the health of which we all depend of course. Some even pledged to cough up as soon as they got home.
More on this campaign’s progress later.
To London recently for a book launch, those occasions when the circle of friends around an author gather to celebrate the new book. This launch was for Camille And The Lost Diaries of Samuel Pepys, written by Bob Marshall-Andrews, the QC and former Labour MP who did so much to defeat New Labour’s endless attempts to restrict our liberties.
One might have thought that after such a distinguished career Bob might rest on his laurels a little, just taking the occasional rewarding brief between sips of Chateau Margaux. Not Bob: Camille is his second novel and it’s extraordinarily clever and inventive. Bob supposes that Pepys is despatched to France to negotiate a treaty with Louis XIV. There he meets a French actress as intelligent as she is beautiful and the narrative runs like a stag from thereon. It’s very funny to boot and the praise on the front cover from a Telegraph writer - “in fecundity of imagination he invites comparison with a Graves, a Vidal or a Burgess” – is very little over-stated.
It would make a cracking movie, with perhaps Mark Rylance cast as Pepys and Marillon Cotillard as Camile. I can’t recommend the book more highly.
Not long ago, I reached a landmark, that of breathing the air of this planet for three quarters of a century. Doing so, I recalled a remark by Nigel Nicholson on becoming old, that though he looked very different to how he did as a young man in his twenties, he didn’t feel different. He still saw himself as a young man.
I know what he meant, though with qualifications. I am startled by being old, and especially by the perceptions of other people. I spent part of a recent morning shifting 25 kilogram feed sacks from the back of a car down into a shed. Later that day, I went to the supermarket. At the checkout, I was asked: “Do you want help with loading your shopping, sir?” I was nonplussed. I’d put the shopping in bags in the trolley by this time. “I mean, lifting the bags into your car” she explained. I muttered that I thought I would manage, but the damage was of course in knowing that’s how I looked to her.
I’ve become used to getting on buses and finding decent people offering me their seat (usually women, often ethnic, very rarely young white men.) Even so I was I bit dismayed when getting on a Kensington bus recently, three people leaped up together like salmon engaged in synchronised swimming
I read recently that a man aged 75 has a life expectancy of a further 11 years (for women it is 13). I remembered this when ordering some wine recently. The particular was good to the year 2030. That’ll cover it then, I thought.
Real insight into the condition of being old is hard to come by, but I ran across some wisdom in Julian Barnes’s new novel about Shostakovich The Noise of Time.
He has Shostakovich reflect “The self-doubt of the young is nothing to the self-doubt of the old.”
Of all the changes in my 75 years, the advent of IT has been the most startling. The change though that I have found most burdensome, day from day, is the steady, unremitting loss of the wild. When I was at school, the Marlborough Downs were teeming with hares; the school even had a beagling club to try to hunt them. (Some chance.) Today, hares are a relative rarity – we exclaim with joy when we see one. I recall cricket fields thick with swallows and clouds of butterflies along the hedgerows. Even twenty years ago, when we came to our farm, there were curlews in the water meadow and house martins galore. My younger son counted 14 martin nests under the eaves of the house, for a school project. Today, we may get two or three.
An Australian philosopher has coined the word `sostalgia’ to stand for “a form of psychic or existential distress caused by environmental damage.” He’d seen among communities in New South Wales ravaged by droughts and mining. Well, sostalgia sadly has a presence in Herefordshire too.
A good friend of mine died the other day, defying the stats by reaching only 65.
I shall miss many things about Nicky Daw and not least her full-hearted sense of humour. I shall always remember her glee in telling me about living in a house with the unusual name of Hicockolorum. She and her husband Pete received a letter addressed to Mr & Mrs Daw, High Cock or Low Bum. It was from Barclays Bank.
She laughed like a drain.
I wonder if we have reached a turning point - perhaps several turning points - this winter. The weather has been so continuously, so protractedly, so mercilessly weird for the last few months in Britain that I am sure I am detecting another phenomenon: the vanishing of homo negatio, the climate change denying human being. Earlier last year, one could run across home negatio at any turn; in the Hay tapas bar, a quiet drink could be savaged by someone telling you that there was no such thing as climate change. In a small fishing village in West Wales, old folk might mutter ‘we’ve seen weather like this scores of times.’
Quite suddenly, the voices of denial have gone quiet. The Today Programme runs items on climate change in a sensible way, without Their Man in Denial – i.e. Lord Lawson of Naysaying – on the programme. The BBC’s environment correspondent Roger Harrabin has taken at last to talking about climate change as a blunt fact, without his yesteryear qualifying “if it is taking place...”
It is remarkable what a few weeks of continuously wild and warm weather can do, the flower power of the daffodil blooming in late December, the crocus and primrose in January.
The statistics of “the warmest ever…” are indeed remarkable. For instance: in the Central England temperature series which has been running from 1659 this has been easily the warmest December. Locally, the mean temperature of 10.5 C was 5.4 C above the average. Amazing. On Boxing Day, we had 15.5˚C or just 60 Fahrenheit, which counted for a warm May morning in my youth.
But let’s not get carried away. Although the deniers have slunk back to the undergrowth, it’s probably the case that climate change is a peripheral problem for most Britons, west, east, north or south. They’d put housing, jobs, the NHS, schools above the even more important and decisive factor of climate change. (See Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall. )
I am at a loss to imagine what will make us all think differently.
I had a shock yesterday, when trying to sort out something on Amazon. My laptop screen was suddenly hijacked by coarse and lumpen features. That’s right, it was Jeremy Clarkson. Can we never escape this dreadful man? I thought when he was sacked from the BBC for punching a colleague I would never have to see in motion that loutish assemblage again. I think the least Amazon could do is put up a full screen warning before the man hoves into view: “The following video may cause severe distress for anyone with an IQ score above that of a Ford Escort”.
Which creature has the greater number of genes, the nematode worm or homo sapiens? Neither in fact. It’s pretty much a dead heat. Clarkson, however…
Nothing causes the bowels of politicians to go into meltdown faster than the thought of power cuts. In this highly inter-connected world, that is understandable. The outcry on February 2nd when BT had trouble with its broadband for a few hours only shows how dependent we have become on the internet and of course electric power. At the end of January, an official report suggested that with the phasing out of Magnox reactors and filthy coal powered stations we might be heading for a period of power cuts. New power sources are being slow in coming on stream.
In his very valuable book Sustainable Energy – Without The Hot Air David McKay looks in one chapter at how demand can be managed - so that if there’s a surge in demand, the lights won’t go off. He examines ingenious ideas such as using the batteries of millions of electric vehicles as energy stores, able to pump power back into the grid when it’s needed.
Yet I’m struck how very little is done to encourage us to use less electricity. Tariffs are constructed so that the frugal user pays more in proportion than the profligate. No politician suggests that heavy users ought to pay penalties for their extra demand. Well, let me suggest it. It would be a form of progressive taxation, as well as having environmental benefits. The mansion tax failed, but whopping electricity bills for the houses of the rich (to be spent on helping poorer households) could be an answer.
The director of Sweden's Stockholm Resilience Centre director Johan Rockström presents the narrative of the Anthropocene.
I didn’t actually say to myself “Stone the crows!” on hearing the news last week that our planet has entered the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch created by man’s impact on the planet. But that phrase, beloved of Tony Hancock, more or less summed up my reaction. It’s been obvious to any but the self-interested that enormous changes brought about by human behaviour have been under way for some time. We have burnt too much, consumed too much, thrown away too much, killed too much, and, yes, reproduced much too much.
Sometimes my spirits sag when in the morning I turn on the radio or open the paper. There is so much grim news - beheadings, bombings, starving people into surrender, mass sexual assaults on women and so on. Reading the detail of the new study was also an exercise in spirit-sagging: we produce 300 million metric tonnes of plastic annually, much of which ends up in the sea and breaks down into microscopic particles. (If a frequent-flyer says to me once more: “But I do recycle” I will not be answerable for my actions). Half the concrete ever produced has been made in the last twenty years. Wildlife is being pushed into smaller and smaller areas of the globe… Okay, enough already.
Which is where I come as the bearer of better tidings. An area of the great Amazon rainforest in north-eastern Peru, around the Santiago River, has been declared an autonomous region. The indigenous people, the Wampis, declare the creation of the first autonomous indigenous government to defend their ancestral territory of 1.3 million hectares against the loggers and miners and palm-oil planters.
Some three hundred Wampi delegates travelled to a summit meeting, which led to the declaration. Andres Noningo Sensen, of the Waimaku, or Wampis visionaries, explained:
“We have taken this decision partly as a strategy of territorial defence, in response to the effort to divide us into communities. We will still be Peruvian citizens but this unity will give us the political strength we need to explain our vision to the world and to those companies and governments who see only the gold and oil in our rivers and forests and much less the spirit beings of Nunkui and Tsunki, who look after our earth and water.”
The Wampi Magna Carta also promotes economic alternatives for their future, including small-scale fish-farming and cocoa and banana production.
Working with the Wampis has been a British charity the Forest Peoples Programme and their man Conrad Feather. Their achievement means a lot to Herefordshire because local people in our county have got together to try to raise more than £100,000 for the Wampi’s rainforest. The Size of Herefordshire (www.sizeofherefordshire.org) is about to launch an interactive webpage which will allow people to click-on ten hectares or much more (in multiples of ten) and sponsor them at the rate of £5 per ten hectares. Each sponsored ten hectares of God’s own county will mean that ten hectares of Wampi rainforest will be protected.
The Size of Herefordshire was enormously excited to get only the fifth email ever to have been sent out of Wampi territory. How’s that for a privilege?
The Size of H will be approaching the county’s biggest landowners, such as Prince Charles, as well as villages and parishes to try to get them to sponsor their areas. Sue and I are looking forward to sponsoring our farm (30 plus hectares) and a bit more for good measure.
There’s much in the media about the extremism of Jeremy Corbyn and his pals. I find it curious how little is written about the extremism of George Osborne. This politician is a genuine extremist in that he will take political action dictated not by rational analysis but by dogma.
It’s pretty clear that Osborne is among the ever smaller band of climate change deniers, now akin to the Flat Earth Society when faced with Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. With the warm winter and unending rain, I failed to spot Osborne, rarely slow to put on a high-vis jacket, visiting the flood stricken towns of the North. He could not have stood the questions about climate change. His wellies if he has them remained in the cupboard under the stairs.
Osborne’s denier credentials are proved not by his words but his actions. Last autumn, he kicked away one renewable energy support after another, while backing fracking. (He has Amber Rudd, the Environment Secretary and who perhaps should be known as Stoplight, in his pocket.) In the week before the Paris Climate Conference opened, he killed Britain’s CO2 storage project - a supremely bigoted and cynical act, and left Rudd to go naked into the conference chamber (so to speak).
Osborne is a zealot and a bigot. (Even his daughter is called Liberty). He is very insincere – just look at any photo opportunity when he is visiting a factory or store: surrounded by the oiks (he should know) he has a fixed smile of insincerity playing on his features which say only “how much longer do I have to be with these awful people.” Unfortunately, he is also very clever and very ambitious.
Speaking of media musings about Corbyn, it’s noticeable that the Guardian is incessantly hostile toward him. This has been going on ever since the leadership election Jeremy trounced the paper’s chosen successor Yvette Cooper, who was opposed by 83 per cent of the Labour Party membership. The nadir of the Guardian’s behaviour was reached on New Year’s Day, when the paper gave special space to Peter Mandelson and a both-barrels attack on Corbyn. Mandelson, possibly the most divisive figure in the modern Labour Party outside Blair, called Corbyn divisive.
Why in heaven did the Guardian chose to use Mandelson, a man now skilled at amassing a pile of money for himself like many of the New Labour scions, in this way? Well, the Guardian has a new-ish editor in Kath Viner, reportedly liked and admired by the staff. My guess is that Viner has ceded too much ground to the two Guardian old lions who were in post when she took over.
One is Jonathan Freedland, editor of the opinion pages and thus responsible for choices such as giving Matthew D’Ancona key space on Mondays to set the tone for the week. (D’Ancona, now editor of the Spectator and formerly of the Telegraph, is a good writer but not a progressive.)
The other old lion is Polly Toynbee. She is of course a remarkable journalist who has run some terrific campaigns and highlighted the way Britain has regressed into the Land of Inequality. However, her political judgement is uncertain – indeed in the past she was a key member of the SDP, which did much to keep Thatcher in power. Toynbee also came out so enthusiastically for Yvette Cooper that I wondered if the two are personal friends. She has lost few chances of rubbishing Corbyn.
My hope is that the very decent new editor will now pull some of the teeth of the Lions and give her paper the feeling of a radical journal once more.
Our cider apples are safely harvested - picked or shaken, hoovered up, bagged and tractored over to Dunkerton’s Cider Mill near Pembridge in Herefordshire. It’s a relief every year to have the job done; much can go wrong. This year, our problem was with a contractor who came to the orchard, said yes he’d do it and then went off air, or off planet. A characteristic of modern contractors all over Britain seems not say - frankly, I’ve changed my mind, but rather to dematerialise. Calls go to answerphone, emails are junked. We were rescued from Bertino Tomasi’s apparent decision to join the Holy Order of Trappists by our good neighbours, John Smith and his father John Smith (to avoid confusion) and by the Grandsons from France.
In France, the game of choice now seems to be handball, a terrific fast sport which builds great muscles. (Perhaps England should embrace it after their early exit from the Thugby World Cup.) The Grandsons threw their handball musculature at the Brown Snout trees and the apples fell in showers onto the tarpaulins below. The Grandsons then hauled these together and decanted them into bags. Dunkerton’s Cider pay a premium if the apples are delivered to them with varieties separated into different bags – Bloody Turks in some, Kingston Blacks in others, and so on. Our apples being organic, the payments are very useful, thank you.
Next year, we shall open a couple of bottles of Dunkertons and toast “ The Smiths and The Grandsons!”
I may be mistaken but Remembrance Sunday appears to be looming larger and larger in the national life with each passing year. There’s hardly an activity or place one can visit in November without being propositioned by a poppy. Having my haircut, the barber was poppied but so was the mirror in front of me. Tractor drivers, and sometimes the tractors too, are poppied. On television of course, everyone is poppied; on Autumn Watch, presenters wading through marshes were poppied; I half expected the wildlife to have been forced to comply. (“Good Heavens, there’s a bearded tit over there without a poppy. The conchie bastard!”)
Now I yield to few in my respect for the fallen and for our serving soldiers, airmen and sailors. One of our sons did tours of army duty in Basra during the Iraq War and my mother’s much beloved brother Gerald was killed on active service flying for the RAF in the last war. His death marked and marred my mother for the rest of her life. However, I find myself a little troubled at the growing clamour around Remembrance Sunday. Just what is going on?
Some of the increasing Remembrance activity is doubtless due to Britain getting involved in so many wars. There are more fallen servicemen, more military widows and bereaved families. They need help. Yet I wonder if the Remembrance fervour doesn’t have a jingo-istic flavour – not dominant but present nonetheless? Hence the hassling of people not wearing poppies, for instance Sienna Miller for appearing poppy-less on the Graham Norton Show. (She deserved a minor medal for agreeing to go on the show at all, in my book.)
Or is there a national guilt-trip in place – we know that many of our nation’s recent wars were lost causes, cock-ups if not downright illegal. We know in our hearts that our young men and women should never have been sent to die in Helmand, Libya, and Basra.
As a corrective, can I suggest we start a White Poppy Day-- to be held perhaps on March 20th, 2003, the day the Iraq War started. It would exist to remember not Britain’s fallen but rather the countless civilian casualties of the UK’s disastrous wars. (In my view only Sierra Leone and Kosovo and possibly Kuwait count as`good British wars’ in recent times.) Money collected would be distributed to families in Iraq and other former war zones. Yes, it would be a national act of penitence. Penitance Day. Anyone want to run with this?
Ash trees, among the loveliest in British woodlands, are falling steadily to ash die-back disease. Latest news suggests Chalara Fraxinea has a good hold on the North Midlands and will be hitting Herefordshire before long.
Few people, I think, realise the scale of the disaster about to hit us. Our woods have perhaps a third of their trees as ash. Our roads are lined with ash trees. In time, these trees will have to felled. The cost and the disruption and woeful change to the landscape will be ghastly. And what about the householder who has a large ash tree near the house? There are plenty of these. The cost of felling a large mature ash could easily run to a thousand pounds. Do people have the money for this?
In the interim before the full disaster is with us, my advice to young people looking for work is simple: train as a tree surgeon. You’ll be very much in demand.
Fox Report. Mr Reynard must have read my previous blog. Despite my deploying Radio 4 at high volume outside the chicken hut, the fox ignored Melvyn Bragg’s adenoidal phrases blasting from the speaker, (usually enough to make Basil Brush think twice about coming close to the farm), and snaffled a chicken the other day. In broad daylight. Is there no respect left for Baron Bragg of Wigton?
The chicken who went for fox supper was Floppy-Comb, a White Sussex of great character. She used to hang around the back door, squawking for corn until she got her way. She is missed.