NAMAs, NAPAs, LAPAs, NAPs, INDCs, NAPCCs… The alphabet soup of climate action is enoug...
NAMAs, NAPAs, LAPAs, NAPs, INDCs, NAPCCs… The alphabet soup of climate action is enoug...
Globally, there is intense discussion about the future of urban life through the World Urban ...
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.
Every farm is a scene of battles - against weeds, against aphids, against red tape, against rustlers even. One of our enduring battles on our farm is against Mr Reynard. He preys upon our chickens and there is a continuing battle to keep him at bay. We don’t always succeed. This year, we have lost several fine birds to foxes, though usually they pick up the old and ailing, like some population purifying agency. We were dismayed couple of months ago when we found a pile of feathers on the grass, all that was left of 'Handsome', a Voerwork cockerel of quite magnificent beauty and gentle temperament. We have replaced him with another Voerwork cock, not quite so good looking, who is called, a bit obviously, 'Less Handsome.'
Our chickens are at risk because we let them out of their run every day, figuring what they lose in security they gain hugely in enjoyment of chicken-life. Watch them scratching up ants or chasing caddis flies (daddy-longlegs) and you’d have to agree. One of the finest chicken-sights is to see the hens sunbathing – laying on their sides, wings spread out, basking in the warmth, like ladies of a certain age on a Florida beach.
We have various strategies to unnerve Mr Fox. We have the dogs out free to wander most of the day, which worked when they were young but is less effective now that they are variously crocked or stone deaf. We set a light at night near their run. Jimmy-riddles around the run are also thought to deter Reynard. “Oh my God” he mutters “These people…”
My favourite defence though, is the radio - specifically a radio tuned to Radio 4. From a distance, it sounds as if there are people chatting in the middle of hen territory. Now some people on Radio 4, I am certain, are good fox-frighteners, and others useless. Gentle Matthew Paris, a good man fallen among Tories out of sheer contrariness, is far too soft-voiced to scare. Melvyn Bragg on the other hand is terrific - I can swear to it that I have seen a fox fleeing the field as Melvyn’s intro to an In Our Time wafted over the air. (My wife asserts the fox was running because he thought that edition of the programme pretentious.) Most effective of all is, of course, that trousered fool Jeremy Clarkson. A spat between Jeremy and George Monbiot cleared all the foxes from West Herefordshire.
We recently bought six beautiful point-of-lay pullets, whose breeds originate Italy. North and South America. I do not want them to die in the fox’s jaws. I wonder if the Clarkson is now up for hire?
The Blakemere Black Poplar, which towers over our village green, lives to sprout another day, I am very relieved to be able to report. This poplar, one of only two on a village green in England, was threatened with felling after it shed a large bough earlier in the summer. Blakemere’s villagers responded superbly. First, they told fell-it-quick boyos to buzz off. Then they commissioned a full report from an excellent local arboriculturalist called Jeremy Ross. (These Jeremy’s are everywhere these days.) Mr Ross came back with a careful 8 page report which showed that if the tree was pruned and its crown was reduced, there was a good chance it would put new shoots and become a healthy and less dangerous tree.
At a meeting on the tiny green last Monday, Blakemere’s villagers voted 2-1 to keep their poplar.
Some voted yes out of British fairmindedness, to give the tree another chance. Others perhaps because it is cheaper to prune it than fell it, at least in the first instance. Most Blakemere people voted, I am pretty sure, in respect of its beauty and rarity. As one visitor to the previous meeting about the poplar had said: “The only really distinguished aspect to Blakemere is its Black Poplar”, a remark which was borne with modesty and good humour by the village’s recently ennobled Lord Lisvane, formerly the Chief Clerk to the House of Commons, Sir Robert Rogers. In his position, I would have been tempted to interject: “Now, come on my good man…”
Over the next couple of years, we shall see if the Blakemere Poplar seizes its chance for a longer life. On this matter, I am an optimist.
I have been fascinated not just by Jeremy Corbyn’s victory and its dimensions, but by how it has thrown the commentariat. The BBC’s political staff, who breathe only Westminster air and rarely venture beyond SW1, has been at sixes-and-sevens.
Norman Smith, usually so acute, at one time could only deal with it by implying that Corbyn was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Scary Lorna Keunnsberg, the BBC’s newly appointed political correspondent, thought it was good journalism to ask Jezza five times whether he would kneel before the Queen. Her question to Corbyn on hearing that he would not press the nuclear button was as biased as it is possible to be: “So you would put your principles before the safety of your country?”
New Labour of course has been in collective shock and what a joy that is to behold. I laughed out loud, I confess, when I read of a New Labour group being turned out of a Brighton pub and forced to hold its meeting in the street. The ultimate control freaks defenestrated.
Peter Mandelson was not slow in offering his lofty insights, cautioning his pals to wait and keep their powder dry, but also saying the vote was another two fingers up to the electorate. Here he was a bit dim, or at least set in his ways. New Labour famously was built on the concept of tailoring itself to the new middle class, following Philip Gould’s work for Tony Blair which showed that once the working class had got wealthier, they switched to voting Tory. Interesting how Blair was not interested in chasing the votes of those feeling so marginalised by society that they didn’t go to the polls at all.
In some strange way, I think Corbyn is a little like Thatcher. She was not concerned in accommodating her party to the post-war settlement. She wanted a different kind of Britain, individualistic, selfish even, made up of families and individuals out to become prosperous without the lead weight of social obligations. Corbyn too wants to change the ways contemporary Britons think - away from behaving as atomised individuals with the goal of self-enrichment, towards a country concerned more with the state of all its people, losers as well as winners.
Will Jezza succeed in re-invigorating the social fabric? It’s as tall an order as it is possible to find, but I wish him well.