Michael Meacher – another of the old school leaves us

I was sad today to hear of the death of Michael Meacher, left wing Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton. He was one of the last of the ‘old school’ Labour politicians who showed true Socialist conviction, having been first elected in 1970 and serving under Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan and Tony Blair, and was once even suggested as a possible Labour Leader.

I remember Neil Kinnock referring to Mr Meacher as ‘Tony Benn’s Vicar on Earth’, such was the latter’s support for the left wing firebrand. He was also a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, being one of the Labour MPs who nominated and supported JC at the start of his campaign to become leader of the Labour Party.

That he died so soon after the election of a party Leader that he admired and supported wholeheartedly is a great and sad irony, but it isn’t the only irony around the timing of his death…

In late 1985, the BBC broadcast one of the finest thrillers they ever produced ‘Edge of Darkness’.  If you’ve never seen it, treat yourself and try and find it online or on a DVD – well worth 6 hours of anyone’s life, and still astonishingly relevant.  In it, a detective investigates the death of his daughter, murdered when she finds out that Plutonium is being stockpiled illegally in an underground facility in Yorkshire owned by a massive US energy company.

Meacher plays himself at a political meeting, speaking on environmental issues. And I’m sure he’d appreciate the irony of his death on the day on which the British Government allowed a foreign power to take a substantial degree of control over parts of our nuclear industry…



In the long run….

450px-Clock_of_the_Long_Now…we’re all dead, so goes the old joke.

I’ve found myself thinking of ‘the long run’ increasingly often over the last year, and I’m not sure why.  I think partially it’s due to having children around on a reasonably regular basis for the first time; I’ve found myself thinking more of the world that they will grow up in to, and how the activities of the human race in my lifetime will have influenced that world – for better or worse.  some of you may recognise the image on the left – it’s a picture of a model of the ‘Clock of the Long Now’ – a timepiece designed to keep reasonably accurate time for 10,000 years.  I like the idea of thinking that far ahead – whether it’s realistic or not is the question, I guess.

Years ago I remember reading that when the ‘big’ cathedrals were built – places like Notre Dame in Paris, or theBasilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence – it was taken as a given that some of the people who started building the place would not live long enough to see it completed.  The Basilica, for example, took 170 years from inception to completion.  Imagine – a life expectancy of maybe 40 was pretty good going for those days, so it would be possible for 4 or 5 generations of a  family to work on the building, most of whom knew that they were committing their skills and lifetime to something they would never see completed.  And this in a time when the Black death was all over Europe.  I imagine that part of what drove people was faith; a belief that what happened in your life wasn’t the end of things, but just the beginning, and that building such edifices would help ensure your soul would be well received in Paradise!

Gardens are the same – many formal gardens literally take 100 years to mature to the vision that the garden designer envisaged.  And the owner of the land on which the garden was being built and who was paying for the garden would know that he was planning for the future, and leaving behind (and paying for) a legacy that he would never truly enjoy.  There’s a rather nice comment about the wisdom of a society that plants trees for the future in this blog entry from November.

It’s the combination of altruism and faith in the future that fascinates me; it is a combination of values that I think is lacking today.  We seem to have ended up in a culture of short-termism.  Which is incredibly ironic when we live so much longer than did our ancestors; maybe we’re just not so sure about our future prospects, or maybe it’s our Governments thinking in 4 year chunks.  But we don’t seem to have the faith to build for the future anymore.  I don’t really see anything being built that will first of all survive more than a century or so, and certainly nothing of the scale and majesty of your Duomos, Notre Dames or Towers of London. 

It’s a great irony that we might leave so little that survives more than a few centuries that our descendants of a thousand years hence (should we leave any behind) might regard the times we’re now living in in the same way that we regard the so-called ‘Dark Ages’.

After the Goldrush

There’s a song by Neil Young called ‘After the Goldrush’, which he wrote in the 1970s.  There’s a couple of lines in there which for the last 20 years have sounded increasingly like a warning:

“We got Mother Nature on the run, in the 1970s

Look at Mother Nature on the run, in the 1970s”

Well, 40 years later it looks increasingly like Mother Nature, somewhere along the way, stopped running, turned around, grabbed us by the nose and started kicking our sorry asses.  I have no doubt that this morning in Copenhagen there are some serious hangovers – probably not all alcohol fuelled.  There will be serious hangovers in the offices of those Governments, NGOs and other groups who’d hoped to get something legally binding and lasting from Copenhagen, rather than the half arsed fudge that we appear to have been delivered.

There’sa good piece from the BBC’s Environment spokesman, Richard Black, in which he suggests that the days of internationally agreed, ratified and binding steps towards climate control are over.  I have to say that I agree with him – we’ve had, off the top of my head, Kyoto, Bali and Rio – all of which have under-delivered and have been hailed as first steps on the way to something better.  I hate to be negative, but just how many first steps does this baby need?  And do we have enough time to allow a new set of first steps to take place every couple of years?

We’re in an interesting dilemma – governments and multi-national corporations with the power to make things happen abrogating their responsibility and apparently unable or unwilling to actually make decisions.  What we require now is leadership from our governments – one is forced to wonder whether the international ‘leadership’ from the US and UK that threw hundreds of billions of dollars in to the throats of the world banking community was actually leadership or whether it was our governments doing the bidding of their bosses in international finance.  And all this happens whilst the climate clock keeps ticking; a deadline that cannot be fudged or avoided by our children and grandchildren who will almost certainly live long enough to see the start of the major long term impacts of climate change and environmental collapse on this planet.

What can we, as individuals, do?  I’m a Libertarian; a believer in governments having the minimum possible involvement in our day to day lives.  I do, however, expect my government to take some responsibility at it’s level of power, and one thing that has emerged from Copenhagen and all the other failed international initiatives is that governments are unwilling to do anything for the long term benefits of this planet, mired as they are in the short term requirements of staying in power.  I’m therefore left painfully aware that climate change is going to happen, and that the best that we as individuals can do is, I believe, as follows:

  1. Work within your families and communities to do what you can to reduce your own environmental impact and encourage your communities to do the same.  Involvement in local environmental initiatives, and wider organisations such as the Transition Town network and the Permaculture Association can only help.
  2. Consume less – in terms of energy and resources.  Support the local economy at all levels – services, food, whatever.  Watch your food miles and the carbon footprint of what you eat.
  3. Put your elected representatives on the spot, and vote them out if they’re not delivering.

In all goldrushes throughout history, what’s left behind after it’s over is a mess.  Except this time, it’s the whole planet rather than a few hundred square miles of land.  What we can do to help put things right is very little, but it’s a start.     And at the very least when your grandkids ask what you did to try and make a difference, you can look ’em in the eye and say ‘I did all that was possible for me to do.’

A Modest Proposal to focus Climate Negotiator’s Minds.

globalwarmingIn the last few minutes of the final episode of the TV series ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’, Blackadder and his Company are poised to go ‘over the top’ from their trench to charge the German lines.  In the background, artillery guns are shelling the enemy trenches; it looks like the end for our boys.  Suddenly, the firing stops.  Silence.  Birdsong.  Private Baldrick dares to suggest that the war may be over, and for a moment we start to think that the series might just have a happy ending.

George: Well, hurrah! The big knobs have gone round the table and yanked the
iron out of the fire!

Darling: Thank God! We lived through it! The Great War: 1914-1917. 

And at that point you realise that it’s not to be, and our chaps charge forth in to TV comedy history.  

Over the last few days I’ve been willing the ‘big knobs’ around the various tables at Copenhagen to bury their differences and come away with some sort of legally binding structure that  will at least help my God-daughter, niece and all other rug-rats known to me to grow up in a world that is not an ecological disaster area.  I guess that deep in my heart I knew it was likely to be a hard job – a few weeks ago I attended a ‘Climatewalk’ event and expressed the view in debate that Copenhagen was unlikely to deliver, and at the time of writing it looks like I was right.

And so it goes on.  Politicians and non-Governmental representatives make statements about returning to discuss a binding deal in 2010, and then you know what it will be – 2011, 2012, and so on.  And all the time the global climate systems get closer to the ‘tipping point’ beyond which we cannot predict, let alone influence, what will happen.  Perhaps the task is too big for our elected representatives – maybe they’re holding out for some sort of miraculous intervention, or even hoping that something will happen in 2012 to remove the problem.  Some Governments are no doubt relying on being out of power in a year’s time, and thus leaving the problem for others.  And others do probably care more about keeping their own national interest sound than anything to do with the wider picture.

And anyway, for most people involved, when the coastal plains flood, when there are wars over water, when we have vast tracts of forests burning every summer – never mind.  They’ll have their bolt holes and armies to protect them on a personal basis.

So….a Modest Proposal. 

We live in a world stitched together by incredibly effective communications.  There is no longer a need for, for example, the UN to be in New York, or negotiations like this to be held in nice cities like Copenhagen.  I propose that we find a suitably sized, low-lying island or atoll in the Pacific – one that will basically drown in the next decades if we don’t get things sorted.  One where the food supply is governed by the climate, and that would best be in an area that gets a few typhoons.  We then build a massive conference centre with living accommodation on this island, and choose by lot people of senior executive level from Government, Non-Governmental and Business organisations to go there and stay there until deals are sorted out. 

And just to concentrate the minds of politicians, we send their families there as well.  Visting rights would be arranged – we’re civilised.  Put the beaurocrats there from places like the UN, and let ’em negotiate.  Because they’re not coming home until it’s fixed.  

Perhaps the world’s leading polluters could send the families of their leaders to this paradise – no expense would be spared in making it a beautiful and safe place to live.  It’s just one that will drown in a few years, along with everyone on it, if we don’t sort things out.  Maybe generations of people will grow up there whilst the big knobs try and sort things out.

I know, it’s a crackpot, harebrained scheme – mad.  And, as Edmund Blackadder might have commented were he around today, who’d notice another mad scheme in a world full of them.