The reply from my MP, Sally-Ann Hart

Not that I had much expectation in the reply, but to read that the police violence is justified because of the pandemic – no mention that the man arrested and charged with the murder of Sarah Everard is a serving police officer. No attempt to justify the inconsistency between free speech being imposed in universities whilst being withdrawn from civil society. But we have to get the balance right between people going about their lawful business and the right to protest (a right that existed previously), but now has to be balanced with silence.

Dear Mr Grantham,

Thank you for your email and taking the time to contact Sally-Ann. Please see her response below on the issues you raised in your email regarding the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill:

“Thank you for contacting me about protests and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
In this country, we have a long-standing tradition that people can gather together and demonstrate, and the right to protest peacefully is a fundamental part of our democracy.

As you will be aware, however, a national lockdown is currently in place. This means we must all stay at home and only leave for a small number of essential reasons as outlined in law. Everyone is required to follow these rules and it is for the police, in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service, to determine whether an action warrants possible criminal proceedings. We must not confuse current coronavirus regulations with a new Bill which introduces sensible measures to deal with disruptive behaviours whilst maintaining a right to peaceful protest.
.
Thankfully, due to the impact of the lockdown in England, as well as the ambitious vaccination programme, the Prime Minister has now outlined a roadmap out of lockdown. This outlines a safe and gradual lifting of restrictions culminating in hopes for an end to all legal limits on social contact from 21 June. I absolutely understand the strong desire to fully reinstate our civil liberties, and I would like to make clear that as soon as it is safe to do so this is something that I will wholeheartedly support. In the meantime, we must continue to follow the Prime Minister’s safe and gradual roadmap out of lockdown to help protect the NHS and save lives.

More generally, I would like to make clear that under no circumstances do I believe that protests should become violent. The rights to a peaceful protest do not extend to harassment, intimidating behaviour or serious disruption to public order.
Of course, the responsibility for the maintenance of public order lies with the police, who have a range of powers to manage protests. How they deploy their powers and the tactics they use are rightly an operational matter for the police but I am pleased that we live in a country where policing is done by consent.

Over recent years, I have been concerned by the extensive disruption that some protests have caused. In particular, stopping people getting on with their daily lives, hampering the free press and blocking access to Parliament. I welcome the fact that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will strengthen police powers to tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect. These powers will allow the police to safely manage protests where they threaten public order and stop people from getting on with their daily lives. It is welcome news that the Government is taking action to ensure the crucial balance between the fundamental right to peaceful protest and the rights of people to get on with their daily lives is maintained.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me about this important topic and Bill.

Kind Regards, 
Sally-Ann Hart MP”

Book Review: What Would Nature Do? by Ruth DeFries

This book essentially says, if humanity had paid more attention to how nature deals with the uncertainties of life on Earth, then we might have avoided some of its calamities – for want of a better word. Of course, there are two so-called calamities afflicting humanity at the moment; namely, a global pandemic and climate change.

One can often tell the whether the author truly has something to say in the final chapter. Can the content be summarised and rendered coherent? Does it hang together? In this case, I am not entirely sure. In fact, the author herself admits it:

In a fit of writer’s block for this final chapter, I ventured downtown to the New York Public Library to see for myself the tiny Hunt-Lenox globe with medieval-style etchings of dragons and strange sea creatures…etched pictures of dragons and monsters signalled seas and lands not yet seen by European eyes, although other peoples had lived in those lands for eons.

(p151)

The dragons, of course, represent all of the things that humanity has not yet discovered. But in getting to where humanity sits currently, the global commons have been well-and-truly “over-grazed” and pathogens serially mis-managed, despite the lessons of history, let alone nature. I’ll return to the calamity shortly, but DeFreis does discuss what humans have learned, though probably inadvertently.

Ancient trees had arteries and veins in their leaves that if severed by a pest – or just something that ate them – the effect on the overall plant would be significant in a detrimental way. The ancient tree is the Gingko, which eventually evolved a toxin to put off insects. But other plants and trees evolved alternative approaches such as “loopy veins”. In the event of part of the leaf succumbing to insect lunch, the sugars created in the leaves could still be delivered to the rest of the tree because they could be re-routed. The most obvious human-created analogy of this is the internet’s packet system whereby the data generated by this blog are put into small packages and sent on their way, often taking different routes and then reconstituted in the reader’s computer and browser. However, much of the human world is hub-and-spoke; i.e. centralised. When things go wrong, bottlenecks occur and all things – commodities, manufacturing components, finished products, foodstuffs – get jammed. In the case of food, hunger ensues.

DeFreis (right) writes extensively about pathogens and viruses in the human and animal world. In the human world, in the absence of politicians, viruses have been dealt with and eradicated by science on the one hand, and (disease) management on the other. Management here is track-and-trace as well as equitable global distribution of vaccines and other technologies. As with Covid-19, no one is safe until everyone is safe. However, we can learn from ants, bees and termites. Ants, famous for living cheek-by-jowl, secrete disinfectant into their nests collected from wood resin. Termites spread their own faeces in their nest benefitting from antimicrobial properties (that seems counter-intuitive). Bees can kill pathogens by flapping their wings! And so on. Ultimately, though, highly social creatures can isolate their kin should they succumb to disease. Primarily, this is to protect the queen and not for the benefit of the sick individuals.

Moving on from viruses and disease, DeFreis talks about the commons – the atmosphere, the seas, water and land. I had not previously been aware of Garrett Hardin, a man who believed that the solution to the commons was to de-commonise them, enclose them and “protect” them from over-exploitation. DeFreis counters his work with a celebration of the studies of Elinor Ostrom who demonstrated that human beings can adequately manage and protect the commons. They do not need permission by a central authority. However, one size does not fit all; what works in one place, does not in others. This is, of course, part of the problem. People have to be given the space and time to work things out, set quotas and agree sanctions for those who either free-ride or break the rules.

Talking about breaking the rules, I had equally not previously been aware of the Biosphere experiment in Oracle, Arizona, back in 1991. Three men and three women entered a CELSS – closed ecosystem life support system – and stayed there for two years testing whether it was possible to replicate the Earth’s life support systems (with a view to building one on the Moon or a planet). It was funded by a Texan billionaire, Edward P Bass, the Elon Musk or his time, perhaps. It took 11 years to build. Nothing that was not already in the CELSS when they entered would be added. It was not plain sailing – crops were blighted by pests and the air became thin as the plants generated carbon dioxide and oxygen mysteriously disappeared.

And so back to what nature would do. Nature is parsimonious. The limiting factor is always energy. All energy is derived from the sun. First in plants, then animals and humans. Most animals conserve as much energy as they can. Certainly through a winter, food can be in short supply. However, nature also builds in redundancy. Those loopy leaves use more energy to build, but when under attack, they are a life saver. Some humans have adopted this principle in their products. Most aeroplanes have redundancy – if one part fails, another kicks in. Apollo 11 would not have made it to the moon had it not been for Margaret Hamilton’s redundant computer code! But our economy is parsimonious – global supply chains do not react well to disruption, something that is increasingly occurring.

Pumpjacks, Kern River Oil Field, California

Our economy is different in another way, too. It is extractive. Its whole rationale is perpetual growth. Its metrics – productivity, GDP – are just wrong. They perpetuate the extraction and ignore wellbeing. Moreover, instead of generating energy sustainably – from the sun as plants do – we draw on stored reserves of energy in fossil fuels. Growth is only possible by doing that. Nature does not do that. Nature is not capitalist. It does manage its commons – or it did until homo sapiens disrupted the equilibrium. DeFreis does not engage with this. The reality of an economic system that destroys not only itself by undermining the life-support systems of the planet is glossed over. There is no system change needed, only a closer attention to what nature would do.

I can see why this is not tackled. Authors who do end up being criticised like Andreas Malm was on publication of his book, Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency. It is not pretty. But neither is climate change.

Pictures:

Ruth DeFreis: By One Earth Future – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kiU0AlDsiPgPeace in the 21st Century: Ruth DeFries, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=96380874

Pumpjacks in Kern ROF, California: By Antandrus at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16373401

The UK models itself on Hungary?

The populist conservative government in the UK has shown itself to hold democracy and the UK parliament in contempt. The PM prorogued the parliament – that is, suspended it – in order to thwart attempts to avoid a no-deal Brexit in the summer of 2019. The Brexit Bill bringing into law the TCA (Trade and Cooperation Agreement) between the UK and the EU was pushed through in less-than a week to avoid the scrutiny of the committee system, itself designed to ensure law is robust and able to stand up to interrogation. The shortcomings of that law are on display daily at ports, shops and exporting firms across the country.

The next illiberal bill being pushed speedily through the parliament is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. I got wind of its illiberal content and aims from Ian Dunt. Consequently, I have written to my Conservative member of parliament, Sally-Ann Hart, to register my concern (reproduced below).

Viktor Orbán, PM, Hungary

As for heading towards being Hungary; the current PM’s predecessor fuelled the belief that the British courts were the enemies of the people when they were used to force the Government to follow the law. There is more of that to come, I’m sure. The UK will soon have its own version of Fox News – opinion rather than news. The existing regulator enforces partiality, but it is difficult to see how the two newly licensed channels are going to achieve that. Any doubters out there should also note that the new boss of the BBC has just cancelled – yes, cancelled – the satirical TV show, The Mash Report. Officially because it is not funny. Unofficially because it is.

11 March 2021

Dear Ms Hart,

Re: Free Speech

I work in a university with an honourable tradition of free speech. Your colleague, The Secretary of State for Education, believes that free speech is so important that it needs a champion to ensure that it is respected in our universities.

Meanwhile another of your colleagues, the Home Secretary, has published a bill designed to shut down free speech. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill has a number of provisions that are deeply anti-democratic. First, and for example, there is a potential for a noise restriction to be imposed on a demonstration if the police believe that it will cause a nuisance to anyone. I’ve been on many demonstrations exercising my democratic right to free speech. They are, by definition, noisy. That is the point, is it not?

Second, should a restriction be placed on the demonstration and a demonstrator violate it and arguing in court that they did not know about it, previously that was admissible. Under this law, it will not. A person on a demonstration will need to know all of the restrictions imposed on the demonstration or face prosecution.

Thirdly, a demonstration by a lone individual would have the same status.

Finally, the Home Secretary will be given powers to change a definition of “serious disruption” under a statutory instrument. This is a wholly inappropriate use of such a mechanism.

Why is there such a difference between the Home Office and the Department for Education on the question of free speech?

I trust that you will resist the attempt in the bill to curtail and criminalise free speech in our country.

Kind regards,

Andrew Grantham

Pic: European Peoples’ Party

Climate Watch: Ireland exports calves by air!

Amongst greenhouse gases, methane is probably the worst with carbon dioxide caused by burning fossil fuels being the most prevalent. Aviation fuel is still a fossil fuel last time I looked. The Irish Government clearly did some climate-denial overtime to come up with the following: in order to improve the welfare of unweaned calves, instead of packing them in lorries and sending them to the Netherlands, they’ll pack them in transporter planes instead (Guardian, 6 March 2021).

Notwithstanding the fact that veal is a low-welfare meat, transporting any food commodity by air is to be avoided. Transporting a sack of methane, doubly so. If our politicians cannot get their heads around the kind of changes needed to tackle the climate change emergency, what hope for everyone else?

Pic: By David Monniaux – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=234720

Climate Watch: nothing in the UK budget for climate mitigation

On 3 March 2021, Rishi Sunak (left) the British Finance Minister (aka Chancellor of the Exchequer), presented his budget for the year ahead and beyond. Headline issues – taxes are going up for corporations (from 19-25pc) and for workers (freezing of tax thresholds). Public-sector wages are going up at a level essentially half that of inflation (equating to a pay cut) and public services will receive less money into the future, including the National Health Service. There is no support for social care.

Whilst the idea of corporation tax going up seems good, it depends on how many small/medium-sized enterprises get caught out by it relative to those firms that offshore much of the taxable earnings.

The budget also provides perks for homeowners looking to sell already price-inflated properties (stamp duty). There are no proposals regarding wealth or capital gains taxes. Those with wealth will keep it, seemingly.

What about climate change? What about investment in sustainable technologies and lifestyle changes needed to reach net-carbon zero by 2050? Erm, nothing. One programme – £1.5bn green homes scheme – seemingly failed, despite grants available to insulate homes and switch to alternative heating methods such as heat pumps. What I did not know is that the government had outsourced this programme to a US company (Virginia) that failed to pay the grants to applicants. This led to some firms actually having to shed workers (Guardian, 5 March 2021).

There is a new investment bank being set up (the Cameron Government sold a very similar entity in 2012), but its capital is paltry – £12bn. That might sound a lot, but this is a climate emergency, and unlike the pandemic, it is not going away. And what is more, the investments are not guaranteed to be climate zero or below – the priority is jobs, it seems, not carbon.

Finally, as the Guardian rightly points out, there is no money for public awareness; to promote the small things that all citizens can do such as eat less meat, recycle/reuse, save energy, etc. Without a broad change in attitudes, it is business as usual until it is not.

Pic: By Chris McAndrew – https://tinyurl.com/yxyt5be7

Book review: Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency by Andreas Malm

Gripping title, even more gripping content. It is made up of four elements: this is the climate emergency, this is Corona, this is how they are related to one another (be rest assured, they are) and this is what we do about it. The latter section is effectively a call to resistance. The word “sabotage” is used, and there are plenty of references to Marx, Soviets and Rosa Luxemberg.

Book cover

Let me take one step back. Malm is, in my opinion, one of the 21st Century’s great thinkers in the fields of climate, capitalism and now pandemics. Let me just qualify that – one of with the caveat that he is white, male and prosperous. If any readers can direct me to thinkers in his area that do not have this profile, please let me know. I genuinely want to understand these dynamics better. However, Malm’s earlier book, Fossil Capital, is transformative as a text on capitalist ideology – in the league of EP Thompson’s, Making of the English Working Class and, more esoterically, Nick von Tunzelman’s Technology and Industrial Progress: The Foundations of Economic Growth (both texts widely discussed by Malm). Where Fossil Capital was uncompromising in its extended narrative and detail, Corona is short, 175 pages (though with extensive end notes), and with pace that is difficult to keep up with. But we must, such is the real emergency here.

Readers of this blog are well aware of the arguments surrounding climate change, these are rehearsed in the early part of the text. Malm refers extensively – and rightly – to his earlier work. Humanity’s – by which he means capital’s – pursuit of growth enabled by the extraordinary store of energy captured in fossil fuels, is at the root of the current emergency. Growth has led to wealth, both absolute and relative, even in the poorest and most unequal societies and countries where capitalism is practised. Capitalism is inherently extractive and that means destruction of habitats. Now we can look at habitats – forests, for example – as exploitable resources, or we can look at them as places where there is essential biodiversity – counterintuitively, higher biodiversity correlates with lower transmission of pathogens (p41) – and the place where animals carrying pathogens live out of harms way . It is in this destruction and the stress it imposes on other creatures, according to Malm, that the pathogen makes the leap – zoonotic spillover – from animal to human.

We know that Covid-19 – or Sars-CoV-2 as it is now known – was likely to have been transmitted from bats (though probably through an intermediary animal). Prior to reading Malm, I did not really know anything about bats other than the fact they are flying mammals and they use some form of echo system to navigate at night. I certainly did not know that they very peculiar physiology – they being the only flying mammals – makes them supremely good hosts of viruses. In fact, Malm paints the picture of them as flying virus hotels (my image, not his). The bats have a unique immunity to the viruses and so close contact between humans and bats in, say, for example, a wild animal market in a densely-populated city, can have devastating consequences.

Malm reserves a special place for aviation in linking climate change and the pandemic. We should already be familiar with the arguments about aviation’s contribution to global emissions – not the highest but a significant contributor. The warming leads animals and birds to migrate further north, taking their pathogens with them. Fauna not used to mixing, goes Malm’s argument, do so and the pathogens take the opportunity to jump – so-called zoonotic spillover. Furthermore “[M]ost of the tens of thousands of novel pathogen exchanges anticipated along these routes will take place between one species of wild animal and another, but it will be a moving laboratory of genetic recombination, in which parasites may learn to make longer jumps: And their hosts will bump into, or skirt past humans. Viral sharing events are likely to be most common in places with fairly dense human populations, such as the Ethiopian highlands , Indonesia and – crossroads again – eastern China.” (p87)

The extent to which this is fact or hypothesis, I’m not sure. Malm’s extensive endnotes are detailed and derived from valid academic and informed sources. The causality of zoonotic transmission from animals to humans is not yet clear. Writing in the Conversation and reproduced in the Guardian, Dominic Dwyer who was on the recent World Health Organisation mission/investigation to Wuhan can only confirm that the likelihood of the virus being manufactured in a lab is very small indeed. The probability that the source is bats is very high, but the transmission route remains unclear. The Wuhan “wet market” is a viable option, but there remains no evidence that the transmission to took place there, despite the presence of bats, civits, pangolins, bamboo rats and ferret badgers, all viable carriers of corona viruses.

Whatever the particular circumstances surrounding the particular case of Covid-19, Malm’s argument is a wider one, the more humans encroach on territories of wild animals, destroy their habit and force migrations north and into the human world, the greater is the likelihood of zoonotic transmission. Deadly though Covid-19 is, the next one could be a lot worse, and it will come sooner rather than later.

Back to aviation. Aviation is a contributor to a warming planet – becoming like Venus, as he puts it. It was also a transmission bridge or mechanism for spreading the human Covid-19 around the world in a remarkably short space of time. This book is full of linkages of this kind, one almost makes a list as he reveals like participating in a treasure hunt.

What is to be done?

I remember as a student this translation of Lenin’s question relating to the October Revolution. Malm draws on Lenin, Trotsky, Marx, Rosa Luxemberg; though interestingly, not Gramsci. He does this because he believes that “the time for gradualism is over” (p121). It is time for the state to reassert itself (he having flirted with anarchism as a younger man). But more than that, for us to take control of the state. That by my reading is revolution, not a reassertion, at least in the first instance.

Drawing on Lenin again, Malm reminds us of Lenin’s other major text from 1917, The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It. The catastrophe was different, but of the same magnitude for the people of Russia. The people were engaged in combatting the catastrophe and the state took control of the means of production, food supplies and land, essentially declaring war on need. By contrast, of course, humanity (capitalists, more precisely) has declared war on the planet. Those of us who want either to survive, or pass something liveable on to those who come after us, need to declare war on capital.

Capitalism has to go because it cannot be a solution to the warming planet. First he suggests that if we leave it to capitalists to solve, carbon capture will have to be marketised – turned into a product that has commercial value. This is not possible because of the scale of carbon capture needed and the price that can be levied on, and for, carbon. The state has to have carbon capture as a function, not as a market opportunity. Indeed, as Jason Hickel reminds us, carbon capture is factored into the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015. Carbon neutrality is contingent on carbon capture! Second, left to the capitalists, geoengineering will be imposed upon us. This means sulphate aerosol injection – what he calls a pseudo-solution – that will pay handsomely for suppliers, but have unanticipated – and predictably negative – consequences for the planet’s inhabitants. It is a shield from the heat needing regular topping up, as it were.

A state following a doctrine of Economic Leninism then, is one that [takes] “control of trade flows, chased down wildlife traffickers, nationalised fossil fuel companies, organised direct air capture, planned the economy to cut nearly 10 per cent of emissions per year and did all other necessary things…” (p166).

And so back to the link between Covid-19 and climate change. The link is real, even if direct causality is difficult to establish. Plundering of the earth in pursuit of growth and human gratification must end. States have reasserted themselves in tackling Covid-19, albeit imperfectly. To do it “perfectly”, the state needs to be much more robust and undertake a paradigm shift either leading its people or, even better, the people leading it. Finally, “[m]ore precisely, zoonotic spillover of this earth-shattering magnitude should make it clear that defending wild nature against parasitic capital is now human self-defence. But the conscious organisation of such defence is solely up to humans” (p173).

I have nothing more to add.

Postscript to travelling during a pandemic

About 3 hours ago, the British Covid-19 surveillance service (or whatever it is called), phoned me to check that I was behaving myself; i.e. self-isolating. I was also asked to confirm my year of birth and reminded of the symptoms of Covid-19. If you get a call from a 0300 number, probably worth answering it to limit the badgering. I do not usually answer such numbers, but I just had a feeling.

Travelling during a pandemic

Hopefully most readers are not travelling at the moment. Staying put is safer and, frankly, much less stressful. I am a frequent traveller to Europe for family reasons and have experienced most things – delayed trains and planes due to failed infrastructure, sick or unregistered passengers and luggage, unruly passengers, theft of my possessions, dodgy hotels, the lot. And then there is Brexit – my passport no longer seems to get me through eGates in Germany (we’ll see if that is a one-off or permanent) and, of course, as a non-EU citizen, I can only be a country for 90 days in every 180 and am barred from working.

Now before I get ripped to shreds on my hypocrisy flying as I do but also constantly banging on about climate change, let me state the following. Travelling is for family reasons, and whilst 15 years’ ago when I first established family connections in Germany, my ignorance – despite friends warning me about my carbon footprint – meant that flying was a viable option. Clearly things have changed, but my family has not. I need to travel to be with them. During the pandemic, I have been travelling less for three reasons. First, it is quite difficult; second, it is dangerous and inappropriate (lockdowns are lockdowns after all); third, I have the privileged of being able to work from home. With regard to flying, I am an advocate of a frequent-flier levy – the more one flies, the more you pay. And exponentially. That would hit me hard financially, and rightly so. I am also hopeful now of structural changes that will enable me to travel more often – or always – by train. The pandemic has demonstrated that we can work remotely. I am healthier and less stressed because of it. We will see how committed employers are to the permanent change in the future. I am hopeful, but not convinced. There is also talk of a new Trans-Europe Express to help people to move across Europe without planes.

What follows is an account of my experience to help others. Having travelled for many years, there are many like me who have family on the continent.

View from Hilton hotel, Hatton CrossI passed through Heathrow airport on Sunday evening (14 February). I travelled with British Airways – currently offering 2 flights per week Munich – London. Originally I was scheduled to come back the previous day with easyJet, but that plane was cancelled, with the next scheduled option being sometime in March. On 18 January, the British Government imposed a requirement of a negative Covid test on all arrivals. That was fine, but an extra task to fulfil prior to travelling. Travelling on a Sunday meant that I took the test on the previous Thursday giving enough time for the result to be notified assuming that weekend lab work is not likely. Sunday was, hence, the last day of validity for the test. If the plane did not go on Sunday, I’d have to take another test (€130). 

The plane arrived at its stand an hour before departure. The plane was fully boarded (busy but not full) at the scheduled departure time, 1745. But we were 45 minutes late pushing back from the stand due to an administrative error at the gate. Munich Airport would not allow the plane to go until everything was in order. Fair enough, I suppose. After being pushed back we waited motionless for about 10 minutes before the pilot announced that the plane had been damaged in the pushback. Engineers were called. 2 hours later, authorisation was given to fly.

I do not live anywhere near Heathrow Airport, and it being Sunday, the UK railway network enjoyed its usual scattering of engineering works, including on my routes home. If I was able to catch the last train/bus home, I expected to be back about 0300 – not a great prospect. But UK borders are never straightforward, and particularly with the need to demonstrate a negative Covid test and a valid passenger locator form (which includes payment of £210 for two Variant tests to be delivered to one’s home 2 and 5 days after arrival). Even though the arrivals are few, the border area was full and a long queue that snaked its way back and forth was created. Familiar image. Mingle, mingle, mingle.

The eGates were open as additional security staff were checking the documentation. My passport was rejected by the eGates and IHotel breakfast had to stand in another queue to be approved by a border official – there was only one on duty. In total, I was about 1 hour getting across the border. I decided to take a hotel rather than attempt the journey home. I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel at Hatton Cross (close to the Tube Station). Hotel prices are half of what one would normally pay, so that was not too onerous, though still a cost. The view (above left) was a shade dystopian, however. But I recommend the hotel if readers are ever in the same position. I bought breakfast – one retrieves it from the kitchen and consume it in one’s room. It was fine (right).

On Monday (15 February 2021) I was able to travel to the South Coast of England. The Tube and overland trains were largely quiet. I am now observing an obligatory 10 days’ quarantine. I stocked up on non-perishables before I departed, so I have most of what I need for the duration. Safe travels.

Bill Gates and climate change

Bill GatesAs if he was not rich enough already (the richest man in the world until Jeff Bezos supplanted him in 2018), he wants me to buy his book as well. So this is based on what I have read about the book in interviews and bits published in newspapers. I think he owes us a free copy, especially if what he says is important for life on the planet.

There are so many contradictions in the man and what he says. Notwithstanding the fact that he became super-rich (not just rich, a concept that I can cope with) off the backs of others and not paying tax, he admits to flying private jets – and indeed has investments in a private jet company – and eating beef burgers. Lots of them. Seemingly the farting and burping of bovines amounts to 4% greenhouse gas emissions – so stopping eating them is not going to make much difference. He offsets his conscience by investing in Beyond Meat, a plant-based tech company that makes burgers that taste and act like meat. But tell me, Mr Gates, what about the contribution of beef to deforestation? Those trees as so important for carbon capture, but the more meat you eat, the more forest is destroyed to graze cattle and grow soya for them to eat. So it is not just about emissions, it is about the loss of natural carbon capture and, by consequence, biodiversity. Not to mention, human health. But maybe that is somewhere in the book that I have not read?

Being rich, his offsetting – a dodgy concept at the best of times – is in paying an Icelandic technology carbon capture firm to neutralise his emissions. That is beyond most of us. Moreover, he is also investing in nuclear fusion, the holy grail of energy generation. Good for him.

Of course, like most of these rich people who have become converts to addressing climate change, they are trying to do so as believers in capitalist management. The problem, arguably, has its roots in capitalist management. The solution is in a different paradigm. That does not suit super-richness.

He’s not a fan of Extinction Rebellion, which is fair enough. But his reason is quite bizarre. When Extinction Rebellion is blocking  roads in pursuit of its agenda, there are people in the traffic jam who are innovators (like himself). They are having innovation time stolen from them by ER people, making climate change worse. Yeah, right.

He does not think kindly also about Greta Thunberg. In his interview in the Guardian newspaper he said “you can’t have a movement without high-visibility figures. I hope she’s not messing up her education. She seems very clever.” It was pointed out that he himself dropped out of Harvard to set up Microsoft – so messing up an education is okay for some. It is the point of many politicians criticising young people who support Fridays for Future. They are messing up their education. When the young people are actually saying, “you are denying me a future”. And yes, she’s clever. Despite her sojourn to the USA last year, she still managed to win a school prize for performance.

By contrast, he is an admirer of the father of one of the most destructive corporations on the planet, Charles Koch. Moreover, not only are Koch Industries companies huge greenhouse gas emitters (big on fossil fuels), the Koch brothers have donated possibly billions of dollars in climate denial propaganda in the US and also in the UK. The contrarians in the UK are supported by Koch money.

So, an 18-year old fighting for her/a future with no corporate money behind her is misguided; but a rich owner of a planet damaging corporation is a friend.

What is worth considering in what he is saying? Here is a short list:

  • visiting manufacturing factories, sewage works and farms is a good thing (he took his son to various plants to show him how things are done)
  • cement is a problem
  • steel manufacture is a problem
  • electric cars are not a solution – hydrogen is the fuel of the future for mobility
  • it’s not the temperature that is the problem, rather the rate of change (outstripping evolutionary adaptation)
  • education is important
  • Gates is not conspiring to insert microchips into us all through Covid vaccines. Vaccines are and have been, transformative in human civilisation, saved many lives and much suffering. On that we can agree.

Picture: United States Department of Health and Human Services – https://www.flickr.com/photos/hhsgov/39912162735/

Camel goes wild

Camel cigarette packetThe genius of marketers. Here we go, Camel leveraging its brand with an animal edition – not just camels anymore, but pandas, big cats, sea lions, octopus and other Tiere (animals) – perfect for a play on words Limitiert! Unbelievably clever. The product remains the same. Deadly.