About me

Get new posts by email.

About me

The silly Cnut

On Sunday, the country was subject to the ignominy of our Prime Minister standing next to a flood and talking about how his Government had spent £5.2bn on flood defences—as he put it, ‘overall investment that’s going into flood defences is at a very, very high level’.

I don’t know what reaction this was intended to provoke, but it’s hard to believe that anyone who witnessed the spectacle didn’t think, ‘Well, it’s not bloody working, is it?’

This would be a slightly unfair conclusion—Government investment in flood defences protected thousands of homes—but the choice of imagery is baffling to the point of incompetence.

King Cnut is often maligned as believing he could use his power to stop the tide from coming in, whereas the legend is actually that he commanded the sea to retreat as a demonstration of his own lack of power. There is a hint of the, shall we say, ‘silly’ version of the Cnut story in standing in a flooded area and talking about the billions the Government has spent on avoiding that very fate.

Of course, the heavy periods of rain which cause this sort of flooding will only increase as we further corrupt Earth’s climate. A warmer atmosphere means more evaporation which means more rain: I don’t need to rehearse the water cycle for you, though basic scientific principles are sometimes a challenge for senior politicians.

Sunak’s decision to pour cold water on the UK’s net zero strategy also guarantees pouring floodwater into people’s kitchens, bathrooms, and living rooms.

For example, over 80% of new cars sold in Norway are now electric; sales of petrol and diesel cars will be banned next year. Rishi Sunak refuses to aim for the same here even within a decade.

When Sunak expels hot air in claiming that the UK is ‘leading the world’ on climate change, it neither makes it true nor dries anyone’s flooded home. It only serves to underline his disconnect from the reality the rest of us face.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics, , .

Zero gain

The UK Government doesn’t see the climate catastrophe as one of its ‘priorities’—‘stopping the boats’ is more important than protecting the future of life of Earth. Perhaps, then, I shouldn’t be surprised by the newspaper reports this morning that Sunak is descending further into populism by ‘watering down’ his climate commitments.

Liam Byrne’s ‘there’s no money left’ note has been a millstone around the neck of the Labour Party for the last 13 years.

We’re often told that the Conservative Party is an election winning machine. It is incredible that their strategists can’t see that this policy is their own equivalent if they are hoping to return to Government in 2029 or 2034—after five or ten more years of growing floods, fires, and climate-related chaos.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics, Post-a-day 2023, .

Snowflake says the world is ending

In Garbage Day recently, Ryan Broderick wrote:

About three years ago, Atlantic writer Charlie Warzel tweeted something that has always stuck with me. In regards to the then still-emerging coronavirus outbreak, Warzel wrote, “The coronavirus scenario I can’t stop thinking about is the one where we simply get used to all the dying. There’s a national precedent: America’s response to gun violence.”

He was, of course, right about that. But I think he inadvertently summed up America’s national response to pretty much every large-scale systemic crisis we’re bound to face going forward. The weather’s going to keep getting worse and the right-wing media ecosystem will downplay or outright deny it, and, more often than not, they’ll find ways to tie the acknowledgement of it to definitions of masculinity. And just like the folks who thought they could ride out the pandemic without a vaccine or masks because they were tough, only to end up on ventilators, so too will a lot of folks get hurt trying to man up and ignore the rising temperatures.

This is one of those sets of observations that ties together a lot of disparate strands of thought, making me see something slightly differently—and while Broderick (and Warzel) were writing about America, I think their ideas are more generally applicable.

Of course I’ve heard people dismiss the impacts of climate change, saying that the temperatures aren’t as high as they were in 197X. Of course I’ve seen how gun violence is seemingly just accepted in the States, where other considerations and vested interests have come to count for more than human life. Of course, I’ve witnessed the rapid spread of harmful anti-scientific views during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course I’ve seen the proliferation of toxic ideas of masculinity and the dismissive branding of those expressing genuine concerns as ‘snowflakes’.

But I’ve never before seen so clearly how the combination of those things could conspire in the context of climate change. It’s sobering.

The image at the top of this post was generated by Midjourney.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Post-a-day 2023, , , , .

Driving less when working

As a result of being based in a shared regional office, I’m in the strange professional position that my desk is about 30 miles away from the geographical area I cover. This setup results in a fair amount of unavoidable travel from the office to the people and places that my eyes need to see.

For my first few years in the role, I tackled this by driving a lot. This was convenient, especially because my parked car could often become a ‘mobile office’ where I could catch up on work, chair teleconferences, and even sometimes deliver online teaching sessions. I even bought a desk that clipped onto my steering wheel to assist with this.

I came to realise, though, that this wasn’t great for a person whose job is focused on protecting the health of the public. I drive a small car, but I was still no doubt emitting more carbon than I needed to be. I therefore made a special effort to start using public transport whenever possible… but there were two problems with this.

The first was that I wasn’t all that convinced that this was truly helping the carbon issue. Typically, it meant taking a diesel-powered train or bus, often as one of only a handful of passengers. But I decided that this was out of my control, and I had to trust the system to do the right thing: if I adopt the ‘right’ behaviour, then it’s up to others to make sure that it counts.1

The second was that it didn’t seem to be possible all that often. I’d either have back-to-back meetings, or there would be a teleconference straight after a meeting, or the transport timing didn’t line up, or the venue wasn’t especially accessible. Basically, I still ended up driving quite a lot.

I’ve noticed something interesting, though: post-pandemic, I’ve found this transition to public transport somewhat easier. I’ve taken public transport much more often. As I sat on the train back from James Cook this week, I was pondering why this was. I think there are maybe five factors.

The first is that in-person meetings have become much rarer these days. Online meetings have become the default option, even for things where they were previously considered impossible. This means that I don’t feel so bad about taking slightly longer to travel to and from them, and that the occasions where I have back-to-back in-person meetings at poorly connected places have become far more unusual.

The second is that I’ve genuinely adopted a mindset of public transport being the default, which has been helped by the break in physical meetings occurring. This has resulted in a subtle but significant change in my thinking: if I can’t do two meetings because they are geographically incompatible, then I’ll have to miss one of them. If I’m supposed to be chairing a meeting when I’m scheduled to be on a bus, then the meeting is going to have to move or find another chair. The option of driving has become a last resort, whereas it was more of a second-preference before, despite my intentions.

The third—possibly related—is that I’ve become phlegmatic about public transport disruptions. If I am supposed to be somewhere, but public transport lets me down, then I no longer feel a sense of responsibility about that. I plan my days with reasonable buffers to account for predictable problems, but if exceptional events disrupt it, then that’s out of my control. The same was always possible when driving, in any case.

The fourth is that technology has moved on. I can now do a lot more when I’m on public transport than I could before. Most of these changes are relatively ‘soft’. People often default to chatting to me on Microsoft Teams instead of phoning, which turns out to be much easier to handle on a noisy train. More services have moved to the cloud, which means that I can do more work on my phone rather than having to try to balance a laptop on my knee on the bus.

Finally—and I’ve only realised this belatedly—I have a responsibility to role-model behaviour that accords with an understanding of the threat posed by the climate crisis. I’m not claiming to be an environmental saint by any means: my overall patterns of behaviour are probably quite poor. Yet, it doesn’t really inspire change if the doctor in charge of protecting the public from environmental hazards is happy to drive everywhere. I realised this after I recently gave some junior colleagues an email address, and the only thing I had to hand to write on was a used bus ticket: they looked at it as though they’d never been on a bus before, and it set me thinking.

It will be interesting to see whether this changes over time.

  1. This is a position I also adopt on recycling. I sometimes read about questionable recycling practices, such as allegations that plastic recycling ends up in landfill or in the ocean or whatever. But I’m not in charge of that. If I’ve reduced and reused as much as I can, and presented my recycling according to the supplied guidelines, then I just have to trust that the ‘system’ will do the rest.

This post was filed under: Health, Post-a-day 2023, .

Five links worth clicking

The third in an occasional series of posts listing things I’ve enjoyed on the web recently.

We Tried On a Kylie Jenner Swimsuit so You Wouldn’t Have To

I’m in the perhaps fortunate position of having really no knowledge of Kylie Jenner. I don’t know what she’s famous for, and I couldn’t pick her out of a line-up. Yet, it seems she has designed some bestselling swimwear, and Flora Gill’s review in Air Mail made me laugh out loud.

While wearing the triangle bikini top, every crevice of my breast was clearly visible; if my nipples were braille, they’d be in caps lock.

But for me the real issue came with the bikini bottom. Here I found myself having to make a decision I don’t often debate with my clothing: Would I rather show my butt crack or my entire bush?

It appears that the power of celebrity to sell knows no bounds.

A decent death

I’ve long been in favour of assisted suicide in theory, though never been entirely convinced that the necessary safeguards could be implemented in practice. I’ll admit that it’s not a topic I’ve given a great deal of thought to recently, but knowing that there have been successful schemes around the world for decades now, I’m probably willing to concede the latter point.

It’s the former point on which Stephen Sedley concentrates in his article for the LRB, plus the politics of the topic. It’s one of those articles that is fascinating from beginning to end, though I accept he’s preaching to the converted. These sentences in particular struck me:

The theological interdictions were not limited to the belief, spoken or unspoken, that all terminal suffering, whatever its degree and duration, was God’s will and not to be curtailed. Anaesthesia was for years opposed on the same ground.

I had no idea that there had been a religious objection to anaesthesia. It’s a fact that feels so loaded with potential for analogy that I’m amazed I’ve never come across it before.

In the same issue, Frederick Wilmott-Smith has a short piece on the US Supreme Court and Texas’s Senate Bill 8, severely limiting access to abortion, which contains this harrowing pair of sentences:

One child, raped by a family member, took an eight-hour journey from Galveston to Oklahoma to get an abortion. Many – principally those without the means to travel out of state – will simply be unable to obtain abortions.

Combined with much else from the last few years, it’s hard not to wonder whether the still-young experiment of the US approach to Government and democracy may be taking a dark turn.

Stop telling kids they’ll die from climate change

According to an article in Wired by Hannah Ritchie,

A recent survey asked 10,000 16- to 25-year-olds in 10 countries about their attitudes about climate change. The results were damning. More than half said “humanity was doomed”; three-quarters said the future was frightening; 55 percent said they would have less opportunities than their parents; 52 percent said family security would be threatened; and 39 percent were hesitant to have children as a result. These attitudes were consistent across countries rich and poor, big and small: from the United States and the United Kingdom to Brazil, the Philippines, India, and Nigeria.

I was quite convinced by the argument that we ought to look at the positives associated with climate change action in their own right, not only as methods of averting disaster. This is also an argument Caroline Lucas often makes, but Ritchie’s framing of the argument in terms of protecting the mental health of young people felt fresh and newly convincing to me.

This government has unleashed something far worse than “sleaze”

For Prospect, Nicholas Reed Langen has written a short but pointed article on the current Government’s attempts to avoid scrutiny.

Throughout his entire premiership, Johnson has shown contempt for anything and anyone who subjects him to independent scrutiny or who holds him to account. In anticipation of opposition from MPs, he tried to prorogue parliament in the weeks leading up to Brexit, and after the Supreme Court struck down his decision, turned his fire on the courts, trying to intimidate the judiciary into a more deferential stance—something which has arguably been achieved, given government ministers’ praise of recent decisions.

And Stuart Heritage covers the same ground in more humorous terms in Airmail (“Short of being an armorer on an Alec Baldwin set, it’s hard to see how his situation could get any worse.”)

Votes for children! Why we should lower the voting age to six

David Runciman has long been arguing for children to have the vote; this Guardian article is as good an exposition of that view as any.

There is no good reason to exclude children from the right to vote. Indeed, I believe there is a strong case for lowering the voting age to six, effectively extending the franchise to any child in full-time education. When I have made this case, as I have done in recent years in a variety of different forums, I am always struck by the reaction I get. It is incredulity. What possible reason could there be to do something so seemingly reckless and foolhardy? Most audiences recognise that our democracy is growing fractious, frustrated and frustrating. Our political divisions are wide and our institutions seem ill-equipped to handle them. But nothing surely could justify allowing children to join in. Wouldn’t it simply make everything worse?

It would not.

I always enjoy listening to Runciman make this argument. My initial reaction was one of incredulity, assuming that it was a terrible idea for reasons I couldn’t quite articulate. Runciman then does a good job of explaining why it feels uncomfortable, and demolishing those arguments.

The argument is an interesting thought exercise, and also a little more convincing each time I hear it.

This post was filed under: Five links worth clicking, , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

The content of this site is copyright protected by a Creative Commons License, with some rights reserved. All trademarks, images and logos remain the property of their respective owners. The accuracy of information on this site is in no way guaranteed. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author. No responsibility can be accepted for any loss or damage caused by reliance on the information provided by this site. Information about cookies and the handling of emails submitted for the 'new posts by email' service can be found in the privacy policy. This site uses affiliate links: if you buy something via a link on this site, I might get a small percentage in commission. Here's hoping.