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Fiddling while Barcelona burns

I was surprised earlier this week to read of the drought in Barcelona, which has been ongoing for the last three years. I don’t think I’ve heard about it previously. Sandrine Morel’s article in Le Monde sets out several drastic actions which have been taken, including painting patches of grass green, restricting the use of showers in gyms and sports clubs, and planning to fill swimming pools with seawater. There’s a concerted effort to hide the problem from tourists, given the degree to which the local economy is reliant on them.

On February 12, Barcelona mayor Jaume Collboni visited the Pedralbes monastery and asked the nuns to pray for rain.

Two new desalination plants will come online in 2028, but I’m sure that feels a long time away for residents who can’t shower after playing friendly football games on the municipal pitches. As the summer looms, there are interim contingency plans to import (relatively small) quantities of water by ship, as became necessary during a less severe drought in 2008. The drought also affects trees: as more of them die off, less carbon dioxide is absorbed, fuelling climate change further.

It continues to be confounding how little impact these sorts of events have on UK politics. We still drown in endless debates about what’s ‘affordable’ in mitigating climate catastrophe, seemingly disregarding the costs associated with the inevitable consequences of inaction. It’s unconscionable that climate change is nowhere to be found on Rishi Sunak’s list of five priorities—though given his singular inability to make progress on his priority areas, perhaps it makes little difference.

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

Europe is on the right track

I would have guessed that I’d visited almost all of the most populous cities in the European Union. However, on checking a list, it turns out that I’ve only been to five of the top ten, and ten of the top twenty. Somehow, I’ve never visited the EU’s biggest city: Berlin.

The news in Le Monde of the return of night trains from Paris to Berlin might just change that. The idea of hopping down from Newcastle to London on a Saturday morning, taking the Eurostar on a Saturday afternoon, wandering across Paris to connect with the Nightjet at 19.12 and waking in Berlin at 08.26 on Sunday sounds impossibly relaxing, and certainly more luxurious than a connecting flight.

My history with sleeper trains is limited. I vaguely remember taking Motorail night trains through France in my youth, with the family car on board: those services were all discontinued more than a decade ago.

I enjoyed a trip on Britain’s very own Caledonian Sleeper last year. While I’ve had no call to do so this year, I would prefer the sleeper to an evening on the East Coast Mainline and a cheap London hotel if I need to be in London early for work purposes. Showering on a moving train was a strange and memorable experience: I’m pleased to see that, like the Caledonian Sleeper, the Paris to Berlin Nightjets similarly have deluxe compartments with their own bathrooms. I’m a deluxe kind of guy: I read Midnight Trains’s weekly newsletter without fail, and look forward to the day when I’ll be able to check into their ‘luxury hotel on rails’.

While I don’t have a great deal of experience with sleeper trains, I have become increasingly fond of using trains for international travel. That’s only partly attributable to flygskam; the better part of it is that train travel feels so much more laid back and relaxing than flying. It typically takes a little longer, but that’s a virtue: it really allows time to sink into the experience of travelling and to enjoy it for its own sake, rather than as a means to an end. There’s something ineffably luxurious about spending time in the act of travelling rather than rushing from place to place. I’m in the small proportion of travellers who intentionally book very long layovers on connecting flights for that exact reason: I’d rather have time to collect my thoughts and fill my stomach in an airport lounge than to be harried from gate to gate.

The European sleeper train renaissance therefore feels right up my street.

The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3.

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

How Daft Punk got lucky

I’ve mentioned a number of times on this blog, though always in passing, that I enjoy Daft Punk’s music. I was saddened to learn of their split in February 2021.

Last week, Le Monde published a fanatic five-part series of long reads by Bruno Lesprit. Under the title ‘how Daft Punk got lucky’, the series went into far more detail on the duo than I’ve ever read before. I enjoyed it enormously.

The articles aren’t very well linked on the English version of the Le Monde site, so here the five articles in orderfor convenience:

There were two particularly stand-out takeaways from this series.

Firstly, Daft Punk have released a new, extended, tenth anniversary edition of Random Access Memories—my favourite of their albums—and the news had completely passed me by. Guess what I’ve been streaming while I’ve been writing this?

Secondly, this was a thing that happened in this crazy world of ours, and I’d forgotten all about it:

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

A pernicious show of powerlessness

Le Monde had a great editorial on Friday about the UK government’s attitude to asylum seekers. Its conclusion:

In the UK, as in other countries such as France, debates on immigration are in urgent need of candor, especially in light of labor shortages. The UK, far from being “overrun,” as Braverman claims, registers far fewer asylum seekers than France or Germany. London suffers from a lack of efficiency in processing applications, 166,000 of which are pending. Brexit has led the British to deprive themselves of European coordination tools, and to a policy that favors migrants from distant countries over Europeans.

As for the real ways of managing migration, they mainly involve improving European cooperation policies and our relations with the countries of origin. Unless they have the courage to speak the truth, the leaders of developed countries risk continuing to put on, like Sunak, a pernicious show of powerlessness.

I find it hard to disagree with a word of that. The government’s profound lack of seriousness is hard to fathom at the best of times, but becomes uniquely distressing when applied to the treatment of vulnerable people literally fleeing for their lives.

It’s also hard to imagine any of the editorials of the British press focusing on the substantive issue, as Le Monde has done, if the ‘fuck off to France’ shoe had been on the French foot.

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

Muslim, Scottish Asian, and only 38

Maybe I don’t pay enough attention to Scottish politics, especially given how much closer I live to the Scottish parliament than to the UK parliament. Humza Yousaf seemed to me to come from nowhere to be installed as Scotland’s First Minister.

I was therefore pleased to come across a decent profile of him in, of all publications, Le Monde. I enjoyed his line about his culture being ‘bagpipes and bhangra’ and his combination of a kilt with a sherwani. It also, perhaps, took an international paper’s perspective to note that we have a Hindu Prime Minister and a Sikh First Minister, which only underlines the unsustainability of our lack of separation between church and state.

I was also delighted to learn that he’s exactly two weeks older than me, so I haven’t yet reached the age where the country’s senior leaders are younger than me.

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

Adapting cities for climate change

A lot is often written about the need to adapt our national infrastructure, and particularly that of cities, to manage climate change. Most of what I read is about adapting cities to produce less carbon. For example, by promoting active travel over carbon-fuelled vehicles or by using heat pumps in place of carbon-fuelled central heating.

A lot of this is framed very poorly. Coverage regularly implies a choice, most frequently citing ’economic damage’ as a key barrier to implementing ecologically sound practice. It shouldn’t need saying that making our planet uninhabitable is the ultimate act of economic damage.

As my old friend James O’Malley frequently reminds us, adaptations actually have to be built to make a difference. If every option is blocked because it’s not quite eco-friendly enough, then we’re doomed to end humanity.

One aspect that seems under-discussed is how we need to adapt the built environment to cope with the climate change that is already baked-in through the damage we’ve already done. I was pleased to see an article in Le Monde yesterday about exactly this issue, looking at how Paris needs to adapt.

I think the two issues ought to be considered hand-in-hand: the super-insulated houses required to make heat-pumps work must also support passive cooling, or they will be uninhabitable in the medium term. Building better infrastructure for active travel is a must, but doing it with asphalt is a bad idea. Nice big windows to reduce reliance on powered lighting are unhelpful if they also trap heat.

I worry, though, that this complaint just puts me in the same category as those who oppose developments for not being quite ecologically friendly enough. I don’t think it’s the same complaint: building infrastructure in a way that guarantees a short lifespan can’t be good for the planet… but is it better than nothing?

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

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