Global Jobs in Renewables 2020

The total number of jobs in renewables is up to 12 million globally, from 11.5 million in 2019. This shows where they are.

At the same time, a global survey by Brunel International and Oilandgasjobsearch.com. shows that 56% of workers in Oil and Gas want to work in the renewables sector instead, up from 38% in 2020. This is particularly marked among younger and the most highly skilled workers and underlines an increasing difficulty the oil and gas sector has in recruitment.

Full report here.  https://www.theenergymix.com/2021/12/01/56-of-oil-and-gas-workers-want-renewables-jobs-as-fossils-recruitment-woes-grow/

Onwards and Upwards to Nowhere.

A few decades ago, as deindustrialisation in the UK gathered pace and the Thatcherite attempt to make us a nation of rentiers sold off public assets and council houses and closed factories and mines, blowing the windfall of North Sea Oil revenue in the process, a fashion began to build banks as if they were factories and tube stations as if they were power utilities.

This was part hubristic appropriation, part a backward look at a seemingly more solid and secure source of wealth. The tower block at the back, with its heating ducts and other innards on display displays this effrontery rather well; and is a counterpart to the older building in front of it, from the time that emerging capital felt it had to clothe itself in classical architectural forms – in the same way that stately homes built on the proceeds of the slave and sugar trades, or loot from the East India Company did – trying to give themselves a timeless, unchallengeable authority; the legitimacy of a fake continuity.

In the tube at Camden Town, an impossibly happy small boy, who looks like a younger embodiment of the Mark Lester version of Oliver Twist, chats incessantly to his mum and, when the train comes in, gives the driver a delighted wave. The driver smiles and waves back. The first time I’ve ever seen that in London.

Less happily, a couple of families with small children emerge from the Christmas Fayre at the Holy Innocents Church Hall on Roe Green Park. All the kids have had face paintings done that are exquisite miniatures – snowmen and Santas like illuminated letters on their cheeks. Two of them are grizzling. One wanting to get the bus not walk. His mum with an East European accent. Him sounding London. Although she sounds a bit bewildered and placatory, Mum isn’t going to back down, so he escalates his complaints as he walks reluctantly along behind her. The Asian family in front is going through exactly the same thing. Not December yet and its already a bit much.

In clear blue skies I see our epitaph; sky written in the vapour trails.

Home town blues

In a stab at optimism the, crochet decoration on the post box outside the library that used to have the tribute to NHS workers on it has been replaced by a cute creation featuring Christmas mice and candy canes. The Health worker figures on the old one were looking exhausted and droopy; as well they might. The mice are contrastingly upright and perky. They haven’t been told about the South African coronavirus variant yet.

The stall holders in a slightly desultory street market are all wearing Team Elf green hoodies that are evidently not warm enough; and are a bit premature given that its not December yet. There’s a scattering of customers but not much sense of magic. A couple of young girls have pulled their sleeves down over their hands and are looking at each other with faces too frozen to have an expression. The guy on the mulled wine and mince pie stall just into George Street is playing Hank Williams very loudly.

The war memorial at the bottom of the high street is becoming increasingly elaborate. When I was growing up it was just quietly there. In a prominent position but not aggressively in anyone’s face. Remembrance Sunday brought a wreath, which added its dash of blood red tribute, but this, again, was unobtrusive. Now, in the aftermath of failed wars of intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya there are two life size black silhouettes of World War 1 soldiers, leaning forward, heads bowed, wreaths all the way around the plinth, poppies mounted all along the top of the crash barrier along Orsett Road and a large Union Jack permanently drooping on the flag pole. It has something of the quality of a shrine to a Hindu god, but with poppies instead of marigolds.

The increased prominence of Remembrance – the way some people wear metal poppy pins all year round now – is of a piece with the need that recent governments have felt to officially define acceptable forms of national belonging, fundamental values and so on: and speaks to a declining confidence that any of it really is fundamental enough to be taken for granted without constant reassertion. The rush of red poppies is like the burst capillaries of a state with hardening arteries.

All the same, on my way past I always take my hat off – in the same way I do when a hearse passes in the street. This is partly general, partly familial. Late in life, my grandmother campaigned for her brother Sid’s name to be added; as they’d left him out when the World War 2 dead were added. She succeeded and there he is at the bottom of the plaque; so, to me, its also a memorial to her.

Killed on 13 May 1943 on the last day of the North Africa campaign when he drove a lorry over a landmine in Tunisia. He was 21. My Mum, who is 91, remembered the date like it was carved into her more surely than his name is into the memorial.

On the way back to the station through the precinct, everything is low key but friendly. No one doing a roaring trade. All a bit quiet and shop keepers chat to each other in an amiable way. No mad rush for anything. A row of three trestle tables has Xmas activities for children. Making bright red cardboard crowns and so on under the banner “arrive as yourself- leave as an elf”. A crowd of secondary school students mills in from the street. About twenty or thirty of them. Black uniforms. Why are they always black? Seemingly nothing untoward as I walk towards them. A sudden scuffle that looks like play fighting at first erupts into a flurry of fierce, fast punches, felling one lad who curls up on the floor. At least two of the others kick him while he’s down, hard and fast, nothing restrained. I make towards them yelling for them to leave him alone. A voice beside me roars for them to back off. Someone, slightly unnervingly, calls out “check for weapons!” The security guy yells that he’s calling the police. The bloke to my right is built like a prop forward and has the body language of a man who has been in many rucks. Chest out, hands to his side in a “come on then” gesture, head jerking from one protagonist to another. The kids panic – partly at what they’d done – and scatter like a troop of chimps confronted by a silverback gorilla. The lad who was kicked in is given refuge in a shop that starts bringing its shutters down. He is curled up groaning and holding his head. No one knows him or what the fight was about. On the way back out to the High Street, three kids are being given a quiet talking to by one of the Stall holders, who is pointing to a woman in a pink puffa jacker who was bowled over by the escaping mob and is now walking unsteadily away. I chip in that the crowd had just been kicking lumps out of someone, and one of the kids made a serious allegation about him that would explain the fury of the attackers if they believed it to be true. But they might have been wrong, and they could have killed him. As it is, if caught, they will probably get charged with ABH. Teenage vigilantism in the absence of any certainty of a recourse to courts that are out of reach for most and from another world. Back to the hue and cry and lynch mob.

In retrospect the instant civic response – people intervening to try to stop the fight, limit the damage, keep the peace, talk down the participants, people finding a place of refuge, phoning ambulances and police – is reassuring.

What happens next might depend on whether the youth involved think that honour is satisfied or want to pursue it relentlessly, whether the victim and his family accept a retributative kicking as fair pay back or want to start a vendetta. The involvement of the kids school – they were in uniform so subject to disciplinary procedures even if off premises – courts and the whole legal process looks somehow small in comparison with the social consequences, even if they get involved from on high. The story is out there. It is widely believed. The kid who was kicked will have a mark of Cain from those who believe it, will be collectively shunned and shamed, sent to Coventry, looked at funny; the story told and retold all the time he lives locally. Thus it was, is, and shall be.

Portrait of the author as an old git.

Would Priti Patel want to turn them back?

At a time in which our current Home Secretary is trying to change the law to require sea rescue personnel to turn back boats of vulnerable refugees in mid channel and make it an offence to rescue them – and 27 people have now drowned – at Liverpool Street on Saturday, I came across the memorial to the Kindertransport. There is an understated plaque on the wall behind it, but a superficial glance at it would leave most viewers thinking it was a memorial to the domestic child evacuees that were sent out to the countryside early in World War 2 to avoid the much feared impending bombing offensive.

Around the base of the plinth are the names of the German cities from which Jewish refugee children were rescued from the Nazis, between Kristallnacht in November 1938 and the outbreak of war in September 1939.

The statue is at Liverpool Street, because most of the children arrived there after getting across the North Sea by Ferry to Harwich from Rotterdam.

It is a rather bland statue, the children’s faces showing little anxiety or distress. Normalising somehow. Just enough to remind us that something relatively good was done. But not enough, either in the sculpture or the plaque, to drive home the horror they fled, nor draw out why it was that their parents and so many others were left behind to be murdered en masse in the concentration camps, let alone draw any parallels with refugees today. Nothing to disturb the thoughts of the thousands of passing commuters on their way into the City of London.

Self congratulation about the Kindertransport in Britain serves to obscure the harsh reality that all other refugees from Nazi Germany were locked out; including after the war started.

British immigration policy in the 1930s was extremely tight with the door slammed shut, including for refugees. This was compounded by campaigns in the right wing press.

“The way stateless Jews from Germany are pouring in from every port of this country is becoming an outrage. The number of aliens entering the country through the back door is a problem to which the Daily Mail has repeatedly pointed” Daily Mail, 20 August 1938

How little that paper has changed.

Although former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin had gone on the Radio after Kristallnacht and said, “Thousands of men, women and children, despoiled of their goods, driven from their homes, are seeking asylum and sanctuary on our doorsteps, a hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest” the then Conservative government gave no consideration to providing such asylum and sanctuary for the thousands of men and women who were the parents of the children they did let in, who were left to deal with “the tempest” the best they could.

Just under 10,000 were able to use the temporarily relaxed visa regulations that only applied to children up to 16 years old, with the costs of accommodation and fostering footed entirely by the “Movement for the Care of Children from Germany”; a united front of Jewish, Quaker and other refugee support groups who had assured the Home Secretary, Samuel Hoare, that none of the refugees would become “a financial burden on the public”. Nevertheless, this did not prevent the government from trying to claim credit. Hoare commented that the Home Office “shall put no obstacle in the way of children coming here to show that we will be in the forefront among the nations of the world in giving relief to these suffering people”; so long as the tab was picked up by someone else of course.

During the afternoon, the statue was surrounded by a little group of anti vaxx demonstrators. They were middle aged or older, seemed quite quiet and subdued, not talking to each other, almost invisible. Sombre. Middle class in a brittle sort of way. Dressed darkly, with darker thoughts in their heads and paranoid placards.

In the evening, passing it again, it was a Saturday night and the whole station concourse was a setting for a seething bacchanalia of edgy crowds dressed up, seemingly pissed up, shouting, pushing past each other, consuming without noticing; everything at once intense and meaningless. The statue was surrounded by people waiting. No anti vaxxers this time, but bored and aimless consumers of the night who carelessly decorated the plinth with discarded milkshake cups and burger boxes; the disrespect of those that do not look.

A matter of priorities: Bernie gets it right.

In the United States there is a tragic argument that is putting desperately necessary investment to begin to shift the country away from its gas and oil guzzling model – falsely and fatally projected to the rest of the world as a mirage of modernity to which they should all aspire, but which is now not even viable for the US itself if it wants to survive this century intact – at risk.

The danger is that President Biden’s $550 billion ten year package will be derailed by opposition from Republicans in the Senate, in alliance with two Democrat Senators who are widely seen as wholly owned assets of the fossil fuel industries (Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona).

While $55 billion a year is completely inadequate to move the US onto a track on which it would be doing its fair share of carbon emissions reduction, its provisions are supported by majorities of US citizens and for fossil fuel interests to derail it completely would bog the USA down completely in an outmoded form of society and scream to the rooftops that its political system is simply the best democracy that money can buy.

Stalling progress buys time for the restoration of fully fledged climate denialism should the Republicans regain control of Congress in the 2022 mid terms and the White House in the 2024 Presidential elections. At which point the US would be back to being a huge rogue state. This would be politically clarifying, but all of us would pay a terrible price for the enlightenment.

It took the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement to overthrow Trump last year. Nothing is certain, but for the fossil fuel fraction of capital to retain its power, it will need an increasingly fascistic political expression. Trump, Bannon, Bolsonaro; these are no longer aberrations or outliers, they are a possibly paradigmic future for the leaders that late, late capitalism will need to sustain itself until it runs out of road and goes off the cliff.

By contrast, the military budget is an almost complete consensus. The imbalance here is grotesque. As Senator Bernie Sanders put it on the Senate floor on Wednesday “At a time when the scientists are telling us that we face an existential threat in terms of climate change, we are told that we just don’t have enough money to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and create a planet that will be healthy and habitable for our kids and future generations. Just don’t have enough money. Yet today the U.S. Senate will begin consideration of an annual defense budget that costs $778 billion.”

Here’s what the contrast in the proposed (and contested) sum for climate change and the bipartisan consensus for military spending looks like, along with an equally instructive comparison with the sums committed for each in China. The US is spending 14 times as much on its military as Biden is proposing for green investment. China is spending one and a half times as much on green transition as on its military.

Bernie has stated that he will vote against. Hopefully other progressive Democrats will do the same to put down a marker that by 2050 the shiniest military in the world won’t be of much use to save even the USA itself from climate impacts that will overwhelm its infrastructure.

Never Again – Lest We Forget

I originally wrote this in 2014 in response to plans from the Conservatives to “celebrate” the anniversary of the First World War. Backward looking national narcissism is now the constant mood music for post Brexit Conservatism, but the way that official remembrance has always been done is designed to use the “sacrifice” of the slaughtered service personnel to sanctify doing it again.

When Michael Gove wrote a piece in the Daily Mail lambasting “left wing myths” about World War One; he might have been surprised by the dusty response he received, even on that paper’s website. He’d set up the usual targets, fired off the accustomed clichés and blown some patriotic dog whistles, but 70% of responses were hostile.

World War One is deeply scarred in popular memory, even for those too young for it to be about their grandparents. In my case I can’t help think that when my grandfather was the same age as my son, 16 and revising for his GCSEs, he was at the Somme. He was 18 at Cambrai and 19 when the war ended. For me and many others the youth of the names on the war memorials, of all the participating powers, is more a source of sorrow and anger than pride.

In the course of the war many soldiers in all armies were brave and honourable. Many others weren’t. Few could be either all the time. The government’s aim for this commemoration to be a celebration of “the national spirit”, “like the Golden Jubilee” presupposes that national pride is an appropriate response in a way that they would find distasteful if Germany were to commemorate the war in the same way.

When I read of the freshly conscripted German students from Heidelberg, walking across the fields at Mons in 1914, singing with their arms linked to keep their courage up, I feel no pride in the efficiency of the British musketry that killed them; and I doubt the humanity of anyone who does. When I read of the German machine gunners at the end of the first day of the Somme who stopped firing at the shattered remnants of the British attack stumbling back to their lines because they just couldn’t stomach slaughtering them anymore, I don’t feel any pride in that either, just a sense of horror at what the ambitions of Empires did to the men who had to fight for them. The hostility to Gove’s article indicates how out of step with popular sentiment the government was.

The widespread sense of a futile and wasteful war that so disturbs Gove is rooted in reality: the collective post-traumatic stress of a society shell shocked by the loss of so many of its young. Those upper and middle class families whose sons had been junior officers were hit particularly hard.

·         25% of the Oxford and Cambridge graduates under 25 who joined up were dead by 1918.

·         The life expectancy of a lieutenant on the western front was two weeks.

The agony of these families is captured in Kipling’s poem My Son Jack. This led to a deeply felt popular reluctance to engage in further wars of mass annihilation at all levels of society.

There is an echo of that sentiment today, with popular support for the wars consistently advocated by Gove, from Afghanistan to Syria, ebbing to a point that it will not sustain another, at least for now. Most people are weary and wary of these, do not want to see any more fresh young names carved onto the old war memorials, no more coffins driven slowly through Wootton Bassett, and see the sort of politicians who seek to entice their children into harm’s way with one sided tales of heroism past as malignant pied pipers. And so they should.

Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one. 
Wilfred Owen

Owen’s view, as a man who fought and died in the trenches, has a broader humanity than Gove’s. He talks of “the seed of Europe”, not the seed of Britain. A similar feeling runs through Eric Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, mirroring the experience from the German trenches and pointing to the same conclusion. The “old man” in Owen’s poem, like the patriotic teacher in Remarque’s novel, stands for the rulers of all Europe and the “son” is all too many of their sons. In John Keegan’s First World War (1998) he is so struck by the fact that 35-37% of all boys born in Germany between 1892 and 1895 were dead by 1918 that he cites it twice.  

There are some who seek to minimise the scale of the casualties, so it’s worth looking at the figures for the major European participants.

CountryTotal deadTotal wounded
Britain8-900 0001.6 million
France1.6 – 1.7million4.2 million
Russia2.8 –  3.4million3.7 – 4.9million
Austria Hungary1.7 –  2 million3.6million
Germany2.2 – 2.8million4.2million

These figures show the terrible impact of this war on all the participants. They also show that Britain, even though its soldiers had a 50% chance of becoming a casualty and for all the trauma that represents, was affected least. That’s not to understate this impact. In some ways Britain, like France, was a mutile de guerre after 1918. If you want a flavour of a society with its facades intact but the stuffing knocked out of it, read The Waste Land or Mrs Dalloway, or listen to the anguish in Elgar’s Cello Concerto. “We are the hollow men, we are the stuffed men…”

Nevertheless, any British centred account of the war distorts understanding because the British social order came out of the war more substantially intact than any other European power. Contemporary Britain is the only power listed here with direct constitutional continuity with its pre 1914 self, so in some sense we are still living in that world, while the other powers were tested to destruction and thrown into more traumatic models of modernity.

·         Tsarist Russia, overthrown in revolution,

·         Austria Hungary collapsed altogether and balkanised,

·         Turkey, collapsed and dismembered,

·         Germany; Kaiser, overseas territories, economic stability all gone and burning with resentment, a chaotic vortex in the heart of Europe.

·         The French Third Republic stood as a shadow of its former self until nemesis in 1940.

For Britain, World War One was a trauma. For continental Europe it was Gotterdammerung, the last days of humanity. If we want to understand it, we should examine the war in that framework; rather than have a cosy domestic debate, licking our own wounds while belittling those we inflicted on others. Some otherwise very good publications fall into this. Michael Foreman’s The War Game which is very hard to read to classes without a lump in the throat, nevertheless starts with a standard German war guilt thesis. Joe Secho’s extraordinary cartoon tableau of the first day of the Somme contains thousands of figures; all of them in the British armed forces. The Germans are faceless. Reading or watching All Quiet on the Western Front is probably the best antidote to this.

“He started it!”

If we are to understand our own country and its role in the world, we have to have a certain critical distance from the people who run it; not least because we can’t always trust what they say.

For Gove the war was a “noble cause”, a “just” defence of the “international liberal order” (as represented by the British, French and Russian Empires, much as for our media today “the international community” is the United States and whoever agrees with it at the time) against the “aggressive” and “predatory” German Empire. This is a very odd argument. All the major powers that fought were Empires. The “aggressive”, “predatory” Germans had managed to build an Empire just a fifth the size of the British Empire by 1914. How Britain managed to build an Empire five times bigger without being “aggressive” and “predatory” is a mystery Mr Gove does not trouble to explain; or perhaps cannot understand. This is, after all, a man whose understanding of the world is so provincial, or arrogant, or both, that he thought it appropriate to wear a poppy in China during a trade mission.

His argument that World War One was a “just war” has been echoed by John Blake, who likes to strike a rebellious pose of challenging left wing myths and conventional wisdoms in the interests of being safely approved of by “mainstream” opinion. His view is an uncritical rehash of that advanced by the Foreign Office in 1914, subsequently consecrated by the Treaty at Versailles in 1919 and revisited in Fritz Fischer’s German war guilt thesis in the 1960’s. For Fischer, putting forward a German war guilt thesis in Germany took a certain amount of iconoclastic nerve, even in the 60s. He was challenging the German establishment to examine its dark side. Putting it forward in Britain today is the opposite. It lets our rulers off the hook of their own war aims.

Christopher Clark’s Sleepwalkers shows how the participation of the British Empire in World War One was neither more nor less moral than any of the others. It was realpolitik.

·         The British Empire in 1914 was the largest and wealthiest in the world.

·         It was also overstretched. Germany and the USA were growing faster and developing stronger modern economic sectors with a better educated workforce. Militarily there was some threat from France in Africa and a more definite and troubling threat from Russia in Asia and the Middle East.

·         The decision to ally with France, and by extension Russia, was a decision in line with the notion “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”.

·         The British social order was already archaic and finding it hard to reform itself. In the long run there was nowhere to go but down, unless some of the competition could be eliminated or subordinated.

It was not without controversy. A strong faction in the Liberal Party saw Tsarist Russia as the main danger and opposed war in the cabinet in July 1914. Sleepwalkers makes plain how contingent these alliances were. A few more years without conflict may have seen rifts or realignments and, had Gavrilo Princip missed his shot and a different war taken place with a different line up, no doubt someone like Michael Gove would be writing today about the inherently predatory nature of the French or the social- Darwinist aggression of the Russians.

If the German Empire can be validly criticised for behaving as Empires do, the British can hardly be immune from the same critique. What Michael Gove calls “the liberal international order” was actually the Pax Britannica. Expecting other rising powers in a context of inter-imperialist competition to accept British hegemony indefinitely is absurd. Expecting subject peoples to put up with subjection indefinitely is also absurd. In the British case, “the rights of small nations” never applied across the Irish Sea or anywhere else under its command. Mr Gove’s position translates to nothing more profound than “my Empire good, your Empire bad.”

In August 1914 the British Empire chose to go to war.

·         The German violation of Belgian neutrality was a pretext.

·         “Plucky little Belgium” was no wilting wallflower, but the metropolis of the most brutal of all the European Empires, with its heart of darkness in the Congo.

·         A decision by the French General Staff not to attack Germany through Belgium was an entirely political one. They knew that, if they did, it might be an insuperable obstacle to British support, because Sir Edward Grey needed a moral fig leaf to persuade a divided British cabinet to join in.

·         The German decision to invade through Belgium, followed the dictates of the Schlieffen plan (the only one they had, even though its flaws had been so obvious to Schlieffen himself with not enough troops to make it stick that he died babbling about it).

·         In the brutality of that invasion, the Germans were relying on a primitive version of shock and awe: a strategy not unknown since, from other powers with better PR.

For the rulers of Empire a decision not to go to war was unthinkable, even though they knew that taking part would be ruinous and were being begged by some business interests to “keep us out of it.” Sir Edward Grey’s “lights are going out” remark was not that of a man who thought it would all be over by Christmas. They knew what they were unleashing. They had massacred enough colonial peoples to know what modern weaponry was capable of.

Whatever happens, we have got

The Maxim gun, and they have not

Hilaire Belloc

All the Empires were aggressive and predatory and so felt threatened by each other. The dominant interests in all of them were convinced that taking a strong stand, hitting hard and fast first, would carry the day for them. All of them. If there is a smoking gun, they are all holding it. The British government of 1914 is on no higher moral ground than any of the others.

During the July-August crisis, the leaders of all of the powers manoeuvred so they could present themselves, to their own peoples and perhaps to their own consciences, as defending themselves against aggression. The opposition of the Socialist Parties and others in each country made this a political necessity. Contrary to popular myth there was no great wave of enthusiasm for the war and significant opposition shown within governments and on the streets. In each country fear of the other was the main tool used to dragoon people into line: in Britain and France fear of Germany, in Germany fear of “Russian barbarism”.

The Socialist International’s plan to call a Europe wide general strike against war may not have succeeded, even after mass anti-war demonstrations in Britain, Germany and France in the last days of July 1914. One has to regret, given the 15 million who were to die, that its leaders weren’t made of sufficiently stern stuff to even try nor, with a few honourable exceptions, vote against the war credits in each country.

Cultural Targets

Gove’s poke at The Monocled Mutineer is designed to belittle the wave of mutinies that affected all armies as the war dragged on.

·         After the Somme in 1916, the British had to introduce conscription.

·         By 1917, after Nivelle’s offensive, half the French army was actively on strike, prepared to defend themselves if attacked but useless for further offensive action.

·         By late 1916 the Russian army was crumbling and by spring 1917 had helped overthrow the Tsar.

·         In 1917 the Italian army collapsed at the battle of Caporetto.

·         The end for the Kaiser was when the mutiny of the High Seas Fleet, ordered to sea as a desperate last throw of the dice in late October 1918, began to spread into the army.

A mass war of annihilation slaughtering millions, could only be carried on with at least passive popular consent and the preparedness of soldiers to follow orders. This collapsed altogether in Russia and, almost, Italy but was a real factor for even the least affected forces.

Oh What a Lovely War comes in for attack partly because it gives voice to soldierly disaffection through the original popular songs sang in the trenches and behind the lines. Soldiers who sang

“When this lousy war is over, no more soldiering for me. When I put my civvy clothes on, oh how happy I will be…”

And

“We’re here because, We’re here because, We’re here because we’re here…”

were clearly not in the right mould of Gove approved derring do to inspire a new generation to become some small corner of a foreign field.

Even odder is John Blake’s pot shot at the War Poets (in his TES article giving Gove covering fire) as not the voice of the trenches. To what extent they represented popular opinion among soldiers, as if such opinion could ever be simple, clear and unambiguous, is beside the point. They described the reality of life and death in the front line in a truthful and powerful way. Blake’s argument that their “unrepresentative” character is shown by their lack of sales in 20s and 30s also misses the point. It would be a bit like saying The Great Gatsby tells us nothing about 1920s America because hardly any copies had sold before Scott Fitzgerald died.  Old soldiers like my Grandfather coped with their experiences by talking about them as little as possible. Imagining that generation of bottled up, straight backed, stiff upper lipped, courtly old sticks reading poems, let alone poems that close to home, is almost surreal. Goodbye to all that.

The war poets are nevertheless an authentic source for an appalling human experience.  Their growing popularity from the 1960s reflected an increasingly widespread questioning of the encrusted reactionary pieties of ritualised remembrance carried out in such a way as to sanctify present and future sacrifice. John Blake is too young to remember the stifling conformity of Britain at this time. The generation going to school during the 50th anniversary were treated, not to Owen or Sassoon, but

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

every year. Even if it scanned properly it would be hard to make a case for the fascistic idealisation of the first stanza as a useful source for what life and death in the trenches was like, in a way that you can for Owen or Sassoon. I remember the first time my English teacher, a former parachute regiment officer and CND member, read Dulce et Decorum est in a Remembrance Assembly in the early seventies. It was like being given permission to breathe.  

People still sing, as we did…

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,

Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;

The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,

That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;

The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,

The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

…but those of us just a few years free of the shadow of conscription, but growing up in the greater shadow of the mushroom cloud, looking around the world to unjust wars like Vietnam, and living in a national existential crisis where the old gods of Empire had failed but the future was uncertain, could be forgiven for thinking that it was ours to reason why, and maybe ours to do a bit better and spread our love a bit wider than the narrow bounds of one little island.

Don’t be vague, blame General Haig?

‘GOOD-MORNING; good-morning!’ the General said 
When we met him last week on our way to the line. 
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead, 
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine. 
‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack         5
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.    .    .    .    . 
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

Gove’s attempt to cast any critique of the British General Staff outside the realm of politically acceptable debate also shows a fear of uncontrolled historical sources. Arguments that this or that general might have been more or less competent or imaginative than another is meat and drink for those interested in military history. But while a discussion on the relative capacities of Von Moltke or Ludendorf might be seen as a technical discussion capable of objectivity, critique of Haig or French is presented by Gove as tantamount to treason by “left wing ideologues” wanting to “belittle Britain”. A thoughtful assessment of the strengths, limits and capacities of military commanders and their strategies are legitimate areas for historical debate that should not be obscured by the desire of contemporary politicians to wave patriotic pom poms.

But there’s something a bit deeper here. Most of the critiques of, say, Sir Douglas Haig, are firmly within the framework of support for Britain’s Imperial war aims. There’s no shortage of sharp anti-Haig quotes. Google it and there’s battalions of them, mostly from figures on the right, from Winston Churchill to B H Liddell Hart and JFC Fuller. This is a flavourof them from JFC Fuller on  Passchendaele “To persist…in this tactically impossible battle was an inexcusable piece of pigheadness on the part of Haig.” And there’s plenty more where that came from.

Serious debates should not be trivialised. John Blake’s implication that Liddell Hart’s antipathy to Haig was unjustified personal pique misses the larger issue that, in the post war debate on future strategy, Liddell Hart and Fuller were tank men; while Haig was still trying to find a relevance for cavalry in a world that had moved on and made his training, upbringing and many of the values that went with them obsolete. No wonder Michael Gove identifies with him.

More swingeing critiques of the entire General staff in the 1960s, like Alan Clark’s The Donkeys (1961) came after the British humiliation at Suez (1956) had rocked deference to the “out of touch elite” that were still running the country but could no longer defend their Empire and for a while looked on the ropes. Clark became a Conservative MP and Minister in Mrs Thatcher’s government. The soul searching evident in Clark’s book was echoed by other right wing authors at the time.

 Corelli Barnett’s The Swordbearers combines a sharp dig at the gung ho spirit of commanders like Admiral Sir David Beatty with a detailed critical comparison of the failings of British Battlecruiser design compared with their German counterparts (to explain why three of them blew up and sank with catastrophic losses at the battle of Jutland, while German ships that were hit more heavily did not); the result of the marginalisation of science in British education caused by the hegemonic sports and classics amateurism of the public schools. This was a very sensitive point in the 1960s, when the relatively slow pace of British economic development was frequently compared to the German Wirtschaftswunder. It’s also relevant today, with Gove, in a move that is almost beyond parody, proposing to cut all practical work from assessment in A level science.

It’s clear from this that, at a time of widely perceived national decline, the Right was capable of a more lacerating self-critique than they are today; when Gove et al call upon us to close our eyes, or cast them backwards to a mythologised past, ask no questions and cling hard to the most Ruritanian features of our society as the world changes around us.

These debates were, however, within a framework of whether this or that general was the best man for the job, whether someone else with greater intelligence or flexibility might have been more effective in the pursuit of Britain’s war aims; not whether those war aims were valid in the first place. The left wing critique is not just of Haig, but also of Ludendorf, not just Nivelle but Von Hotzendorf and Grand Duke Nicholas; not just the unimaginative, out of date, hidebound, inflexible generals, but the clever, thoughtful, innovative ones too; because our critique is not just of this or that Empire but of all Empires and, if you look at it with clear eyes, the monumental pile of corpses the First World War heaped up as those Empires fought for supremacy and sacrificed their peoples to do it, still casts a shadow today long and dark enough to make us challenge unthinking loyalty to such causes.

Billionaires hoarded wealth could pay climate fund to Global South.

The ten wealthiest billionaires could each pay for one year of the pledge to the Global South to enable development without reliance on fossil fuels out of their personal wealth; and still have more than a billion left over (which is more than enough for anyone). Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos could do it twice. You’d think they’d want to do something useful with it. They can’t take it with them, even into space.

Top ten billionaires. All bar one in the USA Figures from Forbes Real Time Billionaires.

These are not aspirational role models. It is obscene that individuals are allowed such grossly inflated wealth and power, while the climate heats and progress reducing poverty is stalling everywhere outside China.

“Posh folk telling plain folk what to do” How Net Zero Watch and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group do it.

” People want a cleaner, greener planet. But they will not tolerate a green strategy that involves posh folk telling plain folk what to do.” Andrew Neil, Daily Mail, October 2021.

Really nothing to worry about… Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Leaving aside the sheer patronage of the language, Neil might have a point if he objected to, or campaigned against, the privileges of those “posh folk”; whose right to “be telling plain folk what to do” isn’t something he challenges in any other context and that, as a prolific broadcaster, chairman of the Spectator and formerly Rupert Murdoch’s consiglieri at the Sunday Times, he spends most of his time defending.

Does he have an objection to the Royal Family, who could re-wild their vast landholdings, much of which is turned over to hunting? Not in general, no.

Does he point out that Jeff Bezos casually throwing $2 billion in loose change at conservation efforts – having flown in to the COP on his private jet soon after he blew $5.5 billion to be in space just for 5 minutes – shows that one man having $200 billion to dispose of on a whim is grotesque and unacceptable? Not a bit of it.

Does he use his many media platforms to campaign for insulation targeted at the 2.4 million households living in fuel poverty; or argue for solar panel installations to be brought in on the same principle. Not a dicky bird.

Does he – just as a suggestion – campaign for cheap, clean public transport, that would primarily benefit the hardest up people who don’t have access to a private car (17% of white people, 21% of Asian people, 33% of people with mixed heritage and 40% of black people); and give all of us cleaner air to breathe? The tumbleweed blows through the silence.

He doesn’t do any of this. He lives in a cleaner, greener part of the planet than most of the “plain folk” he patronises so effortlessly. As a dedicated Brexit supporter, he lives a lot of the time in a villa in the south of France, which is, no doubt, good for the soul.

He might also have more credibility if he didn’t back the expansion of oil and gas extraction, including fracking, or argue that the rise in energy prices occasioned by our heavy reliance on fossil fuels means we shouldn’t transition to cheaper renewable alternatives, or act as a little Sir Echo to Craig Mackinlay’s very own “project fear” about the costs of Net Zero, ignoring the savings involved in the transition, which largely pays for itself.

  • The Office for Budget Responsibility July ‘Fiscal risks report’  pointed out that the ‘Balanced Net Zero Pathway’ would cost £1312 billion in investment costs, spread over 30 years between 2020 and 2050; but these would be offset by significant and growing savings, particularly from avoiding the purchase of fossil fuels, amounting to £991 billion in the same period.
  • That leaves a net cost of £321 billion over 30 years, an annual investment cost of £10.7 billion. This is just 1% of the projected £1053 billion that the government expects to spend in 2021-2. Not going to break the bank is it Andrew?
  • Even more damning, by 2050 the £16 billion needed at that point would be outweighed by yearly savings of £19 billion. So, it would be completely balanced out before then and, after that, we’d be quids in.

Neil is keen to present himself and other lukewarmers as the spokespeople for “plain folk” – who he seems to think can’t speak for themselves. He has a record of peddling “baseless claims made on climate contrarian blogs” and can always be relied upon to dig in on the latest line in the long rearguard action against meaningful action.

Rubbing shoulders with these people is not good for your health. As Neil himself put it after resigning from GB News – which energetically promotes the myths of the lukewarmers – had he carried on with them, the job would have killed him. Taking their bullshit as good coin would just as surely kill the rest of us.

So, lets have a look at the social class credentials of the some of the people Neil gets his attack lines from, who run Net Zero Watch and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, the former from an office in Tufton Street shared with a number of right wing think tanks; and who all seem to be “posh folk” telling the rest of us “plain folk” what NOT to do to save ourselves from climate breakdown.

Lord Lawson, Baron Lawson of Blaby (89). Born the son of a stockbroker and City of London tea trader. Westminster School. Christchurch College Oxford. Not exactly the wrong side of the tracks.

Neil Record (68) Chair of Net Zero Watch and Institute of Economic Affairs. Magdalene College School and Balliol College Oxford. Personal fortune of £1-5 million. Major donor to Conservative Party.

Edward Atkin CBE (77) Inherited his father’s rubber company and according to the Sunday Times rich list 2019 has a personal fortune of £267 million.

Steve Baker MP (Conservative). The chief architect of global financing and asset service platforms at Lehman brothers until their collapse in 2008. So, a bit of a banker. An evangelical Christian who manages to ignore all those inconvenient injunctions on the rich to give up their wealth to the poor, but no doubt thinks that we are living in the End of Times and its his job to help us hurry on to fulfill the Book of Revelations. A recipient of a £15,000 donation from former Vitol Oil Executive Matthew Ferrey (who has given the Conservatives £675,000 in total.

Craig McKinley MP (Conservative). Chartered Accountant and former UKIP member. Claimed £159,992.37  in Parliamentary expenses 1 Apr 2019 — 31 Mar 2020 and earned an additional £18,00 a year for 20 hours worked a month at his second job as an accountant. Evidently a man of the people.

Lawson, Atkin and Record are of a class and an age group sheltered from climate change impacts. They will be dead before the worst of it hits. Perhaps they just don’t look their grandchildren in the eye. Mackinlay and Baker, their Parliamentary NCOs are younger, but perhaps they think they have the Social Darwinist right stuff to be able to float to the surface in the turmoil of the new Dark Ages.

These are clearly not in the “plain folk” category. All of them qualify as part of the global 1% – the richest elite who are disproportionately responsible for the carbon emissions that are putting the rest of us at risk.

A recent study from OXFAM showed that

  • “The world’s richest 1% are set to have per capita consumption emissions in 2030 that are still 30 times higher than the global per capita level compatible with the 1.5⁰C goal of the Paris Agreement…
  • By 2030, the richest 1% are on course for an even greater share of total global emissions than when the Paris Agreement was signed.”
  • To be aligned with a 1.5C target, the carbon emissions of the richest 1% would have to be cut by 97% by 2030.

The richest 1 percent ―fewer people than the population of Germany― are expected to account for 16 percent of total global emissions by 2030, up from 13 percent in 1990 and 15 percent in 2015. The total emissions of the richest 10 percent alone are set to exceed the 1.5°C-aligned level in 2030, regardless of what the other 90 percent do.

To be aligned with the 1.5C imperative, we will have to cut the carbon emissions of the richest 1% by 97% by 2030. That is why they are resisting.

The richest 1|% are people on incomes of over $172,000 (£128,000) a year, and the top 10% are people on incomes of over $52,000 (£41,000) a year; The UK median income for 2019 was £29,400, so most of us here are in the global upper middle 40% whose emissions have been declining. And we have a common interest with the global poor, whose emissions are so low that they are well on target if we want to survive.

The 1% are, however, seeking to defend their own ruinous luxury consumption, by manipulating mass economic insecurities. For them, the argument is within the 1%; who control every government of a developed economy. As reducing the wealth of the elite to a climate sustainable level is unthinkable (“hairshirtery” to Boris Johnson); there either has to be a green transition with the costs dumped on the majority, or there is no transition at all, and the consequences dumped on the majority as civilisation collapses in fire and flood and the 1% jet off to their doomsday bolt holes in New Zealand or Patagonia.

OFAMs conclusions that, “Tackling extreme inequality and targeting the excessive emissions linked to the consumption and investments of the world’s richest people is vital to keeping the 1.5⁰C Paris goal alive” and that “carbon emissions must be cut far faster than currently proposed. But critically, these efforts must go hand-in-hand with measures to cut pervasive inequality and ensure that the world’s richest citizens – wherever they live – lead the way” explains why political activists from the 1% are so keen to see that goal trashed, by any means necessary; and why the rest of us should not give them the time of day and be very clear that mercilessly targeting their wealth and power is essential to avert disaster.

Leading from the Rear?

Much ink has been spilt proclaiming the “leading role” of the USA in combatting climate breakdown; with large countries like China and India in the developing world seen as the problem.

The figures from the latest Carbon Change Performance Index explode this myth.

Overall, with scores given for Greenhouse gas emissions (40%) Renewable energy (20%) Energy use (20%) and Climate Policy (20%) the USA ranks 55 (out of 64). China is at 37. India is at 10. The 64 countries covered are responsible for 92% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Their more detailed report groups countries into categories for overall performance.

The USA is in the “Very low” group, along with Australia, Saudi Arabia, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada and Poland (amongst others).

China is in the “Low” group, along with New Zealand, Japan, Belgium, Vietnam and Ireland.

India is in the “High” group along with the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Chile and Finland.

On specific categories, the USA ranks

  • very low (i.e. poor) for greenhouse gas emissions: China is also rated very low but India is rated high.
  • very low for renewable energy; China and India are rated medium.
  • very low (i.e. poor) for energy use: China is also very low. India is high.
  • medium for policy: China and India are rated high.

The policy is what points to the future, if they are carried out. China has a record of meeting or exceeding its targets and the IEA assesses that its plan is viable and can be accelerated. In fact, China is due to invest £3.4 trillion to reduce carbon emissions in the next decade, which is more than the US and EU combined. The US plan has already been hobbled in Congress and there are worrying signs that the possible Second Coming of Donald Trump in 2024 (or someone like him) will throw any semblance of global cooperation out of the window.

Go ahead for Small Modular Reactors chooses the most expensive option.

The news that Rolls Royce has the government go ahead and investment to build Small Modular (nuclear) Reactors is bad news for anyone who has to pay electricity bills.

According to the BBC, each SMR

  • would produce as much electricity as 150 onshore wind turbines.
  • would cost £2 billion each.

According to Weatherguardwind.com an onshore wind turbine costs between $2.6-4 million. So, even taking the most expensive estimate of cost, $4 million, and multiplying by 150 gets you $600 million. Convert into pounds and that’s £442 million. Even assuming that the initial projection of £2 billion each for SMRs is accurate (and when did a nuclear project ever run to budget?) that means that the government has chosen to go for the more expensive option.

For the same investment, you could get four and a half times as much energy from onshore wind.