Majority say Government not doing enough to tackle climate change

Just as Nigel Farage tries to diss Just Stop Oil demonstrators as out of touch and cossetted upper class “brats” with names like Indigo and Jocasta – this from a man called Nigel – a survey from Savanta Comres shows majority support for faster, deeper action to head off the climate emergency.

Overall, only one in four voters think the government is doing enough. Three in five say that it is not doing enough.

Majorities of all age groups think not enough is being done. The younger the age group, the more strongly this is felt. Just over half of over 65s rising to over 7 out of ten of 18-24 year olds.

Even among Conservative supporters, nearly half want more action and this becomes overwhelming among supporters of other Parties. Farage and his denialist head bangers are the unrepresentative minority.

As there are such strong majorities, and some of the actions needed, like stopping new oil and gas exploration, unblocking Onshore Wind farms and launching an immediate insulation programme are so easy and obvious, the question that has to be posed is; why isn’t this happening? Who is the government representing if it isn’t the majority? And, given that their failure to act on the scale and at the speed needed is causing widespread anxiety and fear, especially among young people who see the future approaching with a sense of menace and trepidation, doesn’t the term “eco-terrorist” apply more to them than to young people trying to jolt them out of their complacency?

A United Kingdom that looks outward, with no self-awareness at all – David Lammy’s speech to Labour’s Conference.

Atlanticist Labour Shadow Foreign Secretaries have the difficult job of squaring the circle between the reality of UK subordination to US global dominance – with everything that flows from that – with the desire of the Party membership to be – and to be seen to be – “ethical”. This is usually covered by rhetorical devices that touch nerves and mobilise emotions, while obscuring awkward realities. A classic of its kind was Emily Thornberry’s speech in 2019 in which she included Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro in a list of “Trump inspired strongmen” that the Party had to oppose, sliding over the awkward fact that, far from being one of Trump’s acolytes, Maduro was one of his targets, and Venezuela to object of ruthless US sanctions that were responsible for the deaths of over 40,000 people. Details, details…

With the banishment of that awkward internationalist Jeremy Corbyn and the reassertion of a new era of unapologetic Atlanticism from the front bench, David Lammy has gone further.

He did not reflect, in his foreign policy speech to Labour conference this year, that the role of “Britain in the World” has historically been rather like that of the policemen he mentions who used to stop and search him when he was “a skinny kid in NHS glasses on the streets of Tottenham“; and for very similar reasons. At one time as dominant world cop and enforcer, latterly as the new world cop’s most eager henchman.

His speech provides a cover for it to continue to do so.

His list of challenges faced by the world is odd, and in a strange order.

Conference, the world faces more challenges today than at any other time in my 22 years in parliament. The rise of China. Conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Ethiopia and South Sudan. A global food crisis. And a climate crisis.

“And a climate crisis”. The climate crisis is the framework in which everything else takes place – or doesn’t. It’s not an item on a list. Least of all the last item. And the central problem is that the world’s most powerful state is prioritising military interventionism over dealing with it. The USA is spending more than 20 times as much on its military as it is on dealing with climate change, claims to “global leadership” notwithstanding.

China, by contrast, is spending one and a half times as much on climate change as on its military.

Who is doing the right thing?

The UK already spends more on its military than every other country in the world apart from the USA, China and India. It spends more than Russia. Through NATO and AUKUS it is in direct alliance with countries that account for two thirds of total global military spending. But the Truss government wants to increase spending by 50% by 2030 and the Labour front bench is going along with this. This is not a polict that tends to peace.

Lammy’s “green dimension” is subordinate to Cold War imperatives and inwardly oriented. The UK should not be dependent of “fossil fuel dictators” he says. Which ones does he mean? Will imports be stopping from Saudi Arabia any time soon?

And “we will seek to work with allies and partners to create a new international law of ecocide to criminalise the wanton and widespread destruction of the environment.” There’s that presumption of leadership from the Global North again, Britain’s “allies and partners” in setting and policing the ecological rule book for everyone else.

And note the weasel words – “we will seek to…” This will be rather tricky for the Global North because most of the fossil fuel companies seeking to develop the 350 carbon Bombs (projects which each have a carbon footprint of over a billion tonnes of CO2) that will bust us well beyond 1.5C on their own are companies that are based here; and so are most of the banks that finance them.

The news has just come through this week that major US Banks are threatening to withdraw from Mark Carney’s Climate alliance, because “they fear being sued over the alliance’s stringent decarbonisation commitments” and you can make your own judgement on whether the “law of ecocide” would target them or not, even if the UN made climate action its “fourth pillar”.

This also applies to the specific crisis that Lammy uses to frame his speech. The USA has for years explained to the Global South how hard it is to squeeze out a few billion dollars to help get to the 2020 target of $100 billion a year agreed at Copenhagen ten years earlier which has still not been met and that, with a bit of luck and a following wind (and a bit of redefinition of private sector loans) they might be good enough to get up to the target by 2024. Maybe. If the Global South is good. And nothing else comes along that is more urgent.

By contrast, they have magicked up $53 billion to fuel the Ukraine war in 6 months. Just like that. Easy. Whatever your view of the rights and wrongs of the war in Ukraine, and more on this later, it’s shocking how both the quantity and the speed are so dramatically different and provide such a clear demonstration of US priorities. Perhaps the way that a lot of this aid will go in orders for munitions and ammunition from US arms manufacturers may have something to do with that, but most of it reflects the war drive the USA is carrying out to try to shore up its economic decline relative to China.

In this framing, its odd that Lammy poses “the rise of China” as a challenge “for the world”. It is certainly a challenge for the US world order, Pax Americana, New American Century, Unipolar US domination; call it what you like. But that’s not the same as a challenge “for the world”.

For most of the world, benefitting from Chinese investment and trade, it looks more like an opportunity; and this is explicitly embraced by the Left in the Global South, Latin America particularly; where they are very clear about who runs the “Empire” and who has carried out coup after coup to install “dictatorships” across the continent.

It is peculiarly bizarre when considering that UK overseas aid is lauded for raising 3 million people a year out of poverty. This is not a figure I have seen anywhere else and have not been able to find online. It would be odd if true, because the impact of the COVID pandemic everywhere in the Global South outside China has been to throw back development and increase poverty. It would, of course, be a good thing if true, but pales into insignificance compared to China’s record as a developing country of raising 850 million people out of poverty in 40 years (21 million a year); seven times the rate. This was described in a Labour Foreign Policy Group document, generally rather hostile to China, as “perhaps the single most significant contribution to human wellbeing in world history”. But let’s not dwell on that. Let’s move swiftly on and not think about how this statistic is actual people whose lives have been immeasurably improved. It’s only the same number of people as the entire UK population thirteen times over. Just think of how many people that is. In forty years. And that includes everyone in Xinjiang, whose living standards are rising by 6% a year and whose labour is no more forced than that of anyone else who works in a factory.

It is also odd that Lammy does not mention that the “conflict in Yemen” is fueled by British made arms, of the sort that Conference sadly voted to boost, and the Saudi Air Force and Navy are trained to bomb and blockade ports by the RAF and Royal Navy – leading to famine and the world’s worst cholera epidemic. Nothing to see here. Let’s talk about Ukraine instead.

Lammy says “No act of imperialism is ever the same. But Vladimir Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine this year was just the latest front in an age-old war between democracy and dictatorship. Freedom and subjugation. Empire and independence.” From the country and allies that have – just since 1990 -brought us two wars each in Iraq and Yugoslavia, the invasion and twenty year occupation of Afghanistan and the reduction of Libya from the most prosperous country in North Africa to a war ravaged basket case, this might be considered a little ironic. Quite what kind of “act of imperialism” Lammy considers these to be is unclear, who was fighting for “freedom” and who for “subjugation”, who for “Empire” and who for “independence“, he doesn’t say. Possibly because it’s too obvious if you think about it for a moment. Does he have no self-awareness at all?

“Vladimir Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine” is an oft repeated mantra that conceals more than it explains. Deliberately. The war in Ukraine did not start with the Russian intervention this February. It started with the overthrow of a democratically elected President in 2014, aided and abetted by the considerable resources of the USA and EU, in cahoots with the local far right. This led to a rebellion on the Donbass region and an eight year civil war. As Sir Richard Sherriff, the former NATO Deputy Commander, remarked, a little off script, “this war started in 2014”.

The invasion this February followed attempts by the Russians to get an agreed mutual security arrangement that was spurned with complete contempt by NATO.

The Russian decision to recognise the Donbass Republics in February was not carried out by Putin alone but had the support of the overwhelming majority of the State Duma, including the main opposition Party, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, reflecting concerns at the failure to implement the Minsk Agreement, refusal of NATO to engage in any talks about mutual security, and a build up of 130,000 Ukrainian troops – whose pay was tripled in December – opposite Donetsk and Lugansk threatening their liquidation.

All war is barbaric, but it may seem odd to viewers of the atrocity porn produced by Feargal Keene and the like that by comparison with what the Americans do, the Russians have been relatively restrained. There have been a number of specific strikes on infrastructure like power stations or dams, but in US air campaigns they aim to smash the entire power and water treatment systems on day one to reduce the population to a state of rebellious despair. “Shock and Awe”*. In fact, the US dropped as much explosives on Iraq on the first day of the second Iraq war as it took the Russians a month and half to do in Ukraine. All relative? Up to a point. But not if you’re underneath it.

The term “Special Military Operation” incidentally, is not a weaselly euphemism to cover all out war, but an internationally accepted definition of a particular sort of limited war, and everyone who reports on this knows it. This is now escalating and will continue to do unless peace negotiations can get going.

Worse, Lammy’s way forward is both delusory and condemns Ukraine and its people to being a permanent proxy war zone for NATO. “Whether it takes six months, three years or ten, Ukraine will win.” Ten years of war? Seriously? “Ukraine will win“? With Russia incorporating the South and East into the Russian Federation and mobilising accordingly, I can’t see that. Lammy is calling for war without end.

At a point that even EU Foreign Representative Jose Barroso is calling for a negotiated peace acceptable to both sides – “we stand ready to assist the peace plan just launched and we urge all parties to seize this opportunity to de-escalate the crisis and end violence of this developing tragedy,” it is deeply depressing that Labour’s Foreign policy spokesperson striking the same sort of bellicose posture that Boris Johnson did when he intervened to sabotage the last serious attempts at peace talks back in April.

If he wants the “global food crisis”, not to mention the energy crisis that he, again oddly, didn’t mention, to end, we need to end the war. That starts with pushing for peace, not a ten year war.

Lammy envisages a war crimes tribunal for Putin. On the model of the sort we have seen for George W Bush and Tony Blair for the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq that their war led to? One like that? Or perhaps the one for Putin after the Chechen war, at a time he was considered a “strategic partner” by NATO? War crimes, it seems, are always committed by our enemies. Never by us, or anyone allied with us. The numbers don’t count. Especially if they are in the Global South.

Lammy is also right that the Tories tend to craft a Foreign Policy that is a wolf in wolf’s clothing and that the current government, delirious on Brexit Kool Aid is picking fights with everyone and thinking it can get away with it. It won’t. But his version of looking outward is simply to reassert traditional alliances with the rest of the Global North as it rearms on a colossal scale, while hoping a wee bit of extra aid will keep the Global South sweet enough not to start lining up with the Chinese model of development.

While Lammy is right to argue for restoring overseas aid to 0.7% of GDP, his argument is less that this is the right thing to do as partial reparations for the damage and exploitation done by the Empire and slave trade, more about enhancing the “soft power” of the UK as the beneficiary of it, even though, as he said his “ancestors knew what it was like to have their freedom taken away. They heard the twisted lies of imperialism as they were stolen from their homes in shackles and turned into slaves.” Quite so.

“A voice for peace, development and freedom across the globe” is sorely needed. A voice for expanded UK military expenditure, for an unquestioning alliance with the USA in its provocative militarist dotage as it pushes for wars it thinks it can win in Ukraine and the South China Sea, won’t provide any of that.

Historical Note

“Shock and awe” marries the two US bombing traditions of precision targeting with colossal force. But, unlike the initial advocates of precise targeting, who argued for overwhelming strikes on key targets of military significance, “choke points” like the Schweinfurt ball bearing factory in the case of Nazi Germany, these strikes combine taking out military HQs but also decisive civilian infrastructure. So, from day 1, there is no power, no clean water, no functioning sewage system. It seems odd that advocates of this approach are trying to argue that “the Russian way of making war” is more barbaric than that.

Have Brylreem, will bomb! US Air Force General Curtis Lemay in 1954. Sketch taken from the photo by A.Y. Owen in the Getty Images Collection which, if anything, is even more alarming to look at.

The idea that destroying civilian infrastructure makes a population less inclined to resist has never been vindicated in practice; unless it reaches the almost genocidal scale of the B29 raids on Japan in 1945 led by Curtis LeMay, who went on to bomb North Korea “back to the Stone Age” a few years later; in which the state of mind of the shattered survivors barely counts. In the initial argument in WW2 between the US Air Force, who thought they could “hit a pickle barrel from 6 miles up” using a precision bombsight in daylight (they couldn’t) and the RAF, which went into carpet bombing wide civilian areas at night, the British side disregarded its own experience during the Blitz, that the raids had made the civilian population hate the bombers harder and strengthened resistance to them, thinking this wouldn’t apply in Germany because the people were “a different sort”. No stiff upper…A racialised argument within white supremacy, indicating that the British took it for granted they were ubermensch, but that it was rather vulgar to proclaim it.

All quotes from “The Bomber Mafia” by Malcolm Gladwell.

The Emperor still has no clothes…

This is a write up of my notes for the Teach the Future Teach In on 27th August. It misses out some ad libs and includes other notes that were skipped over, so doesn’t act as a precise script for the recording due out shortly.

Organising on climate in the trade union movement means we need to grasp that its vital for working class organisations not just to react to the crisis but to lead on resolving it.

Last year’s OXFAM report noted that the rapidly increasing carbon footprints of the top 10% of the global population will take us above 1.5C on their own, regardless of what the rest of us do.

The poorest 50% have a negligible carbon footprint. What might be called the “upper middle” 40% – which includes most of us here, working class people in the Global North and better off people in the Global South – have a carbon footprint that is shrinking.

The struggle for a sustainable climate is therefore a class struggle against the unsustainable overconsumption of the wealthy.

If you look at the organising core of climate denialism it combines the corporate interests of fossil fuel companies and an activist cadre of extremely wealthy men, like Lord Lawson.

Global Crisis

The problem is that attempts to deal with climate breakdown have to go through the existing machinery of power, which maintain current economic relations.

This is very marked in the United States, which has been the world’s leading economic, political and military power since at least 1945. They are failing to lead.

This is not just because they are spending twenty times as much on their military as they are on climate investment, but because their whole model of society – all those sprawling gas hungry suburbs, short haul flights, lack of high speed rail or decent metro systems in most cities, the celebration of individualised alienated mass consumption to fill the holes in their souls – generates the third biggest per capita carbon footprint in the world. Only Saudi Arabia and Australia are worse. “The American Way of Life” is not a viable model of the future anymore – even for the US itself.

They are now also exporting record quantities of fracked LNG and Oil. The power of fossil fuel interests buying up votes in Congress means there is a see saw between outright Trumpish denialism and limited half measures like the Reduce Inflation Act – which combines both vital investment in green energy and lets further fossil fuel projects off the leash. The passage of this Act means that John Kerry will no longer be walking naked into the conference chamber at COP. He’ll be trying to maintain his dignity in his underpants.

There is a strongly held view in the Global South that climate breakdown is a problem for the Global North to fix, on the basis that the world’s richest countries – the USA, Canada, EU, UK, Japan, Australia etc – are responsible for 90% of historic carbon emissions. “You broke it. You fix it”. That is sometimes put vehemently in India and is a strongly held view in parts of China too.

But in China that is shifting.

A friend of mine who works for a Chinese University tells me that for the last few years there have been two to three conferences a week on aspects of climate change up and down the country. Xi Jinping talks a lot about the need to build an “Ecological Society”. They are currently investing one and a half times as much in green transition as they are in their military. It is currently expected that their 2030 target for renewables will be met by 2026 and coal – on which they are still heavily dependent – is being redefined as a support for a grid based on renewables not the other way round. The speed with which this can be achieved is vital for all of us (both in its direct effects but also in providing a developmental model for other Global South countries).

More negatively, the failure of the Global North countries to transfer the $100 billion needed as a bottom line for the Global South to cope with climate impacts and develop without recourse to fossil fuels has led to the African Union planning to demand at the COP that Africa’s reserves of oils and gas are developed to alleviate poverty. With Global North countries developing their own reserves, they don’t have a leg to stand on if they want to oppose this.

Britain

We are about to move from Boris Johnson’s inverted pyramids of patriotic piffle – pie in the sky “world leading” targets with no plans to meet them just to strike a pose – to Liz Truss – who will be worse.

While Truss formally supports the Net Zero 2050 target for the UK, she says she finds the sight of solar farms in the countryside “depressing” and her response to the energy price crunch is to use it to boost oil and gas production and exploration in the North Sea, while rejecting a windfall tax on energy producers, lift the ban on fracking while opposing onshore wind – none of which will reduce bills.

She is backed by Lord Frost – known to his friends as “Frosty the No Man” – who opined in the week of our 40C heatwave, during which the Fire Brigade had more call outs than at any time since the second World War, that he saw “no evidence” of a climate emergency in the UK and instead of the “medieval technology” of wind power, favours measures to “master our environment”, like fracking and nuclear. She is also backed by Steve Baker and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (a really bad name for a band) and is anticipated to put go slowers like Jacob Rees Mogg in the cabinet.*

The paradox here is that you could have such a dynamic Tory narrative in favour of Onshore Wind. They could say – “let’s cut the red tape and let the market work its magic!” Or, in the name of “energy security” they could paint them red, white and blue and call them “Freedom Farms”, stand in front of them for a poster with the slogan “Its Britain’s Wind!” Why don’t they do that? Perhaps because fossil fuels are more profitable than renewables and they want to maintain market share regardless of the cost (in all respects).

The good news here is that they are already so unpopular that just about everything they do will be discredited just because its them doing it. Liz Truss – a hard person to warm to – will not get a honeymoon period.

Schools

Who said this?

“The challenge of climate change is formidable. For children and young people to meet it with determination and not with despair we must offer them not just truth, but also hope. Learners need to know the truth about climate change…they must also be given the hope that they can be agents of change.”

Nadhim Zahawi said that at the launch of the DFE Net Zero Strategy in April. Of course, his pitch for Conservative leader a couple of months later was to cut 20% from all government budgets, so…

Four questions for us to think about.

  1. In the context of increased economic pressure on schools, with energy costs up 93% on last year, leading to pressure for cuts down to bare bones provision (4 day weeks, cutting all staff not teaching core subjects have both been floated) will the positive initiatives from the Net Zero Strategy – like the National Nature Park, the requirement for all schools to appoint sustainability leads in 2023 – be dropped as “green crap” and the DFE Sustainability Unit with them?
  2. In the context of a wholesale retreat from Net Zero targets by the Conservatives at national level, what milage is left in lobbying Conservative MPs (though we should never cease pointing out to them that dropping the 2050 targets would lose them 1.3 million votes) compared with getting opposition parties likely to form the next government on a sound policy? The point here is that a government visibly on the skids is leaching power even while still in office and the statement “We will undo this” by Shadow Ministers cuts the ground out from new initiatives and sets the agenda even before the old government falls.
  3. In the context of denialists/go slowers “crisis, what crisis” types dominating the cabinet, how far is the current DFE “impartiality guidance” – which says that the science is set and denialism invalid, but the debate on what we do about it has to be done in a “non Partisan” way, that blocks support for particular campaigns or initiatives but allows debate to be had, so long as no one view is promoted, allows personal views to be stated, as long as they are identified as such and its made clear other views are available – be replaced with straight forward “war on woke” from the top? **
  4. What scope is there for a campaign for school insulation on the TUC Report, to directly cut energy costs and act as community hubs?

Lastly, watch out for the NEU Guide to Decarbonising the Curriculum – due out in November.

Thank you for having me.

* And so she has. At Business and Energy for goodness sake.

** The appointment of Jonathan Gullis, who refers to the NEU as the “No Education Union” and does not seem an open minded sort of chap, does not bode well.

Stats for Socialists: Why the Tories will cost the Earth – in both ways.

Both candidates for Conservative leader, and therefore Prime Minister, oppose onshore wind and favour new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea. This is motivated by the current increase in costs for oil and gas – which makes them expensive for consumers and profitable for producers.

The TUC released figures showing excess profits for UK based fossil fuel producers of £170 billion in the next two years. We could do an awful lot with a windfall tax on that. A rate of 56%, as currently used in Norway, would raise £90 billion. The projected prospective Norwegian rate of 78% more like £132 billion. And these are excess profits; so, taxing the lot wouldn’t be unreasonable, even for opponents of public ownership.

Even the lowest amount would pay for Labour’s proposed £26 billion investment to insulate our housing stock by 2035 three times over, with £12 billion left over to do the schools and hospitals too.

It is now 9 times more expensive to produce energy from gas than it is from renewables. But energy prices are set by the gas price. The EU is planning to cut that link so the cheaper energy from renewables can be reflected in prices. Keeping the link here in Brexit Britain would make energy here qualitatively more expensive than in the rest of Europe. The IMF reports that this is already the case.

Its hard to avoid the conclusion that the consensus resistance to insulation on the Right is because insulated homes reduce bills by reducing demand for an otherwise profitable product. And that would never do, would it?

It takes 28 years to bring new Oil and Gas fields on stream, compared to under two years for onshore wind and five for offshore.

Another way to put this is that we can have new onshore wind farms in operation by 2024.

Offshore wind projects starting now will come on stream in 2027.

New Oil and Gas fields given the go ahead now will take until 2050 – by which time we should have very little use for them if we want to survive.

Nuclear power plants take 7.5 years on average just to construct. Hinckley C is scheduled to take 9. The energy they produce is significantly more expensive than renewables. The government’s proposed Small Modular Reactors are even more expensive and not due to be rolled out until the 2030s.

Reports in the FT have indicated that new “agile” companies hoping to exploit North Seas fossil fuel reserves will bring them into production faster than has been the case hitherto. Which, presumably, is where the proposed scrapping of health, safety and environment regulations come in; so we can have a regime of deep sea oil drilling rigs as lightly regulated as the banks were before 2008.

What could possibly go wrong?

Where’s Mr Flint when you need him?

We live in a distinctive but tutti putti flat; designed and built by a locally famous architect and builder called Ernest Trobridge in the late 1920s. Trobridge believed in using natural, local materials and had a real thing about compressed wood. His houses and flats are scattered around NW9, the earliest ones heavily thatched, and include the Castle Flats on the corner of our road; which appeared with Sir John Betjeman standing on top of them in his Metroland documentary in 1973 (and the Madness “Our House” video nine years later… from what feels like a very different time). His designs are part Tudor, part medieval, with imaginative twists – particularly tall, spirally chimneys – that make me wonder how many spoons of magic mushrooms he took in his tea. All the fireplaces in our row of flats are variations on a theme of decorative brick that look hefty and solid. But, the structure of interior walls (and some exterior walls) was described in our pre sale survey as “exceptionally flimsy”. So, though they don’t look just the same, they are, in parts, definitely made out of ticky tacky.

A while back, one of us knocked into one of the bedroom walls and a hole appeared. Pulling away a layer of wallpaper revealed a 6″ x 9″ rectangular cavity with an air brick at the end, that the previous owners had just papered over. Brushing out the dust and cobwebs revealed several rusted nails left over from 1927 and an air brick at a visibly wonky angle; implying that 1920s craftsmanship wasn’t all that it has been cracked up to be. Definite sense of “that’ll do” combined with an undue haste to get done. With the impending energy price rise putting a premium on closing off sources of drafts, I bought an air brick grille. This, like all good Christmas toys that arrive without batteries, arrived without screws; but with the instruction to use “Grade 6 round headed screws of appropriate length”. I needed four of them. The only packs they had in Wickes contained 50. So, having screwed them in, I am left with 46 spare. In the absence of another 11 and a half grilles to put in, I’ve just put them in the tin box that contains all the other packs of screws and nails; where they will stay unused, possibly forever.

When I was growing up in Grays, there was a tiny shop on the corner of Orsett Road and Derby Road that was run by Mr Flint. Flints was a bit like the shop in the 2 Ronnies “For…k…andles” sketch, but much smaller and qualitatively neater. In fact, it might be best described as a shrine to the most anally retentive possible kind of man cave. Presided over by Mr Flint: a small, bald, bird faced man in one of those brown coats that proclaimed that he was a tradesman and proud of it. He sold all sorts of DIY related bits and bobs, and a nice little side line in Airfix plastic models and armies in a box, and the dinky little tins of Humbrol paints needed to paint them. One line that seemed to sell quite well was models of the ships involved in the Battle of the River Plate – probably recalled in plastic because it was a moral boosting early victory for the Royal Navy at a time when everything else was bleak; or, given that it was on Dec 13th 1939, hadn’t properly kicked off yet. The German pocket battleship Graf Spee and the British and New Zealand light cruisers Ajax, Achilles and (rather more prosaically) Exeter; of the sort that were strikingly described as “eggshells armed with hammers”. I’ve known people like that. Me, sometimes. These were on display above the counter, as a sort of decorative flourish. But the main trade of the shop was tools, screws, nails, nuts and bolts and such. You could buy these in exactly the quantity you needed. If you wanted 4 Grade 6 Round headed screws, Mr Flint would sell you 4 Grade 6 round headed screws. And charge you a ha’penny for it. So, you got what you needed, no more, no less; no waste, no overconsumption, no pointless storage.

Mr Flint from memory circa 1964

In the middle of the parade of shops in Kingsbury, there is a large store to let. That is the sort of space that we need for a Library of Things, one of the Repair Workshops the Council is planning and possibly a free book exchange. The main shopping drag is part of the Roe Green Green Zone, along with the Park, the Primary and Secondary Schools and the streets to the North, which will be the prototype for local transformation. Early days and the Council has limited resources, but we should be thinking big.

50 Shades of Frost.

Lord Frost must have choked over his freshly ironed copy of the Daily Telegraph this morning. Spread across the wide open spaces of its front page – because, as long as there is an England, the Telegraph will forever be a broadsheet – was a map with the whole of Southern England coloured red.

This is to show the areas in which – in the current drought – wildfires are just a flicked match, barbecue ember, or suns rays concentrated through a thrown away bottle away. As the wildfire in Wennington showed at the end of last month, if vegetation and buildings are dry enough, and the winds are strong enough, a small fire can spread out of control and burn down whole streets. We should note that Wennington is on the edge of Rainham marshes, not an area we would normally expect to catch fire. In fact, we got lucky that time, because the winds were quite low. So, anyone who owns a property in that red zone, which stretches right across the Tory heartlands of the soft South, has real reason to be worried.; which would be why the Telegraph published it.

But, this is where ideological dissonance slips in. The Telegraph puts a lot of effort into bigging up all the forces on the Tory right, from Lords Lawson and Frost, to Steve Baker and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, who like to argue that Climate Breakdown is all a woke plot; that because dealing with it requires a fairer society that would be uncomfortable for people like them, not dealing with it, while hoping with Mr Micawber that “something will turn up”, is the better option.

Indeed, this is just two days after Frost opined in an essay on Public Exchange, that “there is no evidence” that the UK faces a climate emergency.

One can only conclude that he goes through life with his eyes. and ears firmly shut, and has not bothered to read very much. He could just look around him. Perhaps, like so many “non elite” Brexit supporting members of the House of Lords, he hasn’t been around to notice what’s going on here because he’s off on holiday somewhere continental. But, he can’t really miss it there either. If he is in Italy, perhaps he has noticed coverage of the drought that has cause the Po river to dry up on parts of its course. If he has passed through Germany, he might have noticed that the Rhine is now so low that shipping is being restricted. If he has gone to the United States, he can’t have missed the epic drought and wildfires there this Summer which have produced fire tornadoes in California; or the floods in Kentucky that washed whole houses down streets turned into torrents. Had he popped up to the Arctic for a bit of whale spotting, he might have been made aware that it is heating up four times faster than the rest of the planet and the permafrost is melting 43 times as fast as it was.

If he wants some written evidence, maybe he should just read the latest IPCC Report. Current policies, which he thinks are too fast, have us heading for a 2.7C average temperature rise by the end of the century. Crisis? What crisis?

But, of course, he is from a political current that dislikes “experts” and prefers its own prejudices whenever that’s more convenient.

Frost’s proposals are designed to make other people, in poorer parts of the world, pay the price for the over consumption of people like him.

He blathers complacently on – with that blithe self confidence that so many upper class people have, that if you state total bollocks with enough conviction you can disregard any evidence to the contrary – “the prevailing mood is one in which individuals are asked to restrict their use of energy and in which unsatisfactory renewables technology is touted as the best solution to our problems. Instead of focusing on technological solutions that enable us to master our environment and get more energy in a more carbon-efficient way — nuclear, CCS, fracking, one day fusion – we have focused on managing demand so we can use medieval technology like wind power.”

This is such flabby thinking that it beggars belief that he can be taken seriously by anyone with a fragment of critical intelligence. But, let’s look at them one at a time anyway.

  1. “Individuals are asked to restrict their use of energy”. At the moment, the biggest pressure forcing people to reduce their use of energy is the rapid increase in fossil fuel prices (and the profits of the energy producing companies that flow from them). Frost does not favour taxing those profits to give people a break. He stands for the free market (in this context). Nor does he favour an insulation programme that would allow people to keep warm and cook food, using less energy and getting lower bills as a result. Using less energy means less demand for fossil fuels, therefore fewer profits for the producers. Can’t have that, can we? This is of a piece with his complaint in the Brexit campaign that the EU was introducing standards to force vacuum cleaners to become more efficient – on the grounds that a proper clean needs to burn lots of joules. Vacuum cleaning for petrolheads.
  2. That “unsatisfactory renewables technology”, overtook fossil fuels in UK electricity generation in 2020. “Medieval” wind power produced 24% of UK energy demand in 2020, increased 715% from 2009 to 2020 and is now much cheaper per Kilowatt hour than fossil fuels or nuclear; and steadily getting even cheaper. That reduces bills. Once the turbines are up or the solar panels installed, the wind and the sunshine is free. “Unsatisfactory” for fossil fuel producers, no doubt. Very helpful for the rest of us. Oddly, Lord Frost does not seem so keen on “the market” here. He wants to restrict renewables as such. Perhaps not as suicidally keen as France’s Marine Le Pen, who wants to “tear down” turbines that are already up; but in the way that the Conservatives have restricted onshore wind with all sorts of planning “red tape”. You’d think, with onshore wind being among the cheapest energy sources, he’d want to cut the restrictions and “let the market work its magic”; but not a bit of it. You’d think, as a patriotic Brexiteer wedded to notions of “energy security”, he’d want to make the most of an energy source that doesn’t have to be imported. He could make a bit of a campaign of it, painting them red, white and blue and calling them “Freedom Farms”; with banner headlines in the Tory Press screaming “It’s Britain’s Wind!” But, no. If its low prices for energy users with fewer carbon emissions on the one hand, and sustained fossil fuel profits generating billowing clouds of carbon dioxide on the other, its no contest.
  3. In full macho mode, Lord Frost prefers “technological solutions that enable us to master our environment” (my emphasis). So butch. 50 shades of Frost. Let’s see what he has in his special room. “Nuclear, CCS, fracking, one day fusion“. While its in the nature of denial for people to clutch at straws, this is a peculiarly old fashioned vision of modernity. Taking them backwards, which seems an oddly appropriate thing to do… “Fusion” has been the holy grail for nuclear power that has been full of promise for at least 50 years; but has never actually arrived. This year, next year, sometime, never. He might as well argue that “one day” we will power ourselves with Unicorn farts. “Fracking” for oil and gas. No one wants a fracking site in their backyard. Presumably Frost wants to enforce them on unwilling communities “in the national interest” of the profits made by the fracking companies. Perhaps he hasn’t noticed that oil and gas are fossil fuels. So, not a solution to a problem created by burning too many fossil fuels. And not a “carbon efficient” way to generated energy. “Carbon Capture and Storage.” The IPCC Report made it very clear that this is not a technology capable of economic deployment at the scale needed. Indeed, given that this would be such a “get out of jail free” card for carbon intensive industries, you’d think that it would have been developed by now. Instead, rather like fusion, it is the solution that’s just around the corner; and has been for decades. “Nuclear”. There is an argument about how “low carbon” nuclear energy generation is. What is in no doubt is that it is immensely costly. Costlier than fossil fuels. Costlier than renewables. And slow. By So, Frost’s “solutions” are a mix of unproven wishful thinking combined with a cavalier disregard for costs; both environmental and financial. And, that’s it.

With the whole of Southern England a tinder box, perhaps the threat of wildfires in the backyards of prosperous Tory speissburgers might make a few of them pay attention – especially if house price values start being affected. But, with Frost highly influential with Liz Truss, and medieval thinkers like John Redwood slated for cabinet posts in our new and unimproved Conservative government, we can expect a lurch even further to the right. Their problem is that its only possible to safely deny reality so long as that reality isn’t imposing itself on people’s lives, as climate breakdown is. It has been argued that climate is “above politics”. It isn’t, as Lord Frost and his ilk demonstrate. But the reality of it is foundational to any politics that is relevant from here on. We’re not in the Holocene any more Toto.

Look up! Wake up! Stand up for your rights!

A youth who is worried by the future too often. Atleliers Populaires 1968

The only war that matters is the war against the imagination/ all other wars are subsumed in it. Diane Di Prima

A sense among young people of being silenced in the face of impending disaster is even more relevant today than it was in the late 1960s.

A survey for Teach the Future by Bath University asked 10,000 young people across the world in 2021 for their views and feelings about the future in the context of the climate crisis.

76% were afraid of the future.

54% thought that humanity is doomed.

39% were actively considering not having children.

That is a tidal wave of anxiety that will come out in all sorts of pathological forms if it is denied or silenced, but generated positive action from 2018 on; with the wave of school strikes that built up to millions taking part across the world by September 2019. This generated a supportive movement among parents, teachers and other educators, to change the curriculum as an agent of change for our whole society; anticipating the shifts we will need for a sustainable society, so that we are actively making them.

This is driven by the reality of climate breakdown.

As I am writing this, the Storm Eunice is howling outside and the rain splattering on my window after a week of storms. A world that felt mostly safe for most of my life no longer does. Switch on the laptop and climate crisis impacts are all over it. They are hitting the Global South hardest, but are coming home to roost in the Global North too. No one is going to stop it by building a wall.

The mobilisations in response are the human fuel for change.

A government serious about making a transition to sustainability would learn from it, work with it and use it to galvanise more people to act on the scale and with the urgency we need, with schools acting as community hubs. Actually implement Article 12 of the Paris Agreement, which mandates governments to educate their whole people to understand the scale of the crisis and the measures needed to overcome it.

Instead – alongside the most minimal steps forward in the DFE Net Zero Strategy – we have new guidance on “Political impartiality in schools”. which is designed to keep this movement within safe bounds for the government.

The headlines that heralded this announcement all screamed that this itself is anything but politically impartial, with student movements protests on climate, Palestine and racism; critical views of the British Empire or figures like Churchill specifically mentioned as “woke” issues – or “left wing brain washing” – that would be suppressed by it. This is an attempt to speak power to truth.

The actual guidance is far more subtle than a Daily Express headline is capable of and plays on the fact that teachers are – in general – far more fair minded and conscientious and far less partisan than, say, a government Minister. The law on this matter is quite specific and limited. “Partisan” views are those which support one political Party over another, or put forward one solution to the exclusion of all others. The guidance has some quite unexceptional points that just about every teacher would use in any case, that if stating a personal view, identifying it as such and saying that other views are available, or, if there is a genuinely contested argument, pointing out sources of differing interpretation. A similarly mature approach might be welcome in some of our newspapers. Debating an issue of concern to students, or organising clubs to pursue it, is not, in itself “partisan”. However, the liberal use of the word throughout the guidance creates the impression that it might be; with the intention of inhibiting both teachers and students from exploring the issues involved without feeling there is someone looking over their shoulder waiting to dob them in to the DFE thought police. As there very rarely is, this is an attempt to set such an inhibition in people’s heads. We shouldn’t let it in.

Presenting issues in a “balanced” way is less of an issue than whether an issue is being presented truthfully. The problem comes when the presentation of awkward facts for those in power gets interpreted as partisan and ruled out of order. This is the US Alt Right playbook to control narratives expressed in the accents of the British civil service. Much of the framing of the discussion on History in the press suffers precisely from this sort of cherry picking. Attempts to look at the history of the British Empire from the point of view of the colonised as well as the coloniser, for example, lead to really jumpy reactions from people who would like that perspective to remain suppressed; whether that is in the classroom or the National Trust. This is not because people are unaware that the elegant stately homes they love were built with the proceeds of slavery, but that they’d really prefer not to be reminded of it. Its because they know that this is a fact that they find it so disturbing; and so resort to disavowal. Look straight at something, and pretend its not there. There’s only so much reality one can take, after all. The “war on woke” is designed to sustain existing unbalanced views and hagiographies in a way that turns History into a series of self serving myths, and any questioning of them into heresies. None of us should be intimidated into ceasing to question or challenge.

There is an attempt running all the way through the guidance to inhibit the expression of any view that might be interpreted as partisan, as well as a staggering lack of self awareness of the partisan views of the government itself – which this guidance acts to disguise.

On climate in particular, a little humility would not go amiss from a governing Party that

  • abstained on the Parliamentary motion to declare a climate emergency,
  • still contains the organising cadre of climate denial and delay in the form of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group,
  • has for the most part come very late to any recognition of the scale of this crisis,
  • has a default to backslide, and a Net Zero Plan with targets that its own Parliamentary watchdog says it will undershoot by 80%.

These are awkward facts. Not contestable because they are on the public record. Would it be “partisan” to point them out? What would the “balance” be? It is the weakness of government responses to the scale and enormity of the crisis that has fueled the student protest movements and strikes.

The relatively tepid language of the guidance acts as the soft cop to the hard cop role of the tabloids, which are primed to go after examples of “woke” teaching in the same way they did in the 1980s when some schools tried to teach that it was ok to have two Dads or two Mums, which led to exactly the same sort of accusations of indoctrination – teaching kids to be gay – “its political correctness gone mad” etc etc etc with hues and cries at school gates from parents frightened their kids were being “turned gay”; allowing the Conservative government to introduce Section 28 and ban teaching that gay families were ok. They don’t talk about that much anymore, but they do have a pretty consistent record of being on the wrong side of history.

Let us consider Scenario A – dealing with climate breakdown – in the new DFE guidance on “political impartiality in schools” in the context of their overall edict that “You can discuss political issues with pupils, and their interest and engagement in these should be encouraged. However, you should not promote partisan political views to them, or encourage them to participate in specific political activity, including protests”.

The paradox of this position is that it is a truth universally acknowledged that the cure for an otherwise disabling level of anxiety is to take action against the causes of it. Depression and despair sets in where such action is blocked. The driver of the fear in the survey is that most young people feel that their governments are failing to tackle the problem on the scale and at the speed needed to resolve it. it is the gap between the knowledge of the crisis and the paltry scale of the actions being taken to deal with it that causes despondency.

In Scenario A the government acknowledges that there is no justified argument against the reality of climate breakdown, the reasons for it and the disastrous consequences of failing to deal with it, neatly disowning a noisy faction of its own back benches, as follows.

Teaching about climate change and the scientific facts and evidence behind this, would not constitute teaching about a political issue. Schools do not need to present misinformation, such as unsubstantiated claims that anthropogenic climate change is not occurring, to provide balance here.

So, there is no requirement to cover the sort of nonsense put out by the Global Warming Foundation to provide “balance”.

However, where teaching covers the potential solutions for tackling climate change, this may constitute a political issue. Different groups, including political parties and campaign groups, may have partisan political views on the best way to address climate change.

This part of the topic should be taught in a balanced manner, with teachers not promoting any of the partisan political views covered to pupils.

In other words. Its ok – in fact its desirable – to have a debate. Partisan views can be expressed in a lesson, so long as there is more than one of them. Not only that, but its also ok for teachers to express a personal view, as long as it is clearly identified as such, and its made clear that other views are available.

Its in the area of potential solutions, that go beyond technical matters to how we organise society and deal with issues of justice and fairness in the transition we have to make, that open debate is essential. The government’s model of education tends to emphasise the transmission of “knowledge” – an old fashioned passing down of truths from authority figures – and they tend to interpret debate in the same way as manipulation by authority figures. What they seem to have missed is that so much of the debate, with “partisan views” fiercely expressed, has been led by students who have felt let down by the absence of content, absence of urgency and absence of organisation and mobilisation in schools and communities. In so far as any progress is being made at all, including by the DFE, it is down to them. It is no job of a responsible teacher to try to shut them up.

The whole point about trying to forge a just transition is that we are making it up as we go along, no one has all the answers and to find them we have to let a hundred flowers blossom and a thousand schools of thought contend; so we can (all) look up, wake up and create our own future.