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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.