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Posts Tagged ‘climate’

sky clouds building industry

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Once upon a time there was a King and his kin who ate and ate and ate, and when they’d stripped the kingdom bare with their eating, they made war on their neighbours and ate their land bare too. They felt they had no choice in this, that if they ever stopped eating – even for a moment – they would disappear, that only by eating more and more could they remain fully present in the world and meaningful, and their followers, the people, who also ate excessively, would still worship them. The strange thing was the more everyone ate, the sadder they became, and the King told them the reason for their sadness – though he’d no idea really – was because they had not yet eaten enough.

But when all the neighbours had been slain and the King and his kin and their followers had stripped the earth bare, all the way down to the shore of the sea, and when there was nothing left to eat, and even the fishes were choking on the King’s excrement, the King and his kin sat down in puzzlement. They were still hungry, and sad, and in their hunger they despaired and became grumpy with one another. And their followers, the people,  were confused and afraid, and hungry too – and as they grew hungry they grew angry there was nothing more to eat. After all had the King not told them it was their duty to eat as much as they could every day?

So the King and his kin turned their anger back on the people for questioning the wisdom of the King, and they sent the King’s army out to beat them until they bled, and while they were at it, to rob the people, to search their pockets for any last crumbs that might sustain the King and his kin. But the crumbs were few, for in truth the people had been hungry for a long time. So the King took to his bed and his kin, fearing the end of the world, sent for the wise man.

Now the wise man knew the King and his kin were foolish in their beliefs, and tyrannical in the lies they told the people, most of whom knew no better. But they were many and stubborn in their beliefs, because everyone had been eating for so long it was impossible for them to think of any other way to be.

“But you’re forgetting the stars,” he said to the King.

“The stars?” said the King. “What about the stars?”

“Everyone knows there are planets orbiting the stars,” said the wise man. “I shall build you rocket-ships to take you there. Just think of all those planets waiting to be exploited in the name of the King.”

This rather excited the King. “And all of us can go?” he said. “My kin too? I wouldn’t want to be without my kin, who tell me daily whatever I want to hear.”

“All of you,” said the wise man. “I insist.”

“And what about us?” said the followers of the King and his kin.

“All who wish to go and eat, shall go,” said the wise man. “But there’s a catch. These rocket-ships will use up the very last of our materials and our fuels on earth, and there will be no chance of ever returning.”

So the King and his kin looked around at the wasteland of the earth and they laughed, thinking this wouldn’t be a problem. So the wise man gathered the experts, who gathered the materials and the fuels and they built the rockets and fitted them out with the most wondrously luxurious state-rooms, and filled their larders with the very last of the fruits of the earth.

Of course, as is ever the way in human affairs, not everyone was able to find a berth on the rocket-ships. The old and the sick were decreed by the King and his kin unwelcome, as were the poor for fear they might bring bad odours and misfortune with them. But the wise man comforted those doomed to remain, and promised he would stay behind to look after them.

“You mean you’re not coming?” said the King.

“What need have you of me, your majesty,” said the wise man. “when each of your rocket-ships is equipped with the most artificially intelligent computer ever known to man?”

“Fair enough” said the King, who had perfect confidence in computers. He didn’t much like the wise man anyway, was always afraid he knew something the King didn’t. And with the wise man gone, the King’s wisdom was once more the last word.

So came the day and all the rocket-ships blasted off into the void of space, never to return, and the wise man watched them go and he bid them good riddance, knowing everyone aboard would be long dead before they’d crossed even a fraction of the distance to nearest star. And just as well for he would not have wished such an obscene  pestilence to be visited on another world.

Then he turned to the old and the sick and the poor, and he took from his pocket a bag of seeds and he said:

“We’d best plant these then, and try not eat so much next time.”

So the people planted the seeds, and in sharing the work of the tilling and watering and the harvesting, they realised they were happy, yet they had nothing and were still hungry. So they asked the wise man: “How come we’re so happy, when we’ve not yet eaten?”

“Perhaps,” said the wise man, “the greatest nourishment is that which we find in harmonious relationship with others.”

And so the old and the poor and weak and the sick all looked at one another and agreed they’d do well to remember that, and not eat so much in future. And as the earth slowly recovered and grew green once more, and the remaining shy creatures came from their burrows and multiplied, the people looked around at this new beginning.

And saw that it was good.

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blake-newtonIn attempting to understand the world’s ills it’s all too easy to fall foul of low-level egoic thinking. In the olden days a writer might have addressed waspish letters to the Times on whatever issue vexed him. Now he’ll keep a blog and thus similarly satisfy his need to shout at whatever devil enrages him. But to do so is to overlook the fact the forces at work in the world we rub up against are the result of whatever myth the human race is living at the time, and are generally impervious to the individual will.

The left shouts at the right and vice versa. Meanwhile the world moves inexorably in a particular direction, one dictated by the myth of infinite growth, a story in which the ego must for ever feed itself in a frenzied attempt to maintain its relevance, its dominance in the daunting void of the universe.

One way or another, we are all invested in this idea, but since we live on a planet of finite size and resource, it’s clearly impossible we should continue to grow, to consume, to expand for ever. There is a point at which the earth will be stripped bare of its resources, the seas turgid with our trash, and the atmosphere choked with the smoke of our fires. It’s irrational then we should continue in this vein, but we are not dealing with the rational, more a tide of mythic being emanating from the collective psyche, and we are powerless to subvert it. Unless we can renew this myth, the story must play out, and us with it.

I’m all too guilty recently of sniping in my blog, and in my fiction at who I see as the villains of the piece. My ego is infected by the fever of a righteous anger and this weakens my ability to think in more feminine terms, to see beyond the material, to see through the witch’s scrying-glass, into the realms of the psyche where the myth-making begins.

The dreams of the individual dictate our conscience, our actions and our speech as we each live out our story, but since that personal myth is not shared by everyone we can have little effect at large and would do better to mind our own development, prevent our own devils from becoming manifest and troublesome to ourselves, yet thereby also learn something of the troubles of the world, for as the old Hermetic adage goes: as above, so below.

Most of us struggle with the concept of a collective dimension to the inner psyche since it implies a supernatural ground to our being, and this is not fashionable in a world built on rational thinking. We struggle also with its early theoreticians, like Carl Jung, because these were not one dimensional thinkers, and were often flawed in themselves, as are all men. But, at its simplest, the direction of travel is for the unconscious in man, to become conscious, thus there is nothing we do or say or think that does not first have its origins in our unknown depths. What each man then discovers in himself becomes his life’s work, and in a similar vein what humanity discovers in its collective dreaming becomes its destiny, one to which all of us are tied.

Thinking psychologically then, we see reflected in the current state of world affairs the kind of strife the individual inflicts upon himself by an unhealthy domination of the psyche by the Ego. Our affairs stagnate and the unconscious sends monsters to torment us, not because that is its nature but because, by our actions and our faulty thinking, we have invited them. The remedy is the oldest story in the world, this being the Hero’s quest, told in many ways across many and diverse cultures, but essentially a metaphor for renewing the myth of our moribund times.

In this light we see the current somewhat sinister jokers at large on the world’s stage less as individuals and more as manifestations of the trickster archetype. The trickster has two faces, one jocular and provocative, the other malign and destructive, though both presage the disruption of the status quo. They appear at a point in the world-myth when the old ideas have run their course, their function being to usher in chaos, from which new psychical structures, new ways of being, both collective and individual, can emerge.

This is not to say these figures see themselves as embodying that role – indeed who knows if they even see themselves at all, beyond their own will to power. It’s more that we, inspired by the great dream of life, and our despair at its apparent end-game state, project that archetype upon them. And if it’s true, it tells us we are close to a transition between myths, one in which the hero journeys out at last to bring home the wisdom of renewal, and the secret of a new way of being. That’s the good news. The bad news is the tricksters foreshadow a collapse before any transition is possible, so while there may be a silver lining, there is a lot of darkness yet to come, and the question is shall the hero return in time to usher in that new dawn, or will we by then have already extinguished the sun?

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lightning and tornado hitting village

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On the night of November 28th 2019, Channel 4 broadcast a debate on climate change, on the steps we might take in the UK to put our carbon footprint in order, and provide an example of best practice that others in the world might follow. Leaders of all the main political parties were invited to speak and all agreed something must be done, the only difference between them was how much each would fall over itself trying to outdo the others’ ideas.

At bottom it required a radical move away from carbon based fuels and intensive agribusiness but, with targeted investment, it looked possible, that we might indeed reduce our carbon emissions to zero by 2030. I felt the vision served that night was not one of a defensive decline, but more of a positive, prosperous and sustainable green economy, one built upon a genuine political consensus, and I was heartened by it. The debate was of course part of the build up to the 2019 general election.

Notable by their absence that night were the Conservative party and the Brexit party. The podiums they might have occupied were replaced, much to their annoyance, by dripping ice statues, which spoke volumes to the nation, that those parties had nothing to say about climate change, let alone how to mitigate it. Their crass no-show seemed disastrous, guaranteed to wreck their credibility and severely damage their chances of winning the election.

But the Conservative party romped home to a massive majority and are now in power for the next five, possibly the next ten years. Everything progressive that was debated that night was rendered meaningless, and won’t now happen. This implies the majority of UK voters either don’t care about the impending climate catastrophe or – even as Australia burns and Greenland melts – they still don’t really believe in it.

We can’t wait another ten years to do anything about it. By 2030 all the sensitive ecological tipping points will have been tripped, and savage environmental phenomenon will have settled in on a scale that makes it obvious to even the most egregious denier the planet is adapting itself to our toxic presence with a view to wiping us out.

The feeling among many climate scientists is that even if we act now, and in unison, globally, it’s probably too late to do anything other than stabilise the climate in its present state of distress. Without action, as now seems the case, not just in the UK, but across all the major world powers, vast areas of the planet will become uninhabitable, harvests will fail and future wars will be fought, not over oil but over fresh water, grain and habitable territory. Meanwhile, unimaginable numbers of climate refugees will cross the world trying to find safety in the temperate zones. And they will not be welcomed.

The rich are insulated from the problem by virtue of their wealth. They are buying up land in places like New Zealand in order to build their fortified palaces, complete with zombie apocalypse bunkers, where they imagine they might continue to consume in extraordinary luxury the last of the planet’s resources. Meanwhile, our children will struggle daily in the face of hardship and danger.

So what to do? Well, in my latest work in progress: “Winter on the Hill”, (currently being serialised for free on Wattpad) my protagonist, a former eco-warrior, veteran of street protests, and with a criminal conviction for civil disobedience, surveys the wreckage of that climate debate and the ensuing results of the 2019 election with a cool head. His conclusion? He buys himself a three litre diesel four-wheel drive SUV, takes up hill-walking and, though it’s late in the day for him, he falls in love, more than once. The argument is lost, he says, no sense even debating it any more – just enjoy the next twenty or thirty years as best you can, because that’s all you’ve got left.

He’s an interesting character, at times prickly, and something of a socialist firebrand which may annoy some of you, but he’s also a very persuasive old curmudgeon, and I’ll be spending the next year or so getting to know him. I hope to convince him he’s wrong of course, not about love – I mean good on him for that, the old dog – but that we need him back on the barricades. Oh, and he’s to swap that monstrous diesel for an electric vehicle that won’t pull the skin off a rice pudding.

How do you rate my chances? Well, from the off, and as dispiriting as it is, I’m already tempted to concede that he might be right.

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aysgarth upper fallsThe climate is changing. It’s becoming wetter, the rains harder, longer and more frequent. They saturate the ground, the rivers rise, then spill, bringing mud and ruin. Such events were rare, they were a once in a generation thing, but now they happen so frequently, even a year without a flood is counted as a blessing.

I live in a bungalow in a village suddenly prone to annual flooding. Everything I own is at ground level. If the floods come through my letter box, I lose it all. Fortunately my abode rests on a modest high spot, an understated quirk of geography, one that has never flooded in living memory. But weather “events” are so spectacular now it renders the unthinkable thinkable and the phrase “living memory” less of a comfort.

And as I write, my home is under threat from rising water. Three overburdened rivers have burst creating lakes which pool over the escape roads, rendering them impassable to all but the army in their big trucks. And the army have gone home after attending record breaking floods on Boxing Day. We’re cut off from the world, at least for now.

I’m thinking we’ll probably be all right, except I’ve just had a recorded telephone warning from the Environment Agency – flood threat, severe, my area, risk to life, cooperate with the emergency services. These warnings are a one size fits all kind of thing and, though undoubtedly necessary in some circumstances, I feel they are unnecessarily alarmist in others. I suspect the latter is the case now, but one can never be certain. It is in my nature to hope for the best, until the worst is staring me in the face.

I have been to check the spread of water around us, though it’s pitch dark and much of the power to the village is still to be restored. This makes it hard to see anything at all. The encroaching waters are discernible as patches of paleness in the black, seemingly huge spectres laid across the usual pitch void of meadow and moss. I see distant lights reflected in them. It’s hard to tell how they are moving, or if they are moving. Darkness and imagination – still ringing from the Environment Agency’s warning – adds to the possibly inappropriate sense of threat.

There are other people about, roused by the same warnings, gathered mostly into small groups. The mood is generally calm but quietly anxious. There is a murmur of voices, faces occasionally lit by the flash of a mobile phone. Some wave their torches, loosely focused shafts of light, beaming uselessly into the darkness. They seek perhaps to probe the incoming water – measure its depth, its speed, its intent. Now and then you see someone in a hi-vis jacket running, shouting unhelpfully, breaking the quiet as if with a pointed stick. They are not officials, but easily mistaken as such – their skittishness betrays their imposture.

The flood warden passes sedately on his bicycle. I recognise him. He bears an uncanny resemblance to John Le Mesurier’s Sergeant Wilson – same looks, same voice, same gentle manners. He tells me all the sandbags were taken in the preceding days of flood – these were days that saw hundreds of properties in other parts of the village washed out with silt and sewerage. He tells me there’s nothing we can do, is apologetic. I admire his stoicism, am inspired by it.

His walkie talkie scratches to life, a garbled voice speaks to him of something incoherent, he cycles off. I note homes nearer to the front line have improvised their own defences from polythene sheet, which they hold up around their door frames with bricks and planks. They might as well have saved themselves the effort, but at times of crisis it is easier to be busy, harder to be still.

By 2:00 a.m. I am alone by the silty water’s edge, the village having given up its vigil and gone to bed. Here, the tarmac of the little road disappears under an alien plane of rippling murk that spills from a meadow, and may as far as I know stretch all the way to the sea, some five miles away. I poke at it with my toe, make ripples, suspect the level might be falling. Can’t be certain. It’s been three hours now since the recorded warning of imminent threat to life and property. What are we expecting here? I imagine a tsunami bearing down on me in the still of night. It does not come.

The emergency services arrive, but International Rescue this is not. It’s just the one night-duty policeman in a minibus. He cruises down to the waterline beside me, stops suddenly when he sees it, looks surprised, gets out, shines his torch. He says nothing to me, as if a gulf of language separates us, yet we are two men alone at dead of night, on the edge of the unknown. I thought he might at least have nodded his fellowship. I leave him to it, return home to my desk.

So, here I sit and ponder what, among my belongings, I should rescue.

In a house, one can move valuables upstairs, but the best I can do is put things on the table-tops. Beyond that, the accumulated paraphernalia of my half century of life must take its chances with the goddess of destruction. I must face the possibility that this ephemera might not be here in the morning. What I can keep of it must go into my pockets. So, what shall I take?

What would you take?

Wallet and phone; these are the obvious, ubiquitous items, but I shall take also the little black codebook in which I keep passwords for my various online accounts. Computers are replaceable. Insurance documents are online now, but I have them copied for convenience to an SD card which I keep in a folder in my wallet.  I am portable, capable of letting go of what I cannot carry.

But evacuation is slow in coming, and I’m losing interest in staying up all night. I strip to teeshirt and trunks, lay my clothes at the bottom of the bed in case I must get into them quickly. Wellies and a torch are by the door. The village is quiet now, at last. I snuggle under the duvet and drift eventually to sleep and dream of mermaids.

Dawn comes, and there is no sound of lapping water around the bed. My ‘Droid assures me the imminent risk to life and property is still pending. I lie in ’till mid-morning, then walk down to the water’s edge once more. It has not receded much since the small hours, but looks less threatening in daylight. It is not the wide inundation I had imagined. There are corners to it, patches of dry.

A helicopter flies low, buzzing officiously. It loiters over breaches in the flood defences. Far away there are the flashing blue lights of a fire engine, pumping furiously. Water is still pouring in where it is not wanted, but seems to be finding a level that brings it no closer to my doorstep. For now at least.

One of the inroads to the village has cleared. We are accessible to the outside world again. The milkman delivers to those houses he can get to, the bins are emptied. The press will be here soon with their clownish satellite vans, po-faces pressing for their sound-bites. Nothing like pictures of flood and tears on the teatime news, is there?

 

 

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Mazda3

It’s a year now since I bought the Mazda – a hot Saturday, the last weekend of May. It was a clear day, sunny-bright, confetti of pink and white cherry blossom floating in a breathless air. I’d been feeling something of an old excitement all the previous week, I mean at the thought of picking her up, like a kid warming to Christmas. It was unfamiliar, this feeling, sign of a misspent middle-age perhaps? sign of that peculiar kind of maturity, one in which we had learned to reign our selves in so hard against the risk of disappointment we ‘d forgotten what there was left in life to be enjoyed. Too much of the nine to five, and not enough of one’s self, Michael.

But anyway, there I was, driving her home with the top down and feeling like a million dollars, feeling like a free man and that in some mysterious way, long coming, I had at last reconnected with a much younger and more openly enthusiastic part of my self. I was eighteen when this dream first took shape, fifty three before I drove it away. It was just an old car, 12 winters gone and needing a bit of work – a very small dream, you might say, but sometimes they are the best; richer in meaning and more yielding to interpretation.

The summer was a good one – warm, and the rains held miraculously in check, as if by charms, as soon as I peeled open the top. I explored the Dales mainly, and mainly topless, a middling stone’s throw from home, a place whose open moor-top roads I cannot now drive any other way and see them the same as I saw them last summer – see them, feel them, taste them. I remember in particular the drive from Aysgarth, towards Hawes, a morning in which Wensleydale glowed golden under a warm Godlike blessing of late morning sunlight. There came a moment in which the car no longer purred and rattled along contentedly, but became a luxurious carpet on which we glided, cushion soft, cruising mid air, and the scene became a broad skied gasp of delight.

Such was the summer, a time of warm memories, followed too soon by a winter of anticipation in which the old car lay under a dust sheet more days than not, dreaming of the summer to come. So when the road-tax man came calling for his £265 of wet blanket, I paid up, armoured against the usual frown. Ditto, the shyster insurance man who tried to sting me for £475, but dropped it to £300 when I asked if there’d been a mistake. I smiled as I asked, because I know this game, know there is no sense or reason to the oftentimes bizarre and rotten monied foundations of the world we are still far too enamoured of. And the Mazda would never be a frowny face. My Mazda MX5 is always a smile.

But now, with my legal presence on the roads negotiated for another year, I find the season much colder. It is rainy, squally, temperatures still scraping freezing on the fell-tops. And I’m reminded that the reason we revere memories of a good British Summer, is that they are so rare. A maritime climate lends a randomness to the mix, our summers being more a shake of the dice than a predictable turning up of the wick. We have to take what comes and with a smile, so we wear our summer shorts and hats, even though we shiver in the grey of a cold front, and the gale snatches our hats away.

I drove out to the coast last night, a gorgeous evening, high in blue skied contrast, but as yet still low in temperature, a stiff breeze dropping it to 6 degrees and the cherry blossom already blown away by a greedy air. The vinyl of the top felt stiff and frigid with cold as I folded it, and I wondered if I should leave it up, but that would be to waste the sun and the wide skies peeling back just then to shades of vanilla and tobacco. So, I was triple layered, warm hatted and gloved up as we rode towards the setting sun. I was perhaps considered mad by the usual parasitic coterie of rear view hogging Audis and BMW’s, ever pushing for a squeeze past.

Southport’s Marine Drive is something of a roller coaster, sinking slowly into the Ribble’s estuarine mud, becoming over time a long and curiously rippling ribbon of a road, the highs of it scored by the sparking strike of exhaust pipes, and sumps and sills. At fifty the big fat four by fours are gaily bouncing, their springs topping out, struggling to remain grounded, body-shells lolling like unballasted ships tossed in a swell. Hard sprung, the Mazda remains more firmly rooted, and we managed to lose the bully boys, at least until the bit where the limit drops to thirty. Here they had me cold and tore past in a series of multi-litred, self important flashes, doing sixty.

On the long strip of the promenade car park, people were lingering in the warm interiors of their cars, interiors lit with amber now as a post nine p.m. sun sank to within a finger’s width of the horizon. Pulling up among them I was immediately cold. A topless roadster’s warm enough when you’re motoring and the heater’s roaring louder than the engine, but stop a while and the cold will find your legs, and the tips of your ears, refuse to let you settle in. But that’s part of the fun – the drive I mean. Old cars like this are all about the drive for me, not so much the destination any more.

This can be a season of anxieties, cresting the month of mid-summer, a season of waiting for the whistle that will say the time we have been waiting for is upon us, that we might cast our top coats and stride out at ease and with the sun smiling down upon us. Yet we are stricken, downcast by the feeling that by the time we have begun, the time remaining will be already too short, the summer run, the season turning, while all we can do is wait for the chance to get out and do something.

But this year I am already doing it.

In the once upon a time I would not have driven out to watch the sun set. I would have thought about the cost of petrol, sat at home while shadows lengthened, and checked my blog stats. The Mazda is no longer a stranger to me, but I still see the road differently when I drive it. I hope in other ways too, I have learned to enjoy the world more as it is, feel more my presence in it as a thing to be enjoyed, than one to be resisted. Life is the journey, not the destination. It is not the rising nor the setting sun but every moment inbetween.

Sure, the sunset from Southport’s Marine Drive is always worth a trip, but I didn’t wait for it, and why? Well, that rippling ribbon of road is even more fun in the opposite direction!

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