Aug 242020

You know the feeling, I’m sure, of walking as fast as you can without making any headway at all; you will have done it in dreams – nightmares, perhaps.

That is what it must feel like to be a climate activist. The facts and figures are all there, out in the open for all to see, yet all we talk about now is Covid. Even before Covid, all the media was concerned about was growth and the GDP – as if GDP reflected the welfare of a country.

Remember who owns the media? On issues in which owners have a major financial stake, the media cannot be trusted. Such issues include, you will remember, the sale and smoking of tobacco, arms trade, gun control, oil extraction and trade, national health insurance, unethical practices on the part of the pharmaceutical industry… and climate change. If a major industrial or financial player is aversely affected by media coverage, it will retaliate powerfully, as sure as winter used to follow summer.

Anyway, if you really want to concentrate on viruses, we can now worry about more than Covid. In the province of Seville, for instance, they are now grappling with West Nile Virus, with 32 patients hospitalised so far, one or two already dead.

I just read a piece in the Guardian about Extinction Rebellion (XR) a movement I never took very seriously because the media here portrayed it as extremist; the media would do just that of course (remember who owns the media?). Yes, XR did indeed advocate civil disobedience (peaceful civil disobedience, that is), but I understand now that it had every reason to do so, and rather than explain that, I refer to the article in the Guardian.

It seems, still according to the Guardian, that XR has been weakened and splintered by internal discord on tactical matters, but I suspect and hope they’ll get up on their feet again, and I urge you to listen to a “talk” given in 2019 by one of the XR founders.

We’ve assumed that at some point, sooner or later, when the planet has been battered by yet another hurricane or flood or hellish conflagration, such as the ones we saw recently in Australia, our politicians and their voters would finally come out of their denialist torpor, and say “This has got to stop.” But no, now California is burning, and all our politicians and their voters can manage is an exasperated sigh: “California is burning again.” The keyword here is: again.

Yep, we’ve gotten used to it. We have hurricanes, and floods and conflagrations again and again and again. We’re already expecting more pandemics and are, in short, sliding down an increasingly slippery, increasingly steep slope. Dazed and in a dream-like condition, we bravely and stupidly adapt to the acceleration.

We used to have to deal with outright denialism: the dreamer believes that human activities have little or no part in climate change. Now we have to contend with oblique denialism: the dreamer is a techno-optimist and believes that technology will stop the downward slide.

As a rule, I’m not in favour of civil disobedience in Democratic countries. I prefer using the instruments embedded in the “social contract” (Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique) that underlie Democratic government. However, it has become eminently clear that our governments are failing us in one issue after another.

Whereas major industrial and financial players may have practically unlimited power, whereas they may own 10% of the all the planet’s wealth, we, the rest of us, are the vast majority. Our lives and futures are at stake. I put to you that our lives and futures are vastly more important and valuable than all the shares and financial assets in the world.

We are the majority stakeholders; we just don’t know that, yet, thanks to the media (remember who owns the media).

Apr 122020

Once again I turn to the “historian and philosopher of economic thought” (quoting Wikipedia) Philip Mirowski and his eponymous book discussing How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown.

The book seems tailor-made for Covid-19, although it applied to the financial crisis in 2008. Back then, when many of us were worried, or should I say “frantic”, there were powerful people – people we really don’t want to know personally – who abused, and twisted and skewed things, who confounded and befuddled and “discombobulated” (a word Mirowski uses a lot) us for reasons of their own.

You will no doubt have noticed that since the end of this century’s first decade, which culminated in a financial crisis, the top 10% have become even richer and the bottom 50% very much poorer than they were.

In his book, Philip Mirowski demonstrates that there was and is an actively pursued agenda underlying Neoliberalism, and that there have been and are active agents pushing it. It didn’t have to happen. Reagan and Thatcher, taking their cues from Milton Freedman, didn’t have to happen either. There are other approaches to running a country than those propounded by the so-called Chicago School. Mirowski’s more recent article Hell is Truth Seen Too Late is not an easy read, but it gives a general idea of the agenda and its agents.

We have been hoodwinked into treating economic “laws” as holy cows. For example, the wording in the following quote will tend to stymie any climate activist who has doubts about the sustainability of “economic growth” (Source).

Natural economic law refers to the natural rule (mother rule) that three important consumptions drive the cyclic development of economy. It means: consumption – market – demands (increasing consumption needs of desire – recognition – knowledge and inspiration – recognition) – scientific research – production – consumption of higher level. It is a natural economic law of spiral movement.

Mirowski is not the only one to point out that people we don’t want to know personally are happy to exploit a crisis to advance their own ends. Naomi Klein has also written several books about the matter, including The Shock Doctrine. See what she has to say about the potential consequences of Covid-19. Mind you, she is not saying we are powerless. On the contrary, she is saying that we need to be alert. Grieving about the future is useless, particularly now that we actually have a chance of tipping the scales.

Yuval Harari, the author of Sapiens has been very visible in the media lately. I imagine him as a rather reserved sort of character, so his urgent appeals to the general public these past two months strike me as wake-up calls. (Google Harari + Covid). Speaking of Yuval Harari and the sustainability of economic growth, do please read Chapter 16 in Sapiens. In the light of Covid-19, read it again if you’ve forgotten it.

The Irish Times has recently interviewed Thomas Piketti, who echoes the trio. “Times of crisis are times when the existing ideologies are challenged and when national and international trajectories are likely to change.” The Irish Times continue: “Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic he says it would have been impossible to put air travel on hold as a measure to tackle climate change. But with this new reality, which we are at least temporarily confronted with, that perspective is now changing.”

Obviously, from now on, things will be different. To all appearances, there will merely be winners and losers. The telecom industry, obviously, will be winners, online shops and supermarkets that provide home deliveries likewise, and many companies will rapidly be able to redesign themselves. With predicted soaring unemployment, however, very many of us are already defining ourselves as losers.

But not so fast: Yes, businesses will all have to redesign themselves, unless they already have. Whole countries will have to do so too, though. Whole countries, mine and yours. It’s not just a question of the distribution of wealth and income. It’s also a matter of the distribution of power (not least in view of galloping developments within surveillance technology). And finally it’s a matter of the fate of the planet.

If you are the only one in town who is going to lose your job and your health insurance, you will feel very very bad indeed. Let me put it another way: the more of you there are, the more likely it is that your government will have to introduce some very major changes for your benefit.

If you are a telecom employee, you don’t want to wake up in 5 years feeling the way Edward Snowden felt when he realised that with his expertise he had contributed to a Big Brother is Watching You scenario.

So what will it be? Who will have the final say about the world we leave to our children? Trump, Putin, Xi and their likes, religious fundamentalists (Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish) or the rest of us?

Feb 052020

There aren’t many encouraging stories these days. Maybe I know of one, though. (Mind you, I make no promises.) My story starts grimly enough, with a headline that began to pop up here and there some time last spring: “Millions of songbirds vacuumed to death every year during Mediterranean olive harvest”. If you google it, you will see for yourself.

Now in the UK there are a lot of bird lovers, and they started singing angrily. A veritable storm of protests rose up from the throats of British bird-loving consumers. Tesco, Sainsbury and Waitrose felt pressured and have apparently promised to take a closer look at what olive products they stock.

That’s nice, isn’t it? An example of ethical market forces, right?

We could leave it there, of course, and it is certainly very moving that the British were up in arms about something that isn’t royalty, and in a Brexit year, no less. So hats off for the British! My neurotically unsentimental compatriots would probably not have lifted a finger; they can’t tell the difference between a bird and a drone. (In fact, this wasn’t even news in my country, where we guzzle olive oil by the litre.)

But there is a shadow story here, and it is not as nice. For one thing, few supermarket chains will refuse to sell ecologically harmful products, as that would be suicide for the chains in question. The proportion of poor people in Britain, as elsewhere, is growing. Given the choice of hand-picked expensive olives and vacuumed cheap olives, which will they choose? If all poor people knew that every bottle of the cheap oil they use is likely to have cost the life of perhaps five birds, many of them might consider giving up olive oil altogether. But they don’t know, and even if they do, there are so many other horrible things going on that – well, what can you do? There are innumerable children being killed in wars and hot spots, wombats being killed in Australia – even after the fires – coral reefs dying… Locust swarms are consuming parts of Africa, miners are being shot, populations are fleeing from sinking islands, tens of thousands of refugees are being held in consentration camps in Greece and Libya, etc. etc. etc.

We shall of course soon see the emergence of eco-friendly supermarkets, shops where all products are tested. They will be exorbitantly expensive, though. So “the market” will not solve the climate crisis or any other serious ecological challenge. It will just be an opportunity for the rich to pay indulgence, as it were.

Still, my verdict is that this was a beautiful story because it tells us that sometimes, people – even masses of people – will be happy to serve an honestly good and peaceful cause. A tiny Robin with its scarlet breast can move the sternest of us to tears. I know, because I held one in my hand a year ago, when it had died after crashing into my window. Small creatures whose lovely songs ring through the woods in late afternoons are such a stunning contrast to war games, Netflix series and the increasingly ghastly news we cannot help but hear even though we try not to.

As an afterthought to the above, I would like to point out that nation states can actually impose laws, can actually prohibit certain things, and can, also, encourage other things. I would like to direct your attention to the Nordic Swan Label.

I say no more for now.

Jan 162020

While Australia is burning, I listen to a radio programme titled “What will the next decade bring?” Two enthusiastic men, both of them social scientists with PHDs about “future prospects”, believe it or not, gleefully exclaim that in the course of the coming decade “we” will be colonising planets.

That word, “we”, is just about the most irritating word I know, as it is all too often used as a euphemism for “a few lucky suckers”. Not that I envy anybody the chance to live on a lifeless pink planet, but by the time “we” get there, spaceships to Mars will resemble overflowing buses in Bombay: people dangling by their fingertips from cracks and snags in the outer shell of the overburdened vehicles.

That word – “we” – can be pronounced in a self-congratulatory tone of voice: How fortunate “we” are, how great, how wonderful, how very much better than everybody else. Let us praise the Lord.

I propose to use the word with a rather different intonation.

The Australian conflagration has momentarily eclipsed even the destruction of the Amazon. The entire world weeps at the fate of the victims, including, not least, that remarkable continent’s marsupials and fauna in general. Meanwhile the Fascist Brazilian president Bolsonaro is temporarily off the hook, as Australia seems the greater tragedy.

It so happened that I have been reading Sapiens by Yuval Harari while all this has been going on. For the few of you who have not already read the book, I take the liberty of describing it as a damning indictment of our species. True, “we” are wonderful story tellers and ingenious charlatans, but also universally destructive. I don’t know whether the author of the book would accept my summary of it; after all, he needs to earn a living. Nevertheless, this reader finds his indictment so damning that I am not even sure I shall manage to finish reading it; after all, there are people I need to love and be loved by.

Ever since the early eighties, when I read the NASA scientist Carl Sagan’s wonderful book Cosmos (published in 1980), and watched the 13-part television series, I have known about the threat to our planet posed by greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, more and more scientists have confirmed early predictions, and projections are growing exponentially bleaker by the month.

Yes, yes, the sun… and yes, this, that and the other. But the effect of a greenhouse should be as understandable even to a child as it was to me in 1980; that is, if the child wants to understand it.

A lot of people are burrowing their heads into the sand. Some do so because of fear, others because of greed. Regardless of the reason, “we” – people living today – will be called to account by future generations regardless of our reasons for failing to support measures to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. “We” will – quite simply – never be forgiven. “We” should have known, just as the Europeans should have known back in the early forties. “We” refused to see what was happening to the planet, just as the Europeans – refused to see what was happening to the Jews.

But go on, if you wish, pretending. Go on listening to Fox news, telling yourself that everything will be all right, that we can just go on doing exactly what we have been doing, playing our cold war games, driving our supersonic vehicles into a make-believe future. Real life will catch up with us, one by one, as surely as death. Unlike ordinary death, though, real life will catch up with more than just us.

But as Carl Sagan pointed out 40 years ago: “We” are all just a grain of sand in the cosmic picture. I put it to you: Does the future of our planet, its species, our species matter?

Nov 182019

Do you pay taxes?

I bet you do unless you are unemployed. Basically, in order to avoid paying taxes, you have to be very well-to-do. Of course, you could try good old-fashioned tax evasion and risk getting caught. But you’d better be sufficiently well-healed to employ a battery of lawyers to protect you in court. My experience is that the less well-off you are, the greater is your risk of getting caught pilfering a can of beans, let alone witholding tax.

Do you like paying taxes? Most people don’t. But look on the bright side: If the well-to-do pay their fair share of taxes (which, more often than not, they don’t) they pay an awful lot more than you.

Let’s say you make USD 3000 per month and pay a 30% tax, which leaves you with USD 2100. Not very much, I grant you, considering all the expenses we have these days: the rent, health insurance, car insurance, pet insurance, dentistry, child care, halloween costumes, weddings… ?

But your boss is making – say – USD 30,000. If he pays his 30% tax, he’ll have an annual income after tax of 351,000. Not bad, I’d say. More importantly, though, his annual contribution to the common good will have been USD 9000. That’s something to be proud of!

Have you ever met a person who was in some way seriously incapacitated, yet who nevertheless managed to help others? I put to you that when we meet such people, most of us feel – if nothing else – respect.

Incapacitated people are exempted from having to live up to peer pressure. They are not expected to own, let alone pilot their own pin-striped jet planes or serve 19th century cognac. That is probably the only advantage the incapacitated have over the rest of us, who tend to scramble like mad to impress one another with profligacy.

Recently, a former president of Peru, Alan Garcia, shot himself when the police came to arrest him. He is believed to have tucked away a lot of illegally acquired money in trusts that the prosecutors won’t get at. You see, trusts have recently turned into a particularly interesting financial instrument for tax evaders and other criminals. If you read this article from the Guardian, you may end up conceding that the extent of callousness knows no limit in the upper echelons of finance. You will see that what the article explains started long before the current US presidency, so don’t blame Trump.

Some authors have romanticised the “poor”, claiming they too are exempted, claiming that they are better than the rest of us. I don’t know. I really don’t know. Or rather I doubt it.

Is the human species even worth the effort of trying to save it from the iminent climate collapse? Can we at all imagine the possibility that social standing might someday not be measured by what we consume, but by what we contribute to the common good?

What I do know, though, is that for hundreds of years, fiction – of which I have read a lot – has tended to make heroes of those who sacrifice social standing and personal wealth to serve the common good. Even in real life, there are such people! Edward Snowden appears to be one of them. With his brains and self-discipline, he could have become fabulously rich.

His deeply moving book, Permanent Record, is not fiction. I don’t know what to call it. An autobiography? Written by somebody who is barely 30 years old? No, I prefer to call it an account. To what extent can one believe his account about why he acted as he did? On the other hand, why else would he have taken such an apparently hopeless risk, which yielded him, personally, nothing but the sterility of exile.

After all I have seen and read during my lifetime, I deeply distrust the species to which I belong, with its Bolsonaros, Trumps, Bushes, Netanyahus fake news, exploitation of miners and anyone who is destitute and hungry. For decades I have witnessed, albeit only on the screen, the killing and maiming of demonstrators demanding elemental human rights. Throughout history, not least the first decades of this century, there has been so much cruelty – just think of the Yemen war and Sudan – so much callousness – the suppression of the Palestinians, the Rohingiuans, the Uighurs, the desperate refugees banging on the doors of USA and Europe…

Would I have bought a pin-striped jet plane if I could have afforded it. No!

Castle in the Air, 1928 - M.C. Escher
Copied from:

But would I, had I had the means, have bought a gorgeous mansion surrounded by a park – my park – by the sea? I honestly don’t know. I would have been a different person, wouldn’t I? Fortunately, I am spared the temptation. So maybe the poor are better.

At any rate, as long as there still are people like Edward Snowden around, it would be a great pity if the human species should go down the drain.

Having thus reached the conclusion that mankind is still worth saving (because you know that no matter how many species perish, the planet will survive and new species will evolve, but humans may not be among them) I recommend not only one, but two good reads:

Edward Snowden – Permanent Record – to maintain your faith in the human species

Naomi Klein – On Fire – which explains in a very companionable way HOW we can save the human species. For those of you who fear that Naomi Klein is a firebrand, you can listen to the book for free before you buy it.

Aug 052019

I have written elsewhere on this site that we all should do our utmost to form a protective ring around the “Reporters sans frontiers” (RSF) and other journalists who risk their necks to tell us what is going on.

At the same time, I abhor those who kill, maim or otherwise persecute people on the grounds of religion or ethnicity, or to steal land. Those people are indeed terrorists, as the two US mass killers last weekend, and should be captured, indicted on charges of terrorrism and sentenced.

Unfortunately, many nations and states treat non-violent political opposition as terrorism. Though my country does not do that, its servility to USA is awkward (an example of which is here, again from the Intercept, bless them). The US enjoys a warm relationship with a number of repressive regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, and has played a sinister role in Central and Latin America for decades. The country’s president takes action against people of Latin American or Middle Eastern extraction, although mass shootings in USA are mostly committed by right-wing extremists.

So what to do? On the one hand, we want to support law enforcement efforts to monitor electronic devices used by the real terrorists and other criminals who ruin people’s lives. On the other hand, we want to protect those who expose, for instance, serious profit-motivated deception, (cf. the health service in USA). We also want to protect those who are brave enough to voice protests against repressive authorities (cf. demonstrators in Moscow these days).

How can we do both? The answer, as I see it is: We can’t.

Compare another dichotomy: How can western countries maintain current living standards while at the same time taking the steps that are required to avert or deal with climate collapse.

The answer as I see it is: We can’t.

In this latter case, to avoid future implosion of whole states, there will have to be wealth redistribution, as there was in WWI and WWII. Draconian measures will be required. Those with greater wealth (i.e. with more to spare) will have to provide more than those with less, like it or not.

Those with more to spare don’t know that yet, and there will be much time wasted, many political battles, and probably more fascism before the tide turns.

Meanwhile, I put to you that the greatest of the dangers that faces our children and grandchildren is NOT terrorism and NOT crime, but climate collapse; oh, and yes, fascism. Fascism throttles knowledge and prohibits political activism. Fascism is state terrorism compounded by terrorism from armed militias trying to overthrow fascist governments. People fall silent and mind their own businesses, hoping that they and their children will survive the next week. We don’t need that.

What we need is the opposite: We need a boisterous majority that reads up on climate change, holds caucuses to discuss what to do and stridently demands that appropriate preventive measures be taken by our governments NOW. And by the way, we also need a vociferous minority that will have no part in such activism. In short, what we need is knowledge and solidarity, not repression and not electoral circuses.

May 082019

Janet doesn’t want to have children because she cannot bear the thought of the future she imagines would await them. Her mother angrily tells her not to be “so silly!” though she cannot explain what’s so silly about her daughter’s well-founded fears.

The fifteen-year-old in the house next door is playing truant today, to go and join an enormous congregation of school children demonstrating to “save the climate”. His parents wring their hands, but what can they do other than threaten to cancel his next allowance. They don’t do that, though, because in their hearts, they are a little proud of him.

Many of us have started apologising on reflex, in a general sort of way and to nobody in particular, every time we book a plane ticket or eat meat. Are we genuinely contrite or are we just paying lip service (in a general sort of way and to nobody in particular)? I do think many of us eat a little less meat, but I very much doubt we fly less, on the whole. I certainly don’t. For 22 years, I could not afford to fly at all. Now that I finally can, I do. And yes, I wish I could go by train, but travelling by train for days across Europe with a dog is an almost superhuman, not to mention super-canine, affair.

Some progress is being made: Many uses of plastic will soon be banned, and it is true that annual CO2 emission from my country has not risen since 1990. As a matter of fact, it is almost exactly what it was then, 8.4 tonnes.

Meanwhile, half my country is up in arms because of the recent dramatic rise in the cost of driving a car (road tolls, tax on petrol, etc.). And yes, it IS UNFAIR that people who cannot afford to live in the metropolis have to spend their savings to get to work every day. In the end, they – and all of us – will be the ones to pay the cost of climate change and the socio-economic effects of it. Compared to that price, road tolls and costly fuel will be Sunday School.

Critics say we must stop raising spectres from the graves, stop being so apocalyptic. We have no right, they insist, to ruin people’s peace of mind. Children must be allowed to have faith in the future, they say; do not fill them with fear, they say.

Alas, many children, those whose parents are farmers, do not need to be told. Their parents wrung their hands last summer, helplessly monitoring scorched fields and slaughtering livestock for lack of water and fodder. The year before last, fields were inundated; houses and cattle were carried away by flash floods. Already this year, my country’s fruit harvest is lost due to climate anomalies. Am I being apocalyptic? Am I ruining anybody’s sleep but my own by observing and narrating what I actually see with my own eyes?

Meanwhile: Business as usual. We are going full blast. There are opportunities to be made the most of. Let the morrow take care of itself.

In some other countries, where social cohesion is scant due to poverty and oppression, they solve citizens’ malaise differently : fascistoid parties and even governments are cropping up everywhere, promising to bring back, by hook or by crook, the “good-old-days”, when youngsters and wives and employees did as they were told and kissed the hands that whipped them. In such countries, you will probably be too busy trying to avoid getting whipped (or put in jail) to worry about the climate.

Not so here, not yet. Here, we (excepting the very few who are taught in institutions run by religious fanatics – more often than not, Evangelical or Saudi-funded Whahabi) have a deep respect for science. After all, laboratories are on the verge of being able to create atoms and brain cells. But science has not been harnessed to save us from the effects of exponential climate change. (Please note the word “exponential”. This word is not a mere adjective; it is tantamount to a curse.) Science can only tell us that exponential climate change will be inevitable and catastrophic unless we turn the ship around in time, as it were.

Turning the ship around in time would mean obstructing “business as usual” so seriously that the powers-that-be refuse to even contemplate the idea. Who would allow them to stay in power if they did?

So, in my Democratic country, while we still mostly resist the lure of fascist rhetoric, we – voters – are definitely not resisting the lure of neoconservative rhetoric:

  • The market will adapt to the “green” shift.
  • Technology will solve the problem.
  • The problem is that Africans have too many babies.
  • We cannot entirely rule out that this is not caused only by mankind.
  • The effects will not be all that serious.

I add, for the record, what many members of the public say:

  • You can’t fight it, it’ll all go to hell anyway. Let’s just enjoy while we can.
  • That bloody “green” political correctness…!

Let me introduce a name here: Naomi Klein, a very smart lady who has been writing words of warning for years and whose critique is very sharp indeed, and very prophetic. In one of her recent articles (I cannot understand how she finds the patience to continue explaining, so nicely, what we refuse to understand) which I urge you to take a look at, you will see, at least indirectly, that Naomi Klein has little faith in the market as a problem solver.

NOT because you and I don’t care, but because you and I have to pay the rent, and we have to pay for petrol, child care, etc. Every year we have to pay. WE had no say in the decisions made back in 1988. WE had no idea then. And even now, in 2019, we hope that it will all turn out all right. At any rate, most of us can’t really afford more expensive petrol.

For my part, I am very confused, too. I don’t at all doubt the effects of climate change. I understand implicitly the effects of greenhouse gasses. I have understood that ever since I read Carl Sagan’s book Cosmos in 1980.

But I don’t see how our so-called “democratic” states can convince voters to elect “green” politicians who will make their lives very much worse than they are. I don’t see how this can be done unless the state is totalitarian and I definitely don’t want a totalitarian state.

Dear Naomi Klein, please figure it out.

Oct 132018

Climate change is picking up speed and impact like an avalanche, wiping out one poor community after another. It’s ineluctable consequences can no longer be downplayed as something we can take in our stride, because we can’t. Or rather, rich nations still can, but by 2050, those of us who are still alive may wish we weren’t.

I would like to quote a definition of exponential in my Cambridge Learner’s dictionary:

describes a rate of increase which becomes quicker and quicker as the thing that increases becomes larger

That’s climate change in a nutshell. It multiplies itself as it progresses. At this late stage – scientists have been warning about this for decades – the measures that could prevent further climate-induced exponential developments on every continent would be extremely painful. And as usual of course, the poor would suffer the most, something that would lead to social upheaval here, there and everywhere.

Yes, we can still deal with it, to some extent. But as the fertile farmlands of Morocco, Tunis and Algeria grow arid from drought, and the rising sea level submerges them, what country will be prepared to welcome the refugees? Even now, what country is prepared to welcome refugees from the Sahel?

Yet, what democratically elected government will commit hara-kiri by imposing the necessary measures on its voters? And as for the market, companies must ensure their owners and investors get a cut. The market will only turn around when there’s no longer much left to lose.

So I was wrong. Faced with a desperate situation, I fear we must rely on what once seemed the worst of all available energy sources. Yes, the production of atomic energy is very expensive, far more expensive than solar or eolic energy. That is nevertheless the least of our problems. Yes, in an atomic energy plant the consequences of a production flaw, human error, war or earthquakes can be cataclysmic. Yes, nothing, be it man-made or not, is fool-proof. No mountain, no bedrock, no tectonic plate, even, least of all man and/or woman is infallible.

Moreover, the inevitable radioactive waste generated by atomic energy production will be lethal to all living organisms for tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of years, and no safe permanent storage solution has been found.

But can disasters linked to atomic energy production begin to compare with the disaster of, for instance, the Syrian war? That war started with a three-year drought that drove hundreds of thousands of people from the countryside to the cities, triggered sharp food price hikes, and led to street protests and subsequent crackdowns, a process which spiralled into civil war. The climate-related aspect of the Syrian drama was something I understood many years ago, but most observers were only interested in its political and humanitarian sequels. For the record I am inserting a link to an old article in which the expression “climate change” is conspicuously absent: …lack of water… Syria.

Atomic energy production can satisfy even the greediest of energy demands, something that is not the case, yet, with safe sources of energy.

Yes, with atomic energy there will be more Chernobyls. Yes, people will die due to atomic energy accidents and radioactive waste leakage coupled with investor greed. But their deaths will be far fewer than the victims of a two-and-a-half-degree-increase of the planet’s temperature, which we are due to see in the course of our own lifetime.

Climate change”. The expression sounds so innocuous. Those of us who are well-fed, well-read and well-travelled, i.e. middle-class people in the East and West – in short voters and consumers – have not yet felt the slash of a whip over our backs. Innumerable Africans, however, have had to abandon their homes on land rendered useless due to “climate change”. My own country’s proud brand-new Opera House will probably be inundated by 2030, but my compatriots – voters and consumers – like to “think positive”.

Yes, I was wrong, I repeat. As dangerous as atomic energy production is, it entails far fewer deaths than what we can expect in the not too distant future. We are heading straight into a very dramatic situation, but no government in Europe, least of all in my own country, is prepared to pay the political price of demanding that citizens atone for sins that they don’t feel they have committed.

So since we are so democratically determined to continue pursuing market liberalism, I fear we have no alternative but to embrace atomic energy as a source of energy, and to build nuclear power plants at a breathtaking speed.

Jul 112018

Mine is a green country. Not politically green, albeit, but green as in pine trees, mountain rivers and grasshoppers.

No, I don’t live in Greenland, which is not green, as it happens. Moreover, my country is only green for four months a year, and I grew up wearing long woollen underwear for the remaining 8 months, four of which were decidedly white – you know, the colour you see on Christmas cards – and four of which were tantalisingly undetermined. Autumn was anything but green, but gloriously colourful and crisp unless early snowfalls turned it into a soggy grey porridge, so grey and dark that it suctioned all spirit out of about a quarter of the population. Spring, however, made us weep or laugh hysterically, as glittering icicles would melt and brooks tinkle one day, only to turn hard as stone the next. And it would go on like that for two whole excruciating months, at the end of which we would be quite woozy.

We longed passionately for Summer in spite of the periodically daily showers, the mosquitoes and wasps, and the ice-cold floors that would meet our naked feet as we got out of bed in the morning. We loved the little patches of farmland scratched out of the landscape we passed on our way to summer vacation as the guests of aunts and uncles in the country. As for the distant blue mountains, we took them for granted, as we did delicate birch trees, bluebells, waterfalls, furry bumblebees and warblers.

Above all, though, we loved those rare days – maybe a week or two every year – of “real” summer, when we left town seeking those warm, smooth coastal granite shelves on which we would bask or rise to dive like terns into the sea. No matter if summers were full of rain, if day after day was uniformly grey, cool and wet, our mental health for eight months depended on those rare days of “real” summer.

I speak in the past, as you see. Winters are no longer white, for one thing, and the seasons are all mixed up. This year, an unusually cold Winter started when Spring should have begun, and all of a sudden, on 14 May, Summer erupted with a vengeance. Andalusian temperatures, no less. People couldn’t sleep at night. Not a drop of rain, not a cloud in the sky, not a single fly or wasp to be seen, not to mention bees or bumblebees.

Eventually, after four weeks, torrential rains battered us for one day. Floods, avalanches, even deaths. After a couple of cool days, a new heat wave bore down upon us.

No rain. Weeks and weeks of no rain. The country isn’t used to this. Farmers aren’t used to this. Animals aren’t used to this. There is no grass for livestock, and slaughterhouse employees are being called back to work in mid-holiday. Never, ever, as far back as records go, has there been such a long-lasting heat wave and drought in these parts. But we, the cityfolks, are blissfully unaware of the farmers’ plight. So was I, until ….:

I sought refuge from the heat in a cottage by the sea. How I enjoyed basking, once more, on a warm granite coastal shelf! How ecstatically I dove into the sea. My joy was, however, short-lived: On the island across the sound, a ewe with her two lambs was disconsolately examining the stones and shells of a little beach, while a solitary lamb was bleating pitifully, as it ran back and forth along the shore. It had evidently lost its mother. Have you ever heard a lamb bleating for its mother? The lamb was several months old and quite able to fend for itself, I should have thought, but it was, I insist, heart-broken. No other word will do. Some of its cries were uncannily similar to those of an abandoned child! I could not bear the sound and ran indoors.

Even there, the lamb’s cries pursued me. Until it fell silent. That was almost worse, because I was sure it was still there. I looked out the window, and indeed, there it was, lying by the shore. It had lost all hope. I asked myself: can lambs be suicidal?

I could not stand the idea, so I went out again and down to the shore. As if sensing the existence of an ally in me, a human on the opposite shore, the lamb jumped up, ran back and forth along the shore bleating even more desperately than before. Just how desperate it was became apparent almost immediately, because it waded into the sea, deeper and deeper – ‘NO!’, I shouted and started talking off my clothes, because a lamb is not a dog who obeys orders, while deeper and deeper it went, and of course in the end, the sea lifted it off its feet.

It swam, would you believe it! I’m sure it had never learnt to swim, but it swam, knowing, as it must have, that the alternative was death by drowning. Staring straight into my eyes, it swam and bleated, while I stood waiting for it with tears streaming down my face.

No, I did not have to go out and rescue a drowning lamb. It managed to swim across the sound and clambered to shore, looking no less frightened than it should, because humans are mostly dangerous for sheep, though some humans offer fodder and a safe haven. It had risked its life by trusting me, and now it doubted.

There is one thing I have not told you, though. I knew where its mother was. She had crossed the sound over to my side a few hours previously, taking one of her two lambs with her, and they had all been taken care of by good people and their children, who also phoned the owner. “Come,” I said, “follow me”. The lamb had no alternative but to follow hesitantly, evidently terrified that I would lead it to the slaughterhouse.

The children who were looking after the mother were the first to see it. Their gleeful shouts alerted the ewe, and I shall never forget the ensuing concerto for a reunited ewe and two lambs in two octaves. The joy was simply – I apologise for abusing the word – heartbreaking.

Two days later, I crossed to the island to inspect matters there. Walking around the entire island would have taken the better part of a day, but I turned back halfway. The sights that met me were too depressing. Barren fields. Dead vegetation. No fresh water. Not even mosquitoes.

I came upon the owner of the sheep, who was rounding them up to drive them elsewhere. I dared not ask: Was she going to the slaughterhouse? She was unhappy: Two were missing, a ewe and a lamb. We both knew that they might have crossed over to my side and drowned.

What can you do?

Jan 062018

What if we lived in a world where the powers-that-be set out to eradicate children who were less than excellent students, women who were less than very sexy, men who were not both muscular and smart?

Such a policy would be far more radical than mere eugenics, (cf. Nazism and Joseph Mengele), yet enterprises in this vein are not altogether unheard of. After all, the whites did go after the reds, the blacks, the browns and, most recently, the Jews; though of course the Jews were white too, which only goes to show that race really is irrelevant.

The good news is that unless some crackpot presses one of those famous buttons, the planet will survive and with it the human species, for good or for worse.

As the climate becomes ever more ornery and unpredictable, investors will be happily occupied in satisfying new consumer needs. There will be a market for protection against erratic climate tantrums: hurricane-proof and tsunami-resistant systems, self-replenishing underground lakes, desalination plants. We already have a booming industry of carbon sequestration and ocean plastic capture projects. Eventually, of course, clean energy will be the rule, not the exception, resulting in new scrambles for market positions.

The problem is that very few of us can afford having our own underground artificial lakes. Now if you are lucky enough to live in a country that requires even its wealthy  inhabitants to pay taxes, your government may be able to afford systems to protect you against extreme climatic events, at least for a few years. Provided of course that all the taxes paid are not diverted to “defence”. Parenthetically, I wish to point out that my quotation marks refer to the fact that in some countries, the word “defence” means “attack”.

The ultimate climate débâcle will not kill us all, rest assured. The one percent who can afford palaces with artificial self-replenishing lakes under tsunami-resistant, hurricane-proof, self-cleaning glass bells will need underpaid workers to man their factories, clerks to send their invoices, male and female hookers to satisfy their sexual needs, interpreters to help them communicate with competitors on other tectonic plates, nurses to tend their spastic parents and psychopathic offspring. There is hope for us all: many will find a safe haven from the vindictive climate under the wings of the one percent, also in future.

Many will not. Among those who will not, we will see blacks, browns and — oh yes — whites. Many of them. There will be devoted fathers, good musicians, kind little girls, dreamers, surfers, biologists, house painters, and geniuses. Many of these people will be stacked away in rat-infested refugee camps along the borders, where they may or may not be fed. Others will try to survive as fugitives, stealing and fighting each other over water, blankets and toilet paper.

Thanks to those of us who are elected to serve the one percent ( I am glad that I don’t have much longer to live) they will be spared from having to inbreed and give birth to three-headed babies. Pity. I would have loved to learn the eugenic outcome of a hundred years’ inbreeding. Would mating emperors create smarter babies than the rest of us do now?

Finally, bearing in mind that we are facing a new year with a few quite sinister clouds on the horizon, I would like to add that sometimes things turn out very much better than we feared. Nevertheless, we should all — young and old and in-between — be a little alert, to say the least. Is there anything we can do to make things better, for instance?

And — sorry to say this — but please take a look at my post “Encryption“, just to be on the safe side.