Klein, bottled and sold

Like her namesake, mathematical oddity the Klein bottle, activist and anti-capitalist writer Naomi Klein is something of a paradox. Her latest book is This Changes Everything and is described in melodramatic language by someone at Canada’s CBC:

An existential crisis for the human species, a clear and present danger to civilization, a death sentence for the planet, a weapon of mass destruction: these are just some of the phrases you will find in Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything. The book is a wake-up call about the state of the environment.

Ms. Klein argues that nothing else matters – war, pestilence, disease, economic collapse – if we don’t have clean air to breathe and water to drink. But we seem to be sleep-walking en masse towards a point of no return.

Meanwhile, Naomi (as the rest of us head for the point of no return) is busily criss-crossing the northern hemisphere in order to promote said book, which will be available for filthy lucre at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and many another retail establishment – here’s her schedule. Now, her website doesn’t tell us exactly how she will traverse the globe from Portland (1st October) to London (6th October), for example, but odds are that fossil fuels and modern capitalism in 101 different guises will play a not inconsiderable part in her travels – propelling, providing for, supporting and enriching her at every moment.

It strikes me that Naomi and others like her wouldn’t really want a world without fossil fuels and global capitalism, should it actually threaten to come to pass – they might say so but their actions generally reveal otherwise. Rather than being foreign bodies, they seem more like symbionts or parasites within the system they profess to disparage, inhabiting a comfortable anti-capitalist niche in the wider global economy. Hence the Klein bottle paradox – inside is outside and outside is inside, as it were, and hence the contradictions of someone travelling great distances to sell a book that tells the rest of us we shouldn’t be travelling great distances to sell stuff.

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“It doesn’t belong to you”

Last Friday, just before the start of the UK Green Party annual conference, there was a radio interview with leader Natalie Bennett and then a BBC TV news report that placed much emphasis, not on the Greens’ call to action on the environment or climate change but on their call for radical wealth redistribution; Bennett, in the interview, said that the British public were looking for “new answers”, the implication being that it is the Greens who will supply them. One idea is that of a guaranteed income for every single person in the UK, the flaws of which people in the street noticed pretty quickly.

Ross Hawkins: The Green pitch includes plans for a £10 an hour minimum wage by 2020, a wealth tax on people worth more than £3 million and a guaranteed taxpayer-funded income for every man, woman and child, whether they’re in work or not. Adults would get £80 a week each, replacing several benefits – but do voters like the idea?

Woman 1: I do, yeah. But what if people are not working and just sitting at home, compared to people that are working?

Woman 2: That’s good – that sounds really good.

Ross Hawkins: Paid for by the state – by the taxpayer.

Woman 2: That’s not good. [Laughs.]

Actually, that’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard, but would rather we were somewhat closer than we are now to an Iain Banks “Culture” type society, where robots did everything, before implementing it, otherwise we will have an awful lot of people being subsidised by hard-pressed worker bees for – as the lady said – “just sitting at home”. As for the other “new” ideas, well, re-nationalising the railways will bring back British Rail. As for the wealth tax, other European countries have already tried and abandoned it, and the philosophy of “if you haven’t declared your wealth, then it doesn’t belong to you”, hearkens back to that golden age where overlords could confiscate all their hearts desired from a subject population – feudal Europe in the Middle Ages.

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Signs and Wonders

One quite odd piece of news I read last week via Samizdata was that the Venezuelans have come up with an adaptation of the Lord’s Prayer, with Hugo Chávez standing in for God. Slightly stranger than that, even, was learning (via Breitbart) that current Venezuelan supremo Nicolás Maduro has received endorsement from his dead predecessor and hero in the form of a small bird’s encouraging tweets. That is actually not a new story – the HuffPo ran an article in spring 2013 about the bird which allegedly fluttered three times about Maduro’s head and acted as a sort of reverse psychopomp for the spirit of Chávez. Which reminded me, in turn, of this story.

A natural wonder was also observed around the statue of the President standing on Tonghung Hill.

At around 21:20 Tuesday a Manchurian crane was seen flying round the statue three times before alighting on a tree. The crane stayed there for quite a long while with its head drooped and flew in the direction of Pyongyang at around 22:00.

Observing this, the director of the Management Office for the Hamhung Revolutionary Site, and others said in union that even the crane seemed to mourn the demise of Kim Jong Il born of Heaven after flying down there at dead of cold night, unable to forget him.”

In fact, a whole panoply of natural phenomena seems to have been involved in the mourning of North Korea’s Kim Jong Il in 2011, including the dramatic breaking of ice on a lake, a fierce snowstorm and an unearthly glow in the sky which illuminated the Dear Leader’s autobiographical writings that were carved in stone on a mountainside. One thing I can safely conclude from all this is that while democracy is not a perfect form of government (as per the famous Churchill quote), when there isn’t even much of a pretense that a regime is democratic, an extra supply of legitimacy has to be piped in from somewhere else – like the natural world or the afterlife.

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Steamy Video Release

Donna Laframboise draws attention to a recent video release that is intended to get pulses racing amongst the target audience of this (ahem) genre. Aptly called a “teaser”, this short but overheated little movie is the first of a series to be emitted at regular intervals by the WMO, under the passionate direction of Secretary-General Michel (“There. Is. No. Pause.”) Jarraud, in a build-up of tension and arousal which is meant to reach its climax on 23rd September, at the climate summit in New York.

WHILE CLIMATE CHANGE IS GLOBAL… ITS IMPACTS WILL BE LOCAL… WEATHER FORECASTS FROM THE YEAR 2050… WITNESS WHAT COULD LIE AHEAD… IT’S TIME TO CHANGE COURSE… AND FORGE A BRIGHTER FUTURE FOR US ALL.

This is the hot and heavy message running through the mini-movie in stark-looking block capitals (and see my mini-transcript for a few more details). Otherwise, there are some of the standard tropes we might expect from the genre – scenes of cracked mud, billowing clouds, rain, floods, gridlocked traffic and a calving glacier, as well as glimpses of weather extremities calculated to tantalise and excite (“Miami South Beach is under water…” “The temperature is expected to rise…” “The mega-drought in Arizona has claimed another casualty…”) Over the coming instalments, I suppose we’ll find out whether this series is stiffening the spirits of its intended audience – or whether it will leave them tired and feeling rather limp.

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Alex on Ice

There was a strange feeling of familiarity when I read about Italian adventurer Alex Bellini and his plan to spend a year camped out on an iceberg somewhere off the coast of Greenland, in order to “punch through the stasis of climate change inaction and encourage people to take action”. Then I remembered artist Alex Hartley and his “Nowhere Island” project for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, in which he dredged up 6 tonnes of glacial rock and gravel off the coast of Svalbard and floated them around the south coast of England to “address the most significant global issue of our time: namely how we can respond to the urgent issue of climate change together”. Back to the iceberg man:

On the iceberg, I will be generally alone, but for short periods of time, I will be living with writers, bloggers, environmentalists, with whom I dream to form a global and beautiful form of global warming [?], that this will become the era of responsibility, where each of us can take up his portion of responsibility, to try to reverse this trend.

My name also being Alex, it seems likely that one day the lure of the frozen north will become too much, and I’ll be compelled to set out on my own vaguely awareness-raising journey up to the roof of the world. However, inspired by the sight of Mr Bellini’s promotional SUV (cruelly mocked by WUWT, yesterday) I’ve decided this will probably take the form of a trans-Arctic 4-by-4 ice-road challenge in the style of Top Gear, with a nice cold G&T in the drinks-holder, and occasional stops to deliver homilies about planetary responsibility and fend off the ever-more-numerous polar bears.

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The War on Breakfast

There’s a climate change summit taking place later this month, so we can expect a predictable ramping-up of global warming alarm in the media, over the next few days and weeks. This morning, for instance, there was a news report about meat-eating and its “threat to the planet”. As with unreliable renewable energy, we in the long-suffering UK are exhorted to become good examples for the rest of the world to follow (reprising our role as “solitary lemming”). What, then, should be our personal allowances of meat and dairy products?

Mishal Husain: How much of a difference needs to be made, on that front?

Bojana Bajzeli: Oh, well, I think an individual could feel okay if they ate a small portion of poultry a day, meant [?] red meat just as a kind of treat, maybe once a week. And I think, you know, meat and – sorry, dairy may be two glasses of milk or equivalent, per day. But we actually base these on health recommendations – we’re not nutritional experts, we looked at other literature -

Mishal Husain: But you’d like to see aligning of environment and health perspectives.

So the traditional “full English” breakfast – with its back bacon and sausages and fried eggs and fried bread – might become yet another “thing of the past” if this heavenly marriage of environment and health ideology takes place. Ah, well. When the customary green hordes take wing and flock to the climate summit this month, however, will they be limiting themselves to a small portion of poultry and the equivalent of two glasses of milk, per day? Somehow, I think not.

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You are not Malala

In the run-up to next month’s summit in New York, the UN are deciding on a symbolic someone they can wheel in to harangue world leaders about climate change policy. Rather unsubtly, some inner-circle operators in the Secretary-General’s office are looking for a female person under 30, in the hope that this chosen one will be a sort of inspirational climate-change version of Malala Yousafzai. However, as the BBC’s Roger Harrabin puts it: “Listening to impassioned youth is one thing: changing current economic policies to combat a risk of uncertain magnitude is another.” And I think there’s another problem, as these quotes demonstrate:

Severn Cullis-Suzuki (1992): “We raised all the money ourselves to come six thousand miles to tell you adults you must change your ways”.

Christina Ora (2009): “Stop negotiating away our future.”

Anjali Appadurai (2011): “You’ve been negotiating all my life. In that time, you’ve failed to meet pledges, you’ve missed targets, and you’ve broken promises, but you’ve heard this all before.”

Abigail Borah (2011): “You must pledge ambitious targets to lower emissions not expectations. Citizens across the world are being held hostage by stillborn negotiations.”

Genesis Carmona (2014): “Men and women have become consumerist monsters that consume all the resources given by the Earth”.

Malala Yousafzai (2013): “Dear Friends, on the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed.”

See the difference? Young, female climate activists, if you had wanted to persuade people, over the years, to sacrifice their economies to combat some nebulous “risk of uncertain magnitude”, it would have helped if you’d come across as inspirational heroines and not so much as demanding brats. Of course, need it be said, it would also help if your adversary was a real and present danger, like the Taliban, and not an entity that has declared a unilateral ceasefire and gone into hiding for over a decade.

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“Bring back the broom”

Fellow citizens of the EU Super-State, welcome to our future – over-regulated, micro-managed and (if a certain trend continues) chronically under-powered, as well. The following brief exchange was overheard yesterday morning on BBC Radio 4:

John Humphrys: And finally, some popular makes of hair dryer may be next to face a European Union ban, to try to slow down climate change. Popular vacuum cleaners are already being removed from sale – the more powerful ones, that is – and the Times and the Telegraph report that high-wattage hair dryers, kettles and lawnmowers could also be targetted. According to the Telegraph, the power of hair dryers could be cut by as much as 30%, threatening many models favoured by hairdressers and householders. The former president of the National Hairdressers Federation warns that drying customers’ hair will take longer. What about leaf blowers… why don’t they ban leaf blowers? That’d launch something, wouldn’t it… Bring back the broom.

James Naughtie: Longer time to gossip in the hairdressers…

It can all seem rather comical, until you start to fully appreciate the implications. Putin’s tanks and missiles notwithstanding, or jihadis with their knives and bombs, the real threat to our way of life is insidious and undramatic – it’s the gradual reversal of our freedoms and the progressive lowering of our horizons. Today the news is about vacuum cleaners and hair dryers, but the day after tomorrow they could be announcing travel restrictions and carbon rationing, in the name of saving the planet. We in the West survived the 20th century and came through the Cold War – for this?

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The Kraken Wakes

One of the more interesting items of news this week was the reported sighting, by Dutch pilots over the Pacific Ocean at night, of some very weird and remarkable phenomena. The show started with an intense flash of light resembling a lightning bolt, which which shot upwards from a point just over the horizon, followed by a strange greenish aurora illuminating the northern sky. And then:

About 20 minutes later in flight I noticed a deep red/orange glow appearing ahead of us, and this was a bit strange since there was supposed to be nothing but endless ocean below us for hundreds of miles around us. A distant city or group of typical Asian squid-fishing-boats would not make sense in this area, apart from the fact that the lights we saw were much larger in size and glowed red/orange, instead of the normal yellow and white that cities or ships would produce. The closer we got, the more intense the glow became, illuminating the clouds and sky below us in a scary orange glow. In a part of the world where there was supposed to be nothing but water.

The episode reminds me rather of John Wyndham’s enjoyably apocalyptic 1953 SF novel The Kraken Wakes, with its alien invaders, but I suppose the most likely explanation is that a previously unnoticed undersea volcano had chosen that moment to erupt, although you will find more exotic theories circulating, which feature UFOs or underwater nuclear tests/mishaps (my own not-very-serious theory is that it is global warming’s “missing heat” making a comeback.) Whatever this turns out to be, it is yet another reminder that the oceans of Earth are vast and hold many secrets…

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“Carbon dioxide belches”

They’re such an obvious target but it’s still important, I think, to give the green celebs and planet-saving A-listers help with a little extra publicity when they persist in telling the rest of us that it is better never to do all the extravagant things that they themselves keep on doing. Climate Depot editor Marc Morano takes the opportunity to draw attention, for instance, to the carbon-dioxide belching ways of Hollywood superstar Leonardo DiCaprio, on the release of DiCaprio’s latest opus, a short film called Carbon.

And the most outrageous thing he’s been involved with was with Al Gore at the Oscar Ceremony. They walked out on stage – right before they did, it flashed on the screen: “Use public transit”, and all these other little green tips. When was the last time Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio took a city bus?

The celebs would be a lot more dangerous to climate scepticism if they actually practised what they preached, I’m sure. If Al Gore took the city bus, if James Cameron moved into a bungalow, if Sheryl Crow used one square of toilet paper per restroom visit, if Leonardo DiCaprio and a host of similar bubble-dwellers insisted on flying economy or abjured air travel altogether, things would be very different. But they don’t! Shining object lessons they remain, the lesson being of course to look carefully at what these people are actually doing, not just at what they say they are doing or what they say all of us should be doing.

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