“It’s a landscape that would have set a writer like JG Ballard thinking.”
Look, I know you’re probably not reading this. You’d rather be reading those old stories about the ill-fated Comex 2 expedition, or How to Live in a Stately Home, basically by becoming a desperately underpaid caretaker, that I Posted years ago.
But I need your help.
Wherever you live, and you should know, I’d like you to just take a few seconds next time you’re out on a walk in some countryside, assuming you don’t live in a city or a desert, to look around and tell me if you’ve ever seen so much spring growth, looking so healthy?
Because I’m well on in my seventh decade and I can honestly say, my walks with Hunzi are getting like we’re being swallowed-up by Nature. One day soon we might go out and never find our way home!
I try to tell people, but they just shrug and hurry on by, staring at the ground – hopefully, to avoid treading on snails.
I was born and raised in the city, but for the past 32 years I’ve lived either deep in, or right on the edge of, the west British countryside, where for some years I worked as a gardener and estate manager.
My location is only a couple of miles from the sea, where nothing is ever taken to extremes other than sometimes Atlantic storm fronts that come sweeping through, the tails of old Gulf hurricanes, in recent years with increasing violence; although this year I remember only one called Brian. It’s Goldilocks country: seldom too warm, never too cold. Never too sunny, seldom too wet. Perfect!
Over the past few years, however, I’ve noticed it’s been getting greener. Which is to say, there’s more vegetation coming up in spring, flowering or blossoming earlier, growing taller and more luxuriant; all tumbling over itself in the fight for light.
This year has been just phenomenal. It’s impossible to do justice to the scene using a cheap cameraphone; anyway, in a photograph you’ve got nothing to judge by, no sense of time passing and little sense of scale. But I’m trying…
And so healthy! For years, our trees have been showing signs of stress. Ash die-back, chestnut canker, oak wilt… We’ve been hearing for a long time of terminal threats to the traditional British countryside. This year there’s no sign of those diseases in my local river-valley arboretum; no tragic spindly thinning of crowns, no sooty or powdery mildew on the leaves.
It’s frankly a little scary to see this and have no idea what’s really going on. There seems to be a lot more birdsong than usual, too. Nestbuilding started early, courtship flights in February? Maybe the birds can tell me what is going on? It’s even scarier that I don’t know anyone else who has really noticed those things until I raise the subject.
That’s why I need your help. Do please feel free to write and tell me if you’ve noticed it too!
My theory seems too way-out for anyone who doesn’t follow the unfolding story of climate change and what it is doing to the planet, or who doesn’t want to. I mention it, but they just look like they don’t understand, or don’t want to know. The weather here is so, well, normal, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like further south.
A while ago, I came across a mention of a report that said biomass – vegetation – has increased around the world by about eleven per cent since some appropriate time in the past, owing to increasing carbon dioxide – CO2 – in the air, encouraging plant growth.
Uh-huh, I thought, that seems to fit.
A little later, I read that atmospheric CO2 is now at 410 parts per million (I have no idea what a ‘part’ represents, by the way. I generally think in terms of measures as small: a large wine-glass, and big: half a ‘Wales’), about 50 per cent higher than at the beginning of the 1900s, thanks to burning oil, gas and coal; also, thanks to intensive livestock farming, which through the efforts of the intensive livestock farming industry doesn’t often get mentioned as the real problem it is.
A 100 per cent increase in CO2, to 570 ppm, would produce, experts say, about five degrees of warming globally. But much less warming, less than two degrees, might be enough to trigger massive releases of methane gas locked-up in the frozen tundra and under the Arctic sea. Methane, a form of carbon-plus-hydrogen, is an accelerant for global warming and it’s said to be reaching danger levels.
With a big enough methane release we could have a planet that’s ten degrees warmer by 2030, and that’s not survivable. Most life would go extinct.
Because it appears that plants can absorb only so much CO2.
Lots of supposedly reliable websites like the BBC and The Telegraph reported a while ago, research that shows plants are capable of absorbing more CO2 than was thought, and will therefore save the world. This sounds to me like one of those ‘fake news’ stories, misleading research that is put out by scientists and PR lobbyists working for the fossil fuel industry.
The helpful Skepticalscience.com website, however, paints a different picture, reporting that:
“Too high a concentration of CO2 causes a reduction of photosynthesis in certain plants. There is also evidence from the past of major damage to a wide variety of plants species from a sudden rise in CO2. Higher concentrations of CO2 also reduce the nutritional quality of some staples, such as wheat.”
So, with reduced photosynthesis, do plants need to produce more leaf-area, more luxuriant growth, to get enough food from sunlight?
Also, says the report, more rapid plant growth requires more rainwater – not of the rapid, flood-everything kind we are increasingly seeing, but of the slow percolation, ‘little-and-often’ kind – and reduces soil fertility. It’s worth reading the whole article: Plants Cannot Live on CO2 Alone (skepticalscience.com/co2-plant-food.htm)
Other reports say 97 per cent (it’s always ’97 per cent’!) of warming to date has gone into the oceans, which has created different but equally problematic effects. It’s acidifying the water, killing the plankton at the base of the food chain that absorbs CO2 and produces most of our oxygen; causing sea-level rise through volume expansion, that’s already periodically inundating seaside communities like ours; and melting the polar sea-ice cover – which in turn creates wider ‘dark water’ areas that absorb more solar energy.
Another effect of the warming ocean is to iron-out the gradients between warmer and colder water. This has an effect on important currents like the Gulf Stream, which this year produced a worrying ‘cold spot’ in the north Atlantic; but also on the jetstream, the high-altitude, high-velocity winds that circle the globe, normally at latitudes defining the arctic and antarctic circles.
In recent years the jetstream has been losing energy, meandering around slowly and allowing warm air to move into the polar regions and dumping frigid air on the USA and central Europe. Stronger winds at lower altitudes are creating bigger waves in the arctic, that are helping to breakup the thinning sea-ice; warmer water in the Southern Ocean is undermining the vast antarctic ice-shelves, causing them to breakup and disperse; meltwater is lubricating glaciers everywhere, speeding up their rate of travel and eventual disappearance.
Views of Antarctica are now, paradoxically, showing areas of the formerly ice-covered or barren, rocky land turning green with new forests of mosses.
So it seems we’re not going to win against the climate, and increasing numbers of scientists are advising us to say our prayers and enjoy life while we can.
But a walk through the magical new ‘subtropical rain-forest’ environment that is my nearby river valley, for however short a time it may last, is to step back into an era historians remind us was a time of abundance in the natural world that we’ve been missing now since our great-grandparents’ generation; and maybe hadn’t even noticed had gone by.
It’s a landscape that would have set a writer like JG Ballard thinking.
He liked a good apocalypse.
x“…it may very well be that one of the first votes in the new Parliament will be on whether or not to go to war once again…”
We want our bins emptied: the hidden foreign policy undercurrents of the UK election
It’s getting bad.
Extraordinary arctic temperature anomalies, smog-laden anticyclones, supercell storms and ‘polar vortices’ descending as far south as Florida and even the Sahara (it snowed in Libya!), extreme weather events have been creating widespread and costly disruption.
There can be no question that climate change is now a permanent feature of life on earth and, driven by a warming climate, is having profound economic effects everywhere.
Against this background, President Trump has signalled US withdrawal from all measures to limit global warming in favour of a dash for profits for dinosaur American businesses.
While peoples affected by floods can expect the waters to abate and life to resume, there is an urgent need to rescue those suffering from seemingly permanent droughts and intolerable heat, in which normal agricultural production becomes impossible. Tens of millions are on the borderline of starvation, their condition ignored and exacerbated by corrupt governments in thrall to the fossil fuel extractors and the arms peddlars.
UN relief agencies have been crying out for support, as the flood of refugees – those who can manage to flee – becomes a tide; and the food runs out. But the USA under the criminal ecocide Trump is deliberately witholding promised financial aid to the UN.
What is their policy?
Other Western nations, egregiously Britain, but including ultra-nationalist, Islamophobic countries like Hungary, are forever moaning that these people need to look after themselves, demeaning their status and cutting aid while continuing to exploit their fragile economies with inequitable trade deals, erecting legal and physical barriers to forestall the inevitable point at which we will have to admit our policy is to let them all die; if we do not actually have to massacre them ourselves.
Thus climate change is an urgent foreign policy issue for every nation.
An issue that played absolutely no part in the UK’s customarily insular and parochial general election.
Nor, indeed, did the coming wars with Iran and North Korea, as the situation in Syria continues to spin out of control, that are threatening to engage the major powers.
Unlike Britain’s after eight years of pointless austerity, the economy of a resurgent and united European Union is on the rise. After her failed campaign aimed at securing a majority for a suicidal ‘hard Brexit’ negotiation with the 27 remaining members, Mrs May will struggle to maintain a government that is sufficiently ‘strong and stable’.
And it may very well be that one of the first debates in the new Parliament will be on whether or not to go to war once again, riding on America’s coat tails.
A war we have already shown in Iraq and Afghanistan we are ill-equipped to prosecute.
The extra money that always seems to be found for absurd military adventures in pursuit of lost glories will, of course, have to be denied to the collapsing social-care and health-service infrastructure, the schools already dumping teachers by the thousands and cutting free meals, the vanishing ‘early start’ childcare and youth apprenticeship schemes, the failing universities and adult education colleges, the closing women’s refuges – the disappearing bobbies on the beat.
The vanishing remnants of UKIP supporters will of course be delighted, but with even Romania’s economy growing at twice the rate of Britain’s, and our currency back on the floor, there will be no more economic incentive for EU workers to come here. We shall become increasingly a threadbare industrial and service nation, as it has long been a fantasy of the Right that there are millions of unemployed but fully deserving Britons willing to step in to take up the slack left by the hoped-for departure of the beastly ‘foreigners’ who have been undercutting our labour market.
Foreign policy is inextricably linked to domestic affairs. Chickens tend to come home to roost. Theresa May’s hasty and ill-judged commitment to the epochally dysfunctional and malignant Trump administration may also shortly become another issue of foreign policy, a diplomatic train-wreck with which her bumbling apology for a Foreign Secretary, Mr Johnson (newly reconfirmed in his job. Why?) will soon have to deal.
That’s if he hasn’t made another bid for her job.
US politics receives massive coverage in the UK during their election periods, but almost none after.
‘Mister Trump’ as the BBC continues to refer to him in respectful tones, as if his corrupt, nepotistic and thuggish White House regime with its wrecking-crew of unqualified billionaire appointees were completely normal, is under intense Congressional scrutiny already, after only four months in office; while several criminal investigations continue to draw ever-closer to the cognitively impaired President as the centre possibly of a ring of money-launderers, disruptors and foreign agents.
He has found numerous ways to piss-off our trading partners and defensive treaty allies in Europe, which looks to The Pumpkin quite like Putin’s strategy, from whom we are foolishly hoping to detach ourselves with the minimum of damage to our economy. Brexit has not come at a good time, politically. Without Trump, without Mrs Merkel’s Europe, that can ‘no longer trust’ us, we could be finding ourselves a bit friendless and in a sorry state of growing irrelevance on the world stage.
It is incredibly serious.
Congressmen, pundits and the ‘fake news’ media in America are all in agreement: it’s already much worse than Watergate; which, let’s remember, happened during Nixon’s second term in office – not within days of his inauguration.
The President has continued to bluster, to lie, to threaten, to (apparently) attempt to pervert the course of justice, to fire investigators, to attack the media and the judiciary, to ringfence himself behind a battery of lawyers, to fantasize about ‘tapes’ of his mafia-boss-style conversations, mano a mano – and ultimately to sulk like a four-year-old, in an apparent attempt to push the investigations away from focussing on him personally.
Why? What has he been up to? What has he to fear? Why would an honest President not welcome an inquiry into possible wrongdoing among his campaign staff, if the strong suspicion arises?
So toxic is the Trump brand, four leading Washington law firms reportedly refused to take his case. Building owners have been removing his name from the facades of their Trump-sponsored hotels. He cannot find candidates to fill the more-than 500 vacant senior posts in various government agencies. Several of his closest aides have been implicated in the FBI’s investigations, even his son-in-law ‘Mister Kushner’ the ‘successful property developer’ who owes a billion dollars; and are under investigation for possible espionage, sanctions-busting and money-laundering, that is even now reaching out to figures in the UK with links to UKIP and the Leave campaign.
And like NATO, Trump doesn’t pay his bills – or his contractors. He is facing a mountain of lawsuits from aggrieved creditors; investigations are also ongoing into his possible misuse of private tax-exempt charity funds and his ‘Trump University’ scam; while he owes hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe billions, to foreign banks including sanctioned Russian banks, American banks having refused to lend him money for many years since he gained a reputation for suing banks when they asked for repayment.
And he is reportedly connected with wealthy oligarchs who may have found his particular business model helpful in managing their money. He seems vulnerable to pressure on many fronts.
There’s the in-fighting in the Oval Office.
Did Steve Bannon leak to the New York Times, the story that Kushner had meetings, first with Russian ambassador Kislyak and, shortly after, with the head of the VEB Bank – a Russian bank linked both to Putin and the FSB security service – who flew in specially for the meeting; and that he owes money to twenty banks? Kushner failed to declare the meetings on his security clearance form and dad-in-law has seemingly kicked him into the long grass over it, putting Bannon back at the centre of his advisory team.
Many of Trump’s speeches, policy statements and presidential ‘executive orders’ appear to support the theory that he is somehow beholden to, or in the pay of, President Putin; an idea that he has furiously denied in many seemingly self-incriminating tweets. He continues despite widespread criticism to give the impression of promoting Russia’s foreign-policy ambitions over those of the United States, and refuses to say a bad word about Mr Putin. Why? What is the connection? He refuses to say. He is certainly beholden to US energy billionaires and has made a frenzied assault on environmental protections.
Why, the Senate is demanding to know, did he meet with top Russian officials including Foreign Minister Lavrov in the Oval Office, excluding any US media from an unscheduled visit only a day after he fired the head of the FBI, James Comey? Comey now says Trump tried to stop him investigating his connections to the Russians; criminal interference with an investigation. What did Trump blab to the Russians about Israeli penetration of the ISIS network – a conversation publicly denied one minute by his security advisor, General McMaster, only to be admitted to in another self-incriminating late-night tweet the next?
Why did he insist on even his Attorney General leaving the room while he apparently attempted to secure a personal commitment of loyalty and a public statement from Comey that he himself was not being investigated, under the implied threat of removing the FBI director from his position? How did he imagine Comey could have given such an undertaking in the middle of an investigation without it compromising any possible future evidence that might have to be given in court?
And what was the purpose of the many meetings and phone calls the intelligence services are sure his aides had with Russian agents during and after the election campaign? Meetings which they denied under oath, but were later forced to admit to? Calls, intercepted by GCHQ and other European agencies? Why the secrecy? Why the cover-up?
Indeed, it appears that, even before the inauguration, efforts were being made to undermine the Obama regime’s sanctions against Russia; while top officials such as General Flynn and NSA head, Admiral Rogers who were dismissed by, or under investigation at the instigation of, Obama following intelligence intercepts, were immediately re-hired on the Trump campaign and transition teams and have continued to refuse point-blank to co-operate with Congressional committee hearings despite being held in contempt.
Why? What is their loyalty to Trump? Or is it because they too are under investigation by the FBI and cannot speak publicly without losing some promised immunity they may have been offered from prosecution? All the material has been handed over to special prosecutor Mueller; yet the Justice department refuses to confirm or deny that Mueller himself could, in theory, be answerable to the President for his job.
Why has Mr Trump not yet replaced the 47 circuit court judges he ‘retired’, some of whom were reportedly looking into his affairs; why did he fire Sally Yates, the acting Attorney General, immediately after she had warned his White House counsel about the concerns of the intelligence community, specifically about his National Security Advisor, General Flynn, and his connections with Russia? Why, having fired him too, does he continue to try to rescue Flynn from the investigation?
Why, having been forced to recuse himself from any Russia-connected inquiries after lying several times on oath about his meetings with Russian officials, is Attorney General Jeff Sessions still in his job as the head of the Justice department; and how then did he apparently have a hand in the firing of Comey?
It is all incredibly serious.
The talk is of enforced resignation, possibly on grounds of mental ill-health. Senator Al Green of Texas is a black man, and a Democrat, and is therefore suffering a social media shitstorm of threatened lynchings and rapes of himself and his family by Trump’s crazier dumbfucks, but yesterday he announced he was drafting articles of impeachment.
However, Trump is protected against most criminal indictments – even for betraying classified information to a foreign power, which he has now done three times, claiming executive privilege – as long as he is still in office.
So there’s a long way to go before Trump is dragged kicking, screaming and tweeting infantile nonsense from behind his desk and admitted to a secure facility. Throughout his business career he has been suspected and accused of criminal wrongdoing and having deep connections with international crime syndicates – Dark Money – and the vastly wealthy and corrupt individuals who run them from the shadows.
The ‘evidence’ is to be found all over the internet, in the form of perfectly serious media investigations.
So counter-litigious is Trump, so manipulative, that nothing has ever stuck.
Maybe getting himself elected President, with or without overseas aid, will save him; maybe it will be his Nemesis.
Either way, Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with America will be sorely tested, as it becomes clear his promises on trade are not worth the paper – remember: ‘America First!’ – and he drags us into military intervention on a dangerous path to a new world war.
So you see, foreign policy is not something politicians should ignore at election time.
But, who cares?
We want our bins emptied!
More weather news…
You might not want to be in Capetown right now.
After months of drought and water rationing in the city, a terrifying storm has battered the Western Cape coast. Eight people are so far dead. The storm surge sent seawater flooding communities hundreds of metres inland. Lightning killed a woman and three children in a car; and has set fire to thousands of acres of tinder-dry forest. The wind was strong enough to overturn parked cars and prevented helicopters from firefighting. Schools and a hospital are among hundreds of homes and buildings evacuated and burned down in the town of Knysna.
One witness said: ‘It looks like a war zone’. Another, his dashcam recording as he drives through fire, just keeps repeating: ‘Fuck!’
The forecast is for the storm to last several more days.
Raw footage and local news reports on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sE1-Pdl4sXM