Monthly Archives: November 2018

Extinction Rebellion in Hereford

Extinction Symbol

Extinction Rebellion is coming to Hereford. This Saturday, 1st December, we will hold our inaugural action, starting on Castle Green at 11.00 am. I have the honour of being one of the speakers. Each of us has just a few minutes. I doubt if I’ll have time to talk about many aspects, so let me expand a bit here. This is both deeply personal and of planetary importance.

Many of my generation have been active campaigning for ecological sustainability and social justice since the late 1960’s, and before that there was a long tradition of concern and action. Over all these decades humanity made some steps in the right direction, but larger ones in totally the wrong direction. We cleaned up rivers and created national parks and wildlife reserves, eradicated smallpox, lifted millions out of poverty, spread literacy and achieved much else. However over these same decades carbon emissions grew, ever more habitats were lost and species made extinct. As some forms of pollution were clamped down on others expanded rapidly.

The prospect of the extinction of our own species is very real. This is personal. By the time my grandchildren are reaching old age the planet may simply be uninhabitable. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is now at over 405 parts per million. This is destabilizing the climate and it is also causing the acidification of the oceans. Humanity is utterly dependent on a well functioning biosphere. As oceans become more acidic phytoplankton die, and without phytoplankton the oxygen cycle breaks down, threatening the ability of large mammals, such as human beings, to breathe. Phytoplankton die-off due to ocean acidification is just one of numerous tipping points beyond which we must not pass. To safeguard our existence as a species we need to change our global political and economic systems. The latest science suggests we need to reduce global carbon emissions to zero within twelve years. To do this will require extraordinary levels of commitment. It will require unprecedented action from governments, who currently seem totally unprepared and unaware of the situation humanity is in.

As I’ve said numerous times on this blog, technologically and philosophically there is so much we could do: the obstacles are largely political. Extinction Rebellion has been formed to force governments to take action by engaging in non-violent protest, which will often involve some, but not all participants taking action for which they may be arrested. In London this has largely been blocking roads, occupying government buildings and similar things. Extinction Rebellion groups are now springing up all around the world.

Extinction Rebellion fits into a crowded field of people hungry for change. The school strikes for climate action started a few weeks ago in Sweden with 15 year old Greta Thunberg, and are now spreading fast, with kids from 100 towns in Sweden and over 260 places worldwide on strike today.

We need many diverse voices calling for rapid and bold action on climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and the rest, and we need politicians capable of listening to them and taking the required action. We don’t have long.


USA & Guns

Gun ownership, and people being killed by guns, are way higher in USA than in any other developed country. More like a war zone!

Gun ownership, and people being killed by guns, are way higher in USA than in any other developed country. More like a war zone!

Another day: another mass shooting in America. Today it was in Chicago. America seems to be at war with itself. These mass shootings grab the headlines, but it is homicides and suicides where the majority of the deaths occur. The graph above shows just what an outlier USA is in relation to most other developed countries. The horizontal axis shows gun ownership per one hundred people, and the vertical axis shows gun related deaths per 100,000 people. The diagonal line shows the overall trend that the more guns are owned in any given society the more people are likely to die from gun-shot wounds.

In 2014 USA had 33,599 gun deaths, while Japan had just six. As Japan has a population of 126 million, to USA’s 325 million, if American levels of gun death decreased to Japanese levels we might expect about 16 or 17 deaths per year in America, not over thirty-three thousand. We hear most in the media about mass shootings, and sometimes deaths in war, but these are tiny numbers compared with suicides and homicides. In 2016, another typical year in America, of the 33,594 gun deaths, 22,938 were suicides, 14,415 were homicides (of which only 71 were in mass shootings) and 1,305 were in other ways, including accidents and war casualties. (here)

The damage caused by guns in America is huge. It is also a political choice. America could massively reduce gun violence. It could make obtaining guns very much more difficult, as it is in most countries. In Japan getting a gun licence is extremely difficult and involves multiple layers of checks and paperwork, which clearly explains why deaths due to guns are so low in Japan. But it is not just Japan: Singapore, South Korea, Holland, UK, Chile and many countries have low rates of gun deaths, as the above graph shows.

Restricting access to guns is an obvious first step toward reducing gun violence. Reducing the extreme inequality in USA would also have an impact, as inequality generates stress, mental illness and anger. Curbing hate speech would also help. But the American constitution allows the right to free speech, which is often taken to include hate speech, and it also allows the right to bear arms. The American constitution looks hopelessly out of date.

In the recent midterm elections several significant victories were won by candidates advocating stronger gun control laws. Some, like Lucy McBath, were elected to congress, and many more to local state legislatures. They will have a long fight ahead of them to reduce gun deaths in America where the pro gun lobby is insanely powerful and well funded.

No other developed country has anything like the American levels of gun ownership and gun death. Reducing the rates of death can only be achieved by the American people making bold political choices, and that has to start with reducing access to guns.

Where access to guns is lower, of course, homicides and suicides are likely to be carried out by other methods. Many countries have higher rates of suicide than USA. All countries have much to do to change policies toward violence and self harm. However, this is not a reason not to restrict access to guns in America, but rather a reminder that all countries have much to do to reduce the causes of violence and self harm. I’ll explore some of these wider issues in a separate blog.

Hooray! Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez!

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: rising star and climate radical

The American midterm elections are over and what they reveal is something very similar to what is happening in Europe; the rather flabby, corporate centre ground is collapsing and voters are moving out to the extremes. In Europe, where most countries have at least half a dozen parties in their national parliaments these trends are reflected as the emergence of some parties and the contraction of others, whereas in USA the trends take place within the Republican and Democrat parties. In a blog a couple of weeks ago I looked at the growth of Green parties in elections in Belgium, Luxembourg and the German state of Bavaria. Since then the German state of Hesse has had elections that reinforced this message, as again the traditional mainstream parties lost ground to both the far right AfD and to the Green party.

The best analysis of the midterms that I have read has been Paul Mason, and he is very good at identifying the demographic groupings that are driving the Trump phenomenon and its antidote, a much more socially caring and ecologically literate movement of more urban, educated, cosmopolitan and racially diverse people. Within the Democratic Party they form a democratic socialist grouping. For years Bernie Sanders was just about the only person representing this more radical perspective. Paul Mason identifies many of the emerging people and ideas within this movement. I want to focus on just one person. If Trump embodies all that is bad, then, for me, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez embodies all that is good.

In a Tweet the meteorologist and commentator Eric Holthaus described Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as “the only American politician I’ve ever seen with a climate change plan that is in line with intergenerational justice.” She also has some refreshingly radical ideas on inequality, gun crime and much else that is so dysfunctional about American society.

Action on climate change in America has been lead from academia by people like Mark Z Jacobson, through the courts by Our Children’s Trust and though grassroots campaigns by the likes of Now at last these people have someone within the House of Representatives who really is focused on the same kind of actions that they are demanding. Millions of us around the World are delighted to see someone like Alexander Ocasio-Cortez emerging as a true leader, and I for one would love to see her become President of USA. As she is only twenty-nine years old she has time ahead of her, but why not as the presidential candidate in 2020? Who better?