HUMANITY’S ECOLOGICAL FOOTPRINT & WHY WE MAY HAVE JUST 60 HARVESTS LEFT – 09/07/18
If everyone in the world had the same lifestyle as the average person in Britain, humanity would need 3 planets to provide us with all the resources we consume, and absorb all the wastes and carbon emissions that we produce.
Politicians often talk about our national debt. But you rarely if ever hear them mention our colossal ecological debt. Yet the fact is we are living way beyond our means, as if there was a planetary credit card we could draw on with no limit on it.
But we can’t. We live on a finite planet. Politicians may promise constant economic growth. But the consequences of this model is that We are changing the planet’s climate, driving one third of the world’s species to extinction, we are running out of clean water, people are dying from air pollution, and we have just 60 harvest left before our soils run out of fertility.
Let that last figure sink in. We will no longer be able to grow the food we need to eat within our and our children’s lifetimes because the soils they grow in will be so depleted of fertility that crops will fail.
Of all the challenges we face in this century, the biggest one is figuring out how we meet the basic needs of all the world’s people – and do so in a way that doesn’t leave future generations paying the price. We face a choice – we either change the wat we live, work and play, or we fail. With deadly consequences.
Learning how to live in a way that is compatible with the natural limits of our planet, that is respectful of other living creatures, that is equitable is the question that should be paramount for governments, businesses and citizens alike. The food we eat and how we grow it, the materials we use and how we extract them, the work we do and how we get to our places of work, our homes and how they are built and powered, even our holidays and leisure activities – all of these are in need of root and branch change.
If we can figure out how we can build a world where people everywhere can lead happy, healthy lives within their fair share of the earth’s resources and leave space for wildlife and wilderness, we will have cracked it. The challenge for politicians and businesses is how they can help enable us to live sustainably in a way that is easy, affordable and attractive.
While for us, it’s about making positive changes today, not tomorrow, and telling political and corporate leaders the changes we want them to make.
For more on this story, listen to the interview with Dr Mathis Wackernagel on episode 4 of our podcast:
DON’T HUNT AFRICA’S LAST ELEPHANTS! – 02/07/18
Africa’s largest remaining elephant population is under threat from moves to make trophy hunting legal again.
The population of elephants has plummeted in recent years – there were over 1 million African elephants as recently as the 1970s, and perhaps as many as 5 or even 10 million at the beginning of the 20th century.
Botswana is now last safe haven for the animal. The southern African nation is home to around 130,000 elephants: one third of an estimated total population of 400-450,000 animals. The country has twice as many elephants as any other African nation.
Elephants once extended as far as the north African coast. But in the last 40 years alone it has lost around half of its range. Ivory poaching and trophy hunting have been among the key contributors to the drop in its numbers. Less than 20% of its current habitat is in protected areas. There have been warnings that it could be just 10 years away from extinction.
In 2014, Botswana’s then-President Ian Khama banned all trophy hunting in the country because of declining numbers. And earlier this year Khama also criticised the US President Donald Trump for lifting the ban on the import of some elephant trophies.
The numbers of elephants illegally killed in Botswana since the ban came into place have been few in recent years. The ban also led to an upsurge in nature and eco-tourism.
However new President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who took up office in April of this year, has launched a consultation exercise about the lifting of the hunting ban. And it’s now been reported that Botswana’s Parliament has voted through a motion which calls for an urgent lifting of the ban to be considered.
The bill asks the government to look at lifting the ban in areas that are not designated as game reserves or national parks. MPs who back the move argue that the current ban has not only led to an increase in the number of elephants, but also to a rise in poaching.
During the debate, Vice President Slumber Tsogwane said that human-wildlife conflicts have increased in recent years. Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi confirmed to reporters last month that the government would now be opening discussions on lifting the hunting ban.
The decision last November by US President Donald Trump to allow elephant trophies to be imported into the US is particularly significant. Two out of every 3 trophy hunters is American. And Since the year 2000, the US has imported nearly 5,000 elephant trophies.
Trophy hunting of elephants is currently allowed in Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and Zambia, as well as in Zimbabwe and South Africa. some of these countries have seen dramatic falls in elephant numbers. In Zimbabwe, the population has collapsed by between 40 to 75% in different parts of the country. Despite this, Zimbabwe has the largest quota for trophy tusks of any country.
In Tanzania, the elephant population has fallen by 60% in just 5 years, and has halved in Mozambique. both continue to allow trophy hunting.
Zambia had one of Africa’s largest elephant populations in the late 1960s, with numbers estimated at over 200,000. Now though there could be fewer than 10,000 animals remaining. Despite an official ban on trophy hunting that came into force in 1982, Zambia allows around 80 elephant trophies every year.
In Namibia, it’s estimated that nearly 6,000 foreign trophy hunters come to the country every year.
And it’s not just elephants that are under threat from the commercial hunting industry.
A number of species popular with trophy hunters have seen sharp falls in their numbers in recent years to the point where there are now fears they could soon vanish. As well as elephants, rhinoceroses, leopards, cheetahs and lions are the most favoured animals for trophy hunters… and are also the species who have seen some of the biggest populations crashes.
Rhinos are now facing an increasingly uphill battle for survival. The black rhino is listed as critically endangered, and the northern white rhino is now extinct in the wild. Yet South Africa and Namibia continue to allow trophy hunting in their respective countries. The United States imported over 500 southern white rhino trophies during the last 15 years, and two critically endangered black rhino.
Leopards are fast disappearing from many areas. However it’s still legal to hunt them for sport in no fewer than 13 African countries. Zimbabwe alone allows 500 leopards to be killed as trophies every year. Around 2,500 leopards have been killed in Tanzania over the past 10 years. The US was the largest importer of leopard trophies.
Cheetahs are also in a state of rapid decline, having vanished from over three-quarters of their historic range in recent years. It’s thought that numbers may have fallen by more than 30%. Nevertheless, Namibia and Zimbabwe continue to offer a combined annual quota of 200 cheetah trophies to hunters.
And lions face perhaps the biggest threat of all. The number legally hunted for trophies over the past decade was around 10,000. There could now be fewer than 20,000 lions remaining in the wild.
Incredibly it is still legal to hunt and kill lions for sport in all 6 countries in which it is still found. The price tag of a wild lion is as much as $100,000 each or more. those with smaller wallets can choose a lion from one of South Africa’s canned hunting farms, where a semi-tame lion in an enclosure makes for easy pickings. Never has the cliché shooting fish in a barrel seemed more appropriate.
In the past, some conservation groups such as IUCN and WWF have argued that well-managed trophy hunting provided revenue and incentives for people to conserve wildlife populations, and therefore could help protect wildlife from threats such as poaching.
However it’s an argument that doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny. Although conservation groups have sometimes benefited, revenues rarely reach those at a local level, Even the IUCN admitted in a report that ‘The local community’s share is around US $0.10 per hectare explaining their lack of interest in preserving hunting areas and their continued encroachment and poaching.’
According to the UN World Tourism Organisation, Trophy hunting brings in almost negligible revenue compared to wildlife watching, with trophy hunting accounting for just 1.8 percent of total tourism revenue compared to 80% for wildlife watching. Few local people are taken on as trackers or other workers on game farms. And there have been complaints that the big fees paid by trophy hunters vanish due to corruption and mismanagement.
There are now fears that climate change could magnify the damage done by trophy hunting. Scientists have warned that trophy hunters kill the strongest and most beautiful animals – leaving the ones who are less able to adapt to change. This affects the species’ gene pool and future generations. Killing healthy adult males – who are the most common targets for big cat hunters – can also have a devastating impact on regional populations. Elephants may be particularly prone to this phenomenon, as hunters will invariably target those with the biggest tusks – the size of a tusk being a good indicator of the health of an animal. Removing these elephants from the species’ gene pool could precipitate rapid local extinctions.
With numbers now apparently in freefall, it’s also argued that we are fast approaching the point where the killing of a single individual could represent another death blow to the chances of a species’ survival.
The fact is that there is yet to be any evidence that supports the claim that trophy hunting is clearly beneficial to the conservation status of a vulnerable species. All the species of wildlife that have trophy hunting quotas have seen continued if not accelerated declines in their populations. If Botswana were to lift the ban on what is now by far the world’s most important population of African elephants, it could spell the death knoll for this incredible animal.
In the past few days, there have been unconfirmed reports that Botswana’s President is considering shelving the lifting of the ban. Our attempts to get clarification from the Botswana authorities have not been answered. Let’s hope though that the rumours prove to be true – and that there is still hope for the African elephant.
TIME TO GET TOUGH ON HUNT THUGS & ON ILLEGAL HUNTING – 25/06/18
Two men – father and son George and Thomas Grant – have walked free from court after having been found guilty at Leicester Crown Court of grievous bodily harm, actual bodily harm, theft, and criminal damage. The two men were part of a gang of 6 hunt supporters – 4 of them in balaclavas – who had brutally assaulted former police officer Darryl Cunnington who, along with a colleague, was monitoring the Belvoir Hunt on behalf of a wildlife charity. The pair had come across Cunnington and Roger Swaine, hunt monitors for the League Against Cruel Sports, with video cameras near a public bridleway.
The court heard that George Grant, a terrier-man for the hunt, had told his son Thomas to: “Go and get the boys and come back”. Thomas Grant had then ridden off on a quad bike and returned with a pickup vehicle. The 6 men then proceeded to carry out their vicious assault – after which they threw Cunnington off a 14 foot ledge. Cunnington was left with a broken neck in 3 places.
Not content with that, his attackers climbed down to where he lay paralysed and proceeded to stamp on him. His colleague Roger was beaten unconscious and left with head injuries. When he regained consciousness, he immediately called the emergency services. It took a special 6-wheel drive paramedic vehicle 3 hours to move Cunnington out of the gully strapped to a spine board where he was taken to hospital.
The next morning he learned he had suffered a broken neck. Doctors told him that if the fractures had been even a couple of millimetres to one or other side, he could have been permanently paralysed – or even killed. Cunnington had to wear a neck brace for the next 3 months. He needed help with bathing, and had to sleep sitting upright in bed.
The Grants were arrested and bailed later the same day. However when they were questioned they refused to give the identities of the other 4 men. It took 2 years for the case to come to court, largely because police tried but failed to retrieve potentially incriminating footage recorded on one of the stolen cameras’ memory cards. The card had apparently been deliberately damaged, leaving it unreadable.
After initially pleading not guilty, the two changed their plea. On June 14th they were sentenced. They were each given a suspended prison sentence, community service, and told to pay £500 to Cunnington. They walked out of court free men.
During sentencing, the judge said of the Grants: “Both of you flipped. Neither of you are by nature violent men.” This appears to conflict with the evidence heard in court, where George Grant’s words to his son to go and get the other men, and the coordinated attack on Cunnington and Swaine by the gang of 6, would suggest a pre-meditated action by the group as opposed to a spontaneous ‘over-reaction’ by an individual.
It also emerged that a character reference for George Grant had been given by Lady Sarah McCorquodale. McCorquodale is the older sister of the late Princess Diana – and joint master of the Belvoir Hunt for whom Mr Grant is the terrierman.
The outcome provoked an uproar, including from legendary explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Fiennes, who joined a Countryside Alliance march against the Hunting Act when it was first proposed, has since become a supporter of keeping hunting illegal. He wrote privately to Theresa May on the day she became Prime Minister asking her to keep repeal of the Hunting Act off the agenda. He also spoke at the Conservative Party conference that same year – refusing to be intimidated by members of the Countryside Alliance – and publicly joined lobbies of Parliament calling for animal cruelty sentences to be increased to up to 5 years in jail.
The ruling in this case left him incensed. He wrote to the Attorney General demanding that the sentence be reviewed on grounds of undue leniency. He pointed out that the two men convicted of the offences had repeatedly refused to cooperate with the police investigation’s efforts to identify the other 4 men involved in carrying out the attack, who remain at large, and that they had shown no remorse for their actions or concern for their victims and the serious injuries they had inflicted upon them.
He reminded the Attorney General that Cunnington had suffered life-threatening injuries, and argued that allowing the two men to walk free from court could be interpreted as a ‘green light’ for hunt supporters to commit serious assaults against anyone monitoring, observing or even in the vicinity of a hunt.
There is now a real fear that not only could hunts feel they can assault hunt monitors and saboteurs with impunity, but that it is only a matter of time before someone gets killed.
It won’t be the first time that it’s happened. In the 1990s Mike Hill and Tom Worby lost their lives when they were run over by vehicles belonging to hunts in Cheshire and Cambridgeshire. The cases against their attackers never came to trial. Another man, Steve Christmas, was airlifted to hospital and had to spend several weeks in intensive care after he was left with a crushed pelvis, broken ribs, and serious abdominal injuries. He had to have part of his bowel removed too. A court decided not to award compensation – a decision that was overturned on appeal. A case against the driver was discontinued, despite him having a lengthy record of violent crimes.
In recent months there has been a renewed spate of brutal assaults by hunt thugs that have resulted in serious injuries – and where the response from the authorities has been inadequate at best, and at worst either absent altogether or where the victims have been subjected to police harassment.
They include the case of a former director of a hunt who was found guilty of hitting a saboteur with his riding crop, leaving her with head injuries. Despite failing to attend police bail and not turning up to court, he was given a 3 month curfew and told to pay his victim just £100 in compensation.
When a huntsman launched an unprovoked attack on a saboteur in Kent in 2013, police failed to take action – despite the fact that the victim had called 999. Following complaints, the police reviewed the video evidence they’d been given. The huntsman had a previous conviction for assault, but was left off with a warning.
In 2014, hunt supporters in West Yorkshire attacked a vehicle with baseball bats, dragged the occupants from their vehicle, and punched and kicked them repeatedly. They were given 60-120 hours community service.
In 2015, hunt supporters attacked saboteurs with knives leaving 2 with serious stab wounds to their hands.
Anti-hunt campaigners have been hit on the head with a pistol, had tyres slashed, cars rammed and set on fire, and windscreens smashed with spades.
Hunters have attacked campaigners with baseball bats in their own home, and broke the leg of one protestor by pinning him down, and smashing his leg with a large boulder. When a campaigner was left with broken ribs and a collapsed lung following an assault by hunt supporters, hunt supporters blocked the road preventing an ambulance from reaching her. No charges were brought against him by the CPS.
12 Members of the Cotswold hunt viciously attacked a 60 year old pensioner after she complained about a hunt trespassing on her land, leaving the woman with serious injuries.
Anti-hunt campaigners following a hunt near Huddersfield were in a van when a number of 4 wheel drive vehicles drove towards them at speed, blocking their vehicle. 2 men wearing masks and carrying hammers jumped out and smashed their windscreen and both rear windows, and slashed a tyre before racing away. Police turned up shortly afterwards – because they had been called by the hunt to say there were hunt saboteurs in the area. They proceeded to detain the people in the van – and refused to investigate or take any action against their assailants.
At the end of last year, video evidence was given to police showing illegal hunting taking place in Kent. The footage showed that no scent trail had been laid, and captured the moment the fox was killed. The person who filmed it had their car keys stolen. Kent police decided not to take any action.
Earlier this year a hunt protestor was left critically injured after being attacked and ridden down by hunters in Devon. He was left with a hoof print on his skull.
Monitors for the League Against Cruel Sports – for whom Darryl Cunnington and Roger Swaine were working when they were attacked – have found tracking devices on their cars, have had their phones hacked, and post-cards with their names and faces have been distributed to hunts around the country.
Some hunts have been known to bring in up to 30 or 40 thugs, often wearing balaclavas, leaving police and ambulance crews to express fears about their own safety when they’ve been called to attend.
It seems, then, that if the soft sentences doled out to the men convicted of attacking Darryl Cunnington and Roger Swaine were shocking, they are perhaps not surprising. Yet this does not make it any less serious. It could be argued that charges of attempted murder could – and should – have been brought against the Grants.
And it is also worth asking what would have happened had the tables been turned – and if hunt monitors or saboteurs had broken the neck of a hunter? What would have been the charges brought then, and the sentences passed down? What would have been the media’s reaction and the political outcry?
One question the authorities don’t seem to have addressed is: what is it that hunts are going to such extreme lengths to try to hide? Why are they prepared to inflict such violence – and even risk prosecution – if, as many claim, they are hunting within the law? What do they not want members of the public to see or to record on film? Surely if they had nothing to hide, and are so keen to profess their legal credentials, they should be welcoming observers – not setting violent thugs on them.
If the lack of action against the perpetrators of unprovoked violence is shocking, then the lack of enforcement of the law on hunting may be said to be little more than scandalous. Figures show large and unexplained disparities in the number of prosecutions in different parts of the country. Whilst some police forces have brought cases, others have not in all the years since the Hunting Act came into force in 2005 – including Devon and Cornwall, home of several active hunts. The police force there has been forced to apologise on more than one occasion for its failure to act after strong evidence had been submitted to it.
Often police forces say that their role on the few occasions when they do police hunts is to be neutral and take both sides views’ into account. But the role of the police is not to be some kind of arbiter – this isn’t a football match. Hunts are hunting, and they are breaking the law with impunity. They are making a mockery of the law, and are laughing at the justice system because they believe they are above the law. Hunting foxes or other mammals is banned – so when hunts go out as a group to hunt, this is organised crime. It is a conspiracy to commit crime, and should be treated as such.
And it’s a serious crime, and one which society strongly believes should be considered as such. Studies have repeatedly shown a link between acts of cruelty to animals and other forms of serious and violent crime, including domestic violence, rape and even murder. 85% of people in Britain believe it is right that hunting animals for sport should be banned. There are few issues in the country today where there is such strong support or clear consensus.
Hunt monitors and saboteurs are sometimes lumped together with ‘extremists’ who pose a threat to national security. They find themselves arrested and harassed on the word of hunters. One force sought to get a restraining order against a hunt saboteur to stop them going near members of a hunt – the force subsequently had to back down in embarrassing fashion. It has been reported that there are some Police officers who are members of hunts and who take part in hunting activities.
Hunters complain that their opponents commit acts of trespass – but this is a strange defence for violent behaviour, not least as it is something that hunters often do themselves. There are regular documented cases of hunts trespassing onto private property, and of hounds worrying sheep. In some cases, ewes have been known to abort their lambs as a result.
Courts in the UK have on more than one occasion accepted the defence used by arms trade campaigners who have damaged warplanes that, whatever crime they may have committed was justified – as it prevented a more serious crime from taking place. Trespassing to ensure a mammal is not cruelly and illegally ripped to pieces by a pack of hounds may pass the same legal test.
Unusually, and unlike other wildlife protection and animal cruelty laws, the Hunting Act makes no provision for custodial sentences. The Animal Welfare Act, the Protection of Badgers Act, and the Wildlife and Countryside Act all carry penalties that include jail sentences. Not the Hunting Act though.
And the law comes with some ridiculous exemptions. For example, hunters who chase and kill a stag can say they were doing it lawfully – because they were conducting research. This is exactly the same excuse used by Japanese whalers who have sought to skirt around a global ban on whaling. Despite having used this excuse ever since the Hunting Act came into being in 2005, there has yet to be a peer-reviewed paper published in any reputable scientific journal which has drawn on such research.
There is no doubt that the Hunting Act needs to be strengthened and its loopholes eliminated. For now, though, the law needs to be enforced. The police need to learn and apply the law as it stands – rather than be unduly influenced into applying public order provisions spuriously and on the say-so of huntmasters. The Hunting Act is not going to be repealed – Theresa May has made that abundantly clear. Therefore hunts have no excuse – the argument that they are trail hunting in order to be ready for when the law is reversed no longer holds water, if it ever did. To have designated terrier-men is an open challenge to the law – and a challenge the authorities should accept. Police forces can no longer act as if the offence has been de facto decriminalised because of the possibility of repeal. The law is here to stay – and is therefore there to be enforced.
And politicians should start thinking about the ways in which they can crack down on hunting now which do not require major changes to the law. At the end of each hunting season, hunts kill off thousands of their hounds. The dogs will usually be in perfect health and with many years still left in them. Because they are no longer of use to the hunts, though, they are shot and often incinerated. Although there is dispute as to how many thousands die in this way every year, the bloodsports lobby does not deny that it is several thousand. What is perhaps most surprising is that it is perfectly legal. There is no requirement for the animal to be deemed irretrievably sick or suffering. In fact there is no requirement for any veterinary involvement at all. The animals are killed and disposed of in the hunts’ own kennels. Surely this is one area where the law can be changed virtually overnight – sparing thousands of dogs each year a cruel and unnecessary death.
It won’t be long now before the hunting season kicks off again. And it will start with the obscene practice of fox cub hunting. It is a practice which aims to teach new hunting dogs to chase and kill foxes. Some hunts have been known to take young cubs from the wild and keep them for use in this activity. Unless the law is properly enforced, as many as 10,000 fox cubs could be illegally and cruelly killed by hunters this year.
If politicians, the police and prosecutors are unwilling to act decisively to protect people from hunters, then perhaps the plight of thousands of fox cubs and innocent dogs may provide them with the motivation they need. Let’s hope they do so before someone is killed. Again.
THE CLIMATE CHALLENGE – 18/06/18
In the past few days, there have been fresh calls for tough action to tackle climate threats from some unexpected corners.
Lloyds of London, the global insurance giants, warned that the world’s largest cities face an estimated annual average loss of $123 billion as a result of climate-related extreme weather- and that the figure could grow even further.
In the run-up to the recent G7 summit, a number of major investment firms with assets totalling $26 trillion urged world leaders to step up their fight against climate change – including by phasing out coal, and eliminating subsidies for fossil fuels.
The Pope addressed a group of senior oil executives at the Vatican from companies including Exxon, BP and Shell, telling them that they needed to wind down their use of fossil fuels – and focus on clean energy sources instead.
The fresh calls for politicians to act follow the publication of new studies indicating that global food supplies – and the nutritional quality of food – could be seriously affected by an increase in global temperatures.
They show that climate change is already reducing yields and stripping nutrients from vegetables, raising serious questions over the future of food security and public health around the world.
And By the end of this century, as much as half of the world’s landmass could be covered by drylands, which is expected to lead to an increase in airborne pollution levels and premature deaths. Premature deaths from asthma, lung disease, fibrosis and lung cancer could go up by as much as 130 percent by the year 2100 as a result of inhaling silica, soil-borne pathogens and other toxic contaminants.
Around the world, hurricanes are getting slower, researchers have said – and as a result, they’re getting stronger and wetter.
Plus there were renewed fears this week that diseases including malaria and meningitis are also spreading more quickly because of increasing temperatures, as mosquitoes that transmit malaria are growing faster.
Drought and higher temperatures have been blamed for the mysterious and sudden deaths of baobab trees, Africa’s so-called tree of life. Here in Britain, Climate change was said to be one of the drivers of what is some have called an ecological apocalypse, with as many as 1 in 5 species now facing extinction.
And there is new evidence there could be other, unexpected consequences from climate change.
In Alaska, for example, Mercury is being released from thawing soils and is poisoning rivers. The mercury, a product of industrial pollution, was deposited in permafrost – but as global temperatures rise, more of the permafrost is thawing, and the mercury is being carried out to sea where it has now been found in beluga whales, polar bears, seals, fish, and eagles
Camp Century, “the so-called city under the ice”, was a US research station and strategic outpost in Greenland during the Cold War. The camp was powered by the world’s first mobile nuclear generator. It was abandoned in 1967, together with unknown amounts of radioactive waste. (It was believed that snow and ice would cover the entire site and bury all the toxic waste. However) rising sea levels are now starting to flood the site which is causing widespread radioactive contamination – including plutonium-239, one of the most toxic substances on Earth.
New scenarios of what the future may holds have also been released in recent days. They say that, by 2050, there could be as many as 200 million climate refugees in the world, creating what was described as a humanitarian crisis of potentially biblical proportions.
There was though some positive news, as India’s target to install 175 gigawatts of renewable power capacity by 2022 – widely viewed as ambitious – could be met ahead of target, and even exceeded.
It was also reported that Scotland has met its annual climate change target for the third consecutive year – with Greenhouse gas emissions falling by 49 per cent from 1990 to 2016.
In Sweden, meanwhile, IKEA unveiled a sustainability strategy which it said would not only make the companies products 100 per cent “circular” by making them entirely out of recycled materials, but also “climate positive”. And a Swedish burger chain is now offering ‘the world’s first climate positive menu’.
And it was announced that another $1 billion was being invested in new renewable energy projects in Africa.
But elsewhere the picture was less rosy, with Governments and the energy sector being accused of being too slow to respond to the growing challenge. The EU – long a lead in climate policy – was told it needed to up its climate ambition. New climate policies announced by Australia, Ireland and New Zealand were panned by green groups. And the G7 declaration on climate – which Donald Trump refused to sign – was attacked by Greenpeace for being tepid. Embarrassingly, a study was published which revealed that the G7 nations had spent at least $100 billion a year to support fossil fuels at home and abroad in 2015 and 2016, propping up oil, gas and coal consumption – despite vows to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.
There are now growing fears of catastrophic changes to the planet – even if the Paris Accord’s emission targets are met.
It has been claimed that the climate challenge could represent an evolutionary tipping point for humanity.
Researchers studying the impact of extreme climate conditions on biodiversity have found what they say is a “tipping point” at which species under pressure from dwindling food supplies due to climate change, had to either evolve to take advantage of different food supplies, or face extinction. The fear is that humanity now faces the same dilemma.
Politicians, though, remain reluctant to embrace radical measures to immediately and dramatically cut CO2 emissions – perhaps because of the drastic changes they could mean to modern lifestyles and the economy. But with Carbon capture and storage technology still not being a viable option, there appear to be few alternative options.
In Britain, a group of citizens calling themselves ‘Plan B Earth’ have announced they are going to sue the British Government over what they say is its poor response to climate change. It’s the latest in a string of bids around the world to hold governments and oil companies accountable for the damage which, it’s alleged, some knew about as far back as the late 1960s but – rather like tobacco industry research into the harm caused by smoking cigarettes – they chose to keep quiet.
Whether they succeed remains to be seen. One thing however is for sure. Tackling climate will mean making major decisions about the way we live, work and play. And failing to tackle climate will mean even greater changes being forced upon us. The choice is ours.
BRITAIN’S CHILD HUNGER SCANDAL
It’s the sort of headline you’d think emanates from the Dickensian era, or is in a newspaper published in a struggling developing nation.
But the media here have, in the past few days, been running stories about children in Britain going hungry during the summer holidays.
Food banks, they say, are begging people to help them feed children who are going without because their parents can’t afford to feed them, and they are without the term-time safety net of free school meals.
Charities have made desperate public appeals asking for people to donate food during the summer holidays because of the growing numbers of families who depend on free school meals as a way to ensure their kids get the nutrition they need.
This, in Britain – the world’s 5th largest economy, in 2018. What on earth is going on?
What’s going on is that there are now hundreds of food banks across the country that are literally propping up entire families, with the most vulnerable members of society depending on them not as an occasional emergency resource to dip in and out of in terms of acute need, but as an ongoing and permanent fixture of their daily lives. That’s what’s going on.
What’s going on is that the number of children who are relying on food banks is going up significantly as the cost of living rises, rents soar, wages stagnate, and the impacts of rolling out the universal credit benefits system start to bite.
What’s going on is that the number of emergency food packages being distributed by charities to families has shot up by around 60% in the past 4 years. That’s what is going on.
Britain is one of the richest countries in the world. We are the 5th largest economy out of the 195 officially-recognised nations. But food banks here are no longer a stop-gap – but are now the only long-term solution available to many ordinary families.
And charities are being forced to step in, not to provide emergency relief but to ensure that people have the very basics that they need.
More than 4 million children are growing up in poverty today in Britain. Not Bangladesh. Not Benin or Burundi. Britain.
Last year, nearly 600 organisations running holiday clubs across the UK provided almost 200,000 meals to hungry school children.
And when you ask people the reason why so many families are struggling today, the answers are nearly always the same – namely punitive welfare reform, and austerity measures. These 2 policies alone are pushing up the numbers of the working poor – let alone the long-term unemployed – to levels that have never been seen in Britain before.
The face of Britain is changing. The people who are using food banks aren’t stereotypical down and outs – increasingly they are ordinary families, many of them with jobs. As one of the founders of the initiative Feeding Britain recently put it: “Never before have you had people in work, working for their poverty. That is a new phenomenon.”
The past few years have been particularly damaging to Britain’s younger generation. 7 out of 10 families who use food banks have dependent children. One survey showed children were sometimes going several days without eating.
We’ve seen the downgrading of Surestart and family centres across the country, and the removal of early intervention services designed to stop children from disadvantaged families falling into a spiral of deprivation and anti-social behaviour.
It is children who have disproportionately borne the brunt of the impact when their parents or guardians have been moved onto universal credit, and the subsequent problems of destitution and debt that have followed in so many cases.
The Trussell Trust, which has become the most recognised face of the food aid sector in Britain, reported a staggering 52% increase in the demand for food aid in those areas where universal credit has been rolled out. Food banks in these areas have 4 times as much demand as those where it hasn’t yet been introduced.
Payment delays, administrative errors and a lack of support for claimants struggling to navigate the complex online-only system is directly behind the growing numbers of families relying on Food Banks, according to the charity End Hunger UK.
When the system fails – as it so often does – and there is a delay in the payments that these families need to survive, does the government think those families can simply dip into ample savings accounts to tide them over? Has the government even considered the impact its bureaucratic failings and political choices have on children, who are arguably the most vulnerable to the consequences of these decisions – and who are least able to challenge them?
When benefits sanctions are applied – and in too many cases there have been extraordinarily arbitrary and downright cruel reasons given to justify them – has anyone spared a thought for the children who will bear the brunt?
Food banks – and child hunger – are becoming the new normal in 21st century Britain: this at the same time as demand for luxury yachts has never been higher in our country.
Never in human history has there been so much wealth in the UK – and it is a long time since we saw such widespread destitution. When one of the fastest growing parts of the economy is the charitable food bank sector, we need to be asking serious questions about where it all went wrong. While we salute the compassion and dedication of their staff and volunteers, the success of organisations such as the Trussell Trust should be regarded as a national tragedy – not as a national triumph.
There is a Food Insecurity Bill going before Parliament. It wants to force the government to record how many people have experienced hunger or haven’t eaten enough because they don’t have enough money for food.
If it were to make it onto the statute book it would paint a shocking and shameful picture of the nation we have now become.
The Fight to Save Africa’s Last Elephants
We don’t often hear about Botswana in the news. But it’s about to become the focus of a desperate fight to save one of the most amazing creatures ever to have lived on planet earth.
The African elephant has made Botswana its last stronghold. While populations all around the continent have crashed, this landlocked nation – better known for its diamond industry – is now home to ONE THIRD of the species.
This isn’t an accident. Several years ago the population here was falling just as it was elsewhere. But the then President Ian Khama made a decision – he was going to ban all trophy hunting of elephants.
And ban it he did. Not only did killing of elephants for selfies and body parts stop – poaching quietly disappeared too. And guess what happened. The population increased. Of the 400,000 or so African elephants left, 130,000 of them are here now. In fact Botswana has twice as many elephants as any other African nation. Meanwhile countries like Zambia – which still allows trophy hunting – has seen its population of elephants crash from over 200,000 in the 1960s to less than 10,000 today.
But Ian Khama is gone now. And In April of this year, a man called Mogkweetski Masisi became the country’s new President. Opponents of Khama and his ban seized their chance. Politicians in Botswana’s parliament passed a motion calling for the trophy hunting ban to be lifted urgently. Masisi’s vice president came out publicly in support of the resumption of trophy hunting. Mogkweetsi hasn’t yet shown his hand – instead he’s ordered a cabinet committee to oversee a public consultation on the proposal.
We don’t know when that public consultation will say or when it will end. All we know is that the clock is ticking.
A group of some of Britain’s best loved celebrities and public figures have come together to try to pwersuade President Masisi to change his mind. They’ve penned an open letter to him expressing their concern at the plans, at how it could take the elephant population past the point of no return, and imploring him to show leadership by keeping the ban in place and hence help to preserve the species for future generations. The signatories include Bill Bailey, Nicky Campbell, Peter Egan, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Stephen Fry, Ricky Gervais, Joanna Lumley, Virginia McKenna, Bill Oddie, Chris Packham, Sara Pascoe and Carol Royle.
Together, we defend the right of elephants and all wildlife to live free from pain, persecution and a cruel death for the sake of entertainment for a few. The so-called sport of trophy hunting is a moral cancer. We thoroughly dispute the oft-pedalled lie that trophy hunting is in some way beneficial to conservation. Of course it isn’t. It’s a cynical justification for one of the most senseless and cowardly of all human activities.
Chris Packham has called on the British government to put pressure on the Botswana authorities to keep the ban in place. He’s also called on people to contact President Masisi directly, and to tell him that the world is watching – and will not look upon him or his country kindly if they go ahead and let the slaughter of elephants to begin.
And he’s right. We have a moral duty to speak out for the elephants. They don’t have a vote. They don’t have access to the media.
And we don’t have the right to torture or kill a fellow living creature simply because we find it fun.
We need to do everything we can to persuade President Masisi to keep the ban. And we need to start pushing now for a complete worldwide ban on all trophy hunting. It’s cruel, it’s sick, and it’s bringing many of the world’s most amazing animals to the edge of extinction.
It’s not just elephants that are at risk – it’s lions, leopards, cheetahs, rhinos, it’s hippos. If we don’t act now, they could soon be gone from the wild. What does that say about the human condition that we are able to literally extinguish life, purely for entertainment? What will it say about humanity if we failed or refused to act when we could have done something – and chose not to?
Wild animals have as much right to inhabit this planet as humans. It is a sign of our supreme arrogance that some still believe it is acceptable to kill animals for pleasure. We think we are civilised – yet we kill millions of animals every year for no other reason than some people get a kick out of it.
We need to put an end to the killing of innocent animals by trophy hunters. The fightback begins here and now.
Please go to the website www.bantrophyhunting.com There you will find a petition addressed to President Masisi. You will also find a link to President Masisi’s facebook page, and his twitter account. This means you can click on them and send him a direct message yourself – and tell him why you want Botswana’s elephants to be saved.
Let’s make the world’s politicians sit up and take notice – and help bring about an end to the killing of animals as a leisure activity.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the legendary explorer who grew up in Africa, calls trophy hunting a ‘sport’ for morons, cowards and bullies. He says the people who take part should be in jail because they’re committing crimes against the planet. He adds that our children will despise us if we let elephants die out. He wants a global ban, and is calling for jail terms for all those involved in trophy hunting and poaching.
This could be our last chance to save Africa’s elephants. Their extinction would be the biggest conservation disaster in modern times.
Please join the fightback for animals.
BRITAIN’S HOMELESSNESS SCANDAL – 09/07/18
Homelessness isn’t a new problem in Britain, and we’ve probably become anaesthetised to the various reports and media coverage saying that it’s now at record levels. For the record, there are now more than 300,000 people – or 1 in 200 of the population –sleeping rough or living in temporary or inadequate accommodation, according to Shelter. Let that sink in – 1 in 200.
But there are some shocking stories beneath the headlines that shame us as a society – and should have us reaching for our pitchforks.
The first is that the number of homeless pensioners is the highest it’s been for a decade.
There are currently more than 2,500 people in Britain aged 60 and over who are officially homeless – a figure that has shot up by 40 per cent since 2013.
Some of them are in temporary accommodation – and some of them are sofa surfers and, yes, some of them are sleeping rough on Britain’s streets. Pensioners.
The second is that over 120,000 children in England are living in temporary accommodation – an increase of 62 per cent since 2010. Roughly 900 children become homeless every month. That’s right, 900 children become homeless every single month.
Half of parents interviewed by Shelter, said their children’s physical health had been affected. Three quarters said it impacted their mental health.
Thirdly, disabled people. The integration of disability benefits into universal credit is driving some of the most vulnerable people in society into debt – with a growing number ending up on the streets.
More and more disabled people are now dependent on foodbanks – and are being driven to suicide.
And lastly, the terminally ill.
If we can’t provide even the most basic of comforts – a roof over their heads – to people with incurable diseases to soften their last few days, then we need to ask some very serious questions about what we have allowed to happen to this country.
Yet this is exactly what is happening.
In Britain – one of the richest countries in the world – terminally ill homeless people have no legal rights to appropriate housing. In 2018.
Terminally ill homeless people are dying on our streets. In pain. Without any help or support. Alone.
Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson, wants to introduce a bill that will stop terminally ill homeless people falling through the cracks between housing departments, social services and the NHS, as so often happens.
It would give the dying a right to appropriate housing and care.
It beggars belief that we even have to contemplate having to specifically legislate to do this.
We hear government ministers talk about compassionate values, caring for the most vulnerable.
Yet housing and benefits regimes specifically – and intentionally – are making it harder for people to access even the most basic levels of support.
In John Grisham’s book The Rainmaker – turned into a film starring Matt Damon – the young lawyer played by Damon exposes how a health insurance company has a policy of automatically and repeatedly denying claims from clients in the hope they will eventually desist.
It seems at times that someone in the government has seen the film or read the book, and decided to adopt it as policy. Every week a ridiculous story emerges of someone a with serious disability or illness being told that they have no right to any support and that they are supposedly fit to work. Some have died shortly after.
We hear that the solution to poverty is building a strong economy. Yet all the evidence points to a growing gap between the have-nots and the have-yachts.
It’s been 40 years since the sell-off of council housing began. And in all that time, no government has come up with a coherent replacement plan to meet the constant need for social housing. Because although the supply of social housing may have diminished, the demand hasn’t. And with cuts to housing benefits, the introduction of universal credit and soaring rents – there is also now a growing gap between market rents and housing benefits.
And this gap between higher rents and lower benefit is the single biggest cause of homelessness in Britain today.
So there’s no excuse for helplessly shrugging our shoulders and saying there’s nothing we can do about homelessness. Yes we can.
The government needs to do two things: 1 – come up with a plan for social housing – and 2 – right now make sure that housing benefit actually covers the cost of rents.
Why should it do so? Because of what Polly Neate, the CEO of Shelter, argues. She says that ”decades of failure to build enough social homes, coupled with crippling welfare cuts, has left thousands of children suffering the trauma of homelessness.”
They are anxious, they are afraid, they are ashamed. And they’re falling behind at school, and are at risk of serious illnesses, and are more likely to get caught in a vicious circle of drugs and crime. We are harming – and scarring – an entire generation. And we’re condemning them to a lifetime of failure.
This is the legacy we are creating.
If we cannot guarantee that children – or pensioners, the disabled and the dying – have at least the dignity of a safe, clean home… then what right do we have to call ourselves a civilised society?
WHY WE SHOULD SUPPORT CLIMATE LAW SUITS – 02/07/18
Are the law courts the last and best hope for forcing governments and businesses to act to prevent runaway climate change?
The UN estimates there are currently as many as 900 climate law suits going on in 24 countries. There are over 650 such cases going through the courts in the United States alone. They are inspired by the landmark battles against big tobacco, and the victories against racial desegregation of schools which changed America. There are another 80 cases in the pipeline in Australia, and 49 here in the UK.
A case in New Zealand highlights the plight of “climate refugees,” while in the Netherlands an environmental group representing 900 of its citizens successfully sued the government over its decision to lower greenhouse gas reduction targets. It was the first time that a group of citizens had sued their own government over climate change— and won. It led to the court ordering the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent by the year of 2020. Some cases are using human rights arguments, and claim that climate change has threatens people’s basic rights to shelter, health, food, water and even life.
However there was a setback this week after A judge in America threw out a law suit that had been brought against ExxonMobil and a number of other oil giants. The case was filed by American cities including San Francisco. It had argued that the oil industry has known for 50 years about the damage they were doing yet had carried on and made huge profits in the process. It sought redress for the costs associated with climate change. specifically San Francisco demanded financial compensation for the billions of dollars that it and other cities stand to lose in mitigating the predicted effects of sea level rise.
However US District Judge William Alsup ruled against the plaintiffs, arguing that consumers were equally to blame for climate change and – to the delight of the fossil fuel lobby – that it wasn’t fair to pin all responsibility on the oil industry.
There are currently six other cases pending that have been brought by other cities in California, as well as a number of similar actions lodged by municipal authorities in Colorado, New York, and Washington. Will they suffer the same fate? Well Judge Alsup’s ruling sets a precedent but isn’t binding on other courts. And there were a number of flaws in the judge’s explanation – which the oil lobby will doubtless try to deploy – that they will need to argue against. The notion that consumers have made an informed choice to pollute the atmosphere can and should be challenged. Yes, consumers demand energy, but they’ve not specifically demanded fossil fuel energy. Consumers have relatively little choice in the sources of energy supplied to their home by utility companies, although the recent growth in green tariffs does now offer more options. If informed consumers are able to choose, on a level playing field, between clean energy and fossil fuels it is likely that the great majority would opt for the former.
Similarly, challenging the legitimacy of claims being made by local authorities such as New York City on the grounds that they use fossil fuels is disingenuous. Virtually Every municipality would choose clean energy if it had the option – and many are indeed switching to source their energy from renewables. But through their networks of influence, national energy policy has been dominated by the fossil fuel sector,
And this is really the key point that needs to be addressed in the courtroom. Fossil fuel companies have historically been given various forms of taxpayer-funded subsidies, and by not having to pay for any of the costs of pollution they have made huge profits which has enabled them to buy themselves political influence. Needless to say, the same is not the case when it comes to the renewables sector.
If Exxon and other oil companies had come clean about the impacts of fossil fuels on the climate when their researchers first knew about them, we might be in a very different situation today. Subsidies and political favours would have been less forthcoming, and the companies themselves would almost certainly have been forced to adapt and switch to becoming renewable energy providers in order to survive.
Consumers – as taxpayers – rather than having made the choice to pollute – have had to bear the price of corporations’ pollution through clean-up costs, rising public health bills as well as increasing food costs and the other collateral impacts of a changing climate.
Instead of releasing and acting on the findings of their own researchers, the oil industry chose to adopt the same tactics as the tobacco lobby. Exxon alone spent nearly $16 million funding climate-skeptic groups and orchestrating PR campaigns to sow confusion in the minds of policymakers and voters around the certainty of global warming.
So should we support the climate lawsuits? The answer is an unequivocal yes – for a number of very good reasons – but it shouldn’t be regarded as a silver bullet.
The key reason they should be supported is that the preponderance of the responsibility for climate change lies with corporations, and particularly those from the fossil fuel sector. How do we know that? The Carbon Majors report. This is a study that found that a staggering 71 percent of all global warming was down to the activities of just 100 companies.
In America, the political situation at a national level is less than promising, to say the least. Climate has for a long time been the subject of partisan gridlock in the US. And despite many corporations waking up to the climate challenge and the brave actions of several states and city leaders, the election of President Trump and America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, leaves the courtroom as one of the few options that can change national policy.
Although the case was thrown out, there was one very interesting thing to come out of the case brought by San Francisco. In a session in March, the lead attorney for Chevron told the court that his company accepted the findings of the Fifth Assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – in other words, they conceded that man-made climate change is real, and that the fossil fuel industry is largely to blame.
But there are some significant obstacles in the road. The first is time. Litigation isn’t just expensive, it can go on for years. The climate scientists are telling us we’ve run out of time. It’s act now – or face the consequences.
And another major complication has just presented itself in the announcement by Justice Anthony Kennedy that he is retiring from the Supreme Court. There’s a better-than-evens chance that some or all of the most important climate lawsuits will eventually end up in front of the US Supreme Court. Kennedy was for years the key swing vote between the supposed blocs of liberals and conservatives on the bench. President Trump is unlikely to want to miss the opportunity to skew the court even further in his favour, which means climate sceptic judges will almost certainly be among the frontrunners.
Here in Britain though the picture is more positive. The government has been successfully sued for failing to act on high levels of air pollution that are thought to lead to the deaths of 40,000 people every year. And it’s now facing its first major climate lawsuit. It’s been brought by a group of 12 people calling themselves Plan B. They range in age from 9 to 79, and include a rabbi worried about the imminent humanitarian crisis, and university students frightened for their future. They are challenging the government’s 2050 carbon target on the basis that it conflicts with the pledges made at the Paris Climate Summit. The group has won the support of the government’s former chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir David King.
James Hansen, the legendary former NASA scientist who first drew the world’s attention to the threat posed by global warming, says that judges are less likely than politicians to be in the pocket of the oil and gas lobbies. He has called for a wave of climate lawsuits alongside mass political mobilisation as the best and last hope for fighting the mortal threat of climate change.
He may well be right. If you want to know more about Plan B’s campaign and how to support it, go to www.planb.earth
TRUMP, IMMIGRATION & WHY WE NEED TO CHANGE OUR MIND-SET – 25/06/18
It’s been a bad week to be an immigrant.
The United Nations said that wars, violence and persecution had uprooted 68.5 million people last year – an all-time record.
It comes after Donald Trump was forced into a partial climb-down over his policy of creating Guantanamos for Kids amidst outrage over his migrant wife’s decision to wear a “Sod Off” coat while visiting a camp for incarcerated infants.
Italy refused to let a boat with desperate refugees including pregnant women and children dock, and promised to round up and expel Roma people, piazza by piazza. Austrian politicians called for the creation of concentration camps for migrants in an undefined far off place. In Hungary the PM has introduced a law which criminalises any individual or group that offers to help asylum seekers.
Perhaps I should declare an interest before I continue. I am the kind of person that the Daily Mail hates – a disabled foreigner who believes animal have rights and that climate change is real. All it would take would be for me to be a gay benefits claimant for the editor to have an aneurism.
But the truth is that the depths of depravity to which Trump has sunk almost defy parody. His Attorney General Jeff Sessions has invoked the Bible to justify the US President’s baby jails – sorry, tender age shelters – where children are having to teach each other how to change the nappies of their fellow inmates.
A former CIA Director – no bleeding heart liberal he – has compared what is going on with Nazi Germany. Michael Hayden tweeted that “other governments have separated mothers and children” alongside a picture of the Birkenau concentration camp in Poland. The American Association of Pediatrics called it “government-sanctioned child abuse” and warned of “irreparable harm (with) lifelong consequences”.
Already there are signs of children being deeply traumatised, with harrowing scenes of children screaming out for their parents, curling up into balls and being unable to talk, and babies crying incessantly.
The United Nations has said the policy is akin to torture. It’s only a week or so since Donald Trump thought he was deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize for his summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Now he’d more likely to face an international court for crimes against humanity.
Some of the children in the 20-strong cages have disabilities or are so young they may still be breastfeeding. There is growing concern now about children going missing or being held indefinitely, and thus being unable to be reunited with their families.
Donald Trump’s so-called u-turn doesn’t address the situation of those who’ve already been separated from their parents. Meanwhile the US military continues to make preparations to house as many as 20,000 children.
Many of those in the detention centres are fleeing violence and human rights violations. In Mexico, gang warfare between drug cartels has led to widespread killings, rape and abductions – largely thanks to the US demand for illegal drugs. Others have come from El Salvador and Honduras, which have the highest murder rates in the world – in part the legacy of US clandestine operations to arm and train right wing death squads in those countries.
America’s withdrawal from the UN Human rights Council – supposedly because of anti-Israel bias – begins to look more and more like a case of jumping before being pushed.
Trump won the Presidential election on an overtly xenophobic platform. His promise to build a wall was both a literal and psychological message. But he’s not alone. There has been a rise in nationalist parties across Europe – even in traditionally socially liberal countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands. In Germany, the rise of the far right still threatens to bring down arguably the continent’s strongest leader.
Here in Britain, it’s not that long ago that UKIP – a party with openly racist members – won the European Parliament elections. The result of the Brexit referendum was little more than an outburst of anti-immigrant sentiment. The outcome has seen a rise in racist attacks in the UK, as people seemingly feel a green light has been given to openly and shamelessly vent their anger and hatred – including against foreign students in universities, and Muslim women on public transport. Theresa May is riding high in the polls despite the utter chaos and infighting in her party – simply because she is seen as the best hope for keeping out the immigrants. Despite polls now suggesting people are in favour of second referendum and even remaining in the EU, the numbers remain stubbornly high for tough action to curb net migration.
It’s always been a popular tactic by politicians through the ages to blame problems and deflect their own failures on outsiders. The irony of Trump saying that migrants shouldn’t come to the US because of their potential to commit sexual assault really shouldn’t be lost on us. If a parent left a 4 year old child in a cage, they’d be prosecuted. When Donald Trump does it to 2000 kids, it’s called Making America Great.
It’s time we woke up to the reality of what’s going on, and started calling a spade a spade. So allow me if you will – as a biased foreigner – to get the ball rolling.
Trump is using children as hostages, as human shields. When he says migrants are animals who “infest” America, he is revealing his deeply-entrenched white supremacism. Stalin’s police took children from parents he called “enemies of the people”. Hitler, Franco, and Pinochet separated children from their families to punish dissidents. Trump is following in their footsteps in using a tried and trusted instrument of totalitarian terror.
And let’s look at what’s happening in Britain and Europe. Because we’ve not got the best history in these matters, and when America sneezes – we catch a cold.
We are allowing the same chauvinistic nationalism that took the world into two wars in the last century to make a comeback. Our redemption then was that we realised what was at the root of it, and we created international institutions such as the UN and the EU to prevent a repetition of those horrific wars. They locked us in a room with our adversaries forcing us to talk about our differences, rather than kill millions of people over them, and even to find common ground and areas of mutual self-interest. Out of mistrust and loathing came the world’s largest and most prosperous trading bloc. So when we undermine these institutions, whether its through Brexit or by impetulantly walking out of UN bodies, we legitimise and open the door to the return of these toxic sentiments.
Everyone knows that it wasn’t refugees that caused the global financial crisis 10 years ago from which we are yet to recover, which caused wages to stagnate, led to austerity policies and the under-funding of the NHS. So why do we fall for the racist rhetoric – even when data unequivocally shows that immigrants have effectively subsidised the NHS by being a source of net income to the country’s coffers.
I have had more than my fair share of interactions with the NHS. When I’ve been admitted, I have had immigrant nurses on every single shift. When I’ve needed emergency tests at the weekend, they’ve been conducted by immigrant technicians. When my children had emergency life-saving surgery, it was performed by an immigrant. I’ve spoken to a number of highly-skilled medical professionals who are now packing their bags and leaving because of the hostile environment for immigrants since Brexit. Ironically the government has had to launch a major recruitment drive overseas for health workers – all because of Brexit.
Right now, we’re in the middle of the football World Cup. How many teams include players who are either immigrants or whose parents or grandparents are immigrants? How many England players are considered deep down to be not really English by racists?
In fact look at the Premier League. Imagine for a moment what it would look like if immigrants or foreigners weren’t allowed into the country to work anymore. There have been times when top teams have taken to the field without a single UK-born player. Is this what UKIP is proposing? Is this what we want? And If it’s not, why are we seemingly applying one rule for some and another rule for others? Surely an immigrant is an immigrant.
The bottom line is we need to change our attitudes towards immigrants. The distinction between them and us is a false divide – I remember a group of English racists who were recently invited to take DNA tests, and who were shocked to learn the results. When you’re next flying on holiday, have a look down and tell me if you can see where the borders are that supposedly divide us.
We need to change our way of thinking because very soon, we’re going to have no choice. The reason? Climate change. There are soon going to be 200 million climate refugees in the world. They are going to be fleeing disasters, droughts, crop failures, disease, famine, wars over water, and more – situations hardly of their own making as they are responsible for only a fraction of the carbon emissions we send out every year. Some have warned of humanitarian disasters of potentially biblical proportions. Are we simply going to stand idly by and let this happen? Quite apart from the human aspect, one reason we shouldn’t is that – if we do nothing – we will be creating a massive petri dish of resentment that will express itself as a huge upsurge in extremism and terrorist acts. If you don’t believe me, ask the Pentagon. They’ve been saying this for years.
If the relatively small number of refugees and other migrants that have come into the country and the rest of Europe in recent years have caused such political turmoil, then we ain’t seen nothing yet. And this is where politicians have failed us most. Not only have they failed to be honest and to lead from the front – they have in cowardly fashion allowed cheap, vulgar demagogues like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage to occupy centre stage. Their big lies have gone unchallenged.
So perhaps all the immigrants in the UK or indeed across Europe should go on strike just for one day – perhaps when people see how interdependent we all are on one another, it will kickstart a wholesale change in people’s attitudes…
WHEN DONNIE MET KIM: WHAT REALLY HAPPENED IN SINGAPORE – 18/06/18
Donald Trump hailed his recent summit with Kim Jong-Un, the North Korean leader, as a triumph, the meeting of the century, saying the world had stepped back from nuclear catastrophe, and that we could all now sleep soundly at night. With his orange tan now more akin to a post-coital afterglow, he boldly told us North Korea was no longer a nuclear threat.
Putting aside an ego that would make even Cristiano Ronaldo blush, who are we to question the claims of a man who – according to the Washington Post – has told 3,000 lies in his first 466 days in office?
Many people were surprised that Donald trump failed to bring up the thorny issue of human rights in North Korea which are said to include torture, rape, execution and brutal crackdowns on dissent – and the small matter of being an estimated 120,000 political prisoners in its gulags. It’s not that long ago that the American President said: “No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea.”
Well Indeed not. This time, though, when responding to a question about human rights abuses, trump said “it’s a rough situation over there.” Before adding: “it’s rough in a lot of places, by the way.” So it is.
Admittedly it’s a little hard for the leader of a nation complicit in operating a global network of secret prisons, that has armed paramilitary death squads, sponsored political assassinations and overthrown democratically-elected regimes – not to mention its recent rendition and waterboarding programmes – to lecture a fellow holder of high office on human rights.
But will the agreement signed in Singapore actually lead to the nuclear disarmament of North Korea by the end of Donald Trump’s first term in 2020, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has suggested?
Well It’s perhaps worth starting by comparing what was signed in Singapore with the Iran nuclear agreement which Trump has regularly denounced as “horrible” and withdrew from last month. That agreement consisted of 110 pages of detailed arrangements – including the deployment of independent inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency– to verify Tehran’s fulfilment of its side of the deal. The Singapore text on the other hand barely runs to a page and a half, and doesn’t mention either inspectors or verification.
What it does say though is this: North Korea “commits to work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.”
Now A couple of comments about that. Firstly, the phrase “commits to work toward”. That is about as substantive as semi-precipitous fondue. It means nothing. It’s like a New Years Resolution. It’s like me saying I commit to working towards giving up custard creams. I’ll happily repeat is as many times as you want – but I’m telling you now though, it ain’t gonna happen.
Secondly – and this is really quite important – is the phrase North Korea commits to work toward “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.”
Because here’s the thing. What Kim is signing up to there is a world apart from what Trump thinks he’s agreed to. If Donald Trump had even googled it he would have found that North Korea has long said it wants the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula – by which it means a nuclear-free region where the United States is required to withdraw all its nuclear forces from Asia, and specifically from South Korea and Japan. It does not – by any stretch of the imagination – imply that Kim has joined Bruce Kent and CND and is going to unilaterally give up his nuclear arsenal. No. It means first and foremost the removal of American nuclear capable systems such as aircraft, ships and submarines from the Korean Peninsula and the area around it, and an end to the U.S. nuclear guarantee to South Korea.
So how did this happen? Well we now know that Trump met Kim in private during the summit without any aides to accompany him. And Perhaps that’s where the confusion arose. After all English isn’t the first language for one of them. And it’s not Kim’s either.
In fact, Trump didn’t bother to take a single scientific adviser with him to Singapore – or indeed have any senior official who could advise him on nuclear science, weapons or facilities. You can bet your bottom dollar Kim took HIS team with him, and that they will have prepped the North Korean leader thoroughly on how to out-manoeuvre his American counter-part.
If Trump HAD taken experts into the negotiations with him, they would have been able to tell him that the North Korean government had previously ALREADY committed itself to denuclearisation back in 1985. And again in 1992. And in 1994. And indeed in 2005. And again in 2007. And – wait for it – once again in 2012. In fact North Korea has signed up to denuclearisation as easily as you or I might sign a petition that calls on the government to make the doing of horrid things to fluffy kittens against the law. The only difference is that some of those previous pledges actually went a lot further than the page and a half statement that was agreed in Singapore.
Take the 2005 joint statement for instance. It included specific commitments by North Korea to – and I quote – “abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs,” and to readmit international inspectors.
The current agreement though says absolutely nothing about how exactly North Korea is to get rid of its nuclear weapons. North Korea doesn’t even have to declare the facilities it has, much less dismantle them or – perish the thought – destroy any actual warheads.
And already the caveats are starting to appear from the American side, with talk of Kim Jong Un maybe giving up his inter-continental missiles – but keeping some of his nuclear weapons and thus remaining a nuclear power.
Donald Trump is fast appearing to be less the master deal-maker he portrays himself as, more a Mike Tyson punch-bag.
One thing that hasn’t been talked about at all in this process is what America could perhaps do to reduce nuclear tensions and promote disarmament. Yes, North Korea has nuclear weapons – about 20 of them – and it has conducted no fewer than 6 nuclear tests. The United States on the other hand has around 6,500 nuclear weapons, and has conducted more than 1,000 nuclear tests.
And Iran – which is now being held up as an even more dangerous nuclear bogeyman than North Korea – has precisely zero weapons. Now Perhaps Iran is in the spotlight for being one of just 2 countries in the world where unelected religious leaders have an automatic seat in the nation’s legislature. If that IS the case, then we should be worried – the only other place in the world where this is the case is Britain’s House of Lords.
And while on the matter of Middle East peace or rogue nuclear states, why has no-one yet mentioned Israel in all of this? If there is one country in the Middle East that definitely has got a secret nuclear bomb programme, it’s Israel. It’s estimated to have 80 nuclear bombs that were developed in a programme so clandestine that the nuclear scientist who blew the whistle on it was drugged, kidnapped, given a secret trial – when even the man who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was given a fair and open trial – and then held in solitary confinement for 11 of his 18 years behind bars.
The US meanwhile continues to keep hundreds of its nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, and is able to launch 900 nuclear missiles in under 10 minutes. What’s more, Donald trump is now looking to deploy a new generation of so-called ‘low yield’ nuclear weapons – which have got very little to do with deterrence, if there ever was such a thing, and much to do with actually using nuclear weapons in a battlefield situation.
So who’s the biggest threat to world peace? Well, you decide.
But as to who the winner of Singapore was, one thing’s for sure: it sure wasn’t Little Orange Donnie. Trump made a major concession to the North Korean leader even before the summit started about halting military exercises in the region that baffled – and indeed angered – his South Korean and Japanese allies, military officials and members of his own Republican Party, not least as he got zero in return.
Kim Jong Un on the other hand got the photo-op he has long craved. He was portrayed as a world statesman on level pegging with the President of the United States. He finally got the international recognition and appearance of legitimacy he had previously been denied.
And in the process he has solidified his position as dictator of North Korea, making it virtually impossible now for internal opponents to muster the support needed to overthrow him.
If anyone has done more to set back the case for replacing Kim Jong Un and his brutal dictatorship, it’s the American President.
And There will be yet another PR opportunity for the mercurial and globally isolated leader when the 2 meet again in the White House – no doubt it will be good for Kim’s image too.
One interesting little detail that few people have noticed is that Kim Jong Un flew to Singapore not in his usual private jet – but on a flight arranged by the Chinese government. China will have been quietly delighted at Trump’s announcement to stop military exercises in the region. Behind the scenes, they will be feeling that they’re the real victors.
But for me, who could possibly top Kim Jong Un’s running men – the security team in their dark suits and dark glasses who ran faithfully, and rhythmically, alongside their leader’s limo. If anyone deserves a prize for stealing the show in Singapore, surely it has to be these real live Men in Black. Perhaps when the scale of Trump’s error becomes clear to him he might call on them to help him – and the rest of us – forget Singapore ever happened with the aid of one of those handy neuralyser memory erasers.
So did anything at all good come out of the summit? Well, perhaps it served to remind us of the ever-present potential calamity of nuclear war. It gave American media outlets a chance to wheel out retired generals and pull out charts showing that we need only 100 of the world’s 15,000 nuclear bombs to go off to cause complete global catastrophe. When Donald Trump and the other 8 leaders of the world’s nuclear powers – including Britain and France – decide to take their fingers off the trigger and rid us once and for all of these abominable weapons, then – yes – we’ll all have something to celebrate.