‘In times like these, it’s necessary to talk about trees’

‘In times like these, it’s necessary to talk about trees’

What times are these, in which
A conversation about trees is almost a crime
For in doing so we maintain our silence about so much wrongdoing!

– Bertolt Brecht, ‘To Those Who Follow in Our Wake‘, 1939

During the Christmas break, while reading Fiona Stafford’s engrossing The Long, Long Life of Trees, I was also hearing the news from Sheffield, where residents were outraged when private contractors, hired by the city council under a cost-cutting PFI, began cutting down hundreds of trees lining city streets. Now, luminaries such as Jarvis Cocker and Chris Packham are fronting a campaign to save Sheffield’s roadside trees. In the Guardian the other day, Patrick Barkham was writing about the pensioners being prosecuted under anti-trade union legislation for peacefully opposing the felling of trees in their street. His report included this striking statement by furious local and one-time member of Pulp, Richard Hawley:

This hasn’t got anything to do with politics. I’m a lifelong dyed-in-the-wool Labour voter. I was on picket lines with my dad. I don’t view protesting against the unnecessary wastage of trees as all of a sudden I’ve become fucking middle class. I know right from wrong and chopping down shit that helps you breathe is evidently wrong. We’re not talking about left or right. We’re talking about the body. It boils down to something really simple. Do you like breathing? It’s quite good. It’s called being alive. What we exhale they inhale and what we inhale they exhale. The end.

Continue reading “‘In times like these, it’s necessary to talk about trees’”

The heart of a dog: an elegy

The heart of a dog: an elegy

I haven’t felt able to write for the last few days. As if January 2017 wasn’t bad enough – paint it battleship grey with a cold, steel heart – our beloved dog passed away on Saturday. If those words arouse no strong feeling of empathy, it’s OK, you can leave now. We dog lovers know there are many who don’t share our passion. Continue reading “The heart of a dog: an elegy”

Mark Cocker: ‘swifts symbolise all of life, and it is all here now in the line of that curve’

Mark Cocker: ‘swifts symbolise all of life, and it is all here now in the line of that curve’

A fine piece in today’s Guardian Country Diary by Mark Cocker. In a poetic column about the departure of swifts from the skies above his Norfolk home as they head south on their long migration he writes, ‘Surely more than anything else in British nature, swifts symbolise all of life, and it is all here now in the line of that curve. It has the certainty of a steel blade. It is shaped like a strand of cobweb weighted with dew. It has the line of the Earth’s own rim mid-ocean, and a memory of it hangs momentarily in the air like breath on a winter’s morning.’

Here’s the full article: Continue reading “Mark Cocker: ‘swifts symbolise all of life, and it is all here now in the line of that curve’”

Hotter than ever: capitalism, the Leap Manifesto and This Changes Everything

Hotter than ever: capitalism, the Leap Manifesto and <em>This Changes Everything</em>

So now we know that global temperature in February and March shattered a century-long record – and by the greatest margin ever seen. Annual heat records are fallling like ninepins, with 2015 demolishing the record set in 2014 for the hottest year seen, in data stretching back to 1850, while the UK Met Office expects 2016 to set a new record.

Prof Michael Mann, climate scientist at Penn State University in the US, was shocked by the data, saying it is ‘a reminder of how perilously close we now are to permanently crossing into dangerous territory. It underscores the urgency of reducing global carbon emissions.’

It’s a year now since the Guardian published two lengthy extracts from Naomi Klein’s enormously important book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate, to kick off their Keep it in the Ground campaign. Since then I’ve read Klein’s book in its entirety.  It is probably the most important book published so far this century; as the New York Times observed:

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate is a book of such ambition and consequence that it is almost unreviewable, the most momentous and contentious environmental book since Silent Spring.

The book, plus the powerful and inspiring film based on it which I watched last night, continues to send shock waves around the world. This week Canada has been convulsed with debates over the bold and radical Leap Manifesto which takes its name from the title of the last chapter in Klein’s book and dares to call for ‘a Canada based on caring for the Earth and one another.’ Continue reading “Hotter than ever: capitalism, the Leap Manifesto and This Changes Everything

Adam Nicolson, the Shiant Isles and the crisis in seabird populations

Adam Nicolson, the Shiant Isles and the crisis in seabird populations

Recently, I watched a pair of films on BBC Four presented by Adam Nicolson. In The Last Seabird Summer? he took us to the Shiant islands in the Outer Hebrides, given to him on his 21st birthday by his father, which he said ‘have been the most important thing in my life’. Every spring sees the phenomenal spectacle of a sky thick with tens of thousands of puffins, guillemots and razorbills as they arrive on the Shiants from far out in the North Atlantic to breed.

But there’s a crisis that threatens to end this remarkable show: although the numbers on the Shiants are holding up, in the last fifteen years in Scotland alone, 40 per cent of the seabird population has been lost. In The Last Seabird Summer? Nicolson explored the reasons why this is happening, and how in places like the Shiants there has been long history of dependence on seabirds: thousands of years of collecting eggs and hunting the birds for meat, oil and feathers.

Watching the programmes, I was reminded that for some time there had been a copy of Adam Nicolson’s book Sea Room in the house, in which he told the story of how he inherited the Shiants from his father, his love for these lonely, uninhabited islands, and his exploration of their geology and history, and of the lives of the people who once lived and made their living on these remote islands. I decided to read Sea Room. Continue reading “Adam Nicolson, the Shiant Isles and the crisis in seabird populations”

Climate change: living with cognitive dissonance

Climate change: living with cognitive dissonance

Spring flowers are blooming as the mercury rises into the high teens: midwinter in the era of global warming. Meanwhile, the delegates to last week’s climate change conference in Paris shuffle off home, congratulating themselves on a job well done.

It’s curious, this air of satisfaction with the conference outcomes.  After the Copenhagen Conference in 2009 failed to agree a legally-binding treaty to slow global warming, it was generally agreed that that is what it was: a dismal failure. This time, however, politicians and the mainstream media have been pushing the narrative of a job well done: an agreement hailed as ‘historic, durable and ambitious’. Continue reading “Climate change: living with cognitive dissonance”

Autumn 2015: mist, colour and unnatural warmth

Autumn 2015: mist, colour and unnatural warmth

Reading Paul Evans’ Country Diary in the Guardian this morning in which he describes autumn leaves ‘fiery as metal blades in a blacksmith’s forge’, I was reminded that in recent posts I haven’t mentioned the extraordinary autumn we’ve been having this year. After an indifferent few months, summer burst upon us late, and from the last week of September through the entire month of October the weather was governed by a large area of high pressure that remained motionless over much of western Europe. Continue reading “Autumn 2015: mist, colour and unnatural warmth”