Category Archives: General

2022 – Here we go…again

Happy New Year, here’s to hopefully a less contagious 2022! Or at least less in the way of lockdowns and bad decisions by the powers that be. Maybe I should just stick with less contagious and hope for the best.

Gideon had a good Christmas despite me having to abandon him for a few days; he was well looked after by a friend whilst I escaped to my parents (thanks Adam). I don’t think he would have got on very well with my brother’s dog, given previous experience of him chasing canines around.

Now it’s getting colder he’s decided staying inside with blankets is probably for the best. I can’t say I blame him.

I had a good Christmas break down at my parents’ house in East Sussex, with my brother and sister-in-law’s family too. Great to be able to get together after last year’s shenanigans. Got out for some lovely walks on the beach down in Bexhill, and ate too much.

I’m generally not a big fan of Christmas. I really hate all the commercialism and pressure to buy stuff. It brings back memories of people no longer with us like Lucy. I can’t believe it’ll be 10 years since she passed away this February. Lots of happy memories of Christmas’ with her but that makes it harder when it comes round again somehow. Still, this was a good one and had lots of fun playing with my niece and nephew; just waiting for reports of what my niece has broken with the catapult I bought her. Naughty presents are what Uncles are for…right? I’m not playing Monopoly against my nephew again though, too many hotels on Mayfair for my liking, and I kept ending up in jail, which as an Extinction Rebellion person does not bode well.

In between Christmas and New Year I managed a few days of not doing very much, aside from more eating, and reading books, pretty good really. Did get out for a few nice walks including down to Salhouse Broad.

It’s really peaceful and regenerative down there at this time of year, without all the boats and bustle. Always seem to bump into someone I know as well – was good to see Nigel, an ex-colleague from work now with longer hair and living the dream playing in bands and whatnot.

I’ve got a bit of a broken knee at the moment due to falling off a climbing wall in November. Some ligaments that are quite important aren’t there anymore, and need to be rebuilt from bits of my hamstring later this year. Means I can’t climb or do Kendo, but can still walk about, albeit with one of those huge knee brace things. I can still cycle. Cycling is in fact encouraged as apparently I need (I was going to do a bad knee pun then but resisted) to have thighs like Chris Hoy’s before the operation. This could be challenging. As always I am thoroughly impressed with the NHS and how hard they work, and enjoyed the MRI scan. They weren’t very complimentary of the Government and how they’ve handled COVID, unsurprisingly.

Before going back to work I went for a walk round the Wensum Valley, to look at the proposed route for the Western Link Road. The road will destroy large swathes of beautiful and massively important Norfolk Countryside.

The Wensum Valley is a Special Area of Conservation with ancient woodland, rare chalk stream habitat, endangered barbastelle bat colonies and diverse flora and fauna. It would be a travesty if the link road went ahead.

Building the road will devastate rare habitat, plant and animal species, and increase traffic and emissions. We simply can’t afford to carry on with schemes like this whilst we’re in the middle of a climate and ecological emergency. It would be far better if the Council invested in a joined up green public transport plan, including cycling infrastructure, instead of opening up the countryside to more development and cutting 5 or 10 minutes off a journey. The Wensum Valley is the last natural corridor into Norwich, it needs to be saved.

The good news is that the EDP reported today that Norwich City Council no longer back the road, great news in fact – thank you! Just need Norfolk County Council to catch up now. More on that story here – https://www.edp24.co.uk/news/local-council/norwich-western-link-city-council-rejection-8600434

I really do dream of the day when politicians start taking the climate and ecological emergency seriously. Maybe 2022 will be the year for it after last year’s disappointing COP26. Here’s the proposed route for the link road – if you’re Norfolk based please write to your MP and/or councillor to tell them to oppose it, and you can always join the Stop the Wensum Link campaign (or XR Norwich).

Whilst you’re at it please ask them to oppose the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which could stop you protesting about anything, and will send this country sliding further info authoritarianism. Have a look at the Netpol site for more info.

What else does 2022 have in store? More Extinction Rebellion stuff for me, it feels more important than ever to be out on the streets demanding change, for ourselves as well as the sake of future generations. With wildfires and floods raging round the planet, Antarctic ice melt getting really scary, emissions still going up and the Global South really suffering we need action now, not by 2050. I know this means big lifestyle changes, but surely that’s better than loads of people dying and society breaking down? Maybe see you out rebelling for life later this year – message me if you want to get involved.

I am also hoping for a bit of a gradual career change in 2022. I passed my level 4 Bushcraft course last year, which took two years due to COVID. I am really proud of the achievement and would love to teach stuff to others. Stay tuned for more on that soon. And I can’t recommend The Woodcraft School enough.

And I want to do more cycle touring again. Formulating plans for that too.

Have you watched ‘Don’t Look Up? And if so what did you think? I thought it was brilliant commentary on how politicians and the media don’t take the climate and eco crisis seriously, and how society reacts to it. This was reinforced by much of the media and critics slating it, cos they really don’t get it.

All the best for 2022, and Happy Birthday to Sheila and Susan who are both very young again imminently.

Just getting comfortable

Reply from Jerome Mayhew MP

The week draws to and end, and I’ve even written some Christmas cards and acquired a few gifts. Almost feel semi-organised, with only mild levels of pre-festive stress and worry about stuff I haven’t done. I like Christmas, when it gets to the actual few days of celebration, but not the weeks of build up.

Gideon has been decidedly unstressed. In fact he appears to be doing very little as we approach mid-winter. This was mostly him today.

Reply from Jerome Mayhew below, but if nothing else please watch the film from George Monbiot at the end of this post, it’s really important…beware of the clowns.

Now you’ve enjoyed the cat pictures, here’s the response from Jerome Mayhew MP, to the email I sent him earlier this week. To be fair on him, he responded very quickly and comprehensively. The bit about public transport is ok, the rest I mostly find dubious – I’ve inserted a few comments in square brackets and in italics. I shall be replying when I have some time. Let me know what you think…

Dear Mr Harvey,

Thank you for your email.  You have raised a number of points with me so please do forgive the length of my reply.

Weston Link Road

Whilst I do not have a constitutional say over whether the Norwich Western Link takes place, as this is a matter devolved away from MPs, I do support the scheme.  I agree that none of the potential routes for the WLR is without very considerable costs in terms of impact to an otherwise lovely part of our countryside [If all the proposed routes are bad, then why go ahead?].  So what we are looking for is the least-worst option.  The County Council has undertaken extensive consultation on which route to adopt and, on balance, Option C was found to be the best in terms of its impact on local communities, environmental impact, value for money and through the benefits it will provide to local transport links and safety, by removing the rat runs between the A47 and the NDR.  Whilst some people, would prefer one of the other options, without there being a significant failing in the process of consultation, I don’t feel able to argue against the outcome that the consultation produced.  In addition to those opposed to it Option C has wide-ranging support including Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Norwich Airport, Norfolk Constabulary, Norfolk Fire and Rescue and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership. [Using the emergency services to justify more roads doesn’t work for me. More roads equals more traffic, more emissions, and they’ll still get held up. Plus emergency services are going to be under massive pressure due to climate crisis over the coming years]

Having spoken with the Council I understand ecologists have carried out extensive bat surveys over the last three years across a wide area to the west of Norwich, most recently completing further bat radiotracking surveys earlier this month.  Consequently, the Council are developing mitigation proposals to take account of the data collected and are planning to put in considerable measures designed to support local bat populations, including green bridges, underpasses, and improving existing habitats and creating new ones. [The Barbastelle Bat colony is one of the biggest if not the biggest in the UK. They are an endangered species and the road would destroy the colony]

The Council have asked Dr Packman several times if she would be happy to share the data behind the conclusions she has drawn about barbastelle bats and the Norwich Western Link, including the locations of any barbastelle bat roosts her surveys have identified.  To date the data has not been provided.  As I am sure you can appreciate without seeing this data the Council cannot comment on the conclusions Dr Packman has drawn and will continue to base their proposed mitigation and enhancement measures on the evidence they have collected through their surveys. [The research he is referring to is being written up and checked pre-publication – it needs to be fact checked thoroughly to ensure it cannot be disputed, only wish the Government did more of that]

Public Transport

Given the majority of Broadland is not served by rail the only realistic public transport we can talk about are bus services. I fully accept that the current service needs improving as it fails the needs of the majority of residents with infrequent, poorly used and diesel powered buses. The only way I can see the majority of the network being improved is through the adoption of new technology. For example, smaller vehicles which have the right capacity and ride sharing technology which enables on demand door to door service. This is something I have previously raised with Norfolk County Council to see if there is appetite for a trial run in Norfolk.

In addition to this technological solution, earlier this year the Prime Minister announced £5 billion of new funding to overhaul bus and cycle links for every region outside London. This package of investment will boost bus services by focusing on a range of priorities, set to include:

  • Higher frequency services, including evenings and weekends, to make it easier and less restrictive for people to get around at any time of day
  • More ‘turn up and go’ routes where, thanks to higher frequency, people won’t have to rely on timetables to plan journeys
  • New priority schemes will make routes more efficient, so that buses avoid congested routes and can speed passengers through traffic
  • More affordable, simpler fares
  • At least 4,000 new Zero Emission Buses to make greener travel the convenient option, driving forward the UK’s progress on its net zero ambitions

Cycle routes will also see a major boost across the country with over 250 miles of new, high-quality separated cycle routes and safe junctions in towns and cities to be constructed across England, as part of this multibillion pound package.

[Ok, so on public transport I think we can agree, to an extent, but it needs even more investment]

Thorpe Wood

Thorpe Woods are a mixture of semi-natural woodland around compartments of commercial planting which was harvested under their FC woodland management plans.  Given the encroachment of Norwich on three sides and the increasing informal use of the woods by these residents, together with the small scale of the commercial plantation, it is no longer suitable to continue to use the site for commercial forestry.  The area of commercial forestry was planted in the first place because it was poor quality land, and had since developed poor ecological value due to its heavy monoculture [this is really outdated terminology – it’s old Heathland that would regenerate quickly if left alone. As a friend said – Here, in Thorpe, right on the edge of Norwich, we have 200+ acres of prime lowland heath / ancient woodland / wood pasture habitat, containing more rare & scarce plant species than almost any other site outside of SSSIs] .  So the Thorpe and Felthorpe Trust decided that the best future use of the land was to supply local housing need and thereby secure the long term future of the wider woodland for public access, biodiversity growth and recreation.

The planning process undertaken by the Thorpe and Felthorpe Trust is a matter of public record, which included the right to appeal to the planning inspector, who spent six days hearing evidence from all interested parties as well as visiting the site, before coming to her decision granting outline planning permission.  I agree that we should protect and manage the mature native woodland in Thorpe Woods, work to improve biodiversity and focus on ecological management.  As made very clear in the report of the independent Planning Inspector this is exactly what the Trust will be doing; giving for ever and for free c.140 acres of Thorpe Woods as a community woodland for everyone, whilst improving ecological management, biodiversity, public access and recreation.  The Planning Inspector found that: “… the development proposals as a whole would protect and enhance the biodiversity of the District.”  This is even after the new housing is taken into account.  She went on to conclude that the plan, “…constitutes Sustainable Development.” [I, many local ecologists, and the residents of Thorpe are going to have to agree to disgree on this. You can’t improve biodiversity by destroying important habitat]

The development site is now the responsibility of Hill Group, to whom any enquiries about the development should be directed. [Yes, we’re doing that – keeping an eye on their plans after you sold the woods to them for millions]

Planning

We do need to build new homes for younger generations as our local population expands and the size of individual households decreases.   That being said, I think any new homes that are being built should be in keeping with the area and should bring with them sufficient infrastructure investment so that the additional population do not impact negatively on local public services.  I note from your own address that you live in new build estate, which until a few years ago was a field. [Thanks for that, yes I do live in a new build that was built on old agricultural land I think – ecological deserts most of the time, due to intensive farming, not the same as cutting down woodland]

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill contains a huge number of useful additions to our criminal justice system, as the rather unwieldy name implies.  Many of these are uncontroversial and I would certainly not want to delay their introduction by voting against this Bill.  Many of the provisions are also a direct delivery of Conservative manifesto pledges from the election, so it would also be deeply undemocratic of me to seek to prevent their introduction.  The clauses relating to non-violent but highly disruptive protests are there to help the police to manage the new wave of protest direct action, where the aim is not so much to protest as to cause chaos and inconvenience to as many people as possible. We all have a right to protest and to make sure that our voices are heard, but it is a right to protest, not to prevent. Why should one section of the public have an unfettered right to impose massive disruption on the rest of society? What about their right to get on with life? Where competing rights clash, the law must maintain a balance.  Modern protest movements, such as Extinction Rebellion, game the system, and disruption, not peaceful protest, is their objective. The law needs to adjust to maintain the balance of competing rights, and I think this Bill helps to achieve that.

Is this new power open to abuse? Yes it is, like every power that the police have, but there is no difference between this power and every other power that we loan to the police. It is open to challenge and review through the press and the courts. As a democracy, we are well used to holding those in power to account. Every single member of the public has the power to become a citizen journalist immediately through their ‘phone.  As a result, the police are subject to review and oversight like never before.

The setting up of illegal traveller sites can be a nuisance for local communities and an inappropriate development of open space.  Many local residents across the country are concerned about anti-social behaviour, fly-tipping, and noise related to unauthorised sites. 

After two consultations on this issue, as part of the  Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill, new laws will be introduced to increase the powers available to the police in England and Wales. The Bill will introduce a new criminal offence where a person resides or intends to reside on any public or private land without permission and has caused, or is likely to cause, significant harm, obstruction, or harassment or distress.  In addition, the Bill amends the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to broaden the list of harms that can be considered by the police when directing people away from land; and increase the period in which persons directed away from land must not return from three months to 12 months. Amendments to the 1994 Act will in addition allow police to direct trespassers away from land that forms part of a highway.

I can reassure you that the Government has taken steps to ensure that those exercising their rights to enjoy the countryside are not inadvertently impacted by these measures.

These new measures are a proportionate and necessary increase in powers for the police.  The Government has made it clear that only a minority of travellers are causing problems, such as through abusive behaviour and extensive litter and waste at illegal sites.  The vast majority of the travelling community are decent law-abiding people and we must ensure that there are legal sites available for travellers.  As of January 2020, the number of lawful traveller sites increased by 41 per cent from January 2010.  The Government has also given £200,000 to support projects working with Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities to tackle discrimination, improve integration, healthcare and education.

[I don’t know where to start with his commentary around the PCSC Bill. Organisations like Amnesty say it’s bad, very bad. It is going to curtail freedom of speech, and put people in prison for speaking out against the Government. 1930’s Germany anyone? See film fro George Monbiot below for more info]

Yours sincerely,

Jerome Mayhew MP

http://www.saveoursavers.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Portcullis-logo.gif

Jerome Mayhew MP

Member of Parliament for Broadland

House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA

Email – Jerome.Mayhew.mp@parliament.uk

Website – www.jeromemayhew.org.uk

This is the film from George Monbiot on the PCSC Bill, please watch and share widely.

Open letter to Jerome Mayhew MP

It’s been over a year since I posted on my blog. No excuses really, it’s just been a hectic, rollercoaster 18 months. I’m hoping to post a bit more from now on, on a variety of topics.

I’ve achieved some cool stuff since I last wrote anything. I passed my Level 4 Bushcraft Course (more on Bushcraft plans soon hopefully), finished some work projects, have done loads of climbing, and have been busy with lots of Extinction Rebellion stuff. Despite the pandemic messing lots of things around life goes on, exciting stuff still happens, and friends and family are always there when you need them; have really appreciated support from friends this year, through a few difficult periods.

Oh, and I adopted a rescue cat who keeps me company now I’m working from home permanently. His name is Gideon. He is a menace, but I love him.

What has motivated me to write something again? Local politics mostly. I got annoyed with Councillors talking nonsense and not answering questions, and then with my local MP on a variety of subjects. I thought I’d share the letter I sent him this evening, as I’m sure many of his constituents feel the same way. I also think people need to know more about the disastrous Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will shortly be enacted into Law and seriously restrict our liberties.

Please read on if you’re interested – I’ve tried not to rant too much!

Dear Jerome Mayhew MP,

I am writing to you after you deleted my and several other concerned constituents’ comments from your Facebook page. I will also be forwarding this to members of the Norwich press, inviting them to publish this as an open letter.

On 12 December, you posted on Facebook reflecting on your achievements over the last two years, since you were elected, and on how you’ve stayed true to your commitments. I and many others have commented, politely, challenging some of these views. All of our comments have been deleted. I find this both undemocratic, cowardly, and as one of your constituents a failure on your part to address my concerns.

Have you perhaps been taking classes from Cllr Wilby on not answering questions? He did spectacularly badly at addressing a question on the NDR recently. Or perhaps you agree with Broadland District Tory Councillors, including Cllr Fisher, that there’s no need to declare a Climate and Biodiversity Emergency, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary?

I shall repeat the comments I raised on Facebook, and would welcome a response.

You claim to be enhancing our local environment, however this is at odds with both your support for the Western Link Road, as well as you and your family’s involvement in the proposed Thorpe Woodlands housing development.

The Western Link Road will destroy ancient woodland, rare chalk stream habitat, endangered Barbastelle bat colonies, and pollute the local landscape. It will increase traffic and emissions because that’s what new roads do. The road is also a blatant move to open up the Norfolk countryside to more development and destruction, for the profit of a few.

Surely public money would be far better invested in green public transport and cycling infrastructure? At a time when more people are working from home, and we need to reduce private car ownership to reduce emissions, it seems crazy to be promoting more car usage.

Turning now to the Thorpe Woodlands housing development. This woodland, a County Wildlife Site, is a remnant of ancient woodland, containing as it does ancient woodland indicator species. It acts as a carbon sink and a refuge for animals and plants to regenerate from, whilst the surrounding countryside is gobbled up by developers. It is very probable that it also acts as a flood defence, absorbing a lot of surface water, for the homes in Dussindale and Thorpe St. Andrew.

You and your family sold this woodland, no doubt for a tidy profit, to developers. This was against the wishes of local residents, many of whom grew up playing in the woods. Broadland District Council refused planning permission. However, the applicants appealed to the central Planning Inspectorate, who overturned local democracy and granted permission. Yet another example of local democracy being ignored for the profit of a small minority, even though Broadland council said the land wasn’t needed for housing.

In the midst of a biodiversity crisis, when the UK has the lowest forest coverage in Europe (13% versus around 38% in the EU), we really need to preserve our remaining woodlands and wild places, habitats and biodiversity. Planting new trees simply cannot make up for established woodland being destroyed; birds and bats can’t nest in saplings surrounded by plastic tubes, trees that will probably die anyway if many of those planted around the NDR are anything to go by.

It appears you are not being entirely successful in protecting the countryside and environment in Norfolk, and certainly not ‘listening to residents’ on this matter.

I’d also like to raise the matter of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC BIll), which is now going through its third reading in the House of Lords. This Bill, which you support, recently had last minute clauses introduced that will mean up to 51 weeks in prison for any sort of protest activity. It also persecutes Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, making their way of life illegal. It’s an attack on freedom of speech, as well as our right to peaceful protest, a right that has won the British people so much over the centuries.

The PCSC Bill, along with the Nationality and Borders Bill (Anti-Refugee Bill), are attacks on civil liberties, freedom, democracy and refugees seeking asylum. The Government is seeking to quash any dissenting voices, to silence anyone that disagrees with them. Protest by its very nature will cause an annoyance and disturb someone. We must heed warnings from history, from the 1930s as countries slid into authoritarianism and fascism after introducing similar and more stringent laws. Can you really, with good conscience, support these Bills, which have been widely condemned by organisations such as Amnesty International?

I appreciate you have been working hard to try to build a ‘Better Broadland’, however not being open to criticism or answering questions from concerned members of the public comes across badly. With the Government increasingly under fire on COVID, having one rule for them and one for everyone else, it must be time to start listening to and engaging with your constituents who have different views, rather than ignoring them.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Your sincerely,

James Harvey

Salhouse

Norwich

That’s all for today. I’ll let you know if I get a reply, and hope to write more soon anyway.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Bushcraft and Autumn at Salhouse Broad – 2019

Following on from completing the Advanced Bushcraft Certificate in June, I started a year long course in October. It’s part of a plan to diversify my skill and knowledge base, with a view to future changes of lifestyle and vocation; essentially I’m going to need a new job soon, and would love to work more in the outdoors, with like-minded people. Hopefully I can combine this with a few other things I’m dabbling in when my current job winds up next year. The course, a Certificate of Applied Bushcraft, is run by the Woodcraft School down in West Sussex.

It’s a big time commitment, the course running once a month from October 2019 to June 2020. It runs over a series of long weekends, with research and practice required in between each session. I’m part of a group of 10 or so students, all with varying degrees of existing knowledge and skills, but all bound by a passion for and interest in the outdoors, nature, woodcraft and bushcraft. Am I woefully ill-prepared and lacking in the pre-requisites? Only one way to find out!

I’ll attempt to keep this blog updated as I go, and hopefully won’t poison myself, contract hypothermia, or slice off a limb in the meantime. Bit worried about the January session during which we have to overnight without a sleeping bag, relying purely on the skills we’ve learnt; let’s hope the rain eases off.

Amongst last month’s teachings we learned more about fire-starting, and left with instructions to gather natural tinder and coal-extenders. This weekend has been mostly dry so I decided to venture forth to gather suppliers to add to my ‘fire-box’. Salhouse Broad is only down the road, and somewhere I walk regularly, thus was a good place to start. I last visited after the Rebellion in October; it was still pretty green then.

Autumn has definitely advanced in my absence, the Broad having quietened down and most trees now brown, yellow or gold, or even bare of leaf.

Whilst the spring and summer months are full of life and activity, I think I prefer the autumn and winter, which bring a stillness to the area. Gone are masses of folk on holiday, as well as the constant drone from boats, and people hiring canoes or picnicking.

I wandered my usual route, taking in the changes since my last visit. I gathered tinder in the form of seed heads and dead bracken, all of which should take a spark from flint and steel (or ferro-rod in my case), and will work for the fire-by-friction test next week; bow drill is going to be a challenge if our current streak of wet weather persists. I stopped to check on the little cluster of surviving Elm trees, hidden from view of the beetle which carries the fungi causing Dutch elm disease.

Birch bark is also excellent as tinder, and taking the outer peeling bits of bark doesn’t do the tree any harm. It’s full of Betulin oil and lights very easily.

After a busy week, including an XR critical mass bike ride yesterday, it was good to pause for a bit and reflect on things. All a bit worrying with the big floods up north seemingly set to get worse, fires raging in Australia and in many other parts of the world, and water shortages in South Africa. It’s only a matter of time before we see a massive increase in the number of climate refugees, driven from their homes by lack of water, famine, or fighting over remaining resources. Part of the reason I’m doing this bushcraft course is to improve the skills I might need should things go from bad to worse, which really can’t be ruled out. Let’s not mention the general election.

With tinder gathered it was time to head back home. I might have played with the colours in one of the photos below!

I’ve now got a collection of various tinder types, which’ll hopefully work over the next few months. I need to find more in the way of coal extenders – some bracket fungi and suchlike. I’ll save that for next time.

Will keep you posted on Bushcraft course progress, assuming next weekend goes well!

Extinction Rebellion

I’ll start this post with some autumnal pictures. It’s my favourite time of year, incorporating beautiful colours in the countryside, crisp and bright days, and the Norwich beer festival; always a must visit.

Walking or cycling through the countryside, breathing in the fresh air, is a true delight. And  there’s always the joy of jumping into piles of leaves, or taking in a magnificent sunset. I don’t have any recent sunset pictures, as sometimes it’s good just to take it all in without having to photograph it. I do have the privilege to cycle past Whitlingham Broad on my way to work each morning though, which always offers a calm moment before the day starts in earnest.

Each year I wonder if we’ll see the same next year. What will have burnt, been blown down, or perished from either drought, habitat destruction or any one of a number of other human caused blights? The wildfires in California, or the increased frequency of ‘once in a hundred years’ storms, are just a few examples.

There’s no doubt we’re in the midst of an environmental crisis now. The symptoms of Climate Breakdown are everywhere to see and this is just the beginning. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or Climate Breakdown as it should now be called, says we have just 12 years to avert catastrophe. I hope this is true and we’ve not already passed the tipping point.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report

I’m not going to include lots of links to evidence, to scientific commentary or opinion, as it’s easy to find on the web, however if you have any doubts this is true, or are in denial, I recommend doing a bit of research (I can supply some pointers upon request).

A lot of us have had enough of this now. Of the failure of governments, corporations, and indeed most of the people on the planet, to do anything to avert the impending catastrophe. We are failing future generations of children, and indeed all life on the planet. We can’t however dwell on the past too much, or start blaming previous generations, that won’t help.

For what has probably been several years this has been weighing heavily on my mind, and I’ve experienced a full range of emotions on the subject which I now realise, with the help of friends and wiser people than I, are down to grief. You’d have thought I’d have recognised the symptoms given previous life events. Sadness, a bit of denial, despair and depression, anger, and now hopefully acceptance. You can’t move on and do anything constructive about an issue you’re grieving about unless you can accept it’s happened or happening, and the truth. If you’re going through this yourself I can thoroughly recommend looking up Joanna Macy, the deep ecologist, and the work that reconnects. It helps.

On a side note I’m really starting to think that a lot of the mental health problems we’re seeing at the moment might be related to all of this. At some level, even subconsciously and especially amongst children, are we all recognising the problem and threat? Is this why levels are depression and anxiety are soaring?

Last night I decided to go to a talk organised by Extinction Rebellion. It was a game-changer as far as I’m concerned. The talk was hosted by Rupert Read, a Green Party politician, academic and reader of philosophy at the University of East Anglia where I studied. He gave the same talk at Churchill College in Cambridge recently, and I’d really recommend everyone listen to it, challenge it if necessary, and try to understand it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzCxFPzdO0Y

If you do nothing else, or don’t ready any further, please watch at least some of this!

Yes, this stuff is really scary, terrifying. I was beginning to think that very few other people saw it the same way I’ve been seeing it. It makes one feel very alone, and question whether you’re one of the ‘crazies’. I don’t feel that way anymore. They expected maybe 50 odd people to turn up last night. There were around 120 of us crammed into the room, a brilliant turn out given it was only organised the week before. There were people from all walks of life too, lest you think it was just fringe hippies and malcontents. Finally a group of like-minded I can relate to, who are as worried as I am, and who are willing to try to do something about it.

We really do have just years to try do something about this. It’s something that will not just potentially cut your children’s lives short, it could do so for your own life, or at least future wellbeing. As Rupert says in his talk there are three possibilities at the moment.

  1. Complete breakdown of civilisation, which will start within our lifetimes – there won’t be much of anything left, we didn’t do enough, quickly enough
  2. An alternative civilisation – a partial collapse of what we have today, but things are left intact to some extent, we just about did enough
  3. A successor civilisation – we transform our current civilisation now, and quickly, bringing about the chance for massive improvements and a better way of life for all on the planet

I reckon number three is the sensible choice to strive for, if it’s not too late, but it’s also the hardest route to take, and possibly the biggest challenge we’ve faced as a species. To make it work it’ll need everyone to get on board, completely change their lifestyles, and priorities. It’s harder than previous challenges we’ve faced on subjects such as equality, voting rights, and discrimination. We are after all talking about people who are currently rich, comfortable, and enjoying a life of comparative luxury (most people in the UK relative to other parts of the world) needing to set much of what they currently value aside. However, if we can start to transform civilisation we’ll be in with a chance, and we could end up being in a much better place than we are now on many counts.

People may ask isn’t the Paris Climate Change Agreement supposed to avert all these problems? Doesn’t the IPCC report offer hope? The answer to that, in brief, is no. The Paris agreement is effectively burnt, especially if the US pulls out. It doesn’t go far enough and won’t prevent the temperature rises that are going to cause so many problems. These reports and agreements don’t take into account things like feedback loops from ice-melt and the permafrost thawing. If methane emissions soar (releasing the dragon), which is entirely possible, we’ll see the release of massive amounts of a greenhouse gas far worse than CO2.

It would appear therefore we have years to try to fix this, and we need to get as many people involved to completely change the way we live, consume, travel, grow our food, enjoy our leisure activities etc. I’m not sure this is possible but surely it’s got to be worth a go? It really is time for people to wake up to this, for people to start talking about it and for action to start happening on a major scale. And we have to approach this in the right way, not with accusations and trying to force people to see your point of view, but by providing information and the facts, and asking them questions, so they can reach their own conclusions, go through the grieving process, and come out the other side to add a positive contribution. This is much bigger than Brexit, or the NHS crisis, yet it’s not anywhere near the top our governments agenda. They are letting us down.

That’s where Extinction Rebellion comes in (@ExtinctionR

https://rebellion.earth

Governments and corporations aren’t doing anything quickly enough, or anything at all in many cases. They need to start listening and the only way to make that happen appears to be via non-violent direct action, which is what Extinction Rebellion is trying to organise. We need to stop the destructive spiral that is going on at the moment and make change happen.

I’d invite anyone reading this (there’s got to be at least 2 or 3 people who got this far), to check out Extinction Rebellion yourself. Spread the word. Get involved and consider non-violent direct action to make the government listen. There are ‘Holding actions’ we can undertake to slow things down. There’s going to be some good stuff happening in London this weekend. This has the potential to be huge, and even if it doesn’t work I don’t want to be in situation in 10 or 20 years time wishing I’d tried to do something. It’s got to be worth a shot whilst we still have a chance hasn’t it?

In the meantime though, I might do a bit of prepping, just in case…

Where do we go from here?

I love it when it snows, and after several years of nothing significant the ‘Beast from the East’ brought buckets of the stuff over the past week. The only draw-back, from my point of view anyway, is that it makes cycling a little tricky; I don’t have any studded tyres.

Imagine if we could control the weather; but would that really be a good thing? The potential benefits around, for example, a predictable climate for agriculture, sunshine for the tourist industry, or rain for drought hit areas all sound good. But what about the impacts we couldn’t foresee or chose to ignore?

Controlling the weather in one region could adversely impact another geographical area, where perhaps they didn’t have as much money or influence. This downstream area could get hit by extreme weather, or mass species die-off events could become more common-place, such as the Saiga antelope catastrophe in Kazakhstan. In excess of 200,000 of this endangered species died in 2015, when human-caused climate change increased temperatures to such an extent it’s thought they triggered a bacteria present benignly in the antelopes at lower temperatures to cause hemorrhagic septicemia (blood poisoning and internal bleeding), with thousands dying within a few days of each other.

An increase in life-threatening diseases due to climate change could happen to human population centres, and some would argue it already is. For example Nigeria is currently experiencing an outbreak of Lassa fever, which in extreme cases has symptoms similar to Ebola, and has no vaccine. There are some theories that the increased frequency of this disease could be down to changing weather patterns.

So no, I don’t think we can be trusted to control the weather responsibly. We’re already doing it indirectly via human-caused climate change due to fossil fuel burning. The recent snowy weather resulted from unseasonably warm air being drawn up to the arctic, the Jet Stream slowing down and disrupting the polar vortex, which forced cold air and blizzards down to the UK. Whilst we experienced temperatures well below freezing in Norfolk, it was above freezing in parts of the Arctic, melting yet more of the already at record lows sea ice. This is explained much more eloquently and in far more detail on this website – well written and easy to understand; definitely worth a read.

Where am I going with this? I’m pointing out we often don’t really understand, or are unable to predict, the consequences of our actions on the planet.

As I mentioned in a previous recent blog post I’ve been pondering where we’re going as a species, and why we keep pursuing unsustainable growth and consumption, whilst the world literally collapses around us. Climate change is becoming a very tangible symptom of our labours. Surely we should be petrified for the future of our children and grandchildren, if not the other species we share the world with. Yes, the planet will survive us, however will anything else on the Earth be left by the time we check out?

There are lots of examples of as yet un-checked unsustainable activity in the present day, which we seem to be in denial about. All these have either obvious, as well as I suspect as yet unpredicted consequences. Here are a few examples.

  1. Human population growth. The world’s population is growing at around 83 million or 1.1% a year, although this rate has slowed down since peaking in the 1960’s at about 2.1%, and is predicted to fall further to around 0.1% by 2100. The graph below shows how dramatic this growth has been in the last 200 years. The impact this puts on the environment, especially as more of the population start to live ‘western’ lifestyles, is unsustainable. 
  2. Agricultural land use. As this article in the New Scientist from 10 years ago says; humans are living completely beyond their ecological means. We knew this a long time ago but still pump fields full of fertilisers and pesticides, which in the long-term degrades the land and makes it less productive, as well as poisons the underlying substrates and surrounding countryside, reducing biodiversity. That coupled with soil erosion means scientists are predicting we only have a limited number of harvests left, maybe 100, due to our unsustainable farming practices. The good news is this should be reversible, given the right techniques and less reliance on chemical fertilisers. The big agrochemical companies, such as Monsanto, don’t really want you to know this for obvious reasons. Check out this video from Dr Elaine Ingham if you want to find out more, a real eye-opener.
  3. Fishing. In many areas of the world we’re literally stripping the oceans bare of life to feed our appetite for seafood. Huge industrial trawlers and dredgers indiscriminately take everything, and even if by-catch is thrown back it’s probably not going to survive. Studies have shown that fish numbers have halved since the 70’s, with some species being hit particularly hard such as tuna and mackerel; a 75% decline in numbers. Continued unsustainable fishing practices driven by consumer demand, coupled with horrific plastic pollution and coral reef bleaching, paint a grim picture as far as recovery is concerned. If however large areas of our oceans are designated as marine conservation areas, such as the Arctic, perhaps they’ll stand a chance.
  4. Meat eating. There are hundreds of articles out there, such as this one, describing the impacts of raising livestock on the environment. As demand grows due to an increasing population and new markets, the impacts will grow. These include a large contribution to the greenhouse gases causing climate change, increased pollution due to run off, increased water use, and more land being needed to for livestock resulting in deforestation. The amount of land needed to feed a human on meat is about 20 times more than needed for a vegetarian diet. This is clearly unsustainable. The answer seems obvious, eat less meat and dairy products, with the associated health benefits as side-effects.
  5. Fossil fuel use. We continue to burn vast amount of fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas, in order to generate energy, heat our homes, or power transportation. The CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning continue to increase, despite the Paris Climate Change agreement being signed in 2015. Burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of climate change.  We have perhaps 100 years left of these primary fossil fuels, which means we’ll have used up what the world has to offer over the course of about 300 years, reserves that took millions of years to create. This has to be one of the best examples of unsustainable human-based activity, however with continued research and development hopefully alternatives such as electric cars (go Tesla!), renewables, or fusion energy will increase or come online soon.

    CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning

    CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning

Those were a few examples of unsustainable activity, which seem to make less and less sense to a growing number of people, especially the younger generation who don’t understand how we could, as a race, have been so ignorant, and how we continue to pursue these activities. I think they’ll be an accounting at some point, and the history books won’t look back kindly on what will come to be regarded as criminal practices. It can be summarised quite simply…

Infinite economic, industrial and agricultural growth is unsustainable and therefore impossible when based on finite resources, coupled with environmental constraints

…not sure one can argue with that. A basic example of this can be found from studying the growth of a bacterial colony in a petri dish. The colony starts off slow, then grows exponentially using up the finite resources available, then dies off once the agar jelly runs out. A simple example but with obvious parallels to humans and the Earth.

There’s a lot of hope out there in terms of alternative more sustainable options, however these are reliant on:

  • Public take up of the alternatives, and a willingness on everyone to make sacrifices to ensure long-term sustainability
  • Funding for the research and development of these initiatives
  • The same initiatives not being blocked due to profit seeking by the incumbent industries, who wield so much power and influence
  • Politicians actually listening to their constituents and scientists

I’ve been reading recently about shifting baseline syndrome. Over time knowledge is lost concerning the state of the natural world, as people don’t perceive the changes taking place. Today’s younger generation won’t for example remember that gardens used to be full of butterflies, or that birdsong used to be so much louder, or that rhinos were once commonplace in Africa. It has to be a concern that the environment and biodiversity will continue to decline due to unsustainable activity, but people won’t realise the extent of the decline because they have no first hand experience of what things used to be like.

Over the last 25 – 30 years: (Source: WWF-UK Living Planet Report)

  • 80% of freshwater species have declined
  • Over 50% of populations of land species have declined
  • 40% of our forests have disappeared to agricultural land with 15 million trees lost each year just for soy production
  • 1 in 6 of the planet’s species are at risk of extinction from climate change

I hope that education will fill this gap, and Deep Ecology will start to become part of the syllabus; humans are just one of many equal components that make up the global ecosystem. We’re not above or apart from it, we’re a part of it, and could not only survive but thrive if things are done the right way.

I don’t know how we change public opinion quickly enough to make the changes needed to ensure we can survive and thrive. Most governments don’t seem to give it a high priority, or are swayed by lobbyists driving their own commercial agendas, and whilst industry is changing it’s debatable whether it will happen quickly enough. It’s bizarre that we can continue so blithely down this path when you can for example see the ice melting, species dying, diseases increasing, the plastic in our oceans, antibiotic resistance rocketing, and extreme weather events due to climate change happening. I can only assume most people are in a massive state of denial, and refuse to wake-up, because to do so would cause a mental breakdown.

The underlying causes of all this have to be the drive to consume (we’re all indoctrinated to do so from an early age via marketing), what we are taught to regard as being successful in life, the pursuit of unreasonable profit and therefore money by a relatively small percentage of the population, and the often mistaken belief that more money will make you happy. After being on my bike for six months travelling round Europe, I realised you need very little in order to be happy. It looks increasingly like we need an alternative model from capitalism, which no doubt had its place in the past, in order to endure. That’s maybe a topic for another blog.

If you don’t already know about it Earth Hour takes place this weekend, where people are encouraged to turn their lights off from 20.30 in a show of solidarity for the planet. Here’s a link to the WWF website which has more detail on it – https://www.wwf.org.uk/earthhour

Well done and thank you if you made it to the end of that one. As usual my opinions are my own, however I hope that many of you will agree seeing as the evidence around all this is so easy to come by (see sources), and that you’ll conclude that we need to stop now and make some changes. I think everyone really can make a difference, because trends and movements spread and grow when they make sense. Let’s rectify this:

People and nature in Venn diagrams

People and nature in Venn diagrams

As always, safe cycling, and please feel free to comment with any feedback, opinions or interesting links to further information.

Sources

  1. BBC – Lassa fever: The killer with no vaccine – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-43211086
  2. Robert Scribbler – Sudden Stratospheric Warming and Polar Amplification: How Climate Change interacts with the Polar Vortex – https://robertscribbler.com/2018/02/28/sudden-stratospheric-warming-and-polar-amplification-how-climate-change-interacts-with-the-polar-vortex/
  3. World Population Growth by Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina – https://ourworldindata.org/world-population-growth
  4. Unsustainable development ‘puts humanity at risk’ – https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn12834-unsustainable-development-puts-humanity-at-risk/
  5. Youtube – The Roots of your Profit, Dr Elaine Ingham, soil microbiologist, founder of Soil Foodweb Inc – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2H60ritjag&t=3511s
  6. Huffington Post – Ocean Fish Populations cut in half since the 1970s: Report – http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/crucial-marine-populations-cut-in-half-since-the-1970s-report_us_55f9ecd2e4b00310edf5b1b2
  7. The Guardian – Animal agriculture is choking the ​Earth and making us sick. We must act now – https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/04/animal-agriculture-choking-earth-making-sick-climate-food-environmental-impact-james-cameron-suzy-amis-cameron
  8. The Guardian – Fossil fuel burning set to hit record high in 2017, scientists warn – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/13/fossil-fuel-burning-set-to-hit-record-high-in-2017-scientists-warn
  9. Wikipedia – Deep Ecology – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_ecology
  10. WWF – Earth Hour – https://www.wwf.org.uk/earthhour

Anger…

Most of the time cycling to work is great. It’s relaxing, keeps you fit, non-polluting, burns calories, and all the other positives.

Sometimes however it can leave me feeling a bit angry, for various reasons.

Today was one such day. I wrote a poem about it on my lunch break.

Anger
As I cycle…

Fields flash past
Forest, stream
Wild hedgerows
Full of thorns
Rooks caw
Cold, clear
Fresh, free, clean
Relax…
Turn the pedals
Breathe deep
Enjoy the moment

Then
I sigh…
Two young hedgehogs
Hit…
Dead
On the verge
Did they crawl there to die?
A blackbird
Head crushed, slain
Will sing no more
A pigeon
Ragged, bloodied, feathers everywhere
I pass more corpses
Rat, deer, rabbit
Hawk, pheasant
Lying on a tarmac altar
Sacrificed for what?

Plastic, litter
Infesting hedges, ponds
Fields, woodland, paths
No-where is spared
Polluting, poisoning
More jettisoned
From car windows
No thought
Heedless of damage
Why no shame?
Why so lazy?
Why think this is okay?

Fumes, foulness,
Exhausts belch
Black smoke, invisible toxins
More poison
Choking, chest hurts, throat burns
And new roads
Scar the countryside
More bad smells
Bitumen
Strangling Earth
Infected arteries
Opening the countryside
To more…
Death

Past the Broad
A small sanctuary
Peace
Smile returns
Weave down the road
Morning dogs!
Wildfowl paddling
Early morning rowers
Swans gliding
Majestics presences
Not enough

Drivers, many good
Some, not so
No indication
Pass too close
Abuse…thanks
3 mile commutes
Or less
Why not walk, cycle?
They won’t
Don’t think
Too hard
Too much effort

That’s why
I’m sometimes angry
Depressed, despondent
Can this ever change?
People won’t
Too selfish
Too…someone else
Until it’s too late
Then they’ll blame
Others
Instead…
Look in the mirror

END

 

Thankfully it’s not all bad, and a lot of people are trying to make things better. That was, however, cathartic.

The UK and Europe. What’s next?

Waking up on Friday morning to see 52% of the population had voted to leave the EU came as a shock, leaving me with feelings of disbelief, anger and sadness. This is the biggest peacetime decision to impact the United Kingdom since the end of the Second World War, as far as the consequences are concerned. Many voters appear to have made their decision to vote ‘leave’ based on wanting to stick two fingers up at the establishment, or concerns about immigration. I can sympathise with the first, given most people despair of our politicians, or are completely disenfranchised with Westminster; something needs to change. On the second, I can see why people worry about ‘how crowded the UK is becoming and the strain of our infrastructure’, but think we’ve shot ourselves in the foot, and encouraged a dangerous and growing trend in xenophobia; thankfully the great majority of the UK population, on both sides of the vote, are by no means racist, and pretty level headed most of the time (just don’t push them too far).

It’s clear we’re in for several difficult years, and that we’re all going to have to work very hard to make it a success. Hopefully it can work and I’ve some thoughts on that later on, so if you want to get to the positive bits you might want to skip the next section.

The ranty bit
It’s clear there have been lies, disinformation and false propaganda spread by both the ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ campaigns. Only now are the mainstream media and politicians starting to talk straight about what could happen, and what the actual facts are where they’re known. I acknowledge there were a number of experts who did talk sense beforehand, but they were unfortunately ignored or overlooked by most.

It’s sickening seeing Leave campaigners now back-tracking on statements they made prior to the referendum. I don’t think I need to go into detail as it’s easy to find, and I’m trying to limit the length of this post as it appears most folks aren’t willing to commit time to reading lengthy articles which might actually contain sound reason and factual content; I failed on limiting the length of this post by the way.

It’s massively frustrating seeing some Leave voters now wishing they hadn’t voted that way, as they hadn’t really understood the consequences beforehand. Or saying they’d never thought the Leave vote would actually win. I can’t blame a lot of them as it’s a really complex issue on which, I believe, there should never have been a referendum, and on which there has been so much spin.

It’s disheartening seeing people think that all the red tape is now going to be slashed, even though our own Government and Civil Service invented a lot of it. Do you really think things are going to get easier for UK businesses, both large and small?

Related to the above, on the red tape front, I’m concerned that a lot of the initiatives and rules put in place to combat climate change, protect nature, and improve the environment, for example air pollution action, reducing carbon emissions, and protecting endangered species and habitats, will now be scrapped or put on the back-burner, due to more pressing economic and social concerns; although I believe the environmental challenges we’re facing are still far more pressing that anything else.

I’m frustrated that people think this will reduce immigration, when in all likelihood it won’t, as we’ll still have immigration from outside the EU, and if we want to sign trade deals with European countries I’m sure we’ll have to sign up to freedom of movement. Not only that but I wonder how many Brits living abroad will need to, or be forced to, return to the UK now. That could run into the hundreds of thousands, which surely will put additional strain on our infrastructure.

It’s saddening hearing about a growing tide of racism and xenophobia in many places. There are  lots of stories about inflammatory remarks being made to people who have come here to live and work from the EU, or further afield, many of whom just want a normal life away from harm’s way, and who contribute positively to our economy and culture. Stories I’ve read about so far include remarks like ‘you best start packing…’, a banner promoting repatriation/deportation as well as stopping immigration, polish children in tears after comments made to them at school by other children, offensive graffiti and just general abuse over social media. There are a lot of scared people in this country at the moment, on both sides, and scared people are more likely to do extreme things. A small but dangerous segment of the population seem to see the referendum decision as giving legitimacy for overt racism and abuse.

I’ve just bought a new house, and thankfully been able to fix my interest rate for a couple of years, but am very worried that potential interest rate rises, brought about by us leaving the EU, could make it hard for me to afford my mortgage in future. How on earth are young people going to stand a chance of getting on the housing-ladder if interest rates make it even more expensive; they’ll already be in massive debt if they’ve been through university anyway?

On the voting demographics front it’s sad that the younger generation, who are going to be impacted most by the changes, and who voted for the most part to Remain, are going to have to live with the implications for a lot longer than the older generation, a lot of whom voted to Leave, and who in many cases are comfortably well off with little to worry about on the pension or housing front.

It’s barmy that people in Wales, and other regions who received a lot of EU funding, are now saying there mustn’t be any cuts in grants, when many of them voted to Leave. I’m sorry, it doesn’t work that way; you can’t have it both ways and I suspect the government won’t be able to assign replacement funding as they’ll be too busy stopping the UK going bust. It’s a real shame a lot of the regeneration is now under threat. It’s also a shame that many people in these areas voted Leave on the basis of seeing ‘too many immigrants’ living on their doorstep, when I read earlier that the opposite is the case, madness.

I need to check this, but it appears the UK may have already slipped from being the 5th largest economy, to being the 6th, due to the pound sliding. There are also jitters around us losing our triple A credit rating, which will impact our ability to borrow money cheaply. This in turn could impact the very people who voted to Leave, with cuts to public services and taxes going up. The well off, such as many of the people who run the country, won’t be affected; again, shot ourselves in the foot.

I’m hoping this doesn’t happen, but we could well see the cost of imported goods rise due to changes in the exchange rate, as well as tariffs being imposed. This could lead to food price increases which will hit harder on people already vulnerable to changes brought about by an EU exit. Personally I think food is too cheap anyway, but that’s because of unsustainable or damaging farming practices; I’d rather food prices went up because of improvements in that area, and not because of leaving the EU.

It’s sad that a lot of businesses, both small and large, will probably be adversely impacted by the changes. There may be tariffs to contend with for exporting goods abroad. Borrowing money to start or expand your business could get harder if investors pull out of the UK; some already are. Unemployment could rise as a result, especially if some multi-national companies, for example financial institutions, decide to move elsewhere.

It’s slightly ironic that the banks and investment companies who have been blamed for so much in recent times, and to be fair did make a lot of mistakes, are now so critical to the future success of this country. London is the financial centre of Europe, but will it continue to be so once the UK exits the EU? You can blame the bankers all you want, but at the end of the day they employ thousands, and make a lot of money for this country.

Then there’s what’s going to happen to the UK. Scotland wants another referendum on their independence, and it seems likely the vote leave side will win this time, despite concerns about where their money will come from with oil prices being low. One wonders if Wales will start considering the same; personally think that’s unlikely but who knows.

The EU itself may be doomed, as more countries consider leaving to follow their own path. The UK referendum result has strengthened the position of many Leave campaigns in other countries, and unfortunately given legitimacy to views on the far right of politics, such as the National Front in France under Marine le Pen. It feels like a backwards step for Europe and the rest of the world, with barriers being put up instead of taken down, and the risk that we slip into more dangerous times (see Brexit Bomb blog if you want really dire predictions). I’ve had a few European friends contact me asking what’s going on, with sentiments of confusion and shock at the decision we’ve taken. It’s uncomfortable and slightly embarrassing, but I’ll continue to build bridges wherever possible and they’ll stay on my Christmas card list!

There’s been a lot of talk from many of the younger generation about quitting the UK and seeking opportunities abroad, and I can’t say I blame them. I personally think there won’t be much of an impact from this, but it’s sad that many are at least considering it; we could end up losing good people. It’s also more likely that less people will want to come to the UK, so we won’t benefit from the skills, economic boost,  labour force, and socially enriching cultures they bring with them.

And what are we left with? Some dodgy politicians who lie, change sides for their own political ends, are completely out of touch with the general populace, and who in some cases have racist overtones. Brilliant! Watching the news programmes today most of them still can’t give a straight answer to a question; do they know how irritating that is? One thing for Farage; at least he does give straight answers, even if I don’t believe them.

So what’s next?
One thing I’m not going to do, and I’m sure a lot of us aren’t going to do, including many on the Leave side of the vote who’ve seen just how rubbish a lot of our so-called leaders are, is keep quiet about this. The ‘silent majority’, a lot of whom are middle class hard workers trying to earn a decent living and support their families, should speak up more often, or stop moaning about how politicians aren’t in touch with their constituencies. We’re all encouraged to keep working hard, pay our taxes, take a family holiday and distract ourselves from real issues by prioritising the X Factor, football or celebrity gossip in the tabloids. If we want things to change we’ve got to make sure our elected representatives know we want things to change. I’m going to get on with trying to make things work, but I’m not going to shut up as some people seem to want us to do. Not speaking out when you think something is wrong has caused very bad things to happen in the past, just look at the history books. We’re good in this country at resolving issues via debate and reason, so there’s no need for violence, but make sure you don’t just tow the line and keep quiet when you see ignorance, racism, lies, or just a breakdown in common sense, causing problems. We’ve all a duty to speak up, and the Leave decision is not a mandate for allowing racism and xenophobia to spread; it’s truly distressing hearing some of the media reports about what some people are doing or saying to foreign nationals in this country.

As I mentioned earlier I’m particularly concerned that a lot of environmental issues will be sidelined now, and green initiatives shelved because of money. ‘Red tape’ introduced for very good reasons to protect the environment, endangered habitats and species, might be slashed. I’ll continue to write to my MP, sign petitions and support organisations such as Friends of the Earth, the World Wildlife Fund, and Green Peace to make sure that doesn’t happen. I hope everyone else will do the same on issues they feel passionate about, and to hold their elected representatives accountable. Don’t keep quiet, speak up!

 

Personally I think talk of a second referendum isn’t very constructive; I’m pretty it’s not going to happen. What we can do is use the upsurge in interest in politics to demand electoral reform in whatever form that may take, and to demand that our politicians listen and take us more seriously. I’d love it if we could prosecute them for proven instances of deliberately misinforming the public, as appears to be the case with some of the statements made in the referendum campaigns; e.g pictures on buses saying they’ll spend £350m a week on the NHS instead.

 

We can try to keep the UK together, and convince our countrymen in Scotland to stay with us should there be another referendum. I know it’s tempting to wish them all the very best, and to think about moving up there should they vote out and apply to rejoin the EU (I’m tempted, love Scotland), but the break up of the UK would be yet another backwards step for humanity, leading to more barriers and complications; all arguments that have been made before. As an aside, and not really supporting the case for Scotland remaining part of the UK, if Scotland does leave the UK they do have an opportunity perhaps to take over from London as the English-speaking financial centre of Europe. This could significantly boost their income and allow them to stand on their own two feet. They already have a lot of expertise in that area, and who knows, if London does disappear beneath the waves due to Climate Change perhaps a move to Edinburgh would be a good thing; although not sure Edinburgh is actually much higher than London…sorry for the tangent.

To help keep the UK together, and above water (no pun intended), we need to get off on a firm footing as far as the economy goes. So we’ve all got to keep working hard and looking for new opportunities for growth and stability. Keeping in contact with European partners, suppliers, customers and friends seems vital for this, as does reassuring them we’re not all crazy and really do want to keep trading with them. I don’t buy that we can just increase trade with other parts of the world; hopefully we can, but the fact is you’re more likely to trade with countries closer to you, due to transport costs and similar preferences. On the London being the financial centre of Europe front, hopefully we can diversify outside the EU to present new opportunities to foreign investors looking for somewhere to put their cash; not sure how this would work without introducing dodgy tax breaks but worth thinking about.

We need to get new trade agreements set up, build not break, and try not to take 10 years about it; some experts have suggested it might take that long to sort out new deals, and I’m not sure what will be left of our economy if we wait that long. We do have a strong economy, and many world leaders have said they want to continue to trade with us, so we need to use that to establish practical and worthwhile agreements. We’re a huge market for foreign companies who want to export goods abroad, not the size of the EU but still huge. Looking ahead if we can prove that this will work, with deals that benefit all parties in that agreement, then maybe other countries will follow suit and we can set up a new trade organisation, based on principles of free trade but without the rules that have irritated so many, and caused alleged problems, since we joined the EU; please can we keep the rules helping to protect the environment though. We’re going to need to some good politicians and negotiators to get these agreements set up, so I’m hoping people will continue to vote and speak up when the right deal isn’t being made, bad decisions are taken, or common sense fails. The demise of the EU might turn out not to be a bad thing if we can create something new and improved out of the ashes, with the UK as a founding member; that could be really exciting.

 

Lastly, on the keeping together front, we need to keep embracing our cultural diversity and welcoming people of other nationalities to our country to live and work, so we in turn will be welcomed in their countries to do the same. Having seen so much of Europe last year, and met so many great people, I know we’re all fundamentally the same and have so much to offer one another. We’re still all European, and a break down of relations if xenophobia and racism increase would only take us in a bad direction. If you don’t know your neighbour and are nervous because you’ve heard them speak another language, go and talk to them, pretty sure you’ll find out they’re nice people with very similar motivations to you.

So I think there’s hope, but we’re going to have to work really hard to make it work, and in the short-term (next 10 years) it’s going to be difficult. There are also lots of risks which could impact this, as should be evident from the above; one for those risks is people not really wanting to make it work, either because they’re British and p*ssed off with the direction taken, or European and wanting to make Britain pay – yes, people can be that petty.

One thing for sure, it’s going to be a very interesting next few months and years, and in any case, we’re all going to have to make big changes soon to react to the impacts of climate change, so one way or another the future isn’t certain. A cabin in the woods in Canada still seems quite an attractive proposition to me!

Soon I’ll get back to blogging about adventures and stuff, promise.

 

The Brexit Bomb

The following story is a work of fiction. I thought it would be interesting to think about what the UK, Europe and wider world could look like in a few years time. Who’s to say what will actually happen, it’s very hard to predict with any degree of accuracy, however I do know that within my circle of friends and peers there is a very real fear surrounding the consequences of leaving the EU. I hope at the very least this ‘story’ provokes people already decided on voting to leave, into considering an alternative viewpoint. I hope the events described below don’t come to pass. I’m not scare-mongering, just considering consequences, and writing a story. I wish more people would consider consequences, based on actual research and not unfounded fears of what might happen, or what’s causing alleged issues in our country today.

The Brexit Bomb
It’s cold. And dark. The roads are clogged up with slush again, stained brown by the polluted air. At least we don’t have to worry about global warming any more, that’s one positive, if you can call anything positive that’s happened over the last few years. I’m pretty sure we’re also in the clear on excess immigration, not many people want to move here now, of those that are left anyway. I’d laugh, but it hurts.

Whoever decided to give the UK populace a referendum on leaving the EU should be locked up and the key thrown away. We were no way qualified to make such a decision. Isn’t that what we elected members of parliament to do, advised by ranks of actual experts? I don’t think we can lock them up anyway; think they bought it when the Houses of Parliament burnt to the ground in the riots of 2018.

The referendum did one good thing. It actually got people out voting, and certainly got people interested in politics for a little while. Unfortunately the media and certain politicians spouting nonsense, on both sides of the argument, left voters believing things that simply weren’t true, or with an ill-informed and skewed view of reality.

Looking out of the window now I can see a small group of children playing under the skeletons of long dead trees. They’re young, hungry, and will probably only live into their thirties. They’ve never known anything different. I wonder which way their grandparents voted and if they had the slightest inkling of the path they were leading us down.

Voting day seemed to arrive quickly after months of speculation, with the Leave and Remain campaigns trying to sway the proletariat one way or the other. The polls were roughly even, with no-one knowing which way things would go. Politicians, leaders of commerce, historians, scientists, Nobel prize winners, and leaders of other countries had all voiced their opinions one way or the other. To this day I don’t know why a lot of folks ignored the statements being made on the risks of leaving the EU. These statements were made by highly educated, well-respected and experienced individuals. People instead chose to believe certain tabloid newspapers run by narcissistic idiots only interested in their own agendas, as well as unhinged politicians or public figures spouting badly if at all researched nonsense that only served to play on people’s fears, identifying the wrong causes for alleged problems.

I do wonder if things would have been any different if the vote had gone the other way. I suppose we’ll never know.

We woke up on 24 June 2016, in my moderately sized family home in Derbyshire, to the news that Britain had voted to leave the EU. It wasn’t even that close a vote in the end, with 59% of people voting to leave. It makes me furious even now to think how stupid we all were. I say we all were, as even if you voted to remain in the EU you probably bear some responsibility for not calling to account the voices lying about why we should leave, or doing more to assuage the fears of those voting to leave, or undecided up until the last-minute.

Writing this is giving me a headache, and unfortunately I think I’ve run out of medicine. Medicine and food, along with a whole host of other things including clean water, is in short supply these days. The regional government is doing it’s best, but there really aren’t that many options when your growing season is limited, and anything you do produce is likely to be contaminated. We hear stories that other countries might be doing a bit better, but comms are limited and even if they could help they’re unlikely to want to, seeing as we were the butterfly that casually flapped it’s wings, setting off a whole chain of catastrophic events.

To begin with the Leavers celebrated, and even those who voted to Remain were carried along in the tide of euphoria that swept the country. There was a feeling that maybe things would be better now, after all 59% of the population couldn’t all be wrong could they? We’d get back control of our country, reduce immigration, give our businesses more chance to thrive, get rid of all those petty rules made by EU bureaucrats, rules that had no place in the UK, etc etc

Unfortunately that kind of relied on our own government being clever, and the arguments for leaving the EU being true. It turns out they weren’t, and the euphoria was pretty short-lived.

Other countries even jumped on the bandwagon carrying out their own EU exit referendums, with the Netherlands quickly voting to leave, and several others on the borderline. The big shock was Germany voting to leave a year and a half later, as a wave of nationalism swept the country in the wake of the migrant crisis. The death knell for the EU was surely sounding.

Before all that things almost immediately started to go wrong for the UK. We still had a couple of years before we actually left the EU, as it would take ages to disentangle ourselves, but investors began to pull out of UK businesses straight away, deeming it too risky in an already shaky global economy.  The pound started to slide, which in theory could have increased our exports, but our manufacturing industry wasn’t exactly what it had been. London, the once financial centre of the world, was relegated down into the doldrums as the markets and money moved elsewhere. To be fair our politicians tried their damnedest to get us new and improved trade deals, and to capitalise on our new-found ‘freedom’ in a whole host of other areas, but it just didn’t work, as the principles we’d voted to leave on were wrong. It took us quite a long time to realise we were completely stuffed, and by that time it was too late as we’d actually left. I don’t think we could have stayed in anyway as the Prime Minister had promised to abide by the referendum decision.

This water really does taste quite disgusting with the puritabs in it. Still, it’s better than the water they’ve got over in East Anglia; hardly anyone lives there now after the wind blew the toxic clouds in. We keep hoping things will get better again, but I have to admit I’ve been feeling low recently, especially after the flu swept through the city taking many of the young, old or infirm in its wake. We just don’t have the support services anymore.

Where was I? Ah yes, the economy crashed and we entered another recession. We tried to make more trade deals, and did so but had to sign up to freedom of movement within the EU, and compliance with lots of other rules around manufacturing and worker’s rights; the latter was probably a good thing the rate the government was going. In fact we were forced to abide by most of the rules we’d been party to before. People said we should have traded outside the EU more, but it’s simple question of geography; you trade more with countries closer to you.

As we were locked into lots of EU rules anyway, immigration didn’t change, not in the shorter term. To be honest I’m not sure it would have changed even if our politicians had done a better job, as at least 50% of immigrants came from outside the UK in the first place. It was lucky we still had immigration as we relied on a lot EU workers to prop up our crumbling economy, and key services like the NHS. That changed in the longer term though, as the pound continued to slide and things got worse, making Britain a pretty unattractive place to move to.

After we left Scotland held another referendum on their independence, citing that even though economically there was a risk, as North Sea oil revenues were low, they would still be better off in the EU. This time they were successful and quickly exited the UK. Wales started to consider doing the same but never really got the chance. There was talk of the North of England wanting out, and the black flag of Cornwall flying again. The UK was dying, and we considered emigrating to Scotland to try to escape the worst of the recession, and ensuing madness as people got desperate, and eventually really desperate.

Taxes rose, austerity policies continued. The UK’s credit rating dropped meaning the cost of borrowing increased, and in some cases people would no longer lend to us. The government cut back on all spending on environmentally responsible initiatives, something they could do without EU restrictions. This caused a lot of upset amongst the Greens, but to  be honest everyone was too pre-occupied by other worries to pay much attention to the dangers of climate change. Inflation rose along with unemployment and discontent, with extremist and right wings views becoming mainstream as people looked for someone else to blame.

Things got really bad in 2021, with mass riots and violence on the streets. Some towns and cities turn into war zones as rival communities from different ethnic backgrounds kicked off against each other. London was largely spared until the autumn of 2021, but then the touch-paper was lit when someone discovered that allegedly some Tory ministers were embezzling public funds. That’s when the Houses of Parliament burnt down and many were killed before order was restored. Martial law was enacted in several areas after that, until things calmed down. No-one really seems to know what happened to the Royal Family, but they’ve disappeared.

And what was going on in Europe whilst the UK was committing suicide? Things weren’t a lot better there. With the EU destabilised Russia took its chances. They’d already annexed the Crimea and large swathes of Ukraine, and now marched into Latvia, threatening to continue into Lithuania and Belarus. Lack of coherency in the EU made a response slow and indecisive. NATO wanted to act, especially under the steering hand of President Trump and the United States, but the threat of nuclear retaliation by the Kremlin stalled any action. There were also rumours surfacing, which were mostly put down to conspiracy theories, that there was a Russian mole in the UK government, in a position of some significance. Some people claimed the mole had been behind much of the Leave campaign, steered in the background by Russia, and that even now they were continuing to cause confusion and spread lies, leading to an ineffectual UK, or should we say England.

In hindsight it would have been better just to leave Russia to it, not that what was left of the UK had much choice in the matter. In the end Trump acted without the full consent of NATO, moving US Naval vessels and an aircraft carrier into the Baltic. It’s still unclear exactly what happened, but things rapidly went from warm to hot, with a nuclear device taking out the US fleet. Russia claimed it was the action of a rogue commander, which no-one really believed. Europe dithered, but Trump didn’t launching a retaliatory strike. Before people finally saw sense several nuclear explosions had gone off, both in Europe, Russia and the US, with huge numbers of casualties on both sides. President Trump was killed in the exchange, and the US is now facing its own unity challenges, but news is so scarce from that side of the Atlantic, at least publicly, who knows what’s really going on.

That was all several years ago now, but we’re still locked in a nuclear winter with little respite, even though no nuclear weapons actually detonated on the UK mainland. Plenty of people have died anyway was a result of the fallout, further civil unrest, famine and disease, but I think we’re better off than a lot.

I’m tired, really tired, and sick. I’ve lost most of my hair now, and think the cancer has spread. You’d have hoped that over the course of centuries humanity would have learned from its mistakes, and become slightly more sophisticated in its thinking, but it seems we’re doomed to failure again and again. Hopefully anyone reading this in the future might learn something from it, and who knows, we might evolve yet. For now I’m opting out, I’ve had enough…over and out world.

THE END

That was a bit depressing, but one has to ask is it that far-fetched? I think I’ll go and read up a bit more on the pros and cons on both sides of the argument. I hope everyone else does too, seeing as we’ve been granted the responsibility of deciding our own fate.

 

05 & 06 October 2015 – last days on the Danube; Donauworth and Ulm

These were my last two days pedalling alongside the Danube river, which has been a great experience, and a bit of a bonus after completing my two main tour objectives of Nordkapp to Tarifa, then on to Istanbul. I’d thoroughly recommend the Danube cycle route; the scenery, people, food and culture are all brill. Here are my routes and stats for the last two days; you’ll notice I went a bit wrong on 05 October:

–> 05 October – to Donauworth (170km)
So, yep, 170km pedalled today. I’d love to tell you they were all intentional, however that would be a bit of a fabrication on my part. My main learning was that if you reach a fork in a river, make sure you take the correct fork. To be fair I hardly noticed the river branching, and found the cycle route signs very confusing, and it was foggy, however really it was my own fault for not concentrating more. I added on about 30km to an already long day, and ended up having to go over several large hills, meaning over 1,000m in climbing, resulting in jelly like legs by the time I reached my hostel for the evening.

Thankfully I left Regensburg early, so had enough time to get back on track after my unintentional detour. It was a damp and chilly morning, with thick fog for the first few hours as I made my way up the Danube cycle path. The river meandered somewhat as I made my way to Kelheim, which is where I think I went wrong, heading North West instead of South West up a river that flows into the Danube; the Main Donau Kanal.

I pedalled for miles up my ‘alternative’ route, blissfully unaware of my error as the sun came out, revealing beautiful countryside and lovely small villages and towns. This part of Bavaria, and perhaps Bavaria in general, is simply delightful. I pedalled along saying hello to several other cyclists, passing lots of churches with their bells ringing. I think I was following the Baroque Cycle Tour route, however there are others signposted.

I reached the town of Beilngries and finally got a bit suspicious that perhaps I wasn’t going the right way, and decided to check the map on my phone in a bit more detail. There followed a ‘small’ amount of cursing as I realised I was miles off course, followed by a big and somewhat ride South, fuelled by haribo, on busy roads and over some big hills, to get back to the Danube.

The corrective ride itself was quite pleasant, despite the climbs, as it passed through lots of cool forest; I spotted lots of interesting bird life, and got laughed at by Green Woodpeckers several times, which seemed fitting. It also proved what I’d thought was the case; the terrain is a lot more hilly away from the river! I made it to Eichstätt, then cycled down to Neuburg on der Donau and rejoined the right cycle route. By this point I was feeling quite tired, and still had 40km left to pedal, with several more hills that frankly just hurt.

Needless to say I was pleased to finally make it to Donauworth, after 170km, and glad to have a bed for the night in the Youth Hostel, rather than having to pitch my tent; hostel staff also really friendly, helpful, and sympathetic! I walked down to the nearby supermarket to get some food, and ended up buying far too much as I was famished, however I’m sure it’ll all get eaten eventually.

After eating and a bit of planning I couldn’t keep my eyes open, so retired for the night; my blog might get a bit behind over the next week or so, but I’ll catch up eventually. Planning a short ride tomorrow, to Ulm, with hopefully no further route confusion. I’m also hoping Smaug doesn’t break; my chain is just starting to slip occasionally, the back tyre tread is getting a little sparse, and my brakes need adjusting – fingers crossed he’ll make it back to the UK without having to do much maintenance.

–> 06 October – to Ulm (89km)
As planned (phew) it was a relatively short day’s riding today, and my last alongside the Danube, at least for this tour; I’d quite happily come back. I’ve decided not to follow the river all the way to its source in Donaueschingen, which would mean another day or two of riding, but instead to turn North West tomorrow and head for Strasbourg and France, on my way back home; feels weird thinking that home is only about 700 hundred miles away now.

The hostel breakfast was an excellent affair, with warm bread, cheese, cold meats, butter and jam, fruit and hot chocolate; all hearty fayre for a cycle tourer with lots of miles to cover. After eating my fill I set out, a bit later than usual, and a bit slower, intending on a recovery ride after yesterday’s epic if somewhat unanticipated lengthy ride.

The route didn’t always follow the Danube; for the first section I was next to the main road, on a cycle path, before joining quiet country roads.

I passed through several picturesque towns, then stopped for a picnic with about 20km to go to Ulm.

I made it to Ulm in good time, mostly thanks to no erroneous detours, and found the Brickstone Hostel I’d booked for the night after a quick look around the town; it started to rain so I didn’t linger long.

Instead of heading straight out for a further explore I had a snooze, as the cold I’m suffering from is making me feel a tired, even if it’s not directly impacting my cycling. I’d arrived just in time, and a snooze turned out not to be a bad idea, as the light rain turned into storms for the next couple of hours.

Post snooze I chatted to the hostel hostess Anja for a bit, who offered me a few route tips, and some pears from a neighbour’s garden which were very nice, then I headed into Ulm to find some dinner, and to have another look around now the rain had stopped. It was getting on for dusk as I walked around the old town streets, which has some lovely old buildings sitting next to river channels.

For dinner I headed to Barfuber, a traditional Bavarian Pub type place, and had one of the best meals I’ve had in a while; Roast Pork shank with potato salad and dumpling. I think I could get used to Bavarian food, it’s delicious, especially when accompanied by a cold beer. Germany also appears cheap to me, compared with France away; meal was very good value.

I know some people don’t like eating out alone, but I’m used to it now, especially as I do so quite a bit when I’m away for work. I just enjoyed watching what was going on around me, and read my book for a bit. The waiter also supplied me with extra beer gravy, which went very well with the dumpling, and earned him his tip.

Feeling replete I headed back to the Brickstone Hostel and relaxed for a bit before bed. Despite all this fine dining, I noticed my belt needs another hole in it to prevent my trousers falling down; still losing weight, which I guess isn’t too much of a calamity on the health front, but will mean some clothes shopping is needed when I get home.

On towards the Black Forest tomorrow, the land of cuckoo clocks, fairy tales, werewolves and gateau; not sure about the latter. The weather is starting to look a bit dodgy but should be in France in a couple of days.