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RANT OF THE MONTH
COP26 will come and go, and may be another talking shop that changes little (Perspective, Oct ’21 p. 9). The problem with taking action on climate change is very similar to tackling obesity: humans are hardwired for short-term gains even at the expense of long-term losses. In caveman days this made sense; overeat that mammoth kill now, or the meat will go off or be stolen by a wolf. We discount the future heavily. Ask 100 people to choose between £100 now or £110 in a year’s time and 99 will choose the former, turning down a savings rate of 10 per cent. So it is with climate change and obesity: the catastrophic warming is decades away but our food and utility bills need paying now. Yes, that chocolate may make us less healthy in 30 years, but we need a treat now. Similarly, politicians only risk votes by taxing us now for projects that will improve life during the next government after three.
However, we do have a (currently underused) mechanism for testing public support for long-term measures: the Government Petition site. Currently, very few petitions get even 0.25 million votes, under 0.5% of the “electorate”, given that most of us are online, perhaps because most petitions get rather anodyne responses. Why not use this site to ask, what measures do we support to tackle a range of long-term issues, from climate change and obesity to Covid, poverty reduction and even transport policy? If politicians don’t like the answers they get, give us more options until we find something that both works and has widespread public support. Then implementing that should be a vote-winner. What’s to lose, Boris?
Dr Hillary J. Shaw
Department of Politics and Public Policy
De Montfort University, Leicester
Johnson’s sudden Damascene conversion to climate activist must be rather confusing to his Brexit card-carrying followers. Maybe not every Brexiteer is a climate change denier, but certainly every climate change denier I have ever met is a Brexiteer. I think the truth is rather simple: Johnson wants a place in history and is savvy enough to realise Brexit is a busted flush, messy and expensive. It’s rather like Gallipoli, so at least he is getting to emulate Churchill. The Prime Minister is moving on and sees in COP26 the perfect opportunity to get on the world stage, not just the European one. This is his World War II moment: Dunkirk, Battle of Britain, glorious stuff. Of course, Boris Johnson doesn’t believe a word of what he is saying, but it keeps Mrs Johnson happy.
Andrew Hinks, Norfolk
BoJo the Climate Clown? It’s his funniest volte face so far.
Mrs J. Wilson, Hampshire
I am a full-time third (final) year design student at a major London university. In my second year, I had zero hours of face-to-face teaching, despite schoolchildren being back at school, and everyone else being back at work. This year, in theory I have two days of teaching. But so far, over 50 per cent of these face-to-face events have been moved online at the last minute, or simply cancelled altogether. There is a range of excuses. Last week one session was moved online because the tutor had tested for Covid and despite a negative test result felt it “best to be sure”. Why bother even doing the test? The online lecture was a recorded presentation from the previous year. University lecturers are having a laugh. It’s time that their institutions came down hard on them and made them get back to work like everyone else. If they can’t do that, the government should make funding dependent on the number of face-to-face hours taught.
Name and address withheld
Time to tax wealth
Rishi Sunak’s budget was more of the same from the Conservatives: tax the life out of the poor, take more of the little they have; do nothing about those growing fat from rising house prices. So much for levelling up. Our taxation system is one of the most unfair in the world, and encourages a system where the rich get richer by doing nothing, and collecting rents from the poorest, those on low wages who can’t even imagine buying their own homes, let alone a second one. It’s time to tax lazy wealth, and give lower earners a break.
Louise Jenner, by email
In last month’s issue, Lydia Brownlow wrote about “Preserving the art of jam making”. I’m a jam enthusiast and like to make my own regularly. Apricot jam is a current favourite! However, I tackled the recipe for jam tarts which seemed like a quick and easy sugary snack. I did as I was told and it all came out exactly as Lydia said it would. And that’s my point – the picture looks nothing like a homemade jam tart! More like the artificial filth they give my son at school during break! Perhaps we could do with some more realistic photographs?
Patricia Richards, Southampton
No Liberty Tube
Liberty Day came and went in July and the nation was delighted to find most things open. But we Londoners are not completely free, at least not at night-time. It’s November now and TFL still hasn’t reopened the night Tube. It first opened in 2016 and had a good run – people could get home much faster and, crucially, much more safely. Loitering around at bus stops at three am is scary and no one should have to leave social events early to avoid being put in that situation. While it can be frightening waiting twenty minutes on a platform for the next Tube with just one man, or worse, sharing a carriage with one drunk-looking weirdo, on the whole I felt more comfortable on the Tube at night. There are cameras everywhere and more often than not staff are around to help. TFL must bring it back for the safety and liberty of us all.
Jemima Cooke, London
At COP21 back in November 2015, I remember watching a parade of world leaders come onto the stage in Paris to give saccharine two-minute monologues about their commitment to keeping global temperature rises to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and preferably less than 1.5°C. Six years later, the red carpets have been rolled out again – this time in Glasgow – for the world’s jet-setting band of eco-messiahs to knock heads together and strengthen the semi-global commitment to Net Zero by the middle of the twenty-first century. All noble aims, but it’s hard not to be a little cynical. The sight of President Biden’s 21-car motorcade bombing along the M8 is farcical enough, but I think even that was trumped (pun intended for those following Biden’s COP26 journey) by the 400 – yes, four hundred – private jets dropping off delegates at Glasgow Airport. If that wasn’t enough to alienate the casual observer, I think the prize for Prat of the Year goes to Phelim MacCafferty, the Green Party councillor for Brighton and Hove (I’m not making this up), who took a one-hour flight from Gatwick to Glasgow to protest the “lack of action” shown by the government on climate change. Faced with stories like this emerging from the conference on a daily basis, I can’t say I feel morally compelled to shell out for a new hydrogen blend boiler. To reword a popular noughties song: wake me up when November ends.
Oliver Simon, Leicester
Gavin Esler’s article (Perspective, Oct ’21) is spot on: the capacity these politicians have for lying is astonishing. It’s one thing to avoid answering a question (Paxman vs Michael Howard) but lying to mislead an entire nation is disgusting. These lies are then reported by several news outlets, such as the BBC. Why aren’t they protecting us from our gaslighting government? Only switched on lawyer/journalists like Peter Stefanovic, whose video is mentioned in the article, seem to care about reporting the incessant lies coming from Johnson. If the truth is the last thing to be reported, what good is an elected government in a democratic country? Politicians have always lied but never before have they only lied.
Harry Zblewski, Birmingham