Eric Holthaus (2020) The Future Earth: A Radical Vision For What’s Possible in the Age of Warming.

Eric Holthaus is a meteorologist and he wanted to do something about global warming. He wrote a book and finished it November 2019.

Here is some advice he gives:

‘The key to writing a good book is to write a bad book and then fix it.’

I like that. The key to writing a book is firstly to finish it. Then to fix it. Holthaus managed that. He’s an optimist.

‘In 2035’, for example, he suggests, ‘global emissions finally started to sharply decline—down 50 percent from 2020 levels. Even though the temperature was still rising, we managed to avoid a 1.5-degree rise. We were in the middle of the great Drawdown, a period of rebirth that allowed us to scale back emissions through individualised and collective actions’.

What he imagines for 2050 is international cooperation in a caring and sharing global society in which reparations have been made from rich countries to poorer countries that have contributed less to global warming, but have suffered the worst effects. A third of Pakistan’s landmass, for example, being underwater would immediately by a coalition led largely by America. A Marshall Plan, which provided aid to Western Europe, but covered the world. This would be ratified by the Paris Agreement of 2050.

To paraphrase that old Coke ad, I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony

The second decade of the twenty-first century isn’t going as he envisaged.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/sep/01/carbon-capture-is-not-a-solution-to-net-zero-emissions-plans-report-says

“Many international bodies and national government are relying on carbon capture in the fossil fuel sector to get to net zero, and it simply won’t work,” Bruce Robertson, the author of the IEEFA report, said.

Despite being a technology still in development, carbon capture and storage has been put forward as a key element in the UK’s plans to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

A further challenge is finding suitable storage sites for carbon sequestration, where the gas will not merely be used to push out more oil. According to the report, trapped CO2 will need monitoring for centuries to ensure it does not leak into the atmosphere – raising the risk of liability being handed over to the public, years after private interests have extracted their profits from the enterprise.

The risk is that CCS technology will be used to extend the life of fossil fuel infrastructure long past the cut off point for maintaining atmospheric carbon at less than catastrophic levels, the report suggested.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/aug/31/fossil-fuel-subsidies-almost-doubled-in-2021-analysis-finds

Global public subsidies for fossil fuels almost doubled to $700bn in 2021, analysis has shown, representing a “roadblock” to tackling the climate crisis.

Despite the huge profits of fossil fuel companies, the subsidies soared as governments sought to shield citizens from surging energy prices as the global economy rebounded from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most of the subsidies were used to reduce the price paid by consumers. This largely benefits wealthier households, as they use the most energy, rather than targeting those on low incomes. The subsidies are expected to rise even further in 2022 as Russia’s war in Ukraine has driven energy prices even higher.

“Fossil fuel subsidies are a roadblock to a more sustainable future, but the difficulty that governments face in removing them is underscored at times of high and volatile fuel prices,” said Fatih Birol, the director of the International Energy Agency, which produced the analysis with the OECD.

“A surge in investment in clean energy technologies and infrastructure is the only lasting solution to today’s global energy crisis and the best way to reduce the exposure of consumers to high fuel costs,” said Birol.

“Significant increases in fossil fuel subsidies encourage wasteful consumption, while not necessarily reaching low-income households,” said Mathias Cormann, the OECD secretary general. “We need to adopt measures which protect consumers [and] help keep us on track to carbon neutrality, as well as energy security and affordability.”

The analysis covers 51 key countries and represents 85% of the world’s total energy supply. Subsidies that kept fossil fuel prices artificially low more than tripled to $531bn in 2021, compared with 2020. Subsidies for oil and gas production reached a record level of $64bn. The IEA said in May 2021 that no new fossil fuel projects should be developed if the world is to meet its climate goals.

Richard Powers (2018) The Overstory which won The Man Booker Prize tackles many of the issues Holthaus addresses, but in fictional form. Holhaus imagines a future, a regeneration in which agriculture which takes up half the earth and uses eighty percent of water is abloom with trees.

The nine main characters in The Overstory come together to protect the environment and around their love of trees as a keystone to regeneration of the world they know and love. They are idealistic. They are conservatives, seeking to conserve what is good. They recognise that corporations not only make the laws that protect them, but they run rings around any attempts to curtail profits. Activism, and putting themselves in harm’s way, does nothing to slow progress. And progress, like oil companies rushing ahead to open new fields, before any legislation kicks in dwarves any putative environmental gains and creates black holes and deserts. 

2030-2040: Radical Stewardship.

Holthaus uses a quote from Ursula Le Gun:

‘We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. But then so did the divine right of Kings. Any human power could be resisted and changed by human beings… The name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom.’

Holthaus suggests that all it needs is three-percent of the population to turn and act as a vanguard for others to follow.

Similarly, Mark Fisher is often quoted (but not by Holthaus), ‘It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.’

The Bible provides a handy template. Which horse of the apocalypse are you backing? The White Horse symbolises righteousness (so Wikipedia tells me). But hold your horses. White might not be white, but whitewash, or even greenwash. Civil War and Pestilence. The antichrist, moron’s moron, in the White House. A plague and wild beasts?

The Red Horse means war. Sword pointed up to heaven. Division of Empire. Water, water, everywhere, but none to drink. Who owns the land owns the people of the land. But who owns the rivers and tributaries that run through the holy waters?

The Black Horse brings a set of temperature scales and famine. The Black Horse is the only one that speaks. It says all that you see is mine. All that you don’t see is also mine. What refugee I don’t see and you don’t see on that we can agree?

The Pale Rider is death. He is not carrying a weapon. The mushroom cloud leaves death and dying in its wake. Eternal night. Lost illusions? 

I’m backing the White Horse. It’s just getting into its stride. Denial. Doubt. Exceptionalism. Made Great Again.

Ideas versus Idealism? Eric Holthaus has some great ideas. I hope and pray he’s right. But he seems to forget the most important lesson history tells us, seismic shifts are written in blood. The Marshall Plan, for example, was conceived after hundreds of millions died. The second world war wasn’t just for the defence of what was right, but the defence of capitalism. Manufacturing boom and the military industrial complex were products of an arms race. Holthaus’s New Marshall Plan, American made and led, seems to be wishful thinking.

Van Badham (2021) Quanon and On: A Short and Shocking History of Internet Conspiracy Cults.

‘We elected a meme.’

Conspiracy beliefs eat you from the inside. I know this having been brought up a Roman Catholic. Guardian journalist Van Badham tells the reader her book is about two things, i) the internet, ii) belief. It was personal for her.

‘My interest in the internet’s extremist underworld resulted from my experience of its attacks…I found myself on the very public online radar of misogynists, racists, homophobes and outright fascists. I was the subject of attack videos and hateful memes and subject to constant trolling. In the wake of online attacks came offline too. Parcels of anonymous materials began to appear on my doorstep; my Twitter account was hacked; I was stalked, harassed and attacked in the street. International Neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer published a hit piece with my photograph and a written incitement to run me over in a car.’

I naively believed that at the soon to be President Trump’s rallies the cries of ‘Lock her up! Lock her up!’ was regarding the Democratic Party’s servers being tapped by the Russian state (FSB) and information about her email accounts being passed to followers of the moron’s moron. She’d acted illegally in not securing them, which was a potentially criminal act (but we all know rich people don’t get prosecuted).  Hillary Clinton publicly apologised. But Trump’s followers wanted her locked up for what I thought was a minor misdemeanour. What I didn’t realise was when she ordered pizza, it was a code word for children to be delivered to her and her paedophilic followers, who would rape and eat them. They would also milk them for a substance, a by-product of fear that would give them eternal life. #PizzaGate wasn’t about pizzas. Badham shows that any relationship with badly scripted B-movies and The Matrix is intentional and unintentional.

The $4 million damages awarded against Alex Jones— his defence costs running at $49 million— were the standout tag for public and political theatre. The right-wing profiteer who said the Sandy Hook school shootings were a hoax, and helped propagate the lie using his site InfoWars as an internet megaphone amplifying lie after lie for personal gain was forced to recant.

Jones’s highly priced attorneys made school-boy errors. They released two years’ worth of text messages from his phone to his legal adversaries and then failed to claim client privilege. A counterpoint to Stop the Steal.

Infowars website was making $800 000 a day from merchandising was one of the facts revealed. His net worth $279 million revealed to the parents of a family of a six-year old boy shot and killed and targeted as liars by Jones’s trolling followers.

Alex Jones, like Trump with ‘Stop the Steal’, ran on paranoia and promoted self-serving lies, all the way to the bank, and beyond the Presidency. The show is still running.

Alex Jones was quick to apologise to the bereaved parents of Sandyhook children. He was willing to admit ‘the attack was ‘one hundred percent real’.

Jones also admitted #PizzaGate was a lie. The Ping Pong restaurant run by James Alefantis in Washington, DC, did not have dungeons and basements which ran underground and fed the voracious appetites of Hillary Clinton and her cabal for very young children, who they liked to torture before eating. #PizzaGate: The Bigger Picture on YouTube.

His YouTube messages to his tens of thousands of followers that he was going down there to investigate was also a lie. He’d no intention of visiting. Online activists, digital soldiers, kept the churn going, until Edgar Madison Welch from Salisbury, North Carolina did visit with rifle in hand. He sent a text message to his girlfriend and children. He was ‘Raiding a pedo ring, possibly sacrificing the lives of a few for the lives of many. Standing up against a corrupt regime that kidnaps, tortures and rapes babies and children in our own backyard.’ In other words, Madison Welch was being heroic.

Jones was also forced to apologise for perpetuating lies that a yogurt factory was also a centre for supporting child rapists and the spread of tuberculosis.    

19th August 2020, Joe Biden was announced as the Democratic candidate that would run against Donald J. Trump in the forthcoming election—which he, of course, stole, if you believe the 45th President of the United States and his dim-witted followers.

In the White House, the moron’s moron was asked at a press conference what he thought about QAnon and its followers on social media (and indeed in the White House itself when they invaded it in an attempt to shut down Congress and lynch the Vice President of the disUnited States, Mike Pence).

‘They are people who love their country,’ was the moron’s moron’s reply. Meme speech follows familiar patterns.

When the call came Ashli Babbet and Rosanne Boyland came to Washington, DC, like Maddison Walsh because they saw themselves as heroic. They were willing to die. And they did. Yet they were disowned by QAnon as false-flags. Later to be lionised.

Who or what is QAnon? Van Badham suggests it may have been Steve Bannon. The government insider who played Deepthroat in the deep web of 4chan and 8chan. Or it might have been someone from Breitbart or Cambridge Analytica. Certainly, they had help from Russian FSB. Lieutenant General Flynn is put in the frame. Both received pardons from the then President Trump. Or it may have been lawyers such as Rudy Giuliani. Or it might have been all of them. It didn’t really matter. QAnon went silent after Trump. It helped create a meme as President.

Silicon Valley pioneered computer software to get you clicking on cute cats doing silly things. You became the product. You are part of Big Data sets and A/B testing on server farms.

Amazon, for example, identified me as part of the tens of millions who bought and read Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch. Ninety percent of us finished it.

Amazon knows I’m a sucker for books. I’m also part of the millions of buyers who bought Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Piketty shot down the idea of a trickle-down economics being a shell game using offshore companies to hide profits and help create an ideology that was based on lies. But we lost the propaganda war, by us I mean the poor people that are reliant on wages as their sole source of income and who get to retire when they reach between sixty and sixty-eight (if we’re not dead first). The French economist urged governments to tax the rich. The two leading candidates of the Tory Party vie with each other to go in the other direction. Taxing the poor has always been popular in certain elite groups that don’t eat children.

But Amazon also knows I’m the exception to the rule. Only three percent of those who started Piketty’s book, finished it. I’m glossing over that I forget more than I remember and in an examination I’d fail, but Amazon doesn’t know this. It just quantifies pages turned. And I’m a page turner.

But I’m also part of the growing minority that believes we are living in the end of times. Unchecked global warming will end civilisation in the next fifty years. A YouGov pole at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic found that almost a third of those questioned anticipated a life-changing disaster in their lifetime.

A 2019 survey found that almost half of those polled in US, UK, France and Italy belief that civilisation will collapse in the years to come.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/aug/06/change-is-coming-meet-the-englishman-prepping-for-climate-apocalypse-in-an-old-german-barracks

Conspiracy theories thrive in such an environment of fear. It’s not what you think, but what you feel. Van Badham’s prescient book came out before Alex Jones’s trial. In a way it vindicates her work, but nobody is listening to things they don’t want to hear is the real message of this book. QAnon metamorphoses into something more right-wing and hateful and will go on and on destroying lives. Jones shows were the money and political influence lies. It’s not surprising his phone records have been subpoenaed by Congress investigating the role the 45th President had in insurrection and civil disobedience in Washington, DC.   

Preti Taneja (2017) We That Are Young

Preti Taneja (2017) We That Are Young

Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young was listed as Sunday Times Book of the Year, Guardian Book of the Year, Spectator Book of the year, all in 2017. Since I’ve just read it, it’s also my book of the year for 2020.

When I say it’s Shakespearian in scope, I mean that as a compliment. I’m not really into Shakespeare and find his plays boring. The usual response I get is along the lines of I don’t really understand his work, which is true. I also don’t really understand the Old Testament or Maths, or people that like broccoli, apart from my granddaughter, Tilly, who chews away at the green stuff merrily. He (or they, will the real Shakespeare stand up?) has been responsible for more neologisms in the English language than anybody else. I’m told if I watch his plays I’d appreciate them better. I’ve watched Kenneth Brannagh’s Twelfth Night, with Richard Briers and Caroline Langrishe; Roman Polanski’s Macbeth with Martin Shaw in the title role; Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet, with Mad Max, Mel Gibson as Hamlet and Glen Close as Gertrude his mother. The best version of Hamlet I saw was The Simpsons, with a renegade knight poring poison in Homer’s ear and it finished in less than ten minutes with a sword fight. Homer won. Homer always wins.  I laughed at that, out loud. I’ve seen a few versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and didn’t laugh once. Not even a chuckle, a hint of that could have been funny. I was sitting an exam and stopped writing about the Fool’s role in Shakespeare’s plays because I realized I was bored with it and didn’t have anything worthwhile to say, or regurgitate. That marks me down as not the right type of person. Not properly educated. A laggard fool.    

I found Grigori Kozintsev’s King Lear tolerable mainly for its black-and-white portrayal of the suffering working classes on the bleak moors. ‘Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are, That bide the pelting of the pitiless storm’. Compare and contrast, ‘shacks become a river which rises, rises, rises. It takes only minutes before the shit flows through the [Kashmiri] hovels, bringing with it rats, big as baby monkeys’.

 We all know the story, King Lear dividing his kingdom between his three daughters. The King telling his youngest and favourite daughter, Cordelia, ‘Nothing will come from nothing’. Bend of break and be cut off from parental love and the King’s legacy, which is shared between his other daughters,

Her dying at the end. Lear’s question unanswered, ‘Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life/And thou no breath at all?’ milked to the full, through the ages, by those of thespian mind.

Preti Taneji does something remarkable. She transports King Lear to modern India and makes me love Shakespeare almost as much as the truncated Simpson episode. The story is the same but it is different. If you know your Shakespeare you know what is coming. If you don’t know your Shakespeare you don’t. But the book also makes sense as critique of modern capitalism. Ideology in action.  Self-justification is king. We all know that story all too well. It’s been played out in America and here in Britain.

Taneja begins with the story of Jivan or Jeet, the bastard son of Ranjit returning home from America, where he left his exiled mum and disposable white girlfriend. A first-person account:

‘It’s not about land, it’s about money.’

The United States is on the wane, China on the rise, Indian and new money means the East will overtake the West in the near future. The East is the place to be for an upcoming young man. Devraj’s Company follows the Ford maxim of industrial America. What’s good for Devraj’s company is good for India and vice-versa.

The story of King Lear is also the story of the Earl of Gloucester. Lear has three daughters and no sons.  The law of primogeniture, where the people that own the land, own the people on the land is one remove away. Jivan, like Edmond the bastard son of Gloucester, is at the bottom on a heap. No money. No influence. A gerontocracy in which his brother Edgar has at least a future worth having. Worth stealing. Jeet, the son of Saranjit and his half-brother is himself a thief, but with the complicating factor that he is also gay. In Indian society that puts him lower than a dog, or even a woman.

Mrs Gargi Devraj Grover, granddaughter, daughter, wife, and sister. Her birthday is coming up soon. It’s to coincide with the opening of a new hotel complex in the politically poisonous land of Kashmir.  ‘ Eldest and dutiful daughter of the Devaraj Company, custodian of the keys to her father’s office.’

‘Sin comes in many forms… doubt is one of the worst sins of all.’ Fanaticism and loyalty. Deveraj told her who to marry and when to marry. Her father’s words were law. No one would go against him. Certainly, not the beautiful Radha her sister, whom Gargi mothers, even as a school girl, having no mother of their own. Devraj, in turn, indulges his youngest daughter, his favourite daughter and sends her to England to study. We that are young is a war cry. But  it is Sita, the youngest and most headstrong, that refuses to marry who Devraj tells her, refuses to bow before his mastery. Sita that refuses both the loyalty and the love test.  The stage is set for conflict.