Paul Kingsnorth

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19 December 2007













Seriously: can you tell the difference?

They look the same. They sound the same. They're both ambitious, young media types-turned party leaders. They believe in more or less the same thing. And they both - oh, Jesus - give the same speeches. Have a look at some of these titbits from Clegg's acceptance speech:

" ... Today is about two things: ambition, and change.

It's about renewed ambition for Britain.

Because we want to change politics, and change Britain.

Above all, our politics is broken.

Out of step with people.

Out of step with the modern world.

That is why I have one sole ambition: to change Britain to make it the liberal country the British people want it to be.

I want a new politics: a people's politics ..."

It makes you want to gouge your eyes out with pencils. Verbless sentences. Vapid sentiments. The usual demand for 'change.' This is a style of speaking created and perfected by Blair and his minions and it utterly dominates British politics now. Ming and Gordon can't do it convincingly - which is one reason they were sidelined. It's the politics of the marketing department: dress up your lack of ideas with idea-free words. Sound inspiring whilst saying nothing. It's Orwellian, in the accurate sense of that overused word: deliberately designed, meaningless language 'falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details.' This way you can claim to represent something different whilst representing something precisely the same as you will get from the rest of them: the vapid market worship of our ruling elites.

Already the political journalists and 'commentators' are twittering on about which section of the electorate Clegg and his gang will choose to 'target' at the next election; how they will 'position' themselves; what 'tactics' and 'strategy' they will use to persusde we foolish many to loan them our permission to form part of the cabal that runs this shabby little nation on behalf of the masters of the global economy.

Well fuck them all. This latest feeble charade in the long feeble charade that is our 'democracy' has made my mind up about something I have been considering for a long time. From now on, I am not voting. I will not give these people my permission. I will not take part in this game. I will not participate in their jostling for scraps from the table of power. I will not legitimise them; any of them. That's it. I'm out. Do you what you want, you fresh-faced, power-hungry bland little boys. Enjoy yourselves. Just keep away from me.

Validation

18 December 2007
A pleasant and suprising Christmas gift arrives in the post: news that one of my poems has won a prize. Even better, it has a cheque attached.

Who said art doesn't pay? Now we'll just have to see how it gets on with the pram in the hall.

Our Christmas present to the future

17 December 2007

You might be expecting me to be furious about the outcome of the latest climate change shindig in Bali. Furious about the whole thing, perhaps: 15,000 people fly to this sunny little island from all corners of the world, emitting as much carbon dioxide to do so as Mali emits in a year. They spend a week yakking about the biggest threat to the world since humanity walked on all fours; they get right down to the wire; then they announce ... a 'breakthrough!' There's been a deal! The world's nations have all agreed on an action plan to tackle climate change.

And the plan is ... well, the plan is to agree that at some stage in the future we will set some targets to slightly reduce our emissions at some stage after that, if at all possible.

Obviously this is a waste of everyone's time. But unlike some greenies I am not frothing mad. Because I, you see, expected nothing better. I've written here, and elsewhere, before about my conviction that it is impossible to stop climate change - not because the science says we can't or the technology is not available but simply because the political will - both from our 'leaders' and from us, as members of rich, contented nations - is simply not there. I've taken a bit of stick for this from environmentalists who want me to keep parroting the agreed green line on the climate - we can do it! there's still time! there's a massing global movement! a small group of committed people can change the world ... etc - but everything I've seen since I first said it has only confirmed me in my view.

Have a look, for example, at possibly our best known environmentalist, George Monbiot's, two recent columns - here and here - and ask yourself what conclusion can be drawn from them if you're being really honest with yourself. Look at the Bali 'agreement' in the light of what we know about the science of climate change. Then look at the mounting campaign that has been growing in the last few months, calling for a mass protest across Britain - not in favour of action on climate change, but to demand that garages cut their petrol prices.

Still, I am not depressed. Why? Because I have given up expecting better. I am cultivating an almost Buddhist detachment. I am no longer naive enough to imagine that Hilary Benn can go to Bali and save the word. Not naive enough to imagine that the rich will give up their riches to save the future. Not naive enough to imagine that the corporate/government complex can get us out of a problem it got us into. I have lost faith in the political process. And you know what - it's joyous. I haven't felt so free, so creative - so hopeful - in years. There is nothing for it but to find our own way. To stop expecting The System to deliver. It never can.

What will save us? Who knows if we even need 'saving'? I know it's Christmas, but we don't have to think like fundamentalist Christians all the time - don't have to keep worrying that apocalypse is around the corner. Even if it is, there's nothing Gordon Brown and Greenpeace can do about it. What will save us? Digging our garden, being in love, writing poems, standing up for our inevitable place, belonging, fighting off the encroachment of corporate culture, walking in the woods, knowing who we are, grounding ourselves - and not believing the talk of those who expect the suits and the bankers and the big-picture thinkers to get us out of what they so long ago dragged us into. This system has its own momentum now. This tide will not turn until it is ready. And us? We have to ride it. And you know what - I am beginning to believe that we can.

Have a good Christmas.


The Stars Go Over The Lonely Ocean
Robinson Jeffers, 1941

Unhappy about some far off things
That are not my affair, wandering
Along the coast and up the lean ridges,
I saw in the evening
The stars go over the lonely ocean,
And a black-maned wild boar
Plowing with his snout on Mal Paso Mountain.

The old monster snuffled, "Here are sweet roots,
Fat grubs, slick beetles and sprouted acorns.
The best nation in Europe has fallen,
And that is Finland,
But the stars go over the lonely ocean,"
The old black-bristled boar,
Tearing the sod on Mal Paso Mountain.

"The world's in a bad way, my man,
And bound to be worse before it mends;
Better lie up in the mountain here
Four or five centuries,
While the stars go over the lonely ocean,"
Said the old father of wild pigs,
Plowing the fallow on Mal Paso Mountain.

"Keep clear of the dupes that talk democracy
And the dogs that talk revolution,
Drunk with talk, liars and believers.
I believe in my tusks.
Long live freedom and damn the ideologies,"
Said the gamey black-maned boar
Tusking the turf on Mal Paso Mountain.

post 4

14 December 2007
Poet of the year

Book of the year
England in particular
The Road?

Film of the year

Album of the year

news item of the year

Erratics

11 December 2007
I've been very erratic with the blog of late. Apologies to my loyal fan(s?). Tons of work to get done before Christmas, especially frantic since soon after that I become a father. A generalised panic will then ensue which, it is only fair to warn you, will keep me offline for most if not all of January, as my enforced paternity leave kicks in.

But fear not, for after that things get much more exciting. In February this website will be updated and blogs will start again in earnest. In March, the website for my new book will be launched, with much fanfare and discussions around the nation's dinner tables. And in April the book itself comes out. I won't let you hear the end of this, so don't try missing it.

I'll try and write something else before Christmas. In the meantime, here are three recommended articles from other people, on differing but equally interesting subjects. Here, the always-worth-reading Peter Wilby writes about the media's treatment of the Venezuelan Prez Hugo Chavez. And here, Michael Meacher explains how the government is about to take away more of your democratic rights and give them to Tesco.

Finally, if that's all too much to bear, there is news that you are happily still marginally better than a monkey, and continuing to improve. Hurray for nature.

A sneak preview

4 December 2007
A real blog coming soon, I promise. In the meantime, you can get a sneak preview of my long-awaited (?) new book here. Hell, you can even reserve yourself a copy. It's nearly Christmas. You know you want to.

A Guest Blogger

14 November 2007
Regular readers will know that I've long had a beef with the rabidly anti-environmentalist editorial team over at Spiked magazine.

But I thought it was about time we tried to build bridges.
So today this blog features its very first guest blogger - Brendan O'Neill, editor of Spiked, who writes here in a personal capacity.


Hi, I'm Brendan O'Neill - and you are a wanker.

That's a fact - an empirical one. Whether you like it or not.

Let me explain. Not that I need to explain myself to you people. But let me do it anyway because, God knows, you need to be enlightened.

Not that there is a God. And here's why.

One fine day, a long, long time ago, a fish crawled out of a swamp. Not long after that, the fish became a monkey.

Do I need to tell you what happened next?

That's right - the monkey became you. And me. And that's when it all really kicked off. Between us we did great things. Wrote the plays of Shakespeare. Built loads of cool machines. Started tonnes of fuck off big wars. Chopped down loads of crappy forests full of cunty animals and replaced them with roads and shit hot things like that. You and me - we're the fucking greatest. There's nothing we can't do. And believe me, my friends - we haven't even started yet.

But you don't believe me, do you? And that's the whole problem.

Because you people are scared. You look at the grand sweep of human progress, and instead of saying 'Bring it on!', you say 'Eeew! it's big and scary! I'm going back under the blanket with my cup of fucking cocoa!'

Poofters. The lot of you.

Progress, you see, is under threat. It's under threat from you. We've got tonnes of stuff that could make the world even cooler. We could genetically modify ourselves, for instance. I could make myself three mouths, so I could express three times as many groovily controversial opinions at once. You could get yourself a spine (ha!) We could grow tonnes more food to feed poor people so they could get rich like me, which everyone knows is better. We could kill all the fucking flies and shit that sting us. We could build flying cars and warp drives, so we could go off to other planets like Captain Picard. All of this is possible.

Or it would be - if you'd all just die.

Because you lot hate progress, don't you? You hate progress and you hate freedom. Like big, fat, crippled, spastic Luddite elephants, there's nothing you won't do to impede it. 'Climate change!' you whine. 'Oooh, trees and animals!' you squeal. 'Overfishing!' Overfishing? What's that? Never heard of it. Twats.

The reality is, these are all just excuses. Your real agenda is clear for all to see. You hate progress, and machines and freedom and modernity. Most of all, you hate people. You want to kill them all, don't you? Say it. Go on: say it. It's what you're thinking. You're all like that schoolkid who just shot up all his mates in Finland. His mum was an 'environmentalist.' Did you know that? Or did the eco-liberal media keep it from you? Perhaps they didn't tell you that Hitler was a vegetarian either. It's pretty obvious what that means, isn't it? Hmm?

You may not like hearing it, my friends - but it's an empirical fact.

Now there's something you don't see every day

1 November 2007
Yeterday, a Liberal Democrat said something exciting. How often do you get to write a sentence like that?

Sorry, I'm being facetious. Sorry especially to Nick Clegg, Lib Dem leaderhsip contender who, in a bid to put some clear yellowish water between him and David Cameron/Chris Huhne made an excitingly radical statement yesterday on ID cards. Not only would his party oppose them, he said, but if the Labour government introduced them, he would refuse to provide information for the database, even though doing so would be illegal. Yes, you heard that right: potential party leader encourages civil disobedience.

ID cards are an evil scam. If Mr Clegg wins, and if this turns out to be any more than a piece of sneaky positioning for the hustings, I might even vote for him. It's the first interesting thing I've heard from a Westminster politican in quite some time.

More choice! Oooh, I can't wait!

31 October 2007
There will come a time when the debate about devolution for England catches fire and refuses to go away. I can feel it approaching. In the meantime, following my last post, some interesting discussion about the forthcoming break-up of the union (hurray) can be found here and here.

In the meantime, we're presented today with some evidence of why we desperately need more political power at local level. Preliminary findings from an ongoing report by the Competition Commission into the power of supermarkets have redefined the word 'spineless'. Or perhaps the phrase 'thoroughly captured by corporate interests.' Whilst recognising a few little problems, like superstores shitting on farmers from a great height, for example, the report thinks things are generally looking pretty good in the grocery trade. Small shops aren't really threatened by Tesco et al, and 'consumers' are having a great old time of it. There are no monopolies; just lots of fairness and fine ready meals.

The major problem we have, in fact, is that there aren't enough supermarkets. Yes, you heard right. The way to deal with the dominance of Tesco is to open up lots more branches of Sainsbury and Asda. You see the twisted logic.

When I was in the USA a few years back, I met people who were using local democracy to rein in superstores and multinationals. I visited towns which had changed local laws to limit the percentage of retail trade which the chains were permitted to have. Here's one thing more devolved power could do for us: give us the ability to shape our local economies around the nation, rather than having them shaped in Westminster and the Tesco boardroom. All we need now is a politician brave enough to suggest it.

England for the English

28 October 2007
This is getting worrying. Fresh on the heels of their really rather excellent Quality of Life policy review, which contained some seriously interesting thinking about green issues in British politics, the Tories are giving me another reason to take them seriously. Where will it end?

This time it's their proposal, announced yesterday, to ensure that only English MPs can vote on English matters in the House of Commons. Sounds like traditional Tory Little Englandism? Not so. Here's why.

The English are uniquely ill-served by post-1997 British democracy.
The Scottish now have a Parliament, with elected members, a large budget and significant powers to run their own nation in their own way. The Welsh have the same to a lesser extent, as does Northern Ireland. And a good thing too - democratic devolution is always welcome. But all of these nations also have representatives in the British Parliament at Westminster, where Scottish and Welsh MPs can make decisions about the future of England to which they will never have to answer to their constituents ' though English MPs cannot do the same in those countries.

Thus Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs at
Westminster can vote, and have done, to impose controversial policies such as university tuition fees or foundation hospitals on the English which their constituents at home will not have to suffer and for which they will not be answerable at the ballot-box.

England is the only British nation without any form of democratic devolution. It is the only nation in Europe without its own parliament or government. It has fewer MPs per head of population than the other British nations, and receives less money per head from the treasury than either Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The British government has ministers for Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland ' despite devolution ' but no minister for England. The Scottish enjoy privileges, from free university education to a lack of academy schools, which the English can only dream of but for which the English have to pay. Meanwhile, Scottish MPs can ensure the government gets its way in denying those things to us south of the border.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not being anti-Scottish, Good luck to them. Scotland seems an exciting place to be these days, partly due to its renewed sense of nationhood. All I'm asking is for the same thing. England remains subsumed within 'Britain' while the other nations forge their own way. This is making a lot of people angry, across the political spectrum. Legendary Labour MP Tam Dalyell, who first invented this so-called 'West Lothian question' back in the 1970s, says that the unfairness of the political settlement since devolution is causing
'smouldering and growing concern in England, not least amongst some English Labour MPs.' This may be why almost 70% of English people - including me - now support the creation of a fully-fledged English Parliament, to square the circle created by devolution. Alex Salmond of the SNP supports us, by the way. There's a man who know which side his bread is buttered.

What's the government's reaction to this? They scorn it at every opportunity. They even resort, without irony, to the argument the Tories used when they opposed setting up the Scottish Parliament in the first place - that it will 'break up the union.' To which I reply: maybe it will. And if that's what the union's people want, that's what they should get. The Labour Party is dominated by Scots, and knows damn well that if the injustices of the British constitution are redressed, their power will be reduced. They know which side their bread is buttered too. Our job is to stop the buggers eating it. They did buy it with our money, after all.

Bring me my hoe of burning gold

28 October 2007
A recent opinion poll, carried out by a major market research organisation, confirms that 79.7 percent of my readers are in danger of imminently slashing their wrists if I don't stop writing about the looming end of the world and our total inability to do anything about it. Comments offered to the pollster included: 'I thought greens were supposed to be mindlessly optimistic, but he's just depressing'; 'If I wanted wall-to-wall hopelessness I'd go and read a Booker Prize winner' and 'I preferred it when he used to write about carrots.'

Of course, if I were a true artist I'd say 'fuck the lot of you.' What do you think this is, the Labour Party? On this blog we don't base our political opinions on the latest here-today prejudices of the lowing masses. We are timeless and brave and true and uncompromisingly unread.

On the other hand, I'm feeling a bit vulnerable today. And since yesterday I went to my allotment, where I dug up beetroot and turned it into soup, took delivery of twenty bags of composted horse poo and sowed a few lines of peas, I thought I might write about that today, to cheer you all up and stop you from leaving forever. That, I thought, would be a good plan.

But then I did a stupid thing: I bought the Observer. Regular readers will remember me vowing fiercely never to do this again. I should have stuck to my promise. I meant to. But I was weak, reader: I wavered, just for a second, and now all my good intentions are wrecked, and my soul poisoned beyond redemption.

Because on page 56 of the Observer magazine, I found this:


Look at these cunts. Just look at them. In case it's not clear, these morons are modelling this season's fucking look down on the allotment. Mr Dreamy-Thom-Yorke-alike on the left has a 55 quid jacket. Mr I-love-myself-stupid-hair next to him has spent 99 quid on a 'luxury Italian tweed wool coat' in which he can pose moodily on a stepladder. The bloke with the dodgy wig at the front is wearing 'vintage sand-blasted jeans.'

What the hell is going on here? I go to my allotment to get away from self-regarding wankers like this. It's a place of mud and rain and digging and sweat and recycling and reality. Half the point of allotments is that the slugs, sheds, water butts and grumpy old men make them the kind of place where Shoreditch wankers like this fear to tread. One of the very last places in modern Britain that is not ruled by the arseheaded look-at-me gastropub classes. And now they're here! They're coming for us! Is nowhere safe? Nowhere?!

Maybe if I lock myself in my shed they won't be able to get me. It's either that or I just give in to my urges and have at them violently with a mattock. See what that does to your Italian wool double breasted coat, scarf boy. So help me God.

Onward to our glorious future

23 October 2007




















The Campaign to Protect Rural England has just released a series of 'intrusion maps', which lay out in detail how noise and visual pollution have spread across England over the last forty years. They're very telling and (sorry) depressing too; these two show the change between the early 1960s and 2006. Visit their website and you can see more variations, including detail of the spread of visual and aural pollution where you live.

It would be nice to think that this kind of thing would be a wake-up call, wouldn't it? Today, though, we are also informed that the population of Britain is set to increase by ten million by 2031; with all the associated increases in roads, houses, power lines, windfarms, power stations and other human industrial detritus that this will bring. And in order to make it easier to foist these things on us, for our own good, the government is currently building up to piloting a new Planning Bill through parliament, which will remove much of what meagre say we have over such things.

What can we do about this? Well, in the case of the Planning Bill you can at least object to your MP, which may do some small good. Overall, though, unless you have a good scheme for tackling the human growth obsession, and a workable way of making it happen, not a lot. Other than move to the margins, grow your own vegetables, create an off-grid energy source and enjoy yourself while the rest of them go insane in the name of Progress. That's my plan, anyway.

Inhumanity is good for you

18 October 2007

My post on climate change and the human future (see below) has generated some appreciations and also some increasingly heated debates (involving me, I must admit: I just can't keep my mouth shut.) It's interesting how defensive people can get when humanity as a mass is criticised. I've already been called a misanthrope, and informed that loving humanity is my duty, whether or not that love is deserved. I've even been informed that if I don't love humanity (unconditionally, it seems) then I can't love anything else. Even my dog.

All of which has made me determine to look further into the ideas surrounding deep ecology, which I'm increasingly convinced are quite desperately needed. For the record, I don't hate humanity. But I don't love it either. I love individual humans, but not 'humanity'. When I am accused of preferring trees to people, my answer is always the same: it depends on the tree. And on the people.

Meanwhile, here is my favourite poet, and pioneer of deep ecology's predecessor, 'inhumanism', Robinson Jeffers, with an appropriate verse:


Passenger Pigeons

...Respect humanity, Death, these
shameless black eyes of yours,
It is not necessary to take all at once - besides that,
you cannot do it, we are too powerful,
We are men, not pigeons; you may take the old, the useless
and helpless, the cancer-bitten and the tender young,
But the human race has still history to make. For look - look now
At our achievements: we have bridled the cloud-leaper lightning,
a lion whipped by a man, to carry our messages
And work our will, we have snatched the thunderbolt
Out of God's hands. Ha? That was little and last year -
for now we have taken
The primal powers, creation and annihilation; we make
new elements, such as God never saw,
We can explode atoms and annul the fragments, nothing left
but pure energy, we shall use it
In peace and war - "Very clever," he answered in his thin piping voice,
Cruel and a eunuch.
Roll those idiot black eyes of yours
On the field-beats, not on intelligent man,
We are not in your order. You watched the dinosaurs
Grow into horror: they had been little elves in the ditches
and presently became enormous with leaping flanks
And tearing teeth, plated with armor, nothing could
stand against them, nothing but you,
Death, and they died. You watched the sabre-tooth tigers
Develop those huge fangs, unnecessary as our sciences,
and presently they died. You have their bones
In the oil-pits and layer rock, you will not have ours.
With pain and wonder and labor we have bought intelligence.
We have minds like the tusks of those forgotten tigers,
hypertrophied and terrible,
We have counted the stars and half-understood them,
we have watched the farther galaxies fleeing away
from us, wild herds
Of panic horses - or a trick of distance deceived by the prism -
we outfly falcons and eagles and meteors,
Faster than sound, higher than the nourishing air;
we have enormous privilege, we do not fear you,
We have invented the jet-plane and the death-bomb
and the cross of Christ - "Oh," he said, "surely
You'll live forever" - grinning like a skull, covering his mouth
with his hand - "What could exterminate you?"

Well, that's a relief

17 October 2007
There is some justice after all.

On another subject entirely, this year's Best Green Bloggers list has popped up again, and is well worth a look. There are some good things to be found in there. I'm down from last year's second place to a pathetic eighth, so obviously I'm losing my touch. But winner Alice is a friend of mine so that's plenty of compensation.

Give the man a wooden spoon

16 October 2007

Tonight, the winner of the Man Booker Prize is announced. I haven't read any of the books on the shortlist, but I don't see why this should stop me mouthing off about it. This is a blog, after all: I don't have to find out what I'm talking about before I talk about it. That would defeat the whole point of the internet.

Anyway, I'm not going to mouth off about the books. I'm just going to mouth off about Ian McEwan. His novel(la?) On Chesil Beach is the firm favourite, apparently. Judging from past experience this probably means it won't win. I certainly hope not, because McEwan is a dull, pompous and utterly uninteresting ass, whose elevation to Grand Old Man of English writing is either a sad reflection on the current state of literature in Britain or an even sadder reflection on the sheeplike mentality of the critics and reviewers whose job it is to plug it.

Like I say, I haven't read On Chesil Beach, but I would be willing to bet that it's pretty much like many of his other books, an inexplicable number of which I have. Much of this was due, in my defence, to a period I spent a couple of years ago locked up in a shack on a remote Scottish loch, writing a novel of my own (it wasn't published, incidentally, but don't go reading anything into that. Obviously I am a deeply bitter human being, but that's not what makes me loathe McEwan. That's all down to him). Virtually the only books in the place were McEwan novels, so I was effectively forced to read them, especially as there was no electricity.

And God, they were tedious. I got through A Child In Time, Atonement and Enduring Love, and then had to stop before I chewed my own head off. Why did I hate them? Let me try and explain.

For a start, every one has the same plot. A dull, smug, upper middle class, upper middle-aged wine-drinking intellectual from the south east of England has his (it's always a him) remarkably uninteresting life turned upside down by a single, horrific incident ' balloon accident, rape-that-wasn't, child abduction, hands chewed off by rabid urban wolverines, etc. Everything gets thrown up in the air. Then we spend the rest of the book watching where the pieces land.

Sounds like it could be quite interesting, doesn't it? Well, it never is. Everything is filtered through the ponderous, underwrought and spectacularly unspectacular mind of the narrator, who is clearly exactly like his hero in almost every respect. Sometimes we are treated to his middle of the road political opinions, or his middle of the road opinions on art or sex. What we really want ' or I do, anyway ' is to see his smugness punctured. But this never happens, and after a while you realise that this is because McEwan doesn't think his hero is smug. There's no unreliable narrator here, or antihero. Nothing interesting at all, in fact. McEwan actually likes the dullards he puts before us.

And he has nothing ' nothing at all ' to say. This is what is so remarkable. Read any of the reviews of his novels in any of the literary mags or newspapers and you'll find a remarkably similar line being churned out: McEwan lays bare the unpredictability that lies beneath the surface of middle class life; McEwan quietly peels away the everyday to reveal profundities; McEwan is shocking, canny, forensic in his prose, unflashy; some kind of tweedy, speccy English Hemingway.

Well, balls. There are two things going on here. Firstly, English literature currently lacks a Father Figure. It always needs one, for some reason, and unfortunately none of the Young Turks of the eighties has grown into a suitable candidate. Amis: hasn't written good novel since Money. Rushdie: too smug. Barnes: who? The crop of suitable middle-aged men is tiny. McEwan is about the only one left who still regularly writes stuff. Thus he has been crowned by default: the John Major of English letters. And the more people say his stuff is great, the more it seems necessary to find greatness in it, for fear of being left behind.

Secondly, it is surely no coincidence that most reviewers and critics are upper middle class, upper middle-aged wine-drinking intellectuals from the south east of England. They are genuinely fascinated by the fate of McEwan's slightly seedy, bookish and spectacularly tedious middle-aged heroes. I wonder why? Could this identification have anything to do with the deification of this tiresome man?

Something tells me it does. Something tells me, too, that we really need to get this over with as soon as possible, so a new generation of actually interesting novelists can replace McEwan and his overrated ilk. Please, God, just don't let it take too long.

Climate change is your friend

12 October 2007
For a while I've been turning over a heretical idea in my head. It really annoys some of my environmentalist friends; though it intrigues some of them at the same time. Responses to my last post brought it up again somewhere in the recesses of my mind, so I thought I'd lay it out here, and annoy you too.

It goes like this. I am an environmentalist. These days, this is a pretty meaningless claim, but I've been one since well before the days when it was fashionable to eat organic bruschetta or hire an allotment for a week or read Observer magazine articles about this season's eco-handbags. So I'm sticking with it. There are many kinds of environmentalist, though. These days, with even the Chairman of BP claiming to be 'sustainable', much of what passes for 'environmentalism' is nothing of the kind. Seven long years ago I wrote that the green movement was in danger of losing its way, precisely because it had become so popular, and it's only got worse since then.

Environmentalism used to be a radical position. In the early days, it was a mission to save the rest of the natural world from the ravages of one especially destructive and highly populous species - us. These were the days of the deep greens. My early green politics was born in the cradle of the Earth First! movement in the early 1990s. Hearing their slogan - 'no compromise in defence of Mother Earth' - still makes me want to burn down airports and tip sugar into the fuel tanks of bulldozers. Deep green politics sees the human race as simply one part of the natural order, no more or less important than the rest of it. We have a moral duty to our fellow inhabitants of the Earth, and a spiritual and practical duty to ourselves to live as part of the natural world, not to seek to divorce ourselves from it. Furthermore, deep greens have little interest in conventional political divides. The old human battle between right and left is not their business. The problem, as they see it, is not capitalism or communism, but industrialism - the overarching ideology to which most people subscribe, however they would like the cake divided.

These days, the deep greens are in retreat. The very success of environmentalism has allowed their wan cousins, the light greens, to take over the debate. The light greens believe that environmentalism is all about making human society more 'sustainable.' They're practical people. They believe that renegotiating our relationship with the rest of nature is futile and idealistic. They see humanity as 'stewards' of the planet, self-evidently its most important inhabitants. Environmentalism, for the light greens, is a utilitarian exercise. It's not about morality or beauty or philosophy; it's about clean technology, sites of special scientific interest and the acceptance of some regrettably necessary environmental degradation in the name of human progress. Most light greens see environmentalism as part of left wing politics, and believe that reforming the existing order can 'save the planet.'

You'll have guessed which side I'm on, at least in theory. In reality, life is more complex, and I'm probably a mixture of deep and light, depending on my mood and whether I need to use my computer or earn some money. We all have to live in the world. Where the heresy comes in, though, is on the topic of climate change.

Climate change, as we know, is A Bad Thing. If the planet gets too hot, everything will tip out of balance. Lots of species could die, and lots of people. Human civilisation will be turned upside down. It's a massive threat and we've got to stop it.

Being a human, and especially a human who is about to have a child, the idea of mass human death is not especially appealing. I'd quite like to stop that happening. I'd also do pretty much anything to prevent even more destruction of the natural world. Most people would agree, which is why preventing climate change is now the top priority of greens everywhere, and plenty of other people too.

But - and this is the unpopular bit - what if we're barking up the wrong tree? What if climate change, rather than being the planet's nemesis, could actually be its saviour?

From a deep green point of view, I think there's something to be said for this argument. Consider: the greatest threat to the health of the natural world is human beings. The human economy is vastly destructive. Rainforests are falling as you read this, fish stocks diminishing, soil being eroded, artificial chemicals pumped into the atmosphere, species going extinct every week. No amount of reformist 'sustainablity' is going to do much about this. There are six billion specimens of homo sapiens roaming about the place, and there will be 9 billion within a few decades. Each of these humans consumes more resources as the economy grows and wants are created to fuel that growth. Our appetites have always been enormous, and we are nowhere near sated yet.

What does climate change add to this mix? Well, it puts a very large spanner firmly in the human works. If it really kicks off it will wreck human agriculture, slow or stall the industrial economy and maybe even plunge us into a new dark age. It will, in other words, stop in its tracks the greatest threat to life on Earth.

There are several problems with this argument, of course. One is that climate change, as well as giving us a kicking, will also do the same to many other species and ecosystems. It will also cause mass human misery. On the other hand, consider what the world would look like if we were successful in stopping it. There would be no stopping us. As industrialism roared on, those ecosystems would get it in the neck anyway, just as they do every day now. And there's no more effective way to make the poor miserable than industrial capitalism.

Perhaps, then, we should all be letting climate change happen. Maybe we should be campaigning in favour of it. It's not as if, realistically, we can actually stop it in any case. If we are truly deep green, perhaps we should see it as the reckoning that humanity has long deserved, and see our desperation to stop it as a manifestation of the human ego . Or perhaps that's a bit Old Testament. Maybe it's just Gaia doing its thing. Either way, it's worth asking which will actually defend Mother Earth most effectively: saving human civilisation, or watching it go under. It's a happy thought, I know. But who said environmentalism was fun?

Fun with political reality

11 October 2007

In any given week, many things happen which make me think. Last week, for example, I asked myself a number of questions about British politics. Did David Cameron really make that speech without any prompting? If so, is he some kind of robot, or do they just teach you that sort of thing at Eton? Why does Gordon Brown do that weird thing with his mouth in between sentences? Am I the only one who's noticed? I was mulling away for hours.

But then a couple of things happened which actually did ignite a spark of interest in my hollowed-out husk of a soul. Firstly, the Tory Party promised that middle class people wouldn't have to pay inheritance tax if they got elected. Then, in an entirely unrelated development, a gaggle of heroic young activists occupied the domestic flights terminal at Manchester airport, to protest about short haul flights and their impact on the climate.

In my mind, if nowhere else, these two developments are related, because of what they tell us about politics and about the green movement. Greens, you see, like to believe that they are pretty high-minded people. Fair enough: most of them are. Trying going out for a steak and a fag with a couple of them if you want to see my point viciously and rather boringly proven. Fatally, though, many greenies like to think that the public as a whole are quite high-minded too. They think that, if only Joe and Jo Public were given all the available information about our ongoing rape of the planet, they would choose to do something about it. Of course they would: who wouldn't? We're all in this together, and we all want to do good. We have a duty to leave a cleaner planet for the sake of our children. Everybody loves fluffy polar bears. Etc.

Politicians, on the other hand, know this is drivel. Ask Joe and Jo in an opinion poll if they'd pay more taxes to save the climate and they say yes. Ask them to actually pay the taxes and they ring up daytime talk radio shows and call you a communist. Then they vote for someone else. Someone like George Osborne, perhaps. No sooner had the shadow chancellor dangled a bunch of banknotes in front of the already well-stuffed faces of the bourgeoisie than they all decided he wasn't such a bad chap after all. The Tories gained six points in the opinion polls.

Meanwhile, over in Manchester, excitable youngsters in dreadlocks were blockading the check-in desks to stop said well-stuffed bourgeoisie hopping from the midlands to the City on a plane. They have the right idea, of course (the youngsters, not the passengers). Flying halfway across England marks you out as a moron of the worst kind. You shouldn't be blockaded; you should be fed into a jet engine running at full power. Unfortunately, we live in a democracy: if there are enough morons, they get to run things. Blockading them is great fun, but it won't stop them flying. It's more likely to make them hate you and refuse to listen to anything you say about anything. If you want to get people to do things, as the Tories have belatedly rediscovered after months of promising to be nice to butterflies in exchange for votes, you have to offer them money.

Most people you see, are not high-minded. They do what's easiest and what they like doing and what they can afford to do. That's the way it's always been. Trouble is, most of us can afford, these days, to contribute to the ongoing death throes of the global ecosystem, as a 'lifestyle choice'. We don't do it on purpose; it's just a side-effect of getting what we want. I'm all for D-locks and angry slogans. I'm all for giving people information about the impacts of their actions, too. I just don't expect it to change their actions much. They're not really that interested. I've learned that one the hard way. Sometimes I wish I hadn't.

Kingsnorth is filthy

10 October 2007

Well, that put me in my place

7 October 2007
I'm back from three weeks in the northern hills. I have to make some last-minute changes to my book before yesterday, but I'll write something brilliantly insightful here later this week to make up for my absence.

It'll be worth waiting for, though. After all, this is the 163rd best political blog in the country. That's two behind Peter Hitchens but 87 ahead of Jeffrey Archer. Behold: the bare statistics of my life.

Moving up country

10 September 2007
Well isn't that typical? A day after writing a long essay on the iniquities of the media I come across a really good article in the Guardian. It's by the often-interesting Madeleine Bunting, and it's about why the issue of human over-population is both crucial and bizarrely ignored by today's greens. Too right, in my view. Have a look at some of the comments underneath it for a really good insight into why we really are all doomed.


And with that, I'm off on holiday for three weeks. Never have I needed one more. See you in October.

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