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Climate Change – a penny drops for me 21/07/2021

Posted by chrisdshaw in Climate Change.
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Sometimes all it takes is a single image to transform one’s thinking. Although it is too early to tell- I saw it only last night- the impact was so profound I can’t help but feel it is a turning point for me. I heard an audible gasp from my wife. After countless reports on television and the press for most of my life, it was this image that did it for me.

On ITV’s News at Ten a report of the devastating real time consequences of climate change ended with coverage of Prince Charles’s visit to the Scilly Isles, situated 45 miles south west of the coast of Cornwall. The islands are at greater risk from rising sea levels than any other place on the British Isles. The image in question was of primary school children singing song, “Now is the time, for us to make the world green”. Children who are the same age as my own. With the responsibility of parenthood I feel I have no choice but to commit to an environmentally sustainable future. I have always been good about recycling, keeping travel to a minimum and be “aware” but that is no longer enough. Environmental activism needs to be front and centre of everything I and my generation to, to ensure a future for our children.

Ever since the late 1980s I have been aware of the impending disaster of Climate Change, or “The Greenhouse Effect”. I read Ben Elton’s Stark, about a group of billionaires who were planning to squeeze the last resources and of Earth, and leave a dying planet on enough space rockets for the privileged few. How prescient. The 1990s was a gloriously hedonistic carefree and selfish decade where nothing was taken seriously except instant gratification, a mood which chimed with my own. In 2001 my family celebrated my father’s sixtieth birthday at a beautiful island resort in Malaysia. On one of the days we chartered a boat for a day trip which included some fishing. The fisherman on the boat said that changes in the water temperature were having a slight but perceptable impact on fishing stocks.

Two years later western Europe experienced an unprecedented heatwave with record high temperatures in most countries. France, which was the worst affected, experienced eight consecutive days of temperatures above 40C, leading to just under 15,000, mostly elderly, deaths from heat exhaustion. It was the first lethal weather event attributed to climate change in Europe. Climatologists claimed that weather events like these would become more frequent and that hitherto unheard of temperatures of 100F (38C) in London could occur every five to ten years in twenty years time, if climate models were accurate.

It is no longer a situation we need to anticipate. Extreme weather events are happening everywhere at a greater scale and frequency than models predicted. We have achieved lift-off. Bush fires that torched much of Victoria and New South Wales in January 2020, and the largest wildfires in California’s history followed six months later. Greater attention is paid to Australia and the US by the UK media so these event are what have registered. Overlooked by many people in the UK in recent years have been the annual tundra and forest fires in Siberia, ongoing extreme droughts in South American and Southern Africa as well as heat records being broken everywhere, particularly in polar regions.

2021 seems more significant, in terms of the extremity of the weather, the number of records being broken, and the impact of COVID on people’s perception of what an unfolding global disaster looks and feels like. Last night’s Scilly Isles report, which followed stories about a drought producing famine in Madagascar caused entirely by climate change, devastating floods in Europe and China and terrifying temperatures in Western US, really had the impact it intended on me.

What next? Governments are behind in actioning targets. A slew of announcements this year from the EU, US and UK to commit to aggressive goals by the end of this decade are not being matched by the action needed now to meet them. The US political system is in gridlock, with an increasingly unhinged Republican party seemingly unwilling to partake in policy making, unless you include dismantling democracy. The EU’s recent announcements on carbon reduction have been met with opposition by national governments. As for the UK, a country that has been mismanaged, abused, dissolved into an Orwellian post-truth dystopia, Prime Minister Johnson presiding over the COP20 summit in Glasgow later this year fills every right-minded human on the planet with trepidation. His sociopathic disregard for his country, the planet, and every other human being around him, including close family members, does not

There are signs of hope, however. Climate change is putting a question mark of US food security. China has experienced, in the last few days, a one in 10,000 year rainfall and flooding disaster. India is looking nervously at it’s long term viability with shrinking glaciers as a source of water supply. The need for the world to stand up and take notice has been great. A great rupture in our climate is now taking place and countries can no longer ignore it. If the US, China, India and the EU can come to some agreement on the need for action, Johnson will be the irrelevance he so deeply deserve. For the sake of my children, and everyone else’s, I hope he is.

Where are we now? 02/03/2021

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A year ago today Boris Johnson attended his first COBRA (Civil Contingencies) meeting to discuss the threat of COVID 19, having missed the previous five meetings. A year ago yesterday Johnson and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds announced their engagement and her pregnancy. This personal news is perhaps the last demonstration our Prime Minister could give of frivolous dead cat news before the impact of the global pandemic was unavoidable. As I write this, we have just experienced a glorious spell of spring sunshine, chilly but cloudless and reminiscent of the eerily perfect weather the UK enjoyed for two months from the start of the first lockdown in mid March. This recent spell marked the end for many the most tedious, gut-wrenching, gloomy, scary winter any of us can remember. After an additional 80,000 COVID deaths in the UK, occurring from November and peaking at 1,500 a day in January, the announcement of a roadmap completely ending of lockdown restrictions culminating in late June has combined with the serotonin of the first strength of spring sun to lighten everyone’s mood.

What a year it has been. As I haven’t posted anything in a while, and my writing skills are rusty- to put it kindly- I am not about to provide a chapter and verse review of the year. I may in subsequent posts. There are a number of societal factors, such as income inequality, the digital divide, and the role of ethnicity in the pandemic I would like to deal with separately. Similarly, other political factors- such as the dissolution of the British identity and the inevitable break up of the UK, have been accelerated by COVID, which I’d like to analyse. Brexit, the politicisation of central banks, and the return of inflation- issues and trends that were well on their way before the pandemic- will also be covered separately. Almost nothing in society has been unscathed by COVID. Now that, god willing, the immediate health crisis looks to be ending the collateral damage and permanent change in society will become is increasingly apparent. How will we respond? Are the 2020s a decade of much needed hope and recovery. I hope so, as the last decade has not been one of the best- the last five have been a complete horror show. The darkest hour precedes the dawn? I used that sentence back in May and look where it got me.

Working from home- what else? 20/05/2020

Posted by chrisdshaw in COVID19.
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My employer, a multi-national media and technology company, has announced that all employees will be continuing to work from home until 1st October. The UK Government expects my five year old daughter to return to school on 1st June. She in Reception, a year group that does not go to school in the USA and a number of European schools, among others. What is the disconnect?

From my understanding, unless schools reopen most of the economy cannot restart as parents are unable to return to work. I am one of the fortunate white collar workers whose tech-friendly companies is able to reorientate its workforce seamlessly to work from home with no tangible loss of service. From my experience I have first world problems- fewer new business opportunities, aiming to “make” rather than “smash” targets, hoping life will be OK in 2020, before planning for an exciting 2021 of new business opportunities for tech innovation. I know I’m in a small minority of the lucky. This pandemic is still an incomprehensible economy and life wrecker. At this time we really don’t know the consequences.

In the meantime the UK Government insists all is good if only the “moaning minnys” stopped their noise. All countries are suffering and still dealing with it with the seriousness it deserves. The notable exceptions are the ones whose infection rates are the worst- Brazil, Russia, the UK and the US- all of whom have leaders are strikingly similar in their approach to expertise and idea of the greater good.

We received an email from our Infant School Head Teacher to ask about our intentions about sending our youngest daughter to school. The tone was desperate- they were obviously in no way able to handle a return for all children recommended by the Government (Reception and Year 1), 120 out of the usual 180 children but trying to implement impossible social distancing levels. They have been given very little guidance by the Government. It looks like this plan is already falling apart. Liverpool, Manchester and other local authorities in the north of England have announced they will not authorise a restart of school, not to mention Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales who have separate policies. A botched reopening will not bode well for trust in government at at a crucial time.

My daughters will stay at home for the rest of the term. I’m staying home for the rest of the year. We’re alright Jack. The rest of the country?  Not so much. The Government is not protecting them- its first and most important responsibility. The psychopaths grifters in charge are doing the one thing they know what to do- looking after themselves. We will hold them and the individuals until justice is served, if it kills us. The darkest hour precedes the dawn.

The most dangerous moment so far 13/05/2020

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I’m old enough to remember when time progressed in a broadly linear fashion. It was pretty easy remember the day of the week, if not necessarily the day- the opposite applied once a year between Christmas and New Year. The spacetime continuum ruptured in mid March with the lockdown. Britain’s favourite manic depressive Stephen Fry was asked at the start of the lockdown what would be the greatest change people would notice. He said that time would take on a new dimension. He was absolutely right. Time has never been the same since. The last two weeks in March seemed like an eternity. April lasted three days.

It is incredible to think that it was less than two weeks ago when we looked on in horror at the prospect of many US states ending the lockdown without any significant fall in deaths or cases. What kind of death cult had taken over such a previously stable functioning democracy that would lead to governors willing to sacrifice the lives of their citizens to restart the economy or worse- a tweet of approval from Trump? I heard reports of a type of peer pressure one associates with school about being bold, strong and needing to shed paranoia about a virus everyone was sicking of hearing about.

Fast forward to to this week and the UK finds itself in a semi-lifting of a mild lockdown while death rates remain stubbornly high. Criminally confusing messages by Johnson on Sunday 10th May in an address to the nation, and then a statement in the Commons the following day was series of contradictory messages about easing, but with the main message: if you cannot work from home, you need to go to work. Shops are opening, business are back and while there is serious unease about the lack of clarity from the Government about what is permissible there is a palpable sense of relief that “we are all returning back to normal”. Reception year pupils are due to return to school on 1 June, and rightwing newspaper columnists are rounding on “lazy school teachers” voicing concerns about their public safety. You can feel the mood is a lot closer to the US mood of elation and frustration with people who were still acting like this was, oh I don’t know, the most terrifying public health emergency we have faced in a century. I am largely shielded from this, as my company has made clear that we will most likely be working from home for many months yet. Most of my friends are in the same boat. Our youngest daughter will not be returning to school under any circumstances until the next academic year and we will continue to shield ourselves, particular against an almost inevitable stronger and more deadly second wave in the next month or so. We are lucky to be in our socio-economic group. Many many others are not. An avoidable massacre looks like to take place, with the casualties disproportionately made up of the poorer and more vulnerable in society.

Johnson back in No 10 27/04/2020

Posted by chrisdshaw in COVID19, Domestic Politics.
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Three weeks since the last post in which Boris Johnson was admitted to Intensive Care with COVID 19. It was a deeply unsettling moment. We are now in a new normal. Anything becomes normal given time. The Government has consistently failed to show transparency in its strategy, responsibility in (the many) problems that have arisen in managing the crisis, and trustworthiness. Dominic  Cummings’ return to No 10 has been felt with the BBC being whipped into line, and a capitalisation of Johnson’s illness. The coming tsunami of blame and anger is being carefully diverted to scientists and the Heath Secretary Matt Hancock, and the knawing, exhausting dread, synonymous with Brexit has returned. Classic Dom.

Is the public buying it? Polls over the last few weeks have shown solid support for the Conservatives and the Government. This support is waning and some hopeful glimmers from Labour and Keir Starmer, may change the political dynamic. Corbyn acted as a vice on sensible professional politics. The first PMQs since lockdown was a breath of fresh air with forensic questioning from the Leader of the Opposition.

What now? Johnson has ruled out an early end to the lockdown. Good. There has been a notable change in mood, with signs that the consensual self-imposed lockdown is beginning to break down. Traffic levels have started increasing and businesses have started reopening. The problem is that we all really need to trust our government and this is a challenge after the last few years. We have all been on hold to wait for Johnson to help give us direction. Apart from not ending the lockdown, there appears to be just more of the same. This may not be enough to keep us all together.

The New Normal- PM in Intensive Care 06/04/2020

Posted by chrisdshaw in COVID19.
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Week Four of lockdown (or is it Week Five or Three) has started with everyone convincing themselves and each other that following a period of disorientation, we were all adjusting to the new normal. Work appears to be settling into a new pattern and demands from management about hitting targets are starting to reassert themselves. Today the Dow Jones closed 1,200 points up as investors are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel, with death rates in Spain and Italy lower over a 10 day period, some countries that aren’t South Korea- Austria, Greece and New Zealand are beginning to claim success in containment.

And yet. Bodies are pilling up in New York city parks, with talk of using them as burial grounds- a permanent marker of this shocking times for future generations to ponder, and talk of this week being one of the worst America has ever experienced. Trump has emerged as a malignant narcissist 100 times more sinister and callous than any of us could have feared a few years ago, with reports of US raids on shipments of masks to countries, states running out of medical equipment and rightwing mania about trialling a speculative drug. In the UK last night, within an hour of the Queen giving a moving and perfect address to the nation, news emerged that Boris Johnson had been admitted to hospital after 10 days of isolation. Tonight the Prime Minister was moved to intensive care- a very worrying development for the country. The scale of such a development is hard to fathom. And yet life will go on tomorrow, as it did in war torn regions after the initial shock. I remember it happening in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s  However, this will have a toll on our mental health; how much, only time will tell. In the meantime, every right minded person wishes that Johnson makes a full recovery.

Grief 28/03/2020

Posted by chrisdshaw in COVID19.
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As we approach the end of March, articles are appearing on multiple media forums- CNN, BBC, newspapers- with headlines about how the world has changed in 30 days. The crisis has brought out in most of us a steely determination to keep calm and carry on, rationalising the new norm by focusing on key tasks- something made easy with home schooling for small children and, for me, a busy time working from home. In some respects we are getting used to the new norm- my mum’s ability to share memes and videos on WhatsApp in the space of a week has been extraordinary.

There are moments, however, which make me wobble. There obvious ones include hearing innocent uplifting songs that previously seemed a bit frivolous- Two Little Birds by Bob Marley, The Bright Side of Life by Monty Python- and shedding a tear. The other is of seeing traces of the old world still on the supermarket shelves- special offers enticing customers to buy more when than we should or are even allowed. I saw a 3 for £7 offer on olive snacks. Will such frivolous comestibles be available in a few months time? I bought some beers- an offer of 2 for £4 for Peroni beers so I bought 4. The checkout assistant told me I was only allowed a maximum of three of one item. It is these moments that jar, and serve as a reminder of how much of what we took for granted is now completely gone. How long for? Will those times ever return?

God bless the NHS 26/03/2020

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At 8pm this evening thousands of people across the UK stood outside their doors and clapped to show their support for NHS workers. This comes after over 500,000 people volunteered to act as a support for the NHS, in ancillary activities professionals do not have the resources to focus on, as hospitals are now facing a “tsunami” of COVID-19 cases in hospitals in London- about a week ahead of there rest of the country. Nicky stood outside applauding while I was finishing hearing Chapter’s 1 to 3 of Eva’s story she had written.

I am feeling a rollercoaster of emotions this week. Utter fear on Monday, followed by feeling upbeat on Tuesday, geopolitical despair yesterday with Trump’s attempted politicitsation of the pandemic yesterday. Today I am feeling more personally confident that I have a chance of missing contracting the virus, good news from our supermarket where panic buying seems to be subsiding (it still feels eery and uncomfortably tense there) and I have nice problems to deal with at work. This is mixed with a growing sense that our economy and society has been radically altered forever.

The impact on society, with not only a devastating economic impact on the vast percentage of the population. I have heard anecdotal reports of terrible personal psychological sacrifices and problems resulting from the lockdown. The idea that this will last for months, which it looks like it needs to, is scary in terms of its long term effect. Of chief concern is the United States, where an increasingly transparent psychopath as President is pushing his country towards a health suicide. I am not sure if the US will survive this- it looks like its President is prepared to take that risk in a gamble to seek reelection in November.

My girls are in good form, although when we told Eva during our daily walk that we couldn’t go to her favourite cafe, shouted in front of a number of people, “I hate this stupid virus, and want it to go away forever”. We are all with you, Eva

Lockdown! 23/03/2020

Posted by chrisdshaw in COVID19.
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The British Prime Minister has just announced the greatest curtailment of freedom of movement in the UK in history and relief among most people in the country is palpable. Such is the unprecedented nature of the times we currently live in; times that started about three weeks ago and look to change the world- society, economics, politics and the environment- in a such a fundamental way that seemed inconceivable ago a the beginning of this month.

Today was also the start of our children’s relocation of education from school to home. The newness to this concept to millions of people- both parents and children- on the same day is a feeling most of us have not experienced before. A mixture of trepidation, a little excitement at the novelty of it all, and underlying worry, uncertainty, and concern is a strange combination that we are all feeling. It is a really specific feeling.

The timeline of change is mindblowing: 10 days ago Nicky and I went to a party, a week ago I was working in my office in Canary Wharf, last week I was sneaking out of a pint in the local pub every evening. As recently as Saturday we met up with friends. A long planned letting off steam party in Soho, was still planning to go ahead as recently as a week ago and I was still planning to meet up with friends on Saturday in London 5 days ago. From the perspective of 23rd March this feels like a lifetime ago.

Boris Johnson’s welcome announcement has put an end to all life we took for granted only a week ago. Will we see that life again, and if so will it be the same or feel the same? We just don’t know. The expression “taking each day as it comes” has become a mental health necessity. No-one has felt this level of uncertainty before but we hope this limbo we are living may just to come to a quicker end with the lockdown.

The End of the Beginning or the Beginning of the End? 23/02/2018

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Too much has happened in the space of time since my last post for a retrospective. There has been too much procrastination from me trying to account and analyse the cataclysmic events that have piled on top of each other in the last two years. I just need to get started again and provide a write a daily post on “the thing”- Brexit, Trump and the enormous and potentially terminal changes in world geopolitics and society.

As I write, Trump is addressing the CPAC convention in Washington- having suggested arming teachers in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting. This comes in an atmosphere of utter poison in the US, with death threats being made on traumatised school students who dared to speak up for gun control. I have long believed that America has been heading for a civil war. Until now I thought this would largely be a “cold war”, largely fought on social media and segregation and sectarianism similar to Northern Ireland. I now realise that moment has been with us for a number of years and we could be about to enter an actual, violent civil war going forward, with a complete breakdown in government. Russia will be delighted- an astonished- by how successful its cyber campaign to teat America apart is going. There is much much more to write about this, but my prediction is that the US is now on an irretrievable path to destruction. And it breaks my heart.

Meanwhile in the UK, 20 months after the Brexit referendum, the Government has finally agreed its position on the relationship with the EU- to negotiate a free trade agreement similar to the EU-Canada deal, but then try to embellish it by securing better access to the single market for goods and services through close regulatory co-operation- in other words, have its cake and eat it. The UK is heading for disorderly No Deal Brexit and is providing strong competition with the US as country heading towards dystopia.

All of this ties in with the hugely disruptive, distorting and dangerous effects of social media and tech.

All in all it feels, in February 2018, to be a very dangerous time to be alive. I hope we make it- it seems like we’re going to need all the luck we can get.