The Caramel Crunch (18 January 2020)

Over at Caramel (Learner at Love), CARAMEL has started a new prompt. I’d like to see her prompt do well, and I had some time today to write a post, so here we go…

The prompts are called the Caramel Crunch and so far are centered around a moral question. Her question this week is here, but for your convenience I shall repeat her question.

You are out with some good friends having drinks. One of your best friends makes a joke that seems racist. Your friend doesn’t normally seem to show any attitudes that indicate racism. Do you let it pass? Or do you speak out against the offensive joke?

That’s an easy one. You say something. You don’t need to be nasty, but it needs to be clear (a) that you don’t find their comments acceptible, and (b) why. If they’re as reasonable as CARAMEL says, maybe they’ll go away and think about why you got upset? Either way, they’ll know not to speak like that in your company again.

I’ve actually experienced this. Not exactly the same, but similar. Not about race – fortunately for a white guy in the UK, it isn’t normally an issue – but picking on physical characteristics to imply that a person isn’t as good. And not with friends. There is a comedy-news programme in the UK called Have I got News For You. And, not long before he won a General Election, Boris Johnson won an election to become the leader of the Conservative Party, and therefore Prime Minister. As part of that election process, there was a series of debates among the contenders.

At the time, I followed Have I Got News For You on Facebook. The day after one of these debates, this photograph appeared:

I took a screenshot because I wanted to include the caption. I hope you can see it okay – it reads

I can lead the UK, insists man struggling to sit on stool.

The picture is of a guy called Sajid Javid. It obviously didn’t harm his career that much, as he is now Britain’s Chancellor (Finance Minister).

I complained. The implication of the caption was that Javid was sitting on the stool wrongly (no, I never knew there was a wrong way to sit on a stool, either) and that this physical characteristic made him unfit to run the country.

I am absolutely sure that running a country requires many exceptional intellectual talents, but somehow I doubt that how we sit on a stool is one of them. The particular problem here is that there is very real discrimination against physically disabled people in the UK – that their physical disability means they lack the intellect to do a particular job. So all this post did was to reinforce a stereotype.

As you might imagine, 99.9% of the responses to this complaint were this is a comedy feed – get over it. But I could see the problem, even if 99.9% of people could not. And when something is wrong, you gotta say something, don’t you?

No, I don’t follow that feed any more. I’m sure it makes no difference whatever, but I don’t want to see that nonsense when I log on.

Home Truths

I can quite happily take a view on climate change, but I must admit that some questions on the subject make me deeply uncomfortable.

One such question is about geography. I am fortunate enough to be in the UK, an industrialised, developed country. I have my warm cosy house, with my central heating. I muse on WordPress through my laptop, through my wifi, through my router. I watch my TV in the evening through my satellite box. If I need to speak to someone, I pick up my cellphone. When we go shopping each week, there is an enormous supermarket we go to in our car, where we can buy not just milk, say, but ten different types of milk!

Not least I see pictures of Australia burning, yet I look out of my window and see the rain steadily falling. Climate change? Not in my backyard!

It is all very well for me to wag my finger and say we should do this, or we should do that, but I am aware that I am speaking from a position of privilege.

I can’t help wondering what if I lived in the developing world? I’d probably look at all the gadgets I have and think I’d like some of that, if you don’t mind. And there are people like me wagging my finger. It is okay for me to have power to light my house, to heat me and my food, to charge my phone or my laptop, but please don’t build that new coal-fired power station so you can have these things too.

Indeed, we could probably say that the whole process of warming came with the industrial revolution, which started in the UK, so you could reasonably argue that the UK bears a bigger responsibility for climate change than anybdy else.

But actually, that analogy eases the discomfort somewhat. The UK is guilty of all manner ills in the world, one example being its aggressive desire to conquer everyone else. But I reconciled that years ago – even though I am from the UK I can quite happily look at that and say it was wrong. And I can’t go beating myself up over the sins of other people, hundreds of years ago. As long as I am happy that I am doing the right thing, that’s as far as I can go.

It is a very uncomfortable issue – the developed world was okay to pollute the atmosphere, but because it now knows the consequences, the developing world should not. But I suppose, in the same way that I can acknowledge that for the UK, the past is the past, and just because we have behaved badly, does not mean other countries should behave badly too… I can say the same about how we should regard climate change.

I don’t pretend a conclusion here. In fact I don’t see a nice, neat answer, that’s why I am uncomfortable about it. How does the developing world catch up? How do the people there raise their standard of living to what we enjoy? Without, that is, destroying the planet along the way? I mean, that has to be the goal, doesn’t it? Or, do we just think we have to stay as we are, without equal qualities of life? If you have an answer, I’d be grateful.

Another issue – I don’t feel personal discomfort about it but my conclusion makes for uncomfortable reading. Just the whole issue of climate change. That is, man-made climate change. To many of us it is not just there, but it is obvious. In your face obvious. So, why do governments not take action about it? You know, governments can make whatever noises they like, but here in the UK, coal extraction receives its biggest subsidies ever, until recently the government was very friendly indeed to the idea of fracking (tremors? what tremors?), while there are corresponding bans on things like wind turbines. Germany does a whopping business in open cast coal mines, thank you very much. We think of Germany as leading the way in renewable tech, but its coal mining industry isn’t doing badly, either.

So, why don’t governments act?

My contention is that the five-year-rule comes into play. Everything might well go belly up, but I will be long gone from office when it does. Better still, I’ll be dead and gone, if it takes long enough. Someone else’s problem. Shall I say anything about Scott Morrison here, or shall I just leave it to the reader’s imagination?

So there is this competition between making money rather than taking action. We need to take action one day, but for now let’s just keep on exploiting what we can to make ourselves richer. Cue Jair Bolsonaro!

So, my next question becomes…One Day. Will One Day ever be “now”?

On current evidence, no. All that bush is now gone – there are still plans to open a mine in Queensland. Wouldn’t you have thought they’d be a tiny bit cautious, just in case those 90% of world scientists are right?

And people – the majority of us – are voting for this. Morrison was re-elected in Australia in only 2019. Same in the UK. Brazil, 2018. USA, 2016. It’s not as if these regimes had been in power for donkey’s years and can’t be removed. People – you and me, here and now – are actively endorsing money over climate action – even as I write.

So will we recognise when the time to act has arrived? Well, what do you think I think?

There is an extension to all this too. To all those people who feel that there is a problem, but that technology will come along and save the day – what do you think the petrochemical companies will do when they start to see this wonder-technology taking their revenue from them?

Okay, it doesn’t necessarily follow that technology which reduced CO2 would harm carbon emitters, but what if it did? Do you think the petrochems (which, by the way, are worth billions) are going to embrace it warmly and willingly, and just go out of business?

There are more questions on this, not least do we all just turn around and say fuck it and go our own sweet ways until the inevitable end? But that’s enough for today.