Over the last few days, with thoughts of Christmas, maybe I have lost my edge and been just a little self-indulgent, but I woke this morning to a raft of news that fully restored my mood of disillusionment.
If you exclude the increasing xenophobia and movements away from free trade (that is for another day), there are two enormous global issues
First is global warming. Unless something is done, and done quickly we will kill the planet. This is not just about some tiny atoll in the distant Pacific or the coral reef off the Australian coast, but it means Miami, and other great cities, disappearing under the sea by the end of the century.
A report on global warming released by the National Climate Assessment, named Miami as one of the cities most vulnerable to severe damage as a result of rising sea levels (2014) and last month, in The Guardian they say:
“Data from the Climate Central group of scientists shows that 3oC of global warming would ultimately lock in irreversible sea-level rises of perhaps two metres. Cities from Shanghai to Alexandria, and Rio to Osaka are among the worst affected.
Miami would be inundated – as would the entire bottom third of the US state of Florida.”
(The Guardian November 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/nov/03/miami-shanghai-3c-warming-cities-underwater )
While I could easily adjust to a Mediterranean climate around London with 11 months of sunbathing and my own ripe grapes, the thought of swimming to the shops is less appealing.
Secondly, I am old enough to have lived through the 13 days of the Cuban Missile crisis. I was very young, but I have distant memories of what it is like to believe that the world would come to an end before my 12th birthday.
The news was sombre, and we knew about the three-minute warning and it was not something we ever wanted to experience. I can remember thinking at the time that I should try and live my life for the day as there was never going to be a tomorrow, but that wasn’t easy for a naïve, twelve-year-old living in suburban Croydon.
Later I wondered if the 1960s hippy scene was the reaction of my older peers who had the same thoughts, but then they also the Vietnam war to worry about.
I always hoped those tense days were long gone and all in the past, but maybe they aren’t. I am sure if you live in South Korea or Japan three-minute warning exercises are at the forefront of all your thoughts. If you live in Ukraine or the Baltic states thoughts of Russian hegemony are with you this Christmas.
The world is as unsafe as it has been for generations but all the millions of voices shouting this warning are not being heard.
I have no right, whatsoever, to comment on American, Chinese, or Russian politics. They are not my country. I don’t vote there. Yet, like it or not, what happens in the these countries impact directly on my life. The USA and Chinese have the largest economies in the world and together these three have the largest arsenals of nuclear weapons. That gives me the right to have an opinion.
President Trump, if you want to make the USA great again, President Putin if you want Russia to be a credible and pioneering global force, and President Xi Jinping, if you want China, the Inner Kingdom, to fulfil the tradition of its heritage, then you need to become real, global leaders and tackle these issues.
The best and only way that you can secure your place in history (which seem to be your ambitions) is to work together to solve the global challenges. Take the lead on global warming, move your economies away from carbon pollution, invest heavily in alternative energy sources, stop being xenophobic, and follow liberal economics.
We need the three of you to stand together and say that you will follow policies targeted to improve the fate the of the whole world. Stand together and say that you are a global leader and the population of the world is your constituency. Stop worrying about the rust belt, industrial capacity in Donetsk, or kids on Facebook in Beijing and instead worry about making a world that is good for my grandchildren and their children
Of course, it won’t happen.
President Trump will continue to support Republican Senate candidates accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls and who believes that any homosexual act should lead to imprisonment. President Trump will continue to invest in coal and oil and withdraw from the Global Climate Change Accord.
President Putin will stand for election next year in an attempt to become Russia’s leader for a total of 24 years. He will stretch his country’s boundaries and pressure Ukraine and the Baltic states. He will continue to try to destabilise the West and ruin sport for everyone.
At least President Xi Jinping may keep investing in alternative energies. Probably China will become the world’s largest economy as they grow and the USA declines, but the population of China will still not have normally accepted human rights.
Before I go on much further let me throw in one other, parochial fact. For a comfortable life style when you retire, recent research suggests that you need to have accumulated a pension pot of around £600,000.
I can hear the sarcastic laughter of my mid twenty daughter who I know finds the idea of saving for a deposit on a house sufficiently daunting let alone build up a pension pot at the same time. (Government statistics for average UK house price: February 2017, £234,466 and in London £474,704)
However, this isn’t a piece about social equality and the balance of Government spending between the young and old in society, but I have a real and interesting idea for her.
I wonder if your best plan is to stop saving for retirement and the day when you need a pension. On the days I feel most pessimistic I wonder if we will get that far. Maybe you should spend all that pension saving money and enjoy what you have today? Ask yourselves if there will still be a meaningful world to live in by the time you come to retire.
It may not seem like the same as the 13-day days of the Cuban crisis but (with North Korea as an example), and the insular ambitions of our global leaders it just feels like a long and drawn out walk to annihilation. The probability of nuclear war has never been greater.
If we avoid that catastrophe then it is going to get hotter. If you can’t swim or sail a boat, then take lessons now because soon you will be living by the sea.
I would hate to leave you in such a poor mood and, so I offer two solutions.
The first is that across the world we put far more trust in the younger generations who have a far greater stake in the future than all us old fuddy duddies. Statesmanship doesn’t come with age. It is a consequence of purpose. The second is more radical. Let’s just roll back the clock to the heady, naughty days of the 1960s and like Nero we will have a lot of fun as the sea swills around our naked feet!!
Let me lighten the mood. A poem I remember from around these times was by Roger McGough. I read it first when it was published in 1967 in book: The Mersey Sound with the poetry of Roger McGough, Adrian Henri, and Brian Patten. (For information joined up words were as it was written. It is not my poor editing.)
I will leave you to draw your own conclusions ….
At lunchtime – A story of love
When the busstopped suddenly to avoid
damaging a mother and child in the road, the
younglady in the greenhat sitting opposite
was thrown across me,
and not being one to miss an opportunity
I started to makelove
with all my body.
At first, she resisted saying that it
was tooearly in the morning and too soon
after breakfast and that anyway she found
me repulsive. But when I explained that
this being a nuclearage,the world was going
to end at lunchtime, she tookoff her
greenhat, put her bus ticket into her pocket
and joined in the exercise.
The buspeople, and therewere many of
them, were shockedandsurprised, and amused-
andannoyed, but when word got around
that the world was coming to an end at lunchtime,
they put their pride in their pockets
with their bustickets and madelove one with the other.
And even the busconductor, feeling left
out climbed into the cab and struck up
some sort of relationship with the driver.
Thatnight, on the bus coming home,
wewere all alittle embarrassed, especially me
and the younglady in the green hat, and we
all started to say in different ways howhasty
and foolish we had been. Butthen, always
having been a bitofalad, i stood up and
said it was a pity that the world didn’t nearly
end every lunchtime, and that we could always
pretend. And then it happened . . .
Quick asa flash we all changed partners,
and soon the bus was aquiver with white
mothball bodies doing naughty things.
And the next day
People pretended that the world was coming
to an end at lunchtime. It still hasn’t.
Although in a way it has.