Sooner or later, the Olympics patriotism will kick in for curmudgeonly Britain

Gold! Medals! Wenlock! Mandeville! Rings! Official sponsors! Unofficial sponsors! Running! Jumping! Throwing things!

Sometime over the coming week, the tide will turn. There won't be a bat signal to let us know when to abandon our anti-Games curmudgeonry and adopt a red, white and blue blindfold, but it will happen.

It's not our fault that we're programmed to tug forelocks when required, but here it is: as soon as The Queen is activated, we will jettison all the complaints about G4S, crumbling transport networks, exclusive VIP lanes and brand bullying, and settle down like good little subjects to proclaim the glory of the Olympic Games.

Sure, right now we may be doing our best to predict Apocalympics - a running, jumping and throwing epic fail that will see our once-proud nation reduced to an international embarrassment. But to imagine that our collective Great British Grumpiness will last until beyond the opening ceremony is to underestimate our sense of subservience, and as Ronnie Corbett's working-class character in the Frost Report sketches put it, "I know my place."

The athletes will get stuck on cablecars taking them from one awful piece of rubble on the south of the Thames to one equally awful piece of rubble on the north of the Thames. And we'll look the other way. The tourists will be ripped off left, right and centre by staggeringly horrific prices and mountains of roadside tack. We'll laugh because it's not happening to us. The spectators will be brutalised by a series of bewildering security checks. And we'll stand in queues and love it, because it's "what we do best".

Oh, Britain, Britain. England. London. Britain. Whatever. I wish I could say that you'll maintain that fabled "sense of humour" as the madness grips the nation, and all critical media outlets put their very best Rule Britannia goggles on - coincidentally, at exactly the same moment as the deluge of FREE STUFF begins to arrive in newsrooms from sponsors. ("These games are a shambl... wait, a free Wenlock and Mandeville bath mitt!") But we won't.

I know how it'll be. Some of us, perhaps looking forward to the sport but dreading the commercialism, or looking forward to the commercialism but dreading the sport, will start to get that funny inkling that happens from time to time - that post-Diana moment when you looked around and started thinking "Has everyone gone entirely bananas, or is it just me who feels like that bloke from Day of the Triffids?"

Too late. This time next week, the patriotism begins in earnest. If you thought the Jubilee was faintly nauseating, that will be a trifle compared to what's about to come. Gold! Medals! Wenlock! Mandeville! Rings! Official sponsors! Unofficial sponsors! Sponsors! Running! Jumping! Throwing things! Jessica Ennis on every page of every newspaper, forever!

I'll resist it for as long as possible, but of course I'm no better than anyone else. I'm bound to succumb sooner rather than later - probably around Thursday afternoon, when I head off to the Olympic football at Cardiff. Bring on arriving two hours early and seeing nothing of any great import; bring on the wall-to-wall TV sports day. There's no beating it, so I'm joining it. Sorry.

 

By about Thursday, you'll all be this happy. Trust us. Photograph: Getty Images

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496