Labour's myopic vision

Aggressive land-grabs, backed up by a looming military threat, will not bring energy security, write

The UK land grab in Antarctica aptly demonstrates how Labour is struggling to come to terms with the real politics of the environmental threat.

We rely on the atmosphere, the world’s forests, the seas and the soil, and even remote areas like Antarctica to keep our planet suitable for human civilisation to exist. The most fundamental of threats to the planetary life-support system is the challenge of climate change, where we are polluting our atmosphere through the use of coal, oil and gas.

The best evidence suggests we need to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees C. We’ve already seen a rise of around 0.7 degrees and another similar sized rise is inevitably in the pipeline because of existing levels of pollution, even if, from today, the world’s population decided to walk everywhere and to shiver in the cold.

Our room for manoeuvre is not that great. The challenge is that coal, oil and gas underpin our economy. The Government wants to grow our economy. But even a growing economy is, and will remain, a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. As the report Gordon Brown commissioned from Sir Nicolas Stern indicated, if our environment goes, the economy goes with it. We have to change, and change pretty fast.

So how is our Government coming to terms with these limitations on coal, oil and gas use? By making claims on a fragile wilderness, Antarctica, to dig up more oil and gas. It would be ludicrous if it weren’t so myopic.

Earlier this month came more serious news about the melting of the Arctic ice cap. No doubt melting of ice in the Antarctic will slightly lessen the challenge of offshore exploration. Yet other parts of Government already know we can’t go on like this; there is already more than enough oil and gas available to us to destabilise the climate.

More to the point, the Foreign Office is seemingly facing both ways. Six months ago, then British Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett raised climate change in the UN Security Council as a security threat. The same department is making a land-grab to exploit mineral wealth, which will make the problem worse. It is a desperately incoherent position for this Labour administration.

We need to move away from an energy policy based on aggressively accessing bulk supplies of fuel. Fundamentally, this remains the Brown Government’s view – an approach to global energy supplies that would have been recognised and understood by Clement Attlee decades ago.

21st century technology and politics require a different tack. In Germany, fuel security is being improved by the use of renewable energy - they have 235,000 jobs in the sector, and have installed over 20GW of wind capacity.

The UK, by comparison, has generated only 20,000 jobs in the renewable sector and produces a measly 2.2GW of electricity –despite having the strongest suite of renewable resources in Europe.

Energy security – the holy grail of modern day energy policy – will be rooted in a thriving manufacturing base and skilled workers, and not from aggressive land-grabs backed up by a looming military threat. With the right approach, the twin threats of climate security and energy security can be met.

Instead of bringing our energy policy up to date, we defy the 1959 Antarctic treaty and threaten one of earth’s last untouched ecosystems. Hypocritical - and dangerously short sighted.

Dr Douglas Parr is the Chief Scientist and Director of Policy at Greenpeace UK, looking after the science and political lobbying functions. His current focus is on tackling climate change in the power, heat and transport sectors. He also acts as adviser on greener refrigeration. He joined Greenpeace 13 years ago, and has worked on a number of technical policy issues including GM crops and agriculture, chemicals legislation, biofuels and nuclear power. He obtained a D.Phil in Atmospheric Chemistry in 1991.
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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State