A new statesman?
The Bagpuss and Clangers creator issues a stark warning about the fate of the planet unless some tou
Yes! Yes indeed! If there’s one thing the world needs most urgently just now it is a new statesman, or come to that, an old statesman or stateswoman, one, or half a dozen even, who can draw the world’s attention to the sorry state it has got itself into, and persuade it to sort itself out.
Where would such a statesman start? What qualities would be needed? Courage, certainly. Also a complete absence of personal or political agenda; to be widely recognised and universally respected for sincerity, truthfulness and have the stature and authority to deliver. It’s a lot to ask.
But, literally at this moment in time, the need is simpler. We need a statesman with one over-arching faculty: the ability to recognise, bring to public attention and act on, an imperative.
What is this imperative?
Listen . . .Faintly, from over a quarter of a century ago, I can hear the icy Welsh voice of the Trade Union leader, Clive Jenkins, declaring gleefully: "The Cap-it-al-ist System has failed!"
Don’t be alarmed! I’m not suggesting that Clive Jenkins might have been the statesman we need. At the time his words just reminded me that Capitalism is not so much a System as a naturally-occurring growth: "wherever two or three are gathered together in its name, one of them will very likely open a shop."
So whether it’s called capitalism, honest trade, market economics or exploitation, the unbridled, self-generating search for personal gain has always been the driving-force of human life – and equally, a function of government has been to bridle it, to guard the welfare of the many and of the world itself, from the depredations of the greedy few (and pigs were meant to fly).
But Clive Jenkins’ words were prophetic. Human housekeeping has at last failed, not because it has ceased to grow and prosper, but because, like shot lettuce in an untended allotment, it has let itself grow into such an absurdity of self-indulgence that it has been blindly despoiling the planet, profligately using up its resources as if there was no tomorrow and has at last suddenly noticed something that has long been in front of its eyes – that there is no tomorrow.
The government has at last brought itself to admit that man-made global warming is the most dangerous peril that the human race has failed to face, and it is now busy failing to face it.
That sounds unduly damning, but it seems to be true. Having admitted the existence of global warming, the government has examined the evidence and has chosen to adopt a particularly optimistic prediction of the future effects of global warming. A prediction that has been recognised by its own chief scientist as being ‘politically biased’ (BBC Today 27 10 05). Its reason for doing this is that it allows more time than there is available, nearly half a century, in which to make corrections to the ‘economic system’ without unduly disturbing the river of conspicuous consumption on which it depends.
The likelihood that the chosen prediction, the prophetic “target” adopted by the government, could lead to the suicide of the world is now well known and is confirmed by the realistic and up-to-date research which takes into account the self-inducing nature of global warming and suspects that the time left may just be a few years*. But, looked at as a political policy, the draconian legislation that would be needed to save the world in the time left, does not seem to be being regarded as politically realistic and is therefore not likely to be brought forward.
So where does that leave us?
Us? The government has already chosen for us. For years now we have been farmed by the supermarkets and the supermarket-style government. We are free, free to have whatever opinions we fancy, because it doesn’t make any difference what we think, so long as we go on shopping.
So what the government seems to have settled for is the prospect of a slow death-sentence for the world rather than a sudden difficult attempt to save it. Not because it is deliberately callous but because it doesn’t think it could sell the idea of compulsory privations to an electorate so softened by years of ever-increasing standards-of-living that it has come to assume that complacent affluence is a basic entitlement, something it couldn’t be expected to live without. Oddly enough I am old enough to remember the so-called privations which we all lived through during the 1939-1947 war, and I know they were all right. But all the same I can see that, if they had an option, few people would fancy to try it again.
The difficulty is that in this case there isn’t any option. The prophesies and predictions offered by enterprising climatologists are just that: auguries, about as definitive as the entrails of chickens were to the Romans. We cannot base the life or death of our children on guesses. The only chance we have of saving the world is to cut CO2 emissions to near-zero immediately and so hope to reverse global warming while there is still time. That is the imperative.
This is difficult to come to terms with. Quite seriously, I doubt if many politicians know what an imperative actually is. Like most of us, they are conditioned to assuming that there is always choice, that life goes on; that ‘global warming’ is just one among many issues on which they can take a posture.
The political parties are already jostling and competing to show which is the greenest by proposing small cosmetic gestures intended to give the impression that they will reduce the ever-growing rate of CO2 emission. While all the time I suspect that they are fending off the thought that they might be kidding themselves, going along with the illusion of safety offered by the ‘chosen version’ rather than facing the fact that all the time there is a space-ship hovering out there, quietly brewing up to destroy life on earth. It may be called the sun, but that is what it is.
The statesman, or stateswoman, if there is one out there, might just discover that the human race is not after all as stupid as it has been led to believe it is. Then we might find ourselves a future, one in which common-sense and compassion are allowed to inform our natural greed, in a world that is safe at last.
© 2006 Oliver Postgate
* more about this on http://www.oliverpostgate.co.uk/archive16.html
More from New Statesman
- Online writers:
- Steven Baxter
- Rowenna Davis
- David Allen Green
- Mehdi Hasan
- Nelson Jones
- Gavin Kelly
- Helen Lewis
- Laurie Penny
- The V Spot
- Alex Hern
- Martha Gill
- Alan White
- Samira Shackle
- Alex Andreou
- Nicky Woolf in America
- Bim Adewunmi
- Kate Mossman on pop
- Ryan Gilbey on Film
- Martin Robbins
- Rafael Behr
- Eleanor Margolis