Jeanette Winterson says the UK’s climate commitments “in the view of many… should be far greater than those of other nations” (Diary, 8 December). They are: of the almost 200 countries in the world, around 40 – including the UK – have made a legal or formal policy commitment to reach net zero by 2050. The UK ranked second in the 2022 worldwide Environmental Performance Index (up from fourth in 2020). The Spectator, drawing from Global Carbon Project research, has shown that among the G20 the UK has the fastest cumulative fall in territorial CO2 emissions. The UK’s carbon emissions now total less than 320 million tonnes a year, against 652 million tonnes in 1970. On a per capita basis, the same organisation shows the UK’s emissions are at 1855 levels. Beat that!
Trevor Pitman, Beckenham, Kent
Jeanette Winterson (Diary, 8 December) suggests that many people hold Britain principally responsible for global warming because Britain industrialised first. It’s only fair to point out that if Britain is to take the blame for the negative effects of the Industrial Revolution, it’s entitled to take credit for the good things. Global health, wealth, longevity, infant mortality, scientific capabilities and living standards are all, on average, much better than they were before it. It’s unfashionable to say so but, on the whole, Britain has had a hugely positive impact.
Mark Bale, Oxford
I found Jeanette Winterson’s Diary both profound and insightful. It is of course true that many a corrupt elite of yesteryear, seeking to subdue the masses, has found religion a valuable tool to abuse. However, I believe it is the secular humanism of recent centuries, fuelled by the rise of capitalism, with its false gods of self, money and consumerism, that has wrecked our precious planet. As we all flounder for new answers, it may be worth reflecting on the ancient biblical wisdom that provided the Earth as an undeserved gift from God to be nurtured by stewards, not exploited as owners.
Sean Quinn, Bristol
New Statesman, new you
As a new subscriber to your magazine, I felt I had to say a huge thank you for the Christmas Special. It included some brilliant, thought-provoking writing that helped me through the seasonal fug. I especially enjoyed the Winter Reflection from Helen Macdonald, the column by Katherine Rundell on the importance of books to the young, and the excellent book reviews, which only encourage me to invest in books I struggle to find time to read! Keep up the good work and best wishes for 2024.
Steve Hale, Heybrook Bay, Devon
Article of faith
Pippa Bailey’s column (Deleted Scenes, 8 December), on the erosion of faith in our older selves, struck a chord. Having lost in early adulthood the Christian faith I was raised with, I was soon presented with an endless supply of secular doctrine to take its place. Every intellectual, guru and sage you can think of I have read, watched or listened to. Twenty years later, no luck. Is this the tragedy of being a “freethinker”, to replace one nebulous faith with another?
James Martin, Southend-on-Sea, Essex
All politics is local
What a delight it was to read Matthew Engel’s excellent article on his successful campaign to be elected to Herefordshire Council (“A bluffer’s guide to rural politics”, 8 December). It was a much-needed reminder that our best and most inspiring politicians are our local ones. They rarely seek fame or status, but simply aim to serve their local community with what limited resources and powers they have.
John Reardon, Glasgow
Matthew Engel’s diverting piece about running for election in rural Herefordshire was evocative. However niche a contested post may be, rejection by one’s peers shrivels one’s self-worth to a pea. Ahead of my re-election to the Law Society’s governing council, I would tell myself the outcome scarcely mattered in the grand scale of things, and would vow to congratulate my successful rival in magnanimous defeat. Then came a formal challenge to my narrow-ish election win, with a hearing before the incumbent president and two assessors, who upheld my “victory”. My would-be nemesis and I retired to the bar where I bought him, as I recall, two drinks.
Malcolm Fowler, solicitor and higher court criminal defence advocate (now non-practising), Kings Heath, Birmingham
In his illuminating piece about Conrad Noel, Ken Worpole says FD Maurice is “largely forgotten” (Critics, 29 November). Not by the students and staff of the Working Men’s College in Camden Town, which he founded. It might no longer practise his version of Christian socialism, but the spirit of opening adult education to those who missed out is still honoured and successful.
Janet Whitaker, House of Lords, former chair, Working Men’s College
I love Tracey Thorn’s column (Off the Record, 8 December) and am so glad she’s back. But I was surprised by her response to the Marina Abramović exhibition. In what sense does inviting attendees to squeeze between two naked people constitute art worthy of the accolade of being the first one-woman Royal Academy exhibition? It sounds more like sadomasochism to me. How much were Abramović’s performers paid to allow a procession of strangers to squeeze past their naked bodies? Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough!
Kate Purcell, Coventry
In my experience the pronunciation “feyther” for father is not “eccentrically posh” (Critics, 8 December). It’s Yorkshire.
Ann Lawson Lucas, Beverley, East Yorkshire
505 not out
Sorry, but the speculation by David Horspool and Pete Maris (Correspondence, 8 December) about the oldest continuous sporting event is misplaced. It is the Kiplingcotes Derby, which has run every year in East Yorkshire since 1519.
Andy Broom, Beverley, East Yorkshire
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This article appears in the 10 Jan 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Year of Voting Dangerously