Robert Swan, OBE, the arctic explorer turned environmentalist, once said “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”. Faced with massive problems like climate change, loss of biodiversity, pandemics and antibiotic resistance, it is tempting to think either that these challenges are unsurmountable, or that they will only be solved by governments, ideally cooperating with each other. The fact is, however, that the choices that we, as individuals, make can produce a significant difference. As I have indicated in my previous post, reducing the amount of meat, particularly beef, that we eat could have a major beneficial effect not just on one of these threats, but on all of them.
I have always been a bit ambivalent about eating meat. I like the taste of beef, chicken, lamb and, to a lesser extent, pork, but I have always been aware that if I had needed to kill the relevant animal to eat its flesh, I (to coin a phrase) wouldn’t have had the guts to do it. I suspect that I am by no means alone in this. Most meat-eating humans finding beef or chicken nicely packaged in a supermarket fridge don’t give much thought to the “process” that has brought it there!
As my previous post made clear, Donald Trump, while President of the USA, was an integral part of the bizarre QAnon conspiracy theory. When Trump was defeated in the 2020 US Presidential Election, many commentators wondered what would become of QAnon and its huge number of supporters. It may have been thought that the conspiracy theory could not possibly continue, but some were more pessimistic. For example, Alex Bradley Newhouse, research lead at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies' Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism was quoted as saying “The growth of QAnon has pretty fundamentally changed the entire landscape of American conservatism, and I would say international right-wing politics as well, by completely desensitizing wide swaths of the populace to these conspiracy theories that have taken on a life of their own outside of QAnon itself.”.
One of the major negative effects of social media services is that they have provided excellent channels for the spread of various strange conspiracy theories. QAnon is one of the most bizarre of these, but many people in the UK were probably not too aware of it until the crowd invading the US Capitol on 6 January included the horned, face-painted figure of Jake Angeli, the so-called “QAnon Shaman”. For those who still haven’t heard of it, QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory which alleges that a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic paedophiles (The Deep State) is running a global child sex-trafficking ring. This group was apparently plotting against Donald Trump who was, in turn, fighting against it. According to many QAnon adherents, before losing the Presidency Trump had been planning a day of reckoning called “The Storm”, when thousands of members of the cabal would be arrested. The followers accused many liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic politicians, and high-ranking government officials of being members of the cabal. The conspiracy theory included allegations of a planned coup involving Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the billionaire George Soros. That is the basic structure, but there are so many offshoots, detours and internal debates between followers that the full list of QAnon claims is huge. Followers draw on news stories, historical facts and numerology to reach their own, often far-fetched, conclusions.
So, how does a conspiracy theory like this arise, and how does it spread? How many people believe in it, and where are they?
But consider the following facts. Today, we ourselves, together with the livestock we rear for food, constitute 96% of the mass of all mammals on the planet. Only 4% is everything else from elephants to badgers, from moose to monkeys. And 70% of all birds alive at this moment are poultry – mostly chickens for us to eat. We are destroying biodiversity, the very characteristic that until recently enabled the natural world to flourish so abundantly. If we continue this damage, whole ecosystems will collapse. That is now a real risk.
David Attenborough in the Foreword to “The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review”.
Viewers of The Graham Norton Show on 29 January may or may not have been shocked to hear that the singer Tom Jones, of whom I have never really been a great fan, has recently turned 80 years old. I understand that he now lives in London, and viewers probably would not have been surprised to learn that he had received his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Maybe I am unduly suspicious of favouritism towards the ultra-wealthy, but I, for one, was interested to hear that he had already had his second dose! Sir Tom said that he felt “bulletproof” on being fully vaccinated. The star of The Voice UK, however, mused: "I thought I'd be able to go out and sing some live shows now, but you've got to have an audience for that. If they haven't had the jab, what's the point?".
Although Sir Tom was looking at the problem from a slightly selfish perspective, his message was similar to that of UN Secretary-General António Guterres in May last year, when global mortality from the virus was a mere 220,000. Guterres commented then, “In an interconnected world, none of us is safe until all of us are safe.” He also said “We have a common vision. Let us now put people first everywhere.”
On the face of it, 2020 was a bit of a disaster regarding environmental issues. It was supposed to be the year of climate action, culminating with ambitious emission-cutting targets at the UN Climate Talks, COP26, in my home city of Glasgow in November. Unfortunately, our old friend SARS-CoV-2 put paid to that plan, though it has been rescheduled for November this year. While the virus reminded humanity how fragile it actually was, the planet continued to heat up, with 2020 turning out to be the joint hottest year on record. The year was marked by horrendous fires in the Amazon, and in the western United States. The Atlantic hurricane season was also the most active on record.
There were, however, one or two glimmers of hope. The European Green Deal has tackling climate change at its centre. Major economies, including China, the UK, France and Japan have made net-zero carbon pledges (although, in the UK at least, one would be cynical about any promises made by the Government).
Well, here we are in 2021! The UK has finally left the European Union, and I am really struggling to decide what to do with all the lovely sovereignty that I now have. I just feel so free! It’s enough to make me want to stride down the street clad only in my Union Jack underpants! But enough (for now) of the political disaster that is Brexit, 2020 has been a nightmare in so many other ways. The COVID-19 pandemic has already killed over 1.8 million people worldwide, and it is currently creating absolute chaos in Europe, especially the UK, partly due to the high prevalence of idiocy in our population (especially among the Government), but also due to the emergence of a new strain of SARS-CoV-2 known as UK B117, which is much more easily transmitted than the original version of the virus.
At this time of year you tend to get articles that look back over the previous year. Bearing in mind how horrendous 2020 has been for most people, a number of these this year have sought glimmers of good news among the gloom.
The current Coronavirus Pandemic has brought misery to many, and death to over 1.5 million people worldwide. A huge number of businesses are under severe financial strain, or have ceased to trade. The major exceptions are tech companies who conduct all of their business online especially, as I have mentioned earlier, Amazon. As the World has gone into lockdown of various degrees, some other tech winners in the pandemic have been the providers of videoconferencing services, especially the omnipresent Zoom. I suspect most people had never heard of Zoom before 2020, but widespread use has led the company’s revenues to leap 355% to $663.5 million for the quarter ending 31 July, exceeding analysts’ expectations of $500.5 million. In the same period profits soared to $186 million, while customer growth was up 458% compared with the same period in 2019.
I have always thought that women are wonderful creatures. It is my fervent belief that if World history had included far more women in leadership roles the planet might be not be in the mess (to put it politely) that it is. In chemical terms, I think it can be argued that testosterone has done as much global damage as carbon dioxide.
Nobel Prizes are among the most prestigious awards for achievement in various fields, and I think it is a shameful fact that as of this year only 57 women have been awarded Nobel Prizes compared to over 866 men! With all of the above in mind, I was delighted to read that the 2020 Nobel Prize for Chemistry had been awarded to Dr Jennifer Doudna from the USA and Dr Emmanuelle Charpentier from France. Doudna and Charpentier were given the prize for their development of the gene-editing tool known as CRISPR-Cas9, or often simply “CRISPR”.