Saturday, 17 December 2022

Health, Safety and being a Good Samaritan

I was reflecting upon health and safety in the workplace  when it occurred to me that the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan has something to say on the matter.  

To remind the reader, it is a story related by Jesus of a traveller who is robbed and beaten on the highway and left half-dead. Two of his own countrymen, one a priest, sees him but passes by on the other side of the road. It is a Samaritan, a person whose nationality would traditionally make him hostile to victim, who takes pity, attends to him, cleans his wounds, brings him to a place of safety and pays for his further treatment.

None of us would ignore an injured or sick work colleague if we came upon them but a lot of the bread and butter of health and safety work is drawing people’s attention to actions and conditions that are hazardous and will, eventually, cause injury or illness. In this matter, I believe that too many of us still act as the countrymen of the crime victim and pass on the other side. Especially the priest, who equates to a manager who is aware of an issue or bad practice and decides to look the other way. Part of our job, every one of us, is to address matters of safety as soon as we become aware of them and not to run the risk of our colleagues ending up like a beaten mess.


It strikes me also that there are applications as far as our health services are concerned. We rely upon the NHS to treat us, to heal our injuries once they occur. There is an excellent culture of health and safety within the health services and the sector is a leader within human factors. Unlike industrial health and safety, most of the huge amount of resources are spent in treatment and not in prevention. Surely if this was turned around, then fewer of us would be sick, lives would be lived more healthily and stress would be reduced upon both staff and resources. It would however mean that the government would have to be more prescriptive. Instead we find examples such as the watering down of the recent sugar tax and another one being the delay to improvements in housing build standards. In putting the lobbyists for the food and housing sectors before the public interest, government is guilty of walking by on the other side. 


The most delicious parallel to the story of the Good Samaritan and the workplace, indeed also to government,  is the person who asks Jesus “And who is my neighbour?” It was a lawyer. 

The parable of the Good Samaritan, and indeed who is one’s neighbour, is a lesson that the current Home Secretary, barrister Sue Braverman, should take onboard. 


The parable of the Good Samaritan is to be found in the New Testament, the Gospel of Luke, Chapter Ten. 

Monday, 12 December 2022

Back to Political Basics. Two: Housing and Poverty

 Interesting fact from last night’s Westminster Hour (BBC Radio4, 22:00hr, 11th of December). Across the UK there are one million planning permissions for new homes that are currently active. There is of course a long-standing housing shortage and has been for many decades. Why is this? It certainly is not because bureaucracy and red tape is standing in the way. 


Housing, whether a flat or house, lies at the root of poverty in the United Kingdom. The condition of one’s home, whether it suffers from damp, how much it cost to heat, whether it is big enough, all feed into a family’s level of health, both mental and physical. It is shocking that a young boy, Awaab Ishak, died this year of mould inhalation, despite his parents putting in multiple appeals for help from the responsible housing association. An extreme case but illustrates the point: a warm, well-insulated dry home supports good health and reduces pressure on local health services. The same is true on the other end of the age range: a well-designed home, with enough space to facilitate walking aids and a wheelchair, help the infirm and those of advanced old-age stay in their homes for longer. 

Important too is the location of a home. The national census aids central government and local authorities allocate necessary services but it is a truism that we all need good local schools, access to health services, and reasonable transport routes for the majority of people who are not able to work from home. Required also is access to supermarkets. While there is often grumbling if a new supermarket goes up in a more affluent area, poorer estates and rural locations are often in desperate need of easy access to the cheaper food that comes with sophisticated supply chains. 


A house is the most expensive purchase for the vast majority of people they will ever make. Whether one owns or rents, the monthly payments we make accounts for a larger part of one’s pay packet, and this is particularly true now interest rates are on the rise. The threat of losing one’s home is a constant pressure because it is easy to see what the outcome is when it goes wrong: people end up on the streets, or families are packed into single rooms of bed-and-breakfast by local authorities, sometimes for years. 


So, my question is this. Since housing is so vital to the health, prosperity and prospects of literally all of us, why is the construction of new homes, and the management of rental accommodation, left largely to market forces? If you can afford it, fine, go out and buy a nice home for yourself. Most people can’t, not without taking on massive amounts of long term debt. That debt may not end with retirement. Either one’s home has to be sold in order to cover the cost of longterm care, or people take out a lifetime mortgage to cover the cost of no longer earning. Either way, it means that increasingly for the next generations, the cycle of struggle to keep a roof over one’s head starts again. 


It is clear that the major house building companies do not act with a view to long term social responsibility. They act to maximise their profits. Which is fine. However, it is a shame that successive governments continue to fail to act to address the injustices that market forces continue to create. It is perfectly feasible for government to all this, as occurred after the end of World War II. The current system that the UK has results in poor and expensive housing outcomes for the majority of people in the UK. 


This cannot, should not, be allowed to continue. 

Saturday, 26 November 2022

Back to Political Basics. One: The Environment

In the last couple of years, I have been taking a break from active politics. Unfortunately in life, politics does not return the favour. Predictably, following the hardest possible Brexit introduced by the Conservatives, people in the UK are getting poorer and standards, of regulations, of political ethics and accountability, and of living are getting lower and lower. 


This blog however is not intended to indulge in party politics. Sitting back and viewing the current field, I don’t think any of the UK’s political parties have covered themselves in glory recently. So, I am going to ask the big question: what should we be campaigning about? Both the global and UK contexts will be considered. 

This was meant to be a single blog post but, having started, I realise that it is going to be part of a series. There is too many areas to cover.  The aim though is to focus attention on the things that are the root issues. That is not to say that other things do not matter but in themselves are part of the bigger picture. For instance, when it comes to tackling poverty, education, healthcare, and housing are all part of the issue and solution. 

All the challenges that we face are interdependent but let’s start though with the environment. Without a healthy environment, it will be difficult to sustain human life and civilisation. You may ask why I don't lead with the rise of CO2. It is vital to reduce and reverse CO2 output but again, there is no simple solutions. Each section of these blogs will have this global problem interwoven with the issues being addressed. 


This year has seen the birth of the eighth billion person to be alive on this planet. As many has pointed out and for a long time, the human population of the planet continues to grow. The driving force for this is not increasing birth rates but the elderly lasting longer. None of this is controversial, go and look it up. So if we are as a global society are to preserve the health of the planet, and ultimately our societies and ourselves, biodiversity has to be cherished and the trend in species extinction to be reversed. While there is understandably a lot of focus on the melting ice sheets and warming of the Arctic and Antarctic, the causes are to be found elsewhere. 


  1. We must conserve the world’s forests. The major woodlands of the boreal and tropics are both major carbon syncs and the focus of biodiversity on the continents. They continue to be cut down globally. This must stop. In the British Isles, we have over the centuries all but destroyed our natural woodlands, resulting in some of the poorest biodiversity in Europe. There is talk of re-wilding projects and these should go ahead, at all scales. Whether it is the use of micro forests in urban parklands or the replanting of upland woods, long scalped by sheep grazing and grouse moors, these are necessary to returning these islands to environmental health. 
  1. Perhaps even more importantly, the global oceans are in deep trouble. Seventy percent of the world’s surface is covered by water and the oceans average a depth of five kilometres. As such, it is a far more important carbon sync than any forest on land, but still is less well understood. Of the global fisheries that have been studied, six percent are under-fished, sixty percent are fished to the maximum limits of sustainability, and the remaining thirty four percent are over-fished. There are studies suggesting that bottom fishing is disturbing carbon sedimentation, releasing CO2 back into the environment. What is worse, few seem to be asking the question how much fossil fuel is the global fishing fleet burning while fishing? For us in the UK, the relatively shallow waters of the North Sea and adjacent Atlantic are an important nursery for many species.


Both woodland and oceans are important carbon syncs and centres of biodiversity. With the UK being an island nation it is vital that we play a major part in regional conservation. Ironically enough, this means further restricting industrial fishing in the surrounding seas. Of the seventy six marine protected areas designated by the UK government, only four of them are currently protected from bottom trawling and dredging. Therefore it can be concluded that the other seventy two marine protected areas are in name only. 

I use the term ironic because the fishing industry was used as a political touchstone to justify Brexit. Sorry about this folks but Brexit probably means, along with restricting our ability to export UK seafood, that the necessary expansion of marine reserves will, in the short term at least, mean even more restrictions on the fishing industry than currently exist. The resetting of our fisheries will ultimately mean more healthy and sustainable fisheries in the longer term and a healthier planet. 




Saturday, 18 June 2022

Dragons

Brexit is going as expected. Ruined trade, broken pledges and ongoing assaults on human rights and the rule of law. It has led me to reflect on the root causes, and I mean the real baselines of what is going on.

After the vote to leave but before we actually did in 2020, the British public were promised many things. That we would be free of regulation from Brussels and ‘unelected bureaucrats’; a free nation negotiating exciting and buccaneering trade deals across the globe. Now, let’s take that all at face value. Could this government have predicted Covid19? Well, they were not the only government that missed the warning signs, so let’s be generous and say that a lot of countries were caught with their collective pants down. This blog post will not go further: it is not an attempt  to critique the government’s performance on Covid.

Less forgivable is the current energy crisis. This government has been in power since 2010. Up to 2015, The Conservative / Lib Dem Coalition mainly continued the previous Labour administration policy of encouraging renewable energy development, while mainly relying upon gas-fired power stations to deliver the majority of supply and nuclear power to deliver baseline electricity. While inadequate in many ways, at least there was a continued shift away from fossil fuels. Come the summer of 2015, after the Liberal Democrats were roundly punished by the British public, the Conservatives under Cameron got rid of the ‘green crap’. Support for small and medium scale renewable development was severely curtailed. The emphasis is, to this day, on only promoting large-scale renewable energy, deliverable only by corporations. While there still has been progress, it has been mainly in the area of offshore wind, with some solar. With the continued decline of North Sea oil and gas, any other shortfall is now made up by building electrical interconnectors to neighbouring nations and importing the deficit. In short, Britain is now more firmly plugged into the European energy grid than ever before, and with proportionally the highest level of fossil fuel imports since the 1970s. From 2004, the UK became a net importer of energy and as of 2018, 90% of UK imports has been in the form of oil and gas.  

Where does this all relate to Brexit? Basically, for if there was for any chance of a positive outcome for Brexit, it would rely upon only the UK changing and the rest of the world basically staying the same. So while in terms of a global pandemic, it might be acceptable to give the Brexiters a pass, the same cannot be said of the current energy crisis. Why? Because there are always energy crises: OPEC in the 1970s, Iran and the subsequent Iran-Iraq War, the first Gulf War, Gulf War II, and now Ukraine. Energy crises are unpredictable in timing but like buses, they turn up in the end. In not addressing the issue seriously, in a fundamental sense the negligence of this Conservative government has put the national energy supply at risk and has sentenced us all to the massive price rises that we see today. 



I could end this post right here but that is not what I set out to write. There is another perspective and this is the one which I have proposed since the start: that Brexit is designed to take Britain, us, to our knees. In previous blogs I have described Brexit as a coup, and there is nothing that has happened since that has persuaded me otherwise. The Ukraine crisis is being used by Johnson as a human shield in his very public support for the Zelenskyy regime, and the struggle against the Russian invasion and Putin’s naked aggression. Human rights are being crushed by the Police Bill which basically sets out to outlaw protest, and the assault of refugees by calling them illegals. Universal human rights are just that: universal. To take away human rights of some is an assault upon all. Hence the proposal for the UK to withdraw from the ECHR is a declaration of war by the government against every citizen. Just look at what Gove is proposing with the UK version of GDPR. By allowing the concept of vexatious challenges, and thus allowing corporations to charge individuals each time a person upholds their current rights, privacy basically will become the preserve of the rich. So we come to the point of Brexit: freedom. Freedom for corporations and the extremely rich, not for the masses. 


What do the massively rich want to do with this freedom? This is the nub of the question. The current setup certainly does not inhibit anyone in terms of enjoying luxury. What do they want?


I was watching an old movie from the early Nineties the other week, The Silence of the Lambs. 

Hannibal Lecter:

First principles, Clarice: simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius, "Of each particular thing, ask: What is it in itself? What is its nature?" What does he do, this man you seek?

Clarice Starling:
He kills women.

Hannibal Lecter:
No, that is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does, what needs does he serve by killing?

Clarice Starling:
Anger, social acceptance, and, uh, sexual frustration.

Hannibal Lecter:
No, he covets. That's his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet?

It is the same with the very rich and those who want to be. They covet. And as a society we have allowed this, one of the seven deadly sins, to become a virtue. What is more, the EU put limitations on corporate covetousness. It is true, these limits are not very strict but they exist and to organisations and people that are consumed by covetousness, that is intolerable, or, as former Conservative minister (now Lord) Eric Pickles described it, communism. 


We have so idolised the sin of covetousness that as a nation there are many that are willing to support the destruction of human rights and our standards of living in the hope of benefiting from the current chaos and destruction, and to see destroyed those that stand against this grand project.

In Western mythology, there is a creature that embodies covetousness. They destroy in order to acquire what they desire and once wealth is gained, they do not tolerate challenges to their power and they certainly do not share. 


The United Kingdom is rapidly becoming the abode of dragons. 

Monday, 30 August 2021

Changing Career (Even when one is over 50)

From 1996 until 2014 I was a geophysical engineer and, to be more precise, a borehole seismic engineer. I was forced out of that job at the insistence of a particular manager. It was partly my own fault though. For the sake of my partner I had put my own career on the back burner to enable her to move forward with her own. In short, I had ceased to grow.

While it was nasty losing my job in 2014, I wasn’t unduly worried. Sure enough, I had a new job within seven weeks. It was a wrench but I could do it. The three-four months of office based work was tough on me, so it was a complete joy to return offshore, even if it was for Christmas 2014. I really enjoyed the change from rigs to seismic vessels, even if the working conditions on a ship were not as good as I previously enjoyed. It didn’t matter: I was back.

Not for long though. There was a global industry downturn in 2015. I knew when the redundancy notice was announced, that it would be bad. The day my immediate boss was called into the director’s office I was watching. When her head turned suddenly and looked at me, I knew that it was over. I entered a state of shock and then denial. Hope made the next seven weeks some of the worst of my life up to that date.

What I had failed to understand then, and that it has taken many years of unlearning to see, is that business and careers are ultimately about relationships. As a seismic engineer, few people actually understood what I did. All I had to do was rock up and do it. Not so as a seismic planner. Yes I can explain complicated ideas and tasks in very simple ways, making it easy to understand. Yes, I am a good person. But I was never really great in cultivating relationships. I honestly thought that being good at the job was enough. I am sure many of you are laughing at such naivety. When I lost my job as a seismic planner, I knew I lost my career. I knew it would be bad. Job hunting in my sphere of expertise revealed three vacancies: globally. I knew the gig was up. 


It is amazing how many people approach you when one is unemployed. I can now see why those in retirement complain of being really busy. In addition to Air-BnB (which didn't prevent me from sinking but did buy me more time) I did a ton of work for people and various organisations, none of which paid a dime. I also took an M.Sc in Energy with Heriot Watt University, which I enjoyed greatly. I did this in the hope that I would be able to secure a career in the renewable energy sector, making that transition that so many talk about. I failed. What I did not realise at the time was, at least in terms of employment, how small the renewable sector is compared to oil and gas industry. Between 2015 and 2017, 200,000 oil-related jobs were lost in the UK. In 2017 I had an interview with a wind farm operator, the fifth largest company in the UK. They controlled thirty four UK wind farms and were purchasing more in Spain. How many people did this company employ? At that time, 42. Forty two, but there were looking to increase their team to sixty by 2019. I recently check up on they and they now employ about eighty.
Beware of politicians who speak of green jobs. The jobs do exist: just nowhere near in the numbers claimed.
I was not the only one in such a position though. I learned this year that a colleague in a similar line of work, also made redundant in the great downturn, also went back to university. He obtained an MSc in Oilfield Decommissioning. Despite this undoubted logic of the move, he too failed to find work in the sector and is now retraining again, this time to be a teacher.


It wasn’t all doom and gloom however. While I am still on my journey of work, I am only in employment now because several of those threads which I possess have come together in a new weave. Several of these related to the unpaid work I did while seeking a new direction. Standing as a political candidate cultivated both my public speaking and leadership abilities. One of the insights I did gain as a candidate debating in public is that even if the audience is unsympathetic to one’s party, most would hate to see you fail on the evening. They want speakers to do well, they want to be both informed and entertained. It is really positive to know that even hostile audiences are, on a certain level, on your side. Having a Masters degree does elevate one into a new range of career options. My work with potential IT startups, while actually costing me money, has ultimately resulted in paid work. It even led me to my choice of dissertation: the challenges of setting up sustainable data centres in tropical climates (it’s a heat thing). 


What are the lessons that can be drawn from my experience? Here are a few suggestions:

    • Don’t take your current career for granted. If you are getting tired of it, address the issues. See what you can do proactively either to move it forward or change it, before change is forced upon you. 
    • Do consider extra training or qualifications but do your research first. Make sure there will be a market for your new skills. 
    • Do be open to new opportunities, whether paid or not. Don’t however let yourself to be exploited. It is a fine line to walk. 
    • Do be resilient and don’t ever give up. Receiving a stream of refusals is disheartening. If this keeps happening though, change something. I had to invest £120 for a professional CV rewrite. It worked.
    • Do put yourself outside your existing comfort zones. Don’t be afraid when trying something new. People are often nicer and more supportive than you think.
    • Don’t be afraid to fail. Even if you try something and it doesn't work out, it still could be a stepping stone to the opportunity that is right for you. 
    • Do remember that professional relationships are important.


Most of all, remember this: there is no such thing as staying still. One is either moving forward or moving back. If you think you are still, you are moving backwards. Make the effort to always move forward.

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Something EVEL This Way Comes…

It always stuck me as odd that it should be MP Douglas Ross to take over the leadership, unopposed, of the Scottish Conservative Party in 2020. There are perfectly capable Tory MSPs in Holyrood who know the parliament and the lie of the land far better than Ross, who has only been the MP for Moray since 2017. So why didn’t they through a hat into the ring when the unfortunate Jackson Carlaw stepped down? In May 2021, Ross also added the title of MSP to his list, so currently he is taking on the leadership of the Scottish party, MP for Moray and MSP  - Western Isles roles as well. Aren’t his constituents lucky!


That is all very well but the thing that caught my attention this week is Michael Gove’s declaration that the Conservatives will do away with EVEL - English Votes for English Laws. EVEL was seen as a solution to the famous West Lothian Question - why should a Scottish MP from, say, West Lothian, be able to pass a vote on something that did not affect his / her constituents? The question became even more keen since the reformation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.
It is therefore strange to me that Michael Gove should be moving to reinstate the voting rights of Scottish MPs over English matters. True, it can be argued that EVEL was a bit rubbish to begin with. Previously the Conservatives were quite happy to rule as a minority government with the support of the DUP, which rather sinks the entire concept. But, with Douglas Ross now astride both parliaments, there is more to the situation than double-bubble paydays.

Even back in 2010, I noted that the Conservatives were already pretty relaxed in the face of the rise of the SNP. Events seem to have proved the case. While the SNP is still the government in Holyrood (since 2007 an even longer run that the current Conservative government), the Conservatives have replaced Labour as the main opposition party in Holyrood. The SNP have been wielded as an effective meat-shield in the destruction of Labour, both here in Scotland and across Britain. Remember the SNP promise to “supercharge Labour” in 2015? This was effectively used to damage Labour in that election with Conservative cries of “The Scots are coming!” It was almost like 1745 all over again. 


Like 1745, only one battle has to be won to enable final victory. In 1746 this was Culloden, where the Duke of Cumberland felled the flower of Scotland’s clansmen on Drumossie Moor. For the SNP, the hope has to be a single victory in a second independence referendum. If the next referendum also fails, then another and another will be fought, until just one win gains Scotland’s political independence. Unless that is there is no way to call for that referendum, no body capable to rival the democratic authority of Westminster.

Labour is one the ropes and it will take a lot to get them into shape ahead of the next election. I am not saying they cannot win, but it will take the Conservatives to lose as heavily as the effort it will take Labour to win. On Newnight last night (14th of July 2021), former MP Anna Soubry was right to call the current Conservative Party the new Brexit Party. In order to keep the political Right of UK politics together, the Conservatives effectively engineered a reverse takeover by the Brexiteers. The Conservative Government is, in reality, a Brexit Party government trading under the old brand name.

So there we have it. As the SNP was used by the Conservatives to destroy Labour, the next phase of the operation is to destroy the Scottish Parliament, reducing the SNP to a regional party of North Britain and without any democratic means to call for a referendum.

Now I have no love for the SNP or for the Conservatives. I am rather fond of democracy however and despite the rise of nationalism, regional and local government is a good thing. Devolution will be ended and night will fall. I cannot help but see this in the context of Brexit and the ongoing destruction of British democracy at the hands of the Far Right.

So we return to Douglas Ross MP, MSP. It is of importance to the plan that the leader of the Scottish Conservatives is in Westminster and backs the destruction of devolution. It avoids any nasty splits. Lucky Doug.

Saturday, 1 May 2021

A Letter to the Children of Class P4

Candidates were invited to respond to the letters written by the class of P4 of Calderbridge Primary School, Wishaw. The children have already received my letter. Below is a copy of my reply to their questions and concerns.

Dear Sophie, Dylan, Eva, Taylor, Polly, Caleb, Alexa and all of the class of P4.
Thank you very much for your letters and for telling me of your worries for the environment and the future of the planet. I am typing my reply because my handwriting is not as neat as yours!
May your teacher, Mrs Currie-Smith, forgive me for the long reply. I feel I am able to do so because I have some things to say. Like I hope many of you will be able to, I was lucky enough to go to university. For me, it was not once but twice. The first time I studied geology, that is the history of the Earth. The second time I studied energy, that is how we use energy to power our lights, homes and phones, and the problems that come if we continue to use the wrong kind of fuels.
You may have heard the term “fossil fuels”? I’ll try to keep this short but it is important to know why burning them as we do today is a bad thing for us and for the animals and plants we share our planet with. So I will tell you, briefly, where fossil fuels come from.
Many hundreds of millions of years ago, there was no life on land. There was life in the sea but on land, there was nothing but deserts. Plants started to colonise the land, spreading out from rivers. Plants use sunlight as an energy source to grow and elements from the ground and air for material. As plants evolved, over millions of years, trees formed vast forests which grew over the land. They took the carbon they needed to form their wood from the air and the hydrogen they need for food from water. When these forests died, their remains were buried and, again over millions of years, the dead wood formed vast coal beds. This is important to remember.
Other plants stayed in the oceans. Many millions of years after the coal beds formed, there were so many tiny plants in the oceans (this was during the time of the dinosaurs) that, when they died they sank to the bottom of the seas. Usually when this happens the plants are eaten but there were special occasions when they were buried instead. So much material that was buried that oil and later, gas, started to form in the rocks from their remains. Like coal, they are made from carbon and hydrogen and there are huge amounts of them. Together coal, oil and gas are known as fossil fuels.
A lot lot later. Tens of millions of years later, people came along. Our ancestors. For thousands of years we have grown crops using just sunlight and water. Power for our tools came from ourselves, animals like oxen and horses, the wind and water for grinding our wheat and for sailing our ships. About 300 years or so ago, we discovered that coal could be burnt to boil water, and the steam used to give greater power to our machines. Our ancestors first used these as pumps to keep mines clear of water, power looms to make cloth and then turned the pumps into steam trains to move goods and people across land, and later steam ships to carry cargo from continent to continent. Later still, we used oil to power our cars, trains, ships, airplanes and tractors, and gas to heat our homes and schools. Coal, oil and gas are still used to generate electricity. We were able to grow more crops, develop more chemicals and medicines, and so, during the 20th Century, the century I was born, there grew to be so many more people than there was previously on Earth. When I was born, there was about three and a half billion people alive. Now, in 2021, there are nearly eight billion people alive! Each one of us, you and me included, need to be fed, kept warm (or cool) and to have a decent life. We need fuel to do this.
Here’s the problem. Currently we still rely upon fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, to power our machines. To give it a percentage, 80% of the energy we use for our electricity, heating, cars, ships and airplanes comes from these fossil fuels. As we burn these fuels, the hydrogen and carbon that was locked up in the Earth for tens and hundreds of millions of years is being released back into the atmosphere. The hydrogen is not a problem: the combines with oxygen to form water. Oxygen combines with carbon too, forming carbon dioxide (known as CO2). When this happens in large amounts, there is a problem because CO2 helps locks the heat of the sun into the Earth’s atmosphere. And we are doing this over a very short amount of time: a couple of hundred years. Compare that with the millions of years it took all that carbon to be locked up into the ground! Over the past couple of hundred years, we have released thousands of billions of tons of CO2 back into the air. So much so, that the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere has not been so high since long before people first evolved on Earth. The rate of change has been very short: a couple of hundreds of years. Animals have not had a chance to evolve quickly enough over such a short period of time. The additional heat, trapped by the CO2 blanket, is warming the planet and is the reason the ice caps at the poles are melting. This is the reason why animals like polar bears are having problems. Taylor, you mention the that it is the Sun that causes the ice caps to melt and the fires to burn. We cannot do anything about the Sun but what we can do it control the amount of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The extra heat trapped by the CO2 does not just sit and mind its own business. Heat is a form of energy. That energy is used in some places to form strong storms and floods. In other places, droughts occur, causing forests to burn more quickly and over greater areas than before. You mentioned the fires in your letters Dylan. There have always been droughts, storms and forest fires but seldom have there been so many happening time and time again. This is all part of climate change, caused by people like us, over the past few hundred years.
Sophie, you asked what will happen when all the ice caps will melt? It will be a big problem if this happens. Many cities will have to be abandoned and more people will have to find new places to live. We have to do what we can to keep the rise in global temperatures down and preserve the ice caps.
As you ask Polly, what can we do about it? As I said, we are still burning too many fossil fuels and allowing too much CO2 into the atmosphere. If we suddenly stopped though, a lot of people would have a hard time and even die! Homes could not be heated or cooled, which means that in hot summers or cold winters, people would suffer from either heat or cold stress in their own homes. More people would starve because we use fossil fuels on our farms while growing food. I do not mean to scare you but that is the truth. Like you Alexa, I want a good future! It is facts like this why politics and who is elected to be politicians is important. We have to make the choices for the way forward. The choice cannot be between animals and people, the environment or our homes. All are important but the way forward is not easy. In order to achieve the good future that you ask for Eva, politicians have to listen to scientists. This is where we can get objective information from. It is important for you and me to be informed as to what the facts are. Unfortunately a lot of people do not listen to facts, preferring to hold their own opinions. Many people chose to believe only those facts that back the ideas and opinions they already hold. A very big example of this is the current president of Brazil, who is ignoring the science and encouraging big landowners to continue cutting down the rain forests of the Amazon. The world has to tell President Bolsonaro that he is wrong and that the rain forests of Brazil need to be saved.
Another part of the answer to the problem is for us to need less energy. We all need to insulate our homes against the cold in Scotland so we need less fuel to heat them. We also need to get away from releasing carbon when we produce our energy. Solar panels and wind turbines are some of the ways to do this but they take up a lot of land (or sea). Plus we need to store the energy produced. That is a whole load of other technology but here is a hint - batteries are not the best way to store large amounts of energy. Politicians can help to bring all these things about.
The oil and gas industries want to find ways of separating the carbon from the hydrogen before we burn it. The hydrogen would be burnt and the carbon pumped back into the ground. If they succeed, this would get us through your lifetimes but would not be an answer for your grandchildren.
You mention cars Caleb. It is true that we all need to use them less often and that their fuels need to change. I admit I love driving but whenever it is practical, I take the bus and leave the car at home. Cycling is also very good for us but we need better cycle lanes. In this we are still very far behind our neighbours in Sweden, The Netherlands and Germany.
These things are all complicated. I would advise you to be careful of any politician who claims to have easy and quick answers. In truth, not many people, including politicians, understand all the problems involved and how to solve them. That is why we have to work together and be guided by science and the facts. It is up to politicians like me to decide what can be done, what must be done and how fast it is possible to do it. In a democracy like ours, politicians cannot give orders. We have instead to pass laws that can make the system work how we all need it to be.
What can you do at your age? My best advice to you is to give space to the small things near to you. Polar bears and penguins are important but far away. Look after the nature that is close to your homes and gardens. Plants and insects are important. Give homes to bugs like slaters, insects like bees and plant native species if you have gardens. If you don’t (and even if you do) have a garden, ask to join in local conservation groups and get to know and help your local environment and wildlife.
Why is this important? Polar bears don’t eat ice. They are what biologists call apex predators. They need seals, who in turn need fish and squid and, in turn need smaller fish and crustaceans (like shrimp) who ultimately need plants. So the key is to look after the small stuff like plants and bugs and the environment in which they can be happy. If there is enough of them, they will feed larger animals and ultimately big animals like polar bears.
I am sure you have many questions. I am sorry I am not there to answer them. Perhaps one day I can visit your class and answer your questions in person. For the moment though, that is not possible. I am also sorry my letter to you is so long. It is a problem that really interests me. I wish to have the opportunity to deliver answers directly to you, the people of Motherwell and Wishaw and to our country. Maybe one day I will be in the position to help people and the environment better than I am now but for now that is up to your parents and how they vote.
I am proud to be a Liberal Democrat because although we have policies designed to address all the challenges I have told you about, the party does not say to me “You have to think this way and say these things.” Being a liberal means thinking for yourself. I have benefited from wonderful teachers who have helped me to do so. I am old: 55 this year. The last time I sat an exam was only three years ago so, whatever we do, we can choose never to stop learning. Make the best of your time at school. If you need help, ask for it. For those you who do well, everyone can celebrate in your success. If your classmate isn’t doing so good, ask them how you can help. Look after and be kind to each other. If you look after each other, then there is a good chance that your generation will go on to look after the planet too.
If you have any more questions, please give them to Mrs Currie-Smith to pass on to me. I cannot promise to get back to you ahead of the election date but I will try my best.
Kindest regards and best wishes,