Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Apple Day

One of my best days of each year is the day I harvest the bulk of our apples. We have about three dozen trees of about three dozen varieties almost all of which are never seen in the shops.  The early eaters are ready in August but I pick the bulk in late September. We slice and dry a variety that doesn't keep well and the resulting rings are stored in old sweet jars where they would keep for ever or until we eat them, whichever is the sooner.

Some we give away at the gate. It's suprising how reluctant people are to pick up free food. 

Those we want to keep, the best ones, we put in an old, non-working, freezer. It's a tall one with lots of deep drawers. None of that faffing about with wrapping each apple or making sure they don't touch, they just get piled in till the draw if full. Then shut the door tight and don't open it until apples are wanted. Maybe it's the increaed CO2 concentration or something like that in a sealed container that slows down rotting, but whatever, we have as many apples as we can eat through to Easter. And by then it's quite nice to eat something else for a while. A few turn mouldy, but no matter, we chuck them out to the great recycling system of compost.

Of course our trees produce far more apples that we can possibly eat. The bulk of our harvest goes to the local cider maker. By and by, in return, we get a bit of cider. It's a good system, every village should have one. I suppose once upon a time they did.

This afternoon, a van-load of apples delivered, I got chatting to the guy who makes the cider. His is a small part time business, with a production of a few tens of thousands of litres, mostly sold locally. Sales, of course, are drastically down this year with the local pubs closed, but he's cheerful enough. Cider keeps well, unlike draught beer.

He also makes apple juice, over 60,000 bottles per year. Or he did. But not any more. Brexit has put a stop to that rather lucrative side to his enterprise. For the juice making he used to get, very cheaply, the apples that were rejected by the company that graded and packed apples for the supermarkets. Perfectly good apples that were somehow deemed not to be quite the correct size, shape, colour or whatever to please the supermarkets' idea of what their customers want. Waste not want not, these apples are perfect for juicing.

What's Brexit got to do with it? Well, the company that does the grading and packing is big, international, and doesn't care where it operates from so long as the business environment is good there. That does not include post-Brexit UK, so they've upped sticks and moved to the Netherlands. All that grading and packing that used to happen in Lincolnshire now gets done near Rotterdam and the rejects stay there. I hope the Dutch make good use of them. There are consequences not just for our local apple juice maker. Those 60,000 bottles of juice no longer produced means cancellations of orders for 60,000 glass bottles, made in Leeds, 60,000 labels printed in Skegness, cardboard boxes from Louth and 60,000 plastic bottle tops made, I forget where. Repeat every year. Remind me, what was Brexit for?

Anyway, here's what I took down the road this afternoon.

My favourite is the Striped Beefing, a variety found as a chance seedling in 1794 by George Lindsey, nurseryman, in the garden of William Crowe of Lakenham Norwich. It's a cooking apple but mellows to an eater by the new year. They are big apples. Too big for supermarkets.

Just in case you were wondering wether it matters where the reject apples are turned into juice, after all the Netherland isn't far away and we can import it from there, just remember there will be an 18% tariff imposed on imported apple juice, thanks to Brexit, the disaster that keeps taking.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The New Fascism 2

 As I wrote in my blog a couple of week agoThe New Fascism will not be like the old version of the 1930s. Yesterday there was another rally in Trafalgar Square, ostensibly protesting against actions taken by the UK Government to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, but attracting a curious assortment of people, united by their rejection of science and who risk becoming sucked into the QAnon cult.

Jamie Doward has an excellent piece in The Observer, so read his words rather than mine.

Not all the Trafalgar Square protesters would regard themselves on the far right but the one thing that unifies these disparate people is their rejection of science. This makes the words of Graham Lawton, writing in New Scientist, so apposite.

You may find it behind a paywall (go on, subscribe to the NS, it's good) but here is Lawton's concluding remark:

"Believe me, I don’t want to give these people the oxygen of publicity or stoke a counter-conspiracy theory that fervidly imagines QAnon wields greater power than it actually does. But I think it is time that a wider audience was made aware of just how dangerously influential this is becoming. QAnon believers aren’t mildly eccentric flat-Earthers or shills for the fossil fuel industry. They are fighting a war against reality. That is one existential battle you really don’t want to lose."

And here are some words from somebody who is not so much a science writer but would, I'm sure, agree with Doward and Lawton, and has himself deep knowledge of both COVID-19 and fascism.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Global Biodiversity Outlook

Over the last few days three significant reports, each making grim reading. have been published. The shortest, at just 12 pages, is The Lost Decade for Nature, from the RSPB. Then we have the 83 page Living Planet Report 2020 from WWF and the Zoological Society of London. Today we got the big one from the United Nations, 212 pages of The Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 (GBO-5). And many of us watched Extinction: The Facts, a BBC TV programme introduced by David Attenborough.

The 6th Mass Extinction got off to a slow and gradual start during the Holocene with our hunter ancestors eating their way through the megafauna, the mammoths, aurochs and such like, and modifying the landscape with their fire and axes. 

The pace of change hotted up in recent centuries, the dodo and passenger pigeon disappearing before anyone realised what was happening.

But now, firmly in the Anthropocene, the rate of extinction has accelerated to a level never seen before on the planet, save perhaps when the Cretaceous meteorite impacted. And as this week's reports show, we cannot plead ignorance. We know what is happening, we know why it is happening and we know that it is all down to our behaviour.

GBO-5 begins thus:

"Humanity stands at a crossroads with regard to the legacy it leaves to future generations. Biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate, and the pressures driving this decline are intensifying. None of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets will be fully met, in turn threatening the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and undermining efforts to address climate change."

What is abundantly clear is that the efforts by governments the world over have failed. Of course we need to tell our governments to try harder, to do more, to act more urgently, but it is not enough to just blame governments. That is scapegoating. It is our personal and individual behaviour that cumulatively is the problem. We act directly on the biosphere and indirectly by creating the political climate in which governments are empowered.

In my recent blog on a different topic, Coronavirus 37, I made the point "It's good to avoid being judgemental of others' behaviour. Their circumstances will be unknown." but each of us needs urgently to look at the choices we are able to make and decide whether we are part of the problem or part of the solution, whether we want to be part of the problem or part of the solution, and what we are going to do about it. 

Today, before it is too late.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

The New Fascism

The New Fascism will not be like the old version of the 1930s.

Many people are noting the parallels between current developments and the past horrors but the similarities only go so far. While we must learn the lessons of history, history does not actually repeat itself. Not quite.

The recent demonstration in Trafalgar Square brought together a motley collection of people ostensibly objecting to the restrictions designed to limit the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus but a common theme amongst them was the rejection of science, whether it was concerning vaccinations, 5G, chemtrails or the climate emergency. The demonstration provided a safe place for people to unfurl the flag of the British Union of Fascists, not seen on London streets since the 1930s.

That organisation has been resurrected under the name of New British Union with the motto "Restoring Faith in Fascism" and uses that flash in a circle symbol used by 
Oswald Mosley's and banned in Germany, France and many other countries.

While the immediate focus of attention may have been downplaying the pandemic notwithstanding its tens of thousands of avoidable deaths, it is the downplaying of the risks of global heating that have the potential to make this New Fascism far worse than anything that happened in the mid 20th century.

There is a clear intention to provide a hostile environment for immigrants, to reject accommodation of refugees, but sea level rise and climate change threaten unprecedented mass migrations. Nationalism, short term self-interest and hostility towards empathy for and cooperation with others are the hall-marks of the New Fascism but are the exact opposite of what is required to mitigate the climate emergency. Millions, perhaps billions, of lives will be put in jeopardy if the ideas of these people are allowed to prosper and spread.

The New Fascism will not look like the old sort, but it is far more dangerous. The UK Government is taking us down that road as quickly as it judges it can get away with.

Three articles this week address the issue:

George Monbiot in the Guardian

55 Tufton Street may seem an unlikely HQ for The New Fascism but remember, it does not look like the fascism we were familiar with.

Here's why it is in the news just now.