The Eleven, no, Twelve Days of COP26

When the Queen addressed world leaders at the beginning of COP26 she said:

Act for our children and our children’s children.

COP26, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, follows The Paris Agreement, a 2015 international agreement on climate change. The aim of COP26 is to secure commitments from the world’s nations to cut global emissions by half and to keep 1.5 alive: to keep the earth’s temperature below 1.5C degrees above pre-industrial levels, by 2030.HOME - UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) at the SEC – Glasgow 2021 COP26’s intention is to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement (adopted in 2015, opened for signature in 2016, on 22 April, Earth Day). To date 192 parties have signed the Agreement (191 countries and the EU) which makes them accountable for keeping the world’s temperature below 1.5–2.0°C, by establishing climate-specific goals to reduce carbon footprint (known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs). Every five years, parties must submit updated NDCs.

Earth Day Flag.pngSo … on the first day of COP26, 1 November 2021, China & Russian were not represented, despite the fact that they emit large amounts of greenhouse gasses. Even so COP26 President Alok Sharma said:

The science is clear: the window of time left to keep the goal of 1.5℃ alive … to avoid the worst effects of climate change, is closing… . But with political will and commitment, we can, and must, deliver an outcome the world can be proud of.

Kenyan environment and climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti said:

We need you to respond with courage to the climate crisis … [this] is critical for our children, for our species, for so many living beings. Please open your hearts. And then act.

On the second day, 2 November 2021, 100 countries signed a Declaration on Forest and Land Use, to stop deforestation, to break the link between deforestation and agriculture by 2030 (trees are cut down to grow animal feed). This declaration includes funding. In 2014, there was little funding to replace income lost from growing animal feed. Brazil, Indonesia and Canada – countries with large forested areas – signed.

The third day, 3 November, 2021, was Finance Day: 450 financial institutions agreed to make sure their decisions were justified by and compliant with the pathway to 1.5C degrees. And that they’d help the developing world stop using coal.

On the fourth day, 4 November 2021, 40 countries signed to phase out coal-fired power. But NOT the USA, China or Australia.

On the fifth day, 5 November, 2021, young leaders demanded climate change action to protect their futures, led by YouNGO
Youthclimatemovement.pngOn the sixth day, 6 November 2021, 45 countries pledged urgent action and investment to protect nature and shift to more sustainable ways of farming.

The seventh day, 8 November, 2021, was Adaptation and Loss and Damage Day, the beginning of Implementation Week. Countries’ ministers began to work out how to cooperate to finance and implement agreements reached in the first week.

The eighth day, 9 November 2021, was Gender, Science and Innovation Day, on which Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, said that climate change was a far bigger threat to the world than covid. But solutions could be found through technologies and people changing their behaviour. If the green choice becomes the easy choice, more people will change their behaviour.

On the ninth day, 10 November, 2021 the first draft decisions were published. A Rabbi, on Thought for the Day on this day, said: The world’s childrens’ futures are now at stake. Gordon Brown said that this first draft agreement included a phasing out of coal and fossil fuel subsidies. He said the draft agreement was the UN’s interpretation of the mood of the conference.

On the tenth day, 11 November 2021, China and the USA agreed to work together on climate change, despite being at odds over almost everything else. If these two countries can agree to cooperate on climate change, surely everyone else can? But, said Alok Sharma, ‘There is still a lot of work to do.’

On the eleventh day, 12 November 2021, the final scheduled day: despite the IPCC’s 6th Assessment report on Climate Change and its code-red warning for the earth, there was still a monumental challenge. At 7.15 this morning a second draft agreement was released: it included more ambitious targets towards 1.5C and more contrition about the failure to provide financial aid to poorer countries. But it wasn’t signed … .

On this day Elizabeth Wathuti said she wondered if any of the world’s leaders were actually listening to what the young climate activists were saying.

On the twelfth day, 13 November, 2021, the revised third draft agreement was, eventually, signed. Talks went through the night. Phasing down of fossil fuel subsidies and of coal itself remained in the agreement, but the original phrase had been phasing out. Countries must return with enhanced pledges for reducing greenhouse gasses to COP27 in Egypt, in 2022. And, on the big sticking point, finance, the transfer of money from developed to developing countries, a new paragraph was included that agreed to set up a continuing dialogue about – although not actual – financial reparations for the loss and damage suffered by developing countries.

As the talks continued into the afternoon, Frans Timmermans, speaking for the EU, said:

I wonder if we’re not at risk of stumbling in this marathon a couple of metres before the finish line … . For heavens’ sake don’t kill this moment … . This text allows us to act with the urgency that is essential for our survival … so I implore you to embrace this text so that we can bring hope to the hearts of our children and grandchildren who will not forgive us if we fail today.

When the agreement was adopted, late on this 12th day, Alok Sharma said:

The need for continual action and implementation, to match ambition, must continue throughout the decade. Today, we can say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees within reach. But, its pulse is weak. And it will only survive if we keep our promises. If we translate commitments into rapid action.

The next crucial test will come in Egypt in 2022 where COP27 will he held. Will China, the USA and Brazil have enacted more ambitious plans to cut fossil fuels and the subsidies for them? And will discussions about reparations turn into realities? Will 1.5 be kept alive? Keep everything you’ve got crossed that they will, for the sake of all our children.Two children hugging in front of a wall.

Sources: are either linked to, or are from BBC Radio 4 & World Service news.

Posted in Climate Change, Equality | Leave a comment

Betty Campbell taught Black British history every month

On September 29, 2021, in Cardiff, a statue was unveiled to Betty Campbell, the first Black British headteacher in Wales, and the first to teach Black British History all the time (not just in Black History Monthwhich began in October 1987 in the UK, and is celebrated, in the UK, every October.)

This article, published when Betty Campbell died in 2017 (and partly reproduced here), appeared in the Independent. It tells the story of Campbell’s life and work. She was born Betty Johnson in 1934, and grew up in Butetown (also known as Tiger Bay, from the fierce currents on the River Severn) south Cardiff. She won a scholarship to Lady Margaret High School for Girls, where most of the other students were white. When Campbell told the headmistress she’d like to teach one day, she was told: ‘The problems would be insurmountable.’ She never forgot those words. ‘They made me more determined,’ she said. ‘I would become a teacher by hook or by crook.’

In 1960, Campbell went to Cardiff Teacher Training College, which had begun taking female students for the first time and, when a position opened up at Mount Stuart Primary School, in Butetown, she applied. ‘They hadn’t seen a black teacher before,’ she said. ‘It was as if you could do a job, but if you’re black you’re weren’t quite as good.’

Picture form the Independent article, here

Despite this, in the 1970s, Campbell became the first Black headteacher in Wales and promoted a diverse curriculum, one that included Black people’s experiences and their positive contribution to British society. Pupils have spoken of how every month was Black History Month. ‘Children,’ Campbell said, ‘should be made aware.’

Campbell taught a series of workshops for Black History Month to raise awareness of the role of Butetown’s citizens in the Second World War, and the involvement of their countries of origin, right up to her death. But Betty Campbell is a deplorable rarity in our education system. The numbers of Black headteachers in England (from a 2019 government School Teacher Workforce study) is a miserable 1% of the total in England (200 of 22,300). The numbers of Black teachers is not much better (2.5% of the total in England). And Black history is only taught during this month, October.

Josephine Namusisi-Riley, a Black woman I’ve recently met, tells a story about how, when she was Chair of Governors of a school in Lambeth, the school’s leadership was given the task of diversifying the teaching staff. But that task was changed to employing and retaining the best calibre staff. Obviously any school would and should do all it can to employ and retain the best calibre staff, but this change of wording dismissed the equally essential task of diversifying the teaching staff so that newly-recruited teachers would not only be well-qualified, but would represent their communities well. So that Black students would see someone who looked like them, leading them. And Black history might be taught, as Betty Campbell taught it, every month, not just in Black History Month.

{The last paragraph was edited at 15.30 on 14 October to include Josephine Namusisi-Riley’s name and more details of what happened when she was Chair of Governors of the school in Lambeth.}

Posted in Antiracism, Education, History, Human Rights, Racism | Leave a comment

White Allies Network, and Black British History

On 2 September, I joined the White Allies Network. They are, as they say on their website:

A network of people that are committed to learn and do what it takes to be counted true allies against racism. It consists of white people who aspire to be true allies and people of colour that are willing to journey with them towards that aim. The White Allies Network is open to all.

White Allies Network | Overview | Anti-racist education and action

At a Zoom meeting the ten qualities of Aspiring White Allies were named. They included being Ignorant, in the sense of saying, ‘I don’t understand,’ or, ‘I don’t know, but I want to learn.’ And Not Wallowing in White Guilt, but using white guilt as a prompt to apologise and take action. They also included being Courageous: being open to challenge and being challenged. And in one of Adrian Lock’s blogs, October 2020, he wrote:

To quote Black activist Angela Y. Davis: I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I am changing the things I cannot accept.

Adrian Lock, a member of the White Allies Network Steering Group who has ‘Overall responsibility for maintaining the website and organising meetings’, showed us three short films. The first was made by Clive Myrie, called Who owns History?; the second by David Olusoga called The Alt History You Don’t Learn at School, and the third by Afua Hirsch called Where Are You From? All three films show aspects of, or are introductions to, Black British peoples’ history. They were all deeply moving. They showed Black British people not having access to their history or ancestry; people whose last names are the names of their ancestors’ slave owners not their true ancestors; people whom White British people have prevented from truly belonging; people whose history has been denied.

The Legacy of British Slavery centre (at Harvard), an educational and research project thats – among other things – documenting the lives of the enslaved to, ‘Recognise the humanity and individuality denied them by slavery,’ says its, A history which we have all been shaped by, albeit unequally: understanding that is a responsibility for all of us so that we may do things differently.’

I should have known about Black British history. But in my white privilege, my white supremacy, I have ignored it. (There’s no other word for it, Black people have lived in this country since Roman times: see the Alt History.) But I have ignored Black peoples’ desire – and their struggle – to belong here in the UK, to be as integral to this country’s history as any White person. As a young Black woman in David Olusoga’s Alt History said:

You can’t go forward without understanding your past.

Through the White Allies Network I’ve begun to learn about Black peoples’ history. I have much more to learn. But Black and White histories shouldn’t be kept separate. As Mercy Muroki, news presenter, says towards the end of Who Owns History?

No one race, no one group owns history. I’d like for us to start thinking about history in a collective sense. We should think of history as a British history. And that … will encourage people to feel British, to feel that they have a stake in British society.

Clive Myrie says:

British colonialism defines who we all are. It’s left a family album of different peoples and races. It is our story.

It is.

But, in this article, Patrick Vernon comments on the March 2021 Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report led by Tony Sewell. It concluded that there is no evidence that the UK is institutionally racist. Vernon writes that this is:

So out of step with our live experiences and our long history of campaigning for civil rights. [later on he writes]: What I found especially disturbing was the report’s efforts to play down the transatlantic slave trade and colonisation which caused injustice to millions of our people over 400 years. We are told that the Maafa or the Maangamizi was ‘character building’ and we ‘need to move on’ from this crime against humanity.

Clearly, there is a some way to go before our histories are collectively, jointly embraced. But I commit myself, as an Aspiring White Ally, to educate myself about our joint histories, to refuse to deny the reality of Black British peoples’ live experiences and to become a true ally to Black British people, against racism.

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Reading as a writer. Writing as a reader. And the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021

Last week a friend of mine and I talked about the six books shortlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. We’ve done it before and it’s always illuminating (and fun) but because we both write fiction, our conversations are often also about the nature of reading fiction as a writer. Neither of us read – at least at first – for the technical practicalities of writing (although you’d think we would). We both read for story first and foremost.

In preparation for our conversation we both wrote notes about the shortlisted books but I’d forgotten that my notes included remarks about some technicalities. (Perhaps because we both write we notice the technicalities without realising we do.) Anyway, what we agreed really matters is that no technicality, however sparkling or brilliant, should undermine, get in the way of or prevent us reading the story. Story is queen.

When we talked about Piranesi by Susanna Clarke I realised, as I was talking about the hypnotic effect the novel had on me, that Clarke had performed the same hypnosis on me as her protagonist undergoes. The language is simple, Clarke’s imagination is limitless but her glorious technical feat was one I didn’t recognise until my friend and I were talking. Which is exactly how it should be. I was absorbed by the story entirely. How it was written came later.

In my notes for How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps her House by Cherie Jones I wrote:

I was immediately engaged by The One-Armed Sister – and emotional engagement is what I long for in any art form. And I was immediately impressed by Jones’s ease in different voices, different persons (you, we) and the use of what I discover are known as modal verbs, verbs that express necessity or possibility (you can be … we could be). (And this is a first novel.) I was especially impressed because Jones employs all these textual tricks seamlessly (I didn’t notice until I’d read for at least a few paragraphs each time). But everything she does, grammatically, textually, technically, serves the story, is buried in the story. I didn’t notice the tricks, I noticed that my heart was beating faster, that I was suddenly inside a different person’s head, that I felt complicit in the harsh events of the story.

Which leads me to writing as a reader. George Saunders – in his book about writing fiction, A Swim in a Pond in The Rain – talks about the TICHN trolley. Into this trolley a reader will put the Things I (she) Couldn’t Help Noticing. And unless the writer returns to resolve or explain or at least acknowledge that she put these Things into her story in the first place the reader(s) will justifiably stop reading. These Things might include: why a man finds himself in a completely different world that he thinks is the only world (when it isn’t) in Piranesi, or why a man wakes up as a beetle. But whatever the writer puts into her reader’s TICHN trolley she has a duty to remember and return to these Things, if she wants to keep her reader(s) reading.

The Women’s Prize judges are going to have a hard time deciding on a winner. The result will be announced on 9 September.

Posted in Books, Creativity, Fiction, Literary Prizes, Psychology, reading, Writers, Writing, Writing Courses | Comments Off on Reading as a writer. Writing as a reader. And the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021

Black Minds Matter (BMM) : donations #BMMUK21K

I’ve been in therapy, but the reasons for my therapy have never included the trauma of racism, of living inside a black or brown skin in a white-supremacist society. Nor have I been misinterpreted because the colour of my therapist’s skin was different from my own. Which is why Black Minds Matter (BMM) is so necessary, so very important. Why Black therapists who won’t misinterpret a Black client’s experience (as a white therapist might) are essential; why Black Minds Matter provides free therapy (funded by donations) to clients.

Sarora Knots Supporting Black Mind's Matter U.K — Sarora KnotsBlack Minds Matter UK was founded in June, 2020 and, by December, 500 clients had begun therapy through the organisation, but BMM needs more funding for the 1,200 people on its waiting list.

Candice Carty-Williams, writer of the award-winning novel, Queenie, said in an interview with Stylist in 2019:

Young black women need to know that you can be vulnerable and ask for help. So I decided … to create this character who isn’t perfect, or strong, who can’t endure everything – because learning that is when I started to get better.

She gave Queenie, the young Black heroine of her novel, an experience that stops some Black people from going into therapy. Queenie and her Jamaican-born grandmother, Veronica, have this conversation (pages 283-284):

Queenie: I was the first person in this family to finish school, to go to college, to get a degree, to get a full-time job –
Veronica: Yes! And di firs’ person to go to psychotherapy. I am telling you. You are nat going. And dat is dat.

But when Queenie’s grandfather joins the conversation, he says:

Maybe if all ah we had learned to talk about our troubles we wouldn’t carry so much on our shoulders all the way to the grave. … Maybe we haffi learn from this new generation, Veronica.

There are testimonials from Black Minds Matter’s clients here and one of the Black therapists who works through BMM (and elsewhere) writes about the impact of George Floyd’s murder and coronavirus on Black mental health, here. Here’s an extract:

It has been my honour to witness my Black clients move away from what makes them unhappy, become more grounded, take back their autonomy, take better care of themselves and gain greater awareness and self-acceptance. I have seen my Black clients awaken and create beautiful lives where ‘everyday may not be joyful but they find joy in everyday’.

The mental health charity MIND is aware of the problem and there’s an American branch of Black Minds Matter. And, at the end of this link, from Sunshine Behaviourial Health, there’s a list of culturally competent mental health providers in America.

Here in the UK, the fictional Queenie’s therapy was through the NHS, but the waiting lists are long. I was lucky enough to be able to pay for my therapy but without it, my life would have remained an internally-frightening, unstable one. Please think about making a donation to Black Minds Matter. When I made mine just now, I saw they’ve reached 93% of their target, so only 7% to go. Please make a donation for the sake of those who badly need to talk to someone who’ll understand them, someone qualified to help them put their lives back together, someone who can give them, as one BMM client says here:

Help to get me out of the darkest space I found myself in, with a … secure path to remain out of it once our sessions finished.

I edited this post on 1 November 2021 to include resources for Black American Men who suffer from trauma and depression and for whom mental health treatment is often difficult to access. Black Men Matter provides information about mental health issues among Black men and places where help can be found. Importantly, they say this: Admitting you need care is a sign of strength, not weakness.

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Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021

This week is the week of the Women’s Prize Virtual Shortlist Festival. For the (almost invisible) amount of £12 you’ll have access to three evenings of readings by the shortlisted writers: there are some wonderful works to hear extracts from on Monday 14th, Tuesday 15th and Wednesday 16th.

I have loved Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: she hypnotised me into another world entirely. And both Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half and Cherie Jones’s How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House took me into worlds that showed me how Black lives have been lived in hostile worlds.

The winning novel will be announced on Wednesday 7 July. And I would love any of these three attitude-altering, knowledge-and-mind-expanding truly great stories to win. With a possible preference for the last one in my list of three. But it’s a difficult call.

Posted in Antiracism, Books, Creativity, Equality, Human Rights, Literary Prizes, Psychology, Racism, White Fragility, Women, Writing | Comments Off on Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021

Opening up set to blossom at home. But what about India (her vaccine generosity and her coronavirus surge)?

A beautiful blossom for our oh-so-close-to-lockdown-easing here in the UK.

The Wayfaring Tree (Virburnum lantana): a sign you’re homeward bound.

But spare a thought for India, home to the world’s largest coronavirus vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India (SII) but now also home to the worst surge in coronavirus since the pandemic began. It’s complicated, but this end-March Guardian article reports:

India’s foreign ministry and the Serum Institute of India … has partnerships with AstraZeneca, the Gates Foundation and the Gavi vaccine alliance to make up to 1bn doses for poorer countries … . India’s programme of “vaccine maitri” (vaccine friendship) in which it has sold or given away more coronavirus vaccines than it has administered at home, has been praised by some locally as a diplomatic success.

The National Geographic also reported, in late April, that:

India increased its oxygen exports to other countries by a 734 percent in January 2021 [but that] a briefing by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent global health research center at the University of Washington, says India’s daily COVID-19 cases are now double the number in the previous peak in September 2020.

The G7 needs to agree to make vaccines free to poorer countries and / or temporarily lift patents on vaccines, following Joe Biden’s lead, so they can be manufactured locally. This 6 May Guardian article unravels the knots, and writes:

The former British prime minister Gordon Brown, now a UN global ambassador and a leader of the campaign to equalise access to vaccines, said: “I welcome the US decision on temporary patent waivers, which makes the Covid-19 vaccine accessible. Now we must make the vaccine affordable. No one is safe until everyone is safe and on 11 June at the G7 leaders meeting, the richest countries should make the momentous decision to pay two-thirds of the $60bn (£43bn) cost of vaccinating the world.”

So now is surely the time to unite and make sure that poorer countries including India – the country that has exported so many vaccines and so much oxygen to help others – be allowed to keep (and manufacture) their own vaccines until all the world’s people are safe.

The Indian Flame Lily

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Stephen Lawrence Day, 22 April 2021

We will no longer ignore, the racism we all deplore.

We will never forget Stephen Lawrence.

Directed by Simon Frederick. Written by Simon Frederick, Marcus Jones & Max Cyrus. Narrated by Max Cyrus

And, from the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation website:

Stephen Lawrence was born and grew up in south-east London, where he lived with his parents Neville and Doreen, his brother Stuart and sister Georgina.

Like most young people, he juggled an active social life, school work, family commitments, and part-time employment. But he also had ambitions to use his talent for maths, art, and design to become an architect, and wanted to have a positive impact on his community.

Tragically, his dream of becoming an architect was never realised. On 22 April 1993, at the age of just 18, Stephen was murdered in an unprovoked racist attack. He didn’t know his killers and his killers didn’t know him.

After the initial police investigation, five suspects were arrested but not convicted. A public inquiry into the handling of Stephen’s case was held in 1998, leading to the publication of the Macpherson Report, which has been called ‘one of the most important moments in the modern history of criminal justice in Britain’.

It led to profound cultural changes in attitudes to racism, to the law and to police practice. It also paved the way for a greater understanding of discrimination of all forms and new equalities legislation.

Get involved, here.

And read his brother, Stuart Lawrence’s, new book, Silence is not an Option.

Image
The book is aimed at children between the ages of 10 and 16, but as the publisher, Scholastic, writes:

Stuart’s aim with this book is to use his own experience to help young people – to help all people – harness the good in themselves and in the world around them, using that fire of positivity to create change in their lives.

Posted in Antiracism, Art, Books, Democracy, Equality, History, Human Rights, Morality | 1 Comment

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: Bill Gates (& Gordon Brown)

In this Guardian review of Bill Gates’s How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Gordon Brown writes:

Success [in combating climate change] will come by demonstrating that the real power countries can wield to create a better world is not the power they can exercise over others but the power they can exercise with others. [my bold]

Among other possibilities for global cooperation, Brown is talking about COP26, the 26th Conference of the Parties (on Climate Change) that should have been held at the end of 2020 but, for obvious reasons, wasn’t. It’s now planned for November this year, in Glasgow, and, because of agent orange’s departure from the White House, there will, thank goodness, be an American contingent there too.

Bill Gates advocates technological solutions, naturally:

Show me a problem and I’d look for a technology to fix it.

but he also says:

I don’t have a solution to the politics of climate change.

And that’s the problem with both an agreed global climate change policy and agreed global action. Gordon Brown quotes John Maynard Keynes’ frustration when he couldn’t persuade the political leaders of the 1930s that his economic ideas offered a way out of world depression and mass unemployment. He said, of politics, that it promoted, “The survival of the unfittest”. And that, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.”

May the world leaders and environmentalists who will meet in November in Glasgow, as Gordon Brown says, enlist:

Vested interests like big oil … . [And may] The populist nationalist and protectionist rhetoric of irresponsible demagogues … be taken head on … . Supporters of a stronger set of commitments [on reducing emissions] will have to show why sharing sovereignty is in every nation’s self-interest, and that coordinated global action is indeed the only way to end the mismatch between the scale of the environmental problems we face and our current capacity to solve them.

For the sake of our children and their children, for the sake of their children’s children and the generations to come, may the world’s politicians and climate change experts pull together for a cleaner, healthier, sustainably unpolluted world so that James Lovelock’s  2010 words:

If there were a billion people living on the planet, we could do whatever we please. But there are nearly seven [nearly eight now] billion. At this scale, life as we know it today is not sustainable.

don’t come true.

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A Valentine to the Earth: Terra Carta

On 11 January the Prince of Wales announced Terra Carta, Earth Charter, a Magna Carta for the twenty-first century: the basis of a recovery plan for nature, people and the planet. A valentine to the earth, I thought. He said:

Humanity has made incredible progress over the past century, yet the cost of this progress has caused immense destruction to the planet that sustains us. We simply cannot maintain this course indefinitely … . It is time to focus on the future we wish to build, and indeed leave, for generations to come.

Terra Carta sets out aims for combining the power of nature with the transformative power, innovation and resources of the private sector. Banks, oil companies, AstraZeneca and Unilever to name a few from a long list, have already signed up. Their aim:

To identify ways to set our planet on a fundamentally more sustainable trajectory. Together [they will] develop a charter of ambitious, but practical action … to put Nature, and the protection of Nature’s capital – from which we draw an annual return – at the heart of how we operate.

Here is the Summarium and here the full Terra Carta.

The fundamental principles set out in Magna Carta, that the King be subject to law and no free person be deprived of freedom without due process of law (Habeas Corpus) now finds, in its sister Charter, the intention that we be subject to the natural laws that sustain our Earth, and that no free planet should be deprived of the freedom to breathe.

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Feeling Low? Try karunavirus. Seriously.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling pretty low about the state of our corona-contaminated world (not to mention other depressing events) so I went looking for something uplifting. And I found karunavirus. Seriously. Nothing to do with that virus; all to do with kindness, compassion, good news, good things and full of opportunities to volunteer to broadcast good news, begin something good, join something good, read about something good, do something good. Karuna is a Sanskrit word for compassion.

This December 2020 article reports Japanese plans to build wooden satellites that burn up when they plunge back to Earth without releasing harmful substances into the atmosphere. And without filling space with junk.

In an effort to reduce space trash … Sumitomo Forestry, a Japan-based wood processing company, said they’ve begun research on the ideal wood for space and will partner with Kyoto University to test the material in an extreme environment on Earth. They say the satellite will be ready by 2023.


full story here

And much much more good news here, to read, to do and to be. To keep all our spirits up (for at least some of the time) until it really does become a happy new year.

Posted in Climate Change, Coronavirus, Creativity, Good News, Good Things, Love, News, Science, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

When This Is Over … and some Christmas Lights for the dark Winter Nights

When this is over,
may we never again
take for granted
a handshake with a stranger,
full shelves at the store,
conversations with neighbours,
a crowded theatre,
Friday nights out,
the taste of communion,
a routine check-up,
the school rush each morning,
coffee with a friend,
the stadium roaring,
each deep breath,
a boring Tuesday,
life itself.
When this ends
may we find
that we have become
more like the people
we wanted to be,
were called to be,
we hoped to be.
And may we stay
that way – better
for each other
because of the worst.

a poem written by Laura Kelly Fanucci at the end of March 2020.
She speaks it here (on the Kelly Clarkson Show):

And here are some Christmas lights for the dark winter nights:

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Bookshop.org: an online bookshop that supports indie bookshops. And, ‘It’s easier to be a Dad, this morning … .’

Bookshop.org, as the Guardian articles below suggest, is exactly what the publishing world has been waiting for.
Bookshop.org is shattering sales projections, not all indies are chuffed » MobyLivesBookshop.org supports independent bookshops (it doesn’t undercut them, as the unmentionable does) and it makes it possible for independent bookshops to benefit from online sales wider than they, on their own websites, could reach.

From this article: Bookshop.org is being described as a “revolutionary moment in the history of bookselling”: a socially conscious alternative to [the unmentionable] that allows readers to buy books online while supporting their local independent bookseller.

You can nominate your own local bookshop to be supported when you use Bookshop.org’s website. It began in the US. Sharmaine Lovegrove writes:

Bookshop.org allows any independent shop to customise its own online store front, select books to recommend and, any time a bookshop directs a customer to the site through one of its links, it gets 30% of the sale.

The importance of supporting local bookshops as a vital part of the community has been increasingly recognised, and is reflected on this platform: every time a reader buys a book from an author, publisher, magazine or influencer page, 10% of that purchase will go to the page owner and another 10% into a profit pool for independent bookshops. In the US more than $7.5m has been raised to share among 900 bookshops. On day one [2 November] of being established in the UK, the pot was already at £12,500. [Today, 14 November, the pot is close to £124,500.00.]

This new platform offers practical solutions to keep our indie bookshops thriving and our writers reaching scores of readers. No wonder everyone is excited and delighted.

And many many people are also excited and delighted by the result of the American election. Van Jones, an American news commentator, said, on CNN, after the DemocratsJoe Biden and Kamala Harris became President and Vice-President elect:

What a man.

Posted in Antiracism, Books, Bookshops, Democracy, Equality, Fiction, Good News, Good Things, History, Human Rights, Living Standards, Morality, News, News Outlets, Politics | 2 Comments

October is Black History Month in the UK. But shouldn’t Black history be taught all the time?

Black History Month began in America as an annual History Week, in 1925. That year, Black historian Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History, announced Negro History Week: A celebration of a people that many in this country at the time believed had no place in history. February was chosen because it marked the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. From Woodson’s Wikipedia page:

Woodson worked to preserve the history of African Americans and accumulated a collection of thousands of artifacts and publications. He noted that African-American contributions ‘were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them’. Race prejudice, he concluded, ‘is … the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind’.

Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) and since his death in 1950 the ASALH has fought to keep Woodson’s legacy alive. In February 2020, in this article, Karma Allen interviewed Noelle Trent, Director of Interpretation, Collections and Education at the National Civil Rights Museum who said she was:

Frustrated that black history tends to be ignored by popular culture once February ends. Instead, Black History Month should be seen as a ‘starting point’ for a larger conversation about how to incorporate Black history into American history as a whole.

Black students and Black educators at Kent State University expanded American Black History Week into a month beginning on February 1, 1970 and, in 1976, every US President has designated February as Black History Month.

from here

from here

In the UK Black History Month was first celebrated in October 1987. It was organised by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, Special Projects Coordinator of the Ethnic Minorities Unit of the Greater London Council (GLC), after a broken-hearted colleague came to work one morning and:

Revealed to me in confidence that her seven-year-old son, who she had proudly and purposefully named Marcus, after Marcus Mosiah Garvey (a Black nationalist leader) had asked her: ‘Mom, why can’t I be white?’. This prompted me to ask questions about identity and to observe and talk to children after school, in buses, parks and in the playgrounds in London communities.
from this interview

October was chosen because the weather was not yet cold, school children were fresh from the long summer holiday and had fewer exams and tests to worry about.

Clearly Black History Months are good things. Education about Black history is a good thing. But isn’t it time, now, as Noelle Trent says, to incorporate Black history into history as a whole? Isn’t it time, as the words in the video above urge us: to treat Black history as a history that deserves a well-rounded holistic platform? Isn’t it time?

No Black child should ever have to ask why they aren’t white.
Every child should feel represented.

Sinai Fleary, writing in the HuffPost in UK Black History Month in 2018 said:

As a young black girl whose parents were Rasta and came from the Caribbean, I was delighted that renowned poet and author Benjamin Zephaniah was doing the assembly [at Fleary’s school in the early 1990s]. For those minutes, I was completely fixated on this tall, black, Rasta man with long dreadlocks, performing poetry in front of the whole school. He spoke with a Jamaican accent, mixed with some English slang. He sounded like the voices I heard in my own family. Instantly, I felt a connection. He was me and I was him. Every child has the right to feel what I felt that morning: represented.

Posted in Antiracism, Democracy, History, Human Rights, Psychology, Racism | 2 Comments

The Doll Test and the heartbreakingly detrimental effects of segregation

In the 1940s, in America, Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clark designed and conducted a series of tests known colloquially as The Doll Tests.

Children between the ages of three and seven were asked to identify the race of the dolls and which colour they preferred.

A majority of the children preferred the white doll and assigned positive characteristics to it. The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” created a feeling of inferiority among African-American children and damaged their self-esteem.

I watched videos of the doll tests and found them entirely heartbreaking. When presented with black and white dolls and asked questions about them, almost all the children, black and white, identified the black dolls as bad, ugly and possessing other negative aspects. But even worse than that, when the children were asked which doll they looked like, Black children, who had almost all attributed negative qualities to the black dolls, pointed to the black dolls. In the original 1940s experiments the children were all black and when asked the final question, ‘Give me the doll that looks like you’:

Two children ran out of the testing room, uncontrollable, convulsed in tears.

The dolls used in the Clarks’ studies at their Northside Center for Child Development, founded in 1946. (Credit: Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, Gift of Kate Clark Harris in memory of her parents Kenneth and Mamie Clark, in cooperation with the Northside Center for Child Development.)

The experiment was :

used in the 1954 Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court Case that ended segregation … . The Supreme Court decided that separation and inequality went hand in hand and therefore it was unconstitutional … . The paper where the results are presented is called Racial Identification and Preference in Negro Children.

Today, integration is the law, segregation is against the law. But, in 2010, CNN commissioned a new version of the doll test, using cartoons that showed a range of skin tones. The results were similar to those shown by the Clarks in the 1940s. Sixty years later, the results were similar. In the new test, child development researcher Margaret Beale Spencer tested 133 children from schools with different racial and income mixes. This time, the studies looked at white children as well. And although Black children held more positive attitudes towards black dolls, white children maintained an intense bias toward whiteness. “We are still living in a society where dark things are devalued and white things are valued,” Spencer told CNN. Jim Crow segregation may no longer exist in the United States, but racial bias is alive and well. (adapted from an article by Erin Blakemore, August 2018.)

There is a small ray of hope. In 2017 a woman recreated the doll test with her six-year-old Black daughter. When asked if she knew what race she was, the child thought race was some kind of sport. When asked questions about the good and bad dolls she attributed positive qualities to the black doll, every time. But that’s only one test. It seems to me that we white people have many lessons to learn and much white supremacy to dismantle before we truly and always think of Black people as equals and so transmit these attitudes and values to our children and grandchildren. If we don’t, if we’re not, as Layla Saad says, good ancestors to our children and grandchildren, how will they ever imbibe antiracist, humane, heartfelt behaviour towards Black people?

Posted in Antiracism, Equality, Psychology, Racism | Comments Off on The Doll Test and the heartbreakingly detrimental effects of segregation

Deborah Alma’s Poetry Pharmacy: Poetry Prescriptions

Last week I had a telephone consultation with a pharmacist. Not an unusual thing to do in these corona-times, but this pharmacist doesn’t dispense drugs. Deborah Alma is a Poetry Pharmacist.

Before corona I’d planned to go to The Poetry Pharmacy in Bishops Castle, in June. But by the end of March I realised I wouldn’t be going. So, instead, Deborah and I had a telephone conversation in which she asked thought-provoking, heart-warming and inspiring questions, and we also laughed at least once.

Here’s a quote from The Poetry Pharmacy’s website:

Consulting room
Poetry on prescription – an alternative therapy for your emotional ailments. Whether you are suffering from the stresses of the modern world or the pain of a broken heart or simply need a tonic for the spirits, rest assured that we have a poetic remedy for you.Poetry Pharmacy bottle logo

Deborah began her poetry remedy work as The Emergency Poet which she described as

the world’s first and only mobile poetic first aid service … a mix of the serious, the therapeutic and the theatrical.

She drove an Emergency Poet ambulance to festivals, conferences, hospitals and care settings, libraries and schools … ‘anywhere where poetic help may be urgently required’. But from 4 October 2019 The Poetry Pharmacy has been open (with, of course, corona closures, but it’s open again now).

The Poetry Pharmacy’s aim is:

to counter the widely held perception that poetry is “difficult, obscure and not for the likes of me”. … To match or alter a mood, to assist … with good mental health … to bring therapeutic effects with an emphasis on well-being and inclusivity

If you should find yourself in Bishops Castle, apart from your Poetry Consultation (which you can find out more about and book here), there’s also a cafe where you can have a cup of Tea (S Eliot) and a piece of Philip Parkin (among other offerings). If you can’t make it to Bishops Castle, you can book your consultation by email or phone.

My prescription was uplifting, inspiring, beautiful, thought-provoking and its effects will be long-lasting as I reread. Part of it was a poem by Denise Levertov, here, and this:
A bottle of poetry capsules (not to be taken except metaphorically) inside each of which are coiled words of wisdom. The one I just opened says:

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.                                                                           TS Eliot

Go: 36 High Street, Bishops Castle, Shropshire, SY9 5BQ. Or ring: 01588 638069.
Or email: hello@poetrypharmacy.co.uk. Or Tweet: @emergencypoet.
Or Instagram: @poetrypharmacy. Or Facebook: @emergencypoet.
For your spiritual sanity.

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What does it mean to be white? It means I’m racist

In a recent interview, Robin DiAngelo, a white person, said that to understand my racism, as a white person, I need to ask myself:

What does it mean to be white?

She said that if I ask myself if I’m racist I’ll say no. Because, consciously, I’m not. But if I say I’m not racist, then I don’t have to do anything about racism. So, if I ask myself:

What does it mean to be white?

I begin to understand what it means NOT to be white. And what the consequences of not being white are. And I understand that I am racist. I don’t want to write that. I don’t want to be racist. But I am. Because I have stayed silent. Because I have never examined my subconscious white supremacy. Because I’ve never asked myself what it means to be white.

I’m not proud that I haven’t, I’m astonished that I haven’t. Just as astonished as, when I began reading Layla F Saad’s Me and White Supremacy, I realised I’ve never ever not-even-once-in-my-life thought about the fact that I haven’t ever, not ever, been discriminated against for the colour of my skin.

Me And White SupremacyWhen I ask myself, What does it mean to be white? my immediate answers are:

  • Being white means I’ve never ever been discriminated against for the colour of my skin.
  • Being white means I’m never afraid I’ll be wrongly accused as a result of my whiteness.
  • Being white means I’ve never been afraid for my life, because of my whiteness.
  • Being white means I never think about my whiteness or how I might need to tone it down so I don’t get stopped and searched for no reason. Or even for a reason.
  • Being white means I’ve never wondered if anything that happens to me, whether it’s not getting a job, not being admitted to a club, not getting a book published, being turned down for a place to live, someone being rude to me … never have I wondered if any of these things have happened to me because of my whiteness.

Clearly my list could go on and on. But if I don’t know what it means to be white I can’t know what it means not to be white in the society I live in. And each time I wrote, I’ve never or I’m never, I realised how free of restriction, of prejudice, of racism, of fear, how fundamentally free my white life is. My whiteness has shaped my worldview, and because I’ve never thought that I even held a white worldview, I am racist.

As Reni Eddo-Lodge says in this Guardian interview:

Being involved in feminist and anti-racist work, you notice very quickly that you have racism but no one who admits to being racist. [my bold]

and, on being asked what to do about racism:

Imagine you had a partner who you were hoping might be able to improve their perspective on something, and instead they say, “Just tell me what to do”. That tells me that person isn’t willing to take on any level of responsibility and I guess what I’m trying to do is prompt people to take responsibility for racism. That takes initiative and using your own brain.

I no longer want to be racist, nor do I want my white fragility to prevent me from beginning antiracist work. White fragility is a term DiAngelo coined:
White FragilityIt’s also a subject addressed in Me and White Supremacy. Saad quotes DiAngelo at the beginning of Day 2, You and White Fragility:

It is white people’s responsibility to be less fragile; People of Color don’t need to twist themselves into knots trying to navigate us as painlessly as possible.

DiAngelo also said, in that recent interview, that when she asked a group of people:

What if you could just give us [white people] feedback on our inevitable and often unaware racist assumptions and behaviours? A Black man said: It would be revolutionary.

Revolutionary. That white people would receive a Black person’s feedback with grace, reflect on it and seek to change behaviours … is revolutionary. ‘That’s,’ said DiAngelo, ‘how difficult we are.’

Change begins at a deep personal level. DiAngelo and Saad say the work of antiracism is lifelong. Eddo-Lodge says racism is designed to benefit whiteness at every level. I commit the rest of my life to internal and external antiracism work.

Posted in Antiracism, Equality, Human Rights, Psychology, Racism, White Fragility, Writers, Writing | Comments Off on What does it mean to be white? It means I’m racist

Clean Air: Act. And a poem and a chat

If you’re not as ancient as me you won’t remember the pea-soupers in London:

Great Smog of London | Facts, Pollution, Solution, & History ...

Great Smog of London, December, 1952

and I’d only been breathing for just under two years at the time so it’s not exactly a memory for me either, but by 1956 The Clean Air Act had been passed to reduce air pollution in the city. It was a slow response to a death-dealing polluting smog, slow for economic reasons, shame on them, but the Act was passed. Since then many laws have been passed to clean up the air we breathe but an unexpected side effect of the terrible death-dealing coronavirus pandemic has been cleaner air.

In the middle of May an expert in air pollution, Professor Frank Kelly from Imperial College, London, gave an interview to Radio 4’s Jim Al-Khalili on The Life Scientific. He said there’d been a reduction of approximately 50% of the gas nitrogen dioxide in the air during the pandemic: nitrogen dioxide particles generate free radical activity in our lungs. Professor Kelly also hoped that the clear blue skies we’ve all seen and the birdsong we’ve all heard will stay in our memories and prompt us to think seriously about our environment and the air we breathe as we move out of lockdown and into the next decade.

In early June, several groups and organisations wrote to the Prime Minister calling for a green economic recovery from the pandemic: may their calls for action be met so that the air we breathe is kept clean for future generations.

And if you or anyone you know is feeling lonely and/or isolated and in need of a friendly telephone conversation centred on a poem, The Reader has a wonderful initiative:Here’s what they say: at The Reader we know not everyone can join online activities, so while we can’t meet face to face, our staff and volunteers are offering a weekly phone call to those needing comfort and connection. We’ll partner you with one of our friendly volunteers who’ll call you each week for a chat and to share a poem.

Call 0151 729 2250 between 10am and 4pm, Monday – Friday or email coronavirus@thereader.org.uk and quote Finding Connection.

Posted in Climate Change, Coronavirus, Creativity, Death and Dying, Listening, One Green Thing, Poetry, Science, Shared Reading | Comments Off on Clean Air: Act. And a poem and a chat

George Floyd: I Can’t Breathe: BlackOut Tuesday 2 June 2020

LA Reid, record producer and founder of HitCo, posted this on twitter two days ago:

And George Floyd’s brother, Philonese, says this on YouTube. He calls for peaceful protests and for people to use their votes in the coming US election to call for the change that’s so badly needed in white supremacy and white fragility about black people. (Those last eight words are mine, not Philonese’s: they come from Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad and if you’re reading this and you’re white it’s essential, actually it’s mandatory reading.) Philonese also says Trump didn’t give him a chance to speak when he called him about his brother. I wish I had a vote in the US election. I haven’t. But I hope with all my heart that BIG change is coming.

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Shonaleigh Cumbers: Grief is Love with Nowhere to Go; and One Green Thing: clean aviation fuel

Shonaleigh Cumbers is a Drut’syla. To quote from here:

She’s a living tradition holder. It’s a tradition you probably won’t have heard of. It’s a tradition that flourished in Jewish families, but that was wiped out during the holocaust. Almost wiped out. As far as we know, Shonaleigh is the last Drut’syla.

Drut’syla is the Yiddish word for storyteller, and what a storyteller Shonaleigh is. But despite the words above, she is working to expand and share the Drut’syla tradition. Her repertoire is huge but that’s hardly the point. The point is Shonaleigh knows stories inside out. She knows them in her body and she tells them, she doesn’t write them down. For these strange coronavirus times her Hope from the Jewish Tradition is a marvellous thing. It’ll take you twenty minutes to listen to but it’ll be worth it, I promise. The recording was made more than a year ago, but it’s just as relevant now as it was when it was recorded in New Zealand just after the Christchurch community suffered those mosque attacks in 2019. She begins:

‘Somebody once told me that grief is love with nowhere to go.’

And my One Green Thing this month is about alternatives to toxic aviation fuel. From a (slightly gloomy) Flight Free article – the organisation that urges us to stop flying – I discovered that batteries are still too heavy; alternative fuels can’t make up more than 50% of fuel used on a flight and carbon capture still leaves nitrogen oxide, another greenhouse gas, and vapour contrails in the atmosphere. But I did hear Professor Myles Allen, Coordinating Lead Author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on 1.5 degrees, saying, to Jim Al-Khalili on Radio 4’s Life Scientific in February, that alternative clean aviation fuel could be made:

This is a deeply solvable problem. I was speaking recently to a room full of young engineers from one of the big five oil companies … I was talking about the 1.5 degrees report … and somebody asked me, ‘Do you think there’s actually any hope we’ll limit global warming to 1.5 degrees?’

[So I asked them] ‘If you had to make the product you sell [oil] carbon neutral by 2050 would you be able to do it?’ … Senior management looked at their shoes but the young engineers said, ‘Would the same rules apply to everybody?’ [the big five oil-producing companies] I nodded. ‘Then of course we would.’

This is what frustrates me in the discussion of climate change solutions: the one institution in the world that has the capital, the cash flow, the engineering capability to solve the climate change problem is the global fossil fuel industry. It’s 10% of the world economy.  … We [should] require them to clean up their waste rather than hoping somebody else will do it for them.

Green food for thought, don’t you think?

Posted in Climate Change, Coronavirus, Creativity, Good News, Good Things, Health, Love, One Green Thing, Storytelling | Comments Off on Shonaleigh Cumbers: Grief is Love with Nowhere to Go; and One Green Thing: clean aviation fuel