Friday 27 May 2016

Tales from the European Referendum - of 1975. No 2. The voters speak.

Here I am ‘vox popping’ people in Birmingham in the run-up to the 1975 vote on Europe asking them how they think it will go. Interesting how many people did not seem to know we were already in Europe, and to hear the same complaints you get today that they do not know enough to make their minds up. Perhaps that just confirms that this is a very complex issue, and more suited to being decided by a general election than a referendum.

Here is my interview with former Prime Minister Ted Heath featured in my post of May 20.

Friday 20 May 2016

Tales from the European Referendum - of 1975. No. 1. Ted Heath

Here I am interviewing former Prime Minister Ted Heath - the man who took Britain into Europe - during the referendum campaign of 1975. If you're impatient to hear my dulcet tones, they start at about 1 minute 15 seconds in.

In those days, the Conservative Party was solidly pro-European. How did they morph into today's little Englanders?

A shame Heath is not still around. He would have injected a bit of much needed fire into the pro-Europe camp. I would have loved seeing him lay into the Tory antis' Infamous Five - Johnson, Gove, Fox and a couple of others whose names escape me. 

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Europe: stay or leave? Focus on fact - 6

Today’s fact: leaving Europe is not just for Christmas.

Interesting to hear some people inclined to vote for Brexit on the radio yesterday morning. They were asking: ‘if we leave Europe and it all goes wrong, when do we get the chance to join again? Is it in 3 years or in 5 years?’ The fact that the answer to the question is ‘probably never’ and that Brexit is a one-way ticket, does not seem to have dawned on some of the anti-Europeans.

Interesting also the way the anti-Europeans dismiss the overwhelming weight of reputable, statistically supported economic forecasts that leaving Europe will damage us, and that the only question is how much. The Brexiters reply: ‘forecasts are nearly always wrong’. And yet they base their own arguments on completely unsupported forecasts that the EU is going to (a) get closer and closer or (b) break up. As these forecasts are contradictory, plainly at least one cannot be right.

And even if either should one day come to pass, neither is a reason for leaving now. Should the EU get closer and closer, we are exempt from the process, and if we should ever feel our exemption was insufficient, we could then leave. Similarly, if the EU were to break up, we would, like everyone else, leave.

The anti-Europeans are behaving like a man on a cliff top who jumps off because he is afraid that at some time in the future a dangerous animal may appear.

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Storm: sightings of my new book!

The first hints about my new book Storm: Nature and Culture are beginning to appear on the internet. Published by Reaktion Books, it is due to be published in September.

Storms are one of the most awesome expressions of the power of nature that all of us will experience in some form - hurricanes, gales, thunderstorms, hail, monsoon rain, sand and dust storms, tornadoes. Storm will be the first book to examine all aspects of tempests - 

the stories of the fiercest we have experienced
how they have changed the course of history
how important storms and storm gods have been in religion
how they have influenced art, cinema, and literature
how humanity has tried to control them through religion, superstition and science
whether they are going to get fiercer in the future
etc, etc

Storm, like my last book Flood: Nature and Culture appears in Reaktion's Earth series.

Here is a selection of internet pieces about Storm:*Version*=1&*entries*=0

Sunday 15 May 2016

Lightning kills more than 50 in Bangladesh

More than 50 people have been killed by lightning in Bangladesh over the last few days, and scores have been injured. In total, over 90 have been killed since March, compared with 51 in the whole of last year.

Most of the victims were working in the fields, though two students were struck as they played football in the capital, Dhaka. March to May is the worst time of the year for thunderstorms, and more are expected over the next week or so.

M. Abdul Mannan, a meteorology department official, said storms had been getting more severe over the last 30 years because of climate change. He blamed this year’s exceptionally hot weather for the increase in deaths, while the Bangladesh Disaster Preparedness Forum said the felling of trees was also a factor.

Lightning is also India’s deadliest natural disaster, killing at least 1,500 people every year since 2003. (See my post of 7 September 2015. See also my posts of 1 July 2011 and 4 July 2015.)

*My new book Storm: Nature and Culture (Reaktion Books) is due out in September.

Saturday 7 May 2016

Devastating forest fires

There are fears that the wildfire that has devastated the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada could get even bigger. Already it is said to be covering an area as big as New York City, and 80,000 people have been evacuated.

So far there are no reports of deaths or injuries, but the blaze is happening in the heart of Canada’s oil sands country, and there is concern it might reach extraction facilities and spark a major explosion. More than 1,000 firefighters, using 150 helicopters and 27 aircraft, have been deployed against the flames.

Probably the deadliest wildfire in Canadian history was the Matheson Fire of 29 July 1916, which destroyed six towns in Ontario, and devastated two more, as well as killing more than 220 people. It started when fires deliberately set to clear forest using slash and burn, got out of control.

Even worse was the fire that devastated Peshtigo and other lumber towns on the banks of Lake Michigan across the border in Wisconsin, USA on 8 October 8 1871, killing more than 1,150 people. It began in the forest surrounding the towns after a long dry spell. For the story, see A Disastrous History of the World. (See also my posts of 7 and 8 February 2009.)

Thursday 5 May 2016

Europe: stay or leave? Focus on fact - 5

Today’s fact: other countries have rights and interests just as much as we do. 

The anti-Europeans are so focused on what they see as OUR rights and interests that they have a real problem getting their heads round the idea that our European neighbours have THEIR rights and interests too.

A similar thing happened in the Scottish referendum. The pro-independence campaigners were so obsessed with their own interests, they could not understand that the rest of Britain would consider ITS interests and say: ‘No. You can’t keep the pound.’

Because the other EU countries are better at selling things to us than we are at selling things to them, we have a huge trade deficit, but to the anti-Europeans in their parallel universe, this weakness is a strength, for it means the rest of Europe will be desperate to offer us a stonkingly favourable trade deal. Unfortunately it does not work like that.

Europe sells about 8 per cent of its exports to us. One would not want to give that up, but if push came to shove, one could do without it. Between 40 and 50 per cent of our exports go to Europe. If we lost that, it would destroy our economy. In any post-Brexit negotiations, the rest of Europe will have the strong hand, and we will have the weak one. We will be the ones desperate for an agreement.

The anti-Europeans want a relationship with the rest of the Europe that gives us all the benefits of EU membership with none of the costs, and they blame any suggestion of a refusal to give in to their demands on spite. Europe would certainly be justified in feeling spiteful when you look at the constant vituperation it receives from the anti-Europeans, but spite is not the reason it will refuse the Brexiters’ demands. The reason is that it is not in the interests of the rest of Europe to concede them.