The Climate Crisis Is Now

The Climate Emergency isn’t some distant threat. It’s tearing the world apart now. And if you want to see what the future holds for everyone, turn your attention to Pakistan.

Pakistan has one of the fastest growing populations in the world. It currently stands at a staggering 220.9 million in a country that is just twice the size of California. The economy simply isn’t keeping pace. Many will be born into – and live their entire lives in – poverty.

For the last few weeks, Pakistan, and its neighbour India, have been living through a devastating heatwave that is getting close to the limit of human survival – 122F/50C.

That’s not going to be a one-off.

Too many people think of the Climate Emergency as a matter of temperature rise. They don’t see the knock-on effects that reach into every aspect of life – a nation unable to feed itself, a lack of water, the failure of the power system and more.

What happens when you get millions of people unable to survive with even the basics? This is what Pakistan, and India, is looking at in a very short time frame.

Many will die. But others won’t stay there and suffer. The population – and the problems – will be displaced.

What’s happening now will engulf the world unless drastic action is taken immediately.

We live in an age of multiple unfolding crises, and one thing we know is that one crisis always whips up the blaze of another one. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will cause global food shortages on a scale we haven’t seen before. That’s going to slam up hard against failing crops and dying cattle in Pakistan, India and beyond.

This year, next year, not in 2050.

Our leaders aren’t doing enough. Regardless of party, many are simply not up to the job. Change has to come fast.

Stories Change The World

Stories change the world around us. Sometimes the changes are small, sometimes huge and powerful. This is currently known as the Sideways Effect, which is widely studied by academics.

The novel Sideways – and the subsequent film featuring Paul Giamatti – included a tirade against Merlot. It changed the wine industry forever, reducing Merlot’s market share from 20% to just 6% while boosting Pinot Noir and creating an entire tourist industry in the valley where the book was set.

Small: there was never an NYPD choir until a Christmas song had them singing Galway Bay. Now there is.

Storytelling is a meme generator. A creator’s dreaming seeps into the mind of a reader or viewer and changes the way they think as if they’d been infected by a virus. And when their thoughts change, their actions in the world change, and that changes the world itself.

Storytelling is hugely powerful. It shouldn’t be treated lightly.

The World Is About To Change Forever

We’re about to reach a turning point for the world, one of those rare moments in history when every single thing changes and all the that we relied on before is replaced by something new.

The combination of Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine and the pandemic will unleash disruption on a massive scale in many different areas at the same time. I’ve just worked my way through several reports which show how these crises are going to interlock and force huge changes.

  • Africa is facing an imminent famine and food disruption. Ukraine provides much of its wheat and fertiliser that the war will devastate.
  • An energy crisis looms with shortages and rising prices everywhere, again due to the war.
  • The cost of living is going to go through the roof everywhere because the pandemic, particularly in China, is going to disrupt supply chains for a long time.
  • The old world order is gone. The US, EU and UK will cleave together, but multiple poles of power will arise elsewhere- China, India and in Africa with countries choosing alliances which best suit them.

It all sounds catastrophic but crisis drives change for the better.

The West will be forced to start caring more for countries suffering in East Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

The global economic system will have to be rethought with new trade arrangements that provide security for all and are less damaging to the planet.

There will be overwhelming investment in renewable energy systems that will tackle the climate emergency far better than anything we planned before.

We’re a weird species. We only make changes for the better when crisis forces it upon us. But history shows us that times like this always result in something significantly better.

Bottom line: the months ahead are going to be a turbulent time that we’re all going to have to get through.

Everything is going to be smashed down (metaphorically). But in times of crisis the best of people emerges and we’re going to start building a world that’s radically different and incredibly better.

Because there’s going to be no alternative.

Electric Battery Breakthrough

This is worth your time – how an accidental discovery could revolutionise electric cars (and planes and ships) and help tackle the climate emergency.

“Every now and then, revolutionary technology seems to spontaneously appear out of thin air and change our world. Dynamite, penicillin, X-ray machines, and even microwaves are all examples of such revolutionary accidental discoveries. 

Well, this year we may have had yet another. However, this time it is set not only to revolutionise the way we live, but potentially save our planet from looming climate change by unlocking an elusive technology: lithium-sulfur batteries.”

Back In The USA

The world has changed completely in three weeks. None of the old rules apply, none of that twentieth century thinking counts for a thing any more.

What is the new world going to look like?

I’d been working on a new book that set out to answer that question. Now it has a different context and an added, perhaps desperate impetus. We need to start thinking through that question fast because the pace of change, if anything, is accelerating.

I used to work as a national media journalist in the UK – print and TV. That has left me with a lot of excellent contacts in foreign affairs, defence and intelligence. I’ve been putting them to good use on my personal Facebook page where I’ve written extensively about the Russia-Ukraine conflict. If you’re interested you should be able to find it easily.

And we thought we were getting a break after the pandemic, right? This world comes at you hard.

But at least it’s a little easier to travel now. I’m heading back to the US shortly for a two-year delayed trip. Triple vaxxed with booming T cells thanks to a ‘rona infection just when I thought I’d dodged the bullet, I’ll still be wearing a mask for travelling.

There’s going to be a whole lot of new stories to tell. New thinking to be done. New answers to be found. Let’s all do what we can.

Industrial Gothic

There was a sense that first arose in the eighties of something I call Industrial Gothic, a romanticism settling on places of terminal decline, abandoned coal mines, ship yards, crumbling factories, polluted wastelands.

They’re haunted places, filled with ghosts of better times, but there’s also a beauty in those industrial spaces, like ivy-festooned medieval churches settling back into nature.

That mood infected films and TV and books from the eighties on, capturing a unique feeling that revelled in the misery yet also found glamour.

I’ve always been fascinated by industrial sites, that strange beauty of lights in the dark, a scale that makes humans seem insignificant. The Humber Refinery, pictured above, has the grandeur of a cathedral.

Soon it’ll be obsolete and that mood will settle deep into the concrete and steel.

Best TV Drama 2021

2021 was another year which marked a march away from the relevance of network TV towards the dominance of streaming. In this age of complexity and nuance where there is no longer a broad shared culture, the SVODs have the upper hand: they can produce shows tooled for any particularly micro-tribe.

It’s not going to get any better for network TV.

Here are the best shows I saw this year…

10. For All Mankind

Once Apple TV+’s alternate history series about the Space Race revealed what it was *really* doing midway through season one, it took on a completely new dimension. As much a secret history as an alternate history, this show is equally about down here as it is out there. It reveals exactly what we lost by not pushing forward with space ambitions after the moon landings. Like all Apple TV+ shows, the storytelling has a solid old school charm, with some great characters and performances, and immense production values (again, a regular for Apple shows).

9. Only Murders In The Building

A frothy confection that is instantly engaging thanks to the chemistry among the three principles – Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez. It plays nicely with the conflict between old and young generation, pointing up the strengths and weaknesses of both, rather than taking any sides. And as you would expect from a Steve Martin vehicle, the dialogue sparkles: “The only thing your generation is scared of is colon cancer and societal change,” as Selena Gomez says to her older comrades. Not the only true crime podcasters investigate real crime series you’ll find this year, but certainly the best.

8. You

This has been a year of regular series steadily improving in quality and You is no exception. The best of the three seasons, There’s a great dynamic between Penn Badgley’s psychopathic world’s worst husband Joe and Victoria Pedretti’s equally psychopathic Love, with both of them digging new graves in suburbia. Stitched through with black humour, the stakes are raised continually with plenty of twists and turns. Pedretti does her best work here.

7. The White Lotus

A show about terrible people doing terrible things – I don’t know if that trope’s arisen because we like to revel in our moral superiority or to gawk at a slow-motion car crash, maybe both. The White Lotus is packed with brilliant performances, each one simmering in turn while creator Mike White slowly and sadistically turns the blade on each one of them as they gather in a Hawaiian hotel.

6. The Good Fight

Not enough people are watching the only satire on TV, and a great one at that, which has skewered every aspect of the Trump presidency and the subsequent fallout. This year I watched both the pandemic-truncated season 4 – with the soon-to-be classic Jeffrey Epstein episode – and season 5’s post-January 6 nightmare for America. Ostensibly a legal drama, this show is really a dissection of US society with a focus on who actually pulls the levers of power.

5. The Crown

The best season of the Royal drama – though not the best Queen, although Olivia Coleman does a passable job. There’s an almost unbearable sense of tension building throughout these episodes. With the addition of Diana and Charles’ affair with Camilla, the Shakespearean tone comes to the fore, every scene heightened with the knowledge of what is to come. Emma Corrin as Diana, Josh O’Connor as Charles and Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher are all fantastic.

4. Mare Of Easttown

Hatchet-faced people investigating a grim crime in a depressingly hope-free post-industrial town, so much, so UK network TV. But this series is elevated by the excellent writing and show running of Brad Ingelsby and the performance of Kate Winslet which turns it into a detailed and ultimately inspiring character study of a woman who’s lost so much – not the least her hope for the future – and yet still does her best for her community. Mare of Easttown isn’t about the crime, it’s about human beings struggling to get on and it has a big heart tucked away.

3. Squid Game

TV commissioners often recoil from anything too imaginative, as if ‘real’, or their perception of such, is the only way to tell a story. But you can examine a serious subject by slamming your nose against the brick wall or sitting on a distant hill and taking a more reflective view. Squid Game does the latter in the way it tackles the mechanics of the capitalist system (sounds dreary doesn’t it?) in a story that could not be more unrealistic and as such delivers a more effective gut punch. Desperate people on the edge of society are given the chance to compete in a life-or-death struggle for big rewards. It’s all one big game, for the edification of those who don’t have to get their hands bloody. It’s also the most popular TV show in the world this year so maybe there’s something to that imagination lark.

2. Sex Education

Despite the title, this show is really about love in all its many forms. Ostensibly another fantasy – the cast are British but it’s set in a school that is like no British school anywhere – Sex Education uses the lack of specificity to make this a universal story about discovering love here in the 21st century. The character work is phenomenal, one of the best shows for that on TV, the storytelling at turns heart-soaring and heartbreaking. Thoroughly modern in every human aspect, it tracks the diversity and complexity of how we live today. Sex Education has improved with each season and this one was so close to being the best show of the year. But then came…

1. Succession

On the surface, another show about terrible people doing terrible things, but just like Sex Education, it’s really about love, particularly what happens when you don’t get it as a kid and how that drives you in adult life to fill that void. Succession is a rich, complex series that tackles many things crucial to today’s world and this third season is the best. Eschewing big plots, it drills down into the characters of the children of media magnate Logan Roy (think: Rupert Murdoch) and how their search for his approval both destroys them and corrupts the wider world. The performances at every level are astounding, the writing pitch perfect as it coldly dissects this toxic sphere of existence. One of those series that will ultimately define the golden age of TV.