Archive for January, 2011
Thanks to UNISON for pointing out that scrapping the EMA (see “Back to the Barricades”) will cost up to £40m in penalties for ending the contract with Capita. For those who don’t know, Crapita (as Private Eye calls them without being sued) is a big private firm which has specialised in taking over ‘outsourced’ public sector functions and doing them much less well.
Vulnerable kids will no longer get a few lousy quid to encourage them to stay on at school, but Crapita will still trouser a big chunk of taxpayers’ money. So that’s all right then.
“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Regular readers know that I spent 3 years doing voluntary work in Fiji in the 80s (and yes, it was fab). I don’t have the time to keep in touch with events there as much as I’d like, and tellingly all the local friends I’m in touch with now live in Australia.
However, a little Fiji-related item caught my eye recently. Fiji Water is a US-owned company (wouldn’t you know it) which exports – um – water around the world. One hardly needs to be a hardline eco-warrior to see that this isn’t the most sustainable way of having a drink of water, so in 2007 the company launched an initiative claiming that they’d made their product ‘carbon neutral’.
Jaded cynics like me are sceptical of such greenwash, and turns out I’m not alone. A Californian woman has taken out a lawsuit claiming that their claims are pretty much rubbish – basically all you have to do is buy a few ‘offset credits’ for carbon reductions which may take place in the future. Yeah, you spotted the flaw; tiny little bottles of water filled in Fiji, shipped (or God knows even flown) round the world, sold for two quid apiece in Selfridges, and not a thing given back to our struggling ecosystem!
I’ve just read John Lanchester’s excellent book Whoops! Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay. I strongly recommend this as a clear, accessible examination of how the banks have messed it up for all of us.
I could quote virtually the whole book, were it not for time and copyright restraints. The most revealing part for me was his discussion of risk; this, according to John, was where they made their biggest actual mistake. That’s mistake as opposed to corruption and our old friend greed, you understand, but we know about those anyway, don’t we?
The way John tells it, our banking heroes used (and probably still use) a model to calculate risk based on standard deviations. This model told them that the market crash of 1987 – not the recent one, note – was improbable to the tune of 10 standard deviations. That is, it was very very very unlikely, but it happened even so. After that there were loads of other ‘mini-crashes’ which were still statistically wildly unlikely.
I’m no mathematician and have only a basic grounding in statistics, but – you know what – I think this might have caused me to question the maths behind the risk assessment. Here’s John: “If your mathematical model tells you that something is impossible…and that thing happens, then you know with certainty that your mathematical model is wrong” For some reason, doubtless unconnected with their huge bonus packages, the bankers failed to cop on to what you and I can understand blindfold.
That, dear Reader, is a special kind of stupid. The kind that needs a million-pound bonus to stop it going abroad to work. Whoops indeed.
56 species of crustacean were considered critically endangered in 2004. In 2010 it was 116.
Source: IUCN Red List
Grasping at straws, I know, but here are some good portents for 2011:
- Congress repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (yeah, who’da thunk it?)
- Spain banned smoking in pubs and restaurants
- Italy banned plastic bags (wonder if Silvio has shares in a bag-for-life firm?)
- England retained the Ashes, in style (sorry Aussie mates, but a little bit of gloating is needed!)
I need to cheer myself up sometimes!
Back from a festive break and looking forward to a new year of watching the welfare state being dismantled. Gonna start with a look back to December though…..you may distantly recall that there was another international summit to address climate change.
These negotiations are complex by their nature, so the UK media largely ignored them. On the sofa with the winter lurgy, I found some time to delve into the ups and downs of the Cancun agreement. So is the glass half full? Or, as Queensland sinks between the waves, is it half empty?
Half full: A Green Climate fund to help reduce emissions and deal with the consequences
Half empty: Administered by the World Bank (?!?!)
Half full: We, the developed world, are to find $100bn per year for the developing world.
Half empty: How? Where from? We are not told
Half full: They removed references to carbon markets (“fine to leave the lights on and buy a new SUV because I’ve paid someone to plant a tree in Bolivia”)
Half empty: Markets aren’t prohibited either, so they’ll do it anyway
Half full: First international acknowledgement that keeping it to 2C isn’t enough
Half empty: Two degrees? Tuvalu? Too bad.
Half full: Thanks mainly to Mexico, a total shambles was avoided
Half empty: We’re probably on course for a rise of 3.5 to 4 degrees in total. Don’t take my word for it, look up what that means in terms of our cosy little first world lives……