viewpoint. Brett Hetherington

Times in the balance

Now summer is here it is easy to ignore the wider world and only take in what we see through the sun's glare at the beach or from the top of a shady mountain. Away from the ease of nature's innocence though, it seems we are living in pivotal and fascinating days. The good news is that Europe can take heart from some real achievements in environmental energy over the last few months. For example, in the month of May, Germany was almost entirely powered by solar and wind, Britain functioned without coal for the first time in over a century, and Portugal ran on renewable energy alone for four days straight. Also, the EU Parliament has called on the European Commission to severely restrict permitted uses of the toxic agricultural herbicide glyphosate –a probable cause of cancer and a substance already found in our bloodstreams.

Just across the sea in Tunisia is another development that must be welcome to anyone who cares about basic human rights. In that part of the continent that originally sparked the Middle Eastern Arab Spring protests over five years ago, Tunisia's once-extreme Ennahda party “officially declared that it will separate its religious activities from its political ones...[and] acknowledged the primacy of secular democracy over Islamist theocracy.” In other words, mosques there will be politically neutral –a major blow to any recruiters of fundamentalist terrorists.

But there are also current affairs stories that are not at all heartening. Conservative party attacks on the taxpayer-funded BBC continue without mercy. David Cameron's government is trying to take more money away from children's programmes in a move towards corporate advertising on the great media institution. This idea of complete abandonment of the public sector is being taken to it's logical conclusion elsewhere. In Gurgaon, a booming Indian city with a population of millions, they live and work “without a citywide system for water, electricity or even public sewers.”

It is exactly this kind of problem that technology magnate Bill Gates sees holding the US back. He recently made the case for public funding of crucial infrastructure, arguing: “Since World War II, US-government R&D [research and development] has defined the state of the art in almost every area. The private sector is in general inept,” he said. At least North America is experiencing a resurgence in the sales of books. In 2015, incomes for independent booksellers were up over 10%, and remain strong in 2016. Sadly, this is not the case for the UK, where over 600 independent bookshops have closed in the last decade.

Meanwhile in Australia, Peter Dutton (a man doctors voted ‘the worst Health Minister in 35 years' having cut $57 bn from public hospitals) is now in charge of immigration. He was promptly caught on camera making jokes about climate impacts on low-lying Pacific Islands while on a diplomatic visit. Then, as part of Australia's right-wing government, he made the self-contradicting comment that refugees “won't be numerate or literate... They would languish on unemployment ...These people will be taking Australian jobs.”

Over the summer I'm going to stop thinking about the above news items. I'm sure there will soon be fresh pieces of our human doings to be amazed by.

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