2020 – The Year the Climate Crisis Heats Up

M and I attended a brilliant session with (ex Irish President) Mary Robinson a couple of weeks ago; and we were very inspired by her advice to start climate action at home. She urged us all to work bottom up because the politicians and big business will only move when they see the demand is really there.

But for ages we have all been saying, “what can we ourselves do as a sensible response to the climate crisis?” And for many of us it’s very hard; we are highly dependent upon government policy actions to give us grants for house renovation or electric cars or charging points. And also, highly dependent upon big businesses that control the cars we drive, the fuel that’s available for transport, home heating and electricity to name just a few. So, when we watch the disaster that was COP 25 and learn that the fossil fuel industry plus the USA, Russia and Brazilian governments effectively killed any agreement, who can blame us for being cynical and despondent.

So I was very interested to come across Ted Countdown. An initiative by Future Stewards (a coalition of partners working together) to build a regenerative future – where we meet the needs of all, within the means of the planet and Ted. Countdown is a collaboration in which literally everyone to play a part in counting the world’s emissions down to zero. The intent is not to be something brand new, but to amplify and cross-fertilize the extraordinary work that has already been done by so many. Powerful solutions have already been proposed by more than 50 authorities on climate issues. The website countdown.ted.com provides information and opportunities for people around the globe to join the effort.

A team led by Future Stewards and TED will select the best proposals and turn them into talks. Partner organizations, including YouTube, C40, Global Covenant of Mayors, Climate Reality Project, Climate Leadership Initiative, Global Citizen, and Project Drawdown. Individuals are also lending their voices, among them climate scientists Johan Rockström with the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden; Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC and Endowed Chair Professor at Korea University Graduate School of Energy and Environment; and Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. Others include Pierce Brosnan, Don Cheadle, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ava DuVernay, Davis Guggenheim, Jimmy Kimmel, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Norman and Lyn Lear, Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, and Meg Ryan.

Among the leaders who convened to announce Countdown were: Chris Anderson, Head of TED; Christiana Figueres, previously Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change during the Paris negotiations; António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations; Tshering Tobgay, former Prime Minister of Bhutan; Al Gore, former Vice President and environmental activist; Jessica Walsh of &Walsh, who created the campaign visuals; actor and environmental activist Mark Ruffalo; Ted Halstead, Chairman and CEO of the Climate Leadership Council; and Yuval Noah Harari, historian, philosopher and author of Sapiens.

These will be delivered at a Countdown summit in Bergen, in front of a hand-picked audience capable of turning those ideas into action. The proposals and their accompanying commitments for action will be shared with the world on 10/10/20 with an opportunity for global companies, cities and individuals to participate. For the cities portion, C40 and the Global Covenant of Mayors have joined as official partners, and for the first time local TEDx organizers – operating 4,000 events annually – will activate to bring Countdown to their communities. Beyond cities and TEDx, companies around the world are invited to join this initiative and engage with employees on how to best play a part.

Take a look at the Ted Video. Note the whole thing is worth an hour of your time, but the Q & A at the end is very powerful. I came away thinking this just might work.

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Solving the Climate Crisis One Problem at a Time! Let’s Understand What we Need to do to Get People Onto the Buses!

There’s no silver bullet that will fix the climate crisis. There’s a myriad of small actions that together will make a difference. One of these is getting us all out of our cars and onto the buses. Even using diesel powered buses is better than using one’s own car. But it’s easier said than done. Getting people out of their cars means the buses have to provide a service that people can rely on. And in my city of Cork that’s not the case. The conversations at your typical bus stop say it all. There’s real anger with the bus service that leaves people waiting in the rain, or crushed into hot, over-crowded vehicles, missing their appointments and thinking, I should have used my car.
Here’s a note that I have sent to various people including councillors, TDs, the business company etc. relating to my own bus service with ideas of how it could be improved.

Making the Buses Work
Since I retired, I have been making great use of the bus system in Cork. My wife and I now only need one car and we, like many, are really keen to reduce our emissions impact and using buses is a key part of this. And living in Ballincollig we were delighted to hear that the 220 route is now operating a 15 minute schedule.
But, sadly the reality is a bit different. The bus is great if you don’t have a deadline, need to be at a place at a specific time, or if you don’t mind waiting in all weathers, sometimes up to 60 minutes. Or if you don’t mind your plans being completely trashed when the service appears to have been completely cancelled or suspended for an unknown period. The Bus Eireann app looks great. Bin practice the data is completely unreliable.
Now I’m new to Cork, and not sure how things work. Who the big cheeses are? But I have a few ideas that could make the buses work better.
The 200 route goes from Ovens to Carrigaline and beyond. This is an incredibly long route. I’m aware that the roads in and out of Carrigaline get very busy in the rush hour. The same in Ballincollig. So delays in one place will cause delays right down the line. It’s obvious that adherence to the schedule is impossible.
IDEA 1: Split the route. Make Ballincollig to Grand Parade separate from Carrigaline to Grand Parade. This will mean that there are fewer points of delay on the route. I could show you this in maths, but if you think about it, it’s obvious that double the number of delays will double the effect on the schedule. We would just need a small circular route in the centre to allow the buses to reverse their route. Surely that’s not difficult.
IDEA 2: Reduce the length of the route for some of the buses. At the moment the buses go way out into the countryside, to Camden, Ovens etc. By shortening the route for say 3 out of 4 buses per hour, there will be more buses per hour on the route. I know this may be disappointing for people that live at the outlying places, but we need to recognize that much of the time spent in those parts of the route the bus will be carrying fewer passengers.
IDEA 3: Dump the schedule. Clearly it doesn’t work so why persist with it. The idea of a bus every 15 minutes is great, so focus on achieving that target, not whether the bus arrives at a stop at a predetermined time.
Now a lot of time is spent by people buying tickets from the bus driver. If the bus from Ballincollig to Grand Parade takes 20 minutes with no traffic holdups, the actual time the bus is stopped may be as much as 15 minutes, making the journey 35 minutes. In Berlin, for example, the bus (and train) tickets are purchased from machines that are located at every stop. The tickets can be single, 1 day, 3 day, 1 month etc. When you get on a bus with a new ticket you validate the ticket in a machine that stamps the time you first use the ticket. You can buy a ticket from the driver, but very few folk do. So the buses are stopped for very short periods of time. It’s very noticeable, the bus is always on the move. Now this might be hard to organize in the short term; it would need investment in machines, inspectors etc. BUT it’s in everyone’s interests to keep the buses moving fast and frequently. So we already have the Leap card, and it’s already much cheaper than the pay as you go. We just need bus users to use the cards.
IDEA 4: Make the Leap cards even cheaper and make the pay as you go more expensive and then use massive publicity to encourage pre-payment.
Now you might think that if these ideas were adopted it would make the buses even more popular than they are, and more crowded. That’s a good thing, and with more passengers presumably Bus Eireann would consider putting more buses on the routes. But if we could find a way to spread the loading, so that the buses were well used all day, not just in the rush hours, this would help everyone. Now I mentioned I’m retired, and that means here in Ireland I get a free pass to use the buses and trains wherever I go. Suppose we say to older people, “many of us have more flexibility to travel out of the rush hour, and when the buses are less crowded”. Why don’t we help to spread the load across the day?
IDEA 5: Make the free card for use out of the rush hour periods. Provide a discount Leap card for retired people that would encourage them to use the service in the off-peak times. Now I know this would be hugely controversial. It would break the solemn contract the Irish state has with older people for free travel. However, it’s such an obvious thing to do that would help us to encourage “everyone” to use the buses and I would hope most older people would see that this makes sense.
Another simple idea to get the buses flowing more freely would be to minimize traffic holdups. In Cork city we know we have real problems with too many cars in the city. And many of the roads are in narrow streets that don’t allow bus lanes. However, there are many streets that do have space for bus lanes, but we currently only make them bus only in the rush hour periods. Why?
IDEA 6: Make the bus lanes car free all day for buses, cyclists and climate neutral taxis. It won’t solve all the holdups, but it will help keep the buses moving.
In summary: I don’t pretend these ideas are foolproof; or will all work. But perhaps they might get people connecting the dots between what we all do every day and how we can all help to solve the Climate Crisis.

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Brexit Warfare on LBC provides real insight into what’s happening.

I listened to LBC’s James O’Brien this morning. His morning radio programme is a non-stop Brexit related phone in. He’s anything but neutral; he sets up a question and takes calls from anyone brave enough to call in. And he takes no prisoners! This morning’s question was (and I paraphrase), “Did leave voters understand that back in 2016 the UK would be worse off after Brexit, and in the light of current events and information, why have they not changed their minds?”

In the space of 20 minutes this morning he dispatched several leavers after they made complete fools of themselves. Now I can only assume this is normal and I wonder how the programme continues to get any leaver callers. But O’Brien is pretty brutal, insisting on sticking to the point and calling a spade a spade. And the leaving callers keep coming! His basic thesis is that the Leave campaign promised sunlit uplands. A land of milk and honey where the NHS would be funded by the money saved on EU payments; where UK laws could be made unhindered by the nasty EU. But of course callers were completely unable to name any laws that needed changing, and refused to believe that the UK was heading for a crashout at the end of October.

And of course, he’s pretty funny. He talks about politicians and parties and suggests choosing between the primary participants is like choosing between cholera and typhoid!

However, my primary worry about James’ argument is that he’s really providing entertainment for Remain sympathizers, and he’s missing the point about leavers. My observation is that many Leavers voted as a protest against the status quo AND given great dissatisfaction with current state of affairs, saw CHAOS as better than austerity. So I don’t believe they saw Brexit would be better, just DIFFERENT.

In my college days I studied the Hawthorne effect experiments carried out in the 1920s in the Hawthorne Works, a Western Electric factory outside Chicago. The Hawthorne Works had commissioned a study to see if its workers would become more productive in higher or lower levels of lighting. The workers’ productivity seemed to improve when changes in lighting were made. But the extraordinary finding was that productivity improved if the lighting was improved or reduced. And when even the lighting was reduced to a very low level, productivity still increased until conditions actually prevented work. The conclusions were that productivity gains occurred as a result of the motivational effect on the workers of the interest being shown in them.

And my thinking is that back in 2016 ordinary people in the UK were very annoyed with the state of the nation, with austerity, social problems, changes in technology causing loss of employment, or worse downgrading of workers rights and conditions in the gig economy, or graduates only being able to find employment in low skilled positions. And so on. And ordinary people were probably deeply unhappy with the obvious change to a multicultural society.

So the Leave Campaign promised CHANGE. Lots of it. And that was instantly attractive. James O’Brien keeps banging on about how leave voters must see that the promises made will not be kept. But he’s not smelling the coffee! Leave voters want change, and any change. In fact they see chaos as being highly desirable, even though it may hurt them personally. Now in Johnson they have a Prime Minister who is promising change will occur. And Johnson is himself chaotic. He can’t be trusted, but that’s clearly irrelevant. He can be trusted to make change even if it doesn’t work out. The ordinary workers now see that some sort of change will happen. And THAT’s what they voted for.

You might think that if this analysis is accurate, Johnson will be a very short-term prime minister. But I wouldn’t bet against someone who clearly understands what binds his audience to him, when the opposition are in such array. For me, O’Brien’s programme illustrated this conundrum perfectly and on that basis,  I believe No Deal is unstoppable.

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I Don’t Feel Retired

For years I would say, “I’ll never retire!” I loved my work – the mix of research and consulting and the huge buzz I would get working with IT architects all over the world. But in 2016/7 it became clear that most of my work was in the USA and the travel wasn’t going to be sustainable. In the end I had the decision made for me; our biggest client decided we were too small and called in “the usual consulting suspect”. It would end up costing them an arm and a leg, but it was all about perceived risk. So, with my 70th birthday looming I decided to call it a day.

I was lucky. I had the whole of 2017 to wind down and figure out the mechanics, and critically ask myself the question of, “what next?” Followers of my blog will know what happened – almost immediately we downsized, selling the big property and travelling for six months across the UK, Europe and Ireland. The answer to the question of what next has taken longer.

I have observed numerous colleagues and friends who find this process hard. Transitioning from a full-on career to retirement is traumatic. How do you fill the day? How do you evolve relationships? How do you live without or replace the adrenalin of work?

I observed friends going to college. Taking the course or degree they had wanted to but never managed 50 years previously. Others throwing themselves into community, committees or pastime related organizational management. Others into charity work. Others consumed by their family looking after grandchildren. There’s no doubt that some people never actually complete a transition to their own satisfaction. Always looking backwards with regret. I have wondered if some people become depressed. And I have speculated that there might be some relationship between depression and people that succumb to untimely illness?

But we can all see the successful retirees. They are full of energy and happy! In fact, I don’t even like to refer to myself as retired, because it has all the hallmarks of someone that does less; takes it easy and so forth. But there’s no good synonym, and clearly retirement is a formal status that is required for various purposes including pensions, benefits, transport etc.

While I worked to the grand age of 70, I count myself lucky that I had several interests down the years. First, I hill walked, a lot. Second, I painted, not so much, but wherever I travelled on business or pleasure I did take a sketch book with me; it must be said with variable results. Third I sang oratorio. During the process of downsizing and making the move to Cork city, which took more than a year, I didn’t have time to think about retirement. However, once we were established I realized that, apart from one evening a week, I didn’t have any structure or schedule. And that made me quite uncomfortable. Over a period of several months I deliberately started filling my diary. I joined the local hill walking club and have been leading an intermediate level walk most months. I joined two more choirs. I joined a daytime art class. I started doing voluntary IT work for a local non-profit organization and I acquired an allotment. Just today I have signed up for an art history class at UCC for the 2019/20 year.

If this all sounds like a lot, it’s entirely deliberate. I have met loads of people and feel like I’m just starting to become part of the community in a very small way. But I will drop back some of the commitments in time. I can already see that I want to apply more effort to art. I have also agreed to pass one of my smaller chunks of allotment space to others and will continue to downsize that a bit more.

I expect and plan ongoing fine tuning of my workload. What else should I call it? I don’t feel I am just filling in time. I am highly energized and believe the activities are productive. I certainly have a more mixed load and have free time to explore other interests. Oh yes, I also run a Facebook page for Brits in Europe to help them understand the nuances of this terrible Brexit process. And I follow climate change technologies and related issues closely and work hard to ensure I am doing my bit. For example, I use my bike or take the bus everywhere possible and have reduced my carbon footprint by over 50% over the past year! And again, that activity will run and run. I don’t feel in any way retired!    

Posted in Education, Life Long Learning, Retirement, Retirement Planning | 1 Comment

Two years ago I wrote, It’s time to Fix Facebook. What do we have to do to get the attention of legislators?


November 6, 2017 I wrote “We have crossed a threshold where technology Facebook et al are potentially facilitating fixed elections and genocide. It’s time to act. We have all seen the widespread interference in elections by state actors and vested interests; the rise of angry politics in the USA, UK and elsewhere, channeling discontent and splitting society; the spread of fake news; the reduction in trust generally and support for criminal or terrorist based activities; and so, the list keeps getting longer. Last week however I felt a threshold was crossed that needed to be exposed. Apparently, violence against the Rohingya Muslims has been fuelled in part by misinformation spread by Facebook which is now used as a primary news source by many people in the country.”
Fast forward to the present. Last week we saw the unspeakable tragedy of a terrorist attack in Christchurch, NZ in which the perpetrator uploaded a live feed of the mass murder. The response from Facebook (and google and twitter) was unacceptably slow and as a result the images are still available and being viewed by millions of users.
Over the past year we have seen Facebook making all manner of promises to clean up their act; but the reality is they have protected their advertising revenue at the expense of security. I note today that Facebook are now moving to a private, encrypted network claiming that this is what their users really want. John Naughton in the Guardian comments, “This columnist, . . . interprets it as a recognition by St Mark that the exponentially increasing costs of “moderating” Facebook content will eventually become unsupportable. But if much of that content morphs into encrypted messaging then, all of a sudden, Facebook can no longer be held accountable for it – and much of the cost of “moderation” evaporates. So the pivot is a way of getting a huge PR win while saving a ton of money.”
Facebook has proven they are incapable of self-governance. The only way to fix Facebook is to break it up. We have a precedent with the breakup of Microsoft and we need legislators to act NOW. Clearly, we do have a problem because it’s unlikely the current US administration will act, and therefore the EU will have difficulty in acting alone. However, the EU could lead the way by legislating for the Facebook platform to be opened-up. Instead of becoming an encrypted, private platform the EU could facilitate a standards effort and legislate to require open interfaces to allow third parties to provide a distributed network of independent collaborating platforms.
The NZ atrocity should be a trigger to action. Facebook has been given time to fix itself and has failed to act. Now is time for legislators to act.

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Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Grunewald 0219

It’s always a pleasure to return to Berlin to look after the grandchildren. Even if they don’t really need any “looking after” it’s great to spend (so called) quality time with them, as well as continuing our exploration of this great city. Today we took the S7 to Grunewald and walked through the forest and around the Grunewaldsee and Hundekehlefenn lakes. The forest is magnificent all year round. At this time of year it’s all shades of grey and brown with hints of purple. It’s icy cold and the paths are sandy and dry and lovely to walk on and there are lots of friendly walkers and their dogs enjoying the day. We stop at the Paulsborn Schloss hunting lodge for a bracing outdoor lunch in the barest hint of sunshine.

But as we walked out of Grunewald station we stopped and studied the various artifacts from 80 years ago. There is a panel describing how this area of the city was extremely prosperous. The lakeside properties were in great demand by industrialists, writers, scientists, among them a lot of very important people who were building their original villas in the surrounding parkland. There were a high proportion of Jewish inhabitants in this area. Beside the station there is a 1991 memorial, a long concrete wall with negative imprints of human bodies. The memorial commemorates the period from October 1941 to February 1945 during which time some 50,000 Jewish citizens of Berlin were deported to the extermination camps where they were murdered.

As we walk through the forest we discuss how shocked we are with the British Labour Party that has clearly got a major problem with anti-Semitism, and how disgusted we are that the leadership of that party has ignored the problem that has led to yesterday’s resignations. And at the same time in France there are reports of widespread anti-Semitism actions by far-right protesters.

Once again, we are left wondering how it is that we are destined to relive history. Of course, we constantly see examples of prominent people who clearly don’t understand their history. Recent examples are almost too many to mention, but let’s just name tag a few such as Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and current British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. And we wonder how it is that the British media seem intent on reliving the second world war and blaming the German people for all the problems visited on the UK.

Yet although we visit Germany a lot we have never ever experienced anything but goodwill. Even in the face of Brexit we see Angela Merkel’s position to be entirely reasonable even in response to extraordinary provocation. In fact, the general impression of the German people is that the Brits have temporarily lost their senses and are hoping they recover very soon. But in contrast to Brits  the German people are acutely aware of their still recent past and fully prepared to acknowledge and commemorate the awfulness that was perpetrated by their forebears.

It seems that today the western world including the UK, USA, France, and several Eastern European countries are being taken over by extremists. We should all be remembering how easy it was for small numbers of extremists to capture the public opinion in Germany in the 1930s with disastrous consequences. It’s time for us all to remember and act accordingly.

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Nervous Breakdown Britain


Just hours after I penned this piece, I hear that Angela Merkel has doubled down on the tough EU negotiating position. She is reported to have told Leo Varadkar, “ . . a hard border has to be on the table in a no-deal Brexit scenario”. My thesis is that this simply makes the current position even more difficult for the Mrs. May and the UK. The EU however do have the solution and they can stop the madness.

Many of will us have experienced trauma in our lives. Through the loss of loved ones or friends; or failure of business, loss of jobs, perhaps a major incident or accident. However, fortunately few of us have experienced trauma with widespread impact such as war, famine or pandemic. Similarly, few of us have observed the strange period that precedes major changes such as war or pandemic. And so, it’s with something approaching horror that we watch, day by day, as the United Kingdom in chaos accelerates towards the cliff edge of Brexit, with unknowable consequences that will surely result in major trauma for the UK itself, and also for us bystanders.
A nervous or mental breakdown is a term used to describe a period of intense mental distress and it seems as if the UK is having a grand mal. Although “nervous breakdown” is no longer considered a medical term, it’s still used by many to describe intense symptoms of stress and an inability to cope with life’s challenges; the inability to function in your everyday life.
It’s very much a Groundhog-day experience. Every day we observe the UK digging itself into a deeper and deeper hole. Every day politicians, journalists, commentators report on how non-existent negotiations are not proceeding. How the negotiating parties have reached deadlock and how there as many opinions in parliament as there are MPs. We observe Mrs. May executing a strategy that rests on doing nothing until the VERY last minute at which point she is sure the EU will blink notwithstanding extensive analysis that says the exact opposite. At the same time, we are becoming increasingly familiar with the probable impacts of the default “no deal” which become increasingly scary.
No one, apart perhaps for the UK gutter press, now believes the EU will be blamed for the “no deal” outcomes. It’s completely obvious that the UK is at war with itself. It’s a very modern form of civil war. In our modern world everyone has a voice, but no one is heard. And it appears that no one is actually saying “STOP!” Or maybe we can’t hear them above the cacophony.
Today it seems the best outcome that can be hoped for is a delay in the March 29th deadline. But why would the EU 27 agree to that because it would surely just prolong the agony and indecision. The UK is deeply divided across party lines, across country and across society. Any outcome is likely to cause huge unrest and continuing division. It’s clear that the UK is in the midst of a major nervous breakdown and something really big must happen to resolve it.
Continuing the analogy of the nervous breakdown it seems the UK actually needs advice that it is incapable of giving itself. Let’s consider a scenario in which the EU, all 27 countries agree to recommend the UK delays Article 50 as a process timeout, which may be restarted at a time of the UK’s choosing when the UK has decided on the best course of action with agreement of both parliament and the people. In other words, give the UK the time and space to think hard about what it wants to do. Consult the people, develop detailed plans. In fact, recover its sense and act like the world has become accustomed to seeing the UK — as a bastion of good sense and stability.
Up to now, all the commentary has been about whether the EU will negotiate; whether they will make nonsensical changes to the Withdrawal Agreement just to allow the UK to continue into the next phase of this ridiculous process — to negotiate the trade agreement. We must conclude that the EU want to spend the next two years negotiating with this bunch of clowns like they want a hole in the head. So, while Mrs. May would probably not want to incur a delay, it’s high probability that the UK Parliament would vote for that process timeout with an overwhelming majority. The alternative is unthinkable.

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