Southern Spain has suffered a catastrophic storm that will have repercussions for years to come. As I write there are seven people dead who were caught in flash floods. Several hundred have been rescued. Some were given temporary shelter in sports centres. A special army unit was on stand-by and the prime minister has visited some of the worst affected spots. About 1500 farm animals died in the region of Murcia. The sea spat out a thousand dead tuna from a fish farm, and beaches on La Manga had to be closed till the rotting corpses were removed. They had already left an oily film on the sea.
Remove a truck’s catalytic converter, install a ‘smoke switch’ that tricks the engine into burning more diesel than it needs, and before you know it you’re rolling coal, purging impenetrable clouds of soot through your exhaust pipe on I-10 in Texas, enough to repel the prig in the Prius riding your tail. Those of us who consider deliberate pollution a vice can forget that there are others who not only don’t care, but revel in it. But Donald Trump – who is today signing an executive order aimed at unravelling Barack Obama's climate legacy – hasn’t forgotten them.
Barack Obama has been in Europe. British observers – always suckers for American blandishments that the UK is The Special One – saw in the president’s visit a mission to rescue the EU referendum for Remain. But Obama’s overriding aim, as became clear when he progressed to Germany, was to speed the EU-US talks over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) before he leaves office in January. A salient goal of TTIP is to shadow the Investor-State Dispute Settlement system (ISDS), an instrument of public international law granting firms the right to raise an action in a tribunal on the basis that a state’s policies have harmed their commercial interests.
In mid-March, on the weekend that France played Ireland at the Stade de France (the reason I was in Paris), the city authorities made public transport free. This was because of the air pollution, which was bad despite the skies that were clear and blue. The mayor had hoped that Parisians would give up on their cars and travel instead by Metro, tram or bus. I don't know Paris well enough to guess whether there were fewer cars that weekend or not, but the streets on those ideal spring days didn't seem any less packed with traffic. Still, there's nothing like the idea of free transport – the thought you could go anywhere, despite there being people to see, and places to be, such as the Stade de France at five. You wonder what would happen were Boris Johnson to consider the same thing, what with the London air, like the air over much of Southern England today, spiked with Saharan dust.
Toxic smog in Beijing, 16,000 dead pigs in the tributaries of the Shanghai river, birth defects from pollution, no safe drinking water in any Chinese city: Premier Li Keqiang has promised to respond to China’s environmental problems with an ‘iron fist and firm resolution’.
Between 1999 and 2001 I lived in Shaoyang, a small city in Hunan province known throughout China for being dirty. This wasn’t just the prejudice of outsiders; many of its residents complained about the ‘poor conditions’. Rubbish bobbed on the milky green surface of the Shao Shui river, spread along its banks and choked the dam upstream. The street that led to the college where I taught was lined with food stalls, rubbish heaped around them. During the day people would pick through the piles looking for glass, plastic or metal they could resell; at night the rubbish was set on fire. People wiped their chairs in restaurants before sitting down, or carried newspapers to sit on on the bus, but didn’t think twice about throwing cans and tissues out of car windows.
On 28 July there were violent clashes between thousands of local residents and police in the Chinese city of Qidong, north of Shanghai. The protesters were concerned about pollution from a Japanese paper factory’s planned new sewage outlet, which they thought could contaminate drinking water and harm the city’s fishing industry. They overturned several police cars, stripped the mayor of his shirt and entered local government offices, where they found expensive bottles of alcohol, condoms and cigarettes, all things that officials are often given as bribes. Some demonstrators were beaten by riot police. The protest came to an end when it was announced that the sewage pipe project would be permanently cancelled.
Like Panama and Liberia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands in Micronesia is not only a tax haven but also an open ship registry. Open registries enable foreign owners and operators to circumvent many of the regulations required by the national registries of such traditional flag states as the US, UK, Japan or Germany. In 2009, only 53 oil tankers were registered in the US, compared to 557 in Panama, 460 in Liberia and 221 in the Marshall Islands, where a 50,000-tonne ship can ‘flag in’ for a fee of $15,000. Perks include same-day formation, high levels of client confidentiality, voluntary disclosure and zero taxation. Citizenship can be obtained by forming a legal entity and foreign clients never have to set foot on the islands. In all, more than 2000 vessels are registered in the Marshall Islands. Until it sank in the Gulf of Mexico on 22 April, one of them was the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.">http://www.register-iri.com/index.cfm?action=page&page=22" target="_blank">Perks include same-day formation, high levels of client confidentiality, voluntary disclosure and zero taxation. Citizenship can be obtained by forming a legal entity and foreign clients never have to set foot on the islands. In all, more than 2000 vessels are registered in the Marshall Islands. Until it sank in the Gulf of Mexico on 22 April, one of them was the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
Adaptability. That's the quality that got homo sapiens to the head of the evolutionary queue to destroy the planet. The great apes couldn't manage it, though viruses are sneaking up on us in their sneaky way. Adaptability: making the best of a bad job. Cue the Paddy Power Novelty Bet: First to become extinct in the great BP Oil Spill race. Which species will you bet on? Not looking good for the Kemp's Ridley Turtle or your winnings, at 4/5. Brown Pelicans (presumably now sticky black) are a better bet at 8/1. Very likely the adaptability factor (what fun and profit can we get out of this misery?) is in inverse proportion to your distance from the Louisiana coast. A local fisherman or fish probably less likely to take a punt than me sitting in my Cambridge eyrie.
If that's a little depressing, click back at the top of the page from 'First to become extinct' to the higher category of BP Specials and the odds on Next CEO of BP.