26 Pieces for COP26: Air

For the duration of the conference, in place of our Paper Cuts newsletter (though just as timely), we’ll be sharing writing about waterfire, earth and air from the LRB archive. Amartya Sen’s piece here will be kept in front of the paywall, as will a piece from each of the other collections.

What role should citizenship play in environmental policy? First, it must involve the ability to think, value and act, and this requires that we think of human beings as agents, rather than merely as patients.

Brown Goo like Marmite: Memories of the Fog

Neal Ascherson, 8 October 2015

Children in Bow had to sleep in their classrooms. Thousands of empty cars were left blocking the North Circular. The Duchess of Kent was unable to reach her flight at Stansted; the prime minister failed to get to a dinner at the Savoy. A monkey got lost in Oxford Street, and a Slavonian grebe – trying to migrate without sight of ground or stars – made a forced landing in Regent Street. At Richmond, a man cycled into the river.

It isn’t that unlikely events can’t happen in fiction; it’s just that readers have to be made to believe in them. As climate change accelerates, and as the timescale over which it unfolds contracts from the epochal to what Amitav Ghosh calls a ‘narratable’ span, so, presumably, readers will become more accepting of its violent effects appearing in novels. And much good may it do us.

Short Cuts: Environmental Law

Frederick Wilmot-Smith, 8 February 2018

The problem isn’t the laws as such, but their enforcement. The EU’s limit for nitrogen dioxide is 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air. In 2016, levels in Oxford Street averaged more than twice that amount; on occasion the level has reached more than ten times the legal limit. 

Consider the Swift

Katherine Rundell, 15 August 2019

If you see a bird settled on a telegraph wire or a tree, it’s not a swift. No sociable windowsill singers, no Disney-Princess-finger-perchers, they fly wild, and they fly like a stroke of luck incarnate. But they would, like most living things, be far luckier without us.

It shouldn’t be more important that the North Sea wind farms get built than that some of their towers are made by low-paid labourers working twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week; and yet the immense utopian project to decarbonise human activity forges ahead, while the equally utopian project to end the setting of ‘low income country’ worker against ‘high income country’ worker barely exists.

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