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Open letter to Donald Trump after reneging on Paris Agreement

Dear Mr Trump

Imagine, if you will, a futuristic school history lesson that captures our historical moment tonight. Children are reading from interactive textbooks where a rising line graph of carbon dioxide parts per million is plotted against increasing temperature. As our own descendants’ eyes track along the graph, dynamic illustrations pop up from the industrial revolution, through to you wrestling control of the world’s thermostat this very evening and reneging on your country’s agreement to curb global warming to 1.5°C.

“What will happen,” the world weary teacher will then ask the class “if you alter the temperature in which plants, humans and ecosystems have evolved over millenia?”

“Change will happen?” some child will venture.

“Yes, please swipe to the next page to see how” and our children will gasp at your decision tonight, in the same way we did when we were children, and turned pages on Apartheid, the slave trade and the Roman Colosseum.

Now Mr Trump, forgive me if it seems I am catastrophizing. I wouldn’t want to alarm, or test your patience for too long. Allow me graciously if you will, to back up. To the history you and I already know.

In 1899, the commissioner of the US patent office, Charles H. Duell, famously declared, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” A childishly blunderous statement in hindsight, we can both agree. The unforeseen advances of private air travel and instant Tweets were not yet even the tropes of the most fantastical fiction.

And yet, and this is the real stinger Mr Trump, Duell really thought he knew what he was talking about. In the fifty years the commissioner had lived, he had already seen the invention of American football, the internal combustion engine and the solar cell. He had also seen the abolition of slavery: your country split into two as the people of the Confederate States fought for their right to keep three million Africans and their descendants in captivity. Wrongs had seemingly been righted. A steady way of life had seemingly been established. To paraphrase Duell, “everything that could be thought, had already been thought.” 

Are you still there Mr Trump? I put it to you Mr President that in order we avoid the same fate as Duell, we surely must be open to the idea that societies exist in a state of constantly shifting status quo, where our present values may one day seem reprehensible.  Where once the Romans sipped fermented grapes, watched gladiatorial flesh being torn in a ring and congratulated themselves on such wholesome good living; the new standard by which today’s society and world leaders will soon be judged is in their response to global climate change.

There’s an elephant in our atmosphere Mr Trump. Its silence is fed by ignorance, apathy and the sound bites of pay-rolled climate change deniers who compete to scream the loudest in your ear that nothing, in fact, is going on at all.

When however the ebbs and flows of ice ages fail to provide an answer Mr Trump; when the carbon that had always previously been stored underground has been released; when the damage is irrevocable and your reneging on the Paris Climate Agreement tonight has warmed our planet catastrophically by more than 2°C ­– the rent-a-quote pseudo scientists will have long since changed the signs on their door. And then Mr Trump you will be alone. Then the new history books will start to be written.

The entry you created tonight Mr Trump will come just after the abolition of bear baiting, emancipation and the triumph of gay marriage.

In class one day, in the not too distant future and I hope long before you are dead – this question will come Mr Trump.

“Miss – How did this man not realise he had got it so wrong?”

Your sincerely,

A teacher, an environmentalist, an aggrieved human being

Matt Maynard

 

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Riding the London Overground (air pollution activism)

 

Ph. Visual Omelette

At 6am on March 30th I will pedal away fromMorden Underground station at the southern terminus of the Northern Line. Over the next six hours I will visit each of the 33 consecutive stations on the Northern Line by bicycle, finishing in High Barnet, N.London.

On the top tube of my bicycle will be a black carbon (diesel emission) monitor; by my throat will be a sampling tube and mounted on the pannier rack at the back will be a sign, “Did you know that cycling exposes you to less air pollution than buses, cars or trains?”

The WHO reported in November 2016 that air pollution currently causes 6.5 million early deaths a year. That is double the number of people lost to HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria combined. In London nearly 9,500 people die early each year due to long-term exposure to air pollution – that’s twice as many as died during the Great Smog of 1952.

Air pollution data has been recorded by KCL for the entire London Underground lines. The black carbon monitor provided by KCL is expected to provide data during the ride, presenting the case that swapping your Underground journey for a bicycle will reduce your exposure to air pollution. 

I am a journalist; not a researcher or policy maker. But I hope and continue to believe that seemingly small and insignificant acts by individuals can be a powerful tool to draw awareness to this elephant in our atmosphere. From starting points like these we can also draw collected consciousness to tackling climate change as well. 

I would be delighted if any other keen cyclists would like to participate. Join me at 6am this Thursday at Morden Underground. Mike’s Bike Surgery (just a stone’s throw from Morden Underground) will be serving coffee from just before 6am. You will need a bicycle and an air pollution mask if you have one.

Find the Northern Line Overground route here: https://www.strava.com/routes/8042325
Or send me an email at matthewNmaynard@gmail.com if you would like the GPX file.

More info now at Facebook and via Twitter

 

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How to survive an Antarctic swim / Outside

In December 2016 I met Lewis Pugh – British maritime lawyer and UN Patron of the Oceans – at Santiago airport, after his latest hypothermic Antarctic swim. The previous week he had been swimming at Half Moon island to raise awareness of climate change and the need to protect our oceans.

This article for Outside magazine online includes details from Pugh and insights from his personal doctor about how he survives the sub zero salt water temperatures.

Click to read the Outside article online

(My indepth interview with the swimmer about his environmental work and the signing of the Ross Sea agreement will be featured in Geographical magazine October issue.)

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THE ELEPHANT IN OUR ATMPOSPHERE / Like the Wind

How do you engage people with a slow moving problem like air pollution?

In July 2015 I went into the Chilean Andes and climbed 31,000m. This is my story from my daily journey to get some perspective on the smog in the city below.

ltw-p1 ltw-elephant-in-the-atmosphere-art ltw-p2

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The Elephant in the Atmosphere / Like the Wind magazine

[:en]In July 2015 I ran a project to draw attention to the seasonal air pollution that haunts Santiago, Chile. I climbed 1,000m every day of the month into the Andes mountains above the city and used this point of vantage to raise awareness about the dangers of the pollution below and what we can do to combat it.

I am very proud to be published as the lead article in issue 7 of Like the Wind – a boutique print running magazine, published in the UK. You can read an extract from the article below, or read my original posts about the article here and here.

Like the Wind Page 13 version 2

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In the future we will all be environmentalists

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Imagine if you can, a futuristic history lesson that captures our own historical now. There’s interactive textbooks showing a rising line graph of carbon parts per million plotted against increasing temperature. As the children’s eyes track along the graph, dynamic illustrations pop up from the industrial revolution, through to Shell poking that first oil pipe into the Arctic last week…

“What will happen” – the world weary teacher will say – “if you artificially and dramatically alter the atmosphere in which plants, humans and ecosystems have evolved over millenia?”

“Change will happen…” – some child will venture.

“Yes – please swipe to the next page to see how” – and children will gasp in horror at the ignorance and selfishness of their predecessors, in the same way we did when we were children, and turned pages on Apartheid, the slave trade and the Roman Colosseum.

……

Let’s back up, to the history that we know.

In 1899, the commissioner of the US patent office, Charles H. Duell, famously said:

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

This of course seems childishly blunderous, in hindsight, with the advances the C20 would bring. However in the fifty years that Duell had lived – he had already seen the invention of American football, the internal combustion engine and the solar cell. He had also seen the abolition of slavery: His country split into two as the people of the Confederate States guarded their right to keep 3million Africans and their descendants in captivity. It must indeed have been tempting to feel that wrongs had been righted and that civilisation was at its height.

The American poet philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, was a contemporary of Duell’s. In the mid C19th he went to live in a cabin, in the woods, 15miles outside of Boston, Massachusetts. He spent his time reflecting on how overly complicated everything seemed to have already become by 1845, and wrote in his subsequently published work Walden that we should strive for “Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity!

In the future we will all be environmentalists

The complexities of Boston in 1841

Whilst Thoreau would be dismayed by the course of history, he did however have an uncanny knack for being on the right side of it. He was a passionate antislavery campaigner and was an active participant in the Underground Railroad that helped escaped slaves reach Free States. Today of course, slavery seems like an ancient anachronism; like night and day – its immorality so startlingly apparent – its supporters so deplorable. And yet, to judge societies who kept men, women and children in slavery, is to perhaps overestimate our own point of vantage, in a similar way that Duell did – an assumption that we live in a time of moral ground zero where everything, to paraphrase the patent commissioner, that can be thought, has already been thought.

In illustration, take Thoreau’s view on vegetarianism:

“I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other when they came in contact with the more civilised.”

Such radicalism over vegetables still seems extreme today. About as radical as his contemporary stance on slavery would have seemed in his time, or his commitment to protecting nature.

In order therefore that we avoid the same fate as Duell, we surely must be open to the idea that societies exist in a state of constantly shifting status quo, where our present values may one day seem reprehensible: Where once the Romans sipped fermented grapes, watched gladiatorial flesh being torn in a ring and congratulated themselves on such wholesome good living – today we still happily eat meat.

And yet, our carnivorous ways will not be what ultimately stigmatises our historical moment in the history books. It will be something bigger than that, which doesn’t bleed and stain the floor of any colosseum, or weep, and ache, and rattle its slave shackles before us.

There’s an elephant in our atmosphere. It’s injustice is silent and fed by apathy and ignorance and the pacifying soundbites of pay-rolled climate change deniers who compete to scream the loudest that nothing, in fact, is going on at all. When the ebbs and flows of ice ages fail to provide an answer, and the carbon that had always previously been stored underground, has been released; the damage will perhaps be irrevocable; the changes to our planet will be undeniably manifest and these rent-a-quote pseudo scientists will have long since changed the signs on their door. Environmental policy will finally become one of the main criteria by which we choose our governments, and by today’s standards – we will all be environmentalists.

The new children’s textbooks will then start to be written. The page entry will come just after the abolition of bear baiting, fox hunting and the triumph of gay marriage. And then in class, there’ll come a question, similar to the ones we puzzled too as children – 

“Miss – How did they not see that they had got it so wrong?”

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