Country diary: the cackling, chip-stealing lords of misrule

Brighton, East Sussex: No sandwich or ice-cream is safe on this beachfront, as herring gulls mob visitors for all they can get

‘The anarchy of gulls is impressive. Their direct actions are sudden and intuitively coordinated.’ Photograph: Fatulla Alizade

Gulls, like the people promenading or sitting on the beach here in Brighton, appear more relaxed under an evening sky than at high noon. Earlier today, small factions of herring gulls were in a mugging mood, mobbing a woman and her child so brutally that they dropped their food and fled, stealing a sandwich bite from out of a man’s mouth.

The anarchy of gulls is impressive. Their direct actions are sudden and intuitively coordinated. They have their own way of living with us that can feel very uncomfortable to those who think nature is benignly self-governing, birds are decorous and the seaside exists for entertainment. When the British population of the European herring gull, Larus argentatus, crashed, to show their appreciation they came to live with us. In his 1958 essay, Beat Zen, Square Zen and Zen, Alan Watts quotes the Taoist Chuang-tzu: “Those who would have good government without its correlative misrule … do not understand the principles of the universe.” Gulls are the cackling, car-crapping, collectively scary, chip-stealing spirits of misrule.

This builder used to be sceptical about green homes. Now he’s a convert

Tony O’Connell used to build whatever was put in front of him.

The 53-year-old from Wonthaggi, a coastal town in Gippsland, Victoria, has been in construction for 34 years. “What was on the plan was what was on the plan,” he says. “I wouldn’t question it.”

That is, until he attended a meeting for a proposed development in the area – one of a number of locals gearing up to run the interlopers out of town.

“We all went along thinking, yep, it’s going to be a greenwash and just someone else doing a cookie-cutter development to cut our lovely little town up,” O’Connell says.

Sand dunes at Cape Paterson separate The Cape from Bass Strait. Photograph: Alana Holmberg/Oculi for The Guardian

But he left thinking they might have a point. More than a decade on, that development is The Cape, one of Australia’s leading eco-villages, in the nearby town of Cape Paterson. And O’Connell is one of a growing number of builders trying to improve Australian houses.

Ban new gas boilers in UK from 2025 or risk missing net zero target, says CBI

The installation of new gas boilers must be banned from 2025 or the UK’s net-zero climate target will be “doomed”, according to a high-level commission convened by the CBI.

The ban would apply to conventional gas boilers, but hybrid or hydrogen-ready boilers would be allowed under the business organisation’s recommendations, which were developed in collaboration with energy industry leaders.

The commission also said that by 2035, no boilers burning any fossil gas should be installed into homes, with technologies including heat pumps and district heating being used instead.

Grants or loans should be given to help people and businesses make the switch, it said, which when combined with energy efficiency measures, would lower household energy bills.

Heating is the largest single source of carbon emissions in the UK, making up more than one-third of the total. Decarbonising heat is the biggest energy challenge in tackling the climate emergency, particularly because it requires action in millions of individual homes. Currently, just 1m of the UK’s 27m homes have low-carbon heat.

Rich Americans’ homes generate 25% more greenhouse gasses than those less affluent

The homes of wealthy Americans are major engines of the climate crisis, research has found, with the United States’ most affluent suburbs generating as much as 15 times the greenhouse gas emissions as nearby, poorer districts.

An analysis of 93m homes in the contiguous US found that the most energy intensive dwellings, per square foot, are found in Maine, Vermont and Wisconsin, while the least energy intensive are located in Florida, Arizona and California.

Mainly due to the larger size of homes owned by the wealthy, richer Americans are generating roughly 25% more greenhouse gasses through lighting, heating and cooling their residences than poorer people.

This disparity has significant implications for the climate crisis: about a fifth of US emissions comes from residential power use. Americans are particularly voracious users of energy, with the typical person in the US using more than 30 times the amount of electricity at home than the average person in India.

“Although houses are becoming more energy efficient, US household energy use and related greenhouse gas emissions are not shrinking, and this lack of progress undermines the substantial emissions reductions needed to mitigate climate change,” said Benjamin Goldstein, a University of Michigan researcher who led the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Plan that tackles recession and climate change could create 76,000 Australian jobs, report says

Nearly 80,000 jobs could be quickly created through a stimulus plan that aims to rebuild the Australian economy from recession while tackling the climate crisis, an analysis commissioned by the Climate Council says.

The report by the consultants AlphaBeta says 76,000 positions could be created over three years through nearly $22bn of combined public and private investment. It focuses on 12 areas including creating large-scale renewable energy projects, restoring degraded ecosystems, better dealing with organic waste, retrofitting inefficient public buildings and expanding electric vehicle networks.

It found 70% of the jobs would be in construction and administrative support roles, 42% would be based in regional areas and nearly a third would require little training.

The AlphaBeta work joins research commissioned by other advocacy and non-profit organisations that have proposed stimulus programs that would also cut greenhouse gas emissions rather than reinforce fossil fuel industries.

Andrew Charlton, a director with the consultancy and a former economics adviser to then prime minister Kevin Rudd, said the research highlighted stimulus projects that prioritised economic recovery, but would also leverage private investment and accelerate the shift to clean energy, a move that would reduce costs in the long-term. “If you can spend the money in that way you’re doing the taxpayer a big favour,” he said.

Charities to benefit from support for rough sleepers during pandemic

Over 130 charities are set to benefit from £6m of government funding to allow them to continue their work supporting rough sleepers during the pandemic.

Original author: HM Government

Omission of air pollution from report on Covid-19 and race ‘astonishing’

The failure to consider air pollution as a factor in the higher rates of coronavirus deaths among minority ethnic groups is “astonishing” and “wholly irresponsible”, according to critics of a Public Health England review.

The PHE report released on Tuesday confirmed the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on people from ethnic minorities but did not mention air pollution. Minorities in the UKUS and elsewhere are known to generally experience higher levels of air pollution, and there is growing evidence around the world linking exposure to dirty air exposure to increased coronavirus infections and deaths.

Scientists said air pollution should “absolutely” be considered and that it could have a double effect, with long-term exposure weakening lungs and hearts and short-term exposure potentially making viral infection more likely. Before the pandemic, air pollution was estimated to cause 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK, about the same number as the official UK coronavirus death toll to date.

“I find it astonishing that they didn’t look at air pollution,” said Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, a World Health Organization advocate for health and air quality. Her daughter Ella died in 2013 from a severe asthma attack that medical experts have now linked to spikes in air pollution.

“Air pollution is linked to diabetes, strokes, heart attacks, asthma attacks, and those with underlying health conditions are dying more from Covid-19,” she said. “So I expected the black and minority ethnic community to come out worse, because health inequalities are worst in the BAME community, let alone adding a lethal respiratory virus.

Good karma: British travellers rescued by Deputy High Commissioner via mountain roads, ‘elephant corridor’ and a breakdown in a tiger reserve.

A rescue mission to ensure more than 260 elderly and vulnerable passengers were able to return home from India was almost thwarted when a Foreign Office team found themselves racing against the clock to change a tyre after b…

Original author: HM Government

World Food Safety Day 2020 - food safety is our business too

The second World Food Safety Day will be celebrated on 7 June 2020 to draw attention and inspire action to escale up the initial commitment made in 2019

Original author: HM Government

Places of worship to re-open for individual prayer

From Monday 15 June places of worship will be permitted to open for individual prayer in line with social distancing guidelines.

Original author: HM Government

The Fed deserves the praise for America’s jobs turnaround. But Trump benefits


he political obituaries of Donald Trump were all prepared. At the end of a week that has seen American cities convulsed by protests over the killing of George Floyd, the president would be faced with an increase in unemployment worse than anything seen in the Great Depression.

Well, it didn’t turn out like that. The US economy actually created 2.5 million jobs in May and the unemployment rate went down rather than up. The consensus among analysts was that it would shed 7.5 million jobs, a colossally wrong call. And a deeply significant one.

Instead of Trump being the new Herbert Hoover – the one-term occupant of the White House from 1929-33 – the amazingly good jobs figures hold out the prospect of him stealing Bill Clinton’s nickname and being the next comeback kid.

The US has a reputation for bouncing back from adversity quickly, but even by its own standards the turnaround has been remarkable. If the data from the Bureau for Labour Statistics (BLS) are to be believed, large numbers of workers who lost their jobs when the economy went lockdown in March were rehired as restrictions were eased from mid-May onwards. On Thursday, the day before the official payroll data was released, there had been figures out showing almost 2 million Americans had filed jobless claims the previous week, taking the total to more than 40 million since the crisis began.

Trump seemed as surprised as anyone by the news, but for once his hyperbole was fully justified. The president tweeted that the numbers were incredible, stunning and stupendous – as indeed they were. He also praised himself for the sudden reversal of fortune, which was less justified. If any one man can claim credit, it is the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, who acted early and acted big to provide record amounts of stimulus.

Renewable energy stimulus can create three times as many Australian jobs as fossil fuels

Stimulus programs backing clean energy as a path out of recession would create nearly three times as many jobs for every dollar spent on fossil fuel developments, according to a financial consultancy analysis.

The assessment by professional services firm Ernst & Young (EY) says a government focus on renewable energy and climate-friendly projects to drive the economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic could create more than 100,000 direct jobs across the country while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Commissioned by environment group the World Wide Fund for Nature, the EY report suggests fast-tracking wind and solar farms that have already been approved, increasing electricity transmission capacity and backing new industries in battery manufacturing, electric buses, renewable hydrogen and manufacturing powered by renewable energy.

It estimates every $1m spent on renewable energy and exports creates 4.8 full-time jobs in renewable infrastructure or 4.95 jobs in energy efficiency. By comparison, $1m on fossil fuel projects has been found to create 1.7 full-time jobs.

That suggests that if 10% of what the federal and state governments had indicated they would spend in response to Covid-19 was directed towards clean projects it could create 160,000 jobs.

Extra mental health support for pupils and teachers

Online resources and charity grants to help schools and colleges respond to the impact of coronavirus on mental health and wellbeing

Original author: HM Government

More than a third of NSW rainforests found to have been hit by Australian bushfires

More than a third of New South Wales rainforest was among 5.4m hectares hit by last season’s catastrophic bushfires, according to new state government data.

The report, an updated assessment of the effect of the fires on wildlife and landscapes, said 293 threatened animal species and 680 threatened plant species have habitat in the state’s fire ground. The affected area includes more than 3.5m hectares of the state’s best koala habitat.

Almost six months on from the crisis, the impact of the fire season is only beginning to be understood.

Recovery work has begun in some areas, while in others, the Covid-19 pandemic shut down early assessment work.

The fire ground includes 245 of the state’s 878 national parks and 208 out of 522 state forests.

Bruno Latour: 'This is a global catastrophe that has come from within'

In the early days of the lockdown, philosopher Bruno Latour wrote an essay for the AOC cultural online newspaper. “The first lesson the coronavirus has taught us,” he wrote, “is also the most astounding: we have actually proven that it is possible, in a few weeks, to put an economic system on hold everywhere in the world…” That essay, translated since into at least 12 languages, has encouraged many to reimagine how different the world could look if we learned from this experience. It has also solidified the reputation of the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) emeritus professor as one of the most influential thinkers of our age.

How has the pandemic reshaped our societies?
Some say this is the revenge of nature. That is silly. Anyone who has studied the history of medicine knows how a virus can make a society feel completely different. We are on a great learning curve. It’s a huge experiment. This is a global catastrophe that has come not from the outside like a war or an earthquake, but from within. Viruses are completely inside us. We cannot completely eject them. We must learn to live with them. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, you suggested everyone ask themselves what they would like to keep from the lockdown, what they would like to change. Those questions are now being asked all over the world. Has the interest surprised you?
Even if you were not a spiritual person, the lockdown forced everyone into a kind of retreat, a moment for reflection. It was quite extraordinary. The questions were therapeutic. They gave people powerlessly stuck at home a way of thinking about how they would create a better future.

Can an idea go viral like a disease?
Covid has given us a model of contamination. It has shown how quickly something can become global just by going from one mouth to another. That’s an incredible demonstration of network theory. I’ve been trying to persuade sociologists of this for 40 years. I’m sorry to have been so right. It shows that we must not think of the personal and the collective as two distinct levels. The big climate questions can make individuals feel small and impotent. But the virus gives us a lesson. If you spread from one mouth to another, you can viralise the world very fast. That knowledge can re-empower us.

Many countries are now easing out of lockdown. What can we expect to emerge from this period of reflection?
The pandemic has reopened the debate about what is necessary and what is possible. It has put us in a position where we can decide what is useful and what is not. That choice disappeared before. Everything seemed relentless like a tsunami. Now we realise it was not. We can see things are reversible. We can see which jobs are necessary and which are junk. How long that will last, I don’t know. We might have forgotten everything in three months. That depends on how hard the economic crisis becomes. I am overwhelmed by the size of the economic problem, from what I hear from my students.

Commonwealth Points of Light Award: Her Majesty The Queen Congratulates Pakistani Volunteers

Her Majesty The Queen has honoured two outstanding volunteers with a Commonwealth Points of Light Award during a phone call hosted by British High Commissioner Dr Christian Turner CMG.

Original author: HM Government

NHS volunteers extend support to frontline health and social care staff

Frontline health and care staff will be able to access support from the hundreds of thousands of NHS volunteer responders, Minister for Care Helen Whately announced today.

Original author: HM Government

More than 17,000 helped to get home from across Africa

UK Government charter flights have now flown over 150,000 miles enabling over 8,400 stranded travellers to return home from across Africa

Original author: HM Government

UK butterfly season off to unusually early start after sunniest of springs

Record-breaking sunshine has encouraged midsummer butterflies to emerge unusually early, with dozens of species appearing a month before their usual flight season.

Butterflies that usually fill meadows and woods in July, including the ringlet, the marbled white, dark green fritillary and the silver-washed fritillary have been widely spotted during the sunniest spring since records began in 1929.

Experts are hailing it as – so far – the best summer for butterflies in nearly 25 years, with an abundance of both common species such as the small heath and endangered ones such as the heath fritillary, a notoriously sedentary butterfly which this year is being found on new sites across Exmoor.

Matthew Oates, the author of His Imperial Majesty: A Natural History of the Purple Emperor, a new book about the elusive Apatura iris, has seen 10 species earlier this year than during any other summer for the last 50 years.

The large blue is among the species Matthew Oates has spotted earlier than any season in almost 50 years. Photograph: Matthew Oates

“Butterflies are climate and weather opportunists par excellence,” he said. “Don’t write a butterfly book – climate change will make it instantly out-of-date.”

New UK deals will bring millions more PPE items to frontline healthcare staff

Millions more visors, aprons and gowns will be delivered to frontline health and social care workers treating coronavirus patients, manufactured in response to the UK government’s call to arms.

Original author: HM Government

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