Just Above Sunset
December 4, 2005 - Power Out
Our Man in London is Mike McCahill - born in Warwickshire, England in 1978. He currently works as a film critic for The Scotsman, The Sunday Telegraph and the BBC, while trying to string together novels, screenplays and travel guides for places he's never actually been to. Mike divides his time between the Midlands and London, where professional duty requires he spend at least the first part of every week sitting in small dark rooms. With a couple of exceptions, he is open to offers.
The big story of the week in the UK concerned a struggle for power, but not in the political sense. This was much bigger than that, centering as it did on the ongoing shakiness of man's relationship to nature.
I've always thought that one can test the veracity of particular news reports simply by using one's own eyes. So, further proof of climate change, or at least some increasingly freakish weather, came when I returned from my travels on Tuesday, only to be told that blizzard conditions had hit the Midlands 24 hours earlier, leaving behind precipitation several feet deep, and bringing about travel chaos. However, by the time I was told this, not a single snowflake remained.
Likewise, the sheer combined bulk of reports in the press over the last few months about shortfalls in energy supplies must lend weight to the theory that something somewhere is going seriously wrong with the way we in the West light and heat our homes. This week came news of expected power outages should Britain be further hit by cold weather this winter (see here and here); it seems this, rather than the over-hyped bird flu, is to be the dominant crisis of the next few months.
I haven't yet seen Syriana, the new movie which apparently links Western interests in the Middle East to the troubles of providing Europe with its energy resources, but its argument sounds especially compelling in the light of these latest warnings. Power outages seem to be an unusually common feature of modern life, however much we try to work through them. I was over in California during the mooted energy problems of late 2000, a mini-crisis that clearly hadn't deterred some folk from stringing up the most elaborate Christmas lights. "Crisis?", these lighting displays seemed to ask, "What crisis? Here, look at this flashing neon Santa!"
In the UK, the potential energy problem was exacerbated this week with the news that workers at British Gas, suppliers of both gas and electricity to millions of homes across Britain, were to go on strike. The politicians, cast in their usual roles of hapless stooges to global interests, offered assurances that any disruption to domestic supplies would be minimal, and that special consideration would be made for the elderly and anybody else at risk from hypothermia. Businesses, it seems, would be lined up to take this first hit.
Which didn't exactly warm the heart: getting up in the morning during these dark, chilly winter months is hard enough, without the further knowledge that the office or shop floor to which one is heading is likely to be similarly cold, if not even colder. The plain truth is, that unless Tony Blair rolls up his sleeves and goes out prospecting for more oil himself, he and his party have very little control over this particular field. Either the Earth's natural supplies are running out (as all available evidence would suggest) and oil and gas are thus at a premium, or they're not, and everything's just fine and dandy and we can go back to watching Survivor.
An example of the predicament Blair finds himself in on the energy issue came during one of his public appearances this week, during which he was expected to announce plans for the building of more nuclear power plants. The announcement was delayed for an hour while security attempted to remove two Greenpeace protestors, angry that the Prime Minister might seriously consider turning parts of the UK into real-world equivalents of The Simpsons' radioactive home Springfield, from the rafters of the hall (see here). With the far more environmentally friendly (not to mention safer) option of wind-farms having seemingly been discussed and dismissed for the time being - the generators constitute a blot on the landscape, according to some, unlike all those cell phone masts and billboards advertising SUVs currently standing - Blair was left hanging around before he could finally announce what can surely only have been his second- or third-choice resolution.
There are so many interests, so many pitfalls, and - presumably - so much money tied up in the energy issue that achieving any real and lasting consensus, let alone the solutions any such consensus would generate, is a major problem in itself. Yet one can't help but feel that time is very definitely running out. Stepping into the office might be a chillier affair for some this winter. But how long will it be before we are, all of us, left in the dark?
You may have spotted my dismissive reference to the television show Survivor in an earlier paragraph. There was brighter news for anyone of the anti-reality TV persuasion coming out of Europe this week: specifically from Germany, where Big Brother is, after several years, finally being taken off the air due to falling ratings.
There are, it should be noted, mitigating circumstances. In Germany, ever since the show's inception, Big Brother has been rolling uninterrupted, for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and thus its audience might have been allowed to tire quicker than most of the show's usual mix of exhibitionists and wannabes lounging around a house in their underwear. (Compare this to the British variant of Big Brother, which runs only during the summer months, at a time when broadcasters and advertisers alike agree that, as a large percentage of the populace are away on holiday, anything can be screened without too much effort or concern.)
Still, this can't help but be taken as a positive sign that the reality show's moment is perhaps on the brink of passing. (Who says mankind can't evolve any further?) My continued objection to this form of broadcasting is not specifically to the plops in the toilet bowl the shows themselves represent, but to the ripples that follow in their wake.
It's the low standards of aspiration Big Brother engenders in younger viewers, who see existing in front of a camera - and having nothing to offer in return - as a viable career option. It's in the lower standards of journalism the shows encourage: the vapid-headed presentation, with its anything-goes editorial style, and the follow-up reports in the tabloids the following day, which tell us everything we might have watched with our own eyes the night before. (Why not get out in the world and report on some real news?)
It's also how such shows scale down our appreciation of humanity, how blandness or stupidity almost inevitably wins out, leaving behind sneering and misanthropy, the pointing of fingers or cameras at individuals who don't fit in. I am glad it's the people of Germany, by turning off in their droves, who have driven Big Brother off the air. Maybe that old argument of the pro-lobby, about "reality TV being the most democratic form of television", really does hold up after all.
December 2, 2005
Copyright © 2005 – Mike McCahill
Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's Note: British spelling and punctuation retained here.
See also -
Britain faces big freeze as Gulf Stream loses strength - Times of London (UK)
The rate of flow is down thirty percent in the last four decades. Possible thousand–year ice age on the way again? London is at the same latitude as southern Hudson's Bay - Rome and Madrid are about as far north as New York. Without the Gulf Stream pumping heat in, well, visit Europe and say hi to Mike, now. It seems things will change.
Wildly popular American radio personality Rush Limbaugh here -
I just think these wacko environmentalists take these naturally occurring climatic cycles and try to blame primarily America and other civilized industrialized nations for all this, and it's purely political. But these things are going to happen, and if this is happening, there's nothing we can do to stop it.
We've had ice ages. If you're in France, don't worry about it. You can burn cars! You've got all kinds of cars in France you can burn to stay warm.
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