Some might question why an atheistic internationalist has chosen to write a blog about a day of national religious celebration, but St David (Dewi Sant in the Welsh) was a vegetarian who spent some time at Glastonbury and established his first hermitage in Llanthony, a few miles down the road from where I sit writing this blog. Moreover, it’s an excuse to make use of my shelf of Welsh history books and then pretend I know something about it.
In ‘The Corona Crash: how the pandemic will change capitalism’, British economist and journalist, Grace Blakeley, argues that COVID-19 has heralded a new age of “state monopoly capitalism”. But while massive state intervention in the economy is completely justified, instead of propping up the owners of the old polluting economy, our money should be directed into a huge programme of investment in a green and just recovery. Along the way, in a highly readable and concise pamphlet, Blakeley dissects the reality of globalisation, the legacy of financialisation, and the arguments for a Green New Deal. Indeed, her writing is so quotable that what follows is more of a ‘Corona Crash’ pass notes than a review..
‘Humankind: A Hopeful History’, by the Dutch historian, Rutger Bregman, has given me philosophical reason for optimism in a bleak year, alongside reinforcing my view that neo-liberalism is the biggest threat to human prosperity, while challenging other deeply ingrained perspectives. In a highly compelling, research-based narrative, he demonstrates that the underpinning dogma of neo-liberalism is false: human beings are not “naturally” selfish and competitive. In fact, if you look at the historical evidence, the basis of our success has been collaboration.
December is here, which means it is time for the annual markontour Festive Fifteen. As usual, there’s nothing to do with Xmas in this compilation, just my favourite songs released in this very strange year and put together in homage to the much missed John Peel and his alternative Festive Fifty. The full playlist is available on my YouTube and Spotify channels.
The first big test of President Biden’s climate policy will be to invest in a green and just recovery from the pandemic
Analysis for C40’s Mayors’ COVID Recovery Taskforce shows this clearly – a big, fast global programme of green stimulus will create 50 million good new jobs in C40 cities alone, while also being the best route to protect health and enable us to get on track to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and make it to zero by 2050. So while we should rightly celebrate the moment when President Biden takes the USA back into the Paris Agreement, what is really going to matter in his first year in office is whether or not he is able to push through a green and just COVID recovery stimulus.
Robert Macfarlane is the nature writer of choice in markontour’s household, and so reading Landmarks, Macfarlane’s linguistic exploration of landscape, has been a deliberately drawn out affair – a book that we have read out loud over several months in order to savour every word.
Lockdown has proved just as busy as pre-COVID times, just with opportunities for discovering new music shifting from seeing live bands to listening to the radio. Favourites on the markontour playlist of late have included:
I didn’t know a redstart from a robin a year ago, but thanks to lockdown I’ve been getting to know a pair of them that have taken residence half way up the bridleway at the back of our house. The size of robin but with longer wings and tail, and with a similarly arresting, but slightly more rusty, splash of red on their breast, the male redstart also sports a white crown, black throat and boisterous, insistent call. One might call them noisy neighbours, but I have loved having them nearby.
Hearing unforecasted rain hitting the tarmac the other evening, I ventured outside anyway, having been looking forward to a nightwalk. Beyond the sound-proofing of the door the noise was cacophanous and I almost retreated back inside. But, belatedly, I noted the absence of moisture in the air and, slowly, realised that what I had assumed to be the patter of raindrops was in fact the flutter of a thousand leaves being blown up the drive. Venturing further out, I spent a pleasant but futile few minutes trying to catch some, before settling for scooping up a handful from the floor. They were unlike any leaf I had ever seen and it has taken me a week of stolen minutes with the markontour “library” to derive their origin, such is my city-boy lack of basic wildlife knowledge. But it has been fun learning and, in the end, it turned out that buried deep in my brain was my Mum introducing me to the parent-tree as a boy.
If the COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything it is the life-saving difference between good and bad government, and why the foundation of a successful society is strong, well-funded and universal public services. This, of course, shouldn’t have needed reaffirming. As Stuart Maconie points out in ‘The Nanny State Made Me’, a book that is both wonderfully entertaining and annotate-every-page informative, “The people who complain about the ‘nanny state’ are the people who had nannies”. Nevertheless, in most parts of the western world the public sector has been on the receiving end of a forty year battering. Perhaps this pandemic will be the moment when it bounces back off the ropes.