The political week in 5 points

Alina Utrata
9 min readAug 11, 2019

IPCC issues report on climate catastrophe (it’s still a catastrophe): eat less meat and dairy now, or lose all the foods later

For some reason, recommending that we stop eating meat (or even just eat less meat) makes some people go bananas. Remember when Greggs came out with a vegan sausage roll, and Piers Morgan had an absolute meltdown? They weren’t even forcing him to eat the (non-bloody) thing!

However, the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which came out this week focuses on land use. As it turns out, we cannot stop climate change unless we change our land use. Publicly, some of the 100 experts who compiled the report have been saying things like, “We don’t want to tell people what to eat. . . . But it would indeed be beneficial, for both climate and human health, if people in many rich countries consumed less meat, and if politics would create appropriate incentives to that effect.” (That was Hans-Otto Pörtner, an ecologist who co-chairs the IPCC’s working group on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.) Privately, they have been saying: PLEASE, for the love of earth and human civilization, PLEASE BECOME VEGAN OR VEGETARIAN.

The report notes that these dietary changes could free millions of square kilometres of land and reduce global CO2 emissions by up to eight billion tonnes per year by 2050. Some have even said the IPCC report doesn’t go far enough in talking about the carbon opportunity cost of land use. George Monbiot in The Guardian notes that a Nature paper estimates that the carbon cost of chicken is six times higher than soy (milk is 15 times higher and beef 73 times). “One kilo of beef protein has a carbon opportunity cost of 1,250kg: that, incredibly, is roughly equal to driving a new car for a year, or to one passenger flying from London to New York and back,” Monbiot says. (This is particularly relevant for those of you who might be feeling guilty about your plane trips after my note last week…)

Now, some of you may be saying, “But Alina. I like meat. In fact, I love meat. I cannot live without meat.” Oh? Let me just start a short list of climate-vulnerable foods that we could lose (YES, LOSE) if climate change continues at the current pace: olives; berries; almonds; avocados, wine grapes; alfalfa (which feed cattle) — and COFFEE. Yes. Coffee. So unless you want to be eating only genetically engineered food or liquid meal replacements in the future, you might want to start googling some vegan and vegetarian recipes.

For those of you who think vegan food == healthy food == disgusting tasting food, I have some news for you. If you care about the climate, but still fancy your odds against heart disease, there are some ridiculously unhealthy and incredibly tasty vegan foods out there. Why? Because you replace all the dairy with sugar and oil. You can check out some of my favourite recipes and an introduction to vegan cooking here. I also will make a plug for my own favorite earl grey tea cupcakes that are so full of oil you can have a heart attack just by looking at one, from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World (or, if cupcakes aren’t your thing, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, or Vegan Pie in the Sky).

By the way, it’s not all about veganism. The IPCC report also noted the impacts of deforestation, particularly worrying given Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s actions towards the Amazon rainforests. Some have argued that it may be only a matter of time before military interventions to protect the climate begin.

Speaking of food shortages, to Brexit! Boris Johnson’s plot to leave by 31 October, deal or no-deal

The UK economy has shrunk for the first time since 2012, prompting fears of a recession. (I believe it was Taylor Swift who said, “Don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t warn you.”)

Number 10 apparently invited a number of business and trade representations to Downing Street to tell them that they were serious about leaving the EU, deal or no-deal, on 31 October and to prepare for that reality. One business figure at the meeting said he felt the message from the Prime Minister’s office was, “We’re here for a while. If you want influence you can have it, if you don’t you can f*** off.” Others felt that the implicit message from Number 10 was that businesses risked being frozen out of future government contracts if they disrupted Johnson’s Brexit plan. “Many of us came out of the meeting really worried. What do you do? Do you get on board with no-deal? Or do you go silent?” an attendee said.

It’s likely that the UK is facing elections in autumn, given the amount of spending commitments Johnson has announced (one senior Treasury official said he was “horrified”). However, there seems to be a bit of a plot afoot involving complicated electoral rules. Now that the Prime Minister’s working majority has been whittled down to one, it is increasingly possible that he may lose a vote of no-confidence in Parliament. However, if he does lose a no-confidence vote, Johnson has refused to rule out the possibility that he would delay an election until after 31 October, and therefore after the UK has already left the EU (deal or no deal).

Jeremy Corbyn said it would be an “unprecedented, unconstitutional and anti-democratic abuse of power” if this happened, and called on Whitehall civil servants to clarify the electoral rules about whether Johnson could actually do this. There’s also some question about whether the Queen would have to adjudicate if an alternative prime minister comes forward to claim the support of Parliament. (Honestly, and you guys give us Americans so much grief about the electoral college system.)

Labour’s Peter Kyle said that Parliament will not be made an irrelevance by a “maverick populist who spouts off to his blogger friends.” He was referring to Johnson’s top adviser Dominic Cummings there, but you could be forgiven for assuming it was someone else. Cummings, by the way, gave a rare public remark suggesting that he doesn’t think Parliament can thwart Johnson’s evil plot — sorry I mean legitimate use of democratic rules and institutions.

Harland & Wolff goes into administration

On Monday, Harland and Wolff Heavy Industries collapsed into administration. Since 1861, H&W have made some of the world’s most famous ships — including, of course, the Titanic.

There has been some industrial action to attempt to save the shipyard, including calls to renationalise it. “We are staying here to make our presence known,” said Barry Reid, 50, a steelworker and GMB union representative at the protest outside the gate. “We want to try to shame people into buying the yard and the government into renationalising Harland and Wolff.”

However, some workers have already been offered redundancy or been laid off. The yard has until 16 August to find a buyer, and a spokesman for BDO NI said, “A number of interested parties/potential bidders have come forward since our appointment and we are expediently following up on these inquiries in an effort to seek a viable commercial solution. This is our focus and we are working closely with interested parties and stakeholders with the aim of securing a positive outcome.”

However, Graham Brownlow, an economics lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast, told The Guardian that a rescue is possible, but not probable. “A big pension bill for former employees deters potential buyers and the shrunken workforce has limited political clout,” he told the newspaper.

On a visit to Warrenpoint, Micheal Gove said, “On a personal level, I am very, very sorry what’s happened to Harland and Wolff … It’s an iconic business that has a place in Northern Ireland’s history and a place in all our hearts and it’s a great, great shame — particularly when the team who work there have been so energetic and determined in trying to make sure that the business remains alive and viable for the future.”

On Sunday, former and retired Harland and Wolff workers have been invited to return to the shipyard for a special event, where concrete prints of “hands that built the shipyard” will be made, part of the staff occupation in an effort to save jobs.

Jeffery Epstein, accused of running a child sex trafficking ring, found dead in New York jail cell

Jeffery Epstein, a wealthy financier who was arrested on charges of sex trafficking girls as young as 14, was found dead in his New York jail cell on Saturday morning. Epstein had previously been on suicide watch following a previous incident. Epstein was not on suicide-watch at his time of death, prompting calls for an investigation. Attorney General William Barr said, “Epstein’s death raises serious questions that must be answered.” The FBI is currently investigating the incident.

There are fears among many of his victims that the investigation will collapse with Epstein’s death, and the chance to provide justice and discover the truth of his crimes (and who else they may implicate) lost. Sigrid McCawley, an attorney for one of the victims said, “We are hopeful that the government will continue to investigate and will focus on those who participated and facilitated Epstein’s horrifying sex trafficking scheme that damaged so many.” Epstein’s case was very high-profile as his circle of close acquaintances included Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew, Leslie Wexner and others.

Donald Trump on Saturday re-tweeted conspiracy theories about Epstein’s death, but we’re not going to dignify that with a re-posting here.

Back-to-back mass shootings in the US highlight gun control, white supremacy

Two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio have renewed calls for gun control in the United States and highlighted the increasing problem of white nationalism. The gunman in El Paso who murdered 20 people, targeted people of Hispanic origin and posted a manifesto on the website 8chan that his attack was motivated by the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

(There is no hispanic invasion of the US. Besides the fact that from 2009 to 2014, emigration from the US into Mexico outpaced the emigration from Mexico into the US; and besides the fact that the number of Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. illegally has declined by 2 million since 2007; and besides the fact the undocumented workers pay over $23 billion in US taxes while being unable to access benefits and are literally keeping social security solvent; and besides the fact that Hispanic Americans are real Americans; and besides the fact that a person’s immigration status or ethnic origin does not warrant them being gunned down in a shopping mall, there still is no Hispanic invasion. The recent surge in Central American migrants on the US-Mexico border is the result of a humanitarian crisis, as families flee violence in their home countries and turn themselves into Border Patrol in the US in order to request asylum.)

The rhetoric around a “Hispanic invasion” is one of the main talking points of US television show Fox News and of US President Donald Trump. Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rouke (who is from El Paso), Bernie Sanders, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Kristen Gillibrand, Bill de Blasio and Tom Steyer have all called Donald Trump a white supremacist. O’Rourke said, “The only modern western democracy that I can think of that said anything close to this is the Third Reich, Nazi Germany.” O’Rouke continued that Trump “has no place here … He’s helped to create what we saw in El Paso on Saturday.”

Trump said that the gun violence was the result of mental health issues and violent video games (there is no research to support this claim). He was met with protestors in both Dayton and El Paso went he went to visit victims, their families, first responders and hospital staff. Trump told the press it had been an “amazing day” and “I wish you could have been there to see it.” (The media were not allowed to join his hospital visits.)

Meanwhile, pressure has increased on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to recall the Senate from its August recess and vote on the gun control bills the House has already passed. CNBC reported that the National Rifle Association spent $1.6. million during the first half of this year lobbying members of the House and Senate against stricter gun control legislations.

Originally published at Northern Slant.



Alina Utrata

PhD’ing in Politics and International Studies at Cambridge via Queen's University Belfast via Stanford.