July 2007 Archives

Rain, umbrella, seat (small) 100x131.jpg The rain it raineth every day; but, strange as this British 'Summer' weather feels, we know a lot about what's triggered the deluge. We can debate the extent of global warming, but the big issue is how to ensure it doesn't carry on. This is where conventional science gives way to understandings of human behaviour. Hearts and minds will help us meet the challenges of climate change, not simply technology.

As everyone keeps telling us, these are uncertain times. You don’t have to have been in the floods to have felt in some way their effects….

But understanding it all is a bit of a challenge. Is it true that climate change is well and truly upon us? (I suspect, on the whole the answer is Yes) Is there anything we can do about it? (Ditto.)

Knowing what we know
And do we need to know more? I’d say Yes again, but it’s a qualified Yes.

We already know a lot; how to reduce and recycle waste, how to travel carbon-lightly, how to share resources for food, water and other essential commodities. What we sometimes don’t know is how to put that ‘knowledge’ into practice.

Taking evidence to policy
The challenges of interpreting the environmental phenomena currently around us are being taken up by some of the brightest natural scientists. Their evidence is and will continue to be both good and available for everyone to consider for themselves.

Now we must move also to include, in a quite fundamental way, the social sciences and the understandings they bring. Best progress towards confronting climate and other fears needs to embrace how people - people of all sorts, not ‘just’ those already committed to doing something, but everyone else as well - feel in their hearts, as well as how in their heads they understand.

Hearts and minds in context
Science in the service of coping with climate change is first and foremost a tool towards sensible actions and policies. It will do that science no harm at all if it has two conjoined wings, the natural and the social, bringing together the evidence required to make action happen.

This is a dialogue in which everyone can play their part. The challenge is to articulate and explore what best makes people get engaged, positively and in a meaningful way……

A version of this article was first posted on Climatespace on 27 July 2007.

London lights, buses & faces 115x140 (small).jpg An ippr report by Ioannis Kaplanis tells of increasing employment polarisation in Britain - with differences most significant amongst female employees in London. Regional economies must learn from Kaplanis's studies, looking especially at policies for the full use and retention of women's high-level skills. One emphasis must surely be on how very senior decision makers outside London (a hugely male population) respond to this challenge.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) has just published a paper by Ioannis Kaplanis at the London School of Economics. The report, entitled, The Geography of Employment Polarisation in Britain, offers potentially far-reaching implications for renewal and regeneration in the UK.

Polarisation, but not greater absolute poverty
In essence, Kaplanis tells us that polarisation between high-paid and low-paid occupations in Britain has increased significantly since the early 1990s, but that both categories have seen expansion when measured against middle-income activity.

This, Kaplanis suggests, is because technology (and international out-sourcing?) have removed the need for large numbers of middle-level skills, whereas very highly skilled work still requires very highly skilled people - who in turn stimulate the demand for lower-level skills such as domestic cleaning and local leisure facilities. (Perhaps this polarisation is also more likely to occur where there is a lot of private sector activity.)

The gender dimension
Most significant of all, it appears, has been this effect on female employment in London - which is hardly surprising, given that many talented young people go to London to work; and London is where gender discrimination is, if necessary, most challenged and least likely to occur before the highest levels of the glass ceiling. (Merseyside, as a contrasting example, has an appalling senior level employment record in gender terms.)

Add to such a backdrop the obvious fact that women are usually responsible for hiring domestic help (they can't do home maintenance and have high level jobs...) and we have a win-win for female workers at both ends of the formal skills spectrum.

The regional challenge
There are many other aspects to Kaplanis's work in addition to gender, but he does note that employment polarisation is now (the converse may have been true until the early 1990s) less evident in the UK regions than in the capital.

So here's a challenge: get highly-skilled women outside London working at the level of their acquired expertise - and pay and promote them properly.

Then maybe the UK regions would see a turn-around of their still relatively declining fortunes. It's only one part of the equation, but it might just prompt that desperately needed impetus towards success.

Westminster parliament towers & offices (small) 95x115.jpg It's often claimed that politicians are out of touch or otherwise irrelevant to their electorate. The website 'They Work For You' is one way in which this claim can be examined, at least for Members of the UK Parliament. But can MPs ever meet all the demands put upon them, and what else do we need to know?

Perhaps the idea that 'politics is irrelevant' is actually a ploy, consciously or not, for people to avoid the difficult questions which the political process poses for us all.

Do we actually know what we want from politics? The They Work For You website is one way in which we can all engage; it follows the issues raised by individual Members of Parliament (and others) at Westminster and elsewhere.

What do we want to know?
But obviously numbers of questions asked in decision-making assemblies are by no means the only thing we would like to know about the political process. There are many other important aspects of political work as well.

Some MPs have active websites, some do not. Some meet with their constituents regularly, some probably less often. Some have a schedule of discussions with their local authorities, others make contact less systematically. But all are open to scrutiny by the media and the public.

All things to all (wo)men?
So how should MPs respond to the mis/perception that politics is meaningless? Should they leaflet constituents all the time (green issues here, volunteer delivery energy levels apart?), should they talk to the media (spin?), should they consciously ask questions in Parliament in the knowledge that They Work For You will report these (skewing activity for coverage?), should they do something else?

What would make people think politics has meaning? What would provide public assurance that all politicians are not 'in it for themselves'?

Or don't we want to answer these questions, for fear that then we'd have to take responsibility ourselves for what's happening around us?

Buxton Opera House (small) 120x150.jpg Buxton Opera House in Derbyshire bears up well for this shot, taken at the end of the wettest June in England since records began, as preparations are finalised for the Buxton Festival. The Festival, this year from 6 - 22 July, attracts over 36,000 people annually to the Peak District and in 2007 will feature more than 110 events in just 17 days - including 7 operas, 16 literary speakers, 36 concerts, an afternoon ballet and a ghost tour.

Buxton Opera House - detail 'Private Boxes', Festival posters & flowers 480x640.jpg

Details of Buxton Festival 2007 are available here.