Kochland, a warning from history

THE NEW YORKER

Jane Mayer in The New Yorker reviews Christopher Leonard’s book Kochland, a chronicle of “the extraordinary behind-the-scenes influence that Charles and David Koch have exerted to cripple government action on climate change” in the United States and around the world.

I can’t talk about the book, I haven’t read its seven hundred pages. What I can do is accept what Mayer is saying about Leonard’s findings, and form an opinion, pass judgment, on the brother’s Koch.

I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say, by actively funding climate-change denial, the brother’s Koch put their interests and the profits of their companies above the lives of almost every other person on the planet. It’s a position, an arrogance, as unsettling as the “smoking gun” revelation surrounding ExxonMobil, reported earlier in the month by Oliver Milman of The Guardian. The Texas oil giant made “‘breathtakingly’ accurate climate predictions in 1970s and 80s” then systematically denied the science.

The idea anyone could or would deliberately cause harm, actively destroying life on the planet, is so far beyond my comprehension it’s hard for me to fathom.

Actually that’s not true. History is awash with examples of the self-interested, and their abilities to divorce actions from consequences. It’s the logic of faith. I believe in God. I am devout. Therefore everything I do is God’s will.

It’s how everyone from kings to terrorists, moguls to dictators, rationalise their actions.

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What’s the super-tipping point for Exxon?

Two stories, from opposite ends of the climate crisis, caught my attention yesterday.

The first by Damian Carrington, details three “super-tipping points” for climate action, that could cascade through our economies, potentially reducing “70% of global greenhouse gas emissions”. The report, from consultancy Systemiq, partnering with the University of Exeter, advocates policy interventions on electric vehicles, plant-based meat alternatives, and green fertilisers, as “the fastest way to drive global action”. Basically, push growth in these three sectors, to get us away from high-carbon options as quickly as possible.

While I think the idea sounds plausible, I wonder if it’s enough? It doesn’t deal with the structural problems that got us here in the first place. The Systemiq strategy was launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos. It’s speaking business to business, which has me mulling, will another iteration of business really solve our problems?

The other story, by Oliver Milman, follows up on his piece earlier this month, “Exxon made ‘breathtakingly’ accurate climate predictions in 1970s and 80s“, detailing a report by Geoffrey Supran proving Exxon’s scientist predicted the rise in global temperatures. As I noted then, Exxon has know for at least fifty years their products were, are, and will continue causing planet wide warming.

More than a dozen America states have lawsuits against Exxon. Many believe Supran’s report strengthens their case against the Texas giant. It certainly establishes two key facts. Exxon “knew about the causes and consequences of climate change” and they “actively concealed and denied it”.

Exxon has consistently denied “they knew”. I call that a press-release denial, but they have deep pockets to defend against accusations of wrongdoing. Theoretically they could continue their denials well beyond the point of no return. I’d argue we’re already there. If, as Systemiq predicts, there’s a tipping point when detoxing our economies of carbon achieves critical mass, what’s the super-tipping point for Exxon?

When do they accept their part in all of our destruction, and do something to stop it?

ExxonMobil knew, they knew!

Oliver Milman in The Guardian reports that Exxon has know for at least fifty years that their products were, are, and will continue causing planet wide warming.

The Guardian

Back in the 1970s Exxon’s own scientists “correctly and skilfully” “predicted there would be global heating of about 0.2C a decade due to the emissions of planet-heating gases from the burning of oil, coal and other fossil fuels”.

What did Exxon do with this information? Did they tell everyone, try to reverse it, invest in solutions? No, they watched as their prediction came true, then attacked the science.

Geoffrey Supran led the team of researchers from Harvard University and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, that uncovered the “smoking gun” showing Exxon “accurately predicted warming years before they started attacking the science”.

And why would Exxon make such a despicable choice, take such callous actions, for decades? You guessed it, to protect company profits.

They did it for the money!

We need a radical approach to the housing crisis

An answer prompted by George Monbiot’s article in The Guardian.

The Guardian

I agree with Mr Monbiot that “government policy has created heaven for landlords and hell for tenants”.

I’m a tenant, I always have been, and probably always will be. Not through choice but because I’ve never been rich enough to buy. As tenants we’re treated like children, constantly reminded, it’s the landlord’s house we’re living in, not a property we’re paying to call our home.

All tenants are made to feel beholding, as if we should be grateful to landlords for letting us rent their property. It’s a completely asymmetric relationship. How would you feel if someone turned up at your door, and just let themselves into your home? It makes you feel vulnerable, as if you have no agency.

I think we need a radical approach, one that puts tenants front and centre. Yes we need rent controls, but also guaranteed long term leases. Terms of five or ten years should be the standard. Everyone needs that kind of stability to make a life for themselves.

There should be a register of landlords. You need a license to drive a taxi, you should have a license to rent out property. Tenants should be able to report poor conditions, neglect of a property, or abusive behaviour, without fear of eviction. A register of landlords would go some way to keeping both parties safe.

I think the owners of a ghosted property should be fined. Not small, slap on the wrist fines, but value of the property fines. Investors then have a choice, sell their ghosted property, or let them at rent-controlled rates. Similarly second homes, or holiday homes, should be either treated as ghosted properties, or taxed out of existence.

Mortgages should be calculated not on earnings, but on a proven ability to pay rent. I would argue paying rent is better indicator of someone’s ability to repay a mortgage than earnings. If lenders require a deposit, they should be offered to individuals by the government, in the same way as student loans are, and similarly administered by HMRC.

The problems with the housing market have been created by decades of poor political choices.

For the sake of everyone, we need to do better.

Netflix battles the fetish of theatrical release

An answer prompted by a Dalya Alberge article in The Guardian: Streaming could kill UK independent film industry.

I don’t want to debate the possible destruction of the independent film industry in this country. I agree the lack of many things will force creators to follow the money, and head to the States. I agree the destruction of the independent film sector would deprive audiences of original films. I disagree that Netflix will make it harder for independent producers to make their movies.

Yes Netflix are bypassing the theatrical release of films. For some theatrical release is the last way to define a film as a film. It’s an obsession I think we need to get past. I fear if we’re not careful, we’re in danger of fetishising theatrical release, to the detriment of the bigger picture, telling stories and making movies.

These days the majority of films aren’t actually films, in the traditional sense of the word. Only a handful of titles are actually shot on celluloid, most are shot digitally, and when they do get a theatrical release, they’re delivered to theatres on hard drives and projected digitally. All of the analogue processes that went into the making a film are gone, replaced by their digital equivalent.

The only part left of films analogue past is a release into theatres.

Steven Spielberg was recently at the forefront of a campaign to have The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences change their rules. The campaign wanted movies made for streaming services excluded from the Oscars. He argued they should be considered television movies and submitted to the Emmy Awards. The US Department of Justice warned The Academy, they could be breaking antitrust laws, if they exclude Netflix movies. I’m afraid Mr Spielberg is clinging to an anachronism. We have to accept that theatrical release does not a film make.

The Netflix model is not perfect, but it filled a gap created by the studios. Hollywood abandoned independent films, and went all-in on bigger budget, franchise and superhero extravaganzas. Netflix simply filled that hole in the market.

Later this year Disney will launch its own streaming service. It will not only offer Disney’s entire back catalogue, but also the catalogues of Marvel, Star Wars, Fox, and National Geographic. That’s a huge premium catalogue to compete against. Disney will also, at some point, pull all of their content from Netflix. Netflix have responded by increasing production, and sourcing original content from around the world. That has to be good for independent producers. Our stories will get told, our films made, but only if we stop obsessing over theatrical release, and embrace streaming.

Side note: Flicking though the UK catalogue of Netflix reveals a diversity of movies and television shows from around the world. That has to be good for independent producers?

For me the antagonism towards Netflix asks a bigger question. What defines a movie? It’s the same question books faced more than a decade ago. Does a book stop being a novel if it’s read on a Kindle? I would say no. How you read the novel is irrelevant. Hard copy or not, that’s just the delivery format. Some people have chosen to fetishise the novel in its analogue form, as if a book suddenly stops being a novel, when it’s read on something other than ink on paper. Films are being crammed into the same headspace. A movie doesn’t suddenly stop being a film because it’s streamed to a home theatre system.

Our idea of film is like the rest of our language, always evolving. These days I’d define a movie as a self-contained story, a plot with a beginning, a middle, and an end. How I watch it is less important. I’m not trying to deny the theatrical experience. There is something magical about sitting in a theatre, but it’s not the only way to watch a movie.

In the end it really is about telling a story. If it engages you, who cares how you watch it.

“Tree” highlights the need for Credit Arbitration for playwrights

A thought prompted by the Mark Brown article in The Guardian.

The abridged version of the story is that Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley were removed from a theatre production after four years of work.

“Tree” now claims it was created by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Idris Elba, and has failed to acknowledge both women for their contribution.

You should also read the Medium article Tree. A Story of Gender and Power in Theatre, where they explain in their own words what happened.

What strikes me after reading this, is how weak both were made to feel, and how little power they had to have their claims recognised. Basically if you don’t have huge reserves of cash to litigate, there’s not much you can do.

Anyone who knows anything about screenwriting knows that writers are frequently replaced. A new writer is brought in to do a rewrite or polish, punch up the dialogue, fix this hole in the plot, the list goes on.

When this all goes tits-up, and there is a dispute over credit, screenwriters can turn to the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Credit Arbitration service for help.

The aim of the service is to ensure “each writer’s contribution to the shooting script is properly valued and rewarded with the correct credit”.

There doesn’t seem to be an equivalent service for playwrights. It’s probably something the Guild should get into, but for some arcane reason, can’t.

I wish nothing but good fortune to both Allen-Martin and Henley. You’re not alone, we’ve all felt that same weight, frustration, and disappointment.

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