Month: August 2011

Map of the world

Saving the planet

One thing I never cease to find fascinating about life on this planet is that in the grand scheme of things, human beings (and life as a whole) are only a flash in the pan relative to the age of this planet and the universe. Currently at the ripe old age of 4.57 billion years, scientists estimate that the Sun is still only around half way through its life. Whenever I think about this I realise that in reality, as I’m sure a lot of you do, as a 1 million year-old species living on just one out of an unimaginable number of planets, we form such a small part of existence it’s laughable.

Famous scene from 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'

A famous scene from ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. Are we alone? And did that film scare you when you were a kid?

Thinking about it further, I start wondering how unlikely it is that we are alone in the universe. It doesn’t take a scientist to have such doubts. Am I right?

Films, books and computer games all regularly deal with the subject of extra-terrestrial beings and guess at what they would do if they landed on Earth. More often than not, in these fictional works they come with lasers and bombs to wipe out humans.

I recently read in the National Geographic that scientists have opined that if aliens did come to blow up Earth, they might do so to ‘protect the galaxy’. Optimistic in my reckoning…

Just as the UK government has decided to allow the culling of badgers to protect farmer’s livestock, our penchant for pollution and unsustainable living on Earth might be seen by more eco-friendly aliens as a danger to the galaxy – time to sell the Humvee and buy a bike, maybe?

The growth of the human race has changed the face of our planet permanently, and I (among many) would say for the worse. While those in developed countries continue to devour the world’s fast-disappearing natural resources, the world population continues to rise.

Countries like China and India are becoming rich very quickly, and with the increase in wealth comes all the expectations of ‘Western’ living standards. Chinese people are eating more meat; Indian people are buying more luxury cars. Our planet already has trouble sustaining the meat-loving petrol heads in Europe and America – once Indian and Chinese consumers can afford it the pressure on the ecosystem will become intolerable.

Third World and Climate Change

The Third World is to suffer the most from the catastrophic effects of climate change

In the science fiction movie The Matrix, one of the guards of the computer system that has enslaved the human race offers his opinion of us as a species. He argues that we in fact aren’t a species, but a virus. I think this is one of the more interesting parts of the film. Whereas other species have found a way to live in harmony with their natural environment – not taking too much but enough to survive – humans are fundamentally different. This is all because of our lovely big brains. It’s why we tend to have an urge to explore unknown places, an urge to better social causes that will benefit the whole of society rather than just us and those around us.

Back to the point. I think it could prove beneficial to take a step back and evaluate what we are doing to our planet from a very different viewpoint. Maybe if we were able to fly into outer space and see another race we could see things from another perspective – the future! Maybe it would be helpful for purposes of illustration if we landed on a planet and found evidence of a civilisation that had choked itself to death on fossil fuel fumes. At least maybe we would be forced to partially withdraw our heads from the sand.



Life on a plate

I want to be clear that I’m lucky compared to the majority of people. I graduated a year ago, worked in a cafe for eight months while I earned back my overdraft, and moved in with my Dad, living pretty much in the centre of London for free. I then began a three month long internship at a magazine, handed to me on a plate by the editor: my uncle. Nepotism worked for me…

Although I believe the mantra that you can ‘make anything happen’ regardless of your background to a certain degree, I also think that the period, area and family you’re born into has the ultimate say in your chances in succeeding in life. In the recent nationwide riots we saw thousands of people from some of the most impoverished parts of the UK’s cities take to the streets to throw petrol bombs, set fire to centuries-old businesses and buildings, and loot millions of pounds worth of goods from shops. People were effectively destroying their communities, and it’s been plastered all over the news ever since.

Croydon building on fire

Some put the acts down to sheer opportunistic criminality. While this is probably part of the point, I think one root cause is something else. These were people prepared to take advantage of a situation, have a bit of fun and nick a few DVD players in the process. What have the majority of them got to lose? Another ASBO, another court appearance? Some of them just seemed to be naive – like the Cambridge graduate and the middle-class girl who stole a violin – hence why I believe the actions were opportunistic in a way. It was probably seen as an opportunity to get rich quick, or to put on a public show of strength for one’s gang.

The consistent lack of direction and encouragement, from birth up to when these rioters were throwing Molotov cocktails at police is to blame. I’m not even pointing my finger at the mothers and fathers. Vicious cycles ensure that the worst schools take the worst pupils from the worst areas of the country. This can’t be helped, especially when families (like mine) have the money to buy a good education (I went to a Grammar school, but the comprehensives were good in my area anyway).

Rioter in Hackney

My point is that lack of opportunity is ingrained in the minds of these people. They believe that they are destined to claim benefits, sell crack and walk the streets for the rest of their lives. Growing up, all they see is their friends and family getting in trouble, using drugs and joining gangs. The environment in which you grow up in affects you for life. If you’re waking up to go to school every day, coming home to a tiny two bedroom flat on a council estate in Hackney, you haven’t seen your dad for two years, your mum is passed out on the sofa with used needles and wraps of heroin on the coffee table, and your brother is riding the streets on his BMX with a knife in his pocket and a noseful of cocaine, the last thing you feel like you should be doing is reading about genetics, Wilfred Owen or long division. It would seem like a joke at best. I know it would to me, anyway.

Interesting mashup of John Cridlands London riots map and the multiple deprivation index from set index of multiple deprivation

So, we have a ‘lost generation’ in two respects. Kids from council estates stabbing up other kids because they’re from E9 not E8 and kids who’ve been pushed into going to university all their lives without a clue about what they really want to learn about. I learned how to write an essay, the rest I don’t really remember.

Boring. I always think about what I could of achieved in the three years instead of university. Luckily, I had the opportunity and I don’t regret it. However, maybe our 18-year olds should be forcing themselves to think about the benefits of pitching in to the job hunt early, rather than how great it would be to be given a fat student loan, a flat in a city miles away with seven other like-minded 18/19 year-olds, while getting an ostensible ‘free ticket’ to a nice little job in London after three years of debauchery. It’s a widely documented fact that employers value experience, motivation, creativity and leadership ability over degrees. Some courses mean more than others, but I stand beside my point.

It can’t be helped for those who have chosen or are choosing to go to university now though. Why can’t employers stomach paying for the work interns do? It’s not as if they’re handing out permanent jobs – its labour! Minimum wage please, at a minimum (PUN – LOL!). That’s what they do in Denmark, why can’t we do it here? Those who don’t live in cities and actually want to make something of their degree need to be able to live and eat while they do their internships. It’s not fair on people who don’t have the same luck as me.

Kids killing kids – I don’t know about this one. If I did I’d probably have already been employed by a think-tank and I wouldn’t be sat here moaning about the fact I don’t have a job. I know that doing nothing all day is one of the worst things for your sense of self-worth. It rots your brain. I did nothing for a long time after graduating apart from sit at my share house with my fellow graduates, get drunk and get out of bed late, excusing my behaviour as ‘celebrations’. Three months of celebrations? More like three months of wasted time. Even though I sent off a lot of cover letters, they were to the wrong people and they were crap. It’s taken me a year to work out how to apply for a job!

Hackney Central riot

Those born into poverty need to work for their benefits; it’s as simple as that. Call me a disgusting right-winger (I’m a member of the Labour party and the Fabian Society), but 15-20 hours of community service a week for the rent and enough food to eat sounds fair enough to me. In fact, it could be turned into a massive plus. Extending Work Trials to all these kids and giving them the opportunity to learn while creating something could be a really positive experience for them.

Good things do happen; at least that’s what I’m hoping for my own sake.