Lights out for the G20

My view
My view

As I’m sat here in the darkness I’m wondering if this is all worth it. An hour without lights seemed hard enough, but I felt compelled to go the extra mile and forgo all electrical appliances. All that’s left is me and my guitar. Sounds romantic, but it’s too dark to see the frets and my Biffy Clyro impression sounds lousy. I can hear clearly that my neighbour is watching Matrix Revolutions. Seems I’m in this alone.

Last night, in case you missed it, was more than just the beginning of British Summer Time. At 8.30pm WWF’s annual Earth Hour began – an idea which struck me with its simplicity and symbolic power last year, but I never got around to contributing to it. With G20 protests bringing alive the spirit of activism, it felt right to do something personal to try and change the world.

Only to the world I probably looked like a lone nutter. The first few minutes were bizarre – I anticipated 8.30 with mild trepidation as I wondered if I would go through with it or just lame out. As it happened, Earth Hour inconsiderately began half way through my dinner, so I started the hour fumbling with my curry like a diner at Dans Le Noir? After a couple of minutes, however night vision came surprisingly easily. I opened my curtains to let in some natural light. Instead of moonlight, my room was lit up by the distant yellow glow of a million other Londoners happily ignoring this hippy protest.

Newcastle glows with electrical power
Newcastle at night; glowing with electrical power

Symbolic gestures weren’t too scarce (The London Eye, The BT Tower and The Coca-Cola Lights at Piccadilly Circus were all blacked out), but looking out over central London it seemed like few had taken it on themselves to join in.

In truth, I got used to the darkness. It was oddly relaxing not to be hammering away at my laptop or flipping through channels trying in vain to find an episode of Top Gear that I haven’t already seen. Half an hour in I received an encouraging text from my fellow eco-nut and darkness dweller Abby Edge. “I’ve still got my laptop on,” she admitted, “does that count?” I felt proud of my puritanical effort.

I strummed another chord trying to remember some Bob Dylan. Whilst my guitar work leaves a lot to be desired, that is probably more down to a lack of practise than a lack of light. In the end I got so engrossed in my practice that I happily played on in darkness for an extra four minutes at the end of the hour.

What the G20 protests this week show us is that for politicians to really make difficult decisions on the economy or the environment, they need the public pressure. Marching on the city is a great start, but for individual actions to make a difference it’s going to take long-term commitment as well as widespread co-operation. If we don’t then blackouts might not be voluntary in the future.

The good news, I can report, is that Britain is on course for meeting its Kyoto target for 2012. But now is not the time to get complacent. Far from it – now is the time to get active.

By all accounts, WWF seems to be praising Earth Hour 2009 as a huge success. Total figures of CO2 saved have not yet been calculated, but the symbolic power of plunging landmarks into darkness will surely have a worldwide impact.

Islington Now; Blog Hiatus

Islington Now: A shameless plug!
Islington Now: A shameless plug!

Any regular readers will realise that this blog has not been at its prolific best over the past few weeks. This is because I have been working for a new online publication, Islington Now, as part of my course. Last week I was working on the production desk, designing the paper copy on Quark and making the masthead you see atop this post. This week I have been dispatched to work on business, but I’m also working on news and features.

Please have a look through the site – my course-mates have been really busy putting up some excellent copy. You can follow us on Twitter or subscribe via RSS.

My first effort is here and more will follow over the next few days.

Arsenal fans without Setanta Sports are strongly advised to follow my esteemed colleague Faaez Samadi who will be live-blogging their FA Cup Sixth round tie against Hull, tonight from 7.30pm. David Christopher‘s audio slideshow which chronicles Islington street art and our rather snazzy news map are also highly recommended.

Normal blog service should resume in April.

Obama: Mugabe is a ‘Threat’

Diplomatic hostilities resumed today between Zimbabwe and the rest of the world, as Barack Obama lead several countries in pouring condemnation on Robert Mugabe’s regimen. The decision to uphold trade sanctions against Zimbabwe for another year is hardly surprising, but what is really noteworthy is Obama’s choice of rhetoric:

The crisis constituted by the actions and policies of certain members of the government of Zimbabwe […] has not been resolved. These actions and policies pose a continuing, unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States.

Seems rather similar to a certain G.W. Bush nearly six years ago:

The terrorist threat to America and the world will be diminished the moment that Saddam Hussein is disarmed.

I’m not comparing Obama to Bush, or suggesting that an Iraq-style campaign against Zimbabwe should be undertaken. However, it seems like ‘threat’ is a very active noun for Barack to use, and it suggests escalating action in the near future. He may not refer to terrorism, but the choice to call this an ‘extraordinary’ threat sets up Zimbabwe as an unavoidable issue.

The main reason the UN has not interfered in Zimbabwe so far is that the only threat Mugabe poses is to his own people. Whilst his actions and policies may result in a domestic humanitarian crisis, it is not a crisis of international relations. Therefore the rest of the world contentedly sits on the sidelines and prefers to act via aid rather than intervention or, dare I say it, regimen change.

One thing is clear: Zimbabwe cannot stay the way it is for much longer.

University Challenge: It’s All Just Academic

How seriously should we take University Challenge?
How seriously should we take University Challenge?

I struggle to see why the BBC has made such a ridiculous fuss over the 2009 final of University Challenge. The disqualification of Corpus Christi, the Oxford college lead by virtuoso savant Gail Trimble, seems to be based more on nitpicking technicalities than on any significant grievances.

Where were the hundreds of complains to the BBC? It’s bizarre that the Beeb have pounced on this, particularly when so few were calling for action. Even Manchester, the default winners are reluctant to acknowledge the title as theirs.

Sure, Sam Kay was no longer a student at Corpus when the final was filmed back in November. After failing to get funding for his Chemistry PhD, he jumped ship and landed a job at PWC. Given the sorry state of graduate employment at the moment, I can hardly blame him. But importantly he wasn’t expecting to leave when he applied to be on the show and indeed when he competed in the first few rounds.

Perhaps he should have been honest as admitted that he had left and taken a job before the filming of the final, but no doubt that would have caused a whole host of different problems. Should he be replaced? Should the team be disqualified even if they did nothing wrong? More importantly – who cares? After all it’s just a game. A large part of University Challenge’s appeal is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously and the torrent of satire this show has both attracted and welcomed over the years is clear evidence of this.

To top it all, The Times has done some journalistic digging and found out that three previous winners of the UC title also had ineligible players in their team.

It remains to be seen whether this whole fiasco will dent the popularity of Gail Trimble, the brainbox captain who has reportedly

Legend: Bamby
Legend: Bamby

been offered a handsome sum to pose “tastefully” for Nuts magazine. An optimistic offer if ever I heard one and I can hardly imagine her new fiancé will be massively enthusiastic about the idea.

The most damning remarks come from former host Bamber Gascoigne, the only man who seems passionate one way or another: “To fail to produce a series of University Challenge, based on university life, not within a single university year, is pathetic. The whole thing is madness” Speaking of legendary producers, the BBC didn’t take long to get a reaction from the ever nonchalant Jeremy Paxman who seems like he could hardly care less.

On a related note: the qualifying heats for the next series of University Challenge are being held at City University this Thursday at 6pm in the Great Hall. Don’t all rush at once…