‘Clomance’. Climate Change meets Romance.
“The West Wing” meets “Sex in the City” – me writing my own review.
“Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.” Albert Einstein
“No. But climate change is.” Jude Windsor
Climate Change isn’t sexy.
Jake’s text arrived just as they were sitting down to dinner. He was replying to her texted question. Why? His text before that: Cute, but it’ll never catch on which was a response to her original text: I’m thinking about writing a blog on love and climate change…
“So, what do you think?”
Jude looked up from her mobile back across the table.
“Sorry, I tuned out for a minute. What were you saying?”
Jalil raised one eyebrow in that rock ‘n roll photo shoot way. Wistful and rugged at the same time. His dark eyes even darker in the low lit restaurant. It had been her idea to come there, a new Spanish wine bar in a funky part of Camden. But now she felt odd in the intimate atmosphere surrounded by lovers, like they were on a date.
“The carbon tax?”
She wiggled her wine glass at the waiter who replied with an affirmative thumbs up.
“You want another beer?”
“Not for me.”
The carbon tax. Jude sighed inwardly. They hadn’t seen one another for two months. Not since he’d left his position as head of a corporate responsibility think tank, where she’d worked as a reacher. He’d since been posted to the Foreign Office, advising the government on climate change. She was hoping for some small talk at least.
“Well, of course it’s a step in the right direction. But it’s dead in the water, isn’t it? ‘Assisted suicide,’ isn’t that what your energy minister called it?”
“He’s also your energy minister, I’ll have you informed. He also called it ‘absurd’.”
“Aren’t you guys supposed to be playing for the same team?”
Jalil shrugged as the waiter brought their food. Jude tried to signal that he’d got their orders the wrong way around, but it was too late.
“It’s a weathercock isn’t it?”
” A way to gauge public reaction without the leadership losing face. Isn’t he Joint Energy and Business Minister now?”
Jalil picked up their plates and switched them around. He got the paella with prawns. She the Spanish omelette with salad.
“Are you suggesting an unholy alliance?”
“Or a Faustian pact.”
“Or perhaps some people thought that we need to try to solve this problem together.”
“And I thought I was the hippie.”
“You’re a cynical hippie, which does a disservice to both cynics and hippies.”
Jude decided to ignore this.
“I don’t get it. Energy industries are complaining that the EU is stalling their 100 million compensation package. But if the polluters are compensated then what is the carbon tax for? Just so it sounds like you guys are doing something?”
“You’ve forgotten ‘lining the coffers of the Exchequer’. That’s the usual allegation.”
“I’m trying not to be cynical.”
“Prices are the most reliable way to guide decisions of both producers and consumers. Adam Smith.”
“Don’t values come in to the equation?”
“Partly. But the price tag is what counts in the end. And pollution should have a price tag. G20 governments agreed four years ago that fossil fuel subsidies were bad; that they encourage wasteful consumption, reduce energy security, and basically undermine efforts to deal with climate change.”
Jalil took a mouthful of paella and downed the last of his beer. Jude wondered why she could find him so arrogant and attractive at the same time. Even with that scrap of half-chewed food perked on his chin.
“So what happened?”
“Corporate spin machines. Always shifting the focus away from their profits. Now we have the BASF calling the carbon tax “an unsustainable policy”?
“Only the largest chemical company in the world. In 2011, Britain gave tax breaks of 280 million pounds to oil and gas producers and reduced VAT on fossil fuels by several billion, and they keep holding out their begging bowls. These guys are priceless.”
“I think it’s brilliant?”
“What do you mean?”
“Using the word ‘unsustainable’ to attack the carbon tax. It’s like homosexuals in the US taking back the word ‘gay’ from the haters and turning it into ‘gay pride’ in the 60s. Gay used to be a derogatory word. Now we don’t use anything else. Why don’t we have people like that on our side?”
“What? Liars and manipulators like the BASF spokespeople, or gays?”
“We have liars and manipulators. They’re just not as good as the other guys. I assume most gays are for the carbon tax.”
“Why do you assume that?”
Jude adjusted her seat in the chair. Something about the way he was talking to her tonight she found irksome, that half-smile, the way he was waving his hand around like he was giving a public speech.
“Well, because more gays are politically liberal.”
“Really? You know that for a fact?”
“Well, they’re statistically more likely to support parties who support gay rights, and those parties are more environmentally friendly.”
“You talk about gays a lot, have you noticed that?”
“It’s a topic close to my heart.”
Jude raised her glass and threw back a hefty swig. Jalil looked mildly disapproving, or perhaps she just imagined that he did. She often felt that he drank just to be sociable. Even though he wasn’t a practicing Moslem, drinking didn’t suit him somehow, and she’d never seen him drunk. A few months back she’d got tipsy at a colleague’s leaving party and had kissed him in the taxi. Even though they’d laughed about it later, things hadn’t been quite the same between them since. She knew that climate change was his job now he’d been promoted, but somehow they never seemed to get around to talking about anything else. Also, she felt he’d become a bit of an apologist for the government since his promotion, something she felt it her duty to challenge.
“Why are governments subsidizing climate change?”
“That’s a bit of a stretch.”
“Did you see the report from that think tank, the Overseas Development Centre?”
“It’s the Overseas Development Institute. Not Centre.”
Damn, he was annoying her tonight.
“Okaaaay. Well, then you’ll know that it said that the ratio of renewable energy investment to fossil fuel subsidies globally is 1-6 dollars. Basically that sounds like subsidizing climate change. I know you believe in a political solution, but it’s not just a matter of political will. You admit that the corporatocracy is in control.
“I didn’t say that. And isn’t it corpocracy?”
“Corpocracy sounds daft. I’m sure it’s corporatocracy.”
“That sounds dafter.”
“You’re very combative this evening.”
“Isn’t it combatative?”
“Now, you’re really being annoying. And you have paella on your chin.”
He wiped it away with a forced laugh.
“Can we talk about something else?”
Jude felt a rush of blood to her cheeks. Climate change was all he ever wanted to talk about, and now he was asking her to change the subject?
She dug in her metaphorical heels.
“The Overseas Development Centre says…’
She shouldn’t have told him about the paella on his chin.
‘…says that the developed nations are creating barriers to investment in low-carbon development. Why do you think that is?”
There was that half-smile again. The one that got under her skin.
“Jude, I know where you’re going with this, but I’m not going to follow you down your yellow brick road of conspiracy theories. Economies need time to adjust to green industry.”
“It’s not a theory that the energy companies run the global economy.”
“I thought it was the Illuminati.”
“The energy companies are the Illuminati.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“Hard to tell, isn’t it?”
His flippancy wasn’t reading as entirely sincere. She thought she sensed a new uncertainty. Was he getting disillusioned?
“Do you know how Denmark was able to reduce its carbon emissions so successfully in the late 90s?”
“Yes, but I have a feeling you’re going to tell me anyway.”
“Because the tax revenues from their carbon tax were used as incentives for companies to use cleaner sources of energy.”
“And what makes you think that’s not part of the UK government plan?”
Jude fished around in her handbag, regretting that third glass of wine. Jalil had been late as usual, and she’d downed two at the bar. She pulled out a magazine and flipped through it looking for the page.
“This is a quote from an April 2013 report from KMPG. ‘While the UK may have a strong system to tax industrial emissions, it scores more poorly on incentivising low carbon investment.” It goes on. “The report suggests the UK isn’t doing enough to incentivise the development of renewable energy.”
“Are you sure you don’t mean incentivate?”
Jude glared at him though she knew he was just having fun with her.
“KMPG is one of the world’s biggest auditors.”
“I know who they are.” Jalil lent his chin on his fist and looked at her with mock earnestness. “What I don’t know is why we can’t seem to talk about anything else.”
“You’re the one who can’t talk about anything else!”
“Sure I can.”
They both paused as the waitress cleared their plates.
“Do you guys want dessert?”
“No, thanks,” Jalil replied hastily.
The waitress looked quizzically at Jude.
“I guess not,” she murmured.
She longed for a taramisu but didn’t want to draw out the evening. She thought she should at least make an attempt at changing the subject. The waitress had provided a segue.
“So. How was Newcastle?”
“It was fine.”
“And your mum?”
“She’s okay. She was happy to have me home for Eid.”
Another pause. Jude was almost grateful when he started up again.
“And what about the chief executive of E.ON UK, calling the carbon tax a ‘stealth poll tax’? I suppose you think that’s brilliant too.”
“Well, it is. Everyone hated the poll tax. And it’s associated with Maggie Thatcher. Two things against it. But why would anyone believe what an energy exec says against carbon tax anyway?”
“It’s not like he has anything to gain from knocking it.”
“You’re being funny now, aren’t you?”
“Of course I’m being funny.”
“That Telegraph article was toilet journalism. They didn’t even bother to make an attempt at balance.”
“He also said that the carbon tax was going to push up the price of electricity.”
“Well, I’m comforted to know that the world’s largest investor-owned power and gas company is worried about my electric bill,” said Jude, still distracted by the vague promise of taramisu.
Jalil looked down at his watch and felt behind his seat for his coat.
“But he didn’t say that.”
“Didn’t say what?”
“He didn’t say it was going to push up the bills of ordinary households. That’s just what people assumed he meant. He said it was going to push up the price of electricity. Now that’s brilliant.”
Jalil stood up and threw his coat on.
“Are we leaving?”
“Yeah, I have to go. I have a meeting with the Energy Minister in the morning.”
“You mean the Business and Energy Minister.”
Jalil waved her off at the Underground after another of their rather awkward hugs. He walked a few paces towards the Piccadilly Line, then turned to face her again. She half thought he was going to say something personal, something sweet.
“Do you know who was one of the very first world leaders to speak about climate change?”
She watched him walk briskly up the escalator, pulling up his collar against the wind tunnel that flung his woolen scarf up in the air.
“Maggie Thatcher,” she said out loud. “Who says climate change isn’t sexy?”