Shifting into reverse, or driving forward

Published: 2 February 2020

On 1 February 2020, the day after Brexit, one of the words trending on social media was #Thick.

It was a reference to the question of competence when it came to deciding whether to vote for Brexit, or for remaining in the EU.

Conceptually, #Thick raises the broader question of one’s ability to make a sensible decision when voting. Is it unthinkable to discuss this issue, or are there positive consequences when we think this through logically and dispassionately?

A useful analogy is perhaps driving. Put simply: we don’t have an automatic right to drive. We must pass a test. Keeping people who fail the test off the road is not negative or authoritarian. It’s a positive, literally life-affirming thing to do for society.

Just as we all need to pass a test before driving, so perhaps we should all need to pass a test before voting.

Just as we take basic driving lessons, maybe we should take basic voting lessons.

Just as we celebrate reaching a minimum standard to get our driving licence, so we might also celebrate reaching a minimum standard to get our voting licence.

I remember the written element of my driving test. It had a wonderful, possibly sarcastic question with wording similar to the following:

As you are driving, an elderly lady starts crossing the road ahead of you. She then stops walking, blocking the path of your vehicle. Should you:

A: Accelerate hard.
B: Panic.
C: Release the steering wheel.
D: Apply the brakes carefully and firmly, bringing your vehicle progressively to a safe stop.

Notice that there was a right answer. It was not OK to put anything other than D.

We are currently living through what I’d describe as an ‘opinion crisis’ in our current culture. Greta Thunberg has referred to this concept several times, speaking with visual disgust at the word ‘opinion’ when used to justify environmental inaction and disagreement with climate physics. David Mitchell, on The Graham Norton Show in 2019, worried that this crisis is now at a point whereby, if someone has an ‘opinion’ that a red traffic light means GO, some people might nowadays genuinely argue that we should respect that opinion. In 2019, we had to listen to ‘Flat-Earthers’. This, David lamented, was about whether or not we ‘cease to progress’ as a society. Whether we now decide to shift into reverse gear, or decide to drive forward.

We should respect all people on a basic humanitarian level, but that doesn’t mean respecting all ‘opinions’, regardless of how physically dangerous they are.

Referring back to the driving test question: notice that the correct answer was also the longest option. More words. It was not a two or three word slogan. It was not an oversimplification. Being responsible sometimes needs more words to articulate the situation.

You can imagine the equivalent question in a written ‘Voting Test’:

You have an election in your country. Do you vote for the candidate or party who:

A: Lies to you.
B: Plans to harm you.
C: Maximises social and environmental destruction.
D: Aligns social, economic and environmental strategies to meet planetary and human needs for current and future generations.

Notice that options A, B and C, in both sets of questions above, are uncontroversially ridiculous. They are designed to pre-empt a descent into relativism. Very obviously, we should not pass either test if we put A, B or C.

For those who ‘disagree’ that D is the answer to put for both questions above:
No driving to a polling station for you.

For those who put D for both answers:
Your L plates are off: happy voting!

Atul Kumar
2 February 2020

Suggested song to accompany this article: Licence To Kill by Gladys Knight

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Looking ahead together



10 positive environmental actions you can take from the Alien Places book  

Published: 23 December 2019

The introductory Arrival chapter of the Alien Places book is effectively an article in itself about solutions to environmental challenges. If you haven’t already, please have a look at the Alien page of this website.

As explained in Arrival, the book isn’t intended as a comprehensive list of environmental actions you can take. It works at the stage before that. It aims to re-wire the human mind, collectively and individually, to totally change how we think, so that we actually take positive environmental actions. Not just talk about them.

The book aims to help us all to think not from a human perspective, but from an alien perspective. Specifically, an alien that acts as if it wants its species to stick around. Real sustainability, in other words. Not just for the next few years, but to think much bigger. What if we want our species to be around for billions of years? Or trillions of years?

At 12 pages, some might consider Arrival to be a bit of a lengthy preamble. It wasn’t accidental. We can’t achieve a thinking revolution in a few short paragraphs or a tweet. It needs to be deeply embedded.

Others have eloquently listed specific environmental actions we can take. What I hope to add to the environmental sector with Alien Places is the reconfiguration of our brains, so that we actually do those actions. Not find reasons not to.

Nevertheless, the book refers to a number of positive environmental actions you can take. Without giving spoilers of the story, here are my top 10:

1. Cairo

In Cairo the alien learned about water as the basis of life on our planet. Use water wisely, and you’ll be helping the environment, wildlife and your water bills.

2. Los Angeles

In Los Angeles I drove the alien around in a hybrid, convertible car. If you can afford it, make your next car a hybrid, or fully electric.

3. Ho Chi Minh City

The alien and I visited a clothing factory. Buy eco fashion, such as clothing made from organic cotton, and / or produced in factories powered by renewable energy. Shameless plug: an example is the Alien clothing range!

4. Beijing

Controlling total human population, rather than consumption per capita, is the primary, underlying opportunity to resolve all environmental problems. Believe and raise awareness of this. Support charities that work on this directly, or indirectly via education and empowerment of women in developing countries.

5. Queensland

The alien registered to vote in Australia, and voted for the Greens. If you do the same, many of our environmental problems can start to be resolved.

6. Geneva

On a Friday the alien helped to hold a banner made by school strikers protesting about climate inaction. Show your support for the climate protesters, or join them.

7. Amazon Rainforest

Rainforest is cut down to make space for cattle, so humans can eat them. Eat less meat, and there will be less deforestation, more carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere, and more wildlife.

8. Easter Island

Diversity is important. Take a range of different environmental actions, rather than just one type of action.

9. Challenger Deep

The alien accidentally dropped a plastic bag, and we raced it to the bottom of the world’s oceans. Reduce your use of single-use plastic. Join a beach clean event, information about which is in Episode 4 of the Atul’s Earth podcast.

10. Antarctica

Simple legal bans were behind the environmental success stories of the past, such as the ban on CFCs. Support campaigns to banish fossil fuels to niche corners of society.


Atul Kumar

23 December 2019

Alien Head - GIF

We can turn things around





For my article about nuclear fusion as a solution to the energy crisis and climate change, please see the Minnie page of this website.




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