Brexit, my views 15 months on


It is a rainy morning again.  We get very few where I live, so while I am practically confined indoors it may help me to write down my thoughts about the profound change of direction  the government is aiming to make, that of Brexit.  I was asked to write a guest blog following the EU referendum which you can read here:

My hope as I expressed then, was that Mrs May would provide our best chance of an honest competent leader who might be able to steer us through a time of profound and dangerous change. I fear that far from that, she has been dragged by the right wing activists in her party, the ones who had rendered Conservatives unelectable for many years before, to a place of unpredictable chaos, and far from leading in a pragmatic direction, she has floundered around, with no obvious achievable end points.

The reason for this is clear, she cannot define a positive outcome, any clearer than, ‘A red white and blue Brexit’, or some other ‘Motherhood and Apple Pie’ result, as any specifics will tear her party apart. While I might wish for her to bring that on, I should be cautious because it is not only her party that is deeply divided, but the country is still riven, just as it was during the referendum.

Less prosperous areas of England still see foreigners as an enemy, and have not changed their views very much since the referendum. They talk of a European super state, which lacks democracy, and they believe that. The economy in these places includes people languishing on minimum wage, universal credit or debt.  There are also many people supporting Brexit who are self-employed, people such as garage owners, hairdressers, small café owners, builders and painters and decorators. They legitimately think that their hard work, for rather limited reward, should produce a better livelihood, always looking at the more prosperous people in the capital and some university towns, whom they think are over rewarded.

A change that has occurred is that the educated people of the country have discovered a passion since the shock of the referendum, to speak up for modern values and an international outlook, and to oppose Brexit.  Generally speaking most of these, including myself, were reluctant to speak out during the campaign because Remain was mostly defended, by the establishment of David Cameron and the compromised opposition parties, which they did not relate to. Now the debate is active, while during the campaign the ‘remain’ side was muted.

I am perfectly comfortable now to challenge the powerful backers of Brexit. Arron Banks who stands to make more money from insurance, Farage who blatantly misled people about the facts of immigration, Johnson and Gove who played cynical moves for self-promotion and Carswell who was very skilled at passively reflecting, under the surface, working class racism in my own constituency.

I am uneasy about the type of challenges that people make though to working class Brexiters, which we have heard expressed in places as far afield as Cornwall, Tyne and Wear, South Wales and Clacton. These people are not cynical.  The neoliberal economics of Blair, Cameron and so many of our politicians have not provided a fair deal for working people in the country. The problems of people without capital must be addressed.

Our government, opposition parties and people are divided. I think this is because the establishment itself is divided. The Conservative Party has suffered this cold war ever since the aftermath of Mrs Thatcher’s government.  Now the nationalist tendency has taken control of the agenda.  Mrs May whom I thought was chosen as the last competent potential leader of the Conservatives, who could hold the party together, has been dragged to the extreme. That seems to be where we are.

Personally I am also divided. It is clear to me that if Brexit occurs, the country, Europe and the world will be a worse place. However I don’t want to see Brexit defeated by clever manoeuvrings by politicians and their vested interests. While I would love to see Banks and Johnson consigned to the rightful place, where their influence is obliterated, I want the working communities of England to also back this outcome. This is why I will not be told by the Archbishop of Canterbury or anyone else that I should be backing this new status quo. I cannot get behind this shambles.

I don’t know the outcome of these events and do not even know whether the economy is going to plummet.  That is not my field. I was one who marched on three protests in London against the Iraq war. I thought Tony Blair would listen to that many people, but he didn’t. However I had protested and  I have to say my bit now too. I will have to fight for decent values such as environmental and employment regulations whatever the outcome of future events.


Human Population

Those of us who participate in social media tend to mix with people with broadly similar views so rarely tend to make much of a stir with what they say. In the case of human population growth I may just ruffle a few feathers in my own echo chamber for once. I am tackling this difficult matter then, only so that readers can be challenged to look at the complexities of the issue.

In terms of my potential lifespan, having been born in 1952, I am one of the tail end of the baby boomer generation. In the UK the population has risen from 50.6 million in 1950 to 64.7 million in 2015.  It was projected to rise to 66.7 million in 2020, and if I were to live to a very ripe age the projection for 2050 is 75.3 million. These figures come from :

So the increase of UK population in my life so far has been about 28%.  If projections are correct at age 98 there will be a rise of 49%. So there would in my lifetime be 3 people for every 2 present in 1950. With a birth rate below 2 per couple, the rise till present is mostly caused by increasing life expectancy and immigration, and the effect of the post war increase in procreation, having resultesd in more potential parents in the period..

Clearly the intense pressure on our environment is much worse than that caused by provision of the extra 50% of food and goods. Potentially appliance of science could have accommodated that increase, but what it has produced instead is a system of exponential growth of the economy. Successive governments have aimed for a 2% per annum growth, in order that the expanded economy, in a few years, will yield enough money to finance the borrowing today. ( A Ponzi scheme). This has meant that the population consume vastly more than the 28% extra accounted for by population change since 1950.

Connected to this is that with the increasing expectations for goods, producers of our food had to do this in a more damaging way. We pay less per item of food, so the producer has to do this, in what is described as a more efficient way.  In practice this means using a herbicide as opposed to a hoe, an insecticide as opposed to a system of rotation.

In the rest of the world of course the figures come out differently.  Looking at the same time spans. The world population in 1950 was approximately, 2.6 billion, in 2015 7.4 billion and in 20150 is projected to be 9.3 billion. So the world population has almost tripled, in my lifetime and will have more than tripled in my entire life span.  So we are looking to feed let’s say 4 people for every one in 1950. Birth rates are falling fast in most of the world but life expectancies, and the related effect of more young people in the population who may become parents, have been the biggest driver of this trend.

The rate of increase of world population peaked in 1960. (This means that the curve is no longer exponential, like the economic model, but logistic). This reflects the fact that people who live in places with effective health care start to have fewer children, when those they have are more likely to survive, and that they don’t depend on having lots of offspring to maintain them in their old age.

Useful reference:


Comparing the 28% of extra people here in the years between 1950 and 2020 with 200% more in the world as a whole, I maintain that the biggest amount of damage to our home planet is being  committed by the societies in countries like the UK.  The bigger cause of degradation is what we do, not how many of us there are.

At this stage I will say, as I have been misunderstood before, that I am not advocating or defending any virtue in a burgeoning population, here or anywhere else. I am though suggesting that we have to reconsider our entire economic model, if we seek to defend the world that we live in, the planet that I love.

I have no offspring of my own.  As a young person I was scared by charts showing exponential growth of population, and argued for discouraging people having children.  I now understand that there is a strong evolutionary urge to procreate, and anyone or any government trying to oppose this fact will have to resort to either unacceptable authoritarian ways, or hopefully well prepared educational means.

I have come to question meaning and purpose in life, and in terms of evolution, I think the only purpose is passing on our genes to another generation. We all need to understand this.

Exponential Growth

In the economy

We are all aware of compound interest.  Essentially if we assume a steady interest rate over a long period of time and the interest is added to it each year, there is an ever increasing growth of the investment. For example if we consider a 7% interest rate the investment would double over about 10 years.  Therefore it would quadruple over 20 years, and become eight times the original in 30.

The idea of identifying a period of time in which a doubling takes place is called exponential growth.

This forms the basis of the economic policy of our government and of most governments. The declared target of growth in the UK is 2% per annum.  This, if met each year as planned would result in a doubling of the economy, (also known as the gross domestic product) every 33 years or so. During my life time of approximately twice that time then the economy has roughly quadrupled.

Governments depend on such growth to pay for their current spending. They borrow today, with the expectation that in some years’ time the larger economy expected then, will pay for the interest on the current spending. So we potentially have more to enjoy and all could be well.

However there may be more of us to share this increase of disposable money in the economy, and it may be that it is unequally shared. Even if there was a steady population and all was shared equitably there may be problems of scarce resources to make the goods and environmental costs with the use of these goods.

Some economists argue that these problems can also be dealt with.  This is the attitude of most of our politicians and our leaders, a static economy cannot work and we can handle the regular 2% per annum growth.  I am not an expert in economics and I am at odds with the thinkers and movers in nearly all of our political parties and business people but I believe this idea is flawed.

Let’s look at a similar model, the growth of yeast cells in a suitable medium. Yeast cultures consist of  uni-cellular fungal cells, which when placed with water, and an optimal level of sugar for food will divide, doubling their numbers in a time depending on temperature. These indeed go on doubling their population but eventually they either run out of food, or get poisoned with some of their waste products.

In the case of economics the demands have torn vast holes in the environment, maintaining this 2% exponential growth. People argue that we can develop the technology to isolate the environmental damage from the growth. If this is possible, I do not think there is time.

Is there an alternative to the exponential growth model of economics?

There are books:

 The Limits of Growth, ISBN 0-87663-165-0

Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, ISBN: 8601404351532

These present discussion about the form a steady state economy might take, which I think would be torn apart with scorn by our present brood of politicians. In my view the gentler fairer possibilities, which could provide for people’s needs throughout the world are largely understood, achievable if we found the will, would be far preferable from the building of walls to exclude people, deregulation to undercut our competitors and stirred up division to project all the systems’ myriad problems on to others.

I suspect that readers may say, “well what about exponential population growth?”. I will try to write another blog about that hopefully fairly soon.

A foundation of Science And Technology

I studied science, physics to be specific, and it has always intrigued me to know what underlies everything that happens around us.  I have more recently been involved in computer science, which is rather an example of technology. During my lifetime of some 64 years most societies in the world have experienced an increase in disposable incomes and many other positive goals, but perception of well-being is mixed with many people not content with the way things are. There is more to a good life than more and more ‘stuff’.

Science is an expensive process. It consists of:

  • collecting data
  • analysing it
  • Formulating theories that explain the observed data
  • Using the theory to exhaustively test all available, current data
  • Predicting outcomes of the theory which can be tested
  • Collecting more data
  • Refining the theory

Trying to cut the cost of science should not be a priority; any savings are likely to actually lead to more expensive problems. Decisions about food, health, the environment and social matters are decided by politicians and economists. I think that the world owes most of its prosperity to science and technology, not politics or economics.

This is a time when decision makers and the media openly challenge some results of science.  This they have a right to do but only in terms of the process outlined above, not the expression of gut extinct, often portrayed as an argument equivalent to the scientific one. It is not. It must not be accepted because it is convenient for decision makers or resonates with vested interests. If new events challenge the current view the current view must be further investigated. Decisions must be based on the best science available, imperfect though it may turn out to be.

Here is a principle which I believe the world needs

International regulations should be agreed and put in place and policed to make them equivalent across the world, according to best possible practice, based on independent scientific research.

Nature wild and Nature managed

I recently read a blog entitled, ‘The taming of nature’ by Steven Robinson. I have a lot of sympathy with the views he expresses. An area of disused gravel pit that I had frequented long ago was acquired as a nature reserve, and I was enthusiastic about it from the star but when I was invited to join a work party, I was confused as to why we were cutting down trees. Fifty years later, I am leading a similar work party, and explaining to volunteers and visitors what our rationale is that includes the activities listed by Steven.


The natural state of Britain if left without human intervention would gradually move toward a largely wooded landscape, and after many years would no doubt produce wonderful results, but the time scale would be extensive. A yardstick for identifying ‘ancient woodland’ is that, which has been continuous in the records for more than an arbitrary 400 years. In my early days at the reserve I thought that we should embark on a non-interventionist rewilding that would take many human generations in our reserves in order to become wild and inspiring, progressing to the legendary wildwood.


I soon came to see that habitats are not stable. In a dell with 50 common spotted orchids one year, there was just one amongst a lot of nettle and elder a few years later. Nettle and elder are fine but such things would dominate widely over time, so over the years we have maintained glades, used various techniques to maintain some grassland, dredged out ponds, and coppiced one or two plots, in order to maintain conditions for some of our extant animals and plants. In this we have been reasonably successful.


I am confident that if we had done nothing, the only open ground left would have been along a track which is a right of way for a farmer.  He would have pushed back fallen and encroaching trees, which would have maintained a small proportion of our species, those that need the light. This would have been offset by an increase of opportunity for other species, mostly those associated with closed canopy scrub. Given the passing of more time, some colonisation may have increased the range of what was present, but in my view this would be a rather dull habitat.


Britain has been largely deforested for around 5000 years, since the Neolithic age. The places where the species of the wildwood have persisted are few and far between. Probably most of the species in Britain depend on the areas of warm micro climate created by open pastures, coppiced woods and heaths.


The great majority of woods are no longer managed at all. They only exist because of their importance in past rural economic activity, which is no longer practised. The effect of non-management of woods can be observed in the great majority of private woods already. A de-facto rewilding is already happening on my patch, and on almost every nature reserve, because there are seldom enough resources to manage every part; usually management and non-intervention go hand in hand.


The area of Chernobyl in the Ukraine, set free from the constant intervention of humans has according  to all accounts been spectacular. This is a big area, and there has been scope for the trophic cascades caused by having wild boar to disturb the soil, beavers to create marshes, and wolves to disperse the deer. In the 15 or so hectares of my patch, no amount of non-intervention is going to achieve similar results.


I have mixed feelings about the infrastructure of reserves, because paths, boardwalks, hides and notices indeed detract from naturalness, and they also require maintenance, but they do have the advantage of channelling reserve visitors to defined places. We need as many people as possible to become interested, so some public facilities for people who don’t like their trainers to get wet in the dew, are probably a worthwhile feature.


I am however extremely enthusiastic about rewilding. The organisation ‘Rewilding Britain’ aspires to create some landscape schemes dispersed in the four provinces of the UK and in the seas. These will need to have the scale to enable natural processes to take over. This will not be cheap, and will almost certainly not be near me in lowland eastern England.


The broad principle of management of nature reserves should be that existing long term practice should where appropriate be maintained., but a hands off approach would be very worthwhile in all sorts of sites, for example, on the edges of old wood pastures such as Epping forest, where at least some of the species of the wildwood may be able to colonise.

50 years; a personal thought about nature

Young children given the opportunity love to dabble in nature. I believe that in most cases adults, in the developed world at least, have lost that tendency, so why?


In common with most children of the 1950’s I spent many hours outdoors. Nearly all my fondest memories were concerned with outdoor activities. Some extensive cow pastures on the edge of town, complete with streams, a river, and nearby gravel pits were a common setting, and as the bike became an option, places much further afield provided an opportunity for fishing and encounters with various natural things. Encouraged by parents, TV presenters, including Graham Dangerfield, Peter Scott and a young David Attenborough, and even at school, I came to love the natural world; and so did many of my fellows.


I changed school at the unfortunate age of 14, and though I may have been the tallest in my year I was not the most confident. I have little diaries with many entries expressing my hatred of the school, this caused by bullying. Years seem long at that age, but eventually my school fellows and I emerged from puberty, and the hormones started to settle down. However my brain had yet to go through the usual reconfiguration process, following puberty which in everyone takes years to complete, and though I did well through school and managed a physics degree, I really emerged with no sense of what to do and too little confidence. After a number of jobs I tried teaching, which was not good, and after too long, with help and effort, started to stand up for myself, became more content and eventually  became a lecturer in universities, and settled down to enjoy my work.


Throughout my childhood, these difficult adolescent and young adult times, and indeed through to now, I have retained my relationship to nature.


I think that this is an instinctive thing, strong in every child, but usually squeezed to the margins or driven out altogether by most adults, as they strive to fit in to the complex conformities of the modern human world.


Many people involved in conservation seem to struggle with full conformity to modern expectations.  Like some of my fellow volunteer reserve wardens and helpers I am unusual; but that’s OK. Following social media, I am surprised and impressed that many young people openly share their concerns, their doubts and their lack of confidence.  It is better to express this than to retain it as I did.


Research confirms that nature is good for one’s state of mind. I believe that the instincts that we have relate to the fact that we are not very many generations removed from our ancestors who evolved and depended on the savannahs of Africa. People usually learn to cope with, and sometimes even excel in the complexities of modern human societies. In my life through a lot of effort I have learnt to navigate my way around these things but the pleasure of hearing running water, seeing the sun rise, or observing an unexpected animal , pleases me, while the excesses of modern life do not.


Can societies return to their instinctive relationship with nature? I think the instinct is always there, but there would need to be a social revolution, a conscious reassessment of what is fulfilling to an individual. Maybe it would require a new generation to emerge who would reject the emptiness of pointless consumerism.


Let the children play!