Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Epistle – 2020

Kia ora!

This morning I participated in the a virtual Meeting for Worship held by Friends of the Palmerston North Worship Group. While I appreciate that sitting in front of a screen displaying the faces of twelve individuals in ten frames, all sitting in silence for around 45 minutes may, for some, feel similar to watching wet paint dry, I find the whole experience uplifting. Perhaps not quite as uplifting as sitting in silence for an hour in the Friends Meeting house, but nevertheless, very fulfilling.

One of the “benefits” of the current pandemic has been the noticeable reduction in greenhouse emissions worldwide, and during reflection at this morning’s Meeting for Worship, I was reminded that the current circumstances are in fact a “warning” (sorry Nan, but not so much from God, but rather to humanity) that we have been very poor guardians of this planet.

In this country the private motorcar is so ubiquitous that our public transport is underdeveloped, and will remain so unless it becomes more publicly funded and/or many of us consent to forego private transport. Giving up owning and using even a subcompact car is something I have been considering, but I confess that the convenience of having it on tap, so to speak, makes me reluctant to take that leap. In these times, I can’t help thinking that public transport and public health are not fully compatible.

During this morning’s Meeting for Worship, the Epistle of the Yearly Meeting of Aotearoa New Zealand was read. I reproduce it below with the parts that spoke most strongly to me personally being highlighted. It’s also accessible from the Quakers Aotearoa New Zealand Epistles Web page.

Epistle of the Yearly Meeting of Aotearoa New Zealand – Te Hāhi Tūhauwiri 2020

To Friends everywhere

Greetings in love and peace from Friends of the Yearly Meeting of Aotearoa New Zealand. Because of restrictions during the current pandemic we were, sadly, unable to gather face to face this year. Limited by COVID19 restrictions to our homes, we have met online in our Monthly Meetings to consider our business, and have sought to find unity in responses. We also met online for a time of worship on what would have been the opening evening of Yearly Meeting. In these extraordinary times we send you this epistle, to reflect how the Spirit has been moving among us over the last year and at this time.

For us, for our country, and for the world, it has been a time of change, fear and loss. We feel particularly for all those who mourn, and those who suffer from the direct effects of the pandemic and from the impact of the various measures taken to control it. Many of those who are worst affected, often losing their livelihood, are those who were already suffering from the inequality of political and economic systems, globally and nationally, and from the impact of climate change. This is true of Friends in many places. Can we learn from the disruption we have experienced, and take the opportunity for all of society to rethink how we care for others and the earth? How can we, as Friends, offer witness and service to build a better future?

Peace, in its widest sense, is a calling for all Friends. We know we can do more, but are grateful that our Quaker Peace and Service Aotearoa New Zealand Committee contributes to what is being done with Quaker involvement here and in many other countries. Monthly Meetings, Worship Groups and individual Friends engage in their own actions and donations. At a season when our nation remembers the death and suffering caused in war, we renew our stand against war’s cruelty and destructiveness.

Faithful continuity of worship is at the heart of our life. We are glad to see the development of newer Worship Groups, and some growth of numbers in others. National and local learning events sow seeds of spiritual growth, as do the various ways in which Friends prepare their own hearts and minds and enrich their spiritual life. Children’s Meetings have been growing in number, and we seek to develop them and enhance their life. A new Quaker website has been developed through skilled, perceptive and demanding work, to reach out to the public, and to connect us in unity. We give thanks for all forms of service, visible and invisible. “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord” (I Corinthians 12.4).

The many faiths in this country are finding greater unity and understanding since the murderous shootings inflicted a year ago on worshippers in two mosques in Christchurch. Friends responded by reaching out to local Muslim communities, taking part in vigils, and offering other support. Locally we are linking with various ethnic and faith groups, and becoming involved in interfaith and cultural activities, hoping to explore and put aside our (often unconscious) prejudices.

Young people and children have inspired our country in their work and heartfelt advocacy for effective response to the climate emergency; many of our young ones are involved. Yearly Meeting, its committees and Meetings, are donating to some of this work. Our response as a body is imperfect; we are moving to vegetarian food at events, have reduced air travel, have taken action locally, and have made representations to Government and public bodies, including on how militarism damages the climate. The Quaker Settlement at Whanganui applies principles of sustainability and permaculture to its land and gardens. But, like the questioner of Jesus, we still ask, “What do I lack?” (Matthew 19.20). Profound consideration continues of what we are called to do. We are reminded that all action on this concern requires a positive regard for all, and a stand for truth and integrity.

Dear Friends, we pray that in these difficult times you may be protected and guided, and may live faithfully in mutual love. We recall the words sent by Philadelphia Friends in 1683 across the Atlantic to Britain: “And though the Lord has been pleased to remove us far away from you, as to the other end of the earth, yet are we present with you, your exercises are ours; our hearts are dissolved in the remembrance of you, dear brethren and sisters in this heavenly love.” (Christian Faith and Practice 677, London (now Britain) Yearly Meeting, 1959)

In love and peace,

Lesley Young
Clerk

What I have observed in recent times is that the current pandemic and the mosque shootings in Christchurch just over a year ago have brought communities of all faiths, and non-faiths closer together than ever, especially when it comes to cooperation.

Perhaps this has been demonstrated most clearly by opinion polls and Friday’s ousting of Simon Bridges, the leader of the opposition National Party and the largest party in the Parliament, for what was seen as opposition for opposition’s sake rather than constructive criticism. I intend to write more on this subject in another post (with an emphasis on intend – it’s not a promise).


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Climate change education

I’m a firm believer that the purpose of schooling, particularly at primary and secondary school level is not to prepare the next generation for jobs but to prepare it for life. In this respect I believe the education system in Aotearoa New Zealand does particularly well, as we are encouraged to question and interpret for ourselves any and all information students receive.

So I’m somewhat disappointed by the stance taken by some members of the opposition National Party with regards to their criticism of the rolling out of climate change education resources for schools in 2020, which they are calling “indoctrination”. Is it because the Climate Change Minister happens to be the co-leader of the Green Party that makes it so unpalatable, or being (slightly) right of centre, do they see education only in terms of jobs and careers?

The simple fact is that there is no change in curriculum. The resources provide teachers with additional resource material. It also acknowledges that some of the information can cause stress or distress to some students, and provides guidelines to help teachers and parents address this when it occurs.

While I don’t believe any member of the National Party is a climate change denier, there are some who are yet to be convinced it’s a serious issue or that it is primarily caused by human activity. Take the comment of Judith Collins, a senior National Party MP (Member of Parliament) who has stated “The likely impacts of climate change are being hugely overstated by the media and political left”.

Many of her colleagues are also skeptical about the success of any attempt to reduce warming to less than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, as the big players, especially the US, China and India are doing so little. They point out that as this country contributes only 0.17% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, there was little point in the Zero Carbon Bill passed into law in November last year which includes a net-zero emissions target by 2050 and a 24 – 47 percent reduction in biogenic methane below 2017 levels by the same date.

But as Climate Change Minister James Shaw has observed, per capita, New Zealand is the 21st biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and that small countries don’t get off the hook because collectively we add up to a greater total of emissions than the larger countries do.

What both amuses me and alarms me in equal measure, is the call by some conservatives to have climate change education treated the same as religious education. In NZ, schools can only offer religious education outside school hours, students must opt in, and lessons can be for no more than 20 hours per year. They also want climate change education to be “less extreme”, and in their opinion, less indoctrinating.

So what does climate change education involve? It’s part of the wider environmental education in New Zealand schools, which has been part of the curriculum for many years, the aims of which are:

  • Aim 1: awareness and sensitivity to the environment and related issues
  • Aim 2: knowledge and understanding of the environment and the impact of people on it
  • Aim 3: attitudes and values that reflect feelings of concern for the environment
  • Aim 4: skills involved in identifying, investigating, and problem solving associated with environmental issues
  • Aim 5: a sense of responsibility through participation and action as individuals, or members of groups, whānau, or iwi, in addressing environmental issues.

The introduction to the curriculum guide states:

New Zealand’s natural and social environment is unique. A mild climate, cultural diversity, a small population with high levels of participation in outdoor activities, extensive marine resources, relatively clean air and water, a variety of national parks, and distinctive plants and animals all contribute to the special nature of the environment. As New Zealanders, we value our environment for recreational, aesthetic, economic, cultural, and spiritual reasons.

New Zealand’s future as a nation relies on our maintaining a quality environment. This environment includes its natural and built elements as well as its social and cultural aspects. It is air, water, and land. It is plants and animals. It is people, their communities, and their social and cultural values.

An understanding of the many factors that influence the environment, particularly the impact of people, is critical to maintaining and improving environmental quality. People have modified the land, introduced plants and animals, and utilised both renewable and finite resources. Understanding and responding to people’s impact on the environment therefore requires a multifaceted approach.

Now, if I believed in indoctrination theories then I’d start right here, particularly with aim 3 which aims to develop “attitudes and values that reflect feelings of concern for the environment”. Why pick on a teaching resource specifically on climate change, which involves no curriculum changes when one of the aims of the curriculum itself is to encourage specific attitudes and feelings. This runs counter to the ideology of some conservatives which is to teach the facts, and only the facts (but only the facts I agree with), and that values are a parental responsibility, not the state’s.

Given the nature of the topic, the Ministry of Education has released a wellbeing guide to accompany the teaching resources. It includes a reminder to parents which can be applied outside the climate issue, particularly the last sentence, which I have emphasised below:

REMINDER
It can be difficult to see your child struggling, unhappy and anxious. You might even feel guilty or responsible. Your child may be frustrated with you and other adults about the current climate change situation. With any unpleasant feeling your child has, it is tempting to want to “fix it”. However, the most important response is acceptance and acknowledgement of feelings, within a caring relationship. Being with your child, whilst they come up with their own solutions and ways of dealing with things, is harder – and more important – than it seems.

For anyone interested in what the fuss is about, here are the links to the teaching resource and the wellbeing guide:

Climate Change Learning Programme – Teacher Resource (.pdf, 7.09 MB)

Climate Change Learning Programme – Wellbeing Guide (.pdf, 0.75 MB)


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Extinction Rebellion

I have mixed feelings about the Extinction Rebellion movement. Not because I disagree with their cause – I support it one hundred percent, including the urgency expressed – but because I’m concerned that some of their tactics might do more to alienate them from the general public than to bring them on board.

I have no objection if the movement crosses swords with authority – In fact I don’t think there’s any other option, but unless the public has more sympathy with the Extinction Rebellion cause than they do with authority, and the irritation they personally experience from the disruptions the movement is intent on implementing, then I’m afraid that nothing will change.

Politicians, are sensitive to what they perceive as being majority voices and significant minorities, but are unlikely to listen, let alone act, if they sense the public is not behind the movement. This is particularly true where politicians are elected through an FPP (First Past the Post) procedure.

That being said, what are the alternatives? To be honest, I haven’t reached a conclusion. What I do believe is that the longer the public delay in pressuring out leaders to legislate for a carbon neutral society, the more draconian the legislation and the more authoritarian the authorities will need to be when the do act.

Over on her blog, Clare has published a series on Extinction Rebellion, and in her most recent post – Extinction Rebellion III, she quotes from the UK Quaker Advices and Queries. Specifically:

  • Remember your responsibilities as a citizen for the conduct of local, national, and international affairs. Do not shrink from the time and effort your involvement may demand.
  • Respect the laws of the state but let your first loyalty be to God’s purposes. If you feel impelled by strong conviction to break the law, search your conscience deeply.
  • We do not own the world, and its riches are not ours to dispose of at will. Show a loving consideration for all creatures, and seek to maintain the beauty and variety of the world. Work to ensure that our increasing power over nature is used responsibly, with reverence for life.

The three points have inspired me to re-appraise, where I stand on the environment and I realise my contribution towards a carbon neutral regime is little more than tokenism, and I need to take a more affirmative stance.

Advices and Queries of Quakers of Aotearoa –  Te Hāhi Tūhauwiri contains similar advice:

E7: Are you careful that your use of financial resources is in accordance with our values of integrity, peace, equality, simplicity, and concern for other people and for the environment?

I have put most of my effort in relation to the environment into careful use, but I realise this is really not enough by itself. I need to do more.

E8: Do not be content to accept society as it is. Seek to discover the causes of social unrest, injustice, poverty and fear. Bear witness to the humanity of all people. Try to discern the new growing points in society.
Are you alert to practices here and throughout the world that discriminate against people on the basis of who or what they are or because of their beliefs? Do you work for a social, constitutional and economic order which will allow each person to develop fully and cooperation by all?

Young people of today have a genuine fear for their future, not unlike the fear that many of my generation in the 1960s and 1970s had with regards to nuclear proliferation. Except that whereas our fear was of those in power doing something (launching a nuclear war), that of the youth today is fear of those in power not doing something (preventing a climate change catastrophe).

E14: We need to respect, revere and cooperate with other life systems on our planet. The earth’s diverse riches are not ours to exploit. Seek reverence for life and a sense of wonder at God’s continuing presence in all of creation.
Do you work to conserve the earth’s beauty and resources, both now and in the future, for the many people who depend on this planet and the many other species that share it?

The more extreme effects of climate change are unlikely to affect me. I’ll be gone before they kick in. But it is during what’s left of my life that the the seeds to an irreversible climate runaway will be set. Surely I have a responsibility to help set in motion steps that will reverse the harm my generation and earlier generations have caused and are continuing to cause.

E10: Remember your responsibility as citizens of Aotearoa for the government of our country and for its relations with other countries, particularly our neighbours in the South Pacific.
How can we help our nation to promote international peace, justice and care for the earth?

Our country already has in place legislation requiring a move to carbon neutrality, but there is little incentive for government and industry to reach the targets in an orderly and progressive manner. It’s also apparent that the targets are set too far in the future in light of recent evidence of accelerating climate change. This is an area where I can do more in joining with others to raise the awareness of the urgency of acting now. Which brings me to:

E4: Obey the laws of the state, except when they conflict with your inner conviction. Work to amend laws that you consider unjust. If you feel called to civil disobedience, seek the guidance and support of your Meeting. Be prepared to accept the consequences cheerfully.

Is it time for me to get off the fence regarding the Extinction Rebellion movement and join their ranks, or encourage the use of their tactics? What can I do proactively to promote the concerns expressed by the movement?

For me, blogging is about the comfortable limit to social interaction. Talking to strangers joining crowds, being noticed, is way outside my comfort zone. When I joined in the vigil outside the local mosque on the Friday after the Christchurch shootings, it was a silent and solemn affair. Solidarity with the Muslim community was expressed simply by being there. In a crowd of several thousand I spoke with no-one, and made eye contact with no-one. That made it bearable. How can I be an effective voice when it comes to expressing urgency over climate change when I’m so non-social? Perhaps I should simply be mindful of the words of George fox who stated in 1656:

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.

But is that enough? No doubt this concern (about climate change) is going to haunt me until I have determined what role I can play.


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Is Jonathan Franzen wrong?

Having observed neurotypical (non-autistic) behaviour for than more than half a century, as much as I hope Jonathan Franzen is wrong, it’s an option we should discuss. I feel that while we can probably develop the technology to avert a Mad Max like apocalyptic world, I’m yet to be convinced the the combined will of humanity will form in time to effect real change. By the same token, it’s unlikely that we can work together to effectively manage a transition to “the inevitable”, especially when many of the climate change deniers are in positions of power.

Quakers, social justice and revolution

There has been a lot of criticism of Jonathan Franzen’s recent article in the New Yorker, “What if We Stopped Pretending the Climate Apocalypse Can Be Stopped? The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it”. Some of that criticism relates to choosing, specifically, a 2 degree Centigrade rise in atmospheric temperature as a limit we should not cross if runaway heating of the planet is to be avoided. No one seems to argue, though, that there is a threshold of warming beyond which runaway heating will occur.

Another interesting criticism relates to Franzen being an old white male, who is privileged to have his work published when people of color and/or women’s writings are not selected.

Then there is the criticism that he is not a scientist.

Not everyone thought Frazen’s arguments were completely off base. In an article…

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Update Aotearoa 11th May 2019

Recent newsworthy items of interest to me:

Australia’s most trusted politician is…

With just over one week to go before voters make their way to polling stations across the country to have their say in the federal election, a new poll has revealed just how much Aussies actually trust leading politicians.

Surprisingly, the results revealed that the politician who is held in the highest regard by Australian voters isn’t even an Aussie, as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern came out on top. With a score of 77, Ardern emerged as the most dependable elected representative, with respondents also marking her the highest when it comes to ‘integrity’.

Read more (Starts at 60 Writers)

New Zealand fish stocks healthy and sustainable

Verified for another year – New Zealand fish stocks healthy and sustainable.

Research has again shown that New Zealand’s fish stocks are in great shape, thanks to a world-leading management system. The annual Fish Stock Status Report from Fisheries New Zealand confirms that 95 percent of all fish landed in New Zealand is from stocks that are sustainable and healthy. Fisheries New Zealand has verified the status of 169 fish stocks and found 142 stocks with no sustainability issues and 27 stocks that need to be rebuilt.

Read more (Scoop Business)

Auckland sweet shop owners jailed for exploiting workers

The owners of an Auckland confectionary shop have been jailed for worker exploitation.

Mohammed Atiqul Islam faced 20 charges in total, and was on Friday sentenced to four years and five months in prison. Those charges included 10 for exploitation, two for aiding and abetting a person to breach visa conditions, five for providing false and misleading information to an immigration officer, and two for attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Read more (Newshub)

2019 Register of members’ interests published

Every year, Parliament publishes a summary of MPs’ interests, including certain assets, debts, and gifts they have received.

This summary is known as the Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament. The 2019 Register was presented to the House this week by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Rt Hon Trevor Mallard. It covers the period from 1 February 2018 to 31 January 2019.

Read more (New Zealand Parliament)

NZ introduces groundbreaking zero carbon bill, including targets for agricultural methane

New Zealand’s long-awaited zero carbon bill will create sweeping changes to the management of emissions, setting a global benchmark with ambitious reduction targets for all major greenhouse gases.

The bill includes two separate targets – one for the long-lived greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, and another target specifically for biogenic methane, produced by livestock and landfill waste.

Read more (Sciblogs)


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Update Aotearoa – 8th May 2019

Some news items that are of significant interest to me personally:

Climate change bill, independent commission announced

The government has unveiled its plan to combat climate change, under which methane will be treated differently to other greenhouse gases, in response to push back from the agricultural industry.

The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill – introduced to Parliament today – sets out a plan for the next 30 years.

The government has also set a new emissions reduction target for all greenhouse gases, except methane, to net zero by 2050, in line with New Zealand’s commitments under the Paris Agreement.

“The government is today delivering landmark action on climate change – the biggest challenge facing the international community and New Zealand,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

Agriculture was “incredibly important to New Zealand”, Ms Ardern said, but also needed to be “part of the solution”.

“That is why we have listened to the science and also heard the industry and created a specific target for biogenic methane” and adopted what’s known as a “split gas” approach.

Read more (RNZ News)

Should New Zealand history be compulsory in schools?

Is Aotearoa New Zealand alone in not mandating the teaching of its own history in schools?

A leading historian has renewed calls to make New Zealand history a compulsory subject in schools. Vincent O’Malley says the Ministry of Education’s reluctance to mandate the subject is not good enough.

He says the current curriculum was “failing” young people. “Any half decent education system anywhere in the world should deliver a basic introduction to the country you live in, that you grew up in. Ours is failing to do that. A lot of young people are asking to learn about this history.”

Read more (TVNZ One News)

Standards vital for new cannabis industry

MANU Caddie, chief executive of Ruatoria-based Hikurangi Cannabis Company, says a University of Otago academic is right to claim cannabis is unable to be considered a medicine because it contains multiple active ingredients.

Professor Michelle Glass published an opinion piece in the New Zealand Medical Journal last week suggesting there is no need for the Ministry of Health to develop new regulations governing cannabis as medicine because the Medicines Act already outlines the standards a product needs to reach in order to be considered a medicine.

Mr Caddie says recognition of cannabis as a medicine is challenging when whole plant extracts contain active ingredients in addition to THC and CBD.

Read more (Gisborne Herald)

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says anti-vaxxer parents are ‘pro-plague’

The education minister doesn’t think children shouldn’t miss out on school just because their parents are what he calls “pro-plague”.

The Northland DHB has suggested unvaccinated children stay home from school for the next two weeks, after two known cases of measles have been discovered. Northland has the lowest immunisation rate in the country at 85 percent.

Chris Hipkins said the DHB should be stepping up to ensure the region has sufficient immunisation levels. “Clearly there is an issue there that the DHB needs to address, they are responsible for that. I don’t believe that kids should be denied their right to an education, particularly if it’s a conscious choice by their parents not to immunise”, he said.

He said he uses the term ‘pro-plague’ for anti-vaxxers because that’s what they are. “It is a statement of fact. It is a ridiculous position, it is not based on science, there are very good reasons why we require a certain level of the population to be immunised, so that we’re not susceptible to massive outbreaks.”

Read more (RNZ News)

Mohua goes from rare to common in 21 years

The once rare mohua/yellowhead has for the first time become the most common native bird counted since predator control began in the Landsborough valley in South Westland.

Mohua numbers have risen more than 30-fold and overall, native bird numbers have doubled in the 21 years since monitoring began in 1998, recently analysed Department of Conservation (DOC) results show.

DOC Principal Science Advisor Dr Colin O’Donnell says the long-term study charts the response of 13 native bird species following sustained predator control to suppress rats, stoats and possums.

Read more (Scoop Sci-tech)

Celebrating New Zealand Sign Language Week and working toward an accessible future

For Deaf Aotearoa‘s executive assistant Erica Dawson access to political knowledge and information has “opened a whole new world”. It started in 2017 when a sign language version of the final debate between Jacinda Ardern and Bill English began.

For the first time the clash was aired  with a hand-to-hand battle between interpreters. Signs for policy words needed to be created, and people within the deaf community helped ensure viewers were given the correct messages from Ardern and English.

Last year Ardern announced all post-cabinet press conferences would be interpreted into NZSL going forward. That’s meant for the first time in Dawson’s almost 30-year life, she has been able to follow politics.

Read more (Stuff National)


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Hey weather, make up your mind!

Just a week ago I was struggling to cope with record breaking temperatures. And in typical Kiwi fashion, I blamed the Aussies for the heat wave. According to my indoor/outdoor temperature station the maximum outdoor temperature over the last week was 37.9°C (100°F). I’m looking for a reason to blame the Aussies for the current state of the weather, but it looks like Antarctica is the culprit. It’s approaching 2:00pm and it’s a very untropical 16°C (61°F) outside, with a steady breeze of 30km/h (19mph) gusting to 50km/h (31mph). That’s a drop in temperature of 22°C (40°F) over a few days, although there’s been no change in wind speed, just in direction.

I guess Trump and friends will claim this is proof that there is no global warning. They conveniently ignore the fact that even small increases in global warming can cause severe climate change, the effects of which vary from region to region. In the case of Aotearoa New Zealand, our very changeable weather is becoming even more changeable with the extremes becoming greater – one example being areas that have been historically safe for habitation are now being designated floodplains not suitable for habitation.


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Stubbies

A comment over on Behind the Glass regarding short shorts, reminded me of the era when such attire was part of the modern man’s wardrobe in Aotearoa New Zealand. It was even appropriate where in other parts of the world a business suit would be more appropriate. Such fashion is now a distant memory for those of us who lived through the seventies, but perhaps Trump’s determination to accelerate climate change, will see them return before too long.

This is what sprung to mind on reading short shorts: