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Speed Read – the end of the world as we know it (and we shouldn’t feel fine)

Every week, The Friday Speed Read takes part in the news summary Olympics and hopes its extensive training schedule and top-level coaching will result in an impressive performance. Once it won a bronze medal but this probably a mistake.

Sometimes the hoary old adage of a picture painting a thousand words seems inaccurate only because it’s an understatement. Ten thousand words perhaps, a hundred thousand. This week a single image was chosen by the picture editors of many newspapers to reflect the alarm raised in the IPCC report on climate change published on Monday. The photograph was taken in village of Gouves on the Greek island of Evia; an elderly woman stands in the foreground, eyes closed, hand laid across her heart in anguish as behind her house is about to be engulfed by wildfire. Its composition almost transcends photography; as if its elements were arranged in juxtaposition by master painter of the renaissance; the palette is an infernal orange and the singularity of the woman in the picture gives her an everyman quality. She is us. She is all of humanity. She is alone as her home, her world, is razed to the ground.

Images like this help tell the story of our world and allow us to make sense of our place within it. And as much as I don’t wish to be overly-bleak on a Friday morning, our world is dying. We’re killing it. The IPPC report didn’t hold back: by many measures it’s too already late. As the Guardian neatly summarised with its Tuesday headline, catastrophic climate change is “inevitable, unprecedented and irreversible” with a gargantuan global effort required to keep the rise in mean temperatures to 1.5C, and let’s be honest, even if that’s possible, a 1.5-degree rise will mean that these terrible weather events we’ve been seeing will become more commonplace.

Tuesday’s headlines, some of them, spoke of the gravity of the situation: “code red for humanity”; “can the UK lead the world back from the brink?” asked the Mail. An important question given the UK’s hosting of COP26 in November. The minister in charge said all the right things this week: “we’re on the brink of catastrophe” and COP26 is the world’s “last chance”. He also admitted to driving a diesel car and has flown to 30 countries in the past 7 months. A classic case of “do as I say not as I do because yes it really isn’t a good look . . . .”

Perhaps we can draw some hope from the world’s response to Covid-19. This particular catastrophe is far from over but the speed with which science (backed, to be fair, by governments and industry) developed effective vaccines against the disease has been both unprecedented and undeniably impressive. And yes, there’s a massive, almost immoral, gap in access to the vaccines between rich and poor countries that needs fixing but the fact that a response was pulled together in record time does show what’s possible.

But I think what’s clear from the IPCC report is that everything needs to change. We need to eat differently, travel differently, heat our homes differently but in a sense, whether you recycle your cardboard or not isn’t going to be the difference between a 1.5 degree rise in temperatures and a 2.5 degree rise (which would be ruinous). What is needed is governments to stop sitting on their collective hands, private enterprise to pursue even more fiercely the massive financial incentives of, literally, saving the world, and for Donald Trump not to successfully run for president again in 2024. Which is a scarily plausible scenario right now – but that’s a fear for another day.

I’m both wary of and prone to hyperbole in life (“this is the best lunch I have EVER eaten”; “Automatic for the People is the finest album by any band in history of popular music”; “I don’t think I have ever seen better pair of legs than on that, er, table . . .”) but for once, the hyperbole about the climate crisis is almost not hyperbolic enough. Pick your cliché and realise that the cliché hits hard: this is the eleventh hour, the last gasp, the do . . . . or die.

Shall we talk about something jollier? How about the Olympics? I realise that it finished a week ago now but I’d like to make a public apology to anyone who’ll listen after dismissing the prospect of Tokyo 2020 as a complete waste of everybody’s time. I’m usually a big Olympic fan but the thought of a games without spectators and athletes in isolation after Covid outbreaks made me assume that the whole endeavour would be rubbish. Well, once again I’ve been proved to know absolutely nothing because it was fabulous. So many times I found myself absorbed in a sport of which I was completely ignorant (but quickly became a world authority on, obviously) and yes, I was on a two week holiday which helped, but it was a lovely thing. I remember one morning watching the trap shooting (essentially clay pigeon shooting) which is, by all sensible measures, a terrible spectacle – the targets move so quickly you can’t see them unless successfully shot by one of the sombre-looking gentlemen with guns (in this case) and that’s basically it. But I was IN. I was committed. I shed a tear when the two Czech gentlemen embraced after winning gold and silver in a tense shoot-off. And then there was the canoeing, the taekwondo, the boxing, the MODERN PENTATHLON (which is insane), the BMX, skateboarding, cycling and that’s not to mention all the running and jumping etc.

I’m just listing events now. But the point is, I enjoyed it. It made me happy. And if the Sun decided that Jason and Laura Kenny holding their medals to the camera and smiling like the lovely people they clearly are was a better Tuesday front page than the IPPC report then I (almost) didn’t mind.

I can’t wait for Paris. I watched one of the promo videos for Paris 2024 shown in closing ceremony alongside my French wife. We were both in pieces. She’s not been home for over a year and I have to say, the city looks glorious in this excellent film. God, I can’t wait to travel again. Sustainably of course.

Elsewhere this week: a horrible, tragic mass shooting in Plymouth; record exam results, particularly in A Levels following this year’s teacher-assessed system (and an increasing gap between the attainment of state and private school pupils); more rubbish weather (see above) and, of course, Covid-19 still claiming lives, although, touch-wood, hospitalisations seems to be levelling off. The vaccines are working.

But to end, it’s been a good week for newspaper puns. It has been a while since I’ve taken a moment to celebrate this quintessentially British mode of journalism so all the more reason to share a few zingers from this week:

Story:    No.10 installs £100,000 of art in Downing Street

Pun:      What a waste of Monet! (The Mirror)


Story:    Jason and Laura Kenny to receive gongs from the Queen

Pun:      Pedal of honour (The Sun)


Story:    Strictly filming halted by Covid outbreak

Pun:      Strictly hit by jitter bug (The Sun)


Story:    National Trust installs a special coating to a manor house tiles to stop bats slipping off

Pun:      Bat on a non-slip roof (The Guardian)

(admittedly you need a knowledge of the plays of Tennessee Williams to appreciate this one but feel free to feel smug if you do)


Story:    Spice in Asian food is a female aphrodisiac

Pun:      Korma Sutra

Secondary pun: “Sexperts have found a spice used in Asian food can make women extra saucy in the dhansak”

Thank you, The Daily Star.


To play us out, I’ve been watching Mark Ronson’s (excellent) documentary series about music production on Apple TV+ and I was reminded of the genius of Gary Numan. Ridiculed by many at the time of release, Are ‘Friends’ Electric didn’t just sound like the future, it WAS the future.

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