Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Counting Horses

Mother Gaia is dying, apparently. That is what I am assured is the case by reams of scientists, journalists and anyone else who wants to chip their personal monetary value into the matter. Our actions as humans have caused global temperatures to rise and because of this we are only nanoseconds away from ecological disaster on an unprecedented scale. Which sounds scary, but these things often do.

I sometimes wonder what exactly it is about the Earth we’re worried about harming though. The Earth has been kicking about, doing its thang for the last 4.5 billion years now and in that time it’s gone from being covered in noxious gases and volcanoes on every corner, through times when the land has been huddled together in one giant lump, shivered it’s way through a face covered in disfiguring ice and had random pot shots taken at it by passing meteors. So when it comes to a two degree hike in temperature I can’t help but feel that the Earth will live on to tell a bloated star and an uninterested galaxy of its exploits.

Then of course there are the things living on the Earth: plants and animals and fungi and whatnot (but no one really cares about the fungi cos they’re just a bit gross). A change in temperature of just a few degrees could see millions of these species wiped out in a few short years. But don’t start weeping for Nature lost just yet. A distinct species of plant or animal that you’ve never heard of or care about becomes extinct every twenty minutes and there have been five mass extinctions in the past which wiped a large portion of species of the face of the planet but still, life has survived and carried on in that sneaky way it so often does.

After watching the blindingly superb Life in Cold Blood I was struck by conflicting thoughts on the Animal Kingdom. There’s no doubt that the way animals work and adapt to their environment is nothing short of awe-inspiring, but as a human you can’t help feeling infinitely superior to animals that may be able to perform impressive feats of biological engineering but are still entirely vulnerable to their surroundings and couldn’t even begin to comprehend the concept of putting on a warm fur jacket, upping sticks and moving to a nicer location.

Sometimes I think people forget to take a look around them and see just how much humans have created and achieved and how superior we really are to animals. It all comes down to fighting and fucking in the end, we just do it in a much more elaborate and entertaining fashion. There are too many animals and plants for scientists to count and they have big calculators. If the average person could name more than ten species from the millions that could potentially be wiped out I’d be flabbergasted.

Which brings us coarsely on to humans. The ones who really stand to lose from the whole shebang. While it may be that animals are threatened more by our actions, what we’re really scared of with this whole global warming thing is how many humans may be perturbed. There’s the uncomfortable and ever lingering thought that the Universe has a tosspot sense of irony and would love nothing less than to see humankind die by its own hand.

In a way we’re the victims of our own success. Our ability to adapt means that we can inhabit every godforsaken square inch of the planet and the fact that we’re capable of inventing global communication means that we’re instantly aware when Nature decides to get Biblical on a part of the world It just plain doesn’t like. If the weather so much as shifts the comfortable lying position it’s etched into the world’s beanbag some poor bastard is going to have their house blown over.

Of course it’s easy to be so laissez-faire about the whole issue when you live in a country that has nothing to fear from Odin’s wrath beyond an inconvenient flood. And as superior as we may be to animals and plants, they are a lasting reminder of where we came from, how the world functions and how we are very much part of that biological system, so sitting idly by while they’re wiped out seems a tad morally reprehensible.

Therefore, if the pressing of my foot against the accelerator has an effect akin to 16,904 butterflies angrily flapping their wings in Tokyo’s general direction then we, as a species, should probably find a solution. And that is why, after literally hours of distracted concentration, I have come up with a solution.

It’s a solution to do with inner city congestion, a factor that no doubt raises those pesky whatevers through the roof that do bad things to the O2 layer. It utilises a tool that humans have had since we were beating rocks together over 6,000 years ago. It has played a major role in mechanisation, war and communication. I refer of course to the humble Equus caballus. The horse.

That’s right, horses. Ban everyone from driving cars in cities and instead make them ride horses. The advantages should be obvious. First off your emission levels are reduced in a snap. The harmful effects from horseshit are negligible compared to petrol, therefore making your Bigfoot emission close to zero. But more importantly than that, there’s the cool factor.

What could be better than sauntering into town on the back of your glistening steed, tipping your hat at people as you pass, and making your way to the local inn where you tie up your mount and swagger in for a shot of firewater? If the image sounds vaguely reminiscent of Wild West films then that’s because they were fucking cool. No one looks bad sitting on top of a horse and there’s no comparison like there is with Porsches and Skodas because to the layman all horses look alike and a knackered one can always be used for meat and glue.

Speed of travel wouldn’t be affected either since from my experience it’s impossible to travel above 10mph in any city area anyway. A horse is more flexible and a better companion on the road than a cold dead box of steel any day. There’s no situation where speeding through twisting streets, parking, or leaping from the window of an illicit lover isn’t made instantly more fun and convenient than with a horse.

Are there problems with the idea? Sure. There are more cows than horses for one, but cows are rubbish and would look crap cruising up the high street. Also it’s difficult to get a million horses to stand in one place over night. But these are minor sacrifices compared to raping the Earth and murdering millions of human beings, which is why I propose horses. Not for my future, but for the children’s.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

EUSA - Edinburgh University Society of Apathy

It has probably been noted by someone once that behind every successful election candidate there is a deluge of anonymous volunteers who work hard spreading the message of the candidate, handing out flyers, putting up posters and doing the general dogsbody work that keeps the election machine ticking over. These people get involved because they feel passionately about the causes they are fighting for and last night I became a small cog in the bloated machine that is the EUSA elections.

It all happened because I’d been round to visit a friend who happens to live in the same house (it is a house, not a flat) as a EUSA Presidential candidate and so the living room was full of campaign material including posters that needed to be pasted on to cardboard. And so, because it seemed rude not to help, I got my hands sticky helping my friend paste some posters for the candidate’s campaign.

I didn’t feel entirely at ease doing it though. For starters I felt guilty being one of those despicable people who contribute to the mass graffiti of election posters that adorn every available bit of space in and around University buildings at this time of year and have all the aesthetic pleasure of a breezeblock in Milton Keynes. But more than that I didn’t feel comfortable being part of a self-important, inflated and egotistical process that myself and the vast majority of students genuinely care less about than the choice between smoked or unsmoked bacon.

Last year 21% of students voted on who they wanted to be the EUSA President. Figures like that don’t suggest apathy so much as a passive/aggressive protest against the whole malarkey in the first place. That’s certainly the view of Felix Trench, a student who hilariously attempted to sell his EUSA vote on eBay so that he could “promote an 'active apathy' movement to protest against the whole thing and try to drill in some sort of common sense.” The housemate who was putting the posters together also felt that there were much more important things to worry about in the world than these elections but at least it was something for him to do of an evening.

The problem most people have isn’t an anti-EUSA thing though. I don’t know exactly what EUSA does do for me but the Unions are still standing, accommodation exists and societies get their funding. I’ve never felt the need to get anything else from EUSA and so I’ve always assumed that things have been moving along in that tedious way that administrations tend to. And yet every year we are subjected to an avalanche of garish posters, moronic slogans and mindless minions interrupting lectures in order to tell us to vote for so-and-so because they absolutely guarantee to revolutionise what it is to be a student at Edinburgh University.

The role of the President is one that requires a lot of time and dedication, hence the year’s sabbatical and not too shabby £21,000 salary that comes with the office, and students waging these fruitless campaigns where they spend most of their time accusing each other of fondling ferrets in direct contravention of some arcane EUSA law is detrimental to the entire process and off-putting to anyone who’s not interested in adding another notch to their future political career CV.

Students have always been keen to voice their opinion. God knows why, we're in the worst possible position to make rational decisions. Students have no idea what the real world is like because we're floating around in this bubble between school and the real world. And so every year individuals decide to play at being politicians and try and wage a campaign that no one cares about because they want to try it out. Which wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t such an invasion of everyone else’s time spent in and around University at this time of year.

It’s an administrative position as well, not a political one. A certain Devil once suggested to me that if you don’t pay income and council tax then you’re not entitled to a political opinion. I’ll leave it up to you how much you agree with that but there is this to be said for it: when people vote for political parties in elections they are doing so because of issues involving welfare, taxes, defence, education and health care that are fundamental to people’s lives. I don’t know or care which candidate gets voted in as President because I know that I won’t notice it affecting my life either way. I certainly haven’t noticed these past three years anything that the President has done that’s changed my life at Edinburgh University and I can’t see that changing. It’s not a bad thing, I’m quite content with the status quo.

I remember back in my first year there was a ridiculous amount of controversy surrounding Boris Johnson standing for the position of Rector. There were posters everywhere both for and against, depressingly immature smear campaigns from both sides of the fence and in the end the election happened and someone else won. Can anyone actually remember who won? Or how the Rector of Edinburgh University has caused a fundamental shift in the way of life for students? No, of course not, the whole thing just got blown out of all proportion because students love jumping on their opinionated high horses and giving their egos a good airing.

Even hinting that maybe deciding the President through elections might not be the best method is liable to a swift knee-jerk kick in the knackers from the so-called democracy brigade but just entertain this thought experiment for a moment: what if instead of narcissistic morons wasting precious carbon resources and everyone’s time in a hyped-up popularity contest that 4/5s of students don’t care about, there was a nomination process where people who may feel intimidated by running such a relentless and ultimately unnecessary process could put themselves forward, get interviewed for the job by a group of EUSA officials who understand what the job entails and then be appointed President? It’s how most administrative positions are handed out in the real world anyway and I’d feel more comfortable with that than having to put up with this shit at the same time every gorram year.