Monthly Archives: March 2012

Carbon: departing from a station near you, soon

The ‘Carbon train’ has already left the station and businesses across the South West had better be prepared for the challenges ahead, argues Simon Ramsay, Associate Research Fellow at the Business School.


Curtis Mayfield. For details of the carbon footprint of nylon trousers, please click the picture and use our Show Me The Carbon tool.

There’s an old and widely-covered Curtis Mayfield song that starts: “People get ready – there’s a train a-comin’…” Originally attributed with heralding increased Afro-American civil rights, the same lyrics may also hold a more contemporary twist: a general feeling that there is some impending revolution heading towards us which, although undefined, feels unavoidable. I’m not referring to the government’s spending cuts, or to the various-letters-of-the-alphabet-shaped recession, but to “carbon” – the word that has been transformed from representing a chemical element talked about in our school classes to a concept that now seems to permeate most things in our lives, from our news headlines to our supermarket shelves.

During the last decade, the threat of climate change and the scientific consensus around the need for significant reductions on greenhouse gas (carbon) emissions have grown sufficiently to now be directly informing and influencing public policy at several levels. The setting up of The Carbon Trust in 2001 signalled the start of a more direct attempt by the government to promote a transition towards a ‘low carbon economy’. Since then, the UK has been committed to a long-term, legally binding framework for emissions reductions (with the Climate Change Act in 2008), with a target of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050. The last few years have seen a relentless, carbon-focused policy activity, with the election of the coalition government further increasing the pressure when David Cameron pledged to build ‘the greenest government ever’. More recently, the Government has launched its Green Deal Energy Strategy; the Carbon Reduction Commitment’s league tables were published and the southwest region was designated as a Marine Energy Park.

The changes have not only taken place at a wider policy level, but have also impacted on how the private sector operates. Last year, several leading industry firms (including Pepsico, The Co-operative, Microsoft, BT, AXA and Aviva) started a petition for signatures to urge the government to announce a firm commitment to mandatory carbon reporting. Behind this concerted action was the recognition of the rewards the move could bring to companies taking a lead in the green economy, its role in supporting investors’ decision-making and, above all, the urgent need for clarity and a level playing field for the private sector. A recent report by Defra found that businesses which have been voluntarily measuring and reporting their emissions have been achieving cost savings and better relationships with investors and customers. Mandatory carbon reporting seems, then, only a question of time.

The fact is that markets have already started moving towards making carbon reductions. Growing public awareness to climate change, public policy developments and consumer trends are all likely to have contributed, but so have market mechanisms and simple bottom-line business sense, as energy prices steadily increase and the supply of commodities becomes less predictable. Big businesses are now not only looking at just their own emissions, but also expecting reciprocity from their suppliers. In the UK, most of the major retailers are announcing ambitious carbon reduction targets for their supply chains. Tesco has declared an aim to achieve a 30% carbon reduction in its supply chain by 2020 – the company, carbon footprinted over 1,000 products and labelled over 500 in UK stores in 2011. Walmart (owner of ASDA) announced the intention to eliminate 20 million tonnes of carbon emissions from its global supply chain by the end of 2015. Sainsbury’s is committed to reducing its operational carbon emissions, by 30% absolute and 65% relative, by 2020 compared with 2005 – part of their broader target of an absolute carbon reduction of 50% by 2030. Whilst Marks & Spencer’s revised Plan A now includes a dedicated section focused specifically on the reduction of its suppliers’ carbon footprint, listing 33 separate commitments, from energy efficiency targets in its food suppliers to changes in logistics and operations.

So what does all this mean to the mainly rural businesses and communities of the southwest? Well, Mayfield’s song only got it half right on this one: “You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board…” The ripples of the change being produced in the public and private sectors are bound to touch everyone so we are all on board this particular train, whether we like it or not. Sooner or later someone will demand to know about your carbon credentials, if not a regulator than a business client or individual customer. When that happens you will need your best carbon trolley case and, packed inside it, the knowledge, skills and capacity to demonstrate that you can engage in the dialogue and address the challenges expected from you. This train has already left the station, and we had all better catch up because, in the words of Mr. Mayfield again: “there ain’t no room for the hopeless sinner…”.

Clear About Carbon

Financed by the European Social Fund Convergence Programme for delivery in Cornwall, Clear About Carbon is a four-year project that aims to find new ways to increase carbon literacy within businesses and the public sector.

Clear About Carbon works closely with a number of Cornish SMEs and other organisations to determine the most effective methods of communicating the business issues of climate change and the opportunities that a low carbon economy can offer. Delivery of the project is being carried out by a quartet of local organisations: the University of Exeter Business School, Cornwall Development Company, Eden Project and Duchy College Rural Business School.

By delivering outreach and training programmes to staff within the county, Clear About Carbon draws valuable conclusions from its work with practitioners. Using these insights, along with qualitative and quantitative research, the project’s findings will be summarised in a report which will aim to inform future policy making at both UK and European levels.

Royal Successions: The Importance of Poetry

Andrew McRae is Professor of Renaissance Studies in the Department of English.

Andrew McRae is Professor of Renaissance Studies in the Department of English.

Poet laureates earn their allowances at times like these, says Professor Andrew McRae.

In May this year, when we celebrate the Diamond Jubilee, Carol Ann Duffy will publish an edited volume, Jubilee Lines, including sixty new poems by sixty poets, each concerned with a year of Elizabeth II’s reign. This represents a neat variation on a theme that can be traced back through British history. But what does such literature achieve? What might it tell us about the monarchs and the ways in which they were perceived? And how might it reflect upon the changing values of monarchy?

While such questions might be asked of any poem devoted to a king or queen, they assume genuine urgency in literature published at moments of succession. Sixty years ago, John Masefield, who fits the laureate category of a man equally long serving and poorly regarded by literary history, seized upon the pastoral mode for his modest poem to welcome Elizabeth to the throne. ‘This lady whom we crown was born,’ he wrote, ‘When buds were green upon the thorn / And earliest cowslips showed.’ ‘Cowslips’, an Old English word, not only lends the poem a native touch, but recalls Edmund Spenser’s seminal poem in praise of Elizabeth I in The Shepheardes Calendar. And throughout, as must have seemed equally appropriate for the post-War British nation, the resources of pastoral allowed him to link the succession to hopes for a second Elizabethan regeneration. ‘May this old land revive and be’, he writes, ‘Again a star set in the sea, / A Kingdom fit for such as She / With glories yet undreamt.’

If there is something polite and stylised about Masefield’s poem, that may say as much about the age he inhabited as about the poet himself. But this was not always so. What if we turn our attention to the most politically turbulent English century of all, the seventeenth? What might a study of the succession literature of the Stuart dynasty – of the years 1603, 1625, 1660, 1685, 1689 and 1702 – tell us about both literary and political cultures of the time?

These dates were moments of intense anxiety and anticipation. The 1603 succession was itself neither obvious nor uncontested, the 1660 succession required a collective act of will to re-establish monarchy as the nation’s natural state, the crowning of William and Mary in 1689 was more the result of a coup than an orderly succession, and so forth. And literature of all kinds poured from the nation’s presses at each moment: poems of all kinds, pamphlets, news-sheets, histories and genealogies, accounts of royal entries, and so on. Much of the resulting output has been considered over the years as mere panegyric; however, even poetry of praise, as the example of Masefield’s poem suggests, can bear subtle meaning, and in the hands of a master it can equally be used to shape expectations of ruler and ruled alike.

Ben Jonson, for instance, fashioned himself as the poet laureate at a time when there was in fact no such role, and from the moment of James I’s arrival in England he cleaved to the throne and sought to define its values. But there were risks attached to this strategy, in this most risky of centuries for the public poet. Edmund Waller, for instance, wrote a ‘Panegyric to my Lord Protector’, celebrating Oliver Cromwell at the height of his powers, as he increasingly sought to drape his protectorate with the trappings of monarchy. Just five years later he welcomed Charles II with a poem ‘To the King, Upon His Majesty’s Happy Return’. When Charles judged that the poem to Cromwell was the better of the two pieces, Waller observed: ‘we poets never succeed so well in writing truth as in fiction’.

We know too little about the succession literature of the Stuart era. That’s why, in a major project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, researchers at the universities of Exeter and Oxford are attempting to bring it to light, making sense of it for the first time. We will catalogue all publications from the years immediately following a succession that engage in any meaningful way with the matter. And then we will work to interpret these works, asking questions about the perception and representation of monarchy, and revisiting through this lens some critical questions about changes in political values and culture through the course of the Stuart era. In the process, we aim to revitalize debates about the politics of literature, and the values of politics, in this pivotal era of British history.

One wonders finally, against the weight of this rich history of royal writing, how the poems in Duffy’s collection will negotiate the relation between monarchy and history in the twentieth century. And one wonders also how Duffy might respond if she is still in her position at the moment, sometime in the future, when poets are called upon to celebrate a third Caroline succession.

Death in Devon

Riptide - Volume 7

Riptide - Volume 7

Ginny Baily, Editor of Riptide, describes how they gathered an alternative view of Devon for their latest volume.

When Riptide short story journal agreed – in collaboration with Wordquest Devon – to produce a volume of Devon-themed stories, we were anxious to avoid the clichés – the cream teas, rolling hills, thatched cottages, cosy retirement to beach huts in seaside towns. We phrased our call for submissions carefully, talking about Devon as metaphor, imagined Devons, Devon from the outside as well as from within, and we cast our net wide. We feared, after six successful and varied volumes, becoming parochial.

What we didn’t expect were tales that picked up these clichés and turned them on their head. There is nothing cosy, for example, about the retirement home that features in Martin Sorrell’s story ‘Going West’ which poignantly conveys the frustrated hopes of middle age amid the decrepitude and occasional fleeting joy of old age. Devon in this story is the place where “silly promises” are made, a sort of lost paradise, a metaphor for youth and beauty and impossible dreams.

The beauty of the county emerges in these stories but there is always an edge to it. This is most evident in the depictions of Devon’s two moors. The Dartmoor where the main character in ‘The Wood Store’ by Ben Smith lives is intimately known to him, ‘every sheep-track, every mound of rock,’ but his moor is changing. Second-home buyers are moving in, forcing the locals out. Being able to name every wild flower in a patch of meadow or having an eye for the way the sun presses ‘itself like a pale thumb print into the mist’ is no match for the power of money. In Greg Hoare’s story ‘Inches’ a ‘market town in the folds of Dartmoor’ is the claustrophobic, dead-end setting. There are no prospects in this little town, no jobs. It is a place of Saturday night street fights. Dartmoor here becomes the place from which the young character Dylan wants to escape and London, where the money is, his aspiration. Judy Darley’s ‘The Beast’ is set on Exmoor, at a place where ‘the green grey strip of the moor … met the solid, unwavering purple of the sky’ and here the moor, not just its beauty but the power it has to catch the imagination, the myths and stories it has generated, is both a fearful place and a refuge.

Normally we don’t set a theme for the Riptide stories but we have always found that one emerges as we make our selection – masks and what is behind them in Volume 3, summer slipping away in Volume 4, flight in Riptide 5 – as if the authors, unbeknownst to us, have been whispering in each other’s ears. Of course, there is nothing mystical about this phenomenon. It isn’t that the authors have been listening to each other but that their eyes and ears are attuned to what is going on in the world around them. This latent but always expansive theme then becomes the connecting thread of the anthology. This time, because we’d set a theme, Devon, we imagined that we might constrain or narrow the preoccupations of the writers and that the binding thread of the whole was dictated in advance. The opposite turned out to be true.

We discovered, in fact, that we had given the authors’ licence to let their imaginations soar – a reminder that restrictions can be one of the best ways of sparking creativity as anyone who produces their best meal out of what they can find in the store cupboard can testify. Devon in these stories is the backdrop against which the writers communicate contemporary reality, the zeitgeist or spirit of the moment, and what they tell us is what we already know: that times are hard. Jobs are difficult to come by – whether you’re fresh out of school like Greg Hoare’s Dylan or joining the swelling ranks of the unemployed graduates like the characters in Luke Kennard’s ‘Freaks of Nature.’ From Sorrell’s old people’s home crooner to Shohidur Rahman’s ventriloquist who had ambitions ‘to enter the larger world, with its lights and luminaries,’ compromise, making do, letting go of dreams, colour the lives of many of the characters who people this collection.

There is nothing twee or picture book about the Devon portrayed in these stories. The dead bodies alone should alert us to that fact. There are five strewn among these fifteen tales: two murders, two manslaughters (one of them open to question) and one ‘slow suicide’. But the book, far from being a depressing read, is a powerful and, ultimately, an uplifting one. By bestowing its unflinching gaze on our life experiences – in all their joy and suffering – but doing so through the filter of Devon, something transcendent and timeless is revealed.

At the heart of this collection there is a story, a piece of memoir, by our oldest ever contributor, Roland Tuson, 88. He recalls the daily struggle and poverty of his childhood in Exeter 80 years ago. His story sings with the joy, sunshine and adventure of life, the sparkling beauty of the river, the way it ‘provided a huge adventure playground’. His story is a reminder that hard times are not new and that perhaps Devon, with its timeless core of granite, is uniquely well placed to remind us that nothing lasts forever.

Riptide is a bi-annual anthology of new short fiction by both established and emerging writers. Find out more on the Riptide website.