The unfamiliar Orwell: the writer as passionate gardener

This is a book about George Orwell’s recognition that desire and joy can be forces of opposition to the authoritarian state and its intrusions. To explore the theme, Rebecca Solnit has produced a sequence of loosely linked essays around the roses and fruit bushes the author of Animal Farm planted in 1936 in the garden of his modest Hertfordshire house. A Californian with more than 20 books behind her, Solnit opens this latest with a pilgrimage to Wallington, where Orwell’s Albertine roses have endured. The blooms instigate a reconsideration of the man ‘most famous for his prescient scrutiny of totalitarianism’, which in turn invites the author ‘to dig deeper’ and

Wales is terrified of a repeat of the Aberfan disaster

While the Westminster bubble has spent the last few weeks focusing on Tory sleaze and COP26, the Welsh have been facing a far more consequential challenge. The problem is the country’s coal tips: monstrously black, heavy slag heaps, omnipotent and ever-present reminders of the great industry that once dominated Britain’s economy and fuelled the furnace of the Empire. Rarely do I find myself agreeing with the rabble rousing Rhondda socialist, Leanne Wood, but the former Plaid Cymru leader (who unexpectedly lost her South Wales seat in the Senedd election in May) sounded a prescient warning this month. She argued that unless action was taken to manage these tips properly, another

China and India are right to keep coal

‘The end of coal is in sight’ declared Alok Sharma, president of this year’s climate summit, to delegates in Glasgow attending COP26. Sharma was heralding the fact that more than 40 countries had agreed at the conference to phase coal out in the coming decades. But (and it is a very big but) along with the US and Australia, two of the world’s largest producers and consumers of coal declined to sign: India and China. COP26 came to an end this week. But in the media coverage of the conference, there has been zero effort made to understand why two of the biggest consumers of fossil fuels have pushed back

Are China’s climate promises just a load of hot air?

Few cities in China represent the country’s addiction to coal more than Tianjin, where Alok Sharma travelled this week to talk about cooperation on climate issues. It sits on the coast of one of China’s most polluted regions, and its port is a key hub for trading 100 million tons a year of the stuff – that’s roughly 12 times Britain’s annual coal burn. Chinese coal consumption is on track to increase this year by around ten per cent. To meet that demand, vast new open cast pits are being rushed into service in Inner Mongolia, China’s biggest coal production region, from where supplies are brought down the coast to

Tory backlash over Cumbrian coal mine U-turn

Is there a clash between the government’s plans to achieve Net Zero and its aspirations to level up parts of the North and Midlands? It certainly seems that way, after the Planning Secretary Robert Jenrick last night U-turned and launched an inquiry into the construction of a new coal mine in Cumbria, which would provide coal for the construction of steel. His decision to ‘call in’ the planning application came after the US climate envoy John Kerry told the BBC this week that ‘coal is not the future’. Jenrick’s decision has exposed a rift in the Tory party, between a government keen to make a success of the UN climate