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Election Focus 2017: Voting for hope

Tomorrow (Thursday) is the day we decide, individually and collectively, what we want from our government for the next five years.  This is our opportunity to show politicians our values, our hopes, and our vision for the UK. I urge you to make the most of this opportunity – please vote, and encourage others (particularly young people) to vote too.

Vote based on policies

When you vote, don’t do it based on what the media (or social media) say; vote based on policies. Much of our media has vested interests to protect, which may not be the same as what is in your, or our collective interest. Look beyond the headlines at what the parties intend to do.

Obviously, environmental policy isn’t the only thing you’ll think about when you vote, but please do take it into account, as there are important differences between some of the parties. I hope my blog posts comparing what the party manifestos have to say on various environmental issues have been helpful to you.

If you’re not sure who to vote for…

Having spent so much time immersed (reluctantly) in the manifestos, I’d got to the point where I wasn’t sure who I was going to vote for. Three of the UK-wide parties (Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens) had quite good policies on environmental issues. And my constituency is such a Tory safe seat, my vote will have no impact on the outcome. (More on this later, if you’re in the same position). So I spent some time working through the ‘Vote for Policies‘ tool, covering all the issues I was remotely interested in. It’s more time-consuming than other similar tools I’ve tried, but I’ve found it the most helpful. If you’re not sure who you should vote for, give it go – it’s worth investing a bit of your time today to make sure you make the right decision.

If you’re considering voting for the Conservatives…

Please remember that, by voting for the Conservatives you are giving them permission to:

  • make fracking easier, including taking power to decide on whether fracking should be allowed away from local councils, and allowing exploratory and monitoring drilling to take place without the need to get planning permission.
  • try to bring back fox hunting
  • weaken environmental protection laws once we leave the EU (unlike Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Greens, the Tories do not make any commitments about keeping or enhancing the current levels of protection)

They make a few, vague but seemingly ambitious environmental claims (on climate change, air pollution and the environment in general), but consistently provide no details on how they will achieve them. This undermines their credibility, and is in keeping with the way they’ve run this whole campaign – refusing to answer questions on what they will do or how, and treating the voters as idiots who’ll happily write them a blank cheque. Soundbites are not going to reduce air pollution-related deaths or bring down our carbon emissions.

If you’re considering voting for UKIP…

If you think that there’s a chance that 97% of climate scientists might be right about climate change, please do not vote for UKIP. Climate change is too big an issue to pretend it isn’t happening, and we don’t need to do anything about it. Their policies on this issue would make the problem worse. We cannot afford that.

Vote tactically to keep the Tories out

As well as thinking about whose policies you like best, if your constituency is not a safe seat, please think about tactical voting. I truly believe that five more years of a Conservative majority government will be very bad news for the environment (and our health service, schools etc. etc…)

Is it worth voting if you’re in a safe seat?

Where I live is one of the safest Tory seats in the country. How I vote will make no difference to who ends up as my MP. So does it matter if I don’t vote? I believe it does. I can vote with my heart for the party I believe has the best policies – I don’t need to compromise to keep the worse option (the Tories or UKIP) out. But what does that achieve? When people look at the total number of votes each party received nationally, they will see my vote, and know that I support those policies and that vision for the UK. Opposition parties get “Short money” from the public purse, based on how many votes they receive. So by voting for my preferred party, I am also increasing the amount they receive (by a tiny amount) to support their work.

Tomorrow I’ll be voting for hope. Please join me.

Voting for hope

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Election Focus 2017: protecting our seas

For today’s Election Focus, I am looking at what the parties say about how they will protect our seas. I have split this into several headings: protected areas around our shores; international marine protection; plans to tackle plastic pollution; and fishing.

Click on the image to see it full size.

How the parties say they will protect our seas
How the parties say they will protect our seas

My reflections

  • The Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems are all a bit vague on UK marine protected areas. How much (more)  will they protect? What does that protection include? The Greens give a bit more detail.
  • Only the Tories talk about marine protection around British Overseas Territories, and their plans sound ambitious. I am not sure if they are referring to the marine protection zone already announced, or if this is additional.
  • Labour, the Greens, UKIP and Plaid Cymru all talk of introducing (or investigating) a plastic bottle deposit scheme to reduce waste. The Green Party seems to be the most ambitious in this area.
  • With Brexit, future fishing policy is a big topic, and now is a good opportunity to improve management of our fish stocks. The Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems all mention sustainability in their plans. UKIP have a lot to say on fisheries, but it’s all about taking back control, with no mention of sustainability.
  • Plaid Cymru and the SNP are both very quiet about protecting our seas.

Election Focus 2017: air pollution

Air pollution is a very important issue,  and we’ve been letting our politicians off the hook on it for too long. When I studied for my MSc in Public Health I learnt about the health effects of air pollution, and was amazed more people aren’t up in arms about it.

It’s estimated to contribute to 40,000 deaths each year in the UK. It makes children ill, and life unpleasant for those of us who work in cities. And it affects the poorest in society the worst – those who can’t afford to live further from major roads.

As a country, we’re really not doing well on this issue. The EU sets legally binding limits on air pollution, which we repeatedly exceed. The government were taken to court in 2015 for failing to do enough, and they lost. Last year a cross party committee of MPs criticised the government’s revised plan and called air pollution a public health emergency.

Given this, you’d hope all the political parties would have robust plans to deal with this problem in their manifesto. Let’s see what they have to say.

I have split this into several headings: legislation, diesel vehicles  (a major source of pollution), other related transport policies, and other measures.

Click on the image to see it full size.

What the parties have to say on tackling air pollution
What the parties have to say on tackling air pollution

My reflections

  • I am not sure if the sentence from the Tory manifesto about planting trees is how they plan to tackle air pollution, or an unrelated point. It’s all in the same paragraph, along with promises to reduce litter and fill in potholes. It’s certainly not a robust response to a public health emergency.
  • Many of the other manifestos spend quite a bit of time criticising the government’s record on air pollution. It’s an open goal and well deserved. But successive governments have failed to get a handle on it (including the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition, and Labour before them).
  • There’s not a single mention of diesel in the Tory manifesto, despite it being a big contributor to the problem.
  • I think the Lib Dem manifesto is the most convincing on this issue.
  • UKIP and SNP give no indication of wanting to reduce air pollution, and UKIP’s policies may well make the problem worse.
  • On a side issue, while searching for ‘air’ in the UKIP manifesto, I came across six mentions of Tony Blair. Given how long he’s been out of power, this seems a bit weird to me.

Election focus: protecting nature

For my second election focus, I’ve chosen the issue of protecting nature. Looking through the manifestos was a lot quicker for this topic than climate change, as the parties had a lot less to say. I’ve grouped what they have to say into the following topics:

  • wildlife legislation
  • protected areas (NB. I’ll do a separate post on marine conservation areas, so haven’t included that here)
  • international wildlife protection
  • fox hunting
  • the badger cull
  • neonicotinoids
  • woodland
  • other wildlife issues

Remember, this is just based on what they say in their manifestos (some of which had lots more detail than others) – I’ve kept my own thoughts out of the table. Click on the image to see it at full size.

What the parties have to say on wildlife legislation, protected areas, international wildlife protection and fox hunting
What the parties have to say on wildlife legislation, protected areas, international wildlife protection and fox hunting
What the parties have to say on the badger cull, neonicotinoids, woodland, and other wildlife issues
What the parties have to say on the badger cull, neonicotinoids, woodland, and other wildlife issues

My reflections

  • The Lib Dems had the most to say on these issues, and generally it looked pretty good to me. I particularly like their promise to set legally binding natural capital targets.  I’m disappointed they didn’t come out and say they would keep the fox hunting ban. Their phrasing on the issue of bovine TB is obviously carefully selected not to upset anyone, but I find it’s lack of a direct statement on where they stand on the badger cull unsettling. The badger cull isn’t  effective, humane and evidence-based, but the current government is fond of saying it is.
  • I was surprised how many of the parties had things to say on woodland – they obviously think there are votes in protecting trees rather than bees or badgers. The Tory promise to “continue  to ensure that public forests and woodland are kept in trust for the nation” made me laugh, given their previous (failed) attempt to sell off publically owned forests. They must think voters have very short memories.
  • Once again the Tories make bold claims (“We pledge to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it”) withour providing any information on how they will achieve it. But they say they will produce a 25 Year Environment Plan. We’ll just have to imagine what might be in that plan.
  • The Greens have surprisingly little to say on this topic – maybe they feel it goes without saying.
  • UKIP don’t have a huge amount to say on this topic, but what they do say doesn’t look too bad.
  • SNP and Plaid Cymru don’t have a huge amount to say on this topic either.

Election focus 2017: climate change and energy policy

Thanks to Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election, three years ahead of schedule, I have to leave the lovely world of hedgehogs, dormice and baby birds to delve into the murky world of politics. Over the next week, I’ll try to summarise where the major UK parties stand on various environmental issues, based on their published manifestos.

I’m starting this series with the biggest challenge facing our generation: climate change. Where we mark our X on the ballot paper next week will have big implications not just for the next five years, but for much longer. And there’s a real difference between the parties on this issue as well.

Climate change is a huge issue, and overlaps with many other areas of policy. I’ve split up each party’s position into a few headings, to make it easier to follow:

  1. Targets & commitments
  2. Legislation
  3. Power generation
  4. Britain’s place in the world response to climate change
  5. Homes
  6. Mitigation
  7. Transport
  8. Science & industry

NB. I’m not going to report on all of their policies related to homes / transport etc – just those they link to carbon emissions or climate change.

The manifestos of the parties varied greatly in length, meaning some give much more detail than others. I didn’t ask them for further information, or search their websites. Having said that, the longer manifestos didn’t always mean more information about how they were going to achieve their stated goals.

The following tables are, I hope, an accurate reflection of what the parties say in their manifesto.  Of course, we all know that manifesto promises don’t always materialise, but, without a crystal ball, the best we can judge parties on is their prior actions and what they say they will do in the future. Click on the tables to see them full size.

Where the parties stand on climate change targets and commitments, legislation, and power generation
Where the parties stand on climate change targets and commitments, legislation, and power generation
Where the parties stand on Britain's role in the world response to climate change, and homes
Where the parties stand on Britain’s role in the world response to climate change, and homes
Where the parties stand on climate change mitigation, transport and science and industry

 

My verdict

I’ve tried to be fairly neutral in my reporting of what the parties say, and you can draw your own conclusions. But since it’s my blog, I thought I’d add a few of my reflections, which you can ignore if you want to.

  • The Tories provide very little detail about what they will actually do to combat climate change. They don’t spell out what their power generation mix will be, but their support for shale gas shows that they just haven’t got the idea that fossil fuels are not the way forward. They pay lip service to our carbon reduction obligations, but provide no info on how they will meet them. They even try to claim credit for the Climate Change Act that was introduced by the Labour government in 2008.
  • Some of the parties refer to climate in change in many different sections of their manifesto, showing that they get that this issue is not just about power supplies, but will reflect many aspects of our life.
  • Some of the parties (Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, SNP) present a clear vision of how they see Britain playing a role internationally,  – I found this quite inspiring.
  • Some of the parties (Labour, Lib Dems, SNP) presented the climate change challenge as an opportunity to develop new technology, industries, exports and jobs in the UK.
  • A vote for UKIP is a vote for climate catastrophe.
  • The Green Party manifesto was about a quarter of the length of some of the others, so inevitably has less detail. I’m not sure how the Tories managed to write 88 pages while saying so little about what they will actually do. Labour and the Lib Dems both have quite long, detailed manifestos.

Looking back at 2016

I’m looking forward to shaking the dust of 2016 from my sandals. But it hasn’t all been bad. Here are my highlights and lowlights from the year.

Highlights

I find January pretty tough – I’m not a fan of cold, and the lack of light gets me down. So a fun day out at the British Wildlife Centre with my fellow members of Surrey Dormouse Group was a welcome relief.

Fluffed-up bluetit roosting in our camera nest box
Fluffed-up bluetit roosting in our camera nest box

I love spring, and seeing the bluetits start to build a nest in my camera nest box meant the return home each day was exciting – what’s happened today?!

My Wild Garden 2016 challenge kept me busy over the year, as each month I tried to make my garden better for wildlife. For the first time this year I fed live mealworms to the birds – it was great seeing how well this went down with them, and something I’ll do again in 2017. We also installed an insect house, and it was great watching the bees move in. Perhaps my favourite Wild Garden activity of the year was creating the Bog Garden – lots of digging involved, but worth it. I’m looking forward to seeing how it does this year, now the plants have had a chance to bed in and grow.

Bee on loosestrife in the bog garden

Bee on loosestrife in the bog garden

As always, it’s a delight to watch hedgehogs in the garden, and even more exciting (and entertaining) to watch their courtship.

Dr C gave me a great new toy – a macro lens, and I’ve enjoyed experimenting with that over the year. The Macrophotography course I did with Adrian Davies was particularly helpful. Some of the images I took that day even featured in my 2017 calendar!

Gatekeeper(?) butterfly on bramble flower
Butterfly on bramble flower

It’s been a good year for my dormouse site. In one box check we had 9 dormice (including 7 youngsters crammed into one box!), and we’ve now had dormouse activity in every part of the site, which is great news.

16g dormouse found in May
16g dormouse found in May

And it’s great that the Paris Agreement on Climate Change has now come into force. On a smaller scale, it’s lovely to hear that the beavers on the River Otter are breeding.

Lowlights

Work has been very tough this year (particularly in the first half of the year), so this blog has taken a bit of a back seat for a while. It’s frustrating, as I’ve loads of things I wanted to tell you about, and lots of photos and videos that need editing.

It’s not been a great year for my garden birds – the Big Garden Birdwatch in January, when we saw only one bird. The bluetits that started to build their nest in the camera nest box soon abandoned it. And when I looked at the data over the year from June 2015 to May 2016, it confirmed that we’ve had far fewer birds than normal.

The referendum result was staggering, and, to me, hugely disappointing. It’s still not clear how it will affect many things, including our laws for protecting wildlife and the environment. The whole campaign was a bit of a disaster – even those campaigning for remain failed to make a case on the positive things that EU membership has brought this country, including cleaner rivers, beaches and air, and protection for species like dormice. One thing is clear: we need make sure whatever happens next does not damage this protection.

2016 has seen a lot of beloved public figures die. Among them, perhaps the most famous tiger in the world: Machli, the lady of the lake. I was lucky enough to see her in the wild, back in 2006. She has had a long life for a tiger, and brought up many youngsters that will continue her legacy. But it’s still sad to think she is no longer ruling the temples and lakes of Ranthambore.

Bengal tiger
Machli

Let’s hope next year brings peace, reconciliation and restoration between people, and between humans and nature.

A bit of hope in 2016

2016 has been short on good news, and I have been a bit despondent of late. Luckily this little fellow arrived in the post on Friday, to remind me that not everything has been a disaster this year.  I’ve called him (unoriginally)  Justin.

Justin Beaver
Justin Beaver

To recap: a while back beavers were found on the River Otter in Devon – the first wild beavers in England for centuries. At first the government wanted to get rid of them, citing the chance they may harbour parasites as the reason. But Devon Wildlife Trust, with the support of local landowners and residents,  persuaded the government to let them monitor the beavers and the effect they have in a trial, before making any final decisions. The beavers were trapped, had health checks, and re-released back on the River Otter.

Tree gnawed by beavers on the River Otter
Tree gnawed by beavers on the River Otter
Local shop displays support for the Devon beavers
Local shop displays support for the Devon beavers

This year Devon Wildlife Trust have been crowd funding to cover the costs of the trial. I donated a while back, and Justin is my reward. The timing of his arrival is good, as I had just found out that two pairs of beavers have successfully bred on the River Otter this year, one having two kits, and the other five.

I’m intrigued to see how the trial goes. Beavers, like humans, shape the landscape they live in. Chopping down trees, creating lakes and changing the course of rivers. I got to see some of the effect they were having when I visited the River Otter. There’s evidence that the changes beavers make may benefit other species, and reduce flooding downstream. But can we learn to live with a species that can make such dramatic changes in a short time?

Fresh growth from beaver-felled tree
Fresh growth from beaver-felled tree

If the trial is successful, it will give me hope that native species we have driven to the brink of extinction may, one day, make a comeback. If Devon Wildlife Trust can’t raise sufficient funds to cover the cost of the trial to 2020, the beavers will have to be rehomed in captivity. I hope it succeeds, and one day I will see a beaver in the wild. If you’d like more info, or to donate to the crowd funding appeal, visit SupportDevonsBeavers.org

And another 10 Christmas present ideas for wildlife lovers

It’s the first of December – advent calendar doors are being opened around the world. Tonight is Gala Night in the town I live in, where all the local shops put on a bit of an extravaganza for late night Christmas shopping and general jollity. If you’re in need of some inspiration for what to get the wildlife lover in your life, you might want to check out my previous posts on the subject:

and some new ideas below.

  1. Window feeder for birds: these trans
    Window bird feeder with mealworms
    Window bird feeder with live mealworms

    parent bird feeders stick to your window, giving good views of whatever’s taking the food. We’ve had one for years, but never really used it until this year, when we started feeding live meal worms during spring. The robins loved it, and we got plenty of good views from the comfort of our own dining room. You can get them from various places, including the RSPB. If the person you’re shopping for isn’t too squeamish, you could even get them some mealworms to go in it. They’re ugly, but just about every bird and mammal that visits our garden loves them.

  2. Wildlife-related clothing: this one’s probably found its way near to the top of the list today as it’s so darned cold. I’ve got my eye on a badger jumper to keep the chill away. PTES have some good designs, as do Sussex Wildlife Trust.

    Close-up of insect house
    Close-up of insect house
  3. Solitary bee house: bees of all sorts have had a tough time over the last few decades, but they’re essential pollinators, so we need to help them out. We were given one last Christmas and have really enjoyed seeing the leafcutter bees make use of it. The charity BugLife have a selection. As do NHBS.
  4. A wildlife calendar: I’m a bit biased, as I sell calendars of my wildlife photography to raise money for charity, but I think calendars make great presents (as long as the person you’re buying for doesn’t have too many already). Mine have pretty much sold out this year, but there’s plenty of thers out there. Wildlife Photographer of the Year always produce great ones. The RSPB has a good choice as do WWF and the Wildlife Trusts calendar looks super.
  5. A good thermos: I’ve come to hot drinks quite late in life – I still don’t like coffee or normal tea. But having a flask of steaming hot drink to warm you up on a cold walk or wildlife survey (or football match) can really make a difference. Some are better than others – look at the details on how long it will keep a drink warm for before you buy.
  6. Membership of a wildlife organisation: I’m a member of many wildlife organisations, from huge international charities to local species-specific groups. There are loads out there, and many offer gift memberships. The benefits of membership will vary between organisations, but might include a regular newsletter or magazine (some of these are really good), access to events for members, and opportunities to get into the wild to help nature. And of course, the membership fee supports the work the organisation does. Some of the bigger ones offer special memberships for children as well – I remember being given membership of the children’s wing of Devon Wildlife Trust when I was growing up, and enjoying the activities that were part of that. If the person you’re buying for is particularly keen on a specific species or type of wildlife, see if there’s a group that matches. (Some that spring to mind that offer gift memberships include the Barn Owl Trust, the Wildlife Trusts, WWF,  the Mammal Society, the National Trust, RSPB)
  7. Dormouse Christmas tree decorations
    Dormouse Christmas tree decorations

    Something beautiful and handmade: One of the members of the dormouse group I’m part of makes fantastic wildlife-related ornaments, jewelry and decorations. I fell in love with her dormouse Christmas tree decorations, but she does wonderful birds, butterflies and other mammals as well.

  8. Books: Books are always on my list. Check out what natural history books your local bookshop has to offer. I quite fancy ‘That Natural Navigator’ by Tristan Gooley, as I like the thought of being able to navigate without a smart phone or GPS.
  9. A sea safari: In Britain nowhere is that far from the sea, which holds some of our most exciting wildlife. A holiday is not complete for me if it doesn’t include a boat trip, and you can’t beat the thrill of seeing dolphins race and play, or the leisurely trawling of a basking shark. Look out for your local operator, but make sure they’re members of the WISE scheme (which means they’re accredited to run their trips in a way that’s safe for wildlife). Dr C still hasn’t booked me on a whale watching cruise of the Bay of Biscay yet (see 2014’s post), but maybe I can persuade him to let me go for a day trip at least.
  10. Wildlife Gardening Information Pack: This was part of my prize for winning the small private garden category of the 2015 Surrey Wildlife Garden Awards, and I’ve found it packed full of ideas – highly recommended!

Elegy for Machli

Yesterday I learnt that the oldest, and most famous wild tiger in the world, has died. It was a sad day for tiger lovers everywhere.

Bengal tiger

Machli is said to be the most photographed tiger in the world, and several excellent documentaries have been made about her. She lived in Ranthambore National Park, in Rajasthan, India.

Ten years ago, I was lucky enough to see her, and her then almost adult cubs, in the flesh. Unperturbed by the tourist jeeps, she was the living embodiment of strength and grace. When she walked you could sense her power – power that helped her feed many cubs over the years, and even kill a 14ft long crocodile.

A few years after my visit to Ranthambore, there were a couple of tiger photos by different people in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. Both were of Machli. And you couldn’t ask for a more beautiful subject.

I saw somewhere that half the tigers in Ranthambore, and another tiger reserve in Rajasthan, as descended from Machli. With the world’s tiger population still precarious, we should be celebrate her success at raising so many cubs, and for living for 19 years – the oldest recorded wild tiger (10-15 years being more usual).

Bengal tiger
One of Machli’s cubs, taken in 2006

Her public profile (she has a facebook page as well as a starring role in documentaries and photographs) has also helped raise awareness of tigers, and has brought in significant amounts of money (through tourism) to Rajasthan. Tiger tourism income is vital for making sure wild tigers are protected.

While lions are meant to be the king of beasts, having seen both in the wild, I think tigers edge it, and Machli was the queen of tigers. Let’s hope she’s endowed her offspring with the same qualities that allowed her to survive and breed so successfully.

Responding to the referendum result

Last Friday was a dark day for me, finding out the result of the referendum and trying to process the implications of that vote. I was shocked at the result – I found it hard to believe that so many people were ready to take such a big gamble. I was angry with the leaders of the Leave campaign who had deliberately and repeatedly mislead people on issues such as the cost of the EU contribution, and how that imaginary money will be spent post-Brexit. I was also angry with my fellow citizens, for falling for those lies. I was saddened and scared by what it might mean for things I value: environmental protection; workers rights among others. I was ashamed of how it must seem to my European colleagues and neighbours.

I work in London, and live in the Mole Valley, both areas where the majority of people voted to remain. Every colleague and neighbour I have spoken to about it has, like me, been saddened by result. Some have talked of their fears about what it will mean for them financially, or their work. Some have talked about leaving the country.

Things haven’t got better over the last few days. I have seen chilling reports of xenophobia surfacing. The Labour Party seems intent on self-destruction, while the candidates for next Tory leader are not reassuring. We seem no clearer on what will happen than we were on Friday. What model of Brexit will we go for? Will the United Kingdom survive Brexit? I’m deeply concerned about the direction this country is heading.

Grieving over the result is natural. But as I have worked my way through all these emotions (I’m not through them yet – they’re all still mixed up inside me), I have become convinced that’s not enough. That’s easily said, but what can or should I do? I don’t have the full answer yet, and it may take a while to work out.

Should I stay or should I go?

Leaving the country for somewhere new and more attuned to my values is tempting. I’ve considered sounding out colleagues in Africa or Canada. But I love this country (or at least bits of it) – its hills and woods and coast. I love its wildlife. Leaving would feel like washing my hands of it. A selfish act.

Staying to fight?

If I am to stay, I have to try to protect the things I love. It’s not going to be good enough to bury my head in the sand. On Friday, for the first time in my life, I joined a political party. Until now I have avoided party politics. No party completely represented my views. It seemed an ugly game. But now is the time to engage more with politics, as so much will need to be decided over the next few years. It’s no time to take a step back. Signing online petitions isn’t enough. I don’t know what will be enough, but joining a political party is a start.

Praying for peace and love

That sounds fluffy and hippyish. But it’s not. This country feels divided, with old hatreds bubbling to the surface. Lots of people are hurting, scared or angry.  There doesn’t seem to be a leader coming forward who can bring unity. I am a Christian, and I believe we need God’s grace in this situation. I will redouble my prayers for this country. And I will try to be loving in all my interactions with others.

 

I don’t have the answer. I don’t have a neat way to deal with the situation we’re in. I’m scared by what the future might hold. But I think this plan is enough for now, until it’s clearer what more is needed.