What lessons can we learn from history to create future low carbon jobs?

(originally published in Clean Slate magazine, Oct 2020)

Just Transition is a principle, a process and a practice.” Just Transition Alliance

The end of an era

John Hawkes, the author’s dad in the early 1980s

In 1982 my Dad walked out of the gates of Gloucester Iron and Steel Foundry for the last time. He, along with hundreds of other men and their families, were left searching for scarce ‘low skilled’ work to replace their families’ livelihoods. Families fared differently according to aggravating personal circumstances. Mine, because my parents were raising a severely disabled child and were already only just coping with the tiredness and stress, were hit hard. My Dad suffered a severe stroke in his mid forties and couldn’t work properly again. The poverty caused during that time is still affecting my family two generations later, in complex ways. …

The other day I snorted when I came across a job advert on one of the NGO/campaigner sites that land in my inbox. It said (and I’m paraphrasing):

‘Exceptional (my bold) individual wanted for a fast paced, dynamic team. Self starter, multi-tasker, must be able to juggle several deadlines at once [insert moderate salary here].’

Who would describe themselves as ‘exceptional?’ If someone told me they were ‘exceptional’ I would consider it a huge red flag. What kind of organisation would even encourage this description of workers?

Cue a conversation with a friend about how awful a lot of NGO and campaigning organisations’ job adverts are, and the subtle pressure this language puts upon workers. This seems especially true when I compare it to my previous work in health and social care. That was stressful in other ways, but the organisations didn’t tend to deliberately invent the stress. In the more working class jobs that I had before joining the NGO landscape, the stress came from the actual work: calling an ambulance for a mental health service user; keeping pace on a window frame production line; a distressed person with a learning disability needing a bath. …

Originally published in Clean Slate magazine: 2019

Two men work on repairing and refilling breached sections of a flood defence” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by World Bank Photo Collection, on Flickr

Wildfires, drought, hurricanes, flooding — the impacts of our emissions are impossible to ignore. Tanya Hawkes looks at how plans can be made for an uncertain future.

The climate is changing. The 2018 ‘Special Report on 1.5°C’ from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that we are being forced to adapt to a certain level of climate breakdown. We can limit greenhouse gas emissions but we cannot mitigate their effects entirely.

Over the coming decades, we will increasingly be forced to adapt to levels of climate change which will be uneven, regionally unique and non-linear. National and regional adaptation plans will need to deal with a high degree of uncertainty and strengthen long-term scenario planning skills and international cooperation. …

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Unless you enjoy testing your mental health to the limits of its endurance, I recommend reading The Road in bright, hopeful daylight, with smells of home cooking floating to your nostrils.

What you shouldn’t do is it read The Road alone, at night, after a break up or whilst staying in a lonely cottage, where the food is running low. Where there’s no Spar and the only humans you’ve seen stand at a distance from you, eyeing you up hungrily. And not in a sexual way.

Every decade gets the dystopian fiction it deserves and The Road is our penance. …

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

Eating properly in the Great Gatsby is difficult. On the one hand there’s the vertigo from all the social climbing, and on the other hand the anxiety of waiting five years for the love of your life to notice you. It plays havoc with your appetite.

I can empathise with the Gatsby characters. I once went out for whole day and night on an empty stomach. I drank champagne cocktails, in a mock castle, wearing a silky £600 dress with pearls in my hair. But it was a wedding, so if was forgivable. Now imagine that kind of behaviour every day. …

(Content warning: suicide)

Kitty Little, far right, aged 17, with Julia as a baby

It took me thirteen years, after her death, to gather the courage to read my mum’s diaries. I read them in fragments, over the course of a year.

She took her own life, and obviously her death was tragic and heartbreaking, full of regrets and guilt. I assumed her diaries might be difficult to read and filled with tragedy, but they aren’t. …

First published at Dog International June 25, 2018

Invisible people, invisible dogs

‘Dogs should not dream. They should never dream. The hand of a man passing me on the sidewalk accidentally brushes against my ribs and a memory comes back so fast that I can do nothing…it flattens me.John Berger: King A Street Story.

My partner goes off to Oxford every couple of weeks for work, where he encounters many rough sleepers with dogs. I always call him and ask about them. ‘Did you see the collie?’ ‘Did you take enough change?’ I find myself worrying about them. …

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Would you want your meals cooked by a teenager? We’ve got a teenager. Sometimes the food she makes is nearly edible. Very, very sugary, but edible. The kitchen, afterwards, though, is like a scene from Poltergeist (for those born after 1982, it’s the scene where the whole house ends up covered in green slime). Sometimes teenagers don’t even try to make food into edible meals, like the the other day when I found the table covered in honey and avocado skins, the debris from a never-to-be-used face pack. I digress. The teenagers in the Maze Runner cook. They have to, because it’s a dystopian future, where kids are living in a maze. and some of them run, a lot. There’s no parents in sight, so they all cook and wash up. without complaining: “God, I’m not washing up for the rest of my LIFE. I’m only 12!!!,”

Photo: Nelson García Bedoya

A ragged, thin lurcher arrived at our little town once — a real life ‘stranger comes to town’ story. She made a nervous home for herself on the outskirts, between the sheep fields and the damp woodlands. She edged into town during the day, looking for food. I fed her once with some chicken. I sat very still and threw the food a few yards in front of me. She crept forward and grabbed it, backing off carefully, eyes fixed on my face.

She weaved dangerously in and out of traffic and slid along the streets avoiding eye contact. The local vet hatched a plan to lace some food with tranquilizer and capture her. …

by Tanya Hawkes


Steve’s insomnia forced him out of bed and into St Mary’s far too early. His pupils’ feigned mock surprise when they found him already there, shovelling the allocated ration of wood chips into the boiler.

“Hey Steve, did you forget to go home?” Charlie shouted. Others sniggered. Steve rolled his eyes and got on with the job.

Hannah, arrived, just shifting her clanking rucksack full of god knows what today, and nodded in that way she always did, like they had a shared secret. Sparky and moody, they made him feel normal. He ordered Charlie and co to dig up vegetables for lunch, or else. Hannah hung around him as usual, lazily arranging chairs into two rows in the classroom asking him questions like: Did he know woodlice are the best thing to eat if you’re stranded in the wilderness?’ Did he know how to make a rabbit snare? Was that what she had in her bag? Hannah shrugged. Steve wasn’t sure he should encourage her so he fiddled with the radiator some more and checked the thermometer again. It was creeping up to 16 degrees. They would have heat in the classroom today. …


Tanya Hawkes

Memoir, climate change, politics and dogs! Pub: Lumpen Journal, Palgrave, Dog International, Zero Carbon Britain

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