environment

The 'Whitechapel fatberg' (Image: Thames Water)

Is the Whitechapel fatberg the ultimate symbol of our times?

The fatberg has officially become an emblem of our times. The smelly conglomeration of fat deposits, toilet waste and towelettes that clog the sewers under London is to the 21st century what the night-time activities of the night soil men were to the Victorians.

For a salami slice of the bloated monster found beneath the streets of London could find itself in the Museum of London, alongside Roman artefacts, cockney ephemera and the Olympic cauldron.

No sooner had the slug of off-cuts been exposed than the museum was after a slice of the inaction. The fatberg weighs more than 10 double-decker buses and is more than twice the length of the Wembley football pitch, is made up of wet wipes, nappies and hardened cooking fat, and has clogged up a stretch of Victorian sewer under the busy Whitechapel Road.

Museum director Sharon Ament said the fatberg could be “one of the most extraordinary objects in any museum collection in London” and could provoke questions around modern-day life in big cities.

Watch – hot air balloons rise over London City Airport

She said: “It is important for the Museum of London to display genuine curiosities from past and present London.

“If we are able to acquire the fatberg for our collection I hope it would raise questions about how we live today and also inspire our visitors to consider solutions to the problems of growing metropolises.”

The museum is currently examining the fate of urban life in its City Now, City Future exhibition.

Engineers have started to break down the structure this week using high-powered jet hoses before pulling the waste up into tankers and sending it to a nearby disposal site. Thames Water said the work to remove the fatberg will continue throughout September.

The company has urged customers not to flush offending items and to throw cooking oil in the bin after letting it cool and solidify.

Writer and activist Naomi Klein (Image: Getty)

Between failure and collapse is the best time to act

Events are happening so fast and a US presidency unravelling so quickly that Naomi Klein’s new polemic – much like last night’s news – is in danger of appearing outdated before it has a chance to sink in.

Pity, because No Is Not Enough is more than an extended rant against President Donald Trump and the apotheosis of corporate America’s power-grab.

While the author and activist is excessively preoccupied with the consequences for American of a misogynistic, racist and climate change denier in the White House, she also believes a good crisis should not go to waste.

Her previous book – 2007’s Shock Doctrine: The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism – exposed how politicians and corporations exploited, and even seeded, calamities.

Natalia Price, left, of San Jose, holds an anti-hate sign at a rally against white nationalism on August 19, 2017 in Mountain View, California (Image: Getty Images North America)

Natalia Price, left, of San Jose, holds an anti-hate sign at a rally against white nationalism on August 19, 2017 in Mountain View, California (Image: Getty Images North America)

The purpose was to claim more powers for the state (civil liberties eroded because of terrorism) or claim more money for shareholders (the free-for-all security bonanza in Iraq).

In her new book, she adapts this credo of the elite to shape a template for people power. The world’s troubles – terror, climate, poverty – do require a radical response, but not from them but from us .

The Leap initiative

Klein does more than argue the point. She helped make it real with the Leap initiative in Canada . This saw activist groups, communities, native peoples and the disenfranchised come together to draw up broad principles that would underpin a fair and sustainable society.

The movement deliberately avoided becoming a political party, preferring to inform all levels of Canadian society through grass-roots community action and debate. Among its policy demands were a universal basic income, respect for individual rights, a progressive carbon tax, “town hall” democracy and affordable public transport.

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Ironically, the fact that President Trump exceeded even his own toxic norm with his Charlottesville diatribe does Klein’s campaign no favours. If he is discredited, dismissed and forgotten, there’s a chance that a weary US will move on and rally round a “business as usual” alternative.

Klein argues that in these apocalyptic times “business as usual” is the last thing anyone needs and, in all likelihood, the last thing anyone will have.

Back to the drawing board

Studying how we got to this point of fragmentation, I went back to first principles to see how evolution would have us organise ourselves.

Edward O Wilson’s The Social Conquest Of Earth marvellously illustrates the mercurial power of adaptation. Our supremacy is an oxymoronic combination of improbable luck and inevitability.

Evolution, that great pragmatist, appears to possess an insatiable drive to shape something like us – even though the chances of doing so are infinitesimally small.

And just when we get there, we gain the power and will to destroy everything.

Evolution has much work to do.