Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is making a surprise visit to Washington today, his first trip abroad since Russia's invasion of Ukraine began in February. For coverage of the trip, which will include meetings with Joe Biden and an address before a joint session of Congress, tune in to Monocle 24.
In his book Starry Messenger, US astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson wrote, “To deny objective truths is to be scientifically illiterate, not to be ideologically principled.” It is a sentence that also sums up the past few years of political discourse in the West. We live in strange times shaped by our need to broadcast our firmly held beliefs into the world and give equal billing to opinions and facts. Certain politicians, commentators, news anchors and anyone with a social-media account have made a virtue of “plain speaking” and “telling it like it is” instead of evidence-based observation.
An absolute belief in the truth of your position is a barrier to constructive conversation. The triumph of ideology over pragmatism in public discourse has left reason in ruins. People who cling to the mast of their own opinion risk not only drowning but also dragging the entire ship of public discourse into the unedifying depths of ignorance.
My book Let’s Talk – How to Have Better Conversations could have been called Let’s Listen and the message is as geopolitical as it is personal. Prioritising conversation can be as easy as moving your phone out of your field of vision the next time you sit down to dinner with a friend. I’m not a Luddite who lives off-grid but I’ve seen the research indicating that this simple act can increase the quality of your conversation. You’re deciding to value the person you’re with more than a notification about a dog in a costume or the latest prime-ministerial resignation.
As many in the UK today contend with poisonous political debate and a lack of clear leadership in government, we need to find consensus around how to have better conversations. My advice? Listen, seek out new ideas and remember: not everyone can be right.
Nihal Arthanayake is a broadcaster and presenter on BBC Radio 5 Live. This essay appears in ‘The Monocle Companion: Fifty Essays for a Brighter Future’, which is out this week.
Today is the darkest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. But in many parts of Ukraine, including major cities such as Kyiv (pictured), darkness has become the norm, with millions facing hours and sometimes days without power as a result of Russia’s attacks on the country’s energy infrastructure. A group of Ukrainian MPs is asking people in the UK and across the world to switch off their electricity for an hour at 20.00 local time tonight in a gesture of solidarity and also to reflect on what it would be like to live without the everyday necessities that we take for granted.
“It’s a symbolic date for a very symbolic initiative to keep Ukraine and Ukrainians in people’s thoughts,” Lesia Vasylenko, its co-organiser and a Ukrainian MP, tells Monocle. The gesture is a reminder that war isn’t just about military objectives and sending weapons but about the hardships that ordinary Ukrainians face too, even during the holiday period. “Christmas is a time of joy, a holiday of light,” says Vasylenko. “But in Ukraine it’s going to be dark and cold.”
Hear the full interview with Vasylenko on today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.
It’s not uncommon for former politicians to be made ambassadors, even if it’s often to get rid of them. It is unusual, however, for former national leaders to take the job. This week, Australia’s prime minister, Anthony Albanese, appointed ex-prime minister Kevin Rudd (pictured) as the country’s next ambassador to the US. Rudd is certainly qualified: he has also served as foreign minister and lived in the US; and, as the CEO of the Asia Society since 2021, he is something of an expert when it comes to China.
His appointment reflects a quirk of Australian politics. The centre-left Labor party of Rudd and Albanese has long been the keenest of the country’s major parties to emphasise relations with the US. In this sense, Rudd’s appointment is a manifestation of a then-heretical 1941 statement by Australia’s Second World War prime minister John Curtin (also Labor). “Australia looks to America,” he said, “free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.”
The world is expected to add as much renewable-energy-generation capacity in the next five years as it did in the past two decades, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the energy watchdog of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. After a year in which the global energy sector has been rocked by the fallout from the Ukraine war, governments and businesses are increasingly looking to sources such as solar and wind for their electricity as they seek to move away from oil and gas.
That means that renewables will overtake coal as the world’s largest source of electricity generation by early 2025. “Renewables were already expanding quickly but the global energy crisis has kicked them into an extraordinary new phase of growth,” says Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “The crisis can be a historic turning point towards a cleaner and more secure energy system.”
Looking over the Czech town of Rokytnice nad Jizerou, nestled in the mountains by the border with Poland, stands a series of newly opened lookouts designed by architecture firm Mjölk. The four modern structures are perched on rocky outcrops along hiking trails on Straz mountain and hark back to the slopes’ various historic uses: fires were once lit here to warn of approaching enemies and later they were home to rest stops for hikers.
“In the Czech Republic everyone is a hiker,” says Tobias Hrabec, senior architect at Mjölk. The lookouts were also conceived to attract more tourists to the area; each of them is positioned to offer a slightly different experience of the landscape. Though material choices were limited by the tricky terrain – many parts had to be carried on foot – all of the structures have a strong, almost arresting character without overwhelming the unspoilt landscape.
Read the full story in Monocle’s ‘Alpino’ newspaper, which is now on sale.
This week on The Stack, we speak with Tom Breihan, Stereogum’s senior editor and columnist, about his new book, The Number Ones – Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal the History of Pop Music. Plus: Sian Wyn Owen, The River Café’s executive chef, on The River Café Look Book: Recipes for Kids of All Ages.
Lisbon-based architect and artist Joana Astolfi takes us on a journey into the Portuguese word “desenrascanço”, meaning to find an improvised solution to a problem. She explains what it says about Portuguese culture and how it is embodied by an unusual structure in Comporta. Read more stories from the country in Portugal: The Monocle Handbook.