Chapter 10 – Inappropriate Conversation for a Pub

‘I hear you think that the British Empire has yet to come to an end, but you say it will do soon?’
Rhan was taken aback by this question and it showed. She looked at George who, standing next to her, lowered his pint from his lips to exclaim.
‘Nothing to do with me! I’m just surprised that Gareth, a second-year historian, needs to seek advice from a first-year engineer on historical philosophy.’
The group were mostly rugby players and second-years, enjoying the glowing timber logs in a brazier within a little courtyard of the Turf Tavern. It was midweek and quiet; the pub was tucked away down twisting alleyways off minor streets, yet close to the city centre. Danny – now the team’s regular hooker – was there along with George, who only had an occasional position in the first team. Rhan’s role in the group was more obscure.
Once the laughter and ribbing had subsided, it became clear that some of the conversations from Tom and Danny’s room several weeks earlier had been relayed.
‘It’s just I have an essay on that subject, see.’ Gareth’s Welsh accent became more pronounced after a pint or so.
‘What I said,’ Rhan explained, ‘was that from my point view it has never ended. The British Empire was not just a geographical hegemony, it was based on concepts of banking, trade and technology, and it was spread around the world at the barrel of a gunboat.’ Rhan expanded again on her theme. ‘It developed and became more invigorated, even if it outgrew Britain. Few in the world now dare question current forms of capitalism.’
‘Ah but can you call it a British Empire if it is not controlled by Britain?’ Simon, the jovial third-year ex-captain asked. ‘You’re just changing the definition.’
‘Yes, but not by much,’ Gareth rejoined. ‘But you better not get me into trouble at my next tutorial, Rhan!’
‘Anyway, which of you capitalist pigs hasn’t bought a round?’ said Danny. ‘I got the last one.’
As they stood warming themselves at the brazier in a much smaller group, Rhan took the opportunity for some easy research. ‘Simon, you are reading Geography, yes? Can you tell me something about climate change?’
‘Well there may be something in it,’ he replied soberly. ‘But there are other causes that would invalidate the assumption that greenhouse gases directly control temperatures.’
‘Oh, really?’ Rhan persisted.
‘Well the biggest one is the natural cycle of the sun,’ Simon explained, clearly thinking on his feet. ‘Heating depends on the tilt, energy emitted by the sun, the inclination of earth’s orbit, its position in the solar system…well, there are many variables and these probably caused the ice ages and perhaps current warming.’
‘Have these effects never been calculated for our current position and recent warming?’ Rhan cast Danny a look that prevented him mentioning their previous discussion several weeks earlier.
‘Well possibly.’ Simon was more wary now. ‘But we don’t know everything that can cause major shifts in climate. In geological timescales, previous eras have warmed and we don’t know why, so it may be more complicated than we think. It could be influenced by carbon dioxide levels, but then the measurements are imprecise so extra greenhouse gases could simply follow the warming and the expansion of grass and trees when ice retreats, rather than cause the warming, if you catch my drift. Anyway, I’ll just go and help with the scrummage at the bar.’
‘Sounds like horse shite!’ Danny muttered. ‘Least I owned up to ignorance. But I think yo’rl find climate change isn’t a subject for the pub, Rhan.’
‘Maybe, but I need to know more,’ she said, shaking her head thoughtfully. ‘Something very strange is happening.’