Sunday, 13 June 2010

Our Unsustainable Lives - an exercise in pessimism!

I have become increasingly frustrated by the approach most people take towards the major problems faced by our ‘civilisation’ in this increasingly hazardous modern world. We have an economic crisis which, we are told, is the daddy of them all. We have climate change, about which almost everyone is in denial at least to some degree (in other words, although many people accept it is happening, few understand or consider the true depth of the looming problem). And we have Peak Oil – a phrase which is much more used than understood – which could pose a similar level of threat to our survival as does climate change if it is not addressed.

A significant chunk of the population is in the same position as I am – the real crisis will not be likely to hit me where it hurts in my lifetime. Should I therefore not care? I talk to people all the time who believe that they are off the hook because they believe it won’t affect them personally. I have two replies to them. One is this: Don’t be too damn sure that you won’t live to see climate and fuel related crises – their warning signs are already there! The other is this: Think of our grandchildren (or do you really not care?)

I am increasingly annoyed by the pundits and politicians, who talk about the pros and cons of nuclear power, coal fired power stations, hydrogen fuel cells, bio-diesel, ethanol, whether the carbon footprint of a kiwi fruit in a UK supermarket can be justified, and whether or not to buy a hybrid car.

They are all missing the point, because they are all looking for a politically acceptable way of cutting services, taxing consumption, encouraging recycling by imposing a higher landfill tax, and a host of other bits of tinkering, all without either upsetting the few people who actually vote, or significantly changing anybody’s comfortable lifestyle.

Oh how I wish they would start telling us the truth!

The future of human life on this planet depends upon us learning to reduce drastically our greenhouse gas emissions, maintaining what is left of our ecosystem so that it continues to sequestrate CO2 (which is what has kept our atmosphere human-friendly over the millennia), and accepting that our current level of consumerism is not just self indulgent, it is suicidal, regardless of the source of the energy. The fact is that we as a race are consuming more energy than the sun (the source of all our energy) gives us on a day to day basis; and so we raid the bank (fossil fuel), and look what happens to banks when they lend unsustainably!

Consuming less does not mean just making sure that some phoney organisation has sanctioned our hardwood patio furniture as coming from some mythical sustainable source, it means we don’t buy hardwood furniture! It does not mean hesitating over whether the third TV should have a 21” or a 28” screen – it means not having a third TV. And it doesn’t mean buying runner beans, or worse by far, flowers, out of season from the other side of the world (and yes I do feel sorry for the Kenyans, but they must grow food for themselves, not us!)

We hear the phrase, ‘Think outside the box,’ often enough, usually when related to Frank Field, or Alan Sugar. But we, the ubiquitous middle class (for there is no other class these days) do not, ever, think outside the box.

Many of us, commendably, compost and recycle what we can. But if enough of us took a stand in saying, for instance, ‘I won’t buy this item, because the packaging will have to go to landfill’, the packaging tide might start to turn – but of course not enough of us will, because to find an alternative to the supermarket or Happy Shopper for our meat supply is often just too much trouble.

When I asked my brother about the fuel consumption of his new hybrid car, it turns out that it is higher than my diesel van! That isn’t his fault – Government propaganda has encouraged this illusory ‘green option’ for years.

We really need a leader (and it isn’t going to be any of the current crowd) who will say something like, ‘ I’m here for five years, no more and no less, and this is what we are going to do: Stop all new road construction, stop the purchase of a new Trident, cap all salaries to 10 times the minimum wage, make all public transport free and increase the service, renationalise the railways and buses of course, subsidise local shops through the tax system, cap the speed limit at 50 m.p.h. and enforce it, make people pay for doctor’s appointments but make prescriptions free, tax air fuel, phase out oil-based fertiliser, encourage people to grow food on open spaces such as road verges and roundabouts,’ and I could go on....!’

I can hear middle class voices saying, ‘But that’s just socialism, isn’t it?' Well, I suppose it almost is, although these are only supposed to be examples of ‘thinking outside the box’!

But face it, the capitalist system is precisely what fetched us up in this situation in the first place.

Economies can’t just go on growing – it isn’t possible.

I am the last person to recommend isolationism as a solution – I would not suggest we stop all trade with other countries, but anyone should be able to see the funny side of sending recycled plastic to China to be turned into cheap plastic toys, to be sent straight back – it’s madness! We should tax cheap plastic imports to the limit, and allow people in this country the opportunity to make cheap plastic toys from recycled plastic! Thus, more jobs are created – and if the cheap plastic toys don’t sell because they are too expensive, then we could find another use for the recycled plastic – which, because of Peak Oil, will soon become a resource in considerable demand!

Many of us are fond of suggesting that the ‘green’ movement is a bottom-up movement, and at the moment it is. But we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that that is enough to solve our problems: that is what we elect politicians to do.

Unfortunately, none of our politicians (except, dare I say, Caroline Lucas) have the vision to understand what is happening to our world.

So we should all find our own way to explain it to them!

Friday, 11 June 2010

Compulsory Water Metering

A letter was published in our local paper, the West Briton, this week, expressing horror at the thought of compulsory water metering. This was my reply!

"I was really interested to read the letter from Miss Trewin regarding water metering, particularly the paragraph in which she states that ‘Any kind of compulsory action undermines democracy and is an invasion of the peoples’ democratic rights’. After all, the basis of democracy is the law and its creation and enforcement!

To follow that line of thought through to its logical conclusion, I guess Miss Trewin resents the fact that electricity and gas supplies also have to be metered! Perhaps we should instead be subjected to an inflated standing electricity or gas charge based on house size and location as is the case with unmetered water! The infrastructure associated with water supply is significant, and expensive to maintain (as with electricity and gas), and I cannot think of a reason to treat water as a special case!

More seriously, I am a supporter of Green policies and principles, specifically the principle of conserving our resources where possible. Having used an unmetered supply of water for many years, I came to realise that a more fair and honest approach would be to have a meter installed, so that I paid for what I used. The value from my point of view would be that I would be able to monitor my own water use, and avoid wasting this precious resource. As it turned out, the meter has had the effect of reducing my water bill by more than 50%.

Miss Trewin naively believes that ‘it is logical people will only use the amount of water needed...’ – I have to say that her faith in the human race’s ability to behave in a logical way is different from mine! The fact is that if volume of water used is reflected in the water bill, people will be more careful with its use, as they are with electricity. Additionally, it would enable anyone to judge whether they are being charged fairly or not.

We in Cornwall have probably the highest water charges in the country, but that is mainly due to the burden of catering for the tourists who visit, whether through beach cleaning or sewage treatment. Whether that is fair or not is a question for politicians, and I don’t think it is at the top of their current ‘to-do’ list!

In this economically challenged world, I take the view that we should all pay a fair rate for all our services, and compulsory water metering would allow us to do that. Miss Trewin wonders who would benefit – I would suggest that in the end, the whole population would.