Sunday, November 29, 2009

We're all going to hell in a shopping cart

I get very annoyed by the 10:10 campaign. I've never commuted. Or bought (or for that matter worn) disposable nappies. We fitted eco lightbulbs, turned down our thermostats and got into economy gastronomy *years* ago. The council delivered us a little bin for waste food collection this week, and I'm struggling to find anything to put in it (Current contents: some dried out feta, a bit of fish skin and some baklava that wasn't very nice). We went exactly nowhere on holiday this year, though to be fair that had more to do with having to get the roof fixed than with being green. And we had a lovely time staycationing.

So yeah, I could find another 10%, but not without buying a new fridge, a new boiler, or new windows. Only the first of these lies within my means, and there's nothing wrong with the fridge apart from it being 30 years old and full of CFCs that are better off inside it than out in the world.

And 10% of what? Our neighbours are posh students, whose parents are paying their utility bills and who live off ready meals, Dominos pizza and alcopops. You never see anything on their washing lines. You never see anything in their recycling bins. They drive or get cabs everywhere. They couldn't give a shit.

Go a bit further down the road, where incomes are lower and houses are smaller, and it's an orgy of consumption. Primark, B&Q, Lidl, Matalan et al are still piling it high and selling it cheap. And *they're* buying it even cheaper from the world's newly industrialised countries, who will cut every corner, emit every gas and fell every tree necessary to keep the profit margin up.

And there's my *real* problem with 10:10 - at the end of the day, 10% isn't going to make any difference. Sure, there's the low-impact hardcore eco-vegans out there, and more power to them, but they're outside the system. The system isn't going to destroy itself anytime soon, and if it did, what would we replace it with?

This first became clear to me when I watched The Corporation back in 2003. I was mad with big business in all sorts of ways and always have been, but I hadn't fully realised that the basic building block of the modern capitalist economy is pretty much legally obliged to take the course of action that will generate the most money for its shareholders. So you can cycle to work as much as you like, but if your bikes is made in China and you work for the Man, it's all just so much pissing in the wind.

And if your bike is hand-made by artisans in the Black Country, your tyres are fairly traded rubber and you work in an organic swede field, it's still pissing in the wind, but at least you have the moral high ground. Counts for something, high ground, these days.

This is the sort of grumpy realeconomik dialogue that I have with myself a lot of the time. I still cut up my old T-shirts for rags, but only because I was brought up right, not because I think it will save the world. So I wasn't the most welcoming when a bouncy young woman came round the office on Friday to ask us all if we were going to The Wave. No, I said. Why not? she asked.

I wanted to say... because we chose to consume rather than to conserve hundreds of years ago, and painting ourselves blue now won't make any fucking difference. I wanted to point her at this excellent article by Paul Kingsnorth, who says "democracies predicated on giving their consumer citizens what they want are unable to tell them what they cannot have". I wanted to tell her that I was luckier than her, because I was born in the 1970s. Because I am part of the generation who got to ride the last wave, who saw coral without knowing it was dying, who escaped obesity, who knew off-grid freedom, who only had one coat at a time, and who will die, in all likelihood, both after Margaret Thatcher and before all the fish.

But I didn't. I said that I was going to Lancashire because it was my dad's birthday, and there wasn't a train I could get on the Sunday so I had to go on Saturday. Almost as true, but not nearly as honest. But I couldn't bring myself, as my friend L would say, to trample on her flower.

I'm prepared to be proved wrong on this. We may all wake up the day after Copenhagen to realise that the best things in life are, after all, free. But I'm not holding my breath.




Blogger Andy said...

I hear you. It's the Elephant in the Room that we all ignore, because facing the reality of the futility of changing our own personal contributions is just too depressing. Try having two kids and then thinking about the legacy you're going to be leaving them!

I have so many examples of the futility just from the last few weeks (CPZ protesters, north yorkshire farmers, etc...).

One Does What One Can - it gives me moral high ground. It slightly absolves myself of my own contribution to our destruction.

We must meet to drown our sorrows before Christmas (in a locally-run pub brewing local beer and we can take our own pint glasses)

3:08 pm  
Blogger tomato said...

I was recently tutted for accepting a plastic carrier bag in which to place some books I'd just bought. I got the tut, the disappointed head shake, and a schoolmaster statment of chiding. Not about the bleached tree pulp in the books, but about the bag (of course).

The tutter must therefore, I was left to assume, purchase purpose-built one-use-only bin liners rather than re-use thinner random carrier and wrapping bags as I do.......but we never got to that point in the conversation.

I just gritted my teeth as the two car two home occupying householder looked down at me for 'not being environmentally aware'.

I am deeply suspicious of how some acts of 'environmental consciousness' (hello, hybrid cars) are given far more status than others...scrape off the unbleached ethically traded cotton fibers from the surface of so many of these acts and they are revealed as yet another lifestyle accessory to be donned aboard the good ship capitalism.

My sense is as yours....when the plan of action basically involves giving up as little as possible in terms of actual consumption, and shopping our way out of the disaster zone, we are pretty much f*cked.

7:10 pm  
Blogger Jo said...

Andy - yes, right up there on my (substantial) list of reasons for not having children is the 'don't think I could bear to inflict the future on someone' one. Not forgetting the 'we're overpopulated already' one, though if you take that one to extremes it all gets a bit Logan's Run. Definitely up for a pint soon, and most of my pint glasses were sourced via party detritus on Divinity Road so have exemplary green credentials...

Tomato: hell yeah. I had a moment in the Co-op this evening when the scantily toothed man in front of me, who was buying eight cans of Stella and a cut-price Toblerone, turned down the bag he was offered and pulled one out of the pocket of his army surplus parka. It reminded me that there always more to the picture than meets the eye.

11:15 pm  

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