We're all going to hell in a shopping cart
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.
Labels: modern life is rubbish