I’m still working on a post which tries to explore some of the political science of the recent English riots, but in the meantime I’m struck by the wave of commentary on the riots which positions them as an inter-generational issue. I touched on this in my last post, but only briefly.
And perhaps it’s not surprising that it has taken a little longer to emerge. The older generation, who are generally more blind to this issue (what? us? inter-generational beneficiaries?) include the politicians and media commentators who have more privileged access to the media and were therefore able to construct their preferred narratives more quickly.
Politicians are reluctant to confront the economic and environmental costs of transport. The task: to reduce the demand for mobility.
I probably don’t write about transport as much as I ought to, and that was brought home to me at an event on The Future of Transport in Leuven in Belgium, at which I was also a speaker. There’s a case for regarding transport as a climate emergency, given that it accounts for about a quarter of Europe’s carbon emissions, and that in the last decade (unlike pretty much every other sector) emissions from transport have continued to grow sharply. And before I continue, even if you’re a climate sceptic, this represents a significant policy issue: the transport sector (at least, the non-human powered transport sector) is 97% dependent on fossil fuels. As these become scarcer, more expensive, and more prone to interruption, we will have an incipient social and economic problem which is serious enough to prod policy makers.
The photographer Chris Jordan is the Breughel of waste, bringing us face to face with parts of our civilisation we’d prefer to look away from. I blogged about his work a couple of years ago – which he builds up, digitally, image by image, to try to represent visually the sheer weight of rubbish from our consumer culture. More than 400,000 mobile phones are ‘retired’ in the US every day. 2.4 million pieces of plastic enter the ocean every day. (‘Everything’s gonna be plastic‘ sang Woody Guthrie, 60 years ago). Each picture attempts to be a digital representation of a particular element of consumerism. Since I wrote the earlier post, the waste has got worse, and he’s published a book, Running The Numbers.
It is the first officially-designated World Oceans Day on Monday, and to mark the occasion there are – for one day only – screenings across the UK of the documentary The End of the Line, based on Charles Clover’s book. Book and film both tell the story of how over-fishing is reducing, inexorably, the ocean’s fish stocks – the news release for the film says that if we don’t change our consumption patterns we won’t be eating ocean-caught fish by 2048.
There’s another kerfuffle about getting rid of plastic bags, since one of the government’s waste advisers has suggested that government plans to ban plastic bags, or charge for them, are a diversion from more pressing environmental issues. While it is true that plastic bags represent only a small amount of waste, or of oil use, the reason reducing their use has become important is because they are symbolic of a different issue – respect for other species.
I blogged earlier this year on the toy industry and Chinese production, and on the idea of ‘toxic consumption‘ – that the things we buy are bad for our health. Christmas seems a good time to come back to it, and Core 77 (thanks) points me in the direction of a long article by Jonathan Dee in the New York Times on Mattel and its attempts to manage reputation in low cost global markets.
What happens if the pervasive chemicals in the everyday products we buy and use are the reason that we generally feel below par so much of the time? It could cause a backlash by consumers who increasingly regard their well-being as important to them. The thought comes both because of the wave of stories about product recalls from Chinese factories, and the recent House of Lords Select Committee report which said that allergies were reaching “epidemic proportions” – without their experts seeming to have much consensus as to why.
Remiss of me not to mention that 6th October – last Saturday – was the day when the planet went into ecological debt this year; or in other words that we’re now using up resources which the earth isn’t able to replace. The new economics foundation (nef) marked the date with a report (free, but registration required).