A few weeks ago I bought some fuel, after queuing for 30 minutes, and found myself next to an older lady in the queue waiting to pay. She commented on how ridiculous it was that there were fuel shortages, that she could not get all of the food she wanted in the garage shop and that ‘she deserved better’.
I mentioned that Brexit was likely the issue behind a lot of this and she said ‘oh, you are one of those remoaners are you?’ in a somewhat condescending tone. I remained polite and we had a quick discussion which ended when she said ‘I just want everything to go back to how it was when I was a child’.
That last comment only came back to me a couple of days ago when COP26 entered my head and as silly a remark as it is, it is possibly the only solution to the climate situation we find ourselves in.
As some of the most distrustful people among us gather to decide our futures while those who care only get to shout from the sidelines, I am left wondering if anyone actually realises what needs to happen.
We have built a culture in the west where we believe that we need stuff. Think about it. I was born in 1970 and I am guessing that in my childhood the average adult owned a house, paid a lot for clothes and food, and maybe bought a car. Treats and presents would be rare and in general people would fix their products when they broke and use them for much longer.
Even if we ignore the planned obsolesce built in to many tech products today and the lack of longevity built into white goods, we perceive as households that we need laptops, tablets, smartphones, smartwatches, games consoles, more than one car, dishwashers, electric showers, smart lighting, automatic garage doors, house alarms, tumble dryers, multiple clothing choices for every possible occasion and so on, and in many of the cases above it would be one per individual in the household.
This is a huge shift and in a time where household incomes could not rise to match such an increase in our perceived necessities, we have chosen to import them from abroad. We have reached a point where we need to pay lower prices and to have the goods made in China and India, which are then shipped thousands of miles to us.
We have no other way to consume so many goods at prices we can afford. Then we criticise China and India for polluting the world. We are their market, we are the reason they pollute and yet we blame them.
I note that the vast majority of the rhetoric coming from COP26 concerns reducing waste, reducing emissions and blaming Russia and China for not really turning up. It is exceptionalism of the highest order as we live our destructive and resource hungry lives in the name of progress and then we criticise those who we ask to facilitate this way of life.
There are two choices and I must say that the Brexiteer argument of magically going back in time is obviously not feasible. The most likely option I can see is using the progress we have made to find technical solutions for our problems, but I just don’t see us scaling back on how we live to not make that a losing battle. Our insatiable need to consume more of everything will never be matched by our ability to negate that need because the solution will always play catchup to the damage.
We could look to add a ‘climate levy’ to our products because we do not currently like paying the true cost of the goods we buy. We are happy to pay for the research, the materials and the end products, but not for the climate damage each product causes. That would be a minor solution of some kind, but I fear that we may be too far down the road to fix things.
I suspect that we are too embedded in a culture of progress, money and moving forward to stop running. We have politicians merely saying stuff that sounds right because they know that this will give them a few years breathing space. Politicians do not like spending money and making decisions on events that will happen in the future because that does not buy them the votes they need. They prefer to speak to the here and now, and to look ahead can kill a political career quickly.
Someone like me writing on a blog cannot possibly have the answer and in a world where we cannot get enough people to take a vaccine and wear masks, how the hell are we going to get enough people to change their behaviour for what they perceive to be a future problem?