Saturday, December 05, 2009

Clocks Ticking

There are more clocks ticking at the moment than usual, even at this time of the year. Here goes the year, we say, or here goes the decade. With the UN Climate Change summit in Copenhagen next week, a much larger clock ticks. I've written elsewhere about Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" being the most talked about book of recent years,  but with the film about to come out, it will inevitably reach a wider audience. The catastrophe in that book is unnamed, Biblical in its intensity.I'd be an unusual green activist, I guess, in that I've always hated much about the eco movement, the hypocrisy on the one hand, (never a bad word said about the tobacco companies for instance), and the fervosity on the other (ethical abortions, optimum populations, animals are better than people etc.), but just as the early Christians met in secret and were accused of eating babies, perhaps such extremities are inevitable in any new ways of thinking. (And its the hippy generation with their Agas, 4-wheel drives, large houses and recyclable shopping bags who particularly annoy me - showing that the eco movement, over 40 years old, at least, has no excuse for novelty.) Yet, looking around at my life it has its greener tinges - I don't drive or own a house. Truth is I don't really want to do either; my life would be best served by living in a connected village, where I could grow my own food, have a compost heap, walk the (imaginary) dog, write my stuff, use the internet instead of having an office, trains for the longer journeys. So my scepticism about eco-activists is as nothing to my anger at politicians who continue to have such an unjoined up way of thinking. I don't think economic prosperity and green policies are incompatible; I do thinik rapacious capitalism (hello banks), the Apple business model (an iPod is for a year, not for life), cloud computing (all those server farms, all those Google searches, all those avatar lives), and a non-integrated transport system are incompatible.

As a writer I can't so much write about climate change science - leave that to the scientists - or even its effects (leave that to those who are either seeing it first hand, or being affected by it first hand - I want to hear the Bangladeshi poets, not the Ian McEwans on this one), but I can try and be speculative about how we are. My grandparents were farmers and nothing ever got thrown away. When my grandfather died in 1983 we emptied out the shed at the farm (truth is it wasn't a shed, but a vast reclaimed army nissan hut) and found the truth of that nothing being thrown away. My own parents hadn't much spare money, and you'll still find my childhood marbles in a plastic margarine container from about 1976; but not only that, as children we liked the recycled serendipity of things - whether it was following Blue Peter's instructions on making wombles from old toilet roll tubes (probably to be stopped today on health and safety grounds), or saving any spare food for next day's leftovers. I've a flat full of stuff that I've not thrown away, old ring binders, wires and connectors for music, cassette tapes and exercise books.

In other words, and I'm only speaking for Britain here, but our conspicuous consumption is a recent and localised thing - related to class and easy money, but also to lifestyle and how as society we have constructed our lives. The roads will remain gridlocked where that is the option necessary to fit in family life, work life, all the necessaries; the bins will be overflowing where we are just replacing our plastic bags with a recyclable one, and yet have a wrap of packaging around everything we buy (even the Saturday Guardian); our health services will be overstretched as we replace the local economy of the butcher and baker, with "all year round" vegetables and meat, bringing pre-packed food to the sedentary; and as someone who has travelled more with work this year than ever, where we design our political and economic systems to accomodate the magnetic pull of London.

The MPs expenses scandal was all part of this; the banking crisis as well; the sub-prime toxicity; but its little things as well - unimportant things - the Europa league, the mega sales of the latest Dan Brown,  the BBC on location for each and every weather broadcast, BOGOF offers in the supermarket...

...clocks ticking then; and it will be Bangladesh or the Phillipines who first see the hand approaching midnight. Britain has to do what it has so often in recent decades done, and done badly, change quick enough, to stop the rot setting in. Our political hubris is what is carciogenic, and what happens in Copenhagen, whatever we sign up to, will not matter a jot, unless we get the other bits right - a holistic approach to living in the contemporary world.

1 comment:

bbrearle said...

well done!