All this environmental stuff

I know I’m meant to be worried. Sometimes I do worry. And I’m glad that the news is talking about climate change and pollution again. I do consider it to be a far greater risk to my life than, say, ‘international terrorism’.

But when it comes down to it, I’m not planning to do much to help to deal with climate change, CO2 emissions, etc etc. There are a few reasons that I’ve come to this conclusion and the first is that stupid one I always criticise other people for using: I cannot make any difference so there’s no point bothering.

Now, before you say I’ve lost my mojo, just think. Given that I already conserve energy in a loose, easy sort of way at home, I’d say that my energy consumption is probably average for Spain. The new TV uses a lot of juice but then I never drive. If I managed to reduce that energy use to nil, the resulting effect on the overall consumption of energy in Spain (or in Catalonia or Barcelona, for that matter) would be so infinitesimally useless and pathetic that all I would really have succeeded in achieving would be ruining my quality of life by forcing myself to eat raw vegetables and lentils soaked in (spring) water over night. Never mind the emissions that a diet like that would cause.

A popular statistic around at the moment is that if the UK closed down all their CO2-emitting power stations, it would take China only six months to fill in the gas gap that we’d left behind. What about India and China together?

The problem with climate change is that there is literally nothing any of us can do to help the situation. Why not recycle? Did you know that most of the stuff you recycle ends up in land-fill? Gemma and I recycle religiously… it’s something to do, you know? And yet I know that it’s a complete waste of time.

When it comes down to it, the single worst thing I ever do to the environment is air travel. I like to fly to places. It’s much quicker than taking a canoe or a bullock-cart. It’s selfish of me and I know it’s not helping but I like to see my parents once a year if I can. How else am I going to do that? If I forswear that I’ll no longer fly then I guess they’d eventually fly out to see me here. So what would I have achieved then? I’ve got two sets of parents (both parents and both step-parents), a brother, a sister, a step-sister and two half-sisters. By my refusing to fly, I’d force them to fly. So there’s no point bothering with it.

My other reason for not helping any more than I already am is skepticism. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that things aren’t quite as bad as Al “I couldn’t even beat George Bush in an election I’d won” Gore would have us believe. The initial warnings on climate change, emissions and environmental damage which came out thirty years ago warned about very similar consequences and that it would be too late by 2006. Well, we haven’t done a single thing about it and now we’re being told we’ve got more time, even though the picture being painted is that things are even worse than we thought they were.

My point is: either we’re already screwed, or the science isn’t completely right. If the science is right, we’re already too late to do anything. While this doubtless smacks of lazy refusal to do more to combat climate change, it’s something I’ve struggled with for a long time. I was a real environmentalist a few years back and I’m still pissed off that Bush didn’t ratify Kyoto. So what’s changed? I got so sick of the religiosity behind the environmentalist movement that I started to question it. My central belief when it comes to politics has become: whatever people keep saying over and over again, mistrust it.

So that’s it. I’ll keep up with the useless recycling, the energy saving light-bulbs, the public transport and the support for green alternatives to burning coal for electricity production. But I’m going to keep up with my air travel, my expensive, energy hungry gadgets, the coal fire at home in Devon in the winter, putting the heater on, using the tumble-dryer etc etc etc. I make no apologies. I’m just sick of the whole business.

14 thoughts on “All this environmental stuff

  1. If you are in that state of mind, one of the non-actions you can take is not to have kids. Over population of the planet is one of the key factors very few speak about. And if you think we are screwed anyway, why have kids to see them get screwed ?

  2. I don’t think we are screwed, necessarily, just that if the scientists are right then we’re screwed.

    the whole not having kids thing is interesting. I’m sure that you’re right that over population is a major issue… but I’d be interested to know whther my energy use would be any lower if I didn’t have kids. For example, in ten years’ time, if I have kids, they will cause me to consume an extra x% of energy. But in ten years time without kids, maybe I’d be taking two or three holidays a year to far-flung places… maybe I’d end up using as much anyway?

    To be honest, I reckon that I already do more than the average person. I just find it rather self-defeating and pathetic to struggle with changing my life when it’ll make not one iota of difference to the end result.

  3. If everyone thinks no one makes a difference, then nothing happens.

    I am doing my best, even refraining from flying to far-flung places more than once in a few years, and not flying to train-reachable places. Yet I am pretty sure that humans are too stupid and greedy to be able to overcome drowning themselves and many other species in their own shit (be it actual, plastic or CO2 shit).

    The ‘we are screwed’ part doesn’t relate only to global warming, but also to overpopulation, land, marine and energy ressources depletion. Even without global warming we face other problems.

    So I’m refraining from producing more stupid humans. It’s not about their energy cost compared to taking holidays without them. đŸ™‚

  4. Well, Sophie, you’re probably right. I’m also worried about the fish running out. But I hate to think that if I stop eating cod now and no-one else does then all it means is that I have my last taste of cod forty years before everyone else has their last taste of cod.

    My dream is to have a farm. That way, I can produce food and trees and so on so I don’t have to feel bad about things. At the moment, i’m just sick of being made to feel guilty about something I can’t affect.

  5. I was bewildered by the reaction of a friend to the news of edible fish species extinction… She said ‘well that means we have to eat as much as possible now’.

    It’s not about stopping eating cod from now on.
    Just have it once in a month (I mean less often than now), cook it fresh and with pleasure (eventually checking it is fished more environmentally-friendly than others, like cane-fished tuna rather than trawled one, I don’t know if this applies to cod), and taste it as a delicacy, enjoying it while knowing it might become a thing of the past, rather than unfreeze a dull deep-fried block of it every time you are out of diner ideas.

  6. Hei, I think that part of the problem is how politicians (ab)use the findings of scientists. Usually (good) scientists would be careful about making strong statements. Politicians, on the other side, simplify (mainly cause they don’t understand what they are talking about) and use the information to gain power.
    But I completely agree that one has to wary about things that repeated over and over again (see Goebels…).

  7. The problem here surely, is that in the end its not just about individuals each making their own little contribution. It’s not like a consumer campaign where many people contribute together to making something happen – in this case it needs governments to do something, and to do something fairly drastic at that. Otherwise for all the efforts we as individuals may make the problem continues.

    On the science side, I met somebody travelling a couple of years back who was doing research on climate change. I asked him the question of what convinced him that there was really something different happening with the climate that couldn’t be explained by natural phenomena. His answer was simple – its the speed of the change.

  8. The recent fuss over the environment is simply due to the government and media paying lip service to the recent Stern report. The media, as usual, simply repeated Tony Blair’s “concerns” without actually looking at what the government has done over the past decade to deal with it. Whatever the real state of affairs, I would never automatically resign myself to certain doom as you might as well face any situation optimistically however bad it is. However, I share Tom’s feelings on his own selfishness and I would find it very hard to resist taking cheap flights and other things such as Sushi. Similar to Sophie’s friend’s reaction, the first thing I did when I heard that edible fish stocks are in danger of depletion was to head straight to an all you can eat Sushi restaurant. I’m joking but I agree that on an individual basis, its hard to restrict oneself when industrial giants like the USA and China do more damage in one second that I could in a lifetime.

  9. Hi Nick,

    Yes, the Stern report had a strong impact, compare to the Friends of the Earth report with almost exactly the same figures released a few months ago. You need an economist to say things for them to be taken into account. Hmm.

    You say it is hard to restrict yourself when the USA and China do so much damage, but a non-negligible part of the damage made by China are made for you (I mean us Europeans) : computers, so many objects we consume, clothes, etc…
    As far as the USA goes, they might not produce many tangible things, but today there was a report on how Hollywood is among California’s top 5 polluting and carbon-emitting industries, all of that in order to churn out the movies we tend to like watching.

    As our economies are pretty well interconnected, you can’t really isolate states.

  10. I think the point is less one of other countries having ‘little regard’ for the environment than that our governments themselves don’t. Can we really blame China for its emissions when every year they provide a higher proportion of our cheap (and not so cheap) consumer items? From jeans to ipods to PCs to sunglasses… there isn’t a struggle against poverty, per se, in China. There is, however, a struggle to provide us pigs with unnecessary luxury items.

  11. The paper on India is interesting, but the biggest failure of India in my opinion is the failure to control demography. Reducing emissions can also be achieved by education (especially women education) leading to decrease of population.
    ‘One child policy’ in China was certainly extremely harsh, but it allows demographic figures for this country to look slightly more sustainable than India.

    I view as retards all the countries (including mine and others in Europe) who despair about low fertility rates. It smells of 19th century “if we have more population we’ll be able to win wars” and also expresses how politicians and economists cannot think outside the infinite growth model. Even modest growth, in the end, encounters finite physical barriers, as it is always inducing consumption growth.

    The end of the article basically says : let’s do very little about climate change and adapt to it. Well, ‘adaptation’ in this case might involve starvation for a non-negligible fraction of the world population. As someone else pointed out, rapidity of change is key, lots of vegetal and animal species we eat might not be able to adapt that fast.

    It is certainly easier for people in rich countries to cut back on non-vital consumption, so that part of the article is right, but if India thinks it can adapt, it should be prepared to see for example most of the Himalayan water supply dwindle as glaciers disappear. Check how the population of India is concentrated along the Gange basin and imagine what this would mean. I shudder at the thought.

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