Saturday, 11 May 2019

Climate change: "We're trying to be greener - so don't patronise us"

A couple of weeks ago, Tom Heap, of Radio 4's Costing the Earth and BBC One's Countryfile, got a lot of flack for saying we can't lecture people on their lifestyles:
Futures Forum: Climate change: "only large-scale technological, financial and political change will make any difference"

In a very similar vein, the i-newspaper republished this piece from Janet Street Porter writing in the Independent, entitled "We're trying to be greener - so don't patronise us": 

Share power tools to fight climate change? This is a laughable government attempt to ignore our capitalist reality

If Ineos can sponsor a cycling team, and L’Oreal can teach kids about packaging waste, is it any wonder our compass is awry?

Janet Street-Porter
Friday 3 May 2019 18:02

As I sat on a train to Yorkshire yesterday, water was being handed out in small plastic bottles and hot drinks were sold in plastic cups. I want to do the best I can for the environment and the next generation, but it means devoting a lot more time to making the right decisions. Train journeys –good. On-board catering, maybe not so good.

First class passengers get real mugs to drink out of, but other passengers would need to bring their own. Leaving the train, I got in my car (diesel, bought when that was the recommended option, but now demonised) and drove through gorgeous green lanes around Bedale, to discover the area was lined with plastic traffic cones and festooned with ugly signage as people in plastic hi-vis jackets were closing off streets and marshalling pedestrians.

This weekend it’s the much-hyped Tour de Yorkshire during which hundreds of miles of recently repaired roads will be closed to traffic for a popular cycling race in which the leading team has accepted cash from a company determined to extract shale gas – in Yorkshire!

Team Sky is now Team Ineos, funded by a business holding 21 licences to frack in some of the most beautiful parts of the country. Isn’t this somewhat at odds with a sport like cycling, which fans say is eco-friendly and good for health? Sponsorship remains a very good way for business to "greenwash" their credentials.

Local businesses and councillors are 100 per cent behind the Tour – they argue it attracts thousands of visitors, promotes tourists and brings much-needed revenue to rural areas. But at what cost? Is it OK to welcome Ineos and their star rider Chris Froome?

Hundreds of vociferous demonstrators disagree. There are tough decisions to be made if we want to be eco-friendly, and I see few signs that the people in Westminster and local government have the balls to make them. Tobacco companies are banned from sports sponsorship, but are there double standards at work when it comes to tourism?

And what about the same councils regularly choosing to build poor quality new homes on greenfield sites? According to former environment secretary Lord Deben, Britain needs to stop building “crap houses”.

We certainly don’t need a bunch of government advisors from the Committee for Climate Change telling us that Britain is facing a “climate change emergency” –as Mark Steel pointed out yesterday. The Extinction Rebellion demonstrations drew attention to something ordinary people have been concerned about for ages, before ministers queued up to be photographed with Greta Thunberg.

The public already pick up litter in their free time, recycle to the best of their ability, put solar panels on their roofs, and have turned down their heating –mainly because they can’t afford the cost of any kind of energy, green or dirty. According to a Sky News poll, more than half the country rejects the climate change committee’s main recommendations.

Watch more
Climate activists describe Gove meeting as 'less s*** than expected'
Extinction Rebellion did all it could and more – but is it enough?
Extinction Rebellion has proven climate bores entirely wrong
Veganism won’t make a dent in the fight against climate change
Parliament has declared a ‘climate emergency’. Now what?

Being told to switch to a “low-carbon diet” is unbelievably patronising. More of us are eating less meat, but when we visit supermarkets we discover tons of unnecessary packaging, stores that are over-lit and over-heated and confusing recycling labelling on 90 per cent of the products on sale.

We can’t trust businesses to tell us how to save the environment – a cosmetics company like L’Oreal (which puts face creams, shampoo and cosmetics in plastic containers) has the bare-faced cheek to sponsor a new educational initiative to teach school children about recycling – a blatant example of greenwashing.

A series of government-approved targets for electric cars, and renewable energy sources for heating our homes are all very well, but telling us to fly less, share power tools with our neighbours and not buy cheap “fast fashion” is laughable.

There’s a basic contradiction at the heart of these official directives to move to a “greener” life-style. To be truly “green”, you need to be thrifty, to recycle, upcycle and purchase the bare minimum. Self-sufficiency is the holy grail. Unfortunately we live in a capitalist society, which is based on a healthy economy with continued growth. Businesses employing people and selling stuff to us continually. That stuff might be “green” but at the end of the day, it’s still a lot more stuff than we actually need.

Built-in obsolescence means that we can’t repair most household gadgets, from toasters to mixers to the power hose or that electric drill the government wants us to share with the people next door. We can only grow vegetables using compost in plastic bags – and the small plants we’ll buy from garden centres this weekend are in plastic pots. All our fruit and salad greens are grown in polytunnels and heated greenhouses covering vast swathes of rural Britain that were once fields. The government would like us to cover more of these fields with solar panels, where sheep and cows (now demonised like my diesel car) once grazed and emitted evil methane gas.

If we all became truly green, didn’t buy any clothes for a year, dug up our gardens and grew all our vegetables, shared our washing machines and didn’t replace our cars, what would happen? John Lewis would go bust. The local high street would be derelict. And Britain would probably go into recession with high unemployment.

If, on the other hand, local councils and the London Mayor took a few tough decisions to radically deal with pollution – banning lorries from daytime deliveries perhaps, or funding free public transport for all in central areas – air quality in our major cities would improve, and young people wouldn’t be dying from fatal asthma attacks.

Ordinary people understand all too well how to live a greener life. It’s the people we vote into power who lack the guts to bring about real – as opposed to cosmetic – change.

Share power tools to fight climate change? This is a laughable government attempt to ignore our capitalist reality | The Independent

No comments: