|‘There Goes The Neighbourhood’
by Mike Gentle (circa 1987)
Whatever your beliefs about climate change on planet Earth, it is clear that humanity cannot continue on its present path of consumerist expansion and consumption of the Earth’s resources. Although the Earth will survive humankind, and doesn’t itself need saving, we on the other hand probably do!
Piecemeal actions of recycling waste, not using plastic food packaging, plastic straws, or disposable cups, is simply missing the point entirely. You have to begin at source. Like an illness, patching the symptoms is never going to address the causes. Put a plaster on one area and before long you’ll need another plaster somewhere else. Once we have ‘burnt our underwear’ and come out to fight on the streets, it serves little purpose to carry on doing more of the same. People like Greta Thunberg periodically remind us that we cannot continue to be complacent, and social media can certainly capture the mood of worldwide peoples to jump on popular bandwagons. But then we need real action at higher levels than street protests. We need the protesters not only to shout ‘enough is enough’ – we need them to expound realistic solutions, too. It is true that, as someone said, ‘a strongly worded email’ is hardly going to have the same effect as masses demonstrating on the streets – even though the values of our democracy would prefer it if we did write a nice ‘middle class’ letter of, ‘yours very irate, from Boston’.
So let’s grab the nettle and ask sincerely, ‘where is all this problem coming from?’
The short answer is mass production and over consumption. And I mean everything from the mass destruction of forests and factory farming slaughter of animals, to the manufacture of ever more vehicles and single-use items that quickly become waste.
If you make something, you might begin by supplying a need and find that you then have to expand to meet increasing demand. But very soon, after investing in your production, you are having to create a need, in order to sustain your position and encourage further growth. At this point, you are creating waste, rather than any real benefit – and don’t start lecturing me on how it’s now about creating wealth through providing more worker’s with jobs. It’s time to get out of the mentality that everyone needs to work hard and suffer, in order to live in reasonable comfort. We are in a position in the world where we can produce many things with ease and do not need everyone to be involved in the process.
Stop all unnecessary production
One solution would be to immediately stop the mass manufacture of anything that is not really essential to our lives. It may actually be useful for us to wrap some food in plastic, but perhaps pretty pointless manufacturing plastic toys. Politicians worldwide will do little or nothing until perhaps, we reach a point where disaster strikes… and then for many, it will certainly be too late. Historically, in western societies, the only things that motivate people on mass, to come together in unison, are the death of a much loved celebrity, the loss of an historic building, a major famine, or a military war on home ground. Don’t leave it up to individual people, living essentially normal mainstream lives, to take the lead. Our consumer-based society is set up in a way that if something is available, someone will always oblige by buying it. If it’s not available, we make do with alternatives.
Of course, to suggest banning certain types of manufacture also implies a loss of work, which in turn implies a loss of income for many people involved in those jobs. My suggestion is as complex as also saying we need to reform personal, public, and freight transportation, health care, and state education. To give this any hope of being achievable, we must also encourage cooperation with others, rather than this ridiculous persistence of applauding a ‘survival of the fittest’ attitude, where value is only bestowed on first place winners, and assessing everyone based on worth is decided by a minority of leaders who think they know best.
At every stage, we encourage our societies to be fearful of lack and envious of monetary wealth and celebrity status. Instead, we could put proper thought and resources into balanced growth and sustainable development. Most people want to experience a sense of fairness and justice, surrounded by beautiful environments that feed their souls, but rather than seeing this better picture of our world in our mind’s eye, we look at what we have created and rail against it – not actually making things better, but attracting more of the same, leaving us feeling worse.
When I say fairness and justice, many might retort with the cliché, ‘the world is not fair’ and justice is personal based on the individual’s beliefs and desires. But I am always happy to see someone better off than me, enjoying their life, without feeling it’s unfair. It’s the same difference as equality and equal opportunity. We aren’t all equal, but we can feel that we should be able to access opportunities for our own growth and value fulfilment. In many ways, if everyone did, or wanted, the same things, the world might seem to become a boring place to be. But there is plenty for everyone if you don’t try and keep it all for yourself.
When she was only about 8 years old, my daughter regularly thrashed me at the game, Monopoly. Within the hour, she’d be turning her houses into hotels, right across the board. Eventually, I had to point out to her that the game would now have to end, since I had no more resources to play the game with her. So in effect, we both ultimately became losers. The joy of winning is comparatively short-lived and if you keep taking, no one will be able to, or want to, play with you anymore.
The way we treat our planet is like a bunch of youths smashing up a children’s playground for fun and without any thought for the feelings of others, or for what it might take to restore what was broken. As I say in my book, ‘What Do You Think?’ “Do you really want to trash the playground?” Other people want to enjoy their time in physical reality, long after you’ve left it.
In a society driven by targets and avarice, how many times have we heard reports of companies that failed to make a bigger profit than the year before, and everyone is suddenly upset? Surely, a profit is still a profit! Why have we permitted, through various loopholes of legislation, multinational businesses to trade tax free? Perhaps one reason is that companies and individuals don’t want to pay into a black hole of central government, where money is squandered on lengthy debates and expenses. Perhaps, instead of receiving a tax bill for money, they are instructed to ‘adopt’ a town or community, and pay the equivalent of ‘owed taxes’ into that. Make it personal. Give them a plaque or a statue, if it helps make them feel acknowledged publicly. This would be a modern-day equivalent of some Victorian factory owners providing houses for their workers. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of altruism and quid pro quo.
Manage our own waste
No country should be allowed to send its waste to another country. This to me ranks alongside feeding animals the offal from their own species. If we’re going to accept this behaviour, let’s can the remains of dead humans and serve them up with chips!
I don’t particularly want to live in an arid desert without home comforts and some of the material things that make my life easier or more enjoyable, but I don’t see the need for the vast range of choice we are given, with several companies not only competing with each other, but competing with themselves – producing several variations of a similar product. We have to accept that competition to produce more variations en masse, cannot be sustainable in our present physical environment, the Earth, resulting in more waste to get rid of.
A move to cooperation and ‘sharing nicely’
Here’s a suggestion: Amalgamate everyone from each industry sector and produce one or two really good [needed] items, instead of 7,000 different items that all essentially do the same and then end up in landfill. So what? if that reduces customer choice. How many different can openers do we need to open a tin without a pull ring?
Change the way we work
Stop insisting that everyone has to work. Pay people to stay in their own communities – cut down on needless travelling each day, to work several miles from their homes. Remove the need to maintain a wardrobe of work clothing. Remove unnecessary congestion from the roads. Whether worked for or not, people will still put their money back into the economy. Get rid of set hours. Just say that certain things need to be completed in reasonably required time frames and trust workers to manage their own timetables for completing their tasks.
Regain a personal connection with nature
We have become so complacent with the success of our protected home environments and reliance on the services of others, that we have lost contact with the very world that supports us. For a year, between March 2002 and April 2003, I moved out of a rented house and bought a caravan, locating it in a farmer’s orchard. Although it took a few weeks to get used to the remote location, reduced space, and complete darkness at night, unless the Moon was visible, I quickly realised how little I needed to live comfortably. Having to manage everything, from water and waste, to cooking and heating, really brought home to me what I had normally taken for granted in a house made of brick. Let’s face it, many of us have become so molly-cuddled in our well-ordered lives, that if the electricity or water goes off for more than thirty minutes, we think we’re back in the Second World War!
Some might say that going for walks, or having country holidays, can connect us more with nature, and this is true. Others have gardens or allotments and grow their own vegetables. But living away from the amenities of a regular house also makes us face and understand some things differently – not least about our self. Indeed, a few years ago, I went off fairly regularly, in a self-converted campervan, getting together and meeting with other people in fields and woods – sharing conversation and fire-cooked food. Although I currently, once again, live in bricks and mortar, I have an appreciation for what it takes to survive in other situations and I try not to take my circumstances for granted. We can all benefit from understanding how much we depend on our natural world, its abundant giving, and the way it feeds our bodies, minds and souls.
Move into eco-friendly sustainability
We have many options now, on alternative energy production and natural materials for building sustainable and affordable rentable and purchasable housing. Government needs to positively encourage a move towards smaller, wooden, flat-pack style systems and move away from expensive brick and stone. There are more alternative ways of generating power and wave energy, often dismissed, has been proven to be viable but just needs proper investment. Solar power can still help on individual houses.
Change the way we educate our children
Let children play more. Base them at home. Make schools resource centres. Trust that young children, teenagers, and adults, naturally want to find things out; want to learn and discover. Okay, have some mandatory time in designated lessons in those resource schools, to get to grips with the essential basics required to manage living in your society, but then have bookable drop-in sessions, covering every subject on offer. You still have professional and knowledgeable teachers, and resources that cannot be provided at home, but you have developing trust in the community that more openness and freedom will provide the environment where people want to develop their skills and understanding. Stop being afraid that society will become apathetic and spiral into violent anarchy.
A friend once said to me: “If something isn’t working – stop doing it!” And don’t try to convince me that our current education system in the UK is working. It’s a fucking disaster zone! We quite literally have reached a point where we have nothing to lose and only something new and exciting to gain.
Look. Realistically, I cannot give you all of the necessary detail of the things I have flagged up in a short blog and I know, in places, it jumps around a bit. But I’m not writing this for you to pull me apart on every shortcoming and missed detail. I simply state here, there are other ways to reach solutions for our perceived problems, but they are far more radical than our leaders are willing to entertain. To use another cliché, it’s time to ‘think outside the box’. It’s also time to be much braver about taking risks with ‘how things have always been’. You might complain about changes I have touched on if they started to be implemented, but at least you might be alive to try them. If we do not try a different approach, most of the populations of humans on this planet, to be quite frank, will not be here to argue the toss!