The trouble with saving the world.

Well after a busy (and dry) few months I’ve finally fixed up the garden for winter veggies and taken the time to return to my blog. In this post the two are connected… ;-)

My son likes those little tins of flavoured tuna, okay, I confess I like them too. I only buy them when they’re marked down, partially because they’re way over priced and partially because it’s such a consumerist hay maker. Not that I don’t sympathise with people who work such long hours they have no time to make their own salsa… but like Australian wool spun in China and then shipped back to Aus, like little plastic disposable toys for kids’ takeaway “meals”, shipping thousands of tiny tins of tuna and onion around the place is decidedly unfriendly. Those little tins, like the one inch high dollies you step on in the middle of the night on the way to the loo, are symbols of everything that’s wrong with our current thinking.

We can eat well out of the veggie garden when it’s producing summer salads or winter soups. It’s local, no pollution involved in trucking stuff anywhere, no pesticides or toxins and no by-catch or antibiotics or animal cruelty (apart from throwing stones at the cats). Eating what you grow yourself is “friendly” in many ways.

But tinned fish is not primarily unfriendly to the environment. That’s one of two points I’d like to make here. This anti-greenhouse “thing” is not about saving the planet. The earth has geological ages to recover from the predations of humans. What we’re talking about is saving our own hides from poisoning and starvation. Yes it’s a crying shame that we’re taking so many species with us in our greed and stupidity, but let’s be honest. Evolution will step in again when we’re gone. Life of some sort will continue quite happily without us.

We need some deep and fundamental changes to the way global business and trade are conducted. The real problem with the climate change debate is not the computer modelling or voting for the right politician. It’s that the media are controlling it. While ever vested interests are trying to maintain their own advertising budgets at the same time as whipping up anger and hysteria, while backing their own horse for political races… you get the picture. Topics which are fundamental to the necessary change in thinking are being deliberately obscured in favour of blatant hypocrisy and continued advertising. Buying new light globes will save the world… kind of thing.

Back to the tin cans, car culture is a perfect example of this point. The internal combustion engine is essentially 17th century technology. Take a bit of fuel, take a cylinder… The result is one of the most inefficient and polluting modes of transport ever devised. So what do we do? Give one to everyone. Allow me to explain. Most of what has happened in the last couple of hundred years with private transport is advertising. A culture has grown up around the psychology embedded in images of freedom, independence, power and wealth, not to mention the pussy magnet, that fill pages and pages of newspapers and magazines. We are taught to think in terms of having access to these vehicles and requiring square miles of tarmac upon which to drive them. Traffic jams, air pollution and rusted out old car bodies are part of the landscape.

Yet everyone is pretty well aware of the amount of pollution produced not only in the emissions of cars but in their production and destruction. You can drive a well maintained old car for 25 years and not create the same amount of pollution that is generated rolling one new car off the production line. Internal combustion is so inefficient that in a car only about 1% of the energy produced is actually reaching the wheels and pushing you forward. For some reason we’re still buying thousands of the things every year. Why? Advertising. Status. Insecurity. Who makes money from these things? The media and car manufacturers. This is why “greenfleet” is so much bullshit. It’s disguising the problem, not solving it.

In order to reverse some of the destruction that is occurring around us, the human race needs to make some really smart moves like ditching cars in favour of bicycles or public transport and changing the way we think of movement and plan cities. There are plenty of other options for transport but they’re yet to be developed properly. Motorcycles and the Carver are two, though they’re still internal combustion engines. How about two or three wheeled bikes with electric motors that can be charged from your home solar panels? (How about home solar panels while we’re at it!)

French Empire furniture

French Empire furniture


But it’s all about consumerism. Consumerism and growth. Growth is another problematic concept. The idea of economic growth is essentially 18th century colonialism. Back in the 17th and 18th centuries the world was a big place and rich white boys from all over Europe could take off in ships around the globe, meeting new people, enslaving them, raping and pillaging and making a fortune from the profits. Just like the Romans, Hittites and everyone else but with puritan christendom, tall ships and guns.

These days the world is not a big place. There are somewhere around 6 billion people on the planet and we’re building houses on the arable land that could otherwise support us. We’re using technology and ideas that are hundreds of years old and in the process wrecking the place for ourselves.

The changes that need to occur in the way we think, the way we do business and the way we live our lives are broad and profound. It will be enormously productive for those who have the ingenuity and bravery to take the necessary steps. The problem is that there are too many snouts in the trough. The ethical and psychological shift that needs to happen in the next few years is immense, but those in control of the discussion are turning it into a useless debate on the thin surface of social norms. Rather than addressing the real underlying issues, this is merely perpetuating the thinking of old fashioned growth and consumerism. And it’s for the benefit of board members at the expense of the rest of us.

Using the example of car culture, here’s why. Buying and selling of cars, manufacture of car related by products and passing of car related laws are all deeply embedded in Western culture. We elect governments based on promises of new roads or road laws. We buy papers on the basis of looking for a new car or a fantastic car crash that killed a dozen teenagers. We think in deeply entrenched stereotypes about people who oppose construction of roads. We think in different but equally entrenched ways about people who drive nice cars and update them regularly. These things occur on a day to day basis without us even being consciously aware of them. Our identities, politics and attitudes are wound up in the image that manufacturers and advertisers have constructed about cars.

Further, changing to hybrid, hydrogen or other energy forms doesn’t improve the situation. There’s more pollution generated by construction of hybrid cars than the current oil guzzlers. There’s still way too much asphalt on the earth and far too much consumerism on the periphery. Making another car isn’t going to help. What we need is an alternative to a car… An alternative to the kind of thinking that drives us to want a nicer car, pass a better law, put new seat covers in or vote for someone to build a bypass.

So you see what I mean. To change all that is a seriously *big* effort and yet if we are to avoid self-destruction this is what needs changing. How can the media, who are the vehicle of all this destructive behaviour, possibly conduct or contribute to a discussion about fixing it? That would be biting the hand that feeds them. It would be shooting themselves in the feet. How can the politicians, who are hand in hand with the media voices who elected them, legislate to ban car advertising, fund serious research into useful alternatives or promote the sociological shift that could help?

You know what? If you really want to save the world, stop buying papers and magazines and stop watching private media tellie. Like the culture jammers say… “Don’t buy it”. Drive a well maintained old car. Buy locally made. You know all this, yes? The catch is, what are you thinking? Does consumerism have a grip on how you see yourself and how you present yourself to others? How deeply affected are you by society’s standards and stereotypes?

Well, it’s a little trite but that’s part of the point I’m trying to make. We’re on the wrong track trying to solve this hassle if we’re getting our information from the tv news or unable to criticise advertising influences. Filtering your social context and adding some helpful voices in your inner dialogue is a good move. So is interaction with smart people. University faculties are full of them. The Internet likewise is a medium for discussion and ideas.

The point I’m making is that we need open minds about where we’re going. It’s like any dysfunction. It might take years to resolve, but the moment you say to yourself, “you know what? I do want to change this.” Then things can begin to happen.

Most of us no longer think of ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution or the ‘purpose’ of god’s creation. Many of us realise that humans are an animal species. We’re simply one more part of life on earth. We’re beginning to get the idea that we need to participate respectfully and intelligently in the life of the planet. The cosmos is not a pyramid hierarchy with rich white aristocrats at the top, which was the kind of thinking that gave us colonialism by the way. Life is a web. An interactive matrix. We understand that we’re connected and that this is the only planet we have. *That* is the solution. Make it a mantra. Make it an affirmation. Write it in lipstick on the bathroom mirror if you like. I’m an animal and I live on the earth with all the other animals. It’s about living, breathing and enjoying your life. It’s about your life in connection with the lives of others, human or otherwise, not what colour your steering wheel cover is.

Map of the British Empire

Map of the British Empire

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2 Responses to “The trouble with saving the world.”

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  2. T Says:

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