Tuesday 17 July 2007

Misers rule OK

Last week’s Radio Times contained a special supplement: “70 Easy Ways You Can Save The Planet”. This was a misnomer. The planet can take care of itself, and will doubtless continue
spinning merrily away until it is consumed by our dying sun in about eight billion years’ time.

No, what the New Puritans are concerned about is not the Earth itself, but Life. Particularly human life, and the more photogenic animals (though not cattle and sheep, which are methane-generating baddies.)

At a conference not so long ago, I gently mocked a distinguished client for making some remarks which struck me as being only a short step away from hugging trees. In return, he pointed out that I was perhaps a wee bit unusual in not caring whether the human race survived beyond the end of next week.

He attributed his more conventional view to having grandchildren, which I certainly envy. The only snag is that you can’t get them without having children first, and I never had the stomach for that. Or, rather, I did have the stomach and it proved an insuperable barrier to procreation.

Anyway, what did these 70 ways to save our species amount to? A miser’s charter, that’s what. Turn down the thermostat, have showers not baths (but not for more than three minutes, please!), get rid of your car and tumble dryer, don’t waste food, eat less meat, only wash your towels once a fortnight. That’s only 10% of the gems, but you get the gist.

I look forward to the NHS seizing on the many bright ideas to reduce the frequency of cleaning and the temperatures at which it should be done. And to the entirely predictable consequences.

My somewhat cynical and contrarian point of view rests on the following simple observation: whenever the great mass of experts (whether scientists, medics or economists) line up on one side of a question, it is usually a pretty good idea to take a very close look at the opposite viewpoint, however unfashionable it may be.

The odd thing is that, in my daily life, I tick most of the boxes to qualify as a dedicated Green. I don’t fly, I drive as little as possible, I buy locally-produced food whenever I can, and I totally abhor waste. If it weren’t for the minor issue of smell, Alnwick District Council could probably get away with emptying my non-recycling bin about once a quarter.

I believe that this is largely a generational thing. I have inherited the prejudices of my parents, who were born in the Edwardian era, were young adults during the depression of the 1930s, and then survived the Second World War. Hence they were accustomed to scarcity, and threw virtually nothing away. To them I seemed unbelievably spoilt (and no doubt I was) with my wind-up Hornby train and dozen Dinky cars. Their childhoods were the stuff of Monty Python sketches. How they would have gaped if they had lived to see the rooms full of plastic tat and electronic gizmos that my younger godchildren play with (and the older ones, too, if they think that no-one’s looking).

The Government’s latest bright idea is to abolish the conventional geography syllabus, to focus on teaching children how to “Save The Planet”. My old teacher Dusty Rhodes would be turning in his grave, if only he were dead. This is not geography, but Religious Education.

Every human faith enjoins its followers to live frugally and responsibly: it’s the right thing to do. I just wish that the eager zealots for the new religion of “Saving The Planet” would recognise that they are going back to some extremely old ideas, rather than discovering exciting new ones. Once they have grasped that, perhaps they could take the welcome step of preaching to the rest of us with just a little less bright-eyed zeal and self-righteousness.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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