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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Carbon guilt

Is it just me or is this continual barrage of guilt-making publicity about how each of us is killing the planet beginning to pall? The ordinary person appears to have become the major target and repository of cause and effect syndrome. I catch a plane. Have I planted a tree as a consequence? Do all those trees I planted long ago when immersed in a Good Life existence count? Or, since there was no apparent problem then, not – because I was not assuaging my guilt. I put in a new light bulb and stare at its ugly phallic dimensions, trying to make the supposed feel-good emotion outweigh aesthetic revulsion. I get into my little car and wonder whether I should, instead, walk the six miles to the store, despite the vehicle’s fifty to the gallon economy. Then, again, at a very carbon heavy fiftieth birthday party of a friend, a fellow who runs a racing car stable pointed out that a jeep was far more planet friendly than a Prius because it will last twenty years and metamorphose easily into another jeep through the knackering process. While a Prius, with half that lifespan, must be expensively de-aggregated before reincarnation. It’s a moral maze. When I get to the store I should make sure the produce is local, thus counting for fewer carbon miles. I should eschew packaging. And so on.

Well, here in France, the supermarkets sell big durable bags for shopping. It is illegal, or at least, socially reprehensible for them to use plastic ones. I have about five capacious holdalls in the car because when I forget to take one, I am forced to buy another. I don’t mind. The decision is taken out of my hands. My head is not full of carbon shopping statistics. I am not struggling with the possibility that the planet will die before me – if you get my drift. I don’t feel as though every interaction with the world results in a visit to some mental confessional. I can get on with my life.

I know that there are concerns about nanny-statism, a lot of which I share, particularly when it comes to eliminating all risk, determining what we eat, how we’ll be policed, surveillance, identity cards etc etc. But, from the moment Thatcher’s Government deregulated the constraints on industry so that it could pollute waters, bury poisons, screw its customers, (or kill them, in the case of railways) all for profit, we have had successive governments of all shades who seem to think that they can’t intervene on any grand scale (except in Iraq to protect oil). Why don’t they outlaw nasty light bulbs and then there’d be competition to produce pleasing energy savers? Why don’t they ban plastic bags? Why don’t they insist on the removal of packaging from goods (and thereby save a big percentage of the price to the shopper. In other words, why don’t they attack the problem at source, instead of berating the symptoms – us and our behaviour?

At the moment, the individual feels the guilt – and also pays the price of this obsequious genuflection to the profit motive.


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