The great British finger point

At a dinner party a few weeks ago, the subject of climate change came up.
“Did you look at that guide in the Guardian,” someone said, turning to look at me. Specifically – I note – at me.
I frowned. “Yeah, I did actually,” I said. “It was good.”
“You need to,” my assailant replied, wiggling a finger. “All those flights!”
And everyone around the dinner table nodded knowingly. Smugly, even.

Unfortunately – typically – I’m not quick enough to defend myself; not quick enough to point out that my flights back to the UK (I live in France) are an essential part of my job, nor that I don’t earn enough to be able to afford to take the train. I don’t explain that I carbon offset all my flights (not perfect I know, but not entirely irresponsible either). Neither do I point out that, unlike my friends, I don’t live in a large detached house heated with vast amounts of petrol and coal, but in an extremely small apartment running on (very little) 100% renewable electricity driving a 200% efficient heat pump. I even forget to mention that I don’t run a car.
So I just sit, rather shamefully, and stupidly – it seems to me now – and watch, and seethe a little, as my friends, with their four kids and their big houses, wiggle their toasty warm fingers at me, bathed in the gentle light of tungsten lamps. And eventually someone opens another bottle of Australian plonk, and the discussion moves on to which of this holiday’s selection of chinese-made junk they will buy their kids for Christmas.

Ever since that meal, I have been watching – my brain suddenly tuned-in to the debate, both around me and in the media. There’s a great deal of debate – and that’s good. But when none of my friends talk about themselves – when they all talk about those “other people” – the ones with the 4×4’s – the ones flying off to Spain for their cheap holidays. And when our leaders talk about what the Chinese and the Americans should do… And when even the likes of George Monbiot, and Sir Menzies Campbell, some of the most responsible, distinguished and articulate finger pointers of our time admit they they haven’t yet “got around to” calculating their own carbon footprints, well, I start to see a pattern. I start to see a problem.
So here it is. There is too much finger pointing going on. And there’s not enough engagement of personal responsability.

Just for the record, here is the current estimate of where the the world’s 7th largest producer of carbon – that is the UK… This is where the UK’s carbon emissions come from. This is what we, and in we, there is both you, and me, are really doing, right now, to destroy the planet.

Business :- 37%
Land Transport – 26%
Household – 26%
Air Travel – 6%
Shipping – 1%
Agriculture – 1%
Source: “UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions – Latest Figures”, 30 March 2006).

So flying is 6%. It’s a lot, 6%. But why is everyone talking only about flying? Why aren’t we having a mature debate about the 26% that road transport contributes, or the 26% our tungsten bulbs and gas central heating belch out?
Could it be that talking about flying and engaging in a bit of finger pointing is just more fun than having to worry about driving the kids to school, or insulating the loft, or installing those horrid ecological light-bulbs?
Cheap air travel is on the increase – it’s a problem, sure. Let’s have that debate and then lets do something about it. Lets put tax on aviation fuel and subsidise rail travel so that doing the right thing becomes a no-brainer.
But think about it. Scientific reason will tell you that if you want to reduce carbon emissions by 60%, then concentrating all your efforts on an activity that produces 6% of the emissions just ain’t going to do it. And sociological reasoning about why the powers that be – the media, the government, industry want you to worry about what you personally aren’t doing, that which isn’t causing the problem, rather than think about what you are doing, that which is causing the problem, right now… Well, that should be food for thought. Maybe, just maybe, they want you to carry on just as you are.
So here’s the deal. You deal with your carbon emissons and i’ll deal with mine. Lets spend a little more time auditing – and reducing our own personal carbon footprints and a little less pointing the finger at those naughty others… And when George Monbiot and Sir Menzies Campbell have worked out their footprints… And when my friends have decided not to pile up that coal fire, and not to choose Australian Chardonnay… Well, I might be a little more interested in their contribution to the debate. Never did the political need more to be personal.

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