How fast we react to disaster!
A banana upon the pavement, we slip, whoohaa! But we are able to right ourselves and not spill the takeaway coffee we grip in our mit. And this week another rapid response - Sir David Attenborough stating that our very future depends on giving the natural environment a monetary value equivalent to business goods.
Exactly. That’s what many of us loudly proclaimed as the solution donkeys’ years ago. In the 1980s, Leicester city built The Environmental House, an exemplary structure using all the latest technology to create a passive-house! It had solar panels, hefty insulation and was constructed of less environmentally destructive materials where possible - such as local woods and stones. That’s how houses were constructed before consumerism entrapped us all. OK, it was an expensive experiment, but WOW, it would have saved billions of billions of trillions (not joking) had society taken it seriously.
In the early 1990s, a dear friend, a brilliant fellow activist called Richard Spurgeon, made me aware of the concept of valuing literally everything with its engrained environmental history. I invited him to co-edit an edition of the environmental magazine aimed at teachers which I edited and had set up a few years earlier and which was upheld in Parliament (in about 1994) as exemplary. It was a highly illustrated mag. which translated theory into practical things teachers and pupils could do to protect The Environment. Throughout that month’s Devon Eco, we explored how the cost of items ought to include their environmental impact, from habitat denudation to their weighty arrival in the place of use, be it coffee, electricity, bananas or shoes.
The reaction from teachers, children, parents, the press, the government and the general public was so positive that we thought An Age of Environmental Awareness had come into being…. Ha, ha! If so, dear Sir David would not have had to warn us with his drip, drip pleas to think about the impact on nature of our every act. Nor would the remarkable Greta have come to such prominence. Even back then we had our Gretas. They would rush home from school, having studied the impact of wasting too much tap water or the consequences of discarding plastics, and convince their parents that we needed to HURRY and protect The Environment. Had we, the general public in 1992, pushed our governments and big businesses to do so, Global Warming would not now be such a huge problem.
And it wasn’t just us here in Europe… When walking the Himalaya in the 1990s, our shopping, be it soap or vegetables, was handed over in bags made of recycled newspaper. They had banned plastic bags. In Kenya, friends I respected were involved in planting swathes of trees across the north’s semi-arid landscape in an attempt to control Climate Change. And yes… that was in the 1980s. So you see, we humans do react rapidly. It’s just that those who govern us and sell stuff to us do not (we need look no further than our government’s and businesses’ responses to the coronavirus pandemic)….
Climate Change, which locals in Morocco, Kenya, India, Spain and France kept telling me about as I travelled and researched the series of environmental-geography teaching books I wrote in the 1990s, was as obvious then as it is now. In 1996 another close friend, the World Chair of GreenPeace, asked me to join a team over-wintering in the Arctic to record the effect of Climate Change on the already melting ice cap…. Yes, in 1994 this was obvious. These are but a few examples of the amazing ways people were responding to Climate Change thirty to forty years ago.
But this past week, here I am, having for decades been so careful of my actions, tossing into the bin silicon and plastic used to get me through a medical emergency, and consuming a load of chemicals and antibiotics made by those monster pharmaceutical companies we all love to hate. To save my skin. To prevent me from quickly sliding towards death. So, you see, perhaps you should ignore everything I’ve written, for, faced with my own demise, I’ve been environmentally selfish; temporary as it’s been, it still has its impact.
So why do we keep slipping on the same old banana skin? Because we love the coffees we carry. We love the bananas whose skins we discard. We don’t care that consuming them currently involves so much destruction in terms of overall environmental impact. Even if you are bored of me-the-chemical/silicon/plastic-consumptive badgering on about this, do it for your children, your grandchildren, their great-great-grandchildren, for the little creatures in your garden, for the big creatures we all love and for this ravishing Planet we can’t keep on ravaging. And tell everyone you know (gently of course), what to do to save all this, for time is running out. Really.