Wednesday 12 December 2012

Putting A Damper On The Fun

There is so much material flying about at present, never mind the seasonal hysteria, that whilst I would like to comment, it might well just be lost in all the fog and the hurly burly.  But as it is the season George Monbiot on his blog had something to say which lists him amongst Scrooge’s media advisers.

It is about pathological consumption and the urge of humanity to strip the world of its vital resources in the pursuit of the needless acquisition of goods based on improvident spending.  A point he makes that a lot of gifts given at Christmas are then little used and cast aside after only a short time.

This coincided with the news that the balance of trade figures were bad and that at Southampton the new world’s largest container ship arrived chock full of goods for the season for us all to buy.  Well, some of us.

At one time the media and the nation hung on information such as the Balance of Trade figures and if the news was bad it was regarded as a national disaster.  A government would be faced with a bad press and real trouble and it might put the value of the pound in peril.

Now we neither care nor take much interest and if the pound varies in value the immediate concern is how much foreign holidays will cost or the effect on property values.  This month the news has been buried by a flood of other matters.

At first I wondered whether to agree with George and whilst we will not be shopping as it happens we will be doing other things.  They will involve spending even more ephemeral than pathological consumption in that we will be at a couple of performances where there is only a personal memory at the end.

Doubtless excuses could be made and justifications that this somehow is good, helps to increase both gross national product and employment, but the fact remains it is not in the last analysis necessary and certainly involves carbon emissions.  Like almost all other Western people we do more than our world share in that department.

However, George might have made more of one basic resource, water.  In the LSE Connect this week, Judith Rees reminds us that “The pace of urbanisation has outstripped connections to water infrastructure” under the heading “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink”.

This is about the UN International Year of Water Co-operation in 2013.  Across the world severe shortages and problems are arising as populations and demands increase.  Unsafe water, poor sanitation and other problems are increasingly common and governments seem to have little strategy or awareness of the complexity of the issues.

Inevitably, one response is to create a new academic discipline for the study of water.  The essential issue is the vast cost of addressing and dealing with both the human and environmental implications.  It bears on food production, industry, how far urban societies can continue to grow so rapidly and above all health.

Also in the last few days a number of leading UK politicians have called for the rapid fracking of oil reserves to go ahead to meet our critical energy needs.  Whatever the for and against arguments for this, one thing is certain; it needs a great deal of water.

And when rain is on the way our weather forecasters tell us relentlessly that this is bad news.  Sometimes it may be, but not always.

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