Good Energy

The guys at Good Energy have been really supportive and excited about the expedition, so much so that they have made a contribution which allows me to keep the blog regularly updated during the expedition, so they and everyone else can follow the journey. Good Energy supplies 100% renewable electricity sourced from wind, water, sun and sustainable biomass. CO2 from coal-fired electricity generation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Switch your electricity supply to Good Energy using this link and not only will you be supporting the pioneering community of independent green generators, but for every sign up they get they’ll make another donation to help get the bus around the world. It helps you cut your personal CO2 emissions, helps them grow a great business, and helps me get round the world.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

And Another Thing II

If you think of the “environment” or let’s take a more specific example, the atmosphere, as a space in which we can store our pollution, the by-products of our consumption, then it’s easy to imagine it as a resource. Like a resource it's finite, keep putting things into the space and one day it will be full.

During this journey from the wealthiest countries in the world (UK, France, Switzerland), to the poorest (Nepal, India), I’ve become more convinced that the way we exploit our environment is just another facet of the global social injustice that has dogged the way this planet is governed since colonial times.

For over a century, richer countries have exploited the earth’s resources, providing a comfortable quality of life for their citizens at a disproportionate cost to the citizens of poorer countries. The exploitation of energy, oil, coal, mineral resources, timber, food crops, cotton, and more, has on the whole benefited the wealthy foreigners exploiting the commodity more than the country whose soil yields it.

So it is with the pollution-storing-environment resource. The beneficiaries who are fully exploiting this resource are the highly consumptive rich nations, who need a lot of rivers, sea, landfills and atmosphere to store the waste their high quality of life produces, and they are getting this globally shared resource for a knock down price. Free.

In the case of space to put the CO2 produced by energy consumption, the US and Europe has had more than 200 years of free rein, burning first their own forests to fuel the industrial revolution, then global coal and now oil reserves. And the situation continues to be exploited unevenly. The quality of each life in the US is using up that storage space over 3 times faster than the quality of each life in India.

And the impact of overusing this CO2 storage will be paid by developing countries. Climate change associated to manmade activities will impact the tropical countries most, where weather patterns are more susceptible to changes, and it will impact agricultural economies that rely on predictable climate to grow crops to feed themselves and earn foreign exchange with which they can give themselves a decent quality of life. Poor developing countries, not by accident, are almost always tropical and agricultural.

“Saving the Environment” is a confusing way of phrasing the problem. Firstly it distances people from the problem. A head teacher in India while congratulating me on this expedition told me “It’s great what you are doing. I love the environment, trees and all that, it would be a shame if we lost it all.” as though the environment is a nice-to-have bonus, something pretty to look at on the drive to work. Secondly it obfuscates the fact that it is humanity that will suffer not the trees. The jet stream will still blow (though no one knows for sure where), clouds will still form at the top of thermal columns of air, wildlife, animals and plants will quietly uncomplainingly adapt, migrate, evolve or die out.

And humans will have to adapt, migrate, evolve or die out too. The ones best suited to adapting and migrating will be the rich ones. The ones without the money or the liberty to move freely around the planet will face the choice between evolving, and where that’s not possible, dying out.

So once again a valuable resource is being disproportionately exploited by people in wealthy nations, leaving a disproportionately high cost for people in poor nations.

I’m becoming more convinced that the mechanism for “Saving the environment” is universally linked to creating global social justice in the world. The two things are mutually dependent. In order to responsibly manage the pollution-storage-space environment there has to be social justice, and managing the environment will prevent social injustice.

Equal education, equal access to healthcare and equal access to global resources. But seeing as we can’t even eradicate poverty in the world I really don’t think we have any chance. Thank god I’m not a poor Indian.

People criticise the environmental credentials of this journey, sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly. I’m bored of having the same discussions and clarifying confusions about “Biofuels: good or bad?” or “The Environmental Impact of Container Ships”. There’s a bigger point. Living in the UK and especially London, it’s impossible to escape wasteful consumption and being a “valuable member of society” (which actually means working somewhere in the industrialised cycle of turning resources into commodities and delivering them to consumers – and is presumably opposed to being a worthless member of society). By taking to the road and escaping that cycle by living in a truck, I believe, means I am contributing more towards creating a socially just world and therefore helping reduce the CO2 I’m responsible to an even greater degree than the act of running my bus on waste oils. A consumptive lifestyle, complicity with unfair resource exploitation is the root cause of a carbon intensive lifestyle and the fuel I put in my truck is only part of the picture.

In an interview this week I was asked what people can do to help the environment and I said, “I don’t know, they have to figure it out for themselves.” I’m not a role model with easy pithy consumable answers, and if I said they have to quit their jobs, let all their hire-purchase electronics be repossessed, move out of the city and plant tomatoes, most people would understandably think I’m even more of a naive idealist idiot than they already do.

1 comment:

What do you think?