Ever wondered which David is correct? Attenborough or Bellamy? To be honest, I can’t say that it is something which keeps me up at night, but I do know one thing. If I accidentally throw an empty baked bean tin in the landfill rubbish bin, I feel an instant tinge of guilt and quickly place it where it belongs. I do that because I’ve been educated to understand that that is the right thing to do.
And I’ll turn the heating down, or turn the lights off, and I take showers instead of baths; because all that seems again to be the right thing to do. Equally, I drive a Range Rover and frequently fly, but those activities don’t have a habit of impinging on my psyche in any way. I need to do them in order to live and to work. That’s the way it is
We castigate people who drive combustion engine cars whilst happily plugging in our EVs at night and basking in our self-righteous delusion that we are somehow ‘saving the planet’.
And that got me thinking about our (consumer) attitudes these days. Because, I’d wager that if you asked a hundred people in the street if they felt that they shopped in a responsible, sustainable manner, consistent with helping the planet, you’d get a hundred answers in the affirmative. But isn’t that the consumer equivalent of retail greenwashing?
Because the reality is that we want everything, everywhere and to hell with the planet. Let’s be honest, virtue signalling has been elevated to an artform. We blame China for all the greenhouse gases but have little or no compunction about consuming everything that China exports to the West. We castigate people who drive combustion engine cars whilst happily plugging in our EVs at night and basking in our self-righteous delusion that we are somehow ‘saving the planet’.
In actuality, we need for very little materially, we’re at peak stuff, but we can’t help ourselves, our rampant consumerism is running out of control, fed by digital media who persuade us that we want and need more. After all, our Insta account needs feeding and we ourselves require affirmation.
So, if that’s the reality, is there anything that can be done about it? Or are we consigned to a not so slow planetary combustion together with all the associated consequences?
I exaggerate to make the point, however I believe that the majority of us, regardless of whether we support people who walk slowly down Whitehall or throw soup at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, want to leave a lasting legacy, despite the blame Gen Z might attach for ruining their holiday on the Costa-del-Cocktail.
It’s just that we need help.
OK so we know that the blue bin is the ‘good’ bin, because the contents of that are one day going to turn up in our local supermarket once again. And that the black bin is for anything we want buried in the ground, preferably not in our postcode. And we’ll happily drink our McFlurry through a paper straw, even though eating four cream crackers without leaving our mouths feeling like we’ve eaten a bag of sawdust, is a walk in the park by comparison. But more than that, we really don’t have much of a clue.
We’d like to know if that T-shirt we’re wearing really is made out of sustainable bamboo, we’d like to know that the tuna on our plate really did meet it’s maker on the end of a pole and we’d like to make sure that all the Orangutans in Malaysia are having a good time.
But there’s a problem, and it’s a big one.
Because the undeniable fact is that we don’t receive nearly enough education from retailers and when they do try to help, we don’t believe them, or feel it’s all too difficult. Consider your last grocery shopping trip, did you read the small print on the back of every item you tossed in your basket? No, of course you didn’t.
Like every aspect of shopping, doing so in a sustainable manner, consistent with helping the planet, should be made as easy and intuitive as possible. To my knowledge, no-one is monitoring us when we sort the recycling from the landfill, but we’re happy to comply. In Mallorca, they take this seriously and help people to do the right thing by providing detailed guidance on what goes where. We need more of that here.
For most of us, most of the time, the environment is something we take for granted, something we don’t give a second thought to because the headlines all shout about polar bears wearing face masks and clothing factories collapsing in Bangladesh. Turn over to the sports news and thank our lucky stars we live in Henley.
But whether it is effluent in our rivers, wildfires disrupting our holidays or plastic washed up on our beaches, what we often take for granted can very quickly become something far more dystopian. It’s just that when it does we look for someone to blame.
Now, I don’t hug trees and as a rule, I don’t tend to glue my hand to the road, but what is becoming increasingly evident is that maybe, just maybe, the person to blame might be staring back at us.