Saturday, July 22, 2006


Rubbish Bin Extremism

This article on 'Comment Is Free' has attracted any number of comments that are perfect examples of what I like to call 'environmentalist authoritarianism'. The author, Brendan O'Neill, dares to suggest that sorting your rubbish into piles is awkward and annoying, and that aviation taxes damage the travel aspirations of working class people, and the Grauniad commentariat are less than pleased. In point of fact, I don't entirely agree with everything in the article, but some of the responses are absolutely mad, bad and dangerous. Let's sink a toe, shall we?

'nairobiny': 'Actually, it's Ms Challice and your mum that are the apologists for capitalism. They simply can't be arsed to tidy up after themselves. All too difficult you see. Far easier to pass that cost onto somebody else - stick it in a landfill, forget about it. Don't worry that it's the next generation, or their children, who will bear the cost of their selfishness.'

This is a milder version of a theme that becomes more popular and extreme later - don't recycle now, and you're killing my children!

'punky': 'Africa, for its own sake, cannot develop the same way the West has developed. It would be suicide. The developed World needs to greatly reduce its carbon emissions and, in the name of fairness, needs to finance and promote sustainable development in Africa and other regions that aren't responsible for the environmental crisis that the planet is facing.'

Yes, isn't it just exasperating that these stupid Africans insist on wanting cars and planes and fridges when expensively educated westerners like me keep telling them it's wrong? I mean, how stupid are they that they can't understand that what they want 'would be suicide'? They're late to the party - tough shit, I'm afraid.

'bennywhale': 'your mum has to seperate her rubbish. Big fucking deal. During WW2 the spirit of chipping in and pulling together and doing your bit was ingrained in society. The environmentalist cause will probably be doomed because we are a selfish people now, exemplified by you and your mum and probably many of the other twats above i can't be arsed to read.'

The comparison to the Second World War here isn't at all ridiculous, because - don't you see? - we're at war, with ourselves! We should set our society on a permanent, never-ending war footing! Perhaps we should have a Ministry Of Information who could lie to us about green issues, because, as we all know, truth is the first casualty of war. (By the way, this fellow isn't joking about this).

'clownfeet': 'I can't believe that given the evidence of how much waste we produce, we aren't all attemting to reduce it by as much as is practicable, and whinging about the government infringing our liberties when they very gently suggest we do so.'

Ah yes, the government's 'very gentle suggestions' such as compulsory carbon allowances on pain of fines, environmental taxes, aviation taxes, and taking people to court for insufficiently separating their rubbish. I'd hate to see what his very harsh suggestions are like!

'salt': 'Also the claim that enviromentalists don't want Africa to be developed is a straw man argumant, I have never heard anyone claim such a thing.'

If I were 'punky', I would be well pissed off at the lack of attention 'salt' is paying.

'hebrew': 'If you leave it up to people's consciences then you can just give up from the beginning, cause the majority just don't have it.'

'My own father for example doesn't give a shitt to environmental issues, he won't think about it for a minute. He will drive even for a 10 minutes walking distance just because he "doesn't do walking". There is no point to try to explain something. So with people like him (and unfortunatelly they are the majority) you have no choice but to hurt their pockets. And hurt it very hard.'

Shorter 'hebrew': I know much better than the majority what is good for them and the planet, but don't call me elitist. Also, Dad, this will teach you for telling me to shut up over dinner when I was a teenager!

'PowerCat': 'You seem to think that cheap air travel is some sort of great liberating force for the "working classes", that they've put down their coal shovels *en mass* and jetted off to the south of France for a little bouillabaise and impromptu discussions of philosohpy in dimply-lit cafes. No. Sorry. If anything cheap air travel has benefitted the middle classes, jetting off for weekend breaks several times a year, perhaps even to that holiday home they've just bought. Air travel is environmentally detructive and the price of it needs to adequately reflect that.'

No! How can you misunderstand the point being made so badly? He's not saying that cheap flights haven't benefitted the middle classes - they've obviously benefitted everybody - but instead that cheap flights have provided an opportunity for working class people who couldn't afford it before, and that it will be the working classes, not the middle classes, who suffer if the government taxes cheap flights out of existence. This is simple common sense; why does it require spelling out in words of one syllable?

'TobyLewis': 'No differentiation is made for class because morality treats everyone as an individual and from there comes responsibility. We need to figure out the total cost of our personal actions when multiplied the world over and our responsibility to others and not about cheap holidays abroad or that recycling takes a few minutes that would be better spent watching the TV.'

How very egalitarian of you. Unfortunately, this morality, as opposed to, say, don't murder or whatever, costs money, and you can't just ignore that fact. Also, I find it outrageous that someone can suggest 'figur[ing] out the total cost of our personal actions when multiplied the world' as if me not using the right recycling bin today should be considered responsible for every death that may be caused by global warming in the future.

'franky1972': 'Other than being ignorant you are pointless, another one to dispose of; when we halved the population of the planet the issue will be resolved, quite simple. Bring on the camps for these subhumans.'

I actually feel quite bad including this one - to be fair to everyone else, they haven't advocated gas chambers and concentration camps for those who don't hold the same opinions. This man - and I guarantee it'll be a man - is a sick fuck, and as a revolting, ordure-covered troll should be ignored.

Still, I have to say that this argument is only the reductio ad absurdum that you get if you suggest that minor environmental 'crimes' in your street can be held responsible for some kind of future genocide from global warming.

'ShinyScalp': 'Of course, we can make the argument that it is the choice of the individual to make those bad decisions, but when the costs of those decisions are externalised on to people in subsequent generations in different parts of the world, how the hell are ordinary, non-politically engaged people SUPPOSED to make rational and GOOD decisions (with fewer bad consequences) unless the BAD ones come with £1,000 fines?'

The trouble with this is that it splits every action and deed anyone ever commits into two camps - environmentally good, and environmentally evil. Nobody, but nobody, makes every decision in life based on these polar delineations. If I've been driving around for my job all year, and then my mother in Australia falls seriously ill over Christmas, am I a bad person for wanting to go and visit her? Should I be punished with a fine for that?

You might, I suppose, argue that that is a spurious argument, and that my mother doesn't live in Australia, and you would have a point. However, constructing binary poles around these issues can only harm environmental causes in the long run.

If you see someone use one of these properly, they're in real trouble because 'Only The Good Die Young'.

Steve, am I missing something somewhere? Recycling seems to me a fairly simple process. My grandad's in his nineties, has some bizarre notions and a somewhat unsteady grasp of logic and still seems to get the gist of sticking the right things in the right bins. If you can't get the right stuff in the right bins it essentially defeats the purpose of recycling. This is why councils go mental at people who, it would seem to them are willfully cramming what they want, where they want. Is recycling a waste of time as far as saving the environment goes? Possibly. Does that mean it's not a viable way of disposing of our rubbish? No, I don't believe so. I see it more in terms of being a common sense
and cost effective(I stand to be corrected on this one) solution to the vast amounts of waste we produce.

As for cheap flights, I agree that they are indeed a rather ace thing to have. They will end though and that's something we have no control over. They won't end because of environmental concerns, they'll end because of the increasing price of oil.
Phew! Some good points there, but I'd just like to counter a couple.

Firstly, you're right, high oil prices are putting a demand upon cheap flights. However, this is an oil shock like every other, and they all come to an end eventually. It may not seem it, what with the Middle East being basically a live action version of 'Red Alert', but the truth is preposterously high oil prices hurt OPEC as much as they hurt anybody else.

The US Congress, for instance, recently passed a law allowing for oil exploration and drilling off all its coasts - previously it had only been allowed in the Gulf - because American consumers won't tolerate high gas prices, and while they still hold such an enormous corner of the market the OPEC countries are constantly terrified of being priced out of the game.

On the recycling issue, I think I'm to blame here for not making my point entirely clearly. I have no problem with recycling in principle - although as Tim Worstall points out on that comments thread, the economic arguments for it are far from perfect - but my problem is with the attitude that can justify attempting to take a low-wage mother of three to court for a £1000 fine for insufficiently separating her rubbish.

It is indicative of a wider trend, in my opinion, that Exeter City Council have now sought the power to introduce on-the-spot fines for this offence. In other words, having singularly failed to get a conviction in a court of law - pesky 'burden of proof' and all that - they have now sought to neatly sidestep this stage in order to get the power to mete out summary justice on the street.
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