Friday, April 6, 2012

Squeezed Down The Plughole

“Man stalks across the landscape, and desert follows his footsteps.”
Herodotus (5th century BC)

North-eastern Wessex, along with much of the rest of southern and eastern England, is now subject to a hosepipe ban. Parts of western Wessex are heading that way too.

Why? Last night, the BBC’s reporter let slip that one component of the problem is population growth. Thank you. Perhaps the reporter has since been quietly led outside and ‘dealt with’? For a long time, it’s been against the policy of the BBC and of the London regime as a whole to mention the ‘P’ word. Half a century of ceaseless mental dragooning has left them unable to tell the difference between racism and preventing the destruction of the environment through over-use. Nothing could be worse than curbing the right to live wherever you want, regardless of the consequences for others. That would be prejudice in favour of those already here, an attack on the equal right of all human beings to devour their world. And anything, even the end of civilisation as we know it, would be better than that.

Our own population policy recognises that something must be done, in the most humane way possible, or something will be done anyway, in ways that are less than humane. New housebuilding must be wound down and the economy, especially the financial sector, radically restructured to remove the pathological imperative for growth. Emigration must be encouraged. Paying folk to leave our shores would be well worthwhile in terms of improved quality of life for those left behind. Less stressed, less polluted, lower cost. Child benefit needs to be reformed to remove any incentive for having large families. One way would be to pay it on an inverse sliding scale, tailing off as family size grows. This would more accurately reflect the true costs of child-rearing, encouraging the re-use of clothing and toys, for example. (At present, the only distinction made is between the first child and all subsequent children.)

That the London parties will all throw up their hands in horror at such suggestions shows how out of touch they’ve become. They forget that a sustained or, where still possible, improved quality of life for all ought to be the primary goal of sound political thought and action. Deliberately fostering irresponsible and environmentally destructive practices that undermine that quality of life is what they do best. For the New Left in particular, the creation of conditions of tension in the belief that a better society will somehow emerge out of them is an article of faith (‘chaos is good’). On the near Right, there is a similar belief that chaos is self-correcting, through the operation of markets (‘greed is good’), but stunned silence when markets hit resource barriers. What do you mean, we can’t buy our way out?

The result is authoritarian panic, lashing out at the symptoms. Viewers of Channel 4 News last night will have seen Jon Snow floating various possibilities with his interviewee. Putting a (horrendously expensive) pipeline alongside the new HS2 rail link to shove water Londonwards. Banning the installation of new baths and power showers. And this is the same Jon Snow who supports building 2 million new homes, including on greenfield land. Will the penny ever drop? Solutions are needed, Jon. Solutions that don’t go on feeding the problem. Solutions that don’t penalise those who are not the fundamental cause of the problem. Solutions that get folk to open their eyes to what the fundamental cause really is. And the threat it poses to all of us who just want to go on living our lives in some reasonable state of comfort.

It really isn’t a lot to ask. Just a whole lot more than the London parties are willing to deliver. Much of the time they seem actually to relish the scarcity their policies promote. More folk, fewer resources. So more rationing, and fairness, and jobs for the boys (and the girls) who oversee it all! More folk, higher house prices. So smaller houses, making super-efficient use of space! More folk, less water. So new Building Regulations that only permit showers! More folk, less farmland. So a vegan diet for all! Eliminate your non-needs! Minimalise, move over and make room! Stop living! Start existing!

Seen in this context, the drive for a less wasteful society is not a neutral, technical process but carries all kinds of ideological baggage needing to be screened. Unavoidable scarcity and avoidable scarcity have been deliciously fused to deter any analysis of the latter. Yes, the future will be constrained. But the economic constraints brought about by the exhaustion of energy minerals and other non-renewable resources will be bad enough without ageing hippies and their acolytes engineering a situation in which a whole level of political constraints gets imposed on top so as to keep order in their human zoo.

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