‘Until the air we breathe is more valuable than the pound in our pockets…’

This was something my husband said yesterday, and it summed up my feelings about our species’ wilful determination to self-destruct. It was prompted by us following a rubbish lorry through our local town and seeing how many bags were thrown into it. The ‘dustmen’ get a real workout doing their job, and I was impressed by them. We were held up by three rubbish lorries within a handful of streets, and it brought home to us the scale of what we discard. – the profligate waste.

Three lorries in a handful of streets in a small town in a sparsely populated county of a tiny country with only two million souls – Wales. I tried to envisage that multiplied worldwide and failed – it’s like trying to count the stars in the multiverse. There is reported to be an island of plastic the size of Wales floating around in the Pacific. Daily Mail

That we are drowning in plastic is undeniable, that packaging, especially excess and deliberately misleading packaging, size and value-wise, is the major source is also undeniable. I can remember a time before plastic. We had paper bags, string and hessian or leather shopping bags, cardboard tubes and boxes, glass jars and bottles, and metal foil. It worked and it was all biodegradable or re-used.

That our lives are made easier by having dishwashers, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, coffee makers,  fridge-freezers, central heating, and so  on ad infinitum is also undeniable. There are many labour-saving devices I’d hate to be without, but before these devices came into being, women worked hard, shopped daily, and managed.

We love to travel, something ordinary people rarely did when I was a child, and the recent drone scare at Gatwick has highlighted the environmental cost of flying. Not just flying for pleasure but air transport in general. We expect an infinite variety of fresh food all the year round, and it all requires transportation. There was time when we kept pigs, goats, and chickens, grew our own food in gardens and allotments, and ate cabbage, carrots, and onions in winter and tomatoes, cucumber, and lettuce in summer. (Well not entirely, but you get my drift) Every village had its shoemaker, blacksmith, seamstress, doctor, midwife, builder, plumber, small shop, and pub. Before personal transport, a worker travelled no farther than they could walk or cycle, and feet and bicycles don’t pollute much. We toiled and we managed, in fact, we managed very well. We built inter-dependent communities.

There was a time when the trade winds brought sailing ships with tea to England from China; now huge container ships the size of a small city bring – dare I say it -in my opinion, a plethora of unnecessary sub-standard goods that will break long before they should or don’t work in the first place. Made in China, in our house at least, is synonymous with crap. Before Beeching, we had a rail network that was within reach of almost every village. Freight was transported by rail, not road. Before that, canals with horse-drawn barges carried our freight around the country, and before that, horses and carts or pack ponies followed the drove roads along with the herds of cattle and sheep that were walked to market. Men, children, and horses worked and walked and life ambled at that pace.

There was a time when food had twice the nutritional value that is has now. I heard this recently, and it didn’t entirely surprise me. Before we began to use artificial fertilizer that pollutes our rivers, from whence our drinking water originates, we looked after the structure of the soil and its fertility by adding organic manure that didn’t instantly leach into the waterways with the first heavy rain or blow away in a dust storm. Our soil is dangerously depleted even as our population hits ever more unsustainable levels.

In the seventies, people were urged not to have more than two children, advice I heeded – 2.4 being the number needed to keep the population at the same level. Why is it no-one talks about over-population anymore? Are they afraid of the economic downturn a much overdue reduction would cause? Probably. Imagine if China hadn’t had a one-child policy for all these years? If they could do it, shouldn’t we all try it? Whatever the problems it’s created, it obviously worked for a long time.

I’m not trying to say that we now have too much leisure time, both men and women work hard, but we seem to work at jobs that are – I struggle to find the right word – impractical comes to mind – of no sustainable value. We bash keys, as I’m doing now, and I have to wonder if half of what we do is necessary or even desirable.  We were once craftsmen and craftswomen and had a pride in what we produced. Our goods might have been comparatively expensive, being labour intensive, but they lasted a lifetime – I have kitchen utensils that are forty years old and crockery much older. Hell, I have clothes older than my children. We didn’t throw things away because fashion changed or they broke or we had to have the latest gizmo. We ‘made do and mended’ and ‘got the wear out of them’. We certainly didn’t have time to play computer games. (Guilty as charged)

I can’t help thinking we need to take a step backwards and re-evaluate our lives, what is important, and how to reduce our carbon emissions and our waste. I’d love, for example, to see a trial of switching off all lights in all city centres at midnight. I wonder how much electricity it would save worldwide and what the impact would be on crime rates and violence/hospital admissions due to people being out all night imbibing drugs and alcohol. It could be interesting.

While our economy is driven by the money to be made, mankind will be forced to chase the elusive pound, yuan, or dollar at the expense of our survival. Tigers and other wildlife will be hunted to extinction, the seas will be fished bare, and the soil will continue to be impoverished. Until the air we breathe, the nutrition in the food we eat, the water we drink, our wildlife, and our children’s futures are of more value to us than the pound in our pocket, we shall continue to pollute and ravage in the name of progress.

Maybe, this is what we’ll be left with when we’ve bankrupted our planet.








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