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The politics of fun consumption, and what the Earth has to say about it

The politics of fun consumption, and what the Earth has to say about it

A few weeks ago I attended a conference called "Can education save the
planet?" in Brussels. It was delivered by Alain Hubert, Belgian
explorer and founder of the International Polar Foundation which aims
at helping tackle climate change. There is something in their website
about education, but the word "education" was not spoken once during
the lecture. In fact, a conference that I thought –and that's why I
attended- to be inspired - turned out to be two hours of boredom.
Hubert's most impressive job has been to lead a team in building the
first climate change neutral research station in Antarctica, also for
climate change-research purposes.


But surely is not a matter of science anymore. Hubert's entire lecture
was about the evidence for climate change. It was in fact a version of
Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth", only not so spectacular.
Perhaps it could be called education, but that is not what the lecture
was meant to be about. I expected an inspiring and eloquent account on
how we are going to change the planet, but I only got facts I already

I was quite surprised that at the end of it people were raising hands
to thank him for his revealing speech. Well, it seems some people
still don't know about the facts, but what worries me most is that a
lot of people seem to be waiting for something to happen. I mean, for
someone to come and fix the problem. A lot of people in the audience
probably thought that a scientists like Mr. Hubert would be the one.

I remember a few years ago getting a mass e-mail saying something like
"Glaciers are melting over the Southern Andes and scientists do not
know what to do about it". I found that statement to be very shocking,
since I could hardly realize the link between what scientist evidence
and what is done about it.

Soon after the conference I travelled to England and eventually ended
up in the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change based in Norwich, which
holds the prestige to be one of the best there is for research about
the issue. At the entrance there was a contest-winning poster asking
for "who killed the electric car?" Was it governments?
Multi-nationals? Oil companies? Surely science was not involved, and
surely there is nothing science (alone) can do to save it.

Then yesterday I happened to watch on YouTube a mockery by the guys of
"The Last Laugh" on the oil interests embedded in the invasion of Iraq
by the British army. And so it is back to basics. It is always about
political will. Despite all my efforts to recycle and reduce my annual
number of flights, there is not much I can do against POWER. And it is
because we humans dance around power and not science that we are in
this mess.

During my years at university I spent a great deal of time reading
books about the evidence and the consequences of climate change. When
I finished my degree and left I could not be more relieved that I
wouldn't have to read more horrible stories about this doomed Earth.
Consequently I lowered my eco-credentials and I went from drinking
from someone else's glass to save washing energy, liquid, and water,
to even stop recycling at some point. Too much effort. It really is
about self-will, and I will even dare to say, it is about

It is part of the post-war economic world and the high consumption
society. It is just the way it is. No matter how important it seems
otherwise, I increasingly feel that if the concept of "fun" is not
implied in what we are going to do, we might as well not bother. There
some sort of sense of responsibility that has been lost. I suppose
this is not the society so many dreamers once envisioned.

Can education save the planet? Well, I don;t really know or care, so
long as someone can. But can anyone do it? Many have written that the
world needs a policy similar to the one embraced by the axis powers on
the eve of Hitler's expansion into Central and Eastern Europe before
World War II. A sort of total-sustainability-approach. But when is
late too late? How many hurricanes, floods and heatwaves do we need to
experience to start planning for the right target? Are we waiting for
something worse to come? What are we aiming at? Saving Warsaw when
it's too late or standing up to save Prague, and avoiding pan-European

Some argue that a great deal of what has been the institutionalisation
of human rights would not have been possible without the war. Some
even go on to justify it because of what was achieved afterwards. So
can we let climate change get as far has it has to go so that people
"get what they deserve (for being ignorant or indifferent)" and "learn
not to let it happen again"? It is clear that no matter how bad
climate change gets, many people are going to suffer. And numbers do
matter. Most importantly, the end to indifference will have to come,
sooner or later, and later usually means more lives gone. Did Hitler
stop when Poland was backed up by Britain and France?

I do not need to go as far as World War II to see that bold steps are
needed to change the direction of outstanding wrong doing. I am truly
amazed how the once-mighty neo-liberal financial system has turned
into global turmoil. And I am amazed how naïve I was to believe
politicians when they said that everything was going all right. It is
a pity scientists cannot figure out exactly when things are going to
get really bad and the whole system will start to stumble, as I
suppose is the only way economists will stop being sceptical and
change sub-prime mortgages for green investment. I do not know if I
should be sceptical of the numbers of economists, or of the numbers of
scientists. But in the world of reason I believe in, I rather trust
the reason of science and not the greed of investors.

When I used to come home overland to Spain for holidays and try to
convince people that flying should at least be reduced, I got from
time to time answers such as "I will not be here when that [climatic
catastrophe] happens". Time delay, fair enough: but people in 1939 did
not have that excuse. It reminds me of the billionaire bonuses that
high banking executives have obtained after resigning when their
societies have gone bust, the life-vest coming from the taxpayers.

It is of course you and me who now have to deal with this economic
mess, unable to afford a house, unable to find a job. It is you and me
who according to life expectancy figures will be here 50 or 60 more
years will have to deal with any climatic mess. I probably never
thought that the tough neo-liberal reforms symbolised by the policies
of Reagan and Thatcher were a good idea, but I let others get away
with the thought that they were right. I am beginning to be tired of
this 'I-want-I-get' society that to begin with supported decades of
unregulated global trade, with the excuse that in that way people
would face cheaper goods, cheaper housing, and more jobs. Now they got
more expensive goods, a house taken by the bank, and a long line at
the unemployment office.

Although I believe in the general theory of the market, now more than
ever I also believe that not everything that the market produces is
necessarily good. It is not up to scientists to change the world, but
it is our duty to know. If I was naïve enough to trust my government
to let us get into global economic mess, I shall not let it do the
same with climate policy. In 1938 it was Chamberlain's excuse that
Britain was not ready to war to stand up to Hitler. Hitler did not
wait though. Truces are hard to sign. Cure has never been better than
prevention. A $700 billion bailout and other national measures seem
hardly a way out of the current mess. History teaches us that upon
reconstruction, there is hardly any reasonably justification for not
having done more earlier on. There are no excuses to "unreadiness"
from our well-scared governments to adapt to carbon-reduction
strategies. And there are no excuses from any of us too. I want to
leave the last three decades of economic party, so to avoid three
decades of energy and consumption party and the bailout that will come
with it. I want to take back a little of the responsibility with a
little less fun that has shaped my grandparents' lives. You want to
fly to Majorca for a weekend in the sun? Not good enough. No matter
what investors might tell you.