Sunday, December 14, 2008

December Blues

December has turned out to be quite a busy month with travel preparations (including the dreaded vaccine jabs), Xmas shopping, various Xmas get-togethers and a disproportionately high number of birthdays (including my own earlier this week) - I wonder if there's something particularly fertile about March that leads to more December births, or whether it's just coincidence that I just happen to know more December people. Anyway, a fun time flowing with mulled wine and Winter Pimms, two warm arguments that almost make the cold weather worthwhile.

Before I move onto my rant below (I haven't had one for some time now and I wanted to revisit some old themes in light of a couple of recent news stories) I wanted to add a little bit of information that I had meant to post in my previous post but had forgotten. During my trip I kept a reasonably detailed diary, especially with regards to my daily expenditure, although I hadn't bothered to do a final tally until about a month ago when I was doing a little presentation at work. Apparently, for my entire 3 year odyssey I only spent a grand total of £11,000 (or almost exactly £10 a day). That includes all travel, insurance, accommodation, food and pretty much everything else during my trip (with the exception of the digital cameras I bought). When I finally arrived at the figure I was very surprised, and not to mention more than a little pleased, at how low it was, especially when I consider that over half of that was spent in the first year alone. It just goes to show that you don't necessarily have to break the bank to travel.

It's been a while since my last rant so I thought I'd comment on a recent news story from the UK that demonstrates an opinion that I'd voiced on a couple of occasions previously how I believe that we are, on this world, as we know it, fundamentally screwed. Earlier this week the people of Manchester voted on plans to implement a congestion charging scheme in the city that would have people paying to drive into and out of the city during rush hours. Before the charging were to commence the city would have seen £3 billion of spending on public transport infrastructure. The plan, although not perfect, would have seen jobs created, congestion reduced, quality of life improved and also reduced carbon emissions. Given that an overwhelming majority of Brits routinely place the environment at the top of their priorities when asked about problems facing the world one would have thought that the scheme would have been a shoe-in in such a vote. Instead Manchester voted by an overwhelming majority of 4 to 1 to reject the scheme.

This beautifully illustrates that even when people are educated and given all the facts showing a compelling argument for changing behaviour, with an associated cost and sacrifice, to avert a far greater cost and danger in the future they are unable to see past the short-term hit to their wallet. Such short-termism is the way we, and all animals, have evolved: nature rewards those that think in the present and take as much as they can. Which is why no country is willing to make the sacrifices and investments necessary without others doing the same because the immediate cost would be great, even more so if they are taken alone. Our democratic system doesn't help the situation either as political parties only look as far as the next general elections, their sole raison d'etre being to gain (elected) power, and once acquired to maintain it. All considerations have a timeline of no more than 5 years. This is why when the financial markets went into sudden meltdown it was relatively easy to find hundreds of billions of pounds to bail them out. Amazing when you think that, fundamentally, nothing had changed: there was no loss of life, disease, natural disaster or act of destruction. It was simply that the price people were willing to pay for things (more often than not imaginary, virtual, financial constructs that didn't represent anything tangible in the real world) dropped. Nothing more than that. And yet because its effects were so sudden and hit people in their wallets (where it hurts most) the political will to act was easily mustered. Unfortunately the problems we face are long-term and their effects, if, or when, they come, will move with the speed and power of glaciers, and so we will not notice their coming, but when they hit their effects will be brutal and irrevocable. It's perhaps quite apt that this week also saw the watering down of the EU's objectives to reduce carbon emissions by 2020.

If idealist, socialist, green, responsible, caring, advanced and prosperous Europe can't find the means within itself to do the very minimum required to tackle the most serious of problems just because we're having a few budget problems now then, quite frankly, I hold out very little hope of us not fucking up the world as we know it beyond recognition.

Ho-hum, sorry for being so pessimistic and banging on about green issues. It's the festive season and I will soon be travelling, so that's the last negative post for some time. I promise.

No comments: