Monday, March 09, 2009

the mask of consumerism slips

Mark Lynas has some interesting things to say about the way the credit crunch affects green technology, and indeed there seems to be a lot up in the air and it could go dramatically one way or the other.

The wariness of lending or investing could stifle a switch to new systems, and economic concerns could make environmentalism seem less important. But then, new green-collar jobs can be a way out of the recession, and as we start to see the amount of money government will slosh round measured in trillions, all of a sudden the amount needed to get to a low-carbon economy seem realistic.

I see something similar in the intangible and psychological realms. In this time when the financial game of bluff that underpins our society falters, as the cracks crack open and the crumbs are crumbling down, a mass of people are newly awakened and questioning the fundamentals in ways they never have before.

It is clear to all that the people at the top aren't really in control. George W Bush, Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel and the rest did not get elected with any plan or desire to nationalise banks.

When the Amazon's bestselling paperbacks has Galbraith's The Great Crash in the top 20 for months on end and even The Communist Manifesto in the top 500, there's a real sense of the ground shifting under our feet. Running along with the ratrace has no guarantees of comfort, the whole thing needs reappraising and changing, and surely there are other, better, ways of living.

The downturn has other interesting phenomena. One of the first things to go in a recession is spending on advertising. People who are poor, or worried about soon becoming poor, are no use to people trying to sell superfluous crap.

The average Briton watches about three hours of TV advertising every week. Even a 'serious' newspaper like the Guardian is over 10% adverts. These statistics used to depress me, but I recently heard Alliance for Green Socialism's Mike Davies look at it another way. Our consumerism, the pressure to measure your life by what you buy or else be ridiculed and ostracised, is largely the result of this omnipresent advertising. It takes that much to prop up this bullshit. What happens when it's removed?

If the tide of consumerist propaganda recedes then the foundations of another life become visible. It becomes clearer to us that the chase for material status hasn't made us happy. Quite the opposite in fact. As a study into young people's mental health put it

What is striking is that, in a counter-intuitive way, rises in mental health problems seem to be associated with improvements in economic conditions

The reduction of advertising, a symptom of the downturn, actually contributes to peoples' ability to envision other ways of living.

Obviously a chosen, smooth transition is preferable to crisis and desperate attempts to resuscitate the suicidal consumer-capitalist system. But nonetheless, amidst the chaos I see bright hope. People wanting fundamental change not just in the way power is wielded, but in the make-up of power itself.

Charlie Brooker says of our politicians

they could get away with this bullshit while times were good, while people were comfortable enough to ignore what was happening; when people were focusing on plasma TVs and iPods and celebrity gossip instead of what the politicians were doing - not because they're stupid, but because they know a closed shop when they see one. But now it looks as if those times are at an end, and more and more of us are pulling the dreampipes from the back of our skulls, undergoing a negative epiphany; blinking into the cold light of day.

As well as the lack of smooth transition, there's also danger in the range of other paradigms that can gain ground. The racist overtones of the recent 'British jobs for British workers' strikes could be an overture for something much nastier. And this could be given a distorted boost in the European elections. As with by-elections, they tend to be favourable to protest votes and, as Blairwatch noted, the BNP are the most likely beneficiaries of protest votes right now.

So there's a need to mobilise, and to ensure that the climate imperative isn't shuffled to the bottom of the deck.

On April 1st the G20 group of nations meet in London, and there'll be a range of actions to meet them, all under the banner of G20 Meltdown.

For the climate conscious, there's an action at 1pm at the European Carbon Exchange at Hasilwood House, 62 Bishopsgate. It is, as the name suggests, the hub of European carbon trading, the fraudulent and ineffective (but hugely lucrative) uber-offsetting scheme.

Their touted climate solution is lots of complicated financial instruments as an effective means of clear dealing without scams and sleight of hand. Have we learned nothing from the credit crunch?

See you there, in the words of Climate Camp, because nature doesn't do bailouts.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Thanks for that Merrick. It's easy to get demoralised when you think that the great british public will probably vote for the other tories next time round. It becomes hard to remember that there are other means of making things happen. The Charlie Brooker quote was spot on.

Thanks also for the recent debate on this blog between yourself and Mark Lynas. I'd never heard of him before, but I got his "Six degrees" book after reading what you both had to say, and it's at once scary and depressing, and hugely interesting.