Less flights, not less food, make 70’s more environmental

Wednesday, 6th May 2009 at 8:00 UTC 4 comments

I found a recent article that claims eating less overall, and more greens and less meat, to reflect the diet of the 1970’s, would help the planet. Whilst I don’t doubt there’s some truth here, I do think conjoining the very separate issues of obesity and the collapse of eco-systems is unhelpful in a world full of image problems. But perhaps the idea that a 1970’s lifestyle is better for the planet might hold some weight.

After all, car ownership was lower, if just as economically stratified. Families were more likely to have just one car. MPV’s and SUV’s weren’t all the rage either. And foreign holidays were either annual things, or not at all, except for the stupidly rich. And people had one telly, no dishwasher and a whole lot fewer power sucking gadgets.

Sure, this relied on a certain amount of inequity, with the richest already consuming as much or more than today’s average UK householder, but the majority were doing much better. And for all the faults of the rail system at the time, at least it was a bit more affordable.

Being vegan might save enough CO2 to allow you to drive a 4×4 but it doesn’t save you enough to take a flight across the Atlantic. And car ownership wasn’t as high, either, especially not second cars for households. But most noteworthy of all, is that most houses survived with far fewer wall sockets.

How many of the wall sockets in your house have more than 1 thing plugged into them via extensions? Many houses were wired on the basis that a bedroom needed 4 sockets tops, and yet my bedroom has 9 things plugged in right now. I’m sure I’m not the worst culprit, either. Even if I cut it down to a laptop and bed side lamp, I’d be using 1 more than many people would have been using 40 years ago.

Its very easy to confuse reducing CO2 usage with primitivism. Yes, a primitivist lifestyle will almost certainly impact the environment less than the “average” modern person’s life does. But it is unrealistic and possibly unnecessarily harsh, though one should be rather careful in this regard.

If one aims for a 2 ton carbon lifestyle, taking life 40 years ago could be an excellent first step. One might even find oneself able to put more money aside or take time out to volunteer in the community, though I do find it worrying some have returned to the search for the 4-working-day-week Mecca as part of reducing carbon emissions.

In practice, a low carbon economy must be one in which the work we undertake is actually meaningful, and yes, it will probably require 40 hour weeks, after we factor in the ways we must simplify processes. It means evaluating the things we buy and deciding which ones we could better do with out, owning and consuming less, rather than not at all. After all, 25% of China’s emissions belong to the West and not China once final destinations of goods are taken into account. Reversing the excesses of development, yes, but definitely not some kind of return to the wild.

So it ultimately comes down to a phrase that I have heard often amongst Christians and almost never amongst non-Christian Activists: We must live simply, that others might simply less.


Entry filed under: Climate Change, Diet, Environment, Travel.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. sophia  |  Wednesday, 6th May 2009 at 10:15 UTC

    I assume you meant ‘Live simply, that others may simply live’.

    It is a phrase that is bandied about all over the place and definitely not just by Christians. I saw two vehemently atheist people with it on a patch when I was in Romania.

  • 2. Graham Martin  |  Wednesday, 6th May 2009 at 14:14 UTC

    I didn’t say it was exclusively Christian, but its something I’d like to hear (and see practical suggestions of) around activist circles. Basically, I wonder if the time has come for us to begin really talking about consumer-targeted actions, and how we can make a gentle move into that area, whilst ensuring we don’t go all out to piss people off and that we don’t loose sight of “industry”, “government” and “profit” as the big bads.

  • 3. Lois  |  Wednesday, 6th May 2009 at 15:05 UTC

    While managing with fewer gadgets might not be a bad thing, this topic is a demonstration of how difficult it can be to pick one part of the past as a model for the present (ohh look, the historian in me is coming out to play!) While aspects of 70’s lifestyle are unboubtedly greener than present Western lifestyles, in other ways there are things present day people can’t be comfortable with- for example, when there were fewer power-using gadgets (eg before washing machines or fridge/ freezers that allowed storage of food so people didn’t have to go shopping every day) there was also more need for one person- almost always the woman- to stay at home and do the household chores, which tended to mean they were ignored and inequal. Just a caution about remembering the “interconnectedness of all things”!

  • 4. Helen  |  Thursday, 7th May 2009 at 16:57 UTC

    The “obesity causes climate change” really pisses me off as an obese person who doesn’t eat much meat, doesn’t fly, doesn’t drive and is careful not to leave things on standby.

    I mean, I’m not greener than green, and definitely not as green as I should be, but it seems to me that you can’t assess a person’s carbon footprint on the basis of their weight. I even read in the Metro article “overweight people need more food to do the same amount of work or exercise”… so am I not supposed to exercise now? 🙂

    It makes me sad because there are so many good things you can say about choices people actively make on a daily basis… I don’t wake up and think “I’m going to be fat today!” but I, and everyone else, have to make decisions about the food I’ll eat, the way I get to work, where I go on holiday etc. If food is the cause celebre, then encouraging people to buy locally and seasonally, to grow their own veg, to not eat much meat etc is much better than just blaming us fatties.


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