Mark Steel: Here's a renewable energy idea: burn the poor

It seems the more influence someone has over the environment, the less they give a toss about it
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The Independent Online

The wonderful part about the response to the global warming debate in this paper is that you sense how most people are willing to make personal sacrifices to save the planet. The problem is that typically, it's those with the cushiest lives who obstinately refuse to give up anything.

Suggest to the Panzer divisions of suburban SUV drivers that these vehicles have an impact on the atmosphere, and they'll snarl as if you've said, "I curse your mother and spit on your God." You could travel to some posh village in Surrey and show them film of an entire island's population sinking beneath rising sea levels, and they'd say, "Well it's all right for them. Now they're living in the sea, if they want fresh salmon they can just scoop some out, but if I want some I still have to go all the way to Waitrose. How am I supposed to get there and back and take a three-year-old child and pick up the artichokes unless I take the 13-seat articulated wagon with a back seat that converts into a bouncy castle?"

They're brazen about it. You see them interviewed on news items about the environment, leaning out of the window having dropped their kids off, barking: "Now look. I live over three hundred yards from the school, and I have a 9.30 booking at the gym, so the only possible way I can meet my appointments is to fly my children here. But I always use unleaded aviation fuel so surely I'm stopping global warming."

Most people accept that as there's been less rain than usual, they should use less water. But these arses can't wait to be filmed on a regional programme bragging that they won't take any notice of a hosepipe ban because of their lawn, or because "Last week for our daughter's birthday we bought her a whale. It was a special treat after she was so upset about Wally in the Thames, now are we supposed to risk him getting beached because we can't fill up his artificial ocean?" And they squeal about civil rights and liberty so you'd think you were listening to Martin Luther bloody King, until you realise they want the freedom to sprinkle the last 20 gallons of water in the South-east over their poxy putting green. By July there'll be a protest song, with Elton John singing "Goodbye English rose, you were never watered at all."

Similarly, every study of charity suggests the poor give away a much higher proportion of their income than the rich. Indeed, the main campaign of the rich for the past 30 years has been for lower taxes, which in effect is a demand for charity from the poor towards them. It's as if they have their own Comic Relief night, with Tara Palmer-Tomkinson pleading: "This is Geoffrey. He suffers terribly from tax. Geoffrey would love to be able to buy his own river, and for the price of just a few hundred dialysis machines he could get a really fresh one in Scotland..."

This layer of society often excuse themselves by saying: "There are others who are worse than us, so why not go after them?" This is always the rationale for behaving in an anti-social way, so the arms dealer will say if he didn't sell cattle prods to the Burmese, someone else would, and theirs would be worse, with an extra spike on the end, so these prisoners should be grateful. But in a sense, there is a logic to this argument, especially with global warming. As you walk to the recycled paper point, you can't help thinking that none of this matters while companies like Exxon pump out tons of gunge, then spend millions funding the only reports in the world that state global warming isn't happening, which are the only ones read by George Bush. You wonder why Exxon science hasn't moved into other areas, compiling medical reports from Abu Ghraib showing that torture is quite pleasant, and concluding that back pain can be cured with "electrode-therapy".

It seems the richer someone is, the more influence they have over the environment, yet the less they seem to give a toss about it. But it isn't coincidence, because for the oil companies the reason to exist is to make a profit. They could no more accept a strategy that entailed a reduction in profits than a religion could pursue a way of thinking that involved a reduction in God. So even if they're wrecking the place, they refuse to believe it.

The self-centred suburban brigade may not all be oil executives, but they still live in a world fuelled by individual aspiration for wealth and status. Whereas for most people, quality of life revolves around a multitude of issues that depend on a sense of community, including keeping the planet going, so they're prepared to put themselves out a bit to cough out less muck. Which may be why an appeal to people in this paper for ways of reducing carbon emissions produced countless concerned suggestions. Which wouldn't happen if they tried a similar idea in Hare and Hounds. Except for a few suggestions such as "Sir: Surely there is a viable method for conserving energy which would avoid creating eyesores such as those ghastly wind turbines, which is to burn the poor. I have it on good authority that a single ruffian could generate several kilowatts of power for up to an hour, providing sufficient sustenance for a village the size of Chobham for a full episode of Heartbeat. Such a remedy would entail the added benefits of reduced crime and a sustainable reduction in illegal immigration. One laments, however, that in the current climate of political correctness, such an eminently practical solution will be considered too much of a 'hot potato' to be implemented."