Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The uneven space of green ideas

When visiting friends or relatives, one notices much more little qualities of everyday life. The water can be harder, the house hotter or colder, and all the kitchen utensils are in the wrong place! But, of course, these qualities become familiar and eventually comforting. There is one difference, however, which is becoming more and more marked – the local recycling customs. In rural Cumbria, you can bung your empty cans and jars into a crate by the road and think little more of it. When visiting London, I’m almost surprised that councils don’t provide on-call chemists to ascertain whether the empty bag of Weetos goes in the bin for biodegradable/compostable packaging or “General Waste” (who I like to think is ranked below Field Marshal Rubbish but above Colonel Littering). The serious point here is that green solutions to potential environmental problems differ widely between different areas, which can limit the effectiveness of central policies. Indeed, delegating such solutions as recycling and limiting emissions to councils suggests the government is not particularly interested in a centralised approach, or in making environmental concern a common theme in its policy more generally.

This too is a microcosm of environmental policy on a global scale. Consider, for example, the failure of the summits at Kyoto and Copenhagen to deliver unified and powerful environmental policy with global influence. Emissions targets are all very well, but there must either be apparatus to enforce targets (a solution which seems too unilateral), or a process to educate people, councils and governments to secure and apply useful ideas consistently.