Anthony Giddens : Blaming Consumers

Anthony Giddens, as a “key architect of New Labour”, disappointingly brings to the table a less than razor-sharp understanding of what is responsible for Global Warming Pollution.

He seems to be content to be cynical about the Consumers in the Free Market Economy, without questioning the role of the Producers of the Energy and goods consumed.

David J. C. Mackay, Paul Mobbs and Laurie Michaelis, all come with different viewpoints to the question of Material Consumption, all provide figures to show that “Stuff” constitutes one of the highest components in an individual’s Carbon Emissions basket :-

David J. C. MacKay on “Stuff”, Chapter 15 of his book “Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air” SEWTHA (as of the date of this post, it has exceeded its bandwidth) :-

http://www.withouthotair.com/

David posted on his web log that he knows that the SEWTHA website has gone down and points us to another website :-

http://withouthotair.blogspot.com/

http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/

Here is Chapter 15 :-

http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c15/page_88.shtml

And here’s the page with the diagram that shows “Stuff” takes a lot of Energy use :-

http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c15/page_94.shtml

By the way there was a group read of SEWTHA at OpenDemocracy in 2009 :-

http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/economics/energy-without-hot-air-start

In Paul Mobbs’ analysis, the Energy that goes into Food is even worse than other forms of Consumption :-

http://www.fraw.org.uk/download/ebo/less_presentation-2008.pdf

See how he projects where we need to use Less on slide 49 “The Potential for Reduction”.

Laurie Michaelis’ Climate Change worksheet includes several components that relate to material consumption :-

But Anthony Giddens does not appear to have understood the basic fact : that the Consumer Society is all about Consumption, and that Consumption is highly correlated, in a causal fashion, with Climate Change.

Here I relate to you from the Introduction to Anthony Gidden’s book “The Politics of Climate Change”, pages 2 and 3 :-


START OF QUOTATION

“It is not as if climate change is creeping up on us unawares. On the contrary, large numbers of books have been written about it and its likely consequences. Serious worries about the warming of the earth’s climate were expressed for a quarter of a century or more without making much of an impact. Within the past few years the issue has jumped to the forefront of discussion and debate, not just in this or that country but across the world. Yet, as collective humanity, we are only just beginning to take the steps needed to respond to the threats that we and succeeding generations are confronting. Global warming is a problem unlike any other, however, both because of its scale and because it is mainly about the future. Many have said that to cope with it we will need to mobilize on a level comparable to fighting a war; but in this case there are no enemies to identify and confront. We are dealing with dangers that seem abstract and elusive, however potentially devastating they may be.”

“No matter how much we are told about the threats, it is hard to face up to them, because they feel somehow unreal – and, in the meantime, there is a life to be lived, with all its pleasures and pressures. The politics of climate change has to cope with what I call the ‘Gidden’s paradox’. It states that, since the dangers posed by global warming aren’t tangible, immediate or visible in the course of day-to-day life, however awesome they appear, many will sit on their hands and do nothing of a concrete nature about them. Yet waiting until they become visible and acute before being stirred to take serious action will, by definition, be too late.”

“Gidden’s paradox affects almost every aspect of current reactions to climate change. It is the reason why, for many citizens, climate change is a back-of-the-mind issue rather than a front-of-the-mind one. Attitude surveys show that most of the public accept that global warming is a major threat; yet only a few are willing to alter their lives in any significant way as a result. Among elites, climate change lends itself to gestural politics – grandiose-sounding plans largely empty of content.”

“What social psychologists call ‘future discounting’ further accentuates Gidden’s paradox – more accurately, one could say it is a sub-category of it. People find it hard to give the same level of reality to the future as they do to the present. Thus a small reward offered now will normally be taken in preference to a much larger one offered at some remove. The same principle applies to risks. Why do many young people take up smoking even though they are well aware that, as it now says on cigarette packets, ‘smoking kills’ ? As least part of the reason is that, for a teenager, it is almost impossible to imagine being 40, the age at which the real dangers start to take hold and become life-threatening.”

“Gidden’s paradox is at the centre of a range of other influences that tend to paralyse or inhibit action. Think back to the SUV. In the US, lots of people drive them, partly because, under the presidency of George W. Bush, no attempt was made to impose the taxes on gas-guzzling vehicles that some other countries have levied. The large motor-vehicle companies, not just in America but to some extent elsewhere as well, continued to pour them forth and had a vested interest in so doing. And their sales had a certain justifiable rationale. SUVs are valuable in rough terrain. People who use them in cities often do so because of a sense of style, but also because they offer more protection in accidents than smaller vehicles do. And not all SUV drivers are macho men by any means. Women sometimes drive them, because of the sense of security they provide.”

“People carry on driving SUVs for other reasons too. There is a high level of agreement among scientists that climate change is real and dangerous, and that is it caused by human activity. A small minority of scientists, however – the climate change ‘sceptics’ – dispute these claims, and they get a good deal of attention in the media. Our driver can always say, ‘it’s not proven, is it?’, if anyone were to suggest he should change his profligate ways. Another response might be: ‘I’m not going to change unless others do’, and he could point out that some drive even bigger gas-guzzlers, like Bentleys or Ferraris. Yet another reaction could be: ‘Nothing that I do as a single individual, will make any difference’. Or else he could say, ‘I’ll get round to it sometime’, because one shouldn’t underestimate the sheer force of habit. I would suggest that even the most sophisticated and determined environmentalist – who owns no car at all – struggles with the fact that, under the shadow of future cataclysm, there is a life to be lived within the constraints of the here-and-now.”

END OF QUOTATION


Anthony Giddens writes : “Many have said that to cope with it we will need to mobilize on a level comparable to fighting a war; but in this case there are no enemies to identify and confront.”

I beg to differ. Utah Phillips once said, “The earth is not dying. It is being killed, and the people killing it have names and addresses.”

There are many good and noble people working in corporations and companies, but the net output of some of these businesses is ruination. If the corporation were a person, it may well be likened to a psychopath :-

http://www.thecorporation.com/index.cfm?page_id=2

Anthony Giddens writes : “No matter how much we are told about the threats, it is hard to face up to them, because they feel somehow unreal…”

Of course the risks of Climate Change seem unreal, because people have been “zorbed” – absorbed into a system of unnecessary material consumption and money exchange. Anything that critiques this cosy network of incentives and rewards would be bound to be met with a wall of incomprehension. It is the Brave New World of Aldous Huxley that George Monbiot writes about in the The Guardian :-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/04/standard-of-living-spending-consumerism

Anthony Giddens coins the term the “Gidden’s paradox”, an inertia against social change because of a lack of recognition of the risks posed by Climate Change. Actually, he just stole the Precautionary Principle identified at the 1992 Rio Declaration, and turned it backwards : the “Gidden’s paradox” is the “Unprecautionary Observation” :-

Principle 15 :-
http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=78&ArticleID=1163

Anthony Giddens writes : “Attitude surveys show that most of the public accept that global warming is a major threat; yet only a few are willing to alter their lives in any significant way as a result.”

Yes, that’s right. Only 20% of the population care. And only 20% of the population will ever care, in trying to search out the right way to live given the parameters of Earth’s limits.

But that doesn’t make the other 80% wrong or evil. And it doesn’t mean that there should be massive public communications to try to make the other 80% “convert”.

Personal choices in a consumer society should stay just that. Freedom to choose is an important element of democracy.

What should happen is that the choices available to people should all become equally Low Carbon.

Anthony Giddens wonders : “Why do many young people take up smoking even though they are well aware that, as it now says on cigarette packets, ‘smoking kills’ ?”

Well now, that would be that teenagers have been identified as a huge, burgeoning consumer sector, and are subject to massive levels of advertising; rebellion is equated with purchases; alternative culture is inauthentically mass-produced and sold on chain store shelves. British kids are allowed to take their driving test at 17, a full year before they are allowed to purchase alcohol or vote. What will they do after they have their Driving Licence ? Make one of the biggest consumer purchases they will make for perhaps 10 years. Selling driving, selling cars, is a way to sell freedom to dynamic, antsy turbulent youngsters. And thereby corrupts them forever, dragging them into the Consumer paradigm. Cigarettes : same deal. You want what you can’t have, so the advertisers throw the concept of rebellion at you while you’re too young and make you into a pre-consumer; ready to jump at the chance to smoke as soon as you are legally permitted (or before).

Anthony Giddens writes : “Think back to the SUV. In the US, lots of people drive them, partly because, under the presidency of George W. Bush, no attempt was made to impose the taxes on gas-guzzling vehicles that some other countries have levied.”

No, that’s quite incorrect. It should read “no attempt was made to stop the SUV class being manufactured”. If it’s not produced, it can’t be sold. Why blame the consumer ? They’re only doing what they’re told and shopping for the health of their country’s economy.

Anthony Giddens ponders : “one shouldn’t underestimate the sheer force of habit” as a comment on consumer choice, but he neglects to mention the habits of the manufacturers. Advertising is too strong a pull on culture. Habits in SUV purchase will only change when the SUV businesses collapse. Oh yes, they’ve done that already.

The End Game for smoking will be a total ban on public puffing, and further restrictions on conditions of sale. It will die out eventually. This happy ending of over ten years of campaigning could have been precipitated by just banning tobacco sales. But it’s never right to question a company’s right to trade, is it ?

With Climate Change we don’t have ten years to affect a social change on Energy consumption through piecemeal cultural adjustment. We should just ban Oil and Gas and Coal outright. Now. With a short timeframe lead-in for diversification to Renewable Energy resources and a massive ramp down in Energy consumption.

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