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More sustainable than thou

Natalie’s post below, referencing ‘new age travellers’ reminded me of something I saw on TV the other night: One of the reality TV programmes littering the Channel 4 schedule is Wife Swap. This features two families of contrasting lifestyles swapping wives for a couple of weeks. This week saw unabashed ‘consumerist’ Joanna exchange with soi-disant ‘eco-warrior’, Emily.

The violent disagreements frequently showcased in this series were notable by their absence but a source of intense irritation for me was the smug way that Emily’s family presumed to lecture Joanna’s family about the ‘unsustainability’ of their ‘consumerist’ lifestyle. This was to be set in contrast to the supposedly sustainable, humble way of life enjoyed by the environmentally friendly family. Yet it seemed clear to me that it was the lifestyle of the latter which was truly unsustainable. After all, this particular eco-family, eke out an idyllic idle existence in their forest house… courtesy of state benefits!

If all of us capitalists downed our tools to live in the woods and embrace the eco-lifestyle there would be nobody paying the taxes which fund these ‘alternative’ lifestyles, nor indeed would there be an economy to provide all those things you can’t just grow. Whatever chance a self-supporting eco-warrior has of convincing me of the superiority of that lifestyle, when one attempts to do so from a position of state-funded idleness, the proper reaction is derision.

The principal reason this is worth noting is that guilty consumerists prove notoriously receptive to the kind of nonsense peddled by the likes of Emily, probably imagine that the greater virtue lies in the faux-sustainable lifestyle and provide insufficient defense of the capitalism which actually ‘sustains’ all of us.

8 comments to More sustainable than thou

  • Anyone who thinks that living with stone-age technology is sustainable should go and talk to the Anasazi.

  • Joseph

    Surely having above average anything is unsustainable?

    Every couple having three children cannot be sustained.

    Every person earning above average wage cannot be sustained.

    Each one of us owning more than 1/6 billionth of the world cannot be sustained.

    The argument about ‘sustainability’ could be used to ration us all into ‘sustainable lifestyles’ and ‘sustainable communities’. Let me be the first to coin to word ecocomrade.

  • This reminds me of the Indian poet’s famous remark that it cost the nation a fortune to keep Gandhi in poverty. Ultimately, favouring the village lifestyle cost India decades of economic progress.

  • Johnathan

    The time to test the Deep Greens’ beliefs is when one of them falls seriously ill and needs medical treatment of the sort only available courtesy of a modern industrial society.

    It is not surprising that prosperous societies have spawned those able to have the luxury to “opt out”. Good luck to them. But they should realise that their lifestyle is a choice made possible by the wealth generated by a system they despise. And for what it is worth, new developments like nanotechnology and biotech are far more likely to achieve the sort of sustainable resource use they want.

    And it goes without saying that such folk have no time whatsoever for space exploration, and heaven forbid, for commercial space colonisation. Horrors!

  • Malcolm

    I saw that programme too. One of the notable things was the section at the end, where the two couples meet each other and [have a row], when Joanna made clear that her main complaint that it was their hard-earned income taxes that were paying to support the other family’s chosen lifestyle. I think this will have struck a chord with many viewers, and is a point not seen often enough on TV.

  • James

    I just happened to flick over at that point and catch that final part.

    Of course they were correct in saying they should not have to finance the “eco-hilbillies” lifestyle. But there’s little point in blaming them. After all, it’s the “stolen” tax money that provides for their whim. What they should be angry about is having a system that redistributes wealth in that way, without their consent.

    Of course, perhaps the consumerist couple should have challenged the Ecos to show that they lived a truly “sustainable” lifestyle by refusing state benefits, on the grounds that the money they claim comes from “consumerist” sources.

    Johnathan had it correct when he talked about “opting out”, and it reminded me of a line from the first Batman movie;

    “You know why the rich are so weird? ’cause they can afford to be”

    Come to think of it, the Ecos house was pretty damn nice, IIRC.

  • James Young

    Although I am a capitalist, one of the greatest virtues of the ecocomrades is that they conserve resources. That means that I can waste even more of them with reckless abandon since they aren’t using their fair share, right?

    Working in property and planning in Ireland, I can say that sustainability means ‘that we agree with’ rahter than any resource argument, however compelling it may be.

    And let me see if I have this right. These people live in a stone age idyll so that resources can be saved and presumably prevent us from living in a stone age idyll? What is the point?

  • Robert Halstead

    gang green like to point out the ecological footprint of cities.These two families share an ecological footprint because one earns the money to pay for the others lifestyle.They recycle the others family’s waste income.