Yet again, the headlines, either alarmingly so or melodramatically so, are all pointing to global catastrophe. Today, The Telegraph reported that Britain is a nation of debtors, introduced by my favourite Mr Micawber line about misery and happiness dependent on income.
It seems, according to the article, that the country has been spending more than its income since 1982. Almost thirty years of over-expenditure. This does not bode well. What doesn’t bode well is the fact that everything that marks inflation – food prices and petrol prices – are increasing, and are going to continue to do so. Whether you think it’s media spin or you’re in agreement with Oxfam’s declaration that we are heading into triple prices and famine, one thing cannot be denied: the population of the globe is rocketing and we are going to be unable to sustain life as it is.
Oxfam point to several causes, all of which are more than evident in the world around us. The first is climate change. Whether it is or isn’t, whether we caused it or it’s just Mother Nature, some things are indisputable: sometimes, we have ‘bad’ years. This is what gave Joseph his power, way back when the technicolour dreamcoat was a myth: seven years of feasting followed by seven years of famine that brought Egypt to its knees and made a slave into a national hero. And did we learn from this?
Causes of climate change aside, there are bad years and good ones, and in the bad – like this year here – where it’s been bone-dry since April and now cool and overcast in June – and the President himself is meeting up with local farmers to talk about the drought, you know it’s going to have a knock-on effect on food prices. Chicken food has gone up from 1.95 for a 5l bag to 2.95.
Not only does the climate have a massive impact on inflation, but petrol does too – in two ways. Firstly, we’ve come to be so hooked on cars and petrol that we now can’t live without it. I’m reminded of what Morpheus said to Neo about unplugging people from the matrix. “Most people are so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.” And is that not what most of our OPEC wars are about? Hmmm.
But because we can’t live without petrol (and we’ve really only had access to cars, wholesale, for about 70 years, how bad is that??! We’ve become petrol junkies, as a species, faster than it takes to get hooked on heroin, in terms of the length of humanity) we can’t envisage any other way of living, so we invent biofuels. When I was in Brazil, 40% of cars ran off biofuels. I thought that was cool. It isn’t. Biofuels mean you are growing them instead of crops, and that means some people in the world starve whilst others drive. We – as a species – can’t seem to think of any other way of getting about other than in cars or on planes. Amazing to think that two hundred years ago, we lived in ways without cars, planes, bicycles… I’d like to hope we could be in a world like that again, simply because it’s much less environmentally violent.
I for one would start breeding Clydesdales, Friesians or Shire horses, donkeys and oxen, get myself a cart and move about that way. And I’d like it very much!
But, whilst oil will continue to rocket, price-wise, and we’ll see petrol prices spiral – I remember in 1995 buying petrol for 64p a litre and thinking it was expensive! – few of us make any real attempt to stop using our cars quite so much. I definitely use my bike more, but it’s not for any noble purpose, just because petrol’s too expensive for me to buy any more. France isn’t set up for public transport outside the big cities. Whilst a train ticket is 14.50 to Limoges, beating the cost of petrol there and back to drop us off at the airport, there’s no longer any public transport to the airport. What’s the point of that??! There used to be a shuttle bus, but there isn’t any more. Not only that, if I wanted to get to Calais and travel across as a foot passenger on a boat, I’d have to go by TGV, bumping up the cost. To be honest, the train journeys are pleasant and I wouldn’t mind one that’s four or five times slower but it’s impossible to get there without being strong-armed into expensive rail travel… which, by the way, embarrasses England’s trains with their standard ‘on the day’ cost of a ticket between London and Manchester of £215.00. Or £315.00 return, first class. How is that justifiable??! So… until Governments get their heads around better public transport – which, let’s face it, isn’t going to happen when car production and tax on petrol are shoring up the economy – it’s just not viable. It only will become viable when we, as a species, get really, really stuck and there’s no oil left and there’s global disgust for biofuel.
So… if you’re not committed to Oxfam’s GROW you should be… because we ARE our brothers’ keepers. And the quote ‘If not me, who? If not now, when?’ has never been more appropriate.