More thoughts on the good life

Here’s a powerful thought – the largest consumption of energy in the UK is personal consumption and the largest share of that is by personal transport. Yet most believe themselves powerless and that corporations are consuming the Earth. UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 2017 energy statistics show otherwise. From the hard statistics, we can see that “Industry” is potentially powerless, while people are potentially powerful.

I say potentially, because most people currently believe what industry-sponsored sources such as the main political parties, mainstream newspapers and the BBC suggest to them – that is, the idea of the power of democracy, in which each of us is an essential part – and of the powerlessness of the individual outside that “democracy”.

The BBC and news sources, such as the Guardian propose that we choose one or other of the industry-backed political parties. That is why the upsurge of Jeremy Corbyn and of the SNP has drawn such vitriol from those sources. Meanwhile, UK manufacturing has shrunk dramatically as it has been outsourced to low wage economies. Moreover, outsourced manufacture is largely in the purchasing power of single citizens and of the household.

Hold this thought – that which is physical is largely in the hands of citizens, while that which is abstract is largely in the hands of the current powers – in usury, currency-creation, stock trading, cyber tech, media empires and party politics.
So, both climate change and the ecological crisis are more in the hands of citizens, and less in the hands of the powers. Personal decisions have become the most potent decisions. They may cause or draw us back from climate change.

So closely are they related, that swelling gross domestic product, could be renamed gross domestic climate change. Spend less in our households & we may head for some sort of steadying. A common moral of personal restraint could have a far greater effect than the most successfully-applied carbon tax.

Money, information and violence are currently in the hands of the powers. Some of those can be reclaimed. (I say diffidently, perhaps all)

In 2016 UK transport accounted for the largest proportion of final UK energy consumption at 40%, followed by the domestic sector at 29%, industry at 17% and the service sector 14%. (UK government terms and stats)

The larger part of transport’s 40% is the family car –

Energy consumption for transport is separated as follows (last data available 2015) – Domestic 65%, Industrial 21% and services 14%.

2016 figures (published 2017) separate transport energy consumption as – Road 74%, air 23%, rail 2% and water 1%.

Air transport consumption has trebled since 1970.

“Between 1970 and 1984, the industrial sector accounted for the largest share of consumption – until in 1985, the domestic sector surpassed industry. By 1988, transportation became the largest consumer and has maintained its dominant share since. A shift in economic activity away from heavy, energy intensive industries accounts for the decrease in the industry sector’s share, whilst increasing mobility and rates of car ownership account for a large proportion of the increase in transportation.” (UK Energy Consumption 2017, DBEIS)

That summary makes my case. Personal choices account for the bulk of increased energy consumption.

Considering how infrequently most of us fly and many of us not at all, that 23% (trebled since 1970) for aviation is massive. Those who travel twice a year (or once, first class) use the bulk of their carbon budgets in flying. That budget can be entirely removed on an instant. If you are someone who does occasionally fly and who also cares a bit about this and that, then proclaiming that you will never fly again is the most effective thing you can do in a single step. It proclaims against power’s contrary proclamation and brings both proclamation and action home – to oneself and to those we love.

Anyway, as the statistics say, citizens do the most damage, and so citizens must undo the damage. We can work together to remove the need for personal transport. Ordinary people have the skills to do so. The powers do not. The infrastructures remain – albeit decayed and they can be revived both physically and in the imagination – replacing the cajoling visions of the powers. Ingenuity and dexterity of the trades can resettle town centres, villages and fields – trading each to each until we have an economy, which is not connected to the stock market, or to the banks. We’ll also have a culture disconnected from those things and which may endure when currencies cascade and the casino falls apart. If you say that is a wild impossible dream, I say, no culture will endure the cascading ecosystems and wild climate change, which are the course of our current “democracy” – and in pursuit of the strangest cult of realism.

Personal transport is the place to begin. It consumes the bulk of the energy, which many are struggling to convert to green energy. That attempted conversion is a fantasy – nothing can replace the power of fossil fuels. Our current way of life cannot be greened. We must change the way of life, not merely the nature of fuels.

The first step is to remove the need for personal transport.

A hundred years ago, the only group in the UK, which required energy-consuming personal transport, was the suburban office worker, who travelled to the offices of government, law and corporation by train. The office worker’s suburbs were built alongside the railway.

Everyone else had perfectly evolved feet for the purpose and also sometimes, the ingenious addition of pedals and twin wheels. We are an agriculture – I doubt we can change that. Transport between scarcity and surplus; between field and city remains a problem and it has other solutions, since we cannot remove those needs. But the mass of transport consumption is personal consumption – remove that and we can look about with a lot more to play with.

Probably, most would agree that the worst of modern life is those great streams of road traffic, severing cities and scarring communities. The wounds caused by the family car would be the greatest pleasure to heal. Children could be children without fear. Adventure may return. It is not only children who are confined to the house by the tyranny of the car, but adults too. Lovely evenings, when once upon a time, whole communities would be out for a stroll, now pass unwitnessed. What lies unwitnessed are the delightful surprises – the sounds, scents and sights of reality. Instead we settle for the beguiling, soporific fictions of the powers through a television, or lap top screen.

Human cultures disrupt. Growing food disrupts. Mining materials for turbines and panels disrupts. But there is, and never has been a technology which has disrupted anywhere near the degree of either aviation, or the family car. Remove those and we’ve the beginning of a possible “road!” to the future.

(Statistics are from Energy Statistics 2017, UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)


Featured image: Cars and trucks. Author: William Picard. Source:

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