Monday, January 12, 2009

It's crunch time

You can't turn on the radio or open a newspaper these days without more news of redundancies. For anyone directly feeling the effects of the recession - and we're having to accept it is a recession rather than the rather more sound-bitey, touchy-feely phrase 'credit crunch' - it's a terrifying and potentially devastating prospect.

But without wishing to sound heartless, could the forced mass exodus of people from city centre jobs have a silver lining for the environment?
Of course, no-one forced out of their job or home is going to be rejoicing or, probably, giving a damn about global warming or carbon emissions. That's not their main priority right now. But if we take a more detached, big-picture view, the global recession could be an opportunity for a major rethink about the world of work and its impact on our lives - now and in the future.
Until recently, the message we've all been sold and have willingly bought into is that making money is what it's all about. As Gordon Gekko says in that Eighties classic Wall Street: "Greed is good."
Don't think about your carbon footprint as you drive your air-con pumping, fuel injected, gas guzzling 4x4 into the city centre every day. Don't think about those short-hop flights (after all, time is money) for work or weekends away. Don't even trouble yourself about the fast-disappearing green fields as you shut yourself behind the gates of your executive estate in commuterland.
We were all encouraged to just concentrate on the rewards: the status car, the exotic holidays and the 'dream' home. And if we got a bit stressed out in the process, or never saw our partner or kids, it was a small price to pay.
Except now, we're all living through the proof that greed isn't quite so good.
Either by circumstance or by choice, many of us actually have the opportunity to rethink our life priorities. Whether we like it or not, more of us will be spending more time at home, from those whose hours are cut to freelance home workers. But couldn't this be a chance to think about reintegrating into our communities, rather than dashing between home and office without exchanging words with our neighbours?
Plenty of people will have to cut their two-car-family habit - but might that not mean we'll all benefit from a reduction in carbon emissions and less traffic clogging up our streets?
Slashed incomes will probably rule out overseas holidays for many this year. But couldn't this be a chance to rediscover the wild countryside and culture on our doorsteps? OK, plenty of Britsh B&Bs have a way to go before they will rival hotels abroad, but there's a whole world of low-emission destinations out there, from wild Cornish beaches and Scottish islands to city gems like Canterbury and Edinburgh.
And counting the pennies could even mean that instead of buying air-freighted food from giant supermarkets (and then throwing away a third of it), more of us might support local shops. Heck, some are even planning to grow their own veg this year and councils report that applications for allotments are on the rise.
Suddenly, shopping and 'value' start to take on a different meaning. Buying eco-friendly products that genuinely work from small-scale companies (like the ones you see at makes more sense (and gives a clearer conscience) than scooping up 3 for 2 factory-fodder piled high at the supermarket.
Those with kids who find themselves too stretched to fork out for a Wii or the next must-have gadget could even end up showing their offspring how to get back to basics, too - climbing trees in the woods, making bows and arrows or playing tennis in the real world instead of being wired up to a virtual world while slumped on the sofa.
Maybe this is utopian dreaming. Or maybe it's an opportunity to genuinely rethink our priorities and rewrite the rules. Out with a world that puts its faith in a morally bankrupt economy and in with one that actually gives a damn about people and the world we live in.


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