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Rubbish Rubbish is an examination of the problem of waste—domestic and industrial—in the UK and elsewhere Challenging and controversial this is a rigorous examination of the problem of waste worldwide and the efficacy of the public and private initiatives designed to forestall a crisis fast ballooning into catastrophe This is an investigation of the looming problem of waste in the 21st century—our fridge mountain; our crumbling sewers; trading waste; packaging waste; the enormity of our industrial waste; spam emails and new forms of waste; and the horrors of incineration It is an attempt to find a blueprint for our survival and to examine the way our lives may have to change This 2005 book is a tirade against the British Government of the day by extension of the British Government of today insofar as it is essentially the same crew still hanging on to power by its teethThe environment is seen through the eyes of a senior specialist journalist whose text ostensibly majors on 'rubbish' but who also covers the degradation of land and water resources the collusion between government and business at the expense of everything from food security to clean air and waste itself especially hazardous waste Above all there is anger at the incompetence of policy makers at every level but largely at the topOne chapter is a genuine eye opener about the scale of the traffic in Western waste into the developed world A picture emerges of a pre credit crunch global economy that trafficks sex slaves and skivvies in one direction and the detritus of growth in the other It is a shame that the baby of imperialist exploitation has been thrown out with the bath water of Marxist criticismOf course this was in 2005 The book has now to be seen through the eyes of the last year of credit crunch In theory deflation reduces waste but of course this is seen by most policymakers as merely a hiatus Governments hope that there will be an eventual resumption of a system in which they have invested their careers From this perspective waste will be good news Less waste is now a luxuryThe essential problem for the UK and the world has not been resolved and cannot be resolved while public policy is based largely on exhortation guilt trips and the use of ill considered environmental diktats to deal with symptoms and of market mechanisms designed to ameliorate only what other and bigger market mechanisms have createdGovernments are still obsessed with growth and countering deflation are still putting our cash into the old economy auto industry and still pondering bigger and airports At the same time they are deflecting our eager beaver 'Uncle Tom' environmentalists into projects that will increase cost pressures on industrial capital acumulation rather than deal with the real cause of environmental degradation unsustainable population pressure on territory and the desires and needs of 'ordinary' people to travel when and where they want to to eat aesthetically pleasing and excessively sanitised food and to have as many different types of disposable clothes and cosmetics as the system can produce The idea is that because the rich can consume conspicuously so may we allGovernments want their cake and eat it because the system depends on democratic mandates from huge accumulations of atomised individuals with little time for analysis with confused values and under a very clear pressure to consume This is just an observation not a value judgement It may be that we as the 'rats of the universe' just have to accept that the vast majority of us can live uite happily accumulating things in a dung heap whose smell we can mask with appropriate technologies Perhaps instead of the cant if we just accepted this we might relax a little and work to ameliorate our decline consciously and with determination Environmentalists of any intelligence are not progressives They know that the reversion to clean water and land and indeed to sustainability in general reuires either that we pauperise ourselves for the sake of the world the dour Left or that we pauperise the world for the sake of ourselves the ruthless Right What has emerged instead is a fraudulent middle ground in which environmentalist exhortation and the need to consume are suared through policy 'bodges' The aim is apparently to have everyone moderate their behaviour but only as much as will not disturb political euilibrium Perhaps we just need to feel good about the fact that we do indeed live in exhausted slums on the constant edge of social collapse for example in the ability to supply cheap food from A to B and that our whole existence is predicated on the exploitation of cheap labour and other people's resources We feel good about this by a appearing to do something about it b 'caring' which is a bit like praying and c not noticing the sheer scale and implications of the problemGirling says none of this but his message is still fundamentally conservative It is also a bit confused at times The book is worth reading if you are interested in public policy but the net effect is typical of journalistic potboilers impotent outrage We are being given the opportunity to huff and puff and to be excited by this public policy horror story Ben Elton is uoted on the cover Be scared Be very scared yet there is no framework for action no analysis of deep causes and conseuences This is the same literary analytical style as that critiue of mid nineteenth century society made by Dickens rather than by Marx In the end there is that reliance on changes in behaviour that are really expectations beyond reason of changes in human nature What is needed is acceptance rather than denial of the primal urges within the human condition and a debate not about abstracts or ideals but about what it is that humans really want and need and what is in their own interest within their territories Our faux democracy is part of the problem as small elites circulate by competing for public approval in aggregate There is no direct link between decisions about the community and the environment and the people who actually live in an area The disconnect between local government and the population in order to sustain first the ideology of social democracy and then that of the market is typicalIn the end globalists would sell nationalists down the river and vice versa Similarly generations sell each other out as do classes In the current crisis our weak governments are simultaneously cutting VAT which is an attempt to increase consumption and so waste and yet pulling money out of households by making demands that they take increasing costs of household waste collection and plastic bags The government whines about high oil prices yet has the largest tax on consumers in the West allegedly for environmental reasons and proposes an expansion of its largest airport Europeans fear the transfer of industry to the East and yet pile environmental costs onto that same industrial base It is a public policy mess It comes down to the fact that weak governments hold together coalitions of interest in a global economy they can't challenge markets even now and they can't challenge electoratesIn theory the credit crisis should provide an opportunity for adjustment but the massive problems of environmental degradation and waste accumulation are not embedded in the consumer price mechanism If the oil price an input goes up or down packaging costs may rise or fall and consumers can relate to that electorally but the resultant packaging as it is disposed of has no relation to household costs except 'backwards' through the tax cost of dealing with it The Government takes minimal responsibility for inputs leaving them to the 'market' but has a political interest in avoiding responsibility for forcing consumers to pay for the cost of detritus that really should be part of the 'input' cost from the very beginningIn other words Government should be taking the total cumulative cost of the waste and degradation and adding it to the costs of producers and so to the costs presented to the consumer But you can see immediately the problem with that it cuts directly into the growth mentality of our political class raises awkward issues about costs that can never be wholly covered such as nuclear waste as a charge on future generations and creates a culture of tax driven subsidy which is simply taking from the consumers in a decision to support producers and even protectionism to ensure a level paying field against countries that will not adopt such an approach Whichever way you play it liberal capitalist democracy and real sustainable economics are at war The only justification for the former from a 'green' point of view might be that liberal capitalist innovation can resolve many symptoms of itself through technological innovation when directly compared with sclerotic state based systemsGirling is only laying out the fact that we are in crisis I would argue that the UK is in a peculiarly dangerous position in relation to food security and its psychological well being because it has become almost obsessively committed to the treadmill of globalisation He also lays out some devastating criticism of how Government actually works or rather doesn't What this book does not do because it is the usual breathless alarum sounding of modern British journalism is present any way of doing than the system claims to do already This is a crisis that reuires much than exhortation and changes in values It demands the exercise of power And power must have purpose Government needs to decide who it acts for the economic well being of the generation that happens to vote it in or the sustainability of the land and the nation which it serves For some time it has chosen the first path but conditions are reaching the point where some sort of systemic breakdown perhaps at the end of the next cycle in thirty years rather than now will force the UK into an appropriate and benign neo nationalism that will see future generations and the defence and sustainability of the land as important than just one political generation's ability to be 'free' It may be that this will reuire a radical reformation of the democratic model so that local conditions and community become the responsibility in a much effective way of the people who live in a particular place But this is radical stuff we'll see Much of the book was a sorry catalogue of directives set but not ready to be met opportunities lost through procrastination and the usual catastrophic predictions seeming a little less fantastic than they often do because they were backed up by figures I was impressed that Girling did actually go to various locations associated with his investigations The most interesting of these was his description of a multi material recycling plant that made some sense of the apparently meaningless distinctions imposed by councils and recycling companies I promise never again to put foil in with aluminium cansA book that made me alternately aghast and thoughtful but overall determined to cut down on some of the larger waste streams issuing from my home Girling on occasion goes off point ranting about monopolistic supermarkets and the pointlessness of space exploration but when he concentrates on waste the Rubbish of the books title the content is satisfying The most intensity of the passion is reserved for the ineptitude incompetence and procrastination of the New Labour government This is not surprising anyone who has ever considered hugging a tree shares this frustration – from transport to energy policy HM Gov seems incapable of grasping the very basic fundamentals and Girling’s evidence seems to indicate this is also true of waste If you can ignore the digressions there is a lot of information in here

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