I've been a Guardian reader for most of my life, but this week the paper has really annoyed me with its 10:10 campaign. They want everyone to cut their carbon emissions by 10% in the next year. So far, so worthy, I suppose. Then they suggest ways in which people might do this, and those are what have made me spit and snarl with rage.
Colours to mast: I think climate change is a serious problem and I've been working on ways to reduce my impact on the planet for years now. I'm no paragon of eco-virtue: I live in a big old house because I like it, and although my Paramour and I have taken measures to improve its eco-efficiency (insulation, new boiler, wood-burning stove etc) it will never be as efficient as a new house. I'm taking two short-haul flights this year, although I didn't fly in the 12 months before the first of those. We have two cars because, although we both work from home (eco-good), we both have to travel to meetings as our clients dictate and in our rural area public transport services are slooooow and intermittent. I use the shower most days, but I love long hot baths. I choose local/UK food where I can, but I'm not giving up chocolate. So I'm aware, and I work at it, but I'm not setting myself up as some kind of eco-queen.
However, I have serious problems with the Guardian's guidelines. For example, they suggest that you should buy a new fridge, at the highest eco-rating, if yours is more than 4 years old. I'm not scientiffical like some bloggers, but I would like to see the research behind this (if there is any) as I'm not convinced fridge disposal is all that eco-friendly. I know they don't have CFCs in any more, but what happens to them? If they get shipped to China, how many carbon emissions does that cause?
Then the Guardian suggests that you keep electronic devices (computers, mobile phones etc) for a year longer than you otherwise would, which seems to conflict with the previous suggestion. And the next one, which is to switch from a desktop computer to a laptop at home, and recycle the desktop. How can you keep your computer for a year longer than you otherwise would AND swap it for a laptop?
Grow all your own fruit and veg for July-September. And - get rid of your freezer. So in August, when the tomatoes and runner beans and plums are glutting like crazy and you can't give them away because everyone else's are too, you should just throw the surplus on the compost, and then buy freighted veg from October onwards? That's really good for the environment, is it?
I could go on, but I won't, because there's another thing. Even if I do take short-haul flights and long baths, my carbon footprint is very, very small compared to most people's. (Unlike my real footprint of which the less said the better.) Why is my carbon footprint so small? Because I have chosen not to have children.
I know this is an emotive subject. I am absolutely not trying to say people shouldn't have children, full stop. However, it makes me really cross that the Guardian can kick off this whole debate without even mentioning that having children is, in terms of environmental efficiency at least, a very bad idea. The population of the world has more than doubled in my lifetime - from under 3.3 billion in 1964, when I was born, to over 6.7 billion today. That is a fairly terrifying statistic, and has a great deal to do with why we're in this climactic mess.
My own decision not to have children was heavily influenced by learning about Malthus and population increase for A level geography. I remember thinking 'we really don't need any more people on this planet' (and that was in 1980, at just over 4.4 billion). I also remember thinking that if our population was in dangerous decline, I would have felt much more inclined to have children myself. This wasn't the only reason for my decision, but it was a sizeable contributory factor.
I've been pilloried and praised, over the years. Generally I get more praise than censure these days. Interestingly, in recent years, I've been thanked by several mums of teenagers for embodying the alternative to parenthood for their children - not because those parents definitely want their children not to reproduce, but because they want them to know they have a choice.
That seems to me to be the crux of the matter. It's not about saying to people 'don't have children' or 'you shouldn't have children.' It's about helping people understand that it's OK to choose not to have children; that in planetary terms it's actually helpful; that a childfree life can be a happy and fulfilling life. And that's really why I'm so irate with the Guardian, because they're ignoring the whole damn, please forgive the pun, issue.