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Archive for the ‘consumerism’ Category

It’s taken longer than I’d hoped, but here we go:

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My headphones died a couple of months ago – a great pair of Sennheisers. The cord had shorted out for the second time in a just a few weeks. The first time it happened I’d got a replacement from Amazon and to have them break again so soon made me sick. I’m sure Amazon just chucked the old ones in the bin and posted out a new pair, so this time I decided I’d fix them myself.

Late at night under the kitchen downlights I grimly set to work on the headphones with my multitool. My multitool, incidentally, has become my entire toolbox since all my actual tools are in Italy – we live in a rental now, profound interventions are banned.

I poked and probed the headphones looking for a way to take the jack apart but it was soon clear that there was no easy way. The rubber casing was fused on. Undeterred, I pared the rubber back with the knife looking for the shorted connection. But the wires were encased in solid rubber at random depths, the connections to the jack fell to pieces, and in short it all went wrong.

I was gutted. Clearly these were unmendable consumer goods intended to be used for a few weeks or months and thrown in the bin. Worse, I suspected that shredding my own headphones with a multitool had invalidated the warranty so no chance of a replacement from Amazon.

The reaction from folks in the office the next day was: of course you can’t fix headphones, just get a new pair. I muttered disgustedly to myself and resentfully jabbed the keyboard as I bought another pair online.

Then, a few weeks later on an icy day just before Christmas, I slipped on a platform at East Croydon and smashed the screen on my iPhone.

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I’ve just finished watching the first of three episodes of The Future of Food on iplayer. In it there’s a fascinating interview with Hilary Benn, secretary of state for DEFRA. Fascinating not because of what he says, but what he doesn’t say. On this programme about the upcoming global food shortages (mainly due to fuel prices, water shortage, and changing climate), he says:

We know we’re going to have to grow more food with a changing climate and probably less water being available… I think looking at what happened last year, the food riots, the rise in prices, we’ve got to take responsibility now to ensure that people have enough food to eat.

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An article in the Times over the weekend claims that walking to the shops emits more CO2 than driving. It’s a sensationalist claim (even if they can back it up with calcs) that doesn’t help anyone except Daily Mail readers desperate to shore up their view that anyone who thinks about energy or the environment is a commie pinko control freak determined to spoil everyone’s fun. Chris Goodall, the man behind the claim, should have known better and is clearly more interested in headlines than making a genuine difference.

Every little helps. But all things being equal, the fight to alleviate the effects of global warming isn’t going to be won between your house and the shops. It’s much more useful to keep your eye on the crucial issues rather than handing ammunition to the folks who like nothing better than a bit of obfuscation.

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nokiaVia No Impact Man, I came across an article by Johann Hari, originally published in the Independent in 2006. In it, Johann traces the roots of the ongoing conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo to the scramble for natural resources; in particular coltan, a metal used in electronics like mobile phones and Playstations. 80% of the world’s supply of coltan is found in the DRC, where 4 million people have died in five years.

The choices we make, especially in the goods and energy we consume, have a direct influence on the lives of others. It’s difficult to mentally connect my cell phone and a mine in DRC, but the connection is there whether I choose to see it or not. My standard of living doesn’t exist in a vacuum and you could question how much of it I have a legitimate right to.

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Up to a point, higher energy consumption brings higher quality of life: lower infant mortality, longer life expectancy, higher literacy, etc. In communities where the main sources of energy for work are people and livestock, there isn’t much energy available, and what there is must be used in survival activities that produce a bit more energy than they consume, like subsistence farming. Quality of life in these communities is correspondingly low.

In the UK, energy is cheap and readily available, particularly in the forms of mains natural gas and grid electricity, and quality of life is generally high. We spend so little on the large amounts of energy we consume that we take cheap plentiful energy for granted. In fact, the electrical energy equivalent to a person working all day can be bought for less than 10 pence. Here’s how: (more…)

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