Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review: Crap at the Environment by Mark Watson

I've just finished reading Crap at the Environment by comedian Mark Watson and I have to say I really liked it. It's a light foray into Mark's personal journey to be a bit less rubbish at harming the environment and, in the process, he creates a small movement of like-minded people who help each other to be less useless.

It's a natural response to think sometimes what can one person out of billions do that really makes a difference. Also living a kind of pure eco-monk lifestyle just seems unrealistic to most well adjusted people. Some people, I think understandably, take these two facts (that they are just one person and that most of us aren't cut out to make huge, fundamental changes to our lives) and say, well I wont do anything then.

Mark's book is a response to that which says "Well, no, actually making little changes for the good is better than doing nothing." Almost like a support group for the partially committed Mark set about reducing his carbon footprint.

In fairness he was coming from quite a high level as he was taking lots of internal flights, avoiding public transport like the plague and not really caring about how much waste he created. The upside to his very large carbon footprint was, of course, there was lots of room for savings. Some of them hurt but in fact most of his savings ended up improving his quality of life, much to his surprise.

It's an interesting read in the way that he wrestles with whether making changes to your own life means anything, or whether we should be fighting for political change. He grapples with the way that people were at different levels and how to satisfy the hard core environmentalists without scaring off those who are just starting to think they might like to do a little something to contribute.

One of the most interesting areas he tackles is his own lack of knowledge and how he found himself a de facto spokesperson for the green movement just by publicly trying to learn more about it. He doesn't resolve any of these issues, but it's to his credit that he recognises the problems without letting them slow him down on his quest to be less rubbish.

Anyone who knows a great deal, or even a medium sized deal, about carbon footprints probably wont learn much detail from this book and there are plenty of well informed places to do that (like The Economical Environmentalist by Prashant Vaze) but what you might find useful is how to approach certain issues from the perspective of a 'normal' person.

Political activists of all kinds can be quite intimidating in many ways and also odd, because they end up speaking in particular ways and assuming all kinds of knowledge that most people don't have. When you combine that with trying to make concrete changes in your community or lifestyle that's a big gulf we might be potentially creating between ourselves and the majority of people.

Mark's attempt is to disarm the guilt people feel by admitting from the word go that none of us are perfect and, in fact, most of us are a bit rubbish. This is a breath of fresh air. He worries it might be letting people off the hook, so that we feel a small change is enough - but that self-doubt is itself something we could learn from. I enjoyed it anyway.

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