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The Tom Sawyer Principle (Politics)
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Grant



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Back in the nineties I visited a new land-fill site in Cornwall. They were very proud of the plastic liner which stopped anything leaking out and told me that new sites were now very sophisticated.

Shortly after my visit the EU banned new land-fill sites and insisted that rubbish should be burnt in incinerators. It seemed nuts at the time but even crazier in hindsight. (A pro landfill campaigner worked out that a square landfill site 18 miles wide and 100 feet deep would hold all the US's waste for the next hundred years)
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Mick Harper
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The propaganda goes on. I recently watched a piece about a landfill site leaching nasties into the Thames estuary accompanied by all the usual "How could people be so insensitive", "There must be no more landfill" etc. On the subject of incinerators I recall the big beef was that they unleashed really-nasties into the atmosphere. The point about all these things -- which were perfectly true -- is that they were all just teething problems that required a bit of money spending to get it all gert-and-daisy. Or at any rate more so than the alternatives.

So why did it never happen? My guess is that it leached into the Not In My Backyard field -- and I wouldn't want ether a landfill or an incinerator in my backyard. But, as usual with all World Problems, there is a gross mismatch between what is really important (global warming, the despoliation of the oceans etc) and what people actually care about (showing recycling clean hands, Not In My Backyard etc).

As AE-ists, it's not so much identifying the correct solutions as identifying how to get the rest of the world to agree with us. We really are not very good at that. "That's because you're barking, the lot of you," as the world puts it. And that may be true but it would be nice to get to first base and have them explain to us why.
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Mick Harper
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Len McCluskey's really got the pulse of the British working class, or at any rate the one and half mil he speaks for. For instance they have concerns about the direction that Keir Starmer is taking the Labour Party. Well, so do us non-Unite non-working class people so I suppose that's not so surprising. But what really gets their goat is the way the Party paid out all that money to those 'individuals' revealed to be the victims of Corbynite machinations on Panorama. They agreed with him that they'd have probably won if it had come to a court case and wouldn't have had to pay anything at all. As they said to him loud and clear, "Len, we want you to dock our contributions to the Labour Party by ten per cent." "After all," they added, "most of us weren't even voting Labour when you took over ten years ago as you told that woman on Newsnight. Not that I watch Newsnight myself. Wouldn't they just love to have a one and half million viewing figure. Toffee-nosed gits."
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Mick Harper
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I am now satisfied that 'recycling' should be banned. This is a great relief since I have been hitherto unable to reach a unique position on the vexed question of what to do about plastics. I believe I'm the first person to say the practice of recycling is inherently evil as opposed to futile etc. My conclusion is based on two (what I now regard as) facts:

1. The world will never be able to do without plastics
2. Re-cycling will never be able to account for more than 20% of discarded plastics
3. Discarded plastics are a menace to the future of the world.

The third one is not quite a fact but will become so if we continue to kid ourselves as to (1) and (2). Since the human race is indefinitely kiddable about things it likes but knows it shouldn't, it follows that the one solution which is indefinitely will-o'-the-wispish must be outlawed thereby forcing the human race to actually deal with the problem.
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Mick Harper
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Nobel Peace Prize: UN World Food Programme wins for efforts to combat hunger

It's always tricky deciding whether someone or something deserves the Peace Prize. I first had doubts when Henry Kissinger was given it for bombing Cambodia and finally gave up when Barak Obama was given it for winning the 2008 Presidential Election. But it is just as tricky deciding whether one even approves of the someone or something in the first place. It is undoubtedly the case that millions of people would suffer the particularly agonising death of starvation if the UN World Food Programme folded its tents tomorrow but there is still a computation to be made. And it's not what hunger has to do with peace.

If the UN World Food Programme had never existed would there have been more or fewer agonising deaths by starvation in that time? This is a Malthusian question: is it better to have a system that is self-righting albeit by a tragic intervention or is it better to avoid the tragic intervention but only by storing up much greater problems in the future? I may return to the matter when I've had my breakfast. Full English or Full English plus? Present piggery or future heart-attackery? Don't accuse me of flippancy. You don't think Scandinavians make these decisions on empty stomachs? Empty heads sometimes.
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Grant



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The other crazy recycling thing is glass. Glass is basically made of sand, which must be the cheapest raw material in the world. But instead of chucking it away and making more we expend an enormous amount of energy in melting old bottles and re-using them.
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Mick Harper
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You are quite wrong to make the comparison, Grant. There is no reason for people to recycle glass unless it is economic to do so. It presumably is economic to do so. Good luck to them whether they do or they don't. With plastics there is never an economic reason to recycle them (save in a few very restricted industrial processes). Enormous sums of money, plus legal sanctions, are required in order to recycle ten per cent of plastics.
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Mick Harper
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A Plastic Nile (Sky Documentaries)

Some splendid examples of how the world reacts to this amazingly awful problem

(1) Lake Victoria fishing is in catastrophic decline partly because of plastic waste. Kenya agrees to ban plastic bags, receives plaudits around the world etc etc. The next day the black market/organised crime starts supplying the Kenyan public with plastic bags. The Kenyan government has to decide whether to enrage the Kenya public, take on the black market/organised crime and draw attention to its own weakness, corruption and unpopularity.

Or equip a van marked 'Environment Police', invite in a television crew to join them raiding plastic bag manufactories (or plastic bag cleaning factories, which is also economic) and from which, for some mysterious reason, the miscreants have just skedaddled. Go on, have a guess.

(2) The South Sudanese Jubans are basically reliant on cows. The cows graze in pastures that have plastic bags lying around. Ingesting any part of a plastic bag has woeful effects on the cattle, the economic and social success of their owners and the political prospects of South Sudan. The cows are constantly and lovingly tended by groups of people though admittedly this largely takes the form of waving sticks at the cattle from time to time.

The television crew could a) ask the cattle herders why they don't spend five minutes picking up the plastic bags or b) go into the local town in search of market traders innocently and legally selling packs of plastic bags. Go on, have a guess.

N B Plastic bags represent about zero zero zero something or other percentage of the problem.
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Mick Harper
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(3) We are now at Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile. The problem here is a huge refuse tip outside the main city from which degrading plastics are being blown 'many, many miles'. The television crew are joined by a government spokesman. The choices would appear to be a) bury the refuse in some kind of rudimentary landfill or b) a massive re-education campaign to persuade the locals to do what no other population on earth has yet managed, reduce its use of plastics. The minister elects for the latter to the nodding approval of the television reporter.
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Mick Harper
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(4) We have arrived in Cairo and, the programme claims, a solution to the entire problem. There are sixty thousand Zabbaleen, a sort of caste of refuse recyclers, who spent their days receiving huge bags of Cairo's rubbish -- it is not explained how or who collected this -- and they spend their days sorting through it all. "Not a scrap is wasted." The plastic is described as 'the most valuable part' and remains unsorted, then put in shredders and the sherds are taken away for an unspecified purpose. The Zabbaleen do not appear themselves to benefit very much, they are described as the poorest people in the city which in Cairo is saying something.

I have not been so I cannot judge whether Cairo is cleaner than comparable cities -- the film footage did not inspire confidence and the government imprisons people who investigate systematically -- so I will have to reserve judgement on the Cairoene Model.
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Mick Harper
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Overall, the abiding impression from two hours of televisual exposure is that there is a fatal mismatch between what can be expected of individual human beings and what they can deliver. The amount of fatalism on the part of the natives of the Nile Valley was very striking. Partly this is cultural (or racial) since it is impossible to picture, say, Swedish or Vietnamese fellaheen standing around watching their life-giving irrigation canals slowly being choked by refuse. Or their governments permitting it.

There was an embarrassing interlude when the TV reporter was surrounded by an audience of Cairo bar life and it was agreed by acclamation that everybody needed to pull their socks up and stop putting so much plastic into the Nile. However, this is de facto the world's attitude to the problem since the entire recycling movement is based on individuals entering the system at one end in good faith and nil plastico getting loose at the other. After fifty years, with only ten per cent of overall rubbish being recycled, with the amount of plastics free in the environment still rising, it is surely time to call a halt to the whole futile business and start to look for some practical solutions.
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