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Is Goodness A Fashion Part IV: Eco-Friendliness.

You may have noticed the Oil price has dropped, after being very high for about a year. You might also be thinking about going back to driving more and enjoying all the advantages that relatively normal price environment provides.

What have you been doing in the year when the oil price suddenly rose to astronomical heights?

Most people will have been affected by the rise in commodity prices. With the price of oil skyrocketing, so has the price of food, of transport, of heating and electricity. In this period, many people suddenly discovered that ecology was actually a good way of saving money. The media, fuelled by Al Gores 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth and observation of what may be termed the real world, discovered that ears were open to what had long been a fringe movement: going Bio.

This is a movement mostly confined to what may be termed the First world, as many people in third-world countries still live a much more Bio life than we could want to. For instance, before the Chinese economic boom, what was the primary mode of transport for the average Chinese? The bicyle, something that is viewed as a very eco-friendly mode of transport here. A lot of people in rural Africa, circumstances allowing, grow their own food. Waste is recycled efficiently, through re-use and redefinition of purpose in Egypt, without the help of recycling plants, for the last 50 years ( although the system is far from perfect).

The Bio movement has its somewhere in roots in our past. Of course, one might argue that the movement began with the beginning of agriculture and has continued to the present day. I will define it as a movement that had its roots in the industrial revolution, when people started forming utopian societies, trying very hard to escape from the encroaching mechanisation of their lives. People rebelled against machine-grown food, and against the ever- quickening pace of the society they lived in.

One might argue that those early utopians acted out of a selfish sense of wanting to live in a society that understood their needs, in which they could provide for their peers according to their talents and abilities and cohabitate exclusively with like-minded people. They sought to, quite simply, escape the life of the time to enter a timeless, perfect existence. This selfishness was possible at the time, as the problems that we hear about now were only beginning then.

It is interesting to note that the Utopias best known to us are actually dystopias, Aldous Huxleys Brave New World, which discusses the sacrifices the individual must inevitably make to society for it to function flawlessly, and Orwells 1984, in which Utopia takes on the shape of an all-powerful military dictatorship which controls all and sees all. Other examples, such as Samuel Butlers Erewhon, or even the Time Machine by HG Wells are often forgotten. It is also interesting to note that most Utopian Literature warns of how utterly dull such a society would be.

To continue, the next Bio movement that springs to mind is the sixties Hippies movement. Along with peace, love, drugs and all the rest came a new respect for the planet the Hippies lived on, even though it was not the primary objective of the movement. Organic farming, a word that follows us around to this very day, was very much en vogue, even if it was possibly employed to grow various psychedelia. In addition to those, fruit and veg were grown in attempts to escape from the established order of things.

As those hippies grew older, and, as best demonstrated by Germanys Green Party, those politics of eco-friendly farming started to be introduced into mainstream politics and society. Slowly, the techniques of pre-industrial farming, efficient mass transportation and clean energy began to seep into the public mind. All through the eighties, and for most of the nineties, this party was gently smiled upon, like one might smile upon an idealistic, but slightly stupid child. Those adopting eco-friendly lifestyles were seen as being outside society, living alternative lifestyles and shunning modern advances.

In the last few years, however, something interesting has happened: the concept that doing something good for the planet is actually not a bad thing has entered the great big mainstream public consciousness. Suddenly, not using plastic bags is fashionable, as is so-called organic food. Cycling is viewed as a progressive form of transportation, in stead of a retrograde mode of transportation. Them folks over at the Beeb start running documentaries on people attempting to live exclusively on locally produced goods.

All of this coincides with a drastic rise in the price of petrol.

People start using their cars less, think about re-introducing the electric car. Solar and Wind energy are spelled out in humongous capitals, for all to see and repeat. Organic is seen as a better way of eating for everyone (it isn't, really, we'd need about four times the land to feed the world using organic, compared to what we use up now.). Happy animals and greener cities for everyone! Buy local produce- less transport costs. Sentiments to be supported, surely.

But are they?

The fuel price has dropped again, not even close to the level it was at five years ago, but it has dropped from close to $ 150 to about $ 110 per barrel of sweet crude. People are motoring more frequently, are consuming more again. They are also using more plastic bags. All of these are good things for the economy. But it will be interesting to follow if any new habits have formed out of the recent period of overinflated prices. If the trend towards trying to improve the world through ecology will persist, or if it will be swept under the rug and forgotten, now that things are slowly improving.

Still, people talk about offshore drilling as the solution to their energy needs. Norway is making a killing on oil, now that Russia has engendered the worlds' displeasure.

It is interesting, however, to note that the Gulf states are investing heavily in exactly the kind of green technology everyone is talking about. They are preparing, unlike the rest of the world, for a time when they can no longer rely on oil for energy and revenue, as witnessed by Dubai's Dynamic Tower Project. It is also fascinating to follow how green architecture is evolving, in part due to new laws (in the EU at least) regulating how houses should be built to a certain green standard, in parts due to the realisation that building needs a good rethink.

Questions that need asking:
Can India and China, currently two of the fastest- growing economies, keep their promises of green growth?
When America finally gets its new president, what will their policies on the development of their polluted country will be?
Will individuals adopt the greener lifestyle in the long term, or will they drift back to deeply ingrained habit of waste?

Once you've changed your lightbulbs, is your conscience satisfied or is there anything more you can do?


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