Wednesday 29 October 2008

Book review - Crap at the Environment

It is painfully obvious that it is difficult to be ‘Good at the Environment’ when you are a stand-up comedian in the English speaking world. Poor old Mark Watson is crap at the environment because he has to fly back and forth from the UK to Australia to make people laugh. I am struggling to find anything positive to say about this book as a piece of education for sustainability. The one thing I can say that his self pitying honesty does at least highlight something that needs to be better understood by environmentalists. His story basically explains that he has plural rationalities. This is what is meant by plural rationalities: From an environmental perspective, Mark recognises that it is not rational for him to fly to Australia. However, from a career perspective, it is completely rational for Mark to fly to Australia. Mark therefore has two competing rationalities. He then has to make a decision, should he stay at home and not be crap at the environment, or fly, further his career and be crap? On a smaller scale, he faces these sorts of competing rationalities in many other areas of his life, take a one mile taxi ride or walk through the rain, use the lift or walk to the 20th floor of his hotel, eat delicious red meat or eat vegetables.

We all face these decisions; they are basically choices between taking the easy or more desirable option, or taking the harder or chore-like one. We all have plural rationalities. The result of this is that we are willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the environment when it does not feel like too much like a sacrifice or chore. Environmental education can make us more motivated to take the environment into consideration when we make decisions. For Mark, the main sources of his environmental education were Al Gore’s ‘Inconvenient Truth’, George Monbiot’s ‘Heat’ and Mark Lynas’ ‘Six Degrees’. These three sources are pretty sensational in their findings and delivery, with a real ‘act now’ message. The pleas to the ordinary citizen are framed as sacrifices for the sake of the planet. The questions of why we travel, why we shop, why we eat red meat are not really asked. The reaction is to carry on doing the 'crap' things but in a slightly less environmentally damaging way. I wish Mark Watson had been a little less self-pitying and a bit more analytical about why he and his followers are crap at the environment. The book wasn’t very funny anyway, so he may as well have gone a bit deeper. If you haven’t read this book read Tom Hodgkinson’s ‘How to be Free’ first.

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