As one of the great cities of the Industrial Revolution within the United Kingdom, Leeds was a perfect host to the discussion on ‘could living The Good Life save the planet?’
Countryfile’s Matt Baker MBE hosted the talk, accompanied by a lineup that included upcycling interior designer Banjo Beale, smallholding owner Flavia Cacace-Mistry, second-hand clothes retailer Clare Lewis and binless restaurateur Doug McMaster.
Conceptually, the idea was to create a platform to discuss how to live a lower-impact, more sustainable life, with the hope that audience members would take these newly-learned pearls of wisdom home to share within their communities.
There were, during the course of the evening, a few nuggets of interest that are particularly worth sharing.
Emphasising the need for more circularity in the fashion industry, Lewis shared a particularly memorable observation — there is enough clothing already in existence to last for the next six generations.
McMaster’s meticulous scrutiny over the waste produced in commercial kitchens is not a particularly glamorous pursuit, but it does feel as though it could revolutionise the sector if his ethos could be scaled up. “Waste is a symptom of a system which is out of balance”, he observed, noting that if no other species in the animal kingdom requires a bin, why should we?
However, McMaster clearly feels as though he is being forced to operate within a broken system. One in which industrial food supply chains are needlessly laden with single-use plastics and the state’s recycling processes are not up to scratch.
Consequently, he circumvents industrial systems by sourcing food directly from the farmers, fishermen or foragers in reusable containers. All food waste within his restaurant is placed in Bertha, his restaurants in-house, compost-making aerobic digester, creating compost that can be given back to the farmers.
Additionally, he refuses to compromise on providing his favourite wines to his customers, even though the supply chain cannot be bypassed and everyday recycling falls short. He crushes his empty wine bottles into a fine powder, which is then used to create whatever glassware the restaurant needs that week.
Whilst the panel’s individual pursuits are all well-intentioned, the title of the talk was ‘could living The Good Life save the planet?’
Save. The. Planet.
The panel seemed to be stunningly ignorant of the scale of mobilisation needed to radically overhaul our societies and make them sustainable. With no mention of government or fossil fuels, The Climate asked whether their individual pursuits, whilst well-intentioned, were ultimately futile when operating in a wider system where those at the top, who have the biggest levers to pull, don’t have the same ethos. The question was met with applause from a seemingly agreeable audience.
The answers seemed to totally miss the point. For the panellists, blocking out the noise and continuing their cushty lifestyles without looking at the bigger picture and questioning whether current government policies go far enough seemed to be the preferred option.
This is a privileged position to be in. At the UN General Assembly, Secretary-General António Guterres said “humanity has opened the gates to hell” through its heating of the planet. To remain silent in the face of an existential crisis of this scale is unconscionable.
To present yourself as an expert whilst giving a talk at an international festival and failing to mention some very basic, very important truths about how severe the situation we find ourselves in globally is reckless.
The idea that reusing clothes, upcycling furniture found in skips and raising a few chickens is anything close to the systemic change required to decarbonise the global economy and make a dent in the seismic challenge of saving the planet felt, to me, more than a little misguided.
The panellists would do well to use their platforms to call out inadequate government policy, rather than making naff jokes about turning a cheese-making byproduct into whiskey, as Beale did.
Giving equal value to all opinions surrounding the climate crisis hysteria is damaging. Expert opinion is more authoritative and should be treated as such. Promoting middle-class appeasing anti-scientific anti-experts to the pedestal of a preacher at an international festival of ideas is contemptible.
When confronted by an audience member with the fact that running a self-sufficient small-holding with 25 individually-named chickens was not an option for a single-parent trying to raise a family on a minimum wage job, Cacace-Mistry suggested they may instead wish to consider growing a tomato plant on their balcony, like she was some kind of vine-ripened Marie Antoinette.
Whilst we should all be looking at how we can make our own lives more sustainable by reusing as much as possible and minimising waste, it is frankly downright dangerous to peddle a narrative that this alone will be remotely close to ensuring an equitable, liveable existence for the planet.
McMaster excluded, this self-aggrandising, unqualified panel were shamelessly ignorant of their privilege and if they are going to continue to present themselves as experts in this field, they need to wake up, fast.