Monday, 30 November 2009

Difficult Choices

I was “lucky” enough to spend a couple of hours in A&E recently. I was amazed how many people, on a normal, non-descript Friday lunchtime, had managed to injure themselves. After a couple of hours, the docs patched me up and booked me in to see a specialist the next day. Everyone I saw was calm, diligent, professional, everything you would expect from the NHS.

I’d been thinking a lot about those things people most fear giving up in a post-oil world. Charlotte mentioned hot baths, and according to George Monbiot, one of the most common luxuries people couldn’t live without is the daily hot shower. But I think one of the greatest luxuries that we take for granted is the constant safety net of our health service – the network of doctors, nurses, surgeons, health workers, specialists; all available to us free at the point of need. Not to mention the drugs, bandages, ointments, prosthetics and all the equipment used in operating theatres. That must be one big carbon footprint from end-to-end!

And this is where societies need to start making their choices and understanding what those choices mean. Do I think the UK needs to radically cut its carbon footprint? Yes. Do I think that the NHS is “too expensive” in its use of oil, plastic, energy etc. More difficult to answer. If you’d asked me while I was sitting in A&E, it would have been easy to answer - I’d have said “no way!” If it had been one of my children rather than me in need of A&E, I wouldn’t have even given anyone chance to ask the question! That’s what happens when choices are taken out of the abstract and into the real, dirty, messy, sometimes painful world. They become more difficult to make, and the consequences harder to predict or even to swallow.

Walking home from work today, I couldn’t help noticing how many shops, keen to maximise that all-important Christmas shopping time, had their doors wide open, heaters pumping hot air straight out into the cold street. What on earth are they thinking? What does that say about the choices we’re currently making about where we spend our imaginary carbon budget? If we have to start making difficult choices as a society (maybe from next week after Copenhagen) I know where I’d rather put my money.

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