It seems at times that just one subject is dominating debate in the media, politics and the blogosphere right now. No, not Cher from the X Factor or David Beckham’s private life – the hot topic is the coalition’s plan to balance the budget and to cut public spending.
Acres of newsprint, clouds of hot air and trillions of bytes have been devoted to analysing and pontificating about what it all means for individuals, families and businesses, for the economy, for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, for Ed Miliband and for Vince Cable…. I’m not sure we are any the wiser, but we certainly can’t claim to be ignorant that something big is planned.
So all eyes are focused on 20 October. But I think we’re being short-sighted. There are even bigger issues to worry about, and decisions to be made that cannot be put off for much longer.
Pollsters always tell us that people worry most about the economy, about crime, immigration, the business environment, red tape – even the environment and climate change. What we don’t seem to worry too much about are more boring, more remote, things – like energy policy, waste disposal, and farming, mining and minerals.
Well we should. Consider some more fundamental questions: Will the lights stay on? Are raw material prices making even basic products unaffordable? How can we avoid choking on the waste and detritus of everyday life? When do our vehicles have to make the switch from petrol to electricity? And I haven’t even mentioned the impact of climate change….
If you want something to keep you awake at night think about this – we face an energy gap in the UK from as soon as 2016 that could literally mean (in theory at least) that the lights go out and our computers turn off. Or this – that we are committed to targets for recycling, reuse and reduction that require us to make significant investments now at a time of public spending cuts. Or this – that the prices of many commodities have hit record highs in recent years, with the global price of wheat by some measures rising by more than 60 percent in the past few months alone, directly affecting the price of food and goods in British shops.
So we should lift our eyes from short-term anxieties about public spending. What the Government does in a few weeks’ time might affect what we do, day-to-day, in the short-term. But if we want to preserve our way of life in a more fundamental sense, for the much longer term, we all need to devote much more attention to the sometimes unsexy world of energy, utilities and natural resources.