Government, energy & environment

Restless in the midst of abundance

In the UK there are currently 960,000 jobless people that receive unemployment benefit. There are also over 1,000,000 people that receive some kind of incapacity benefit, often because they are too stressed, anxious or depressed to work.Traditionally economics has thought of work as a burden - something that people put up with in order to do something else - and politicians have worried about increasing the number of jobs and reducing the number of jobless. However, things are changing. Economists and politicians are now both talking about raising the amount of enjoyment created by work and the level of happiness created within society as a whole. For instance, in addition to talking about Britain's GDP, the leader of the opposition - David Cameron - has talked about the idea of 'General Well-Being' (GWB). Thus the 'science' of happiness studies (a dismal science if ever there was one) is emerging and so too is using happiness as a measure of true prosperity. This is happening in Britain and other countries as politicians look for new promises to make in order to get elected or to stay in power. The idea of measuring happiness is certainly nothing new. In the US psychologists and economists have been asking Americans whether there are 'very happy', 'pretty happy' or 'not too happy' since 1972. However, there is a paradox at work. Individuals, communities and whole nations have been getting richer since at least 1972 but happiness levels have barely grown at all. For example in Japan wealth has soared since 1950 but the percentage of Japanese citizens saying that they are "very happy" has not moved at all. Why is this? One credible explanation is that free markets turn luxuries into necessities and essentials. In other words we simply grow accustomed to what we have. A better explanation may be that we grow accustomed to what other people have not got. In other words, we are never really happy until we have got something that others do not have. This is obviously a recipe for unhappiness and moreover, the more some people work to pay for status the more everyone else who shares this aspiration must work just to keep up.A final important point is that to be happy one needs to love and be loved. We also need some sense of control over our own lives and destinies and it is the latter, in my opinion, that is so lacking in modern societies due to the speed of change and, ironically, government over-regulation and political powerlessness.
Ref: The Economist (UK) 23 December 2006, 'Happiness (and how to measure it)' and 'Economics discovers its feelings'. See also The Sunday Times (UK) 24 December 2006, 'Happiness is being squeezed out of us', M. Marrin. and 2006+ Top Tend Trends - Happiness.
Search words: Happiness, well-being, work, jobs, GDP, status, anxiety
Trend tags: Happiness, work-life balance
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The hottest trend around

2006 was without a doubt the year that most people woke up to the threat of global warming. In the UK it was also the hottest year ever recorded (eight of the ten hottest years in record have been in the last ten years). There were also numerous reports - most notably the wonderfully titled Stern Report - highlighting the threats (and opportunities) presented by climate change. Over in continental Europe, polls consistently show that global warming is the second most important factor for voters behind employment and throughout the world ordinary people want action. Consequently, one of the fastest growing businesses worldwide is the carbon off-set business where numerous companies promise to off-set your guilt by planting trees or investing in green energy schemes. But do these schemes actually work? The answer, it seems, is that nobody really knows. Official offset schemes - those sanctioned by the Kyoto agreement and used by companies and countries - are strictly enforced and time limited. Private or individual off-setting schemes are not. Moreover, because most schemes (especially the tree planting variety) are essentially an exercise in time- shifting emissions into the future (offset futures if you like) nobody can be quite certain what will happen to these 'investments' over time. For example, back in 2002 the rock band Cold Play planted 10,000 trees to offset the production of their album 'A Rush of Blood to the Head' (or perhaps to offset their concerts that year according to other sources). Anyway, almost half of the trees died. Not only is this a problem but planting trees can cause other problems. Outside the tropics dark leaved forest canopies can actually absorb more heat that the individual tress can offset thereby actually making the problem of global warming worse. As a result many people can't see the wood for the trees and are getting out of the tree planting game altogether.
Another off-set solution is investing in green energy schemes, often in developing nations, but this' CO2lonialisim' may cause problems too, not least when developing nations are given emission limits of their own only to discover that Western companies have used them up already. None of this is of course to say that doing something is worse than doing nothing. Simply that selling carbon-offsets as a quick solution is not helpful, especially when the real name of the game is not off-setting but cutting the emissions themselves.
Ref: Various including New Scientist (UK), 10 March 2007, 'Look, no footprint',F. Pearce. The Guardian (UK) 20 December 2006, 'The year the world woke up', J. Vidal Newsweek (US) December 2006-February 2007 'Issues 2007' Guardian (UK) 19 December 2006, 'Ministers know emissions trading is a red herring and won't work' G. Monbiot.
See also 2007+ trends - carbon.
Search words: carbon emissions, climate change, global warming
Trend tags: carbon, climate change
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Electronic activism and digital democracy

In Australia the grass roots GetUp organization ( has more signed up members than any of the country's main political parties. And if that's not enough to give the Prime Minister a few sleepless nights, GetUp has just joined forces with and Re Republica in America to create what is possibly the world's largest online protest group. The new movement - - is initially focussing on climate change by bombarding politicians with emails but it also has a number of other issues in its sights. Meanwhile, over in the UK a local council in South London is allowing local voters to send in text messages and camera-phone photographs to report everything from dumped rubbish to holes in roads, while another site in the Netherlands allows local citizens to pinpoint problems using Google maps.Is any of this e-protest actually going to work? If enough people take part the answer must surely be yes although even if the politicians ignore the trend completely it at least makes politics more interesting for the rest of us.
Ref: The Economist (UK) 17 February 2007, 'Electronic protest: Wakey-wakey'. Springwise (Neth) 23 January 2007, 'Mms-ing local government'
Search words: protest, e-government
Trend tags: e-voting, connectivity


Here's a prediction. Within a decade you will be charged whenever you exceed your annual rubbish allocation and household waste outputs will be calculated and charged much in the same way that drivers pay if their vehicle exceeds certain 'green' targets. Nothing wrong with that surely? Well yes actually. This will be a great big con because the real polluters are generally big companies but they are too powerful for governments to take on. Thus the ordinary citizen will be labelled as a polluter and made to pay instead. Never mind that the only way that most people can buy anything these days is covered in plastic packaging. Equally, I don't actually remember being asked whether I wanted a chest of drawers to be delivered in component form with enough packaging to wrap up a small country. No, retailers and manufacturers will be largely exempt and so too will wealthy households that will find loopholes and offsets much in the same way that they currently avoid other taxes. The hardest hit will therefore be the average voter who will just have to grit his/her teeth and sign a cheque.
Ref: The Times (UK) 2 January 2007, 'Me pay? I didn't ask to be buried in bubble wrap', M. Samuel.
Search words: waste, rubbish, landfill, taxation
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