I always knew David Mitchell was incredibly funny. However, I didn’t realise he had a view on sustainability as well.
Firstly, I know this video is meant to be a comical rant, but I think he raises an perspective. Work your way through the ‘Perpetual Furniture Company’ analogy and Mitchell then advocates a carbon emissions tax.
I like the basic principle, putting the onus on the producer to be more environmentally friendly. He continues to suggest that, with a carbon tax on things like cars and air travel, market forces apparently are set to work on the company not the customer. According to Mitchell, this would be a profit incentive and force companies to reduce their emissions.
However, taxes like this don’t seem to have a positive environmental impact. Mitchell’s aim is to break the relationship between “the feckless buyer and the feckless seller”. The problem is a tax doesn’t make anybody in that relationship have any more feck. The consistently high demand for some high carbon products, particularly bargain basement flights to typical Brits-on-tour holiday locations, means that consumers will continue buying them unless prices rise substantially. Producers, those who Mitchell seeks to target, would nonchalantly pass the tax onto consumers, without a major dip in their profits.
Of course, if companies took the time to invest in specialising as low carbon producers, that would be fantastic. However, that requires major investment, and the likelihood is that air operators, for example, will see it as ‘just another cost’ and find other, cheaper ways to provide a less costly product for their clamouring consumers. A large percentage of the fuel duty (now 2/3 of the at-the-pump cost) is supposed to be an environmental tax. But do we really see it as that?
Yet, say a true carbon tax was introduced (we already have a Climate Change Levy on non-domestic energy consumption and a Fuel Duty Escalator for petrol), then where does this money go? The likelihood is it would be used to help reduce the annual budget deficit the government is still running. A guarantee that any revenue could be used on environmental subsidies and investment would be lovely, wouldn’t it? Lovely, but unlikely.
I don’t want to complete quash the idea of a carbon tax as it could force companies to consider their environmental impact slightly more than they currently do. However, its extent and sliding scale would have to be carefully defined to ensure that the people who should be affected most (the companies) actually take the hit.
But, if you want to take one particular point away from Mr Mitchell’s wonderfully composed rant, it should be the observation that environmental costs are never factored into everyday economic transactions. Mitchell calls this fact “egregious and murderous”. The only way this could happen effectively is if the entire population was convinced of the need for change to the way we treat our planet. People would pay heed to the environmental impact of simple actions in their daily life, from the quick shop at Tesco to choosing what fabrics they wear. The problem is we’re a long way from that being the case.
Such a universal attitude change appears to be the only truly sustainable solution to the precarious situation planet earth currently faces. However, the use of persuasive and pertinent humour, as displayed by Mitchell, could be one way of cracking humanity’s inertia.
Sandals image from soxer123 on flickr