My own motivation for leading an ecologically responsible life has actually come not from any sort of guilt, or desire to do good, or wish to show others what a really compassionate guy I am, but rather from a simple combination of laziness and meanness.
I have always been lazy and a few years ago, with three children in the house, started to become extremely parsimonious. I now spend a good deal of energy introducing new cost-saving measures into the family finances. I turn off lights, pull out plugs, go into neutral on hills and question the wisdom of car journeys. Why can’t we just stay at home, I say?
Happily, laziness and meanness are environmentally friendly. The lazy man who has the confidence simply to lie still in a field all day troubles no one and not not disturb the planet. He does not consume resources. To stay at home all day is infinitely better as far as the health of the planet goes than to drive in a car to Alton Towers. And in the same way, simply not spending money means you are not draining the earth.
It is the same with growing vegetables. My idea here was economy. I could save a lot of money by growing my own rocket, broad beans, peas. lettuces and so on, to say nothing of the immense benefits to one’s health, both physical and mental.
It is the same with burning wood rather than oil for heating: it is cheaper. I’ve found also that I save money by shopping with cooperatives rather than corporations. By being a neo-Luddite as far as technology is concerned I save packets. I have no need to buy the latest BlackBerry or i-Pod, although I do confess that Skype does seem to be to be truly miraculous and wonderful, and while I despise greedy corporations like Facebook, Skype, so far at least, I consider to be free from evil. One example is that the all five us now have a Latin lesson each day with a teacher based in Ireland.
Anyway, I think this is the message that needs to be communicated. Still today, being green is seen as some sort of middle class indulgence, fine for those who can afford organic vegetables. We all know as well that desire to be green is being shamelessly exploited by the coprorations who are launching new eco-conscious brands to grab a slice of a new, growing market.
We need to produce books and magazines of money-saving tips and encourage everyone to step outside the consumer economy. It worried me rather when I read about a Transition Towns spokesman wondering whether it was a better tactic to scare people into adopting his ideology through instilling fear of climate change, or instilling fear of peak oil. As Satish Kumar has rightly said, fear is not a good foundation from which to act. It will lead to hysterical and emotional action. Laziness and meanness, however, are good motivations because they are practical and concrete. They are not based on some abstract fear of the world coming to an end in the near future. They are based on the idea that we can improve our lives right here, right now.
It was my laziness and meannness that led me to take up the ukulele. Costing only twenty pounds as oppoed to the i-Pod’s one hundred and seven, you will never have to upgrade it and it needs no batteries. It appeals to the lazy since when there is floor-mopping and dish washing to do, or articles to be written, you find you are irresistibly drawn to it upon which, much to Victoria’s annoyance, I will strum in the kitchen surrounded by dirty dishes.
Again, though, my laziness and meanness has led to good things. With my friend Sam on the guitar, I have started a duo called Sam and Tom and we hold singalongs in pubs and at festivals. The most recent was at the excellent Port Eliot festival, where we performed 20 songs, from Rehab by Amy Winehouse to Hey Jude, to a cheerful audience who we had provided with lyric sheets. Unlike its enemy, the i-Pod, the ukulele brings people together. You rarely see someone smiling while listening to their i-Pod, but at the singalongs, you will see a hundred people grinning and laughing. In Chas and Dave put it so succinctly, that’s living all right.
Tom Hodgkinson is editor of The Idler magazine, and author of How to Be Free (Hamish Hamilton, £14.99).