Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cause and effect... s

By virtue of living right next to it, having watched the flooding on TV I was expecting the Wye River to soon be joining me in the lounge.

Strangely, nothing happened, he says, firmly touching wood.

But there are some pretty nasty things going down, and I have been interested in the coverage so far. Especially on Breakfast TV, with the boss lady of the Environment Agency on hand to offer the kind of advice that is great in theory, but perhaps a little less easy to put into practice.

I also caught a few 'never seen befores' flying about as to the level of the, well, levels.

Now, at risk of being labelled a 'big oil-funded denier' BOFDi, I had cause to ponder this.

As one who thinks there may be something to all this (and hence merit in appropriate mitigations), I nonetheless do concern myself at what gets laid at whose door, opening up which Pandora's Box first to put things right.

My main area of kinked eyebrow is how much is down to new and unimproved weather conditions caused by man-made climate change (with all sorts of carbon trading initiatives just waiting to be brought to bear as a consequence, with measurability and accountability on the never-never), and how much to pretty dire decisions on the ground; which can, and should, be made accountable quicksmart.

There are a lot more of us, living on a lot more land, concreting it over, requiring resources from it and pushing gunk back out. To what extent are these demands, and the political 'quick fixes' ('Eh up, let's pop 500 registered voters on that flood plain, lad') to accommodate these responsible for these floods, and how much to the heavens that have opened to cause this issue?

Both are serious, and both need addressing. But I would just like to make sure those Chicken Littles who are responsible for the more immediate, short term and more correctable causes (if, as I suspect, they may exist) do not get a free pass by shunting everyone's attention solely to a falling sky.

Indy - Letters: Flooding - Looks like I am not alone

Democracy Inaction 2

Last night, after a long day, I struggled up the hill to the local council offices for a meeting about the 'Town Plan'.

I was flattered to have been asked, especially as the invitation was based on my potential contribution to proactive and positive environmental measures. So long as no one was expecting me to do a Canute on the floods, I was hoping to have something to offer.

I'm afraid to say I ended up leaving after an hour and a half when, after the obligatory tea break, the next session looked like an equally pointless point-of-order marathon as the first. With nothing on matters environmental looking like being anywhere in the frame.

I come from a different world, obviously. In advertising, time is money, and everything is designed to shorten the first and reduce the second. So the brief is all, and being brief even better. So while meetings are inevitable you have a clear agenda and ensure only those who need to be there are, and you bang through what everyone needs to do to arrive at actions as soon as possible.

What I stumbled into was a masterpiece of vague, over-populated mainly by those with no other commitments in their waking hours save for the task of putting others to sleep. And an inordinate love of their own voices. The only high, and amazing point, was the presence of some committed young folk who actually cared enough to attend, one presumes in the hope that they will make a difference. Big up to them. And good luck.

There was talk of the democratic process, but as a town resident I would never have heard of it unless invited, seemingly through being a bit known for Junkk.com, but also for making some noise about other local issues of late. And though there was a fair spread of folk there, I'd say a few dozen was hardly representative and honestly most were, like me, and with a few exceptions, the wrong side of 50, mainly councillors or parish representatives. Let's face it, at 7pm you are not going to get many with families to feed, or simply be with at the end of a working day.

I also got to pondering who was paid to be there, who was compensated (travel at least), and who was there on a voluntary basis. Because a lot was being served up that seemed to be calling on folk to do even more for no compensation beyond 'contributing to the community'. Noble for sure, but also the realm of those who do not have other commitments or calls on their earning hours, or keen and able to play the system for firmly held beliefs.

Now I'll try to do my bit. But with no agenda, the whole exercise seemed to be spinning on its axis, with all sorts of pockets of priority jockeying for position. I had no idea where the money for all this was coming from, where it was going, or indeed what it was intended to do. And as a further layer of consultation and feedback, I had to wonder what on earth the various elected representatives (paid and not) I'd recently gone through the trouble of voting for... were for. Most were there, rather silent, and seemingly waiting for a bunch of others to step in to act as a buffer zone for some rather ill-defined discussions with, to me, the end result being anything but clear.

I do care about the direction my home area takes, but honestly couldn't cope with being part of this effort to be part of how it gets taken there. And that, I guess, is to my demerit.

But it did get me thinking about what is needed to rekindle an interest in the democratic process in the silent public majority, and that, to me would chiefly involve clear communication and a commitment to making the process as entertaining as possible. With a definite sense of reward (in this case, seeing a clear result) for taking the time to participate.

And while it is difficult to balance, I simply cannot see how organising free-for-all bunfights, with everyone shouting at once, is going to arrive at anything remotely rational. If at all, it will always be those who shout loudest or put up a more united block who will prevail. That may seem democratic, but in a time-poor, career-driven society, it really still does play into the hands of the few. I may have had a contribution to make, but simply could not see how I could make it in such a zoo, or how such efforts would pay off. So I left early. It will be interesting to see how it gets reported and what actually does get achieved over the years (which is the timeframe indicated). I guess I cannot complain if it does take things in a direction I don't like, as I had a chance to be part. But then isn't what I gave my proxy to elected representatives to do? And should I wish to get my views across I can surely approach them one on one directly for a meaningful exchange and leave them to fight my corner in such debates I cannot, or choose not to attend?

Sadly, what I see these days, from national to this most local of levels, is anything but 'democratic'. Process but no product. Waffle and jargon and procedure. Unaccountable layers.
It may not be the best system, and it may be the best there is, but by heavens if it is designed to confuse or bore me into submission when I do care enough to try to be part, lord help us if decisions are based on what the rest of the public can be inspired (or, rather not) to engage with.

Maybe if they did it as a version of Big Brother: the Town Plan, more people would be inclined to take part.