06 May 2007

Latest British Orwellianism

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Lionel Shriver, in the Wall Street Journal, describes how environmentalism is used by Government in Britain to justify reduced services, fee increases, and more totalitarian surveillance.

As they campaigned for midterm regional elections on Thursday, the biggest issue that British politicians met on doorsteps was a load of rubbish. Specifically, one load of rubbish, where before there were two. Pressed to meet European Union targets for reducing landfill volume, many local councils now collect refuse only once every two weeks. As flies and vermin gather while food scraps achieve a fine perfume, residents have grown so enraged that bin-men are under repeated physical attack.

The logic of fortnightly collections — if you can follow it — is to encourage recycling. Lest widespread consternation over garbage seem petty, fortnightly collections now emblemize a broader source of indignation: the U.K. government’s self-righteous “green” justifications for reduced services on the one hand, and thievery on the other.

Halving the frequency of waste removal conveniently saves money. A host of other new “green” measures in the U.K. will make money: $200 fines for poorly separated recycling, or microchips implanted in wheelie bins to weigh residential refuse — dragging Britain’s surveillance culture to a new low, and facilitating charges for waste disposal by the kilo. Furious that they are already paying once for this service through local taxes, some householders have ripped the microchips from their bins.

The premier example of having to pay twice for the same dispensation, all under the guise of environmentalism, is the British government’s proposal to bring in “road pricing,” unveiled last December. This literal highway robbery would charge motorists up to $2.56 per mile to drive on roads whose construction they had paid for to begin with. Announcement of the scheme stirred the complacent, slow-to-anger British public to circulate an Internet protest petition that secured 1.8 million signatures.

And little wonder. Since the average British commuter travels 9.6 miles each way, a nine-to-fiver in a built-up area would pay $50 a day for the privilege of going to work. The Sunday Telegraph calculates that even in moderately populated Yorkshire, where the first pilot programs are planned, road-pricing would cost the average family $6,000 a year. …

Environmentalism has become the fashionable fig leaf to cover for extortion. If a tax is “green” it is “for the sake of the planet,” and fairness doesn’t come into it. Neither, apparently, does greed. Hence Britain’s petrol duty — the fourth highest in the world at over $4 a gallon plus 17.5% VAT levied on both the fuel and the duty ( in the U.K., even taxes are taxed) — has nothing to do with sticky fingers; it’s to confront the all-purpose bogeyman of global warming.

Mayor Ken Livingstone has installed a “congestion charge” for central London. At $10 per day at inception, the charge has risen to $16 in three years; the area covered by the charge doubled in February. Mr. Livingstone further proposes that high carbon-emission “Band G” vehicles — not only SUVs, but smaller sedans like the Ford Mondeo — be charged instead £25 per day, and be excluded from the 90% residents’ discount. That’s fifty bucks — every weekday, if you live or work in the congestion zone, or $13,000 a year. Richmond council has followed suit, tripling the cost of parking for Band G cars to £300 — meaning even outside of central London it will cost close to $600 a year to park in front of your own house. But that’s ok! It’s for the sake of the planet.

Britain pursues monetarily punitive policies to advance environmental goals. Expediently, punitive fiscal policies line treasury coffers. They not only disproportionately penalize the less well off, and stultify economic growth; these fees, fines, duties, and charges lurking on every corner also create a larger social climate of oppression, resentment, and paranoia.


Mark Steyn
identified the author as “an American lady novelist in London and a Guardian columnist of conventionally leftie views” writing under a nom de plume, but he complimented and linked her column, and added the following comments.

It’s not enough that the average Briton is captured on closed-circuit TV cameras in his car, in the street, in the shopping mall, and even in country lanes where the rural constabulary have hidden them in trees to catch illegal fox hunters. Now the government is monitoring his garbage. If they ever take up Sheryl Crow’s all-we-are-saying-is-give-one-piece-a-chance toilet-paper rationing, you can bet the enforcers will mandate CCTVs in every bathroom if not microchips in the bowl.

If George Bush put a microchip in your garbage under the Patriot Act, there’d be mass demonstrations across the land. But do it in the guise of saving the planet and everyone’s fine with it.

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds (for the Mark Steyn item).

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