New Internationalist

Darkness visible

This morning I woke to find the river flowing in the wrong direction, the barge rising at an alarming speed.

Reading a local guide, I find that the pub just upstream, beyond the next lock, is a traditional place for boats to moor up, beyond the reach of the tides. The mooring where I am now is on the wrong side of that lock, and as a result it is vulnerable to very high ‘spring’ tides, which lift the water level even over the lock downstream.

From the radio I learn that exceptionally high tides are expected in Norfolk, some way from here on the coast of East Anglia, in early September. If these combine with storm surges there could be widespread flooding. Though the tides where I am differ quite a bit, they are notoriously strong, so I await early September with some trepidation.

I have become unaccustomed to feeling the force of nature so directly. I am not used to wondering if my home might rise or fall as I sleep. There is, I now discover, a curious exhilaration in this feeling.

Darren, an electrical engineer who lives on a boat in London, has kindly come here to advise me about solar panels and, now that my ‘leisure’ batteries have died on me, what to do with my electrical system in general.

Evidently I have inherited extravagant energy spenders, like the water heater, electric oven, fridge and washing machine. Eventually I’ll need less greedy substitutes. Meanwhile, it’s a question of balancing what I can afford by way of solar panels and batteries with what I need, like light in the approaching darkness of autumn and winter.

At first sight, environmental sense and the need to save money seem to point in opposite directions. The more money I spend the more environmentally sensible I can become, so it seems.

But that’s just on the face of it – depending, of course, on what I consume in the first place. This means figuring out the difference between what I need and what I want – a distinction that many of us are no longer very skilled at making.

The assumption tends to be that want is always greater than need. It’s not unreasonable to imagine, however, that at some point in the near future the difference will disappear altogether, at least when it comes to the consumption of energy.

There’s no getting away from this. If we’re serious about climate change – and climate change is getting pretty serious about us - then the very idea of an option to trash the planet is the one piece of trash we really can throw away.

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