Seldom in these gloom-laden days is an item of bad news offset by some good, so what follows is both rare and gladdening.
First the bad. According to the Office for National Statistics, Britain is not going green as fast as our masters would wish. Despite the warnings, exhortations, wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth, despite the portentous words of such sages as Polly “Put the Straitjacket On” Toynbee and Gorgeous George Monbiot, and despite all the hectoring of all the lobbies, more Britons still drive around in cars, travel by air and over-heat their homes.
The ONS figures show total passenger numbers at UK airports rose by 54 million between 2001 and 2006, with Stansted attracting 10 million more travellers and some regional airports doubling passenger numbers. At the same time, the number of people on the roads has increased in spite of Government proposals to reduce pollution by encouraging the use of public transport. New car registrations rose by 13% between 1996 and 2006.
Although recycling levels have increased in recent years, only three of Britain’s 13 regions are recycling more than a third of their rubbish. The Government wants 40% of waste to be recycled by 2010.
When will this folly end? This crazy desire to enjoy the rewards of civilisation? This reckless disregard of Polly Toynbee? The answer, my friends, is sooner than you think. For when you think about it, all this consumption, all this buzzing about in SUVs and jetting off to far-away places soon to disappear under man-made waves, all this appetite for goods pouring out of the factories of Shantou, Zhejiang and Fujian, it all comes down to one thing, a love of life. We all want to live a lovely life forever, to face up to that dread spectre of oblivion and, with a defiant gesture, see it off.
But how? As is often the way, the answer comes from an unsuspected source. In the instance the Korolinska Institute in Sweden whose scientists persuaded 14 volunteers to subsist for three weeks on a “caveman diet” of berries, nuts, lean meat and fish. By the end of the trial the participants had lost an average of five pounds of weight, their blood pressure was down by 5% and levels of a clotting agent in their blood, which can cause heart attacks and strokes, had fallen by 72%.
The researchers say our early ancestors lived on a diet lacking in cereals, dairy products and refined sugar for centuries before farming developed. Perhaps the human body is still best suited to that kind of food.
So there we have it – the key to long life and the cure for global warming, each achieved but by a single means. Retreating to cave dwelling might not be so bad. It would foster a sense of community (many of the new eco-homes being planned across the country are intended for the single occupancy of people who have become so abhorrent to their fellow humans that they are obliged to live alone); it would rid us of the endless pressures of getting and spending; it would free us from the tyranny of television (just imagine the bliss of a life without Anne Robinson, Tony Robinson, Jonathan Ross and Jonathan Dimbleby); it would bring contentment, happiness and rest to Greenpeace, but not, alas, to the many employees of the World Climate Forum in whose caves would lurk the despondency of unemployment.
Life as cave people would be as satisfying as it was simple. Cavemen and women were able to devote their entire existence to food, sex and leisure, which remains to this day the ideal. Without TV we would rediscover the entertainment of story-telling. Seated around the fire (only a small one, mind, only a tiny carbon footprint) we would invent sagas and, just as happens now, the most inventive liar would become our leader.
And do not imagine that cavemen were uncivilised. As often happens with scientific researchers, their minds focused on their speciality, a bigger discovery passes unnoticed and unremarked. The folk at the Karolinska Institute fed their volunteers with foods from a prescribed list, which included “fresh or frozen fruit, berries or vegetables, lean meat, unsalted fish, canned tomatoes, lemon or lime juice, spices and coffee or tea without milk or sugar”.
Did you spot it? Yes, canned tomatoes. Stone-age man had discovered the tin can centuries before iron-age man, a remarkable fact that completely rewrites history. And since none of his cans have been found, they must have been recycled. Oh joy!