JOHN HUMPHRYS: Toxic trainers prove the young can't blame us

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Toxic trainers that prove the young can’t just blame us ‘oldies’ for ruining the world

After a week of pretty relentless coverage from Glasgow, no one could blame you for wanting to Cop-out for a spell.

But let me test your patience with one intriguing statistic that may have escaped your attention.

Everyone knows by now that air travel is immensely damaging to our precious atmosphere because of the amount of carbon spewed out by planes.

Especially private jets carrying the powerful privileged few.

We’ve seen enough of them in Glasgow to prove — if we needed any more proof — that hypocrisy really is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

John Humphrys: Surely Greta Thunberg must be a shoo-in for the Nobel Peace Prize? Or at least, she might have been before her foul-mouthed rant at Cop26

In simple terms: don’t do as I do, do as I say.

Unless, of course, you’re Boris Johnson, in which case different rules apply.

You may be less familiar with another source of greenhouse gas emissions that comes pretty close to air travel: trendy trainers.

Those grotesquely overpriced shoes that prove the First Law of Successful Marketing.

That is: think of a trendy product. Develop a glitzy version that is phenomenally expensive.

Make relatively few available at first and then double the price.

And hordes of gullible teenagers — and plenty of older people who should know better — will break down your doors to get at them no matter what it does to their overdraft.

But it’s the cost to the environment that really matters.

There are reckoned to be 25 billion pairs made every year, mostly from several forms of plastic made with fossil fuels that can’t be recycled.

They create more than half the carbon emissions of the entire aviation industry. And yet few self-respecting young people would dare be seen without the very latest version.

Nor without the latest fast-fashion tops or dresses or jeans that come at the opposite end of the price scale. They might be made by workers on starvation wages in the sweatshops of the Far East, but no matter.

They are Hoovered up — often to be worn once, then cast aside. The cheaper they are, the better. And again, the cost to the environment is monumental.

These might well be the same young people who regard it as their God-given right to take gap years and fly to exotic places so they can post selfies to impress their friends.

The same young people who order takeaways whenever they’re peckish. Who howl with anguish if they can’t go clubbing. Who adore avocados — possibly the most polluting food on the planet.

And the same generation who can’t be bothered to get vaccinated against Covid. The latest figures show a third still haven’t been. So what if we get infected and spread the virus, they say. We’re young. We’ll survive.

Demonstrators join the Fridays for Future march on November 5 in Glasgow on day six of the 2021 Climate Summit, focusing on youth and public empowerment

Even as I write this I hear the wheels of the tumbrel. To the guillotine with Humphrys!

How dare this old reactionary vilify our wonderful young people! It is they who will have to rescue civilisation from the fiery future their elders have bequeathed them after all.

So let me hasten to say that, yes, they are wonderful in so many ways. I am immensely proud of my own children and grandchildren. Obviously. But since history began young people have invariably seen themselves as the innocent victims and their elders as the beneficiaries.

And to be fair, aren’t we older folk benefiting from generous state pensions that have been protected above all other Government financial commitments?

Don’t we all live in lovely houses we bought for a pittance 50 years ago when they can barely afford to rent a room in a slum?

Well, yes, there’s something in that. But the pensions chicken is coming home to roost.

And a Government minister this week said old people ‘rattling around’ in houses too big for them must downsize and make way for young people in greater need.

And who has paid the biggest price for Covid?

Sure, we can sympathise with students having only virtual lectures or children missing vital school lessons, but what about the thousands of old people who were treated like pieces of garbage?

Thrown out of hospitals to die in so-called care homes. Denied even a hug from their nearest and dearest in their last few hours on this earth.

They were the real victims. And some survivors still are. Too many old people are shunted off to care homes that charge outrageous fees for disgracefully inadequate ‘care’.

Young people are right to accuse us of jeopardising their future by allowing climate change to happen.

But what we did then is, in many respects, what so many of them are doing now.

Of course, I accept, it is the young who are doing most of the protesting. It always is. Surely Greta Thunberg must be a shoo-in for the Nobel Peace Prize?

Or at least, she might have been before her foul-mouthed rant at Cop26.

But while she and her worshippers call for the overthrow of capitalism to save the planet, many more feed the machine that powers it.

And the bosses of Nike rub their hands with glee as they watch their profits soar.

There is nothing new in this notion of young versus old. I remember the 16-year-old William Hague berating his elders at a Tory conference for their half-hearted approach to socialism: ‘It’s all right for you lot,’ he said, ‘most of you won’t be around in 30 years’ time. But I will!’

John Humphry says there are reckoned to be 25 billion pairs of ‘trendy trainers’ made every year, mostly from several forms of plastic made with fossil fuels that can’t be recycled.

But climate change is different. There has always been something a little dodgy about the simplistic argument that it’s we oldies who selfishly bury our heads in the sand while the young are selflessly virtuous.

Sir David Attenborough is hardly in the first flush of youth. Nor are those retired vicars gluing themselves to roads in their misguided, but well-meaning, attempt to insulate our homes.

Even so, the young have cause to be outraged at the mess we oldies have made of their planet and there’s some evidence that many are prepared to make changes to their lifestyles.

Some may cycle more or become vegans for starters.

But I suspect their idea of the good life in a rich country like ours is not so very different from their parents’.

They may have fewer children than we had, but in many cases that’s because they’re getting married later and enjoying their single lives.

I wonder how impressed they’ve been by the wretched Harry and Meghan promising they will have no more children.

I suspect they might be looking at the Sussexes’ lifestyle with its Californian mansion and private jet flights and thinking: ‘I wouldn’t mind a bit of that!’

But the horrible reality is that we face an existential crisis — and what matters is that we recognise that young and old share it.

Ultimately, it’s pointless berating one group or the other for their selfish behaviour.

Instead, we have to answer the question that has bedevilled philosophers through the ages: how do we live a virtuous life?

Next week we shall be marking the sacrifices made by so many in two world wars. When Churchill used the expression ‘their finest hour’ he was referring not only to those heroic men and women who gave their lives but to the nation.

Our parents and grandparents knew they were all in it together. Some made the ultimate sacrifice. Most made a contribution.

They recognised they had no choice. It was a matter of survival as a nation.

Climate change is infinitely more complicated.

Cop26 will probably fail because every political leader is constrained by one calculation: how much sacrifice can I ask of my people?

China is the greatest polluter on the planet. Its president knows if he orders a cut in coal production many people will suffer and his regime might well be overthrown.

It’s tempting for us to say what the hell; we’re minnows in this tank of sharks! Maybe, but we have a moral responsibility to act virtuously.

The young are good at shaming the old for their lapses, but it should not be about whether they are more or less virtuous than us.

It’s about how all of us, young and old, find a way of adjusting the rules by which we live for a much greater good.

Maybe even sacrificing that new pair of trainers would be a start.

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