Over the Christmas holidays I found myself watching Piers Taylor and Caroline Quentin’s The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes. The series looked at houses built in stunning locations using novel designs and unusual materials to create contemporary living spaces.
What I found most remarkable was not the homes, although they were all extraordinary in their own way as promised. Rather, it was the vision of the owners and the architects to take what was a sheer cliff face, forest plot, or hole in the ground and turn it into something that was not only habitable, but also beautiful and, in most cases, sympathetic to the environment around it.
Why did this foresight amaze me? Because it seems that for much of the population out of sight is truly out of mind. Blue Planet 2 and the recent news that China is refusing to take our plastic waste has helped focus the spotlight on plastic pollution in particular and, to a lesser extent, waste in general. But why is this only now gaining attention?
After all, the Pixar film WALL-E, released in 2008, chose waste—not climate change—as the environmental disaster that humans were escaping from. You don’t need to have the farsightedness of Nostradamus or even the creative vision of a cutting-edge architect to know that the planet cannot continue to cope with the millions of tonnes of waste products that are continuously being produced.
But people do not like to think about waste. Once something has been added to the bin, taken to the tip, or littered, it is gone. Like it never existed. People reach for the next bottle, the next packet, the next bit of single-use plastic packaging. There is no thought at all about the next stage of the process, at what happens to the mound of material that is cast aside. What will it take to make people not only sit up and pay attention, but also act to make changes to their lifestyle? What will make the government stop talking and actually do something about the tsunami of waste that is already on our shores?
We need to stop election-cycle thinking and consider what we want from the UK over the next 10, 20, 50 years. A cleaner, less littered country? Certainly. Better environmental education to target everyone, not just the next generation? Yes, please. An intelligent, adaptable strategy that will make a real difference to the amount of waste the UK produces? Of course.
Final question, I promise: if our ancestors can construct Stonehenge and the pyramids, if Brunel can engineer his bridge and Eiffel his tower, what is stopping us from designing and creating a better future now?