Britain's Future
Reviewed by Pat Harrington        

Britain's Future - Issues and Choices by Jim Northcott. Policy Studies Institute, 100 Park Village East, London, NW1 3SR. 15.00 ISBN 1853747555.

This book will be extensively reviewed in Third Way magazine so it's not our intention to cover every chapter here. There are, however, two chapters in the book which are of particular interest to us. One is on the Environment and the other is on World Population. Jim Northcott looks carefully at traffic growth. He avoids the condemnatory tone that some ecologists fall into when talking about car users. Instead he concentrates on what creates the need and desire to use cars. The Third Way has for some time targeted new shopping centres on suburban and out-of-town sites for criticism. Our local Circles in Cuffley, Hertfordshire and Havering, Essex have been particularly vocal on this point. Of course this is not just because of the damaging effect such developments have on small businesses, the local High Street and community spirit. It is also because of the ecological effect of creating the need for more car use and the side-lining of those without cars (particularly the elderly and single-parents). Jim Northcott points out that in 1996 three-quarters of all new retail space opened was in out-of-town locations.

The solutions suggested in this book are ones which deep-down most people know are needed. We know that we need to reduce traffic. We know that building new roads will not solve our problems. We know that we need to look at town-planning, commuting and public transport funding and strategy. The difficulty lies in altering ingrained habits and long-established structures of work. The great thing about this book is that it provides the examples and statistics to back the arguments we need to put over the message - and it does so in a format which is very readable.

Mother Earth readers will also be interested in the discussion of renewable energy sources and energy conservation. There are many schemes which can be implemented to encourage energy conservation. Jim Northcott points out, for example that the best larder, fridge freezer and chest freezer were all twice as efficient as the average on the market. I pick this out as an example as, by coincidence, when I was unemployed a few years back my local council sold me a new energy efficient fridge for a nominal payment and the return of my old one. This is an example of the kind of measure public bodies can adopt.

The chapter on World population is also of great interest to us. Jim Northcott states the problem clearly:-"In practice, fertility rates in most countries have been falling, but even if they continue to fall, world population is likely to nearly double by 2050. This could give rise to serious shortages of food, water, minerals and energy and make it more difficult to narrow the fivefold gap in living standards between the industrial countries and the developing ones. The countries most at risk are the poorest ones with the fastest rates of population increase; but Britain and other European countries are likely to be affected, for example through increasing immigration pressures."(p.171)

This section of the book makes very gloomy reading. It looks carefully at the possibility of increasing food production to match population growth. Different possibilities are considered: increasing the area under cultivation; increasing crop yield; making better use of food from the Seas; and even the wholesale adoption of Vegetarianism. The only area which seems a possibility is increasing crop yield but this would be through the adoption of GM as standard. In this case, however, the research needed means that it is unlikely to yield results within the time frame even if it overcame public opposition.

There are big problems with matching other resources to the growing population too - water and oil are two. Major structural changes will be needed on an international scale if we are to overcome the challenges of the future. But first we need a change in belief. Consumerism has ill-prepared people for what is coming.