It used to be called the 'consumer society'. It started in the US in the late 30s and 40s, and spread throughout the developed world in the post-war period. It was in stark contrast with how things had been in the Hungary Thirties, the early 30s, when many millions were unemployed and fascism rampant. It took a colossal world war to defeat fascism, and then the era of consumption really took off. At the start of the 21st century the developed world is more than ever the consumer society. China, India and Brazil - vast countries of the developing world - and many others, are fast joining in.
The downside? Will we consume the living earth that supports our very existence?
Consumption produces waste. Waste causes pollution. Pollution causes environmental damage. The pleasure of our consumption is also the cause of our pain - or someone else's. The cheap goods that flood the developed world and have consumers rushing to the Primarks of the age to spend to their heart's satiation (if not content) are bought at the expense of low labour rates and massive environmental damage in the producing countries.
Meanwhile back in Planet Brighton a small waste war is being waged around the old industrial estate of Hollingdean Lane on the killing ground of the former borough abattoir. Onyx, the council's waste contractor, wants to build an MRF (materials recovery facility) and waste transfer station. Local residents are not having it, and are campaigning hard to stop it, claiming all sorts of virtuous reasons why it shouldn't be allowed to happen in their backyard.
From the council's perspective this site has been correctly chosen. It is a brownfield site, a partly derelict industrial estate, already the long-time home of the council's waste depot, and a central point for dustcarts serving the city. Try getting planning permission for a waste facility on a greenfield site and see how those residents rage - and their rage would have planning law on their side.
This cuts no ice with Hollingdean residents who fear more heavy traffic, noise and air pollution, and more generally that they're being dumped on. It's true, it's happening to them. The residents reject the charge of NIMBYism and assert their strong support for recycling - but not here, not next to their homes and schools. The site of the proposed MRF is adjacent to Down's Infants School, though all waste sorting and bulking will be carried out within new sound-proofed buildings.
What alternative do the residents offer, if any? Basically, they want to spread the pain in a series of smaller scale sites across the city, serviced by electric vehicles. Do we see other residents in other parts of the city putting up their hands and shouting: "Yes, please!" No.
It's not a stupid idea but it is fanciful, given the sort of society we live in. The idea was fleshed out in great detail some years ago in a report on London's waste, Re-Inventing Waste: Towards a London Waste Strategy
(1998). London didn't take the advice, but how could it have done. It was a small-is-beautiful waste strategy for a small-is-beautiful society, not London, not contemporary society.
So, the war will rage on. - the David of the residents slinging their shots at the Oynx Goliath. The rest of the city will keep mum. Indeed, most will barely have noticed. (The Argus writes that Onyx wants to handle 200,000 tonnes A DAY! So much for exacting investigative journalism.) Their will be planning applications, inspector's inquiries and reports, eventually it will almost certainly be built, though already it is well behind schedule. Onyx had planned to have the buildings up and working this year. No chance.
Meanwhile, back in the global village, when is rubbish a resource? Answer: when labour rates are low enough and the environmental damage that a society is prepared to endure high enough. Britain's waste is now one of Britain's exports. Half of our green box waste finds its way abroad.