Date posted: 31 May 11, 09:00
By Julie Hill
We asked Julie Hill to comment on her current work and ideas that have influenced her. Julie participated in the festival on 18 May on fast fashion.
Which of your own ideas have you been thinking about most recently?
How difficult it is to overcome our urges to constantly acquire and to constantly seek novelty. Asking people to stop shopping in the name of environmental protection is simply not going to work, whether it is clothes, gadgets, food or houses. We have to somehow satisfy these urges with new kinds of products – ones which have their effects on the environment ‘designed out’. This was prompted by a recent trip to America, during which I joined in (with worrying enthusiasm) the recreational shopping that Americans do so well.
What idea of someone else has made most impact on you recently?
William Stanley Jevons and his Paradox. Jevons observed (in relation to coal in the nineteenth century) that improving the efficiency of use of a resource can lower its price, so that it ends up being used more. For environmental improvement, this is a real problem, because it means that the advantages of energy efficiency or any other kind of resource efficiency can easily be overwhelmed by increased consumption. The key question is how to avoid this, and ensure that smarter use of resources is accompanied by a long-term decrease in overall consumption.
What are the most important books/articles/websites of ideas that everyone should read and why?
Michael Braungart and William McDonough’s Cradle to Cradle – because it sets out a product design agenda that aims to solve the environmental problems associated with current offerings, and is far more creative and positive than most of the commentary on these issues. Fred Pearce’s Confessions of an Eco-sinner for a highly informative, surprising and honest account of the environmental implications of everyday stuff. Fred shows that nothing is simple, particularly when taking into account the complex human dimensions of products and their origins, but many things are more positive than you’d imagine. Rose George’s The Big Necessity – an entertaining account of the world’s toilet habits, together with much-needed discussion of how we fail to make use of the nutrients available in our waste products, and waste much water to boot. Tristram Stuart’s Waste – Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, you will never let that fruit go off again. Jared Diamond’s Collapse – warnings about the future through the lessons of the past.
In 1910 Charles Masterman asked ‘What will the future make of the present?’ What do you think people in the future will make of the present?
It could go one of two ways – either we will have improved our habits beyond recognition and future generations will wonder how our generation could have been so needlessly wasteful. Or disaster will have struck and people will look back with longing on the abundance of our age.
What are you most pessimistic about?
The ability of the human species to look far enough ahead and plan accordingly.
What are you most optimistic about?
The ability of the human species to deploy technological ingenuity, if only it can be directed towards the right things.
Who are your heroes?
Margaret Atwood – for blending science and literature in such a rich way; Tim Jackson – for taking on the economists and trying to flesh out how we might have ‘prosperity without growth’; Jim Al-Khalili and Brian Cox – for making science accessible and cool.
Julie Hill has worked in the environment movement for 25 years, for leading environmental group Green Alliance, as well as for businesses and government. She counts her experiences as parent, consumer and citizen to be just as relevant to The Secret Life of Stuff: A Manual for a New Material World as those generated by being a life-long environmentalist.
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