Happy New Year and welcome a little sociology

It is easy to carp about ‘New Year and all that goes with it. For example, the boring news reviews of the year; the list of honours that always seem to dignify more creeps and brown nosers than role models and people who do decent things. And of course our own efforts at self renewal, reflected in a bonanza of daytime advertising for gym membership and losing weight.

But since I was a child, I have always been cheered by hearing people hoping for world peace and resolving to be nice to each other over those special days between Christmas and the putting up of new calendars. It’s part of my childhood Christmassy feelings, when radio programmes would visit children in hospital and lighthouse keepers having to work on Christmas day itself. This has of course changed with automated lighthouses and millions now working through the Christmas break in line with the neoliberalisation of UK working conditions.

Yet as I get ready to pin up my new Christmas present calendars – favourites like Classic Motorcycles and The Greatest Pre-Raphaelites, I find myself pondering on some of the mysteries of Christmas and the New Year.

So how come if we do all want peace and to love each other, now more than ever, people are being killed and hurt in war in ever-growing numbers? Why are families in countless numbers are having to flee their homes to other countries which frequently make clear their unwillingness to help them? When so many of us love watching David Attenborough and nature programmes why are so many species and ecologies taking bigger and bigger hits? Why is the only thing we seem to do to the environment, is to make global warming worse?

It is then I am glad that someone invented or discovered ‘sociology’. Because sociology offers a rapid reminder that just because we all like something, doesn’t mean it is going to happen. That what we want and how we think as individuals, may have very little to do with how societies are organized and the roads that political elites and powerholders set us on.

My favourite example is plastic bags. Now don’t get me wrong. I think it is wrong to create and use unnecessary plastic bags which can damage the environment. I think their consumption should be reduced. It may not be a bad thing generally charging 5p for them – even if that does create problems for people on low incomes. But why does this marginal activity that demands an individualistic response from us and as ever result in another cost to ‘us’, come to get seen as a major initiative against environmental damage, threats to the planet and the constellation of issues attacking sustainability.

Might I mention another potential contender. That is the increasing war and conflict all over the world that routinely kills tens of thousands, forces many more to become refugees and creates more disability and injury than almost any current ‘act of god’.

I know Wikipedia is not the bible (it is more literal), but as it says of war and the environment, ‘Methods of modern warfare cause far greater devastation on the environment. The progression of warfare from chemical weapons to nuclear weapons has increasingly created stress on ecosystems and the environment. Specific examples of the environmental impact of war include: World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, the Rwandan Civil War, the Kosovo War and the Gulf War.’ And it lists associated horrors, from agent orange to nuclear testing, unexploded ordinance to depleted uranium munitions (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_war ).


When people say, ‘we’ must do more to look after the environment. ‘We’ must stop consuming more. ‘We’ must live in more sustainable ways, then I am reminded of sociology and the impact of war on the environment. Of course none of this means that we don’t do all we can individually to make possible a sustainable world for our grandchildren. But we also have to stop believing the neo-liberal analysis that we are the main cause of the problems, rather than the increasingly irrational and mad policies that too many of our leaders seem set on imposing on us.