2 January 2007

Space is Money

At school we all hated geography. History teachers were always glamorous and exciting; their tweed jackets and cravats suggested hidden knowledge. Geography teachers always seemed to be part-time games teachers and brought their robust approach back into the class room. This link between geography and sports mysteriously persists in my children's schools. Perhaps it is something to do with the physical.

Whatever our school-era prejudices the time has come when we have to tangle with geography, because whether we are thinking about climate change or globalisation issues of place and space are of key importance in building a sustainable future. For an idea of the excellent work being done by radical geographers listen again to the essay from the esteemed Doreen Massey offered as part of the Today programme for new year's day. (Douglas Coker has kindly made a transcript of this that is posted below.)

The presenters of the Today programme were a bunch of listeners who feel that geography does not receive its due weight. You might characterise this complaint as the victory of history over geography in the classroom or the dominance in our culture of time over space. We are obsessed by a fear of growing old, by failing to make our mark before it is too late, by accumulating money and prestige as quickly as possible. Even fame itself is marked out in intervals of 15 minutes.

In another post you will notice my revulsion from the capitalist mantra that time is money. This is the pernicious nonsense that was brought to us by the factory system where profits were maximised by making as many widgets as possible as quickly as possible. It is the thinking that has led to the loss of joy in work, the loss of quality in what we make and is leading to the death of the planet. It also distracts us from the fact that, in reality, space is money since if we owned land to live on and grow our food on we would have no need to sell ourselves, or as it is euphemistically described, our time, in order to survive.
It is a difficult but interesting exercise to try to think yourself out of the era of clock time, which is relatively short-lived in terms of our human history. Barely more than 300 years ago time was governed by the seasons. Most people worked on the land and could not afford artificial light and so the amount of activity differed hugely depending on the time of year. Time itself was related to significant agricultural or astronomical processes. It was experienced and observed rather than being measured. As clock time has torn us away from this natural relationship with the planet so we can start to rebuild that connection by undermining our obsessive grasp of the 'timepiece' and substituting an awareness of the natural cycle of the year. We can do this in community through celebrating the annual festivals of time, such as the winter and summer solstices, and those of the seasons, such as the midwinter festival that has just passed and the spring festivals that will be with us as the light returns.

So, how about that for a new year resolution? Every time you find yourself being driven by our culture's obsession with time try to rethink the problem in terms of space instead? Or perhaps try throwing away your watch? Or not wearing it on Sunday? Why not make 2007 the year you thought more about space and less about time?


  1. From Douglas Coker.

    Doreen Massey on the Today programme. She was brilliant. We need to gather together pieces and arguments like this to persuade the doubters and deniers.

    So good I made a transcript ...

    Transcript of Doreen Massey (OU) on Radio 4 Today programme 1/1/07
    Intro from Edward Stourton ….

    Doreen Massey ….

    Good morning.

    There is an argument about climate change that goes like this. The UK’s contribution to global emissions of greenhouse gas is only a small percentage. There’s not much point in taking responsibility for our own place when India and China are growing as they are.

    Now I might have found that a comforting argument but it seems it’s a totally inadequate geography. What that small percentage counts is the greenhouse gas emissions from the United Kingdom directly. In that sense it treats the UK as an isolated entity - but it is not. That calculation it seems, misses out the effect of all the things we import from elsewhere, many of them indeed from China. We demand of those goods, that we do not count as our own, the pollution of producing them. Nor does that small percentage take account of the role of UK companies in production around the world. It’s been estimated for instance that maybe 15 % of global carbon emissions derives from companies listed on the London Stock Exchange. Our economy is said to benefit from these companies. So what responsibilities do we as UK citizens have towards them?

    I could go on but the point is this. That small percentage is meaningless in an interconnected world. We cannot pretend that because all that greenhouse gas emission doesn’t happen here … it doesn’t happen because of us. We are in a way implicated. But surely, back come[s] the reply, we are improving. The UK is on course to meet its Kyoto targets. Indeed it is. But why? Well … largely because we have allowed our manufacturing to collapse, because we closed the mines and dashed for gas, because we opted for an economy based on services and, especially, on finance.

    It’s not so much that we are behaving better as that we have exported our pollution and reshaped the UK’s role in the global economy. And that reshaping has reshaped too, the geography of the UK itself; as manufacturing regions have declined, as the north-south divide has widened, as our economy revolves more and more around London’s financial sector. Forget that comforting geography of small percentages. These are some of the other geographies that lie behind responsibilities for climate change.


  2. Thanks a lot for the transcript Douglas. I have uploaded it so people can agree with us both about how brilliant Doreen Massey is!

  3. I had no idea who Doreen Massey was. Thanks for bring her to my attention.

    I am personally quite concerned that the adaptations we'll see being pushed by the government on behalf of the City will be repressive and reactionary, as the situation worsens over the next few decades and as capitalism frantically tries to keep getting a good return on investments.

    I would want to see adapatation that makes us less dependent on the global economy, in order to both minimise the impact on the UK and to reduce the pressure that the UK's need for economic growth and a healthy return on investments, puts onto the developing countries.

    In the meantime, I think the nuLabour spin machine intends to present us with "Green Gordon: Eco-Saviour" and exploit this issue in order to push through a bunch of regressive policies of benefit mainly to fat-cats rather than ordinary people either here or in the developing world. Paul Wolfowitz, neo-con president of the World Bank has already said that he and his pal Gordon will be getting together next year to decide on a sustainable development investment framework for the developing world. Which appears to mean the IMF selling poor countries "climate change insurance."