2 January 2007

Doreen Massey on the importance of geography

Transcript of Doreen Massey (OU) on Radio 4 Today programme 1/1/07

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.


  1. The City is one of the world's pre-eminent sources of investment capital, how that capital is used makes a huge difference. (The Stern Review suggests that it should be used to screw money out of the developing world and the taxpayer on the excuse of 'preventing climate change' while aiming for a target of 550ppm CO2e, which is about 150ppm above the target most scientists are suggesting)

    Nice blog by the way. I'm going to link it if you don't mind? (Let me know if you do object)

  2. I also like this Blog - my second visit - thanks.

  3. So China is taking over the role of our once smoky, crowded and unhealthy nineteenth century cities such as Birmingham and Sheffield.
    Alan Clawley