Cambridge 2000 memos
150 years ago, in 1851, Telegraph 4 (T4), a division of the BTC (British Telegraph Corporation), the pre-cursor to today's BBC, conducted an interview with Lord Porridge, the third earl of Lansdorne, and the world's first environmentalist.
T4: Good morning Lord Porridge, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. What exactly is an environmentalist?
LP: Good morning, John, and thanks for interviewing me, it is important that these ideas be disseminated around the country and indeed around the world. Environmentalists are trying to save the world from the destruction caused by mankind. If we continue on the path we are on today then we will be lucky to reach the twentieth century. We are trying to prevent this from happening.
T4: Do you mean destruction caused by wars?
LP: No, I mean the wanton disregard for nature.
T4: I understand you are particularly concerned about railways.
LP: Yes, all up and down this country more and more railway lines are being built. There is no end in sight. If the government does not act now then every acre of land will have a railway station on it.
T4: I travelled by railway from London to interview you, I think they are a good idea. Presumably if more railway lines are being built it is because people want them.
LP: People should not always be given what they want.
T4: Is that not patronising?
LP: It is my duty as a Lord to be patronising. It has been shown year after year that no matter how many railways are built, they are immediately full to capacity. You can never build enough railways and we should just say no to any more before they completely wreck our countryside.
T4: Are there any other reasons you dislike railways?
LP: Well of course they are noisy and smelly, think of all those people whose houses are located near railway lines. But worse, they encourage urban sprawl. Before railways people had to walk or ride a horse to go anywhere. Now you can take a train. Last century if you wanted to eat strawberries you had to live near a farm, now they are even selling them in the centre of London, it is outrageous. People should just not expect to always get what they want.
T4: But railways also allow people to take holidays away from home. People who work in the Lancashire mills have a week's holiday each year when they go to the coast using the railway. Is that not a good thing?
LP: No, that is just needless energy use. Why should these people have a week off work, next thing you know they will want two weeks off. And they will want to go to Scotland.
T4: What is wrong with that?
LP: Well currently only rich people can afford to go to Scotland. We do not want poor people to be able to go, that will just spoil it, and how can we look down on poor people if they can go where we can go. Imagine if I go into my local pub and the barman has just been to Scotland, the indignity of it all.
T4: Well there is always Spain.
LP: True, poor people will never be able to afford to go to Spain. As it happens, I'm travelling to Spain next month to go to a conference which will discuss railways and how we can stop more being built.
T4: You are going all the way to Spain by horse?
LP: Don't be stupid, I'm going by train.
T4: Of course. So how do you propose to discourage railway usage?
LP: We want the government to tax each railway ticket by quadrupling its price.
T4: But what is the justification of that?
LP: Externalities. We don't know how to measure them or what they really mean but of course governments don't care about externalities, they only care about tax revenue, so we expect their full support.
LP: Well consider how much coal dust is sent into the atmosphere because of all that railway travel. Scientific research at Cambridge and Berlin has proven beyond all reasonable doubt that if the current growth in railways (and general manufacturing industries) continues then the temperature of the world will drop by one degree by 1900 and by ten degrees by 2000 because the heat from the sun will not be able to penetrate all that coal dust.
T4: Are the models that precise?
LP: These models are based on mathematics, and mathematics does not lie. So, as I was saying, the British summer will end up like the British winter and no crops will grow, it will be a disaster. You probably noticed that it was cool last summer, that is just a taste of things to come.
T4: I see, so this quadrupling of the price will prevent this disaster from happening?
LP: Well probably not, but if that doesn't work we'll quadruple the price again. Meanwhile the government will have collected so much tax revenue from the poor that rich people like myself will be left feeling very smug.
T4: Should this extra revenue be used to encourage non-railway transport?
LP: Obviously. My movement believes in an integrated transport policy. We should build more footpaths between cities. If people can't afford railways then they ought to walk, it is much better for them and much better for society.
T4: Are the railways just not a symptom of a wider problem?
LP: Yes. The British economy used to be dominated by agriculture and now it is dominated by manufacturing. It should be plain to all that this is a bad thing. After all who ever heard of a person being able to eat a railway engine. We need to correct this growing imbalance in the economy and encourage agriculture.
T4: How would you do that?
LP: Refuse to build any more houses in cities. London has three million residents and if the current dramatic depopulation of the countryside continues it could end up with six million. At that point social scientists predict that there will be major riots every week, not to mention the spread of disease. Enough is enough. If someone is born on a farm they should be forced to stay on the farm. People should not expect to be able to live where they want.
T4: The reason less people are needed in farming is that there have been great strides in mechanisation and crop yield.
LP: But this is the problem. How do we know that this new technology is risk-free? Do you want your children to die because some farmer decides to take risks with your food? We must go back to the way our grandparents and their grandparents farmed, the natural way.
T4: But that would mean food would cost much more than it does today.
LP: And so it should. Why do people expect to have cheap food? Today on average 25% of the income of a household goes on food, last century it was 35%. That is a price worth paying for decent, quality food.
T4: Even if poor people, who spend more than the average on food, suffer?
LP: We're doing it for their own good. We know what is best for them. That's why we're the ruling class.
T4: I thought it was because your grandfather, the first earl of Lansdorne, was a friend of the king.
LP: Well that too, but you know what I mean.
T4: Thank you, that is all we have time for.
Cambridge 2000 memos