When we went to the supermarket yesterday we found gaps on some of the shelves. In fact there were large spaces in some of the frozen food cabinets. Not a single frozen pea in sight. On some of the shelves the products were carefully pushed to the front to give the impression of a plentiful supply – but there were gaps behind. We saw several notices apologizing for lack of availability but offering no explanations. Someone told us that in the case of garden peas, a poor growing season has been made worse by a shortage of pickers and insufficient truck drivers, thanks to a toxic mix of Brexit and Covid.
Today there are stories in the media of petrol stations closing temporarily for lack of supply. There has been a threat to the CO2 product necessary for refrigeration. Then there are the stories about the threat to gas supplies for heating and cooking this winter. And there’s the ongoing problem about insufficient supplies of Covid vaccines. On a number of fronts vital supply does not seem able to keep pace with demand. The gaps on the shelves make this more than a theoretical problem. It stares us in the face.
Our generation is not really used to dealing with such shortages. We have lived in a time and in a place of plenty, relatively speaking. At least some of us have. For some people on low incomes living with shortages has long been a way of life. The possible withdrawal of the pandemic top-up to Universal Credit next month will make it difficult for some families to keep body and soul together.
Supply and demand are out of kilter. If supply cannot keep pace with demand, then maybe we need to re-examine our demands, revisit our expectations of life.
That’s what the climate protesters have been trying to do when they have blocked the M25 motorway over the past week or two, causing some travel chaos and frustration to many drivers. You may not approve of their methods but there is no denying that ongoing attention needs to be drawn to the climate crisis especially in the run-up to the big international conference COP26 in Glasgow in a few weeks’ time.
We who live in the comfortable parts of the West have the duty to revise our material expectations of life downwards. If we do not we will deprive some of our fellow human beings of the essentials of life and exhaust our fragile earth. And we will make life less congenial for our grandchildren.
If we are not inclined to sit on the M25 in protest we can at least block casual assumptions in conversation about the right to enjoy unlimited travel and unchecked consumption. If that means living without fruit and vegetables flown in from South Africa and South America, so be it.
But please don’t interrupt my supply of frozen peas…
And that’s where the ethical question arises. What is essential to one person seems a luxury to another. And so we need a well-informed and lively conscience. The old adage ‘Live simply that others may simply live’ has never been more true.