Friday, April 1, 2011 - 12:51
Lock ‘em up until they sort it out.....


Ray Georgeson

I wonder if, like me, you were intrigued by the recent news coverage of the Mars 500 project.  Fascinating images were published of the simulated journey to Mars being conducted in a Moscow scientific institute where six aspiring cosmonauts have been incarcerated in a series of windowless corridors designed to mimic a spacecraft.  They have already been in there for eight months and after a short ‘landing’ they are spending the next eight months simulating a return journey.

You may well have despaired at the lengths it seems humankind is prepared to go to in our quest to plunder the mineral wealth of our neighbouring planets, presumably once we have exhausted that of Planet Earth.  For once, I put that thought aside and concentrated how those men were managing to maintain harmony and co-operative working in the closely confined situation.  It would seem that there is nothing quite like enforced close proximity and isolation for focusing the mind on how make the best of a difficult situation.

Of course, this is nothing new.  It’s a technique that has been used to try and resolve great problems in the past.  Remember in the mid-Seventies when the then Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith was locked away with the leaders of what was then the Zimbabwean liberation movement as they tried to find a peaceful resolution to the demand of the black majority for democracy whilst preserving a role for the white minority in the new Zimbabwe. On that occasion it didn’t work and it was some five years later before independence was won and sadly peace did not settle easily upon that country.  However, the technique of locking all the main protagonists into a railway carriage which was stationed in the middle of the Victoria Falls Bridge, five hundred feet up from the gorge bottom and bang on the border between Zambia and Rhodesia almost worked.

A better example might well be the successful conclusion of the Dayton Agreement in 1995, where the leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia were isolated in a converted hangar on a distant part of a US Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio to negotiate out a peace settlement in the Balkans.  Thanks to the distance created from the world’s media the talks were not conducted on television news, and through the perseverance of the late Richard Holbrooke and 21 days of buffet lunches and machine coffee, they finally came out in agreement.

Perhaps this technique might prove useful for seemingly intractable challenges a little closer to home?  There are a few where forced discussion might lead to some consensus...

I am thinking of course of the mind numbing tedium of the battle between the champion of weekly rubbish collection, Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles and the massed ranks of local government busily trying to save money and boost recycling performance through introduction of alternate weekly collection of rubbish and recycling.

At the same time, we might bring in a few champions of localism to ask Mr Pickles how the central removal of the local authority option to potentially charge for residual waste collection equates to giving powers back to councils and communities.  Or indeed why new powers he seeks to acquire over local government (setting mayoral election timing, directing changes to committee systems, determining what constitutes ‘excessive’ council tax increases, setting centrally determined thresholds for local referendum petitions – to name a few) should feature in his Localism Bill that aspires to hand power back to communities.

And we haven’t even started on co-mingled v kerbside sort. Or the changes to the planning system and the need to develop new resource management infrastructure....!

So perhaps Defra should abandon their waste policy review and convene a gathering of all the main protagonists – the leaders of LGA, LARAC, WRAP, CRR, ESA, CIWM, etc (you get the idea), and not forgetting of course Mr Pickles – and lock them all away in a Dayton-style arrangement until they can find agreement.

What would make a suitable venue for such a gathering?   Well, it shouldn’t be too comfortable and perhaps it should have some resonance with our challenges.  And it should be done in the summer, when it’s hot.  So, if any well intentioned waste operator has a spare Portakabin or two on a remote landfill site, perhaps they might like to offer their services for the national interest? 

They can all listen to the seagulls screech through the windowless walls.....


Published in Resource magazine, Mar-Apr 2011