Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Location, location, location

I had to smile recently when reading an article on the energy crisis and global warming – not normally two subjects likely to generate sidesplitting laughter I know.

The article was discussing many options including nuclear, and pointed out that France gets about 80% of its electricity from nuclear power stations. This means that although it is not exactly ‘green’ in that respect, it is in fact relatively unaffected in power supply terms by global price increases and shortages of things such as coal, gas and oil.

One indignant person had appended a comment to the effect that they were glad they lived in England on the beautiful southern coast and not close to any horrible nuclear plants that must be a constant worry to French people and Britons living in France.

This is why I smiled because in reality, based on geography the writer was probably a lot closer to some of those French nuclear stations than many French people or British expats are! Perhaps in the event of a disaster the wind will obligingly refuse to blow northwards.

At the same time, the article and its responses got me thinking a little bit about attitudes to the environment and how one can get used to almost anything.

In many European countries for example, it has always seemed to me as if people care less about living close to roads and traffic than they do in the USA or UK. I have sometimes spoken to people living on busy roads who seem surprised if asked about the noise or dirt etc. Now, in the USA or UK there are of course millions living close to roads or railway tracks but almost invariably they are not happy about it and wish things were different.

This also applies to things such as nuclear power. I am always surprised when speaking to French people how apparently indifferent most are to the subject – even those living close to one of the many nuclear stations. “Power Station?” seems to be the sort of puzzled response one gets when talking to folk living in the shadow of the cooling towers.

Smell is another good if controversial example. In Scotland I know of a town (my self-preservation instinct prevents me from naming it!) that has on its outskirts a large chicken-processing factory. If the wind is in a certain direction, outsiders in the town tend to try and find a gas mask PDQ. Yet the locals don’t notice a thing.

Similarly if you’ve ever passed close to a village or town with pig farms around then you’ll also have found your nose violently assaulted by the smells as the local people go about their business seemingly with no obvious effects.

In the end it probably boils down to a combination of beauty being in the eye (or nose!) of the beholder and what one gets used to.

So, should you buy that expat property that is perfect apart from the fact that it sits directly outside of the main gate of the local concrete factory and just opposite the main reactor for the area’s nuclear power station? I couldn’t possibly comment!

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