Is it ethical to have a bonfire?

Our ethical columnist on why celebrating Bonfire Night will only reduce the planet to ashes.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

Dear Ethan,

My four year old son has been looking forward to attending the bonfire at the Slough Firework Spectacular since his first bonfire night last year. I’m not sure how to break the news to him that the council have banned the bonfire this year due to its ‘responsibility’ to ‘look after our environment and reduce our carbon footprint’. I have been considering holding a bonfire in my orchard as a consolation for him and his classmates. Surely with all of the forest fires that take place each year, another tiny bonfire won’t hurt our planet?

Kieran Hunter,

Dear Kieran,

We spend 364 days a year lecturing our children that burning organic matter, like fossil fuels, is like writing an invisible, gaseous death sentence for the planet – then we proceed to torch a few trees’ worth of timber and call it a party. ‘Look Jonny! Look Jemima! Do you see that? It’s the Earth GOING UP IN SMOKE! Let’s laugh shall we? What jolly fun!’ Talk about mixed messages!

So, to answer your question: yes, another tiny bonfire would hurt the planet. And the decision by Slough Council to cancel its event is a triumph for those of us who want to save the planet. All we need to do is hector the unenlightened at every turn until they submit. (Hector was a Trojan hero. In the planetary emergency we find ourselves in, there’s nothing more heroic than a bit of hectoring.)

Once upon a time, bonfires and fireworks were the kind of thing that only went on behind closed doors, much like domestic violence. But now it is positively encouraged with official ‘ceremonies’ (what else would you call the cremation of once-beautiful trees?) attracting thousands of people. Happy families on the surface, but once in a crowd they develop a fire-lust that is only stoked by stuffing their faces with hot dogs (made from real dogs, I’ll bet) and lashings of alcohol (including the children, probably). It’s a thin line between ‘a fun night out with the family’ and tossing a blonde virgin on the flames while dancing around naked.

But that’s before we get on to the folly of fireworks. That noble touchstone of all things environmental, Leo Hickman, puts it beautifully in the Guardian: ‘Name another product that maims children, scares pets and wildlife, costs councils hundreds of thousands of pounds a year and yet hasn’t already been tossed into the dustbin of history. And to think our main inspiration for using them each year is a foiled act of terrorism born out of a nation divided by religion more than four centuries ago.’

Let’s take it point-by-point. The little urchins that attend these displays think nothing of throwing a few bangers around to startle people, or even firing rockets into crowds. Still, given that their parents no doubt spend their days dealing with each other at the point of a gun, playing ‘catch the firework’ is probably considered harmless fun. Those still mental enough to have fireworks at home delight in allowing their children within close proximity of devices that will burn their faces off quicker than you can say ‘light the blue touchpaper and stand well back’. If you think this is a good idea, Kieran, then book your seat in casualty now to beat the rush!

Then there are the poor animals who have to listen to these heinous noises. Poor Springy, the lovely, sensitive creature who lives with us, just hides in a corner with his paws over his ears. As one website in America tells us: ‘Fireworks emit an explosive clatter that traumatizes animals. The loud pops elicit a panic response. Spooked animals leap over fences, sever chains, and even shatter glass windows to escape the bangs. Animals may critically injure themselves or die during frantic efforts to flee. For some, the psychological repercussions are enduring.’ It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘fireworks are insanity’.

Rather than having a bonfire yourself, Kieran, why not travel to a fireworks display in a neighbouring town to spread the positive message from Slough? If you make a few placards with pictures of bleeding, burned children and dead animals, you might persuade a few of the more enlightened attendees to realise the harm they are doing.

After all, it is surely madness that we actually pay for this carnage! Councils pathetically clutch on to every penny of our taxes when it comes to spending money on recycling our rubbish, then blow (literally) the lot on an evening of entertainment that makes Sarajevo and Beirut look like hippy conventions. Slough are torchbearers for a new Enlightenment (actually, a return to a flame-free Dark Ages would be better, but you get my point). No doubt, the flame junkies will be marching on town halls to berate them, armed with Molotov cocktails. Let’s hope the council offices are non-flammable.

The damage doesn’t start when the organisers press the button to start the display. Oh, no. The trouble begins back in China, where children risk life and limb to put these things together. If Chinese people are harmed in this process, I’m afraid that they only have themselves to blame for inventing the damn things in the first place. Then, the whole ‘shooting match’ is shipped over to the UK, puking exhaust fumes in the process, before being set alight and showering vast areas with river-polluting, brain-mashing, life-threatening chemicals.

Fireworks are simply dangerous to people and the planet – a terrifying, polluting cacophony that plagues animals and the environment. Even if you like fireworks, the damage they do is just not worth the price the planet will pay. We have to put a stop to the idea that we can put ‘fun’ before Nature. ‘Fun’ is the first syllable of ‘fundamentalist’, and we all know how dangerous they can be. A firework doesn’t even provide sustained enjoyment. One bang, and it’s all over. Like ejaculation, it’s a moment of ‘pleasure’ for a lifetime of regret.

My one note of disagreement with Leo would be over the ‘act of terrorism’ thing. Yes, blowing people up must generally be regarded as a bad thing. However, we should remember what the gunpowder plotters were trying to do all those years ago: blow up parliament. Okay, they were mainly interested in killing the king, but it seems to me that there are lessons to be learned for caring, sensitive people today who value the planet over the cancer of humanity. Sometimes, I wonder if hectoring will be enough.

We need to stop human beings from destroying this beautiful blue-green ball in space. But who gets to make the decisions? Why, it’s PEOPLE, thanks to a disease that has been spreading round the globe but goes unrecognised for the evil that it is: democracy. We’ll never protect the environment as long as people, with their cheap flights and expensive cars, their constant desire to just consume, consume, consume, are allowed to decide what society does. Only when we take such decisions out of their hands, by allowing the most enlightened ones to run the country, will we finally get the chance to make our peace with Nature.

What better way to start than blowing up the place where it all started? Suddenly, Guy Fawkes doesn’t seem such a bad guy at all.

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}. Read his earlier columns here.

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Topics Politics


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