18 Apr 2012
Standing on the two Lego conveyor belts
In a recent interview with Transition trainer Sophy Banks she talks about how doing Transition can feel like having two feet on different conveyor belts moving in different directions. She says “it’s like we have these two systems that are going in opposite directions, the system that’s still trying to get more growth, more material consumption, sell us more stuff … and another system that’s saying we need to put the brakes on, we need to slow down, and living in Transition means you’ve got a foot on both conveyor belts, and there’s a psychological stress in inhabiting those two world views at the same time”. The other day I spotted a great example of this in an unlikely medium, Lego. Lego pride themselves on being able to model most things in Lego, from Hogwarts to Atlantis, but I was fascinated to see that everyone’s favourite plastic block producers and vacuum cleaner bunger-uppers have succeeded beautifully but unwittingly in modelling the tension outlined by Sophy. In the latest Lego catalogue, picked up by one of my kids in a toy shop recently, is the ‘Hillside House’.
It is a house, presented as, I imagine, the perfect modern home. But what struck me was that this is the first time I have ever seen a Lego house with solar panels on the roof. It felt to me to be one of those junctures, one of those historic moments where you get a sense of a cultural shift beginning to move, the moment when Lego started fitting solar panels to their houses. I feel honoured to be here to see it.
Perhaps, I thought when I first spotted it, Lego have ‘got’ Transition, have ‘got’ the need to model low carbon living in their creations, and are using their new models to subliminally promote a vision of a post oil world. Although the level of clarity one is able to get with plastic blocks doesn’t really allow you to tell if they are photovoltaic cells or solar thermal panels, there they are, unmistakably gleaming on the roof.
However, look closer, and our new, enlightened Transition Lego Town starts to come a bit unstuck. They have a barbecue, fair enough, there’s nothing like a good bit of locally produced Lego charcoal, but ah, what’s that behind our smiling Lego man (who isn’t showing much sign of psychological distress)?
A Lego paraffin patio heater! (see right). Gah! All of a sudden, this whole Lego setup sets off the feeling of being on the two conveyor belts. Of course it could be a rather odd and angular tree, but it certainly looks far more patio heater to me.
It is hard to tell if the car in the picture is a highly efficient electric vehicle charging from the Lego solar panels on the roof, or a gas guzzler, as the size of its tyres might suggest. The windows of the house could indeed be triple-glazed Passivehaus windows, indeed the house could be built to that standard, but the whole picture feels to me to firmly have both feet on different belts, modelling the tension Sophy refers to. We know that the world is changing, that we are entering a ‘new normal’, where renewable energy is becoming a part of everyday life, more woven into the culture, but at the same time things like patio heaters sit alongside them.
Personally, I’m looking forward to the Lego raised beds, where you can arrange your produce in the beds. Rocket? Mizuna? Purple sprouting broccoli? It’s all possible with the Lego Incredible Edible range. Vertical veg growing up the walls? No bother. Indeed, it would then enable you to grow food on the roof of your Lego Hogwarts, or on the Death Star. Some nice espalier fruit trees could be good too. Some Lego blocks that look like wany-edged sweet chestnut boards would be great too. You could give your Millenium Falcon some nice rustic touches.
Or of course you could just bin it, and build stuff out of mud and sticks. Much more scope for creativity and you could always use old mobile phones as solar panels (or something). The big question though, is whether the recent changes to the Feed in Tariff, which many argue has damaged the future of the solar industry, will lead to a reduction in Lego solar installations? I will watch future catalogues with great interest.