Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Meanwhile, back on the bridge of the Titanic

Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic is a metaphor I rather like.

The iceberg is there, very clearly looming in front of us.

The Titanic has all its engines throbbing away, and the politicians, rich industrialists and their cronies are still rearranging the deck chairs.

That's probably OK for them because, being the passengers travelling in First Class, they will stand a very good chance of getting into the lifeboats, and they have already located where they all are.

The hundreds of other passengerss, travelling Steerage, can't even see the iceberg, don't know where the lifeboats are, and in any case will be trapped below decks when the Titanic hits the iceberg.

Over Christmas I pondered the impending environmental crisis. Like the looming iceberg, 9/10ths of it is invisible, but it is nonethess very obvious.

We are all being urged to save energy, and cut back on environmentally damaging activities. Lots of us gave ethical or environmentally friendly Christmas presents. But what real effect did any of this have? We may cut down on our energy use over Christmas but what did we buy with it? Possibly some electronic or electrical equipment such as a new refridgerator -- but made in China, and shipped across the world, helping boost one of the most polluting economies in the world. That's part of the other 9/10ths of the iceberg.

The iceberg that is looming is simply comprised of too many people with unattainable aspirations. I got into some fairly heated debates in the run up to Christmas, with aid agencies, trying to bring Africa out of poverty. But what was never mentioned was the environmental implications of the 'make poverty history' campaigns. There is a wall of silence -- the fog surrounding the iceberg. Making poverty history is a nice concept. But where will all the resources come from? Where is all the water needed for starters. A pretty basic need, which has never been adequately thought through. In the course of discussions with various agencies dispersing goats to the poor of Africa, it became very apparent that despite a lot of their talk, there was very little long-term thinking, very little environmental impact assessment. It was all short term thinking, driven by emotional, quick-fix responses. A quick glance at any of the websites is all you need to confirm this.

The problem is, that if one starts to look at the problems of Africa as an anthropologist or a biologist, one of the first things you realise is that for several hundred years, the human population was controlled by disease, famine, warfare and slavery. Just removing these, without replacement with effective alternatives, actually allows the population to spiral, and then crash when disease, famine, warfare and slavery reappear in an even more dreadful guise. Britain and the rest of Europe went through these phases, as did many other parts of the world, on a much smaller scale. And Europe, after centuries of evolution has finally reached a degree of stability and prosperity which is unthinkable in most of Africa and many other parts of the world. But sending second hand clothes, giving people goats, and equipping modern armies will not help Africa achive that stability.

So what can we do? Try and get as much as we can into the lifeboats, before the Titanic goes down. And that is what I feel we at the World land Trust are doing. Saving small bits, that are saveable. By not overloading out lifeboats, there is a chance they will be able to survive the collision. But like the Titanic, there are not enough lifeboats - so help us provide a few more. Each of our partners' reserves are lifeboats for endangered species, many of which will not otherwise survive when the Titanic hits the iceberg. It probably won't help Africa get out of poverty, any more than any of the present solutions, but it might mean there is some sort of future for the planet's other inhabitants. And unlike some of the so-called solutions to Africa's problem, it won't do harm or make the problem worse.

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