International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Environment
or Bust: Why the Carbon Footprint Threatens More Than Just the Future
I get to the nub of this article, I would like to declare that it
is a statement of personal opinion and not a carefully deducted
and objectively reached conclusion. I have absolutely no background
in international development, environmental science, global economic
trends or geopolitical discourse. I would wish to make no attempt
to defend the possible categorisation of this article as an ill-informed,
smug little idle rant from an ignorant hypocrite with a tenuous
grasp of the facts; thats exactly what it is.
Im just venting,
idly pontificating, thinking out loud. I am, if you will, simply letting
off hot air.
Hot Air. Breath it in; the sin of civilization. It is hot
air, so I am told, that has let loose the plug from the hourglass that
counts down towards our destruction; that threatens our shoreline, our
wildlife, our natural world, and even our very existence. The carbon
that has spewed from the chimneys of industrialization has warmed the
air to such a degree that the polar icecaps are melting and the Gulf
Stream is freezing - carbon that you and I expel from our daily lives
is killing our children. And not only our children (gasp!) - our childrens
children. Every second that your mobile phone charger is left in your
plug socket whilst you read this a puffin is dropping dead from the
cliffs of northern Scotland, a crop is failing in Madras and a family
barge holiday in the Norfolk Broads is literally ruined by an untimely
rainstorm. And who knows, maybe at the same time the lives of one of
the 26,500 children that die every day is slowly expiring from a curable
disease that nobody cared to cure. Or maybe it was AIDS, or Malaria
or Ebola, or perhaps just plain old hunger, because sometimes just not
eating can kill you too, yknow?...
And there goes the fore mentioned nub of this article; the conflict
of worthy causes that jostle for parity in the policies of parliament
and the headlines of the media. Theirs is a battleground strewn with
the spent ammunition of rhetoric and morality; ethical claim and counter-claim,
whose hands are outstretched in need and whose footprints are made from
carbon. And theirs is a war that nobody likes to admit is being fought.
It is difficult to reveal in the arena of moral imperative that there
exists a certain heightened competition amongst the worlds worthy causes,
but there certainly is, and the battle to hold a front page or a news
headline is soldiered by press secretaries and public representatives
the world over. And heres the problem; the wrong side is winning.
Because for me, the wrong side - the less deserving side - is the side
of the Environmentalist, and it is increasingly the cause of the Environmentalist
that takes precedence over the cause of the Humanitarian in the newsreels
and the governmental policies of Britain today.
Of course, worthiness is about as contentious a debate as there can
be, and can never be an argument that is ever truly won.
Even if it was agreed that human suffering should be the focus of our
concern, the flag of worthiness would still be fought for. Who should
be most worthy of our attention, it might be argued; the people of Zimbabwe,
Sudan, or Burma? I dont know the answer to that, but I do know
this much; they are all more worthy than the Polar Bear. I am aware
that that statement may cause offense, but it is something I believe
is worth saying. Whenever I see the headlines on the front of The
Independent, or other green-centric newspaper, bemoaning the
decline in natural wildlife on the icy tundras of wherever, I wonder
how many pages I might have to turn to find a report on the ten year
old boy who was shot yesterday in Liberia or the village full of women
who were raped and murdered in Darfur.
Of course, Im dishing out a fair bit of ploddy emotional rhetoric
myself here, enough to persuade you that maybe my sanctimonious hypocrisy
and holier-than-thou complex might just be for effect after all, but
I dont really care if I sound like a twat because these things
really happen and every day that they are hidden from the public arena
by the media scramble to pander to the global warming campaigners is
another day that they are being allowed to happen.
There could be many reasons for the shift in exposure from humanitarian
to environmental, but Im not a social anthropologist and cant
really be bothered talking to any, but I will indulge in a spot of ill-advised
speculation and suggest theres a healthy dose of self interest
going on here. We are unlikely in this country to suffer from an epidemic
of rickets or malaria, and the threat of hygiene-based diseases is all
but dissolved (well, unless you catch them in a NHS hospital ward, natch).
But weve all got a story about the floods last year (my best Adidas
Hi-Top shoes were ruined in Warwickshire), and we were all caught unprepared
by the unpredictable summer (at Glastonbury, right?), so it stands to
reason that the pest of global warming and its direct effect on our
lives is top of our political agenda, yeah? I dont think so, but
the three main parties certainly do; the last conference season saw
all kinds of pleas and promises on behalf of the environmental lobby.
Our new Prime Minister proudly announced to the labour delegates in
Blackpool how he would be the first world leader in history to write
into law binding limits on carbon emissions. The Lib Dems declared an
intention to make Britain fully carbon neutral by 2050, and not to be
overshadowed, the Tories invited Humvee fan Arnold Schwarzenegger to
address an audience on the imperative of combating global warming
possibly with big guns and catchy punchlines. But of poverty, oppression
and disease abroad, there was barely a comment breathed in vain. Where
was the promise of medicinal aid, food packages and debt relief that
we used to demand?
The few speeches that were given on the humanitarian crises all over
Africa were poorly promoted, poorly attended and poorly reported. Last
season at least, the political class pinned its flag firmly to the mast
of Global Warming.
I should interject at the moment before getting too carried away
I am not some kind of fridge-burning earth-hater with CFC steaming out
of my ears and propane bellowing out of my arse. I understand, I think,
the argument that is presented in regards to carbon emissions contributing
to the rise in the Earths temperature, and I believe that anything
that we can do in our daily lives that reduces it and does not adversely
affect others should certainly be acted on, in the spirit of pragmatism
if nothing else. However, my quarrel here is not that the efforts to
slow down global warming is not worthy at all, it is just not as worthy
as people who are dying right now this very moment. The irony with Al
Gores celebrated film is that it is not really inconvenient
at all; the truth of the planets destruction by global
warming is hundreds and thousands years from materialising, we have
the convenience of generations and generations of human activity employed
to prevent or cope with its effects. The same cannot be said of poverty
or starvation in the third world, or for the oppression and subjugation
of innocent people by dozens of failing governments and oppressive regimes.
By all means, turn off the tap while youre brushing your teeth,
but dont forget theres a whole village of people somewhere
in Mauritania who would crawl over hot coals for a drop of that running
water. We all as individuals pick and choose our causes, thats
fine, Im just worried that so much public support has been swayed
by the environmental lobby that governmental attention will follow,
at the cost of millions suffering all over the world right now.
Anyway, back to the rant...
A further complexity of the global warming crisis is how
we are being told to deal with it. The emphasis is on slowing down something
that is already in motion rather than investigating how we might best
survive it, and that seems so anomalous in the history of civilisation
as to be almost deluded. When, in the nineteenth century, London was
suffering a typhoid epidemic caused by the human faeces that swam in
the drinking water of the people, the great minds of industrialisation
did not just tell the people to stop shitting, they created the most
advanced sewer system in the world and over time saved hundreds of thousands
of lives. It is not a pointless task to cut our emissions, of course
it isnt, but it has never been in the nature of the human mind
to solve problems simply by ceasing to cause them. What is called for
in the case of global warming is the prediction of future problems and
circumventing of the effect alongside a policy of reducing the cause.
And when those solutions are found, they should be first implemented
for those who need them most.
There is a counter-argument that is staring me in the face here, I know;
the third world is already suffering the effects of global warming and
will suffer still further unless we drastically reduce our emissions.
Which is fine, but the effects of that doctrine would not benefit the
people who need help now, we are in danger of sacrificing people today
for the sake of an imagined, hypothesised future generation, and I think
it is casual and reckless in the extreme.
We of course, can afford to be casual and reckless for the sake of transient
fashions, and another cultural curiosity of the modern age is tied up
with in the same box as global warming; its champions are the same and
so are its victims. Its food, stupid. Just as impressive in its
rise to dominate our sensibilities, the good food lobby has every man
and his sheepdog convinced that the only right way to eat is with local
produce from the farm down the lane; potatoes grown without any artificial
manipulation, carrots dug with recycled spades, half the size and twice
the cost of (spit) genetically modified equivalents. We have somehow,
quite unbelievably, become entrenched in the idea that organic and local
is somehow ethically right and that modified and sustainable is ethically
wrong. But wait, potatoes dont have feeling too - what place does
ethics have in food? Why is it wrong to modify food to make them easier
and cheaper to grow, requiring less labour and reaping higher reward?
Ive never heard anybody even attempt to answer that question,
its just taken as implicit fact. But it is naive and it is dangerous.
Would it kill Jamie Olivers baby if we discovered how to genetically
modify potatoes to make them more resistant to drought and less likely
to fail in an African harvest? Explain to me that argument somebody
please? Is it because you dont like all those nasty chemicals
inside your (chemical) body? Fair enough, have a neon-blue WKD on me,
Even if we put aside the arguments about choosing publicly-subsidised
hyper-inflated produce just because its local rather than supporting
developing economies who suffer huge undercuts by ruthless rich governments,
it still cannot be downplayed how the fashion for organic and the vilification
of GM is having direct consequences on people who do not have the luxury
to choose. Whilst the organic market is growing and the GM market is
under threat, the scientific and governmental impetus for continuing
research into the benefits of genetic adaptation of food is waning and
the possible benefits to agricultural production in the third world
is suffering, and it is our first-world indulgence that is making it
so. Put bluntly, international market forces drive scientific development,
and if you are contributing to the scientific freeze in the advancement
of agricultural methods that might save millions of people around the
world then Im sorry but I hope that you choke on your organic
courgette that you bought for £17.95 from Alex-from-Blurs
auld country farm.
Unlike global warming, poverty is not a misfortune - it is an injustice.
It takes the disinterest of those who can solve it to keep it so prevalent,
and whilst our concern is becoming increasingly overtaken by the less-worthy
cause of global warming, poverty continues to kill tens of thousands
every day. All the good natured environmentalism in the world will struggle
to solve the problem of global warming, but it is so relatively simple
to combat poverty and disease that every penny spent on fighting the
effects of climate change that might otherwise have gone to aid the
third world is a penny, in my mind, wasted. It would be an obnoxious
and vicious future that finds us in tiny hyper-expensive insulated fibreglass
houses with solar panels on the roof and wind turbines in the garden
whilst a family in Mali still cant get a drop of water that wont
possibly kill them.
Political and charitable causes can co-exist, of course they can, but
surely if there must be a dominant and principal cause that cedes to
no other it should be the saving of lives in the present day. Politicians
are only really clever enough to deal with one big issue at a time,
please God dont let the usurping of public attention by the global
warming brigade cause them to take their eye off the ball in terms of
poverty and disease and oppression. It would the cruellest and most
painful irony of all if we saved the planet but left nobody worthwhile
living on it.
© Ben Frew
May 4th 2009
I'm with the Polar Bears- Ed
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