Friday, 21 June 2013

This will be, most likely

In Philip Larkin's poem 'Going, Going...' the grumpy old bastard of English letters talks about environmental degradation (a term he would never have spoken in real life, or at least without raising an eyebrow in contempt). The poem is about the rampant housing development of Sixties Britain, which saw the bloating of suburbs and - occurring simultaneously with industrial-scale agri-business - destroyed much of the old countryside. The familiar seaside resort also went into a long decline as cheap package holidays caught on. For Larkin this was the loss of the 'green and pleasant land' of his childhood. He was not pleased, and he reflected that he and others had arguably been complacent about warnings about the destruction of the nation's green heritage from people like his friend and rival John Betjeman.

I knew there’d be false alarms 
In the papers about old streets
And split level shopping, but some
Have always been left so far...

In conclusion, Larkin tries to reassure himself with 'Most things are never meant./This won’t be, most likely''. (That use of meant, implying so much of planning, fate, and negligence, is typical of the man's sly genius.) But what made me think of 'Going, Going...' was how much smaller and simpler Larkin's problem was when considered in the light of the End of the World as We Know It.


So, there's a World Bank Report that, in summary, says Asia will Drown, Africa will Starve in 30 years. Put another way, all the stuff that's already happening will happen more often, and more intensely, and hurt a lot more people. The denialist response to this is to try and trash the science, which - as climate change becomes more obvious - will work progressively less well. But so long as there's good money in it, they'll keep on doing it. Science denial is insane, collectively speaking, but must often be very profitable at a personal level.

A common denialist canard from a few years ago (don't see so much of it now) is the claim that the Greens who want to curb CO2 emissions are racists (by implication) because they want to deny the world's poor people a Western living standard. 'Why do think you're entitled to cars and fridges and plasma TVs if you insist Africans and Chinese can't have them?' Oh, how clever they thought themselves, attacking liberal lefties for being all fearfully racist. How the well-born and expensively-educated must have giggled over dinners worth more than a month's income for one of the Africans they pretended to care about.

Well, the obvious answer is that you can't watch TV when you're dead (given our current state of technology). And that inability to enjoy Gossip Girl in the grave is very relevant to Westerners, because anyone who thinks mass flooding and starvation won't affect the entire word in very bad ways is an idiot. Today's problems with displaced populations are a minor appetiser compared to what is coming - a Wandering of the Nations on a scale never seen before.

Oh, and another quote that sprang to mind:

Never before in the history of the world had such a mass of human beings moved and suffered together. The legendary hosts of Goths and Huns, the hugest armies Asia has ever seen, would have been but a drop in that current. And this was no disciplined march; it was a stampede--a stampede gigantic and terrible--without order and without a goal, six million people unarmed and unprovisioned, driving headlong. It was the beginning of the rout of civilisation, of the massacre of mankind.

The fact that a simple message is being consistently rejected or garbled isn't because of a lack of scientific consensus, or because boffins are making stuff up to get research grants, or because Zionist lizard people from the earth's core are running the UN. It's largely because newspapers in Britain and other countries are essentially vanity publishing projects for rich old men, and as such wildly out of tune with except the rich old men and their hangers-on. The right-wing press constantly laments the failure of the British people to be right-wing enough, not seeing itself for the cabal of bought-and-paid for arselickers it so obviously is. But they still do plenty of damage. They run interference, as the trendy folk say.

The reason we should reduce our own energy use and try to curb fossil fuel use in developing countries is because if we don't hang together we will surely hang separately. Not easy, but it's important to get it done. Otherwise that nice Mr Patel and Mrs Patel and all the little Patels probably won't get to enjoy air conditioning, home cinema, and a Mercedes SUV. They won't enjoy them because most of them will die in a flood, or a famine, or a plague, or a war - with or without nukes. And if any of them survive they will end up in a stinking refugee camp, quite possibly in Sussex.

It might not happen, of course. By the same token, if you play Russian Roulette for ten minutes, you might not blow your brains out. If you let your children run into rush hour traffic they may grow up to be sound in wind and limb. At this very moment an inventor in a garden shed in Rotherham, or a white-coated team of nanotech types in Osaka, might be inventing the Amazing Thing That Solves The Problem. Slightly less improbably, the convergence of many new and old technologies combined with good political ideas might stave off the worst of it.

Might.

Well, the next time some renowned expert starts to explain that the future will be a race for global dominance between India and China, excuse me if I change the channel. Or maybe go to the park and read poetry in the sunlight.




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