Mahatma Ghandi said, “The things that will destroy us are politics without conscience, wealth without work, knowledge without character, business without morality, science without humanity and worship without sacrifice”.
What if this were to be reversed to include the things that will save us: politics by politicians who care not only about their immediate constituency but the bigger picture to such an extent that they can’t help making a positive difference to the world at large; wealth for people who use their money for the betterment of humankind and the health and wellbeing of the planet and its myriad inhabitants; knowledge that enables humanity to soar to unprecedented levels of consciousness; business that looks far beyond the triple bottom line to principles and practices that do the most good for the greatest number of people in the largest parts of the globe; science that embraces our humanity and frailty; and worship that is in no way proscriptive and which uplifts the entire human family. Is this an unrealistic pipe dream or a blueprint for a better future?
R44 to Gordon’s Bay
It’s one thing to read about natural disasters in the media and quite another to experience them first hand. Last weekend the Western Cape definitely lived up to its centuries-long reputation as the Cape of Storms as it was hit by one almighty storm!
This resulted in flooding in the Strand/Somerset West area and the closure of the R44, the road from Betty’s Bay to Gordon’s Bay as seen in the pic, which was closed due to parts of the road being washed away. This has necessitated going over Sir Lowry’s Pass which has added kilometers to the journey to Cape Town. Although inconvenient, this situation is not life-threatening. It does, however, bring home how vulnerable we are to vagaries of weather and other natural phenomena such as the recent Cyclone Cleopatra which has devastated parts of Sardinia. With the effects of climate change speeding up we can expect to experience more catastrophic weather extremes as the global weather machine adjusts to new boundary conditions …
One of the most insidious paradigms of our modern era is that “There’s always more where that came from” which implies that nature is there to serve us; that disposability and planned obsolescence equal profitability; that constant growth and demand are positive forces and that environmentally damaging activities are justifiable in order to drive a world economy that needs to spiral ever upwards. With this patently erroneous mindset it is easy to rationalise away the plunder of the Earth’s resources on a scale never before equalled. It is also all too easy to enable practices such as discounting over distance, whereby nations in some parts of the world expropriate resources from other parts of the world, to proliferate.
Unless it is halted, over time discounting over distance could contribute to wholesale deforestation of enormous swathes of the Earth’s surface with the resultant loss of parts of the planet’s green lungs. Overfishing would mean the emptying of the global ocean with consequent food insecurity and loss of income for millions of people, while the expropriation of water resources would mean not only water stress in some parts of the world but water wars.
In a world of increasing interdependence there should be no place for the self-centred, isolationist, island mentality that enables practices such as discounting over distance to exist, let alone increase. Because the stark reality of the 21st Century is that there is no longer more where that came from. And ecological ransacking by some nations of the world means serious declines of resources in other parts of the world which could lead to a net global deficit with all its dreadful ecological implications. Competitiveness for these last remaining resources could also spill over into deadly conflict and with the arsenal of frightening weapons at our disposal this is a possibility that we dare not entertain.
The late and great Carl Sagan said: “The visions we offer our children shape the future. It matters what these visions are. Often they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Dreams are maps”.
I have a vision of hope for the future. It was a photograph I once saw of a man attempting to stop the slaughter of seals in Canada. The man was kneeling awkwardly on ice shielding a pure white baby seal within the cup of his bent-over body, and as he knelt doubled over on the hard frosted ice authorities were harassing him and attempting to arrest him for interfering in the brutal business of slaughtering seals. However, what made the photograph so heartbreakingly poignant was not the selfless act of protection itself, but the unmistakable intensity with which the man was sheltering the little seal. It was obvious that every fibre of his being was intent on keeping the baby seal alive, regardless of the cost to himself. And if one man could care so much for the fate of another living creature that he was willing to sacrifice himself for its protection, then other people must feel the same way. And therein lies, I believe, the hope for our world and ourselves in this century.
The man in the photograph was a Greenpeace activist and he may well have lost his David and Goliath struggle on that freezing day, with the bably seal meeting its fate at the end of a brutal club. However, the essence of the struggle as a metaphor for the saving of the natural world is the important issue here. For although the struggle was probably unsuccessful, which as a metaphor bodes ill, the fact that there was such an intense effort by such a determined man on behalf of another species, is where I believe hope lies. Because it is only by saving the natural world that we will ultimately save ourselves and history has shown that the resolute actions of one person can have the power to rally multitudes of people until a miracle has been accomplished. My vision of hope for the future lies in the fact that I believe miracles are well within our human repertoire.