I wrote a review of Avatar recently deriding the Wikipedia claim that its context is “imperialism and deep ecology”. In Avatar a bunch of humans attempt to exploit the natural resources of an alien planet while disregarding the indigenous inhabitants. The obvious analogy is the gradual destruction of the rain forests in the Amazon basin and elsewhere in the developing world.
This afternoon I am watching Africa on BBC One. David Attenborough presents some astounding nature cinema photography. Elephant tramp through a wilderness of dried grass and we are reminded that the habitation of animals all over the world is gradually being eroded by mankind.
A natural reaction is to campagne to save the great wildernesses of the developing world. Stop damns. Stop the hunting of elephant. Save the rain forests. Generally take up the cause of nature against the evil corporations who are hell bent on destroying the wildernesses of the developing world.
In short, we swallow the simplistic Avatar mythology hook, line and sinker. We consider that the world is divided into innocent nature loving people and the amoral workers of evil corporations. But we rarely consider our own role in the gradual erosion of natural habitats.
I sit in a modern office with a patch of grass and trees outside my window. At various times of the year I see squirrels, foxes, woodpeckers, crows, magpies and pigeons. Last year I even saw two men with hard hats and tripods. When asked what they were doing they said that they were surveying with a view to building a car park.
In the third world the case for conservation is dramatic. Vast areas of wilderness full of weird and wonderful wildlife. It’s also easy because it has no direct effect upon ourselves and we can apply the simplistic logic that treats local inhabitants like children while damning the corporate workers as foreign devils. But while we ignore the continued destruction of the few remaining patches of nature in our countries do we have the right to lecture the leaders of countries far poorer than ourselves?
Yes. Yes we should but at the same time we should get our own house in order. The real issue here is not conservation it is a combination of population and consumption. If the human population were a tenth of what it is today and stable we could have nuclear power plants, oil refineries and open cast mines because these things could be located in remote areas and limited to an acceptably finite area of the planet. I don’t argue that we should have these things, just that they would not be nearly so problematic.
As it is we continue to build. We continue to think that our countries can support more people. That our transport systems can be expanded and made more efficient. That our industry can’t function without the skills of imported labour. That our GDP must continue to increase. That our “consumption” of goods must continually “improve”. That if we meddle with the genetic makeup of crops we can squeeze yet more nutrition from the already overstretched land. Our leaders constantly strive for greater efficiency but the cost of efficiency is lack of resilience.
Many consider that the dominant philosophy in the Western world is that of Utilitarianism which holds that “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong“. But we seem to have interpreted this as a need to increase population whereas the emphasis should be on increasing happiness.
7 Billion last year. How many in 2020? In 2050? If you have a child aged 13 today he might live until around 2075. The U.N. have various predictions for global population and the top one predicts a global population of over 12 Billion though lower predictions are for stagnation, or even overall decline in the global population by 2150. One wonder what factors will contribute to the “overall fall”.
We are told by conservationists to think global and act local. I must ask the powers that be what plans have been made to ensure the survival of the plants and animals which will be displaced by the new car park.