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KEVIN CAREY says that America's ecological campaigners are pathetic and their failure will cost millions of lives.
Whether ecologists like it or not --- as they drive down the Roman-straight highways of the United States --- much of our landscape is man-made as well as man-destroyed, a point made with great subtlety, range and power in Simon Shama's Landscape and Memory which, among other things, carefully charts the impact on our collective consciousness of the first accounts and paintings of the American Rocky Mountains and the forests beyond.
I remember being immensely impressed by the trees and waterfalls of a park outside Seattle but what will remain with me most of all from that trip was the eerie feeling of Meza Verde in the snow. As far as I can remember from my youth there never was snow in the cowboys and indians movies but there it was, a silent, partial explanation of communal demise before the advent of Caucasian marauders. The scene was brought to mind by the raging fires which now may not be brought under control until the snow falls.
Here is a catastrophe beyond the control of man and his technology, though the fascinating question is whether that catastrophe might at least have been mitigated by the adoption of best practice in forestry, rejected by militant ecologists who want nature to take its own course. In which case the logical conclusion would be that the fire fighters should stay in their depots and let the conflagration rage.
Fire makes an interesting spectacle and there is a certain minor drama in homes being threatened by it, but that surely cannot excuse media coverage totally disproportionate to that of the Brahmaputra flooding in Assam which has left at least 4.5 million people homeless.
Here is another image problem. I remember being quite struck when I was told that India contains the largest glacier in the world, my image of it then being so fixated on rice fields, the cruel heat of the sun and the lashing monsoon rain. But when you reach Calcutta on the journey North you know you have crossed into a new territory of rivers and rain, of weather replacing climate, and by the time you reach Bagdogra there is a feeling of Washington State in the air, of mist and fast flowing rivers.
My overwhelming impression of Assam was that it was wet and that this simply added to the misery of the place. True, water is the source of life and drought its greatest enemy but, somehow, to be poor and warm seems less of an imposition than to be poor and cold. The very fertility of the place has, paradoxically, made life for millions precarious beyond actuarial prudence by driving them to live on what are little more than mud banks in the estuaries of the great rivers of North East India and Bangladesh. What feeds you today drowns you tomorrow.
There are many who would say that the people should move but they have nowhere to go and so this tranferrence of responsibility from us to them is not viable.
We must firmly grasp the fact --- not a surmise, not a Jeremiad, not a case of crying wolf --- that if we continue to burn fossil fuels at our current rate then we will kill millions of people living in these deltas.
Paying for our irresponsibility through pollution quotas will not do, that is simply throwing a golden cloth over a rotting corpse.
Somebody asked me this week whether I thought that this criminal selfishness, brought to a peak of callous indifference in the United States, was responsible for the fires and I sadly had to answer that I thought not but that it certainly was responsible for the disaster of "Biblical proportions" on the Indian sub-Continent. I wondered what image the word "Biblical" might conjure but thought there would be little charitable, or even dutiful, resonance in it. For, when it comes down to basics, we should not confine our assistance to the poor to charitable gifts and a paltry foreign aid budget.
Most of the books by which we say we live do not define our neighbours narrowly to those we know or to those with whom we share religious or secular rulers. Religions of the Abramic tradition are loud and broad in their exhortations concerning our responsibility for the welfare of others.
All this you have heard many times before; the fires and the floods are just one more episode in the story of our self destruction, just one more warning that will go unheeded by godly America.
By the time that people fear for the Mississippi Delta, Bangladesh will be as distant in reality and consciousness as Atlantis, the maps of the Caribbean and Pacific will have been re-drawn and we will wonder what it really was like all those years ago to visit the Maldives.
No matter; dikes will be built to protect the coast of Connecticut, Florida will witness marine engineering on a scale never previously attempted and Long Island will be raised on high. One wonders what the ecologists will think about that, or will they quietly consent to be drowned as the waters rise?
It is at this point that definitions of what is and is not natural become fatuous. The hedges so beloved of English pastoralists are not natural, nor are the fields they bound nor the cattle that feed there. Automobile pollution is not natural but what about the forthcoming inundation? Will that be natural? Instead of hair splitting over forestry policy to an extent that would make St. Thomas Aquinas blush, the ecologists should mount a vigorous and unremitting campaign against gas guzzlers.
It is difficult to say which is the more pathetic, the American campaign against guns or pollution, but it is easy to say which failure will cost the most lives in the long run.
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