Sunday, March 11, 2007
The Big Picture
An interconnected world.
It's been a while since I wrote a blog!
For the past three weeks or so I have been travelling in Vietnam. To fill in the flights and the various long bus trips I bought a book by Jared Diamond called 'Collapse', subtitled 'how societies choose to fail or survive', to amuse myself.
It turned out to be an ideal book to read in a 'third world' country because many of the points he makes were illustrated during my travels.
It has become apparent to me that there is no guarantee that the world as we know it will be sustained if we do not make some real choices. Civilisation as we know is at risk of collapsing - the thesis of Diamond's book.
He introduces his book by taking a close look at one of America's 'green' states Montana and shows that all is not well. The chapter is a warning for those in New Zealand who are complacent about our so called 'green clean' reputation. The water is not as clean as it should be and the soil not as pure ( due to mining) - Montana's case is model for the world.
The fate of Easter Island is a worse case scenario. The various chiefs competed for resources to build the famous heads in the process clearing all the trees and in turn their society - Easter Island is a powerful metaphor for the rest of the world.
Diamond outlines the failures of a range of cultures, big and small, ancient and modern, who have failed to survive for a variety of reasons as well as societies that have made better choices and have survived even in the most difficult of environments. Trees and water conservation lie behind success or failure of most societies plus the ability of people to learn from their experiences, other cultures, and not be blinded by beliefs and practices that are no longer appropriate.
The point he is making is that today, due to globalisation, (unlike earlier societies like Easter Island) all societies are connected and interdependent on each other. He believes there are lessons we can learn if we have the imagination to do from the success or failures of other societies otherwise we will all suffer the fate of Easter Island.
Vietnam represents a country with aspirations to becoming a 'first world' country . Add the giants China and India to the mix and 'we' will have pressure on resources that until now only the first world has been able to take advantage of. Deforestation and water pollution are two problems I observed but most obvious was the desire of a growing population to acquire all the material goods the West takes for granted - motor bikes and increasingly cars.
Diamond points out that: we are destroying our natural habitats at an increasing rate; wild foods especially fish are increasingly are at risk; that we are losing genetic diversity; that land is being washed away by erosion and ruined by salinisation; that the world energy sources and reserves are being depleted unwisely; that the chemical industry is providing unintended toxic consequences; that introduced 'alien' species are out of control in many parts of the world; that human activity is producing greenhouse gases contributing to global warming; and finally that the human population, although slowing, is still growing but worse still demanding resources and life styles once restricted to the West.
All these issues are apparent in Vietnam.
Sustainability will be become the only issue of real importance in the future but unfortunately it is a complex multi- dimensional problem. Unfortunately there are still many who believe that a faith in progress and technology will solve all our problems
Jared finishes his book with cautious optimism. There are positive examples worldwide, big and small, top down and bottom up, that provide inspiration for us all.
He also believes we can learn lessons from past and present cultures but only if there is a collective facing up to reality and a moral desire to achieve the best for the common good. National self interest and 'privatisation' will prove, as always, to be destructive. He draws attention to the fact that the world 'trouble spots' ( that involve 'first world' interventions) are all areas where there are environmental stress, over population and destabilisation of governments.
His cautious optimism results from the fact that most of out problems are caused by our own actions and that, if we can develop a new consciousness, we can solve most of them. We will need international political will to cooperate and that this will result from the pressure every individual puts on leadership in all societies and communities.
We all need to develop long term thinking about the sustainability of our world and the courage to make painful decisions and even sacrifices. Values such as materialism and particularly consumerism, will have to be replaced with values that will lead to a sense of a world wide community based on sustainable practices to protect, sustain and use resources wisely.
He believes if we all act wisely 'we can make a difference' that will benefit us all.
By the way I loved Vietnam.