Thursday, 16 October 2014

Don't make a scapegoat of China

Reaction to my column last week suggests I'm not the only person to consider human beings a blight upon the world.
"Sad but true" was a common response to my suggestion that "the disease is us".
But there were a couple of dissenting voices.
One reader thought my piece was "unbalanced" because I made no mention of China.
I'd have thought the phrase "we as a species" was fairly all-inclusive, but never mind. Let's consider China for a moment now.
There are a lot of Chinese people - officially 19 per cent of the world's population, not the "one third" you sometimes hear quoted. Enough anyway to contribute their fair share to the world's problems.
Unlike the Americans - and to a lesser but still considerable extent us in Europe - who contribute far more than their share in the form of squandered natural resources and greenhouse gas emissions.
A list of the world’s biggest CO2-emitting countries shows the USA second, behind Australia, in per-capita emissions. China is 11th on that list, just behind the UK, with less than half the US figure per person.
China's astounding economic growth has produced a burgeoning middle class keen to emulate Western living standards. For most, there is still a long way to go.
We hear a lot about the polluting smoke from their coal-fired power-stations. Rather less about the fact that China leads the world in the use and development of renewable energy - wind, solar and water.
Less happily, it also leads the world in the killing of wild animals for their supposed medical benefits.
The Chinese are, perhaps understandably, resistant to being told what to do by the West.
When it comes to their dangerous fictions about tiger bone, rhinoceros horn, black bear bile and the rest, this is a massive shame. Potentially catastrophic for those threatened species.
The other dissenter was my most regular and constructive critic, my brother Clive.
He took issue with my casual statement of what wiped out the dinosaurs.
He pointed out, rightly: "We don't actually know that it was a meteor strike that did for the dinosaurs. It's a front-running theory, but there's no certainty about it.
"For all we know it could have been a super-clever dinosaur rather like us.”
Now that’s a thought. We’ve found no evidence of ancient cleverness, but that may not mean much.
As Clive says: "Even though there are an awful lot of us, we've not been around very long. In 65 million years' time there might be very few traces of us left.
“Likewise those super-clever dinosaurs might have left no traces that we've found yet, or managed to interpret."
I can just see the headline that will greet the discovery of those traces if they're ever found. Tyrannosaurus Rex the world…
This thought may, perhaps, seem a little flippant for a story of such gravity. But, hey, I’m a journalist.


The Labour leader was much derided.
Mocked for being “too intellectual”, out of touch with the ordinary people he hoped to represent.
His lack of “charisma” – that undefinable quality deemed essential to political success – was almost legendary.
Does all this sound familiar?
Yet Clement Attlee not only went on to win a landslide election victory – he became the hugely respected prime minister of by far the best government this country has ever had.
How we could do with his like again.
It’s about time Labour supporters particularly laid off Miliband.
And for Ed himself to stand up a bit more forcibly for his principles.


Is Ebola to become – as was predicted 20 years ago – the Black Death of our times?
You might think we’ve become medically too sophisticated for a third of the world’s human population to be wiped out by a virus – as it was by bubonic plague in 1346-53.
But then again globalised air travel might almost have been designed to facilitate the spread of pandemic disease.
A ghastly thought – as is the rise and rise of the so-called Islamic State. Which, by normal definitions, is neither truly Islamic nor truly a state.
It’s hard to see how bombing by national air forces is morally superior to bombing by other methods.
Or how killing innocent people by drone attacks is better than doing so by more medieval technologies.
Each would seem inevitably to encourage the other. It’s a grimly familiar vicious circle.
Put war in Syria and Iraq together with Ebola, add the international flow of refugees, and you have the makings of a classic Frederick Forsyth plot.
A “perfect storm” to threaten, if not the world, then the world as we know it. Implausible perhaps, but not impossible.
The 1914-18 war, after all, was a major factor in the spread of the so-called Spanish Flu, which killed more than the Great War itself.
International news, as this column remarked recently, is seldom cheery. But it’s not always quite this grim.

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