Saturday, March 26, 2011

Is It The End of the World? I don't feel fine.........

There's nasty virus going around at the moment. Have spent the best part of the last two weeks with a blocked nose and have been coughing like a chain smoker with TB. Then last night I needed to pop a few penadols to get rid of a nasty ache in the head. The funny thing is, I'm not the only one who seems to afflicted by this virus. Agnes, the PGF has been ill as has my latest business partner. Bed and rest are particularly welcoming these days.

Events haven't made things any more comforting. At the time of writing, Japan, the world's third largest economy has been hit by one of the largest earth quakes in history (9 on the Richter scale), a Tsunami and every other day the place seems to be hit by a mild earthquake averaging a six on the Richter scale). Adding to that, four nuclear reactors have been damaged.

With such events happening, it's not surprising that a few people have bandied about the idea that it may be the end of the world. My favourite millionaire pastor has apparently predicted the signs of the end and is preparing his flock. If Agnes is an accurate reporter, the good Pastor has told us that Christians who are dead and buried or burnt will be given new bodies and risen up to heaven, while the living ones will be be transported up to heaven. Ironically, the Muslims have a pretty similar vision of the end of the world - Islam believes in the return of Jesus to defeat the "Anti-Christ," who would have branded the rest of us with the 666 mark.

I'm normally not one for millenarian prophecies. The end of the world has been predicted many times over and yet we're still around. However, this time things may be different and it's worth asking why.

For me, the biggest threat to the world remains human arrogance. Man for want of a better term, seems determined to get one over nature and by extent, God. For the most part this has been a good thing - it's fueled the innovations that have made the world a better place. Today, we live the lives that our ancestors could only dream about as being part of an after life. Science has reached the stage where we don't fear the nasties that killed our ancestors. A simple course of antibiotics will cure you of TB or the plague. A hundred years ago, these ailments were a death sentence.

However, humanity forgets that nature has a way of fighting back and when nature gets nasty, there's not much that the human race can do - just ask the Japanese. The Japanese are the most orderly people on earth. Japans technology and infrastructure is the envy of the world. They are particularly well prepared for earthquakes.

Yet, and yet when the earthquake struck, the destruction was immense. More importantly, the nuclear reactors didn't work they way they were supposed to and there is a very real threat of a radiation leak causing massive problems for the rest of the world. What happened?

I suspect its a case of humans forgetting that they can never really be prepared to beat nature in a one-on-one contest. Japan's nuclear stations are built for providing a civilian population with energy and not for weapons. However, nuclear power does not need to be used for weapons in order to be dangerous. Furthermore, you cannot talk about your reactors being 100 percent safe when your country lies on major earthquake fault line.

Yet, the need to produce energy for humans overcame the need to protect nature and so nature extracted its revenge. The Japanese earthquake is only a dramatic example of what happens when you mess with nature.

China, the world's second largest economy and likely to be the largest in the not too distant future is belching out smog from filthy coal fire powered stations and over here in Southeast Asia, we get our annual dose of smog in the air from burning forest. What's going on here?

In way is simple, Asia is growing and we want to be able to have the good things that the West has taken for granted. When the Western World lectures us about ecology, we usually give them the Middle finger and make the point that we need to get our economics right first.

I live in Asia and I'm pro-growth. A prosperous Asia is good for the world and simple logic will tell you that you cannot have two thirds of humanity trapped in poverty while the majority of the wealth resides with only fifth of the global population.

However, we need to ask if the planet can take it and whether the growth model is sustainable. There's no point being rich if you're sick all the time. Nature can only take so much abuse and as much as Asians need to climb out of poverty, our policy makers should not sideline environmental issues as being a "Western concoction to keep Asia down."

Human ingenuity is working on clean technologies that don't abuse nature the way old ones did. There are encouraging signs that many of the rising big Asian economies get the fact that economic growth should not be anti-ecology. It is said that China, already the world's second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, will be the world's biggest market for clean fuel. India, which is potentially another very large polluter is working hard to harness "clean" fuel like "wind-power."

These are good things. However, one has to ask if they're happening fast enough. May be they are happening at a fast rate but the question is are they happening fast enough for the people who are affected? The answer sounds pretty depressing. As things stand, the Western industrialised world sees vast profits in shifting "smoke-stack" industries to China - the Chinese on the other hand also see vast profits in accepting the "smoke stack" stuff. On paper everyone wins....except the planet. The Western World gets cheaper stuff made in China, the Chinese make money selling to the West. Nobody thinks of making what these industries produce better.

So what do you get? You get human beings with lots of material goods produced at cheap rates. You get human beings with lots of money in their pocket. However, natural resources get used up and nobody considers how we're going to replenish those resources. As they say, God will get pretty pissed off and nature says "Enough is enough."

Mankind has been quite ingenious. I just hope that we get our act together before nature finally gets fed up.

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