Saturday, 31 March 2007

Of frogs and men

A sign by the road along the stream nearby warns drivers of frogs crossing in the breeding season. It was put up in the early 1990s when every year a large number of frogs headed towards the stream to spawn. But in the last few years the sign is largely redundant. The common frog (Rana temporaria) has become very uncommon indeed around these parts.

Changing land use, scarcity of ponds, sharply fluctuating ‘spring’ weather, have all cut down the survival rates of these amphibian creatures. Their decline may not be as visually dramatic as that of the polar bears, but it provides us with yet another reminder that the irresponsible use of resources is wreaking havoc with life on earth. There is no escape. However much large corporations commission researchers on their payroll to deny that there is any problem, the damages are everywhere to be seen.

So in spite of all the objective evidence piling up, can it be that the corporate sponsors of relentless pollution really believe nothing is going wrong with our planet? Or is it more likely that they take the view that when the proverbial hits the fan, they would as usual be able to buy their way out of trouble, and leave the poor to bear the brunt of it all. Isn’t that what happened when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, where the rich got themselves safely out of the city, leaving those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder to literally drown? Isn’t that what they expect that when tobacco induced illnesses push up the costs of healthcare for the state, they can rely on their private clinics to look after themselves? Or when dangerous waste is generated from their industrial plants, they simply ship them off to poor countries which see it as a means to make some desperately needed foreign currencies?

Yes, they are convinced that their harmful drive for profits will make them rich enough to enjoy themselves while the harm is all pushed down to the poor, powerless lot around the world. And what response to this aggressively greedy strategy is being developed? Those who are truly progressive minded would have expected perhaps a call for genuine solidarity – a commitment to share out the control and utilization of limited resources more equitably. After all, when the Second World War threatened all, rationing for all was the progressive strategy to unite people to fight the common threat together.

But rationing, solidarity, economic justice are not on the agenda it seems. What we are presented with are more variations of the rich man’s game – environmental protection through market mechanisms. Introduce tax incentives to shift people away from damaging activities. Establish carbon trading so the responsible can sell their shares to those willing to buy rather than behave more responsibly.

What will this bring? Those who are at the bottom of society already are penalised with taxes when they have little choice over their daily routines (whatever happened to the investment to improve their public transport system?), whereas the rich are assured that they can indeed buy their way out of any sticky situation. If they are rich enough, they can buy their way to legitimately pollute even more.

Life for those without a fat wallet, frogs or men, is looking more ominous by the day.

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