What value the environment?

tanager.jpgIt was not good news for an environment already choked half to death, but in terms of geopolitics it was huge: China unearthed another buried army the other day, but of oil rather than terracotta—an estimated 2.2 billion barrels worth.

The political implications of this discovery are huge—China’s economic growth to a great extent is governed by access to oil. Having her own supply—even 340 days worth at the current rate of consumption—lessons her dependence on outside sources—read other nations—a form of security an army of tanks cannot buy.

But I hate geopolitics—the“science” of might is right is really so last millennium. This land is my land / Your land is my land as well …was that really how the Woody Guthrie song was supposed to go?

Didn’t we learn a thing or two from pick a war, any war will do? Is it really the case that humanity, much like the karmic wheel of rebirth to which it is so adamantly bound, is destined to repeat the same mistakes, over and over again?

When O when are we going to collectively learn to share and care; share our, not“my” or“your” limited resources, and care for each other, as in every other—the collective world around us? Yes, I am very much a bleeding heart liberal, if the alternative is world destroying, soul ignoring, rapacious selfishness.

I was just in the United States last week, the worlds largest consumer of pretty much everything bar environmentalism, and was once again—for it was not my first visit—dismayed by the waste and inequality.

Not that I was expecting anything else. Sadly, and along with much of the rest of the world, I have long since lost my idealism for the land of shining stars and purple mountained majesty. Were Walt Whitman, poet and father to“New World Sons, and an Epic of Democracy.” alive today, I suspect he would be looking for a day job, such is the grave state of his cherished American dream.

Did I just say American dream? It pains me to say it, but I have long since woken up.

But this is not—or at least was not meant to be when I started—an exercise in finger pointing, or ranting. I am as sensitive as the next person to a rightful chiding, and know full well that as a New Zealander I live in a nation with an almost pristine environment only by historical fortune rather than trying. Besides, is not criticism constructive preferable to just plain criticism?

On the subject of doing something constructive for our planet and our selves, it is worth noting another story from this week, one that may have fallen from the front pages a little less noticed. The Government of Ecuador, crippled by international debt and under intense pressure from both environmental groups and oil companies, has announced that it wait one year to for the international community to offer compensation to not develop a major oil field in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon, an area of lush, primary rainforest sheltering a unique diversity of animals and plants.

You might ask why the international community should be asked to compensate Ecuador for an action that will only benefit Ecuador, but that would be a narrow way of seeing the world. Protecting one of the last remaining untarnished areas of rainforest in the world from economic exploitation and environmental destruction is of benefit to us all—just as the oil under the rainforest will benefit more than the economy of Ecuador alone.

Assisting Ecuador with the cost of saving its rainforest would signal a new kind of economics, defining wealth by more than just financial profit and reward, and a new way of seeing the world, where the natural resources of a country in the broadest sense of the term are seen as belonging to the rest of the world as well—to exploit or to cherish.

“Ecuador doesn’t ask for charity,” said President Rafeal Correa,“but does ask that the international community share in the sacrifice and compensates us with at least half of what our country would receive, in recognition of the environmental benefits that would be generated by keeping this oil underground.”

What value the environment?

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