Books are always very enlightening. No matter what they are about they seem to suggest a new view point, someone else’s view point that you may not have considered before. In a sense, every book you read changes you. Sometimes in a big way, sometimes in a small way. Freedom is becoming one of those books for me.
It’s by Jonathan Franzen, the author of the Corrections, but unlike that it seems to be attacking so much more. It seems like Franzen was interested in painting a family picture in the Corrections, of how the modern world and the American way of life is in this century. It seems deeply personal where as Freedom almost seems like an explosion of opinions, of rants and rejections. It’s a perfect novel if you want to feel disillusioned about pretty much anything.
One of the principle things it attacks, and something which caught my attention, is how capitalism depends on continual, infinite growth. If no one is aware, the world is filled with finite resources and suddenly you reach a paradox. Freedom shows just how crazy our obsession with growth has become. It talks about the damaging effects that this is having on planet and quotes some pretty scary figures. The number of people been born, the number of barrels of oil burnt, the number of acres of land in America been “urbanised.” I won’t ruin the surprise, be shocked and scared in the original context like I was.
Its perhaps comes more problematic when you start to realise that our obsession with growth is a bad thing. Where do we go from here? After all, it’s the entire basis of free-market economics and pretty much all government policies are built on it. Look at the debates that happen, their all about how best to get back to growth and stay in growth. It’s a strange scenario when you consider just how damaging it seems to be.
So where do we go from here? If we no longer support growth then what happens to social mobility? It seems like the only way to make sure social mobility happens is to continue to create wealth. What happens to people’s freedom? There’s one country in the world where they’ve tried to limit population growth and it’s had disastrous effects. So where do we go?
This might sound like a rambling review that springs in every direction but that just what Freedom feels like to me. Just like the Corrections attempted to be a panoramic view of the American way of life in the 21st Century, Freedom attempts to be a panoramic view of some very serious problems. I’ll admit though, think about it too much and it gets very depressing.
The top five countries leading the world in space travel today are the USA, Russia, China, India and the Isle of Man. The first four in this list are unsurprising; the USA and Russia led the world through their infamous space race during the cold war and China and India are two of the world’s fastest growing economies and industries. The Isle of Man seems a little out of place, or does it? In the last decade the Isle has quietly developed a reliable and beneficial name for itself in the space industry, an area worth $300bn a year.
Its success has come from, not its involvement in the international effort through organisations like NASA or the ESA, but because of its early involvement with the private sector of the space industry. Just over ten years ago the Isle of Man made its first venture into the private space race by signing an agreement with the local firm ManSat to file for select orbital positions and radio frequencies. The interest that the Manx government has shown in the space industry has resulted in the island now being the home to over 30 space companies, and with a committed government and tax advantages who can blame them?
The Industry has brought the Island £35m, which is expected to rise to over a billion in the next five years. As well as providing so much to the Manx exchequer the local space programmes have shown a speedy development. Recently the company Excalibur Almaz (EA), an Isle of Man based operation, has announced that it plans on transporting space tourists around the moon and back again by 2015 using 4 disused Russian space capsules. This is a whole year before Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic planned launch of its first commercial flight into orbit. With the private space industry booming, it’s hard to see how without serious dedication, government funded organisations are going to keep up with private ones. It is a shame in a way, as the idea of the noble pioneers of space exploration boldly taking those first giant leaps for mankind fade away into the past; they’re being replaced by the new commercialised business of space travel and tourism. But perhaps that’s too nostalgic, the decommission of the space shuttle earlier this year symbolised that that time has passed and without the incentive of the cold war I doubt the golden age of space travel will return, for a time at least. For now business will carry the space industry forward and perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.
Government dedication to the space programme is all based on public opinion; if there’s no interest in space then it’s hard to justify spending billions of tax payers’ money on getting there. With space faring companies leading the way however, it’s all about competition, who can go further? Who can get there faster? Who can get there cheaper? With this fuelling the space Industry I think it’s looking forward to a healthy future or a prosperous one anyway, one with agencies like NASA or Roscosmos taking a backseat. That is until the Chinese are ready to launch for Mars, no doubt we’ll see a frantic NASA then.
On June 24th 2012 the global conservation movement lost a symbol of its continuing and much needed struggle to preserve the existence of the world’s rarest organisms. Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island Giant Tortoise, a subspecies of Galapagos Giant Tortoise died, leaving the world a little less biodiverse. Hopes of repopulating his kind became dire while he was still alive; several attempts were made throughout Lonesome George’s 40 year captivity to breed him with females of another close relating subspecies however this was to no avail. Perhaps the only consolation is that in recent year’s hybrids of the Pinta and Isabela Island tortoises were discovered on Volcano Wolf by scientists from Yale University. So somewhere out there the memory of Lonesome George’s now extinct subspecies live on.
But is this enough? Could the death of such an icon be the wakeup call that the global conservation movement really needs? The conservation organisation EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) has developed a way to combine evolutionary lineage with the current IUCN endangered species red list to create a new way of identifying the species that need the most effort in order to save them. Using this method they have compiled lists of the 100 top endangered species of mammals, amphibians and birds and the top ten coral species. The usual suspects appear, Pandas, White Rhinos, but the shocking news is that staggering numbers on their lists receive limited or no attention. 66% of the mammals and 85% of the amphibians of the Edge species are being neglected by the global conservation effort. EDGE is attempting to raise awareness for all the species on their lists and rightly so, if these species continue to be overlooked then they will be lost to the world. This surely should broach the question then, why are all these biologically significant species being overlooked? I can’t help feel that it’s the culture surrounding conservation.
It seems like in order to engage the public with endangered species; the same images have been shown again and again. ‘Adorable’ animals that have suffered because of their destroyed habitats, after all no one wants a ‘cuddly’ panda to suffer now do they? But I think the overuse of this type of imagery has blinded the general public to the threat that so many other species face. Some cases are far dire than that of the Giant Panda, whose publicity has granted it a successful million dollar breeding program. Of course a task like this could never have been undertaken without vast donations. But when you consider that of the between 300 and 400 Pandas that have been bred in captivity in China only one (Xiang Xiang, meaning “Lucky”) has ever been released, only to die due to inability to fend for itself. Wouldn’t the millions that have been donated to a species that has to be artificially inseminated to keep its lineage going, be better spent on other organisms that have a greater chance to eventually survive on their own without human interference? Or organisms that are even more critically endangered?
Zoos all around the world are able to loan pandas from China, prices often go as far as $1 million for a year’s rental. The inherent problem however is that this money can go straight to the breeding programs, producing more Giant Pandas unfit for release into the wild. Over time it’s almost as if what started off as conservation has turned into commercial venture. Some might say that it has also become politically advantageous to artificially breed such a famous animal, as the Chinese government has gifted out many pandas. Most recently during its talks with the Lien Chen in 2005 when Taiwan was vying for independence, China gifted two Pandas to Taiwan.
Is it not immoral then that the donations of well-meaning people, who believe they are helping the conservation of an endangered species, are being spent on methods that will not help reintroduce said endangered species into the wild? And while this money goes on being wasted on creatures ineffectual at their own reproduction, there are hundreds of unique, evolutionary and biologically distinct species that are being neglected just because they don’t have the same publicity or appeal as the ‘cute and cuddly’. This is just my view on a global effort that needs re-evaluating.
After the closure of the John Terry race row and the not guilty verdict, what better time to evaluate racism in football. In many respects it has improved significantly from the events occurring in the 60’s and 70’s, particularly in England. But sadly the beautiful game is still marred by unsightly occurrences on and off the pitch.
So exactly how far has football come since the monkey taunts and banana throwing of the 70’s and 80’s, when racism was celebrated with more vigour than when a goal was actually scored? Well, many high profile players at the time were targeted often by their own fans. One of those players was Liverpool legend John Barnes who in a recent interview with SKY said “While racism is in society then football can do nothing to eradicate it from the game” and also went to say that “people need to stop thinking racist thoughts, just because you can’t hear as much racism in the modern game doesn’t mean to say that it is not there.”
This is all well and good but I disagree with Mr Barnes, racism in England has improved no end. You do not hear a murmur from the terraces anymore and if you do they are so isolated that the fans are thrown out of the ground with immediate effect and clubs are subsequently fined. And on the pitch racist claims are never black and white (pardon the pun) but involve both parties hauling verbal abuse at each other. I personally don’t believe racist insults are any more hurtful than if you’re insulted over your appearance or about a family member. Due to rivalries verbal or non-verbal insults are and always will be part and parcel of the game, things get said in the heat of the moment and when given time to calm down should be resolved in the words of Sepp Blatter himself, ‘by a simple hand shake.’
Football can go far in eradicating racism and not just in the game but in society as well. This at least applies to countries that play football as a national sport i.e. the whole of Europe and South America. There is simply not enough community campaigns with the right sort of publicity to succeed in getting vast numbers of children of all ages, religions and ethnicities together to play football and in doing so develop close friendships and learn how important it is to work as a team. Integration is the key and if kids from young ages learn for themselves about different religions and ethnicities, in place of a fathers or older brothers biased opinion the better society will be in the future.
But then arrives the million dollar question of who will foot the bill for these community groups? It’s all well and good that the media publicise racism by getting their teeth into a meaty news story but it doesn’t resolve the issue. The community footballing campaigns for children will tackle the issue. Should it be the government who are already stretched financially given the current economic climate or the FA who are notorious for throwing away millions on pay outs to axed England managers? Well I certainly wouldn’t want either to look after my financial books but I do think Mr Bernstein chief of the FA who is determined on getting goal line technology in place for the start of upcoming season should concentrate on the embarrassing issue of racism ahead of making referees redundant, just a thought Mr Bernstein after all it is for the good of the game.
There are without question a number of community campaigns incorporating football and a vast amount of other sports already in place, but my point is that these campaigns are doomed before they begin due to a lack of publicity and funding. People simply don’t know about them. For example football can easily defeat racism if Premier League clubs are involved and get squad members of all races to take part in certain training sessions, the youngsters are without question going to be inspired by their footballing heroes. Everyone has an opinion on the controversial issue of racism but with the correct management football, with its global popularity, can certainly improve integration amongst societies and in turn combat racism once and for all.