Bring Back Real National Service
This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine February 2019
I can still remember worrying, as an eleven-year-old about the prospect of being conscripted. In peacetime it seemed to me a dangerous anachronism as young amateur soldiers should not be thrust into theatres of war. Heaven knows it’s bad enough for well-equipped and very well-trained professional soldiers called upon to keep the peace in places like Kosova.
However, conscription did do two very positive things; instilling a sense of purpose and self-discipline in directionless young people and being, to an extent a leveller of social classes. Disparate lads had to learn to live together with a bunch of strangers and bind into a society of loyal brothers-in-arms.
Faced with a failing society seemingly unable to cope with austerity and impending ecological disasters in all directions, maybe the time has come to re-introduce something like a conscripted peace corps.
After all, we need is a massive effort to reverse the damage we have done over and above just stopping visiting upon this earth all the evils we currently do. We also need a massive effort to solve the crisis of an ageing population coupled with a falling birth-rate, especially if we Brexit in such a way that foreign young people are not about anymore to bail us out.
Of course, we also need some fast-tracked legislation to rise above the clearly unworkable voluntary schemes to re-cycle, stop the idiocy of single-use plastic and the continuing chemical warfare raging against the creatures we should happily share the land with. But, whatever happens we certainly need a clean-up on a monumental scale. When volunteers can pick up a thousand sacks of modern detritus from one unused beach in the north of Scotland, it’s obvious that only a grand-scale and continuing response is needed. We need to re-forest the land for wildlife and our own well-being too. If an army of Indian volunteers can plant millions of trees in a day think what all our young people could do in a year! Given that our hope for the future lies with young people already caring more about the earth than those of us who are older and should be wiser, then an army of young people from every corner of society working together would heal two birds with one stone.
Here’s a thought, good sense doesn’t just start at home. Yes, we can do our bit for the planet by planting new deciduous woodland, but we could also be part of an intense global effort to reforest parts of the world where woodland has been devastatingly denuded.
We need a massive international force planting the bare hillsides in Madagascar, re-planting the bulldozed forests of Indonesia, new Guinea and central Africa, not to mention re-planting the fast vanishing rainforests of the Amazon.
Our kids are already eco-warriors at heart, so let’s organise them setting sail for foreign climes bringing wealth to the impoverished nations and mind and muscle to support the locals we should be paying to plant.
Instead of spending millions just on ourselves let’s do it for the planet where it will help more people.
Instead of sending money to line the pockets of corrupt politicians lets go build desalination plants on the desserts edge and schools and clinics where there are none.
Let our young people serve the world installing sun-driven cooking ovens or erecting solar power plants where the sun shines with an understorey of ground level crops around the instalations.
As more jobs are automated unemployment could rise, but there are other options. We can bridge the gap with an ecological army.