What have you done today to make you feel proud?
(This article first appeared in the January Edition of Birdwatching)
So asked Heather Small on her album ‘Proud’. Two things led to me asking myself, and you, that question.
The first was something I cannot get out of my mind despite a few donations to ease my conscience. A TV documentary followed an English doctor’s four-week stint in an Ebola Treatment Centre in Sierra Leone. We witnessed people of all ages dying in pain and distress. There was an abiding image of a boy still sat on the edge of his bed where he had died patiently waiting for treatment.
The doctor said: “After thousands of deaths in Africa we have been praying for the world to wake up to this humanitarian crisis… …now they have, because a couple of white people have died in Europe and America.”
The last part of the film took us to a mass grave dug in the jungle that he, rightly, said was now a biohazard site that would have to be left to go back to the wild.
The second trigger came when an old friend was telling me about the trip he had just taken to Madagascar. He saw some wonderful birds, more than half of which were endemics and almost all were lifers for him. But what had struck him most about the whole experience was flying over huge areas of degraded habitat and driving for hours without seeing any birds except for a few egrets. Locals have cut down the forests to plant crops and then have to abandon the poor soils after a couple of growing seasons. In a few years the hillsides are eroded and soils washed to the flood plains, the thick clay clogs the fields so is used to make bricks causing the remaining forest to be plundered for timber to make fuel to fire the bricks.
For a couple of thousand years birding was as innocent as can be. Taking delight in the wonder of flight and feathers did no harm (if you ignore the blip of taking skins for science). Birdwatching revitalised the spirit. Many of us still take delight in this simple pursuit. The thing is this; some of what we do does do harm. It’s hard to get the right balance. Does green tourism do enough good locally to more than justify our contribution to global warming from burning aircraft fuel?
We have to hold up to the light everything we do. We need to be sure that our pastime really is truly green and not ‘Champagne Environmentalism’.
Its not easy… here’s another image from a recent TV series… Sue Perkins on the banks of the upper Mekong releasing hapless finches from a tiny cage that she bought from the market where birds are sold to be released. The more you free, the more will be caught and imprisoned, a real feathery dilemma.
Each one of us has to actively seek out ways to make things better for the wild world, not just avoid doing harm.
The entire world’s habitat is degrading and we cannot wait until the problem laps at our shores to do something positive to turn the tide. If we do not cure Ebola in Africa it will start taking our lives. Maybe not enough people care about innocent African children’s lives, but they deserve our help just like all people in poverty need help.
You might say ‘charity begins at home’, but poverty leads to the vicious cycle of deforestation and erosion that leads to more species extinctions. Devastating forest to plant palm trees for bio-fuel is even worse. Want to feel proud? Then walk the kids to school (its great emission-free exercise) and send the petrol money to conservation charities.
We only have one world, the whole planet is our home and what goes on anywhere on it effects us all sooner or later.