Thursday, July 30, 2015

Poverty seriously depleting natural and human resources


There is a metaphor not very hidden in the CBC story about the invasion of the Lion Fish into Atlantic waters, first along the Florida Keys and now extending up and down the North and South American coasts. A predator with poisonous venom-filled spines, a voracious appetite, and a fearless approach to its prey, in order to protect the eco-systems necessary for the rest of the oceanic lives of plants and other fish, humans are now diving with spears in hand to kill them off, probably not fast enough to keep up with the new scourge.

While they will not appreciate the comparison, the Lion Fish seems to have graduated from the most highly refined and sophisticated finishing school for corporate and financial service-sector executives, preying upon the multiple eco-systems on which human beings depend. However, a significant different in the two situations is that, while there are think tanks and scholars and even some politicians who are publicly railing against the abuses of corporate and especially Wall Street abuse of power, there is merely a small band of conservationist-divers, armed with hand-spears who are killing the fish one at a time, while they also have created a culinary delicacy in Florida Keys restaurants. Will the  combination of single-handed spearing and dining delicacy produce the desired result of  eradication. These Lion fish are so fertile and hungry, that they are reproducing exponentially while growing fat on their prey.

Predator fish, voracious and propagating like rabbits along the coastline of both North and South America, now as far south as Peru, could leave the ocean floor devoid of many of the species of both flora and fauna.

A similar pattern of aggressive over-fishing on the floor of the Indian Ocean, byt starving people in Bangladesh, and on the east coast of India, in their fragile attempt both to eke out a living for their families through satisfying another  voracious appetite in Europe and America for another species of fish, frawns, is also stripping the eco system of that ocean, with barely a nod from the  wealthy whose appetite these poor fishers are filling.

One again, the difference between the Lion fish predators and the human fishers on the Indian Ocean is that, while they may have a similar impact, they are not what we would normally call predators...just poor peasants trying to survive.

Robbing the eco-system  of one or more ocean floors is only a part of the devastation that poverty, and unemployment and hopelessness wreak. Last night the BBC aired a lengthy report on the sexual exploitation of American children who have been seduced and captured by the sex trade in the U.S. At its root, according to the piece, are poverty, neglect and drugs. And according to the BBC the F.B.I. is reported to have removed some 600 children from the sex trade just in the last year. Like most serious issues, it starts, in the words of one survivor, with a simple payment of $50 to a twelve-year-old girl for a photo of her topless body. As she puts it, “$50 is big for a twelve-year-old” and then it just grows quickly until you are trapped.”

Now, if we were to present the case of the hungry fishers in India and Bangladesh to the International Monetary Fund, or the case of the children victims of the sex trade to the Koch Brothers, both the I.M.F. and Koch would quickly and defensively declare their responsibilities do not include the protection, nor the precention of these pockets of poverty. They are tasked with much “larger fish”...issues of national and international debt,  and issues of growing the dividends of their investors respectively. And the news media would hardly be expected to put these stories in the same news piece. Too complicated, too unrelated, too big a brush stroke, and lacking in both unity and coherence would be some of the editorial pushback.

Nevertheless, perhaps that is just one more reason these pieces do not have a home in a respected news organ. the issue of poverty, unemployment, drugs and neglect together have many faces and together they are related intimately, deeply and profoundly in the attitudes and behaviours of most human beings. Being poor is not a death sentence, and there are millions who are desperately and defiantly overcoming what to many seem insurmountable odds and striving to stay alive and to improve their prospects. However, when the wealthy world’s dining tables are vacuuming the fronds and the floor of the Indian Ocean, and the same wealthy appetites are gobbling the predator Lion fish in the Atlantic, is there a danger that we will once again veer towards complacency, shrug our shoulders, individually and collectively and go on about our business of making our own living.

And that is one response the world, the oceans and the fishers cannot tolerate. Not only are the wealthy nations pouring billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the same atmosphere your grandkids and mine need to survive, we are also consuming depleting resources at a speed never before even imagined, without a unified international and emergency response to the plight we are generating.

Can we also shrug our shoulders at the epidemic sexploitation of American children in cities where some of the most wealthy live, work and pay their taxes, taxes that go to investigate and to arrest and to imprison those human predators who are criminally exploiting young girls? Can we also shrug our shoulders at the millions of refugees who are piling onto transport trucks, trains and boats trying to make their way from France to the United Kingdom, having fled deplorable and life-threatening conditions in their homelands?

The world likes the response of increased security, law enforcement and punishment, but just as the United States cannot and will not deport 12 million undocumented immigrants, so too the world cannot incarcerate the millions of refugees who are threatening generous countries like Jordan, and have been taken in in large numbers by countries like Sweden, while other countries like my own, Canada, have barely accepted slightly more than 1000.

Refugees, exploited children sucked into the sex trade in poor pockets of ‘first world’ cities, exploding Lions fish, depleting fronds, and the human appetite that apparently knows no bounds. And this is especially true when people are desperate. We have become so accomplished at detailing the micro-details of each and every incident, and each and every single guilty person or gang, that we have lost sight of the gestalt of our collective habits, our collective appetites and our collective capacity and eagerness to turn a blind eye to the most uncomfortable and the most compromising theatre.

Documentary writers and film-makers, to their credit, help to expose those issues that do not make it to the front pages of our papers, or the headlines of our tv newscasts. Yet, we continue to demand too little of our political leaders; we continue to walk barely conscious, perhaps even unconscious as a protection from having to come face to face with the garbage dump we are leaving behind everywhere. And we have enough food to feed everyone, and we have the resources and the creativity and ingenuity to put everyone to work with dignity, and thereby to generate clean environments ....and we continue to do so little that it seems pathetic, especially when compared with our capacity, our technology and our growing data base on needs and the various interventions to meet those needs.

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