Inversnaid by Gerald Manley Hopkins is probably known to every Irishman or woman who has attended secondary school for the past forty years, for about this long, the poem seems to have been part of the syllabus for the Junior Certificate in English. I was reminded of it today when
While reading it, the scenes in Stephen Frear’s The Queen, where Her Majesty, brilliantly played by Helen Mirren, drives off in her Land Rover from
Looking at large areas of the so-called developed world one would be inclined to answer yes. We have learned from the past, have imposed higher standards for environmental safety and tolerance. Salmon are swimming up the
And there is a large amount of short-sighted, self-righteous hypocrisy contained in our position in the developed west.
Let’s look at coal-mining. In countries like
To some extent there is a minimal validity in the argument that in Western Europe, since the Industrial Revolution really got underway more than two hundred years ago, we’ve mined out all the coal that’s easy to get at so that it costs more to exploit the reserves that remain. But this is only a very small part of the reality. The basic fact is that coal-mining has become so expensive in the developed world because safety-standards have been continually raised – and enforced – in the past fifty years and because social developments led to mine workers being paid decently to do hard, dirty, dangerous work. An hour’s work for the few West European miners who are still around costs employers twenty euros or more. In
Let’s follow the production chain a little further. Two weeks ago, a dam at a toxic waste reservoir in
Beggars can’t be choosers. It’s a global jungle out there and the developed world is at the top of the food chain. One of the main reasons we in the West can increasingly look after our environment is because we can afford to. Having gone through our dirty phase, used it to reach a good standard of living for our societies and to achieve the position of global top-dog, we use that very position to profit from others who are farther down the prosperity scale. Having been the first to crawl out of the pit, we are now in the enviable position of paying others to dirty their hands and homes in a way we don’t have to any more. What’s more, it doesn’t even cost us that much because our demand controls the global markets and there are enough others farther down in the pit who will be quite happy with pittances; it’s better than the alternative – which is nothing at all.
This is one of the things which make global climate and CO2 emission discussions so intractable. It’s one thing for western nations to get all moral about global warming and the need to cap carbon waste production. From the position of the developing countries this seems more than a little disingenuous; having got to the top of the tree, the developed countries are saying that there’s not enough room there for everyone and if those farther down don’t become less greedy they’re going to bring the whole tree down. In the
Inversnaid, the stream and waterfall in the Scottish highlands which inspired
I don’t know any easy solutions for all of this. I like my living standard here in the west, I like being able to jump in my car and in fifteen minutes being able to reach a number of streams nearly as beautiful – if not quite so spectacular – as Inversnaid. But I have the feeling that if we want to protect the millions of Inversnaids worldwide (and enable everyone to be able to enjoy them) we have to find different ways of doing things. And, in a world in which our global interdependence is becoming ever more deeper and complex, I suspect that we don’t have the luxury of going on as we have done and ignoring the questions – otherwise our whole lifestyles are going to fall down around our ears. My generation may be able to escape the worst of it, my children and grandchildren certainly won’t.