"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Monday, 6 February 2012

China, Giant Pandas and Living with the Planet

Did you know that you can identify a particular giant panda by the length of the pieces of bamboo shards in its droppings? No, neither did I. It's all to do with the fact that each animal has its own 'bite', peculiar to itself.
I learnt this little known fact reading a gem of a book I found in the shop at St Paul's Cathedral London, down in the crypt. I was really just biding time waiting for someone, but I'm glad I strolled in to browse, because this book is superb.
Catherine von Ruhland is a journalist and writer, with a particular interest in green issues. As she says herself in her Introduction, in this book she wanted to go beyond the "put your bottles in the bottlebank" type of book, with lists of things we should all be doing at local level. Actually quite a few of us are getting quite good at that anyway (although we cannot be complacent- many have a long way to go!).
Von Ruhland wants to help us see our individual actions in a global context, to understand and recognise the way we coexist alongside the people, plants and animals across continents with whom we share this wonderful but groaning planet.
And she does this admirably, in a beautifully illustrated book, Living with the Planet: Making a Difference in a Time of Climate Change. Starting with chapters on the earth's atmosphere, the earth itself, and its oceans, von Ruhland then goes on to look at each of the continents in turn. This is such a refreshingly new and informative way of considering our global environmental issues.
And she starts with Asia, our largest continent, including of course China.
There is a massive misperception in the West that China cares not a jot about environmental issues. 
Add to this the oft- quoted statistic about the proliferation of their fossil fuel guzzling power stations and this is all the excuse that many need to sit back and do nothing in the West. Why should we do anything, we say, when we can't possibly make a difference on our own?
I wrote only the other day about China taking advice from the Daoists on environmental issues - the first time ever, or for 900 years, depending on which source of information you use.
And they also care about their giant pandas. This book tells us that the Chinese government has been concerned about the population of this wonderful iconic creature for over forty years, initiating its First National Panda Survey as long ago as 1974, later involving the World Wildlife Fund in 1980. Essential conservation work, including reforestation, poaching control, establishment of further reserves and taking action to prevent inbreeding, for example, has been successful. Part of the work has involved equipping nature reserve staff with the technology to help them in their conservation work, and this is where the droppings come in! The work of the nature reserves in re-establishing breeding populations of giant pandas has been so successful that after three National Panda Surveys a fourth one may not be even necessary.
So let's think again before we instinctively knock China. And let's revise the way many of us think about environmental issues. Actually in years to come China's problem is going to be our problem as well. Let's go global, one continent at a time. At the end of each chapter, the author includes a list of practical suggestions for how we can take action. There are some simple things we can all do if we really have the heart and mind attuned to helping our global brethren. I shall come back to some of these in later posts.
For a start how about checking out Friends of the Earth and seeing how we can all support their projects.

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