The world is a dangerous place. We must protect it

Share

Terrorism in Moscow and Bali; impending war with Iraq; breakdown in Ireland and Israel: it is easy in the urgency of important events to forget the underlying trends and forces shaping our world. The vast issues of increasing poverty and environmental degradation only rarely – as at last month's Earth Summit in Johannesburg – bubble to the surface of political consciousness. Yet they lie at the heart of many of the gravest crises afflicting the world, and have the potential to cause many more.

Terrorism in Moscow and Bali; impending war with Iraq; breakdown in Ireland and Israel: it is easy in the urgency of important events to forget the underlying trends and forces shaping our world. The vast issues of increasing poverty and environmental degradation only rarely – as at last month's Earth Summit in Johannesburg – bubble to the surface of political consciousness. Yet they lie at the heart of many of the gravest crises afflicting the world, and have the potential to cause many more.

The threat of conflict over Iraq – the most dangerous since the Cuban missile crisis 40 years ago – is complicated by the world's need to secure plentiful supplies of cheap oil from the Middle East to fuel our gas-guzzling society. It need not have been like this. A quarter of a century ago the new Nobel Peace Prize winner, Jimmy Carter, tried as President to get his country to save fuel and develop new sources of energy. He called it "the moral equivalent of war" (unfortunately, lacking an Alastair Campbell, he failed to notice that the initial letters spelt the word "meow", which attracted media ridicule). It fell foul of the vested interests of the US energy industries, as did a rather more half-hearted attempt by President Clinton to impose an energy tax. Had Carter succeeded, and won support, most of the world might not now be desperately trying to restrain the US from plunging headlong into what might well become a third world war.

The seemingly uncontrollable spread of terrorism – from the twin towers to Bali, from Kuwait to Moscow – is made much more intractable by poverty. It is, of course, over-simple to say that destitution is its direct cause. Most of the 11 September hijackers were middle-class Saudis. The running sore of the Israeli-Palestine conflict provides great motive power. But poverty does provide much of the oxygen in which terrorism thrives. As hard-pressed Third World countries have cut back on providing public services, for example, (often at the insistence of the IMF and World Bank), extremist religious groups have moved in to provide education and health care. This – and the gross and visible disparities in wealth between rich and poor countries – has helped to create the supportive population that all terrorism needs if it is to flourish. It has to be said, however, that Mr Bush's and Mr Blair's over-reaction in the Afghanistan war also played its part.

Other crises lie just over the horizon. Soon water is likely to prove a more precious and perilous liquid even than oil. Some 40 per cent of the world's people live in countries where water is scarce. Within 25 years, 66 per cent of an increased global population are predicted to live in such areas. As nations compete for vital supplies, water wars are expected. The loss of topsoil, as agricultural land turns to dust, is also pregnant with potential catastrophe. The UN says that erosion contributed to half of the 50 armed conflicts raging around the world in the mid-1990s. And it calculates that by 2020, some 60 million environmental refugees will have left the desertifying Sahelian region to head for north Africa and Europe. Perhaps most importantly of all, the world economy remains a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment: it cannot but fail if the parent company continues to slide towards bankruptcy.

Given the press of events, it is understandable – if deeply depressing – that so few of our leaders try to address these underlying issues and forestall future disasters. The failure of the Johannesburg summit to do more than avoid breakdown clearly demonstrated this. It is just as easy in the media to be distracted by the immediate. But at The Independent on Sunday we have made a conscious effort, for almost all of our history, to highlight these issues. And we have found that it is one of the things you, the readers, value most about us. We were delighted last week to have this recognised by being unanimously voted the environmental newspaper of the year. But we have no intention of resting on our fresh green laurels. Instead, the award will inspire us to do even more.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

 

Ed Miliband's conference speech must show Labour has a head as well as a heart

Patrick Diamond
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam