We have good news and bad news.
No, not that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump won the New Hampshire primaries, though for the natural world, and the rest of the world, it might be very significant in the long run.
I’m talking about things much closer to home, to Ireland and Europe.
First, the good news.
The European Parliament has voted to approve a report on the Mid-term review of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy, which calls for the protection of the Birds and Habitats Directives.
They did this on the back of a huge public movement to urge their MEPs to protect the habitat, which shows the power of people to get the word out to their elected officials to do the right thing.
(Of course, we have to compare that to what happened in Ireland the other week, when the will of the people lost out to the vested interests of the farming community.)
It’s possible our efforts to save species are, in some cases, doomed to failure, due to past pollution we can’t turn the clock back on. Whales and dolphins in some areas will go extinct, including in Ireland, where despite our shores being a cetacean sanctuary, no orca calf has been spotted in twenty-five years.
Though the adults seem okay, the high load of toxins they carry from pollutants that have been banned for years seems to have rendered them unable to breed.
Orca pod off Ireland’s coast. Credit: Lt Alan O’Regan, XO L.E. Clare
This reminds me of what might have happened to any real animals in Loch Ness, waiting for that last example of a long-lived species to die. Will we have some Lonesome Fungi, an old lone dolphin, or an orca, like we had Lonesome George on the Galapagos? Even worse, when we go whale watching will we stare into the eyes of an animal who knows that their numbers are slowly dwindling, and they are destined to die out?
So I’m working on edits to my novel, Peter and the Little People. This will be my seventh published book, none of them seem to be in the same genre – this one way different to the rest; my first children’s novel. I think it might be my last children’s novel. At least, I assumed it would be when I wrote it. The idea seemed perfect for a children’s book, but whether I am a children’s novel writer, I am not at all sure. I wish I could put my books in a handy category, but I can’t yet. Only the characters’ awareness, and love, of the natural world around them unites these very different stories. In that, they are all my children.
I also assumed I’d never write another young adult book when I finished The Soul of Adam Short, but I’m in the middle of writing another one now. I got the idea for a new one when I watched the profusion of gorse fires across Ireland last April, and it seemed an issue that teenagers might be likely to tackle rather than shake their heads and get on with their day.
Readers will know I’ve pledged to donate 10% of my royalties to WWF, the World Wildlife Fund. For Peter and the Little People, I also plan to give a further 10% to IWT, the Irish Wildlife Trust, which advocates for wildlife on the island of Ireland, and whose work Peter, and the Little People, would most certainly support. The Little People remember the animals with which we once shared our island, and are dismayed when Peter tells them they’re gone from every corner of it.
I don’t want to reveal too much about the story, but it is for kids and as long as you promise not to tell them before they get a chance to read it, I can tell you that there is a happy ending which is open to a sequel – which I never envisioned until my editor mentioned she’d like to see how Peter grew up.
Instead of the work to rewild Ireland, and return those missing species to it, for the benefit of the ecosystem, the delight of the Little People, Peter, Gemma and all the rest of us, which I might have the pleasure of writing about, it seems that some humans are not quite finished exterminating as much wildlife as they can.
Our native red deer of Killarney National Park, one of the very few symbols we have of wild Ireland, of the wildlife people come to Ireland to see, the image of which was put on our Punt coins when we had our own currency, are under attack from a group of Kerry politicians.
They are calling for a cull of an already tiny population for dubious reasons, and just yesterday, the IWT released a press-release describing how this is an indication of a move to treat wildlife as vermin, to depreciate their value and blame them for any perceived problems we may encounter with them. (http://www.iwt.ie/press-release-deer-culls-symptomatic-of-increased-verminisation-of-our-wildlife)
Photo: By Ken Billington (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
One Kerry senator has since declared that just the sika (an introduced species that is found in more parts of Ireland now than the native – and park escaped – red deer) should be culled, despite the fact that no evidence exists that the deer have caused any problems, and the fact that these deer are harvested every year both inside and outside the Killarney National Park. He also wants to fence in a section of the national park to restrict deer movement across a road that traverses the park, rather than ask motorists to cease speeding along that section.
How can we hope to rewild our island when this level of hatred of wildlife exists among our elected officials, when our representatives are so ignorant of the realities of wild animals, and are absolutely unwilling to give an inch in any real or perceived conflict, but instead prefer to bulldoze the wildlife out of the way. How can any children’s book have a happy ending when they are so willing to make vanish from our land the very things that children love – the wild animals and plants that we all know make life so much more worth living than any book we can read them or give them for Christmas, or any video game or toy they could get either.
If Peter does grow up under the tutelage of the Little People, I can see him becoming a very angry young man…
Almost exactly a year ago I suggested the Scots take their chance at independence like a wide receiver clutches an American football to his chest and legs it.
I stand by that.
At the moment, the Catalans – the people of the region of Cataluña or Catalonia in the North east of what we call Spain – are pondering a similar question.
It’s not quite the same because there will be no referendum.
The right wing government in Madrid are insisting such a referendum would be illegal, clinging to a constitution made when everyone was not quite sure some follower of Franco wouldn’t take over and return the country to Fascism for another forty years, so it was best not to ask for too much. They tried, actually, not many years later, on February 23rd 1981 (I know that because my daughter was born on the 23rd of February and everybody makes a comment; not far from the mind of people even now).
So the pro-independence parties of Catalonia have decided that if they get a broad support from the populace in their regional elections this month, they’ll go ahead and announce independence anyway, to come in after eighteen months of negotiations and preparations.
The answer is the same. Yes.
I fully expect them to get the support they want. If there had been a referendum, I reckon the Catalans would have voted to stay inside a federal Spain, albeit with more autonomy. But they weren’t given that option, and when some powerful fucker from somewhere else says you can’t have something, then it’s not too uncommon for the common folk to say, fuck you, I’m going to take it.
The question you might perhaps be asking is if I just last week said it was time to get past this silly notion of nationality, how can I suddenly support the separation of a part of a state from the rest based on that same idea?
I implied patriotism for a place that is just as good as any other place, with people who are just as good, and bad as (equal to, in fact) you and me is a load of wank, there to empower only a few dodgy politicians.
And I stand by that.
And the Catalan question involves a fair few politician of the distinctly dodgy persuasion, who have thus far got fairly rich (actually very fucking rich) off their positions, and a decent handful of whom are being investigated for fraud and corruption and all that good stuff, while they all touted how bad they and their fellow Catalans were being treated by the big bad government in Madrid.
Because the shittiness of their politicians does not negate the Catalan’s right to self-determination. They deserve to decide if they will be a separate country, and they deserve to determine how that country will be run; if it will involve the same kind of structures used up to now or if they’ll try out a whole different thing – or even return to the way things were done during the heady days of 1936 when George Orwell was marvelling at the anarchists of Barcelona, before the war was taken out of their hands by the Nazis and Stalinists.
The patriotism of the Catalans is not better or worse on its face than that of Americans or Afghans. But in the greater scheme of things it will be more positive if we end up with a situation where people are able to run their own small patch of land. I don’t want to say that they’re governed by people closer to them, because I don’t think they should be governed necessarily – I prefer to see politicians as citizen representatives than leaders; which they jolly well should be, to put it nicely.
If the world, or in this case, Europe, was broken up into smaller and smaller pieces then people would have more control over their politicians, would be able to keep closer tabs on them, and make them do what they are supposed to (forward the good of their fellow citizens and the area as a whole) rather than get rich helping out big corporations. Iceland got itself out of debt because the politicians could not hide from the population, and had to do what the citizens said – which in this case was don’t pay those fucking leech banks. Ireland didn’t do the same because our politicians are separated, just a little bit too much, from their constituents, and because they know we’ll vote them back in in four or eight years because we’ve short memories and we’re a little stupid at times, and since we had our independence and a civil war we’re reluctant to go on the rampage again (by we I mean those still keeping their heads above water by keeping their heads down, to mix a metaphor).
Even though Ireland is run by a bunch of arseholes, they haven’t fleeced us as much as the corrupt pigs in Spain have, simply because they couldn’t get away with such opulence if they took all they could. We’d notice if they suddenly had their own helicopters and yachts and private islands. The Spanish have been used to rich nobility for ages, what with that old woman who’d more titles than the queen of England. There is a social circle to which the politicians can aspire, which is kind of lacking in Ireland. Saying that, we did have Charlie Haughey in Ireland, who had his own private island and boat and all that gear, and it took us a long time to ask the question, “how the fuck is he able to afford race horses and the like, and just why is our prime minister called Champagne fucking Charlie anyway?”
But that’s the Irish for ye.
Back to the point.
If Europe is a band of tiny nations, it’s less likely that one arsehole can just do that the hell he wants. Putin rules one huge country, and as such, has power. If we could knock Russia back into a plethora of small principalities (not calling them that, though, since we’d rather not have any princes running them) then he’d only be in charge of one.
It’s hard to do with Russia, but the nationalistic movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that unified Germany and Italy, and Spain and France, too, can be turned back now. It was all well and good (actually, it was shit, cos it caused two fucking world wars) for a while, but we’ve gone beyond that now – we have a unification of Germany WITH Italy and Spain and France into mother Europe, and so it’s fine to go back to having Bavaria and Prussia and Lombardy and Galicia, etc. If Mrs Merkel was the leader of just one Germanic region (not sure where she’s from), then she’d not be able to frog march us all into eternal debt. She’d have to find consensus. And that would be harder to find (a consensus that we all pay back huge banks money they don’t deserve and we didn’t lose) when every other leader had to answer to a population he or she was forced to live closely among.
The smaller the country, the more accountable are the representatives.
And the more necessary for such small nations to band together to pursue common goals.
And those common goals are less likely to be sucking the bell ends of banks and corporations.
So go for it, Cataluña. What have you got to lose? EU membership? Nah. They need you more than they need the Greeks, or the Irish for that matter. Just come back in under better terms.
I’ve been pondering the future over the Christmas and New Year, mostly spurred by reading that as we go into a new year we can look forward to seeing some more wildlife in some places in Europe, but others are disappearing. In light of the recent Greek election and the rise of a new political party here in Spain which seems likely to take away power from the current entrenched and corrupt parties, I wonder what the future will look like. Since I just hit 100 posts on the blog, too, I thought today a good day to splatter you with my not-very-logical array of thoughts!
We are a very strange species, us humans: we have the ability to ponder and understand the past and future, which is, as currently demonstrable, pretty uncommon in the animal world. We think about the future and our past so much that we often seem incapable of enjoying, or even appreciating, the present. Yet at the same time, we consider the future only in the context of our current situation, and seem incapable of avoiding the oncoming train of change.
This Christmas, people in Europe looked back at a moment 100 years ago when men showed their common humanity. Right now after the attacks in France, politicians are falling over themselves to declare our unity against a common enemy. Yet we are stuck in the same paradigm – our politicians can’t get past the supposedly separate destinies of each different European country. They’re kicking out emigrants now, if they don’t have a job, sending them back to their home countries despite our purported freedom of travel and working. When they wanted to create the common market, they sold us citizens a stream of shit that we’d all be equal. When I moved from Ireland to Spain I was able to collect unemployment benefit until I found a job a few weeks after arriving. That’s suddenly something they want to stop doing now, though. Imagine New York kicking out Iowans because they lost their job? Ironically, if it were a real union, then there would only be migration for cultural or personal reasons, because policies would be applied across the union and people would have equal opportunity in their own land. The citizens who upped sticks and went to a land with a different language are the ones who invested in this union, and to treat them so badly now shows that it is all a facade.
Looking at the past seems easier than looking forward, or even around us. We follow constitutions people wrote thirty or eighty or two hundred years ago (depending if you’re in Spain, Ireland or the US) without considering their authors wouldn’t have a clue about our modern world – and would have a thing or two to say to us on that score, into the bargain, because I’m sure our world doesn’t conform to their expectations of the future.
Many of us follow the teachings of a man who was alive two thousand years ago – but do we look two thousand years ahead? Or two hundred? Or eighty? Or thirty?
No; we seem locked into the idea that all will be well. 350 years after that man died, everyone presumed that the Roman Empire would continue forever, and all was well, but the dark ages came.
Are we prepared for our dark ages? We know it’s entirely possible, but seem to be incapable of getting out of the way of it – blinking at the light like deer and about to be run over by it.
We would like our lives to be the same in the future (more or less: not all of us live in luxury of course). We like the way we live, we like our houses. After storms we reconstruct. But we have to realize that reconstruction is not going to be an option for too much longer if we don’t change other things. We won’t be driving cars in eighty years unless we stop using all the oil.
Staying somewhat the same will require an effort – and in some cases a change in how we do things.
I always remember my trip to Niagara Falls when I lived in America. I learned that during the day only half the water from the river goes over the falls: the rest is diverted. At night, just a third goes over. Not only does this produce electricity when the water is sent through the turbines rather than over the cliff, but it ensures that Niagara Falls stays in one place – right there, where they’ve built the town around it. If all the water went over the falls, it would erode it back towards the lake, and then the nice viewing platforms and lighting arrangements would have to be moved, too. People want to keep the cascade where it is, and they make sure it stays there.
Yet we want (or at least should) the temperature of the planet to stay the same, so we can remain living in the same places we are accustomed to, where the climate is just right for us. Moving would be a much greater effort than changing the way we do things so we can stay.
Unfortunately, not all of us can probably stay in the same houses because of the change that already faces us. But we have to find them somewhere else to stay, and that might mean allowing them into our areas where we think there are already too man people. Like the European immigration problem, though, the only way to confront the situation is from a stance of equality – and for some that will mean a lowering of our standards of living. If we don’t decide that we must band together to fight towards a common destiny, though, we’re all going to face a much bigger fight.