Vol.22 No.143

Monday 19 September 2005    





Cartoon Strip

Business Week



Arts/Culture Review




When Leaders Do Not Listen To The Song Of The Earth


9/19/2005 7:05:41 PM (GMT +2)

It is easy to suspect that there must be a secret handbook that leaders of this country constantly refer to which advises them to blame the weather and hostile climatic conditions when things get a bit tough. On the first page of the handbook is an injunction:

"Go on radio or television and solemnly declare yet another year of drought" The geographical and climatic conditions often serve as useful excuses for political leaders.

They can always say our country is landlocked, semi-arid, has a small population, and we have this drought that is a perennial feature of our climatic condition. Political leaders and their strategists can duck and dive but with time more people begin to see through the gimmickry.

When the Tautona solemnly declares yet another year of drought citizens shrug their shoulders, shake their heads, sigh deeply and mutter throwaway remarks. The general feeling is that nothing can be done to prevent the recurrent drought. Tautona then charitably mobilises a set of inadequate relief programs and that also inculcate a culture of dependency and undermine the spirit of self-reliance.

Destitute people and starving children are offered food packages and life goes on until another official declaration of drought when more handouts will be doled out.

Environmental disasters are becoming a regular feature in the lives of many of the world's people. The recent Hurricane Katrina revealed shocking fault-lines in the American society. The hurricane exposed the vulnerability of the most powerful country in the world.

It uncovered the iniquities, inequalities and the simmering tensions in America. Above all it highlighted the folly of not listening to the song of the earth.

For years, George Bush, backed by powerful oil companies such as Exxon, has been denying the reality of climatic change, especially the phenomenon of global warming. It impacts on rainfall, wind and temperature patterns. It also affects the ocean and heat circulation patterns.

Scientists link global warming to "greenhouse gases" that act as a blanket, trapping the sun's heat. The most significant of the greenhouse gases that contribute to the rise in global surface temperatures is carbon dioxide.

Gerald Meeh, a lead scientist on the definitive Intergovernmental Panel on Climatic Change, observes that "many people don't realise that we are committed right now to a significant amount of global warming and sea level rise because of the greenhouse gases we have already put into the atmosphere".

The main source of carbon dioxide is the burning of fossils such as coal, oil and gas in power stations and in internal combustion engines.

The country that is responsible for the largest amount of carbon dioxide emissions is America. It causes a quarter of all global emissions and yet it refuses to sign the Kyoto Agreement.

The Kyoto Protocol was reached in 1997 and in February 2005 it became legally binding on all 141 signatories. Among other things, the accord seeks to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The impact of the US's refusal to sign the treaty on the reduction of greenhouse gases continues to have a devastating impact on rainfall, wind and heat circulation patterns.

Climatic changes may cause upheaval, instability and social collapse on a massive scale. The raised sea levels could submerge whole areas that are now over land including major cities such as New York and London.

George Bush may have to shoulder the responsibility for floods in Mozambique and for the recurrent drought in Botswana, over and above the many lives that have been lost in the disastrous war in Iraq.

Monitor ace columnist, Rampholo Molefhe, in his inimitably heretic mode, immediately after the recent international conference on Information Technology asked, "Where the hell is IT? In other words where is the Internet?

The Internet, despite being a product of Cold War military counter-intelligence and paranoia, is now being hailed as a tool that will empower the world's impoverished majority. The simple answer is: IT is in the U.S of A.

IT has its origins in a digitised information network that linked computer systems of fifteen American universities that were funded by the Pentagon's Advanced Research Project Agency. IT may have spread around the world but it has not yet lived up to its name of being a global medium.

A vast majority of people remains outside the network of IT connectivity. Matthew Zook, of the University of Kentucky tells the story well in his book, 'The Geography of the Internet Industry' (2005).

Zook uses maps to show that more than 35 percent of the population of North America, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan use the Internet. The figure for most of Africa, South Asia and the Middle East is less than 2 percent.

The Internet is also where the money is. It is concentrated in the same places as venture capital firms. The internet's "root servers" are in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, New York and London.

Are you are looking for IT? Then follow the money.

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