Sometimes in life we make wrong choices, we take the wrong turning or we say the wrong things or we execute the wrong decisions. In life’s often peculiar manner, we remain ignorant of the wrongness of our choice until well after its terrible retribution commences. If we are stubborn we stay the course and sometimes it works out and we are celebrated as heroes and pioneers. If we are wise though we change course and we never know what might have been.
Sometimes it’s not us who made the choices but our ancestors. Jared Diamond’s insanely enlightening book “Collapse” runs through how communities/societies especially isolated ones that had existed probably for thousands of years run out of luck and come to a final gruesome end. They run out of food or get hit by an environmental disaster and, being human, eventually succumb to fractious tribal conflicts and over-religiosity in the praying to deaf gods. Eventually death comes to the last person.
Some of us will soon see this scenario (minus the last-man-standing scenario) on the isles of Kiribati. Their 3000 year existence at ‘home’, those precarious islands at most 3 meters above sea level, is about to be snuffed. Out. The excellent Bloomberg Businessweek article (link below) describes with poignant ruefulness the tragic and unravelling fate of these people. Cause: climate change compounded by poverty, isolation, ignorance, poor cultural practices, illiteracy and religion.
“Good morning, Jesus,” the preacher says, and his flock responds with alacrity, “Good morning, Jesus.” The minister—the youth pastor in the village of Te Bikenikoora—holds his Bible aloft. “Let us sing a song to ask the Lord to protect us from climate change so that we can remain in our homes.” Many of the worshipers look up to heaven for salvation.”
The minister continues: “God has such great love for us. We praise you, God, for your protection. You, God, are our No. 1 helper. We will be strong when the wind hits us. We will be protected by you. We need to be strong in our faith.”
Unfortunately, not even God can help them now. It’s too late. Anote Tong, the London School of Economics educated president of the country, gives his country 20 years. “If nothing is done, Kiribati will go down into the ocean. By about 2030 we start disappearing. We would not survive a Hurricane Sandy. We would be finished.”
If nothing is done? But who is going to do the doing? America? China? India? Those guys have bigger fish to fry. In the grand scheme of things one hundred thousand people on flat islands in the middle of nowhere are just not significant enough to stop the economic cycle; the business of feeding, clothing and enabling the 2.8 billion consumers in these countries plus of course there’s the rest of us. The Kiribatis will have to find somewhere else to live.
I was reading this on my journey to buy groceries in Brixton (an economically-challenged part of London once famous for ethnic minorities and riots but now being spectacularly gentrified) when I was accosted by the spectre of the old black man begging outside Sainsbury’s, the large grocery chain. He was without doubt not too far now from the end and there was no hope of redemption from his misery. What choices had he made? What choices did his parents make that screwed up his childhood? How had he compounded this during his twenties, thirties, forties and so on till his sorry present state? What cruel cards had life dealt him with which he had been too poorly skilled to play?
For several years I worked in London’s financial services sector investing money on behalf of well-to-do clients hoping to earn them a princely 4-6%pa from which my firm earned a commission and I was paid a barely living wage (“barely” – ha! after all this is London. It’s expensive. Try buying a flat white coffee!) Six weeks ago I left the money-pot investment world for the real one to do something on my own and for myself: with all the terror and excitement that striking out, perhaps on a limb, bring. It may end well. It may end in a disaster. My previous colleagues are still inside the mothership cocoon earning salaries and planning skiing holidays; perhaps not so free and brave as I (or foolish).
So here I am with one question on my mind perhaps like the ancestors of the Kiribati who struck out for those once pristine islands that had arisen out of some cataclysmic event and are now about to sink beneath another one: have I made the right choice?