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Limits, limits, limits

31 March 2014
Photo credit: ourworld.unu.edu

Photo credit: ourworld.unu.edu

Pedro Walpole, SJ

Limits, limits, limits in a world that is always growing; these are the challenges we face in having to balance our future and the future of others. The month of March is autumn for some, spring for others, and for billions more, it is the dry or wet season. Whatever the season, it denotes change, with its own limits and opportunities, life and death.

Just reading the International New York Times (INYT) of one day in March there was a series of articles showing how central the diverse range of environmental concerns are to economic activity. It does not take a genius to recognize that these fit together to ultimately affect the global economy; and that the economy alone cannot then correct itself simply by financial adjustment. But it will take many geniuses and a lot of self-discipline in our diverse societies to manage the limits of our otherwise inconsistent “growth and development.”

One article, Fishing More, Catching Less  by Professor Daniel Pauly, gives an update on the South Pacific Seas and the Exclusive Economic Zones of Africa that are being fished out by Europe and the US. “We are trying slowly to repair the mess we’ve made of our Northern fisheries, but we are doing this by transferring the problem, trying to solve overfishing in one place while worsening the problem somewhere else,” writes Pauly. This is no act of balancing resources globally. There is no recognition of the importance and critical situation of small-scale fishing in global quota assessments by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the impact on the lives of millions of coastal families.

Another article, Borrowed Time on Disappearing Land, reminds us that Bangladesh realizes it is working on borrowed time as the change in climate is impacting now on the country (let’s not call it climate change for the moment with all its political charge). What Bangladesh can only do is simply adapt. There are no mega-projects that are going to contain the problem, which is at least immediately limited to their economy.

Another report announces that Pollution Killed 7 Million People Worldwide in 2012, Report Finds. The pollution of daily industry, transportation, and use of fuel wood is worsened by the weather at a given moment, whether in Beijing or Paris (or Singapore at another time of the year). This requires a broad response as it wreaks havoc for people and eventually for the economy. Many arguments are pulled into the decision, from farmers’ land lost to urban development to increasing disparity of the rich and poor.

Back in Korea, the frontpage news is on the cultural changes for the haenyeo (sea women divers) in Jeju, an island off the southern coast of South Korea. Hardy Divers in Korea Strait, ‘Sea Women’ Are Dwindling highlights the report that the women don’t want their daughters to have the same hardships in life, diving for food every day. There is something fishy about this because at the same time there is no acknowledgment of the economic investment for a harbour that is being constructed in the island. This is a harbour that other cities don’t want and for which many from this island of peace are in jail for opposing, along with the inclusion of a probable American naval base.

Meanwhile, the World Trade Organization backs the United States in another dispute with China. China is imposing export duties and quotas on rare-earth elements used in hybrid car batteries and others in the steel industry, given the monopoly it has built on these mineral resources. The problem connects immediately with Australia and actually the whole world, as stocks and shares rise in anticipation.

In the midst of this, giving both weight and humour, is an editorial cartoon President Obama Meets Pope Francis, where the two are asking each other for an autograph, as if both were ordinary Joes faced with a celebrity. The world seems to want to respect them, but they cannot assure the ways things will go, they too face human and global uncertainties.

We need the Baracks and the Francis, the Vladimirs and the Lis, to forge new paths while all lines of governments and institutions take a deeper perspective of working together. It will always be a struggle but can increasingly be a movement that is not always simply being right or stronger or to win over the other.

The disputes in economic (natural) resources, the changes in climate, and the shifts in lifestyle are ongoing. They are often political in nature, fictionalized in movies, and assessed economically but need to be understood in and for each family.

Perhaps what I learn from this is that in these economic times, the INYT is not turning a blind eye but having a good eye on the range of interweaving concerns, disputes, changes, and disasters in the world and reckoning the pulse of survival. The INYT does not guess-say, except for an occasional opinion column, as to how to grapple with the magnitude of the broader threat to global sustainability.

What are the common factors cutting across all of these events and incidents? Outside of the negativities, fears, and accusations, are there any calming and assuring signs? Business and science are constantly meeting and testing the limits of development. Social values too are interacting to find more humanly sensitive responses, though financial records have not been doing too well and the situation of the world’s poor is even worsening.

We are challenged to speak in the world with a more developed language that curves the present path of development. We are also challenged to respond to the need to think together in ways that increasingly help us work together. While leaders try to walk the talk, what attitudes for action do we commonly share? What can we value in this changing world that will allow us go easier on a daily basis, allow us care and enjoy where we are, envision with hope and with others options for change, options for all generations to share? What are the simple truths that we can affirm and communicate in our daily actions and can be valued in this process of unfolding the interrelatedness of the world? Have we pushed ourselves to the limits so there may be greater global options?

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