Azara Blog: Mekong region allegedly at threat from development

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Date published: 2008/12/17

Richard Black is the better of the main two BBC website environment correspondents (the other one being Roger Harrabin). He at least sometimes makes rational arguments (Harrabin hardly ever does). But he too often slips into the usual academic middle class muddled thinking on the environment. On his BBC blog he says about the Mekong region:

Two kinds of announcement from conservation groups habitually garner a prominent spot in the news agenda; either species are in peril, or species have been discovered alive and well.

On the face of it, WWF's highlighting this week of the thousand-plus species found in the Greater Mekong region over the last decade falls into the second category.
Let's be honest; this is sexy, feel-good, wow-factor biodiversity news.

But when you look to the next decade rather than the last, the most important species in the whole report is undoubtedly the most familiar of all; Homo sapiens.

The Mekong's biodiversity has been preserved largely because a number of factors have kept human development at bay.

Parts of the region consist of wild mountain ranges which, if peopled at all, are home to ethnic groups who still have to live with nature as an equal partner rather than completely taming it.

The Delta is criss-crossed with channels, making road-building difficult; people I know who have worked there talk about the local mosquitoes in phrases that conjure up images of flying piranhas.

Conflicts in and between Cambodia, Vietnam and southern China have curbed the pace of development, as have regimes that restricted entrepreneurship.

The Sun shines and the rains fall. Nature is productive, and the human load has not been big enough to subsume most of that productivity for itself; which is why nature has stayed so rich, and so hidden.

But as WWF points out, the balance of power between man and nature is changing fast.

So it is ok for WWF and their friends to travel all around this area as much as they want (and make press releases out of the trivial fact that it is easy to find new species when you look in a remote jungle area). It's just not ok for anyone else to live or work in that area, at least if they want to develop the area the way Europe and America are developed. No, the locals ought to "restrict entreneurship", i.e. remain poor. So much the better to be patronised by the likes of the WWF.

Black also amazingly claims that "ethnic groups" (how quaint) "live with nature as an equal partner". Once upon a time he might have said that they are "noble savages", but that phrase has rather gone out of fashion. Why is it that some people always believe that some other societies are somehow angelic whereas their own society is somehow the opposite. Humans are humans whether they live in London or in the Mekong.

And like most so-called environmentalists, Black cannot understand that man is part of nature, so to talk about "the balance of power between man and nature" is just sloppy writing, driven ultimately by an anti-human outlook so prevalant amongst so-called environmentalists. So it's ok for mosquitoes to rampage in an area (they're so cute), and it is ok for trees to cover the planet, but let a human in somewhere and suddenly the world is allegedly at an end.

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