We’re all in This Together

You strove for twenty years
to get together twenty million pesos
but we’d give twenty million pesos
not to strive as you have striven.
(Fr. Ernesto Cardenal, Our Lady of Solentiname, Gran Lago, Nicaragua, 1970?)

Recently, fishermen in the UK and in many other European countries have been complaining bitterly about the new fishing quotas agreed on 14 December 2000 by the EU. In place of the 75% cut advised by scientists our team came home with a cut of 41% which was claimed as a ‘success’.

We must sympathise with the fishermen. It is not their fault that the fishing methods practised for centuries were abandoned following the introduction of deep sea trawlers and factory ships after WW2 and, since joining the EU almost 30 years ago, all the high tech that subsidies could buy. The old ways would have allowed fishing without quotas to go on indefinitely but the dash for cash approach has already resulted in the collapse of fishing stocks and the death of an industry almost 400 years old in Newfoundland (called ‘Talamh an Éisc’, ‘The Land of Fish’ in Irish). Without drastic action the same will happen to fishing in Europe. Cod is now an endangered species.

When Bristol publisher Alastair Sawday published ‘The Little Earth Book’ in November 2000 a complimentary copy was sent to every MP. If it could be afforded I think a copy should be sent to every household in the land. Small enough to fit in my jacket pocket and barely 140 pages long its 51 chapters achieve a terrifyingly simple summary of our dreadful predicament : of the planet’s wealth 86% is owned by the wealthiest 20% (that includes all of us in the ‘First World’, I fear) leaving the rest to get along as best they can on the 14% that we have, so far, failed to steal or buy.

There is even less comfort for us in the way the author shows how we are rapidly using up the natural capital that our earth has taken over 4 billion years to accumulate. Among the more scary illustrations of this is the rapid exhaustion of our antibiotics, a gift of nature unlocked by Sir Alexander Fleming but foolishly and disastrously squandered on feeding animals and as catch-all remedies for quite trivial illnesses. Now, more and more microbes we thought we had killed off have recovered and, tougher than ever, are coming back to haunt us. It may not be too long before MRSA and other infections associated with hospitals may become untreatable. Surgery, other than in cases of life or death, may then be seen as a risk too far.

Though it is not without hope (we can and will change the world because we must) and even includes nice flashes of humour, this book is not a comforting read. However, I believe it is essential that all of us, especially believers, should be aware of what is happening beyond the security of our homes and places of worship. If the saying “God’s in his Heaven. all’s right with the world” ever gave some comfort it most certainly does not today. On the other hand, the saying of St. Augustine, “We should pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on us” was never more relevant.


James Bruges: The Little Earth Book : Bristol, Alastair Sawday Publishing, November, 2000. ISBN : 1-901970-23-X. £4-99.

©: Barry Tobin.

Published in The Green Dragon No 10, Spring 2002

The Natural World

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