Sunday, 12 June 2011

"The World" is Sinking! Time to Ski on the Sand...

The World is sinking.

No, not another report by the IPCC or Greenpeace. And not the world that might come to mind.

This World is the collection of man-made islands off the coast of Dubai, constructed out of the sea at huge financial and environmental cost. Each one supposedly represents a country and, separated only by narrow channels of water, together they look like a patchwork map of the planet. They have been marketed to a range of wealthy individuals, including footballers, film stars and businessmen, one a former boss of mine.

It is more than faintly ironic that this hubristic enterprise is now reportedly sinking beneath the weight of its own pomposity. The "Daily Mail", not exactly the greenest newspaper in the UK, has run a series of articles on how the Gulf is gradually washing the artifice away and reclaiming the sand for the seabed. Other more reputable news media have reported similarly, so much that the consortium that runs the islands has published a denial this week. 

World of Water - the sinking planet?
I am no civil engineer, but the photographic evidence doesn't look that good to me; though perhaps I may be wrong.

Either way, this project represents the very worst of our species' excess: that we run our world via an economic system that leaves literally hundreds of millions of people homeless, while a tiny group of rich people are able to accumulate hundreds of millions to spend on creating a fictional planet on the sea, causing massive damage to the environment as they go.

The Gulf states of course are the playgrounds of the western rich - one reason why our leaders are so silent on the violent repression of dissent in the likes of Bahrain. These princedoms were created by the British, sustained by the USA and are now in effect owned by the international financial elite. Boasting superstructures like the Emirate Towers, the highest hotel in the world (the highest six are all in Dubai), an indoor ski resort in the middle of the Arabian desert and a host of imported, penniless labourers and servants from southern Asia to make it all possible, the strip of land along the southern shores of the Gulf truly is the Babylon of today.

Ski Dubai - snow in the desert, courtesy of man and carbon
It is little wonder that the United Arab Emirates, which Dubai is part of, boast the third highest carbon emissions per person on the planet - at over 31 tonnes, a massive 16 times the safe limit for the planet. Only the Antilles and nearby Qatar, both similar playgrounds of the wealthy, are higher. And this fest of excess shows no signs at all of slowing let alone stopping. For many people of even relatively modest means, a holiday to Dubai is now an aspiration, a sign of having made it. With many of the grasping corporations and greedy individuals who enjoy this life of extreme consumption merely encouraged to ever greater heights of auspicious display by both governments and our runaway economic system, there is little hope indeed that this will come to an end anytime soon. The recent Arab Spring briefly raised the possibility, but of course, where it might have made a real difference - in the Gulf states- the Emirs and their western allies rapidly crushed any chances of real change.

What we do know for sure is that, whatever the prospects for the artificial islands, the World is sinking. Literally, the excess of the wealthy in Dubai and around the planet is threatening the existence of entire countries with sinking under the water - Lochahara island in the Bay of Bengal, once home to 10,000 distinctly un-wealthy people, disappeared forever in December 2006; and now whole nations such as the Maldives, Kiribati and Vanuatu face similar fates within just a few years.  

Our system is out of balance. Socially this is not news, but for the first time we are reaching a point of significant resource depletion and growing environmental exhaustion, neither of which can be resolved by clinging to a capitalist system that is founded on the concepts of inequality of outcomes and limitless resources. In such circumstances, the potential for violent conflict and disorder is legion, and a warning from the past resonates loudly around the tall towers of Dubai. Two and a half thousand years ago, Plato wrote: "Any city, however small, is in fact divided into two; one the city of the poor, the other of the rich. And these are at war with one another."

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