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It’s everyone’s burden now

01 Oct 2019 / 19:28 H.

WHITE, middle-aged, middle-class men reportedly were so angry with Greta Thunberg for her outspokenness about climate change. The Swedish teenager successfully led the Fridays for Future rallies last month, involving many thousands of participants from more than 150 countries. It was an impressive global show of strength by people voicing their concern and cut across age, gender, race and geographical locations. That she was recognised by the UN to address its summit on climate change gives her due credence that her critics, including the US president, are seriously short of.

This is apparent from the choice of trivial words spewed on her as reported. In Australia, she was condemned as having “so many mental disorders”. In New Zealand, it was about her having “a fantastic sense of self-entitlement” that damaged the cause as it were. Others said she “totally overplayed her hand at the UN”, and was “counterproductive”.

Her critics sounded desperate to hold on to their misplaced sense of ego merely because the issues are not in their favour. The pros and cons have been floated and debated for some 30 years and are almost as old as the idea of “sustainable development” from the Bruntland Report in 1987. Somehow the impact then was somewhat negligible unlike today.

Perhaps the white men were too arrogant, if not ignorant or both, to recognise the reality then. They failed to appreciate, less still accept, the well-documented evidence presented by international expert panels‎.

As recent as last week, the UN panel again warned that the sea levels continue to rise; a clear sign of a climate induced event. Instead, some remained unconvinced and prefer to promote the mantra that “greed is good” while continuing to live on the binge. Consequently, activities and policies that further harm ailing global situations were left running leading to major ecological catastrophe due to unchecked greenhouse gas emissions as long as it appeals the so-called “free market” regime. Under the influence of such unbridled capitalism framed by neoliberal policies and events, excessive profits (from growth economics) are prioritised well ahead of the welfare of the ordinary people and of the planet affecting some seven billion inhabitants one way or another.

Such rule of thumb in turn resulted in the ever widening disparities and divides between the Global North and Global South, the rich (read mostly the white elites) and poor, worsening by the decade. In 2017, for instance, eight persons reportedly owned 50% of the world’s assets held by an equivalent of 3.5 billion people (half of the total global population). The latter were mostly non-white and from Africa, Asia and Latin America. In contrast, the eight were all white middle-aged males. But then no one seems to care two hoots. Why the difference?

This could be traced to The White Man’s Burden, a poem which became a euphemism for imperialism by Rudyard Kipling. In the poem written in 1899, ‎Kipling encourages the US to hegemonically “colonise” the Philippines. And urging it to proceed like its European counterparts despite the predicted deplorable human cost. By crafting this as the incumbent “burden” for the white man to civilise the world, the inevitable unleashed the ruthless power laid squarely on the shoulders of the white colonisers. It was a convenient opportunity to impose their values and expansion of power on the largely Asian population against their will and dehumanising them. The relationship with the present issue becomes more evident as the US emerged to be the world’s worst polluters, dragging the colonies (new and old) along the same tragic path of unsustainable development practices! Ditto Europe.

So as Thunberg insisted in her UN speech to world leaders (including Trump, who was absent), not to cheat and not to stall on climate change as per the Fridays for Future movement, the idea of the white man’s burden must be immediately demolished too. Namely, to strictly refrain from repeating colonial mistakes in shaping a so-called better world based on their limited understanding of civilisation which is problematic. Instead, it must go beyond where there is no room for any form of neo-colonialism or hegemony in ensuring a truly equitable, sustainable future. The North and South must act in tandem with each other to realise a common dream for humanity forever.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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