By Roger Diamond

Jared Diamond (no relation) says something along the lines of “You will have the privilege of being the last person to die” when referring to the privilege/plight of the rich and powerful during the collapse of a civilisation. I think I am seeing a similar thing when I look at the behaviour of the rich in our society.

Take an example, pertinent in South Africa — security. How much money do we spend in making our houses secure from criminals? How much do we spend on the services of private security, insurance, income protection and other expenses designed to protect us from the possible losses from crime? Dare we ask the question: “What if we spent all of that money on creating a better society?” by paying towards education, a cleaner and greener environment, social improvements and so on. Would we not be able to create a society where crime drops away dramatically and we can live without insurance for theft or even things like hit-and-run, which are partly caused by accident but also by the lack of responsible behaviour?

Perhaps this is idealistic and naive on my part, and undoubtedly large cities anywhere in the world have some level of antisocial behaviour, but it can be very very low, to the extent that people leave doors unlocked, even when no one is at home. Such was my experience with friends who live in San Diego, in an inner city suburb nogal!

Moving from the crime-security analogy, to the environment-energy situation, I seem to be seeing a blindness on the part of those trying to protect their quality of life. This applies to individuals as well as large groups, up to the size of nations. People are going to great lengths in order to have pleasant environmental experiences, whether it be snorkelling over coral reefs or game viewing in the bushveld. The expense required to have a decent natural experience is increasing as natural areas dwindle and people living in cities find themselves many miles from the nearest spot of natural beauty.

Yet, by using ever greater quantities of energy we are both causing a negative impact on the world’s last natural places and reducing the remaining fossil fuel (and uranium) left in order to get to these places and to protect and rehabilitate them, where necessary. If we let go of our addiction to wild thrills in faraway places, we would have the resources available to protect wild areas closer to home and allow more people to enjoy the greater number and size of natural areas.

In essence, the wealthy are creating a network of escapism while the rest of the planet suffers; it is a pretty fortress that unfortunately there is no escape from when the real world burns down. Ultimately, we may find ourselves, the wealthy, in a position where one fine day in the tropics we go out snorkelling from a tropical paradise island, only to come back in the afternoon and the island has vanished under the waters of the rising sea.

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