Adams gave a new twist to the old phrase ‘turning a blind eye’ in
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He
offered a pair of spectacles which, when faced with scenes too awful to
contemplate, turned black, thus saving the wearer from unnecessary
anxiety. They are much used
in real life by profit-makers, politicians and scientists.
first time they appeared in public was when worn by VIP’s watching the
atomic explosion of the 81 kiloton bomb Dog on Runit Island in the
Pacific. (Pictured, on the patio of the Officers’ Beach Club.)
They may have seen the flash but the spectacles
to the side effects.
Since then, of course, the glasses have been worn with increasing
regularity. Conglomorates and
governments made a lot of money out of the tobacco industry, and they pay
the scientists’ wages. It
took decades before they peeped out and saw the cancer link. The drug thalidomide was allowed to cause much misery before
it was withdrawn. It is now
suspected that HRT might increase the risk of heart disease.
It takes a lot of courage to take off the glasses.
Of course, it is easy looking through the spectacles called hindsight, but
that is not the only factor at play. Sometimes theories are presented as
fact, and the higher the source the more the reliance of the general
public. All too often, the
short-term time-scales of those in power result in inadequate research and
testing, whether in the field of economic, scientific or political theory.
Because the Euro is politically desirable for a unified Europe,
economic theory is not put to serious test.
Decisions on interest rates and inflation can only be made on the
average needs of all the member countries, rendering it almost impossible
to tackle specific economic problems in individual countries.
The government tells us that science is confident that the triple
vaccine MMR is safe and unconnected with the incidence of autism, and this
despite science not yet understanding autism.
And the politicians tell us that Iraq had or still has Weapons of
Mass Destruction. This theory
stemmed from rumour and never checked out against any hard evidence.
At least, now, the man in the street is wary of such pronouncements.
In all of these three examples the public has shown some resistance
but ultimately, of course, those in power make the choices in pursuit of
their own agenda.
It would be encouraging to think that the greater the damage potential,
the more rigorous will be the decision-making process, but that is not the
case. The atom bombs were
dropped without any knowledge of the consequences.
Oppenheimer himself, watching the first test, said: ‘I am become
Death, the Shatterer of Worlds’, quoting Shiva in the Bhagavad-Gita.
The cost of the nuclear industry, weapons and power, in terms of
human death and suffering will never be known.
More recently, Bush and Blair went to war against the regime in Iraq
without any plan for rebuilding the country.
The vague hope that Iraqi troops would simply switch sides and
maintain law and order for Satan was naïve to the point of negligence.
The case for linking Iraq with September 11 had never been made,
but the vacuum created in Iraq by the war has sucked in terrorists from
all sides. We are unlikely to
know the final cost, yet already Bush is redirecting his own WMD to point
at Iran and Korea.
Politics and economics can cause untold damage, but in themselves they do
not threaten our very existence. Collision
with an asteroid might, and from time to time we are told of the
statistical chances of impact from a particular asteroid.
Far more relevant is the threat posed by climate change, and our
failure to take it seriously could result in the end of civilisation as we
know it. The chances of
serious damage are now being recognised, and some countries have set
targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases.
The world, however, is still addicted to power and predicted
consumption growth rates outstrip the likely growth of energy produced
from renewable sources. Glibly,
we ignore the likelihood of total disaster, and we show no signs of real
desire to improve our chances.
To make matters worse, we are embarking on a course of action that could
amplify the damage caused by climate change.
There is no doubt that genetically modified crops could increase
the production of food, and when a large proportion of the world’s
population does not have access to sufficient food this is a worthy
objective by any standards. There
are many who are horrified by the concept, yet in essence it is not much
different to grafting a juicy apple onto a crab.
But what is horrifying is the uncontrolled way in which GM crops
are being introduced.
Over the decades governments and profit-makers have demonstrated an
inability to allow an adequate time scale for the measurement of side
effects and outcomes before the scientists’ good ideas are turned into
commercial and political reality. The basic rule of farming is: don’t
put all your eggs in one basket. Or
more particularly, don’t become dependent on a single strain, whether
livestock or crops, for a single strain has the potential to be wiped out.
GM crops should be tested in a controlled environment such as a
small island for decades until we understand the effect on flora and fauna
and to ensure there are no long-term side effects from human consumption.
Only those wearing Adams’ glasses would risk contaminating the
rest of the world’s crops.
It is not difficult to imagine a scenario whereby extended drought causes
severe water shortages for large areas of the earth. Millions migrate to the temperate zones, where rising sea
levels are already causing social disturbance.
Large scale immigration forces alien cultures together, giving
terrorism a new dimension. And
then the unexpected side effect of GM crops manifests itself, but by then
it is too late: the world has no crops that are not contaminated.
This is how the world might end; not with a nuclear bang but with
Wear the Glasses
We have options, of course. We
can start measuring politicians, scientists and profit-makers by different
standards. Or we can all
avoid further anxiety by donning those spectacles and following the advice
at the front of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy.
© Harvey Tordoff