Man's proper place is on dear old Earth!

Dossier ~ Friday 19th June 2009
Destination Moon (1953) - Page 61]

Does the immortal phrase exclaimed by Captain Haddock on 30 December 1953, upon his return from the Moon, still ring as true in 2009 ? If the new film Home by Yann Arthus-Bertrand is anything to go by, it looks as if clouds are accumulating above our ? Dear old Earth ?...

The Earth's heritage

World Environment Day, 5 June 2009, was specially marked by Yann Arthus-Bertrand's film Home. Photographer, ecologist, journalist and filmmaker, Arthus-Bertrand is putting his talents to the service of a cause that not only concerns people living today, but also future generations. Does this remind you of anyone else ? Of course it does ! Through Tintin in Tibet, a beautiful story of friendship and faith, Hergé brought attention to the mysterious country and rich culture found on the roof of the world, now a hotly contested international issue. Seen from the sky (shown here is the first of one of Yann's collection of photographs), the Earth looks extremely beautiful. Even pictures of ecological disasters (desertification for example) have a majestic look when observed from a certain distance. Prepare to face reality as we dive to ground level !

A little-known example of change : the Caribbean Islands

The Caribbean Islands, also known as the Antilles, make up a string of islands that look a bit like a bracket between the northeast of Venezuela and the southern tip of Florida. It is in this area that Hergé located the island on which Sir Francis Haddock ended up living for two years, in Red Rackham's Treasure. In less than four centuries, the features of these islands have completely changed. Lush tropical forest, rich in biodiversity, made way for sugar cane plantations that were developed soon after the arrival of the Spanish in 1492, who were followed by the French, Dutch and English. This single-crop method of farming has exhausted the soil, to the point where the islands cannot provide enough food for their native populations, despite these populations being relatively small. This obliges islanders to import meat at a high price. Today many Caribbean islands have a kind of bald appearance, whereas before each island had more of a scruffy hairdo !

People come and people go

Landscapes are not the only thing to have changed in the Caribbean. The black population of the islands were imported from Africa by slave traders. Failing to find gold, colonials established the highly lucrative sugar cane plantations, before the introduction of sugar beet from the nineteenth century onwards. The indigenous population disappeared. The Caribbean Indians (originally from the Amazon rainforest) were decimated by disease. Yet when they themselves invaded the islands at the end of the fourteenth century, the Caribbean Indians massacred the Arawaks who made up the original population. Genocide followed genocide...

The pride of the Amazonian Indians

Hergé cared deeply about the plight of the Indians, whether in the north of the continent (Tintin in America), in Central America or in the south (The Broken Ear, Tintin and the Picaros). Very recently (17 June 2009), the Amazonian Indians won a great victory over private commercial entrepreneurs intent on acquiring a hold over the Peruvian Amazon (which makes up 60% of Peru's territory, inhabited by Indians making up 11% of the population). Following clashes with police resulting in 53 deaths, the Indians succeeded in securing a government repeal of prior decrees which were set to pave the way for industrialisation of the Amazon rainforest. This mobilisation of Indian pride was definitely bolstered by moral support from the Bolivian president Evo Morales, who is himself an Aymara Indian. Brazil has also seen its deforestation programs halted by the opposition of local Indians, although this is a somewhat more fragile situation.

Water : too much or too little ?

The face of the Earth is changing, and will continue to do so at an increasing rate. Since the release of Yann Arthus-Bertrand's film, the UK Climate Impacts Programme has published its projections. Put together by leading scientists and the result of 12 years of observation and calculation, the report makes for a worrying read. In Great Britain, an increase of 2°C in mean temperature would radically change the lifestyles of millions. Increased temperature has far-reaching effects on things such as roads, housing and flooding. On the Norfolk coast, rapid erosion is creating a danger for people who live too close to the seaside. Yet some scientists go further and predict a rise in average temperature of 6°C by 2080! This will lead to draught in some parts of the world, while land in other areas will disappear under water.

Reason to hope ?

Fatalistic pessimism won't help anybody. Many serious and independent scientists hold that meteorology is a very inexact science. It could also reasonably be hoped, for example, that increases in fuel prices will stimulate research into renewable and non-polluting sources of energy. In the 1950s, Albert Einstein predicted that if bees were to disappear, the human race would die out within 10 years at the most. In 2009, observers noted a dramatic reduction in the number of beehives as bee populations were ravaged by disease. Any significant increase in temperature could lead to the appearance of new types of diseases affecting humans. There has never been a more important moment in history for each of us to assess the impact of our lifestyles. Will we manage to do it in time ?

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