At the end of a six day trip to New York City in December 2003 I wrote some notes and reflected on the excitement of exploring the city. We had managed to see most of the sights, from the Staten Island Ferry to Strawberry Fields in Central Park, from the Empire State to the Rockefeller Center with ice skaters and Christmas trees. Then I concluded my thoughts by referring to an essay competition organized by the Economist and Royal Dutch Shell in which the contestants had to answer the question “Do we need nature?”
The winner, Diane Brook Pleninger, imagined an interview with a fungus called Pilobolus crystallinus, which was studying Homo sapiens (“Do we need Mankind? A fungal perspective”). Amongst the gems in the essay, are the references to how humanity has imposed stress on the biosphere as the “phenomenon of affluence” has taken over the planet, together with the “stultifying effects of amusement.” Thus the fungus explains human demise: “Poor quality information tends to ferment into low grade entertainment. Under the sulphurous glare of continuous, worldwide news broadcasts, human institutions – government, military, religious, culture itself – become subjects of human amusement. This unrelenting, self-referential entertainment left a large part of mankind chronically inebriated and fundamentally uneducable.”
New York seemed to exemplify these trends. It’s a pleasure dome for the affluent and probably a nightmare for those who have little or no money. Furthermore, since 2003 entertainment through the tourist “industry” has overwhelmed many cities around the world… Is there much nature left?
So on this gloomy note, as the 2016 US presidential election enters the last lap to the finishing post, my caravan rolls onto the road.