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April 17, 2020

A scourge on the earth

Opinion

April 17, 2020

On my way back from my daily exercise routine, I pass the local junk/antiques emporium and notice that beneath the official Covid- 19 flyer some wag has put up a hand-written sign that reads, “Closed due to the end of the World.”

Two doors further down, an independent bookseller has picked up the same theme, albeit in a more subtle way, and filled the shop window with copies of 'The Time Machine' by H G Wells. Like most of us, when I think of Wells’ dystopian fiction, I consider the possibilities of time travel and inter-planetary wars. I imagine monsters like the Morlocks, invasions from aliens and the world being devastated by plague, but foremost in my mind is the fact that he was born in Bromley – a modest and rather dull town about 10 miles from London.

This is no mere biographical detail, but holds the clue as to why so much of Wells’ story-telling was concerned with the eradication of human life. Living in that suburban enclave might not strike fear into today’s stout-hearted Bromelyans. But for Wells, growing up there at the end of the 19th century, as the town more than doubled in size over a 20 year period, was a hugely formative experience, as John Carey describes in ‘The Intellectuals and the Masses.’ What Wells experienced dramatically impacted his life and birthed not just his fantastical imagination but his loathing of mass culture and mass consumption. Visiting death and destruction on English towns in his works of fiction, many of which he gleefully names, was his way of wreaking revenge on the ‘development’ which destroyed the woods and poisoned the river where he used to go for walks as a child.

The destruction of the natural world is happening all around us all of the time, at least for those of us still fortunate enough not to live in cities. Here, on the south coast of England, in a county blessed with both coastline and forest, a valley recognised by the local council as ‘an area of tranquillity and extreme remoteness’, as well as being a haven for wildlife, was recently decimated by the building of a four-lane link road, providing a shortcut so that traffic could avoid the busy coastal road. What follows is the usual development: housing estates and shopping centres and more traffic, thus perpetuating the problem that the first road was supposed to resolve.

Sadly, many badgers, whose setts were destroyed in the construction, were left confused and homeless and ended up on those roads. The desecration of nature, the decimation of wildlife habitats and the mass extinction of species have all been normalised, as worldwide ‘development’ continues unabated; this is the Anthropocene age after all.

What seems to have come as a bit of a shock in recent days, however, is the realisation that remote areas are repositories of life-forms inimical to the health of human populations, (certainly as we now live, in conglomerations of millions.)

Excerpted from: 'A Scourge on the Earth'.

Counterpunch.org