There has been lots in the news recently and most of it boils down to one thing – respect, or rather lack of it. The lack of respect between people from different countries, of different religions (or even branches of the same religion), between those from different social background, between those with lots of money and those with none and between women and men, young and old.
People are all different, and all have different opinions. What differs, however, is how we react to opinions that differ from ours. There seems to be an ever-increasing need for some to impose their opinions on others, regardless of the impact those decisions may have.
Now it is obvious that we need laws to protect people, and some of these laws may be unpopular with a proportion of people – but if they are enacted by a democratically-elected government, and applied fairly, and don’t result in systematic discrimination, then that is a reasonable way of making sure that society can function.
But what many countries seem to have in place now is an agenda that is devoid of respect – for people, and even more so for our natural heritage and environment. Laws and regulations are enacted by one group of people, that apply to another group, and which are a long way from how the legislators would like to be treated were their situations reversed. As such, they constitute an abuse of power – they are not fair laws, not applied fairly, and designed to discriminate and humiliate, rather than for protection or fairness.
I always felt that you should treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself – “Love thy neighbour as thyself” is a philosophy of tolerance, justice and fairness that it would be good to see applied unconditionally, but which rarely is. That doesn’t mean you always have to agree with other people, but you should not dish out to other people treatment that you would not expect to receive yourself. I also feel you should be tolerant and respectful of those different from yourself, or with differing views, provided those people do not seek to harm others as a consequence of those views. To quote the Wiccan Rede “..an it harm none, do as ye will” – very difficult to live by, but a good template for living a life of and tolerance.
But it seems we can’t do this – not even for other people. So how much less can we show respect and tolerance for the species with which we share this beautiful planet, and upon which we ultimately depend?
Badgers and cattle TB are a case in point. Lots of people with strongly-held and often-conflicting views. The fact is that 10 years ago we didn’t know what the role of badgers in spread of TB was, and more importantly, whether culling them would reduce bovine TB. Strongly-held opinions could not be resolved, so a proper trial was carried out, which would answer the question as to whether a cull in the worst-affected areas could help reduce the spread of bovine TB. The answer was clear – a small reduction (16%) within the cull zone, with an increase outside it, as terrified, infected badgers fled to new territories, spreading the disease. Even using a rigorous method of trapping and humane culling, the results were equivocal. The covering letter for the report stated:
“while badgers are clearly a source of cattle TB, careful evaluation of our own and others’ data indicates that badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain. Indeed, some policies under
consideration are likely to make matters worse rather than better. Second, weaknesses in cattle testing regimes mean that cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of disease in all areas where TB occurs, and in some parts of Britain are likely to be the main source of infection. Scientific findings indicate that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed, and geographical spread contained, by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures alone.” (http://archive.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/farmanimal/diseases/atoz/tb/isg/report/final_report.pdf)
So what did the Government decide to do? Ignore the facts and decide cull thousands of badgers, a protected species while claiming they were acting on scientific evidence. But the scientists disagree, and their advice disagrees – this is deceitful.
In being deceitful, they show a lack of respect to the scientists who laboured long and hard to produce this report, and whose expert opinion they ignored, as well as for nature as a whole, the many members of the public and animal welfare organisations who are aghast at the prospect of slaughter and most of all to farmers, who need a solution to the problem instead of having to fork out money for something that has been shown to be ineffective. But they have been left with no choice. A species is to be wiped out in large areas of the country, using money that could instead have been used to develop a proper vaccine, and invested in research on ways to allow badgers and cattle to co-exist without threatening their mutual health. Nature takes second places to votes. Again. Protection of nature is OK so long as it doesn’t get in the way.
Lack of respect for nature seeps into every aspect of our lives: into planning regulations, business, the forestry sell-off debacle, the failure to act on neo-nicotinoid pesticides threatening our bees…the list goes on and on. Much of it is born from ignorance, but much from greed, from a lack of wishing to treat our fellow creatures with respect. And very short-sighted too. We are part of nature not above it, or isolated from it, not even if we clad ourselves in designer clothes, equip ourselves with the latest mobile phone, and drive around in the most prestigious car.
The badger culling regulations are not fair because they don’t show respect: they are unilateral, harmful (even those supporting the cull will agree they are harming relations within and between communities), have ignored the best advice available, and are ignoring very sound options for which funding has been withdrawn to pay for the cull. Lack of respect is not limited to one particular group in society, one creed, one level of the social strata, or one set of vested interests. We have seen examples recently from many walks of life: Hillsborough, the phone hacking scandal, very damaging welfare reforms for sick and disabled people, as well as those who claim benefits to which they are not entitled, criminal gangs who terrorise neighbourhoods, and who steal from and intimidate others, the paparazzi who stalk people and make their lives a misery – but the consequences of that lack of respect can be devastating when it becomes a fundamental element of those who have the power to institutionalise that lack of respect.
We respect the farmers and strongly support their desire for a solution. If need be, we will pay for our local badgers to be vaccinated, because while we don’t wish to see them culled, we also want to help in any way we can to reduce the risk that they form a reservoir of infection for local livestock. The fact is, that it is possible to respect nature, and live with it, and preserve and improve it for our children. Because if we don’t, the consequences will be catastrophic.