Thursday, August 11, 2005

21st century mustelid


Taking a break from writing an article on practical approaches to climate change for New Humanist editor Caspar Melville, and trying to decide whether or not to allocate time to read Richard Haass's The Opportunity, I took a copy of Brian Urquhart's review to read beside the river yesterday.

Urquhart seems to like the book, but points to what sounds like its most important lacuna:

"One gets little sense...of the problems posed by the social and political forces in the country [the US] whose policies he wants to change."

"Some of the issues Haass addresses are of decisive importance to the future of the human race", writes Urquhart. "They will require solutions far more drastic and imaginative than anything that can be agreed on at present".

The challenge is at least as great as that faced after World War Two. Poignantly, Urquhart (who is a former UN Undersecretary General) reflects on the extraordinary vision and determination of the generation that created the United Nations:

"As an ex-military, newly recurited member of the UN Secretariat, I well remember the righteous wrath that the least breath of skepticism about achieving [an end to armed conflict] aroused among the members of the early US delegations ot the UN, which included such people as Eleanor Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson."

The contrast to the present leadership is almost too horrible to contemplate - but not quite.

So why the picture of a stoat? Well, lost in thought about just what it would take for this and future generations to rise to the challenges Haass and Urquhart identify, I suddenly realised there was a rustling in the undegrowth less than two yards from where I was sitting. Out popped a stoat. It ran right up - wonderful nimble movement - and stared at me. Only when I moved my upper body did the animal hop away again. And even then it came back for a second look.

So, at the grand old age of 42, I finally got to see this beautiful animal in the "wild" (well, the Oxford tow path). It cheered me up.

(The photo, by the way, comes from a site at the University of York that is supported by ExxonMobil and the Chemical Industries Education Centre!).

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