Trawling the web looking for references to Stephen Emmott’s play “Ten Billion”, I came upon this:
in which New York artist Laurie Anderson interviews Barbara Crossette, who is the author of the UNFPA reports on population for 2010 and 2011 which can be found at http://www.unfpa.org/public/home/publications/pid/6801
Barbara is not the author of the 2012 report, but she’s 73, and no doubt has earned her retirement.
UNFPA is the United Nations Population Fund. Their 2011 report explained their mission thus:
“UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.”
The 2012 report cuts back seriously on the organisation’s pretensions, saying simply:
“Delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.”
One wonders how many committee meetings it took to rewrite that sentence, hidden away on the back page of a report by an obscure UN organisation.
In 2010 Ms Crossette was sole author of the report. In 2011 she had as co-author her editor, UN employee Richard Kollodge. In 2012 Kollodge is back to being a simple editor, but there are three co-authors, none as prominent as Ms Crossette, who wrote for the New York Times for twenty years, has written several books, and, according to Wikipaedia: “has been accused of prejudice against India, describing it as a ‘rogue nation’ and .. as ‘pious,’ ‘craving,’ ‘petulant,’ and ‘intransigent’.”
My problem is not with Ms Crossette’s personal views. She’s a professional writer, (she’s written a book about The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas) and is entitled to her opinions.
My problem is with the use which may be made of them when they appear in an official UN report which is then quoted by journalists as some kind of source of infallible truth. For example, Paul Harris in The Observer (22 October, 2011):
“Nearly 7 billion people now inhabit planet, but projections that number will double this century have shocked academics ….The new figure is contained in a landmark study by the United Nations Population Fund (Unfpa) that will be released this week…”
and Stuart Dredge in the Guardian (23 November, 2011):
“According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the number of people older than 60 … is expected to increase to 2 billion by 2050.”
The UNFPA reports make it quite clear that they are not experts in demography but, just like you and me, they rely for their statistics on the United Nations Population Division. Yet here they are being quoted as authorative sources of information.
Just a while ago I was criticising the WWF for starting its indoctrination course for young green cadres in the UKYCC by making them memorise the acronyms of UN organisations, before going on to explain the meaning of such really complex concepts as “anthropogenic global warming”. How wrong I was! ROTFWWF*.
*Roll On The Floor Weeping With Fear
Laurie Anderson, the Interviewer in this post, is a big name in the New York art world, and the CreativeTimeReports blog, though it’s only been going for less than a year, is an ambitious affair, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and Bloomberg Philanthropies, among others.
They say this about themselves:
“Creative Time Reports is a dynamic multimedia website featuring artists around the world actively engaging in and commenting on the most pressing issues of our time. Asserting that culture and the free exchange of ideas are at the core of a vibrant democracy, Creative Time Reports aims to publish dispatches that speak truth to power and upend traditional takes on critical issues. We believe that artists are uniquely capable of inspiring and encouraging a more engaged and informed public, whether they are addressing elections or climate change, censorship or immigration, protest movements or politically motivated violence”.
“Speaking truth to power” and “upending traditional takes” on “critical issues like climate change” sounds good. They have a large number of posts, from Haiti, Iran, Columbia and Israel, among other places. I’m all in favour of art, and of artists taking an interest in the world around them, so I knocked off a comment on Laurie Anderson’s article and started to look around their site.
Alas, the arts blogosphere seems to be exactly like the science blogosphere or the green activist blogosphere – all Chiefs and no Indians; all posts and no comments (at least on blogs which receive funding from hugely powerful public and private organisations – see my past comments on UKYCC and NESTA).
Five articles on Israel, Palestine and Iran on a well-funded blogssite run by New York intellectuals, without provoking a single comment! That must be some kind of record.
The only other comment I found, apart from mine, was on an article entitled “War and Peace: Between Bombs and Potatoes in Colombia,” where someone wrote in to complain that there was no mention of potatoes in the article – a fair point, I thought.
I scanned all 68 articles and found just one on climate change, at
which is a video of Nick Drake on the Cape Farewell voyage to Spitzbergen reading his poem about global warming against a backdrop of pretty melting glaciers. This was the trip which inspired Ian McEwan’s dreadful novel “Solar”.
Activists in the future won’t know what a Greenpeace-sponsored trip to the Arctic looks like.
To be fair, Nick Drake’s Arctic poetry reading wasn’t just financed by Greenpeace (i.e. the European Union taxpayer) but also by the Arts Council (i.e. the British taxpayer) the British Council (ditto) the Southbank Centre (“) ..
[I sound like the typical far right climate denialist sounding off about my precious taxes being used to fund artsy-fartsy lefty projects don’t I? Well, at this point I tried to establish who was funding Barbican, who are one of the official sponsors of Cape Farewell, and it’s not that easy. I imagined that Barbican, being the name of a part of London centred (centered) around a Greater London Council estate (housing project) might be in receipt of government (taxpayer) money too. But as far as one can determine, it’s funded by personal donations fromSir Filthy Lucre and the Lord Thingy Foundation. So that’s alright then.]
Barbican is just one of 51 sponsors of Cape Farewell, who include Toshiba (who are not financed by the British taxpayer) and the Royal Navy, who are. (Or are they? Maybe Toshiba sponsors the Royal Navy these days, in exchange for British support for Japan in their dispute with China over the Senkaku / Diaoyu islands? Who knows?)
But anyway, to get back to the Rockefeller-financed New York-based artistic website which aims to speak truth to power, and is giving space to British poet Nick Drake and his lament for the melting glaciers based on his Greenpeace-organised Arctic holiday partly financed by the Royal Navy:
In his poem he mentions Brueghel’s painting “Winter: Return from the Hunt”, which just happens to play a central role in Michael Frayn’s novel “Headlong” which happens to be one of the two modern British novels I’ve read recently, the other one being Ian McEwan’s “Solar”, which contains a long episode based on his experience on the same “Cape Farewell” voyage which inspired Nick Drake’s poem.
Both novels are about loss: in Frayn’s “Headlong”, the loss of a priceless painting; in McEwan’s “Solar”, the loss of the planet due to man-made global warming. In both cases, a central theme is male infidelity (or the threat of it) and the danger it represents. In one case, it results in the loss of a precious relic of European civilisation; in the other, it threatens the future of civilisation itself.
Guilt about sexual freedom and the moral burden it imposes expresses itself in terms of the danger it represents to the survival, in one case of a precious work of art, in the other, of the human race.
I’ve long been wondering whether the current obsession with the rape of the planet and the catastrophic effects of sexual activity in the third world isn’t an expression of a certain frustration among the educated chattering classes in the West, possibly linked to a fear of AIDS and the consequent limitation of pleasure it has engendered. [You think I’m exaggerating? See a recent comment in the oh-so-civilised Guardian that the citizens of Bangladesh should “stop bonking.”]
Barbara Crossette seems a very decent woman, give or take a certain prejudice against India, which is the world’s largest democracy, but where the rights of women probably don’t come up to the standards demanded by a New York feminist. She isn’t concerned with abstract musings such as mine, but with the everyday sufferings of women in countries like Ethiopia, where the future population increase which is causing so much anguish among Western intellectuals (and writers of UN reports) is going to happen.
But the world is a funny place, in some ways smaller than we think. Catastrophists love to ponder the way a butterfly flapping it’s wings in the Amazon forest can cause an American President to promise to bring down global temperatures, or something. Perhaps its not so fanciful to imagine that a generation brought up to believe that risk-free sex is a natural human right might react to the AIDS epidemic by projecting their perfectly sensible worries about their personal health on to the planet in general, and in particularly on it’s hottest parts, on the danger of increasing heat, and on heat in general.
And I mean on heat.
[These UN documents are deadly serious, and to tell the truth, rather boring. Which is why I was intrigued by this footnote to the 2011 report:
“Total population calculated by adding male and female totals. Totals may not add up due to rounding.”]
Nothing adds up in our complex society. Perhaps it’s all due to rounding.