In 1977/8, a score and one year after my birth, a small group of Devon environmentalists formed The Dartmoor Badgers Protection League. We campaigned, lobbied Government, produced academic papers, put up posters, distributed bumper stickers, held meetings, courted media and took non-violent direct action against the teams sent out by (then) M.A.F.F. to kill the badgers. Eventually our cause was won and the Badger population was saved from the mass gassing of sets – not only in Devon but up and down the country; our fight had become a national cause and we were not surprised that most of the nation supported it.
Then, as now, Bovine Tuberculosis (BTB) was having a devastating effect on the nation’s beef industry. And then, as now, the arguments were clear; all carriers of BTB should be considered as contributing to the spread of the disease and a long-term vaccination process should be initiated as soon as possible; and that is not, and was not, a temporal misunderstanding on our part. One thing that local and national governments are supremely bad at acknowledging is the general rule that the longer-term the problem, the more urgent it is to find a solution. Much like the spacecraft that heads off 0.5 degrees off-course, small changes in initial conditions are almost insurmountable problems after a few decades have passed. Short-term problems, by contrast might need immediate action but they are, in their nature, over pretty quickly.
Having called for government to develop a suite of vaccines suitable for all carriers of BTB in 1977, we were told that such a task was impossible because it was too expensive and might have cost as much as £250,000 or even £500,000 (compare that to the billions lost by farmers since). We were told it would take too long to develop (10 years!) and too long to fully distribute (10 years!) and that, anyway, it was a long-term problem and our demands for action now were unrealistic. But, had UK plc stumped up the cash, it will have dawned on you dear reader that BTB would have been eradicated by 1997 – not just here but worldwide if we favoured technology transfer over patented competition.
Now, here we all are in 2012 and echoes of past stupidities are heard all over the countryside. But, if the opportunity-cost of inaction has been so high and if history and experience tells us what needs to be done, and if technology is more able than ever to deliver what we need, why is the current Government so intent on repeating the failed policies of the past? Perhaps it is just a matter of people in power wishing to exercise their power through a thrilling show of violence rather than by rational kindness. Why vaccinate when there’s killing to be done? Let’s not forget that the beef industry is, anyway, in the killing business – tweed jacketed shock and awe.
But, charming though they are, Badgers are not people. And this week we are reminded that it was also in 1977/8 that terrible things were happening in the Holy Land. And though far, far more is at stake there, the confluence of issues are quite demoralising. Conflicting human tribes laying claim to the same territory might, rationally, share and share alike out of human kindness. But that woeful conflict has nothing to do with rational kindness and everything to do with irrational posturing and a preference for the thrill of violence in the name of mysticism over the proper nurturing of one’s fellow humans.
So while I most sincerely advocate the initiation of a vaccination programme for badgers and cows as an urgent alternative to the violent slaughter of either or both, I hope more, infinitely more, that Israel and Palestine do the most urgent thing for their long-term prospects. An urgent and permanent ceasefire is always the best long-term prospect for peace; it doesn’t matter how long the ensuing conversations last just so long as rational kindness triumphs over violence – or are religious armies incapable of such a prospect?