The Worst Week Ever

There’s little scope for freedom of expression in writing about development. By which I mean that many of the low arts of journalism must be kept safely under lock and key.

Here’s how my local paper took quiet revenge on all those attention-grabbing stories from the ruins of Haiti:

Winchester firefighters rescued a man who got his head stuck under floorboards whilst looking for a dead rat

Dressing up the absurd in mock formality would not do in our field, despite the close association between poverty and desperate ingenuity. As for irony – however understated – just don’t go there.

Unless of course you are Jane Bussman, she of the mad dash from tinseltown to northern Uganda in romantic pursuit of a senior peacemaker with long hair, who suffers his comeuppance in her book title The Worst Date Ever.

She gets away with this sort of thing, (and much worse which cannot be reproduced in this respectable environment):

There were white people dotted everywhere; purposeful white people in khaki, driving purposeful white Toyota Land Cruisers, the standard-issue vehicle for Useful People. I was awestruck by how the Useful People had landed and got to work…

Choice of language has been on my mind since the strangulated response of poor John Kerry to last week’s traumatic loss of Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat for the Democrats.

Kerry faced the double misfortune of being the “other” Senator for Massachusetts and co-sponsor of the US climate change bill, now a big chunk of Obama’s broken crockery. He just couldn’t bring himself to speak the C-word:

The political atmosphere doesn’t reduce the urgency of dealing with pollution and energy, and the surest way to increase the anger at Washington is to duck the issues that matter in peoples’ lives. There’s overwhelming public support and this can be a bipartisan issue.

I was reminded of the more congenial circumstances of a climate change conference in Winchester a couple of months ago. I haven’t seen a transcript of the excellent presentation by Peter Lipman, policy director at Sustrans, but I’m pretty sure that he spoke for fifteen minutes without mentioning the words at the top of our programme.

Is this the strategy to repair our failure in climate change campaigning? I doubt it very much. The ozone layer would not have been saved by the Montreal Protocol without explicit use of the O-word.

But every potential approach must remain on the table after this awful week. Apart from Obama’s humiliation, the so-called Copenhagen Accord fell at the first fence. The January deadline for quantified national commitments to emissions reductions was not so much postponed as erased. And the IPCC scientists continue their close acquaintance with banana skins.

Perhaps we should send Jane Bussman back to Uganda. She could take a look at the level of Lake Victoria, then the impact of temperature change on coffee plantations and finally how the glaciers of the Rwenzoris are retreating in parallel with the advance to higher ground of malaria mosquitos.

Then try to make it all sound amusing.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK