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Extra Virgin -  March 2010

Environment Human beings are a few sandwiches short of a picnic basket, there’s no doubt about it. We’re smart, sometimes brilliantly smart, but we’re really quite nuts too. A recent decision by the World Bank is a case in point, says Leonie Joubert.

The World Bank just proved it – in spite of everything we know about how we should be turning away from coal, the über-lender just gave Eskom a loan to build the largest coal-fired power plant of its kind in the world. And this in spite of the fact that renewable energy is looking cheaper by the day.

But in the same month that the WB does its thing, there’s the nuclear security summit happening in Washington. Same madness, different day: our inbuilt need to wield a bigger stick than the next guy, to keep him off our patch - propped up by the kind of technology coming from our superbly advanced brains - has produced a militaristic one-upmanship that has spawned enough nuclear armaments to turn Planet Earth to a crisp several times over.


And now, in the post-Cold War era, there are a whole lot of shady characters milling about, wanting to get their hands on some of that gasoline.

Both situations – our energy decisions and nuclear stockpiles – have within them the ability to create mutually assured destruction for life on Earth, but we just can’t seem to help ourselves. We have to keep playing with those matches.

The famous biologist Edward Wilson argues that we have a fundamental problem with time. Not the concept of time. Oh no, that’s one of the things that separates us from other species on the planet: our understanding of yesterday, today, tomorrow; even a comprehension of deep time (pause for a second to think about how old Earth is, probably 4.6 billion years old).

No, our problem with time is that we’ve evolved to plan for the immediate future – tomorrow, or next month, rather than decades into the future – which is why we’re so bad at making decisions, today, that are good for the wellbeing of our descendants in the next century. Wilson may have a point.

This brings us to the last famous quote for the day. Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We haven’t just been doing the same old thing with sticks, arrows, depleted uranium-tipped bullets and intercontinental ballistic missiles – we’re doing it with how we power the grid; how we mine the Earth’s epidermis for ore and precious metals; how we manage our ancient soils and dwindling water supplies; how we conserve (or, rather, don’t conserve) the world’s rich diversity of life.

You’d think, by now, the penny would have dropped. You’d think we’d take everything we know about ourselves and the world and decide to do things differently. Not for the World Bank, it seems.