Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Slash and Burn

There is here in Peru, and in many developing countries, a strong tendency to burn things. When that comes to rubbish in the streets or toxic chemicals that is a bad thing.

Giles Crosse

Then again, in the EU incineration of rubbish is one of the largest forms of waste disposal. This of course does not make it right or necessarily good, but it does illustrate that these approaches are not confined to shanty towns or barrios. They are also used, invested in and supported by some of the richest governments in the West.

Of course, burning in agriculture to clear land is also a widely used and debated approach.
There is perhaps insufficient space in these pages to enter into the scientific and environmental arguments behind these points. They are complex and even experts in the subject fail to reach consensus.

More interesting is the ethos behind burning things.

Without using scientific arguments, it seems plain that allowing a field to lie fallow ought to enable a greater
quantity of goodness to return to the soil than rushing to send the vast majority of this into the heavens in smoke and fumes.

Equally, if we create something so virulent that we need to burn it to find a way to get rid of it, then perhaps it might have been wiser, certainly in terms of waste disposal, to have opted for a less harmful product in the first place.

But burning can also cleanse and destroy viruses. Viewed without emotion, it is little more than a process which converts one form of energy and material into another.

I do not condone incineration of rubbish nor the destruction of vast swathes of rainforest through burning.

Yet perhaps even more worrying is the mindset that burning belies. It speaks of a short termism, a lack of vision and a desire to sweep our mistakes under the carpet. It is often a violent, destructive process.
Maybe burning things isn’t the problem, it’s why we allow ourselves to do it in the first place.

Giles Crosse 

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