Oxfam was once a charity set up to provide famine relief. It was hard to criticise without looking a bit mean. It is now a gigantic international NGO which influences the direction of policy towards and within the developing world. Like many other organisations, it has found a new way of arming itself by capturing anxieties about climate change. Where once there were ambitions for people in the third world to enjoy Western standards of living, now the voice of the voiceless instead celebrates the primitive lifestyles that the worlds poorest people suffer.
Africa should make more use of the skills of its nomadic peoples to help combat the challenges of climate change, the aid agency Oxfam says.
There are many ways to enjoy traditional culture. But, for example, when people in the UK have finished dressing up as vikings, and anglo-saxons, or reconstructing historic battles, they go back to their (slightly embarrassed) families in warm homes that are connected to mains water and electricity, in cars, on roads, and they return to jobs on Monday mornings. Traditional ways of life should be the stuff of museums, days out, hobbies, history lessons, and slightly weird obsessive people. There is nothing good – not even ‘sustainability’ – in primitive lifestyles. Primitive lifestyles mean dead babies, short and painful lives, a near total absence of justice, hard manual labour, child labour, disease, poverty, famine. The very things Oxfam aimed to abolish, it now seems to celebrate. Such is the logic of relativism.
It can be nice, educational, and fun to visit theme-parks, or read books, and all of that stuff, especially for families. It can raise interesting questions about the development of political ideas such as ‘state’ and rights. Why, though, would anyone want to actually live that kind of life? And for all the ‘rights of indigenous people’ and ‘preserving dying cultures’ rhetoric which emerge from the likes of Oxfam, shouldn’t the important thing be the right of such people to choose whether they want to live primitive or contemporary lifestyle? If you want to live in a mud hut, away from roads, water and power, we at Climate Resistance wish you all the best, and that you enjoy your experiment. But isn’t Oxfam doing it’s own ‘cultural imperialism’ thing here, and isn’t it more than a bit colonial? We wouldn’t accept such conditions. So why should we imagine that any other human wouldn’t want what we want – homes, running water, heat, transport, job prospects? Are cultures so different?
The UN climate panel predicts Africa will be hit hard by climate change in the next century, with tens of millions facing food and water shortages as rising temperatures are exacerbated by more droughts, floods and rising sea levels.
Let us assume the UN are right. Will the lives of nomadic people be better in the face of an unpredictable climate if there are roads, irrigation, running water, hospitals and all that stuff, or without? It’s got to be easier being a nomad if you can get the bus -or, shock horror, buy a van – when you’re bored of being a nomad.
Oxfam’s legitimacy on the world stage, and its role is entirely founded on the idea of there being an excluded voiceless people and forces in society which exclude them. There is nothing wrong with campaigning for change. But Oxfam would be impotent without voiceless victims to speak for. It needs a constituency, or it is redundant. Were the lives of the poor to be transformed such that they became politically and economically powerful, under the logic of Oxfam’s climate campaign, it would need to regard them as the criminals in the picture of the world they have painted. Instead of arguing for factories, roads, infrastructure (all the things which made Western lives better) Oxfam uses climate change to create the idea of victims and culprits, in an argument for ‘sustainablity’ over development. The tragedy is that the only thing it will sustain is poverty… And Oxfam. It claims that natural disasters are happening because of Western lifestyles, when in reality, natural disasters happen because of a lack of development. Oxfam stopped being a charity when it started telling people how they ought to live, rather than campaigning for equality.