Saving threatened habitats worldwide

The Reith Lectures by Niall Fergusson

9 July, 2012 - 16:07 -- John Burton

The Reith Lectures by Niall Fergusson, Professor of History at Harvard University, were this year particularly relevant to the World Land Trust (WLT) and the way it works.

The first lecture, The Rule of Law – The Human Hive, postulated that the reason western civilisation developed faster than the rest of the world during the past 500 years was primarily because there was a background of a rich and vibrant civil society. This, in my opinion, reinforces the fact that developing strong NGO partners along with WLT's programme of land acquisition is a key to long-term stability. You can find out more about WLT’s mission and ethos on our website or listen to The Reith Lectures on BBC Radio 4.

The second lecture was The Darwinian Economy; I have not read it yet but I gather it deals with the banking crisis. According to Neil Williams, WLT’s Carbon Programme Officer who looks after some of our Ecosystem Services projects, it is also relevant to biodiversity conservation.

I hope some of my readers have time to either read or listen to these lectures. Let me know what you think in the comments box below.


Submitted by Dominic Belfield on

John, I do sincerely hope your enthusiasm for Fergusson is tempered by a fulsome dose of some fortified scepticism.

Because - is it just me - or do others find our Niall insufferably smug? The sheer power of the odour of arrogance emanating from his assertions makes me reach for the expletives (especially at the question time, when he airily dismissed so many questioners who dared to point out some of his many shortcomings). Maybe it's just my problem, then.

But please, always, always, ALWAYS be wary of economists/ right-wing historians who purloin Darwin and biological "examples" to prove their ideas. When examined closely, nature relatively (if ever) gets a word in edgeways in the rush for selfish genes and the triumph of the "fittest" i.e. Those with Gattling guns and prepared to use them.

Because Fergusson loftily overlooks the violent, coercive nature of the imperial project of 'our glory days'; I mean, we built those railways in India specifically to endow the independent nation state after they threw us out, didn't we? It was not like we put in all that infrastructure the better to hoik out all those lovely natural resources (timber, coal, diamonds, gold, oil etc)
And those spiffing private schools he drools over - they wouldn't be the same ones who enjoy a public subsidy by being classed as a "charity", would they? Would they be so successful if they had to pay taxes like other businesses?

And the plastics on the beach which so exercise his concern for the environment - clearly he's never heard of the Marine Conservation Society (note the 'Society' bit) and their regular, organised beach cleans over the last 20 odd years. No, we according to learned professor, have to rely on an AMERICAN charity form Chicago to see us right, don't we? While it also seems to have escaped his attention that plastics (in the form of common rubbish) simply did not exist 60 - 50 years ago when he believes we lived in a state of grace becoming to our premier position on the world stage.

Me, I'm grateful and proud of the welfare state where it organises a National Health System, however flawed, and sees that the poorest do not have to grovel for scraps from what little charity was available from massively wealthy churches or nobbs. When it comes to scroungers, who are the REAL ones? The general tax-paying public, or the superrich, fittest-of-the-fit investment bankers who need the state to bail them out when they screw up ?

Niall Fergusson would, I know, have a ready answer. Tendentious - but ready.

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