Almost immediately, breathtakingly large donations poured in. The last time I looked, nearly a billion Euros had been pledged, mainly it seems from billionaires, for the reconstruction work. Whilst I too hope that the building will one day be restored to its former glory, I must admit to finding this eagerness to help by the super wealthy, left me feeling ever-so-slightly bemused. I am immediately reminded of the fire at Grenfell Tower, London in 2017, which took seventy-one lives. In the many months since about 27 million pounds has been raised. This money has been received from small personal donations, to help the traumatised survivors, who are mostly low-income individuals - no vast billionaire pledges seen here, it would seem! And before you think it - no, I’m not writing a rant about the hypocrisy of the wealthy. I think this is something we should all be paying our attention to - asking ourselves questions like, “what do we truly value?” and “which items in life can be labelled ‘priceless’ and why?”.
We live at a time when it is estimated that something on a scale of 150- 200 species of plant, animal, bird and insect might be becoming extinct every single day. The WWF says that nothing on this scale has happened in our planet’s history since the dinosaurs, and that unlike the causes for the previous extinctions, one species is solely responsible - namely, us! In 2018 the world’s leading climate scientists warned that there are only a dozen years left before we see irrevocable climate breakdown. The forecasts for our pollinator insects over the next hundred years, which we rely on for the food on our plates, look utterly dire. We are told by experts time and time again that fossil fuels are to blame and must remain in the ground and that we must develop renewable systems at a faster rate. In the UK we have the most backward-looking government I recall experiencing over my entire lifetime - they think fracking is a jolly good thing, and that most of the stuff to do with renewable energy and ‘green issues’ are just ‘Lefty nonsense’. They seem to think that providing bottle banks and banning free plastic bags in supermarkets is radical change. Are they serious, if so, possibly a bit Tim Nice-but-Dim, or are they simply disingenuous? I’ll let you, the reader of this blog post, decide the answer to that one.
So what are the objects we consider to be of the highest value, and which items do we meet in life and label ‘priceless’?
I’d list my baby granddaughters, my wife, my son, our family and friends; then the people in my community who I don’t know personally but who I greet on the pavement; those people who have at times materialised as if from nowhere to lend a hand in a time of need. I guess the same list would apply to just about every person in the world, I expect we all have someone we love and friends we like. Most of us just want to be happy and enjoy our lives with our friends and families. Yet we seem to suffer from collective amnesia when it comes to climate breakdown and the ticking clock - just eleven years left! We mourn the destruction of a great cathedral but what about the cathedral that is nature? Shouldn’t we be in mourning for the creatures and plants that become extinct each day? Notre Dame can be repaired after just a few decades, but the world we’re leaving for our children and their children will take our planet several million years to recover from.
I told someone recently that I was considering adopting a plant-based diet as part of a (small) personal contribution to the fight against climate change. Their reply shocked me. They said that as they had no children or grandchildren they saw no reason to amend their behaviour in any way. Whilst I’m sure that person is not unique for holding such views, I sincerely hope they are not shared by the majority, if so, then Eckhart Tolle is right when he declares in The Power of Now that the human race is suffering from mass insanity.
I am glad that Notre Dame will be rebuilt, it is a wonderful sight to behold, and Paris just wouldn’t be the same without it, but at the end of the day, it is just a beautiful building. Let's spare a thought for the miracle that is the great barrier reef and its coral eco-system dying because of pollution, or the rain forest being systematically destroyed for logging, soya and palm oil. I’d say that the unpolluted earth, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the people, plants, birds, fish and animals that populate it are our most priceless assets. As a species we seem to get confused over and over again about the difference between cost and value.