My thoughts this week have been dominated by two issues, one good, one bad. Let's start with the bad.
According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) if female genital mutilation (FGM) continues at the current rates, around 68 million girls will undergo the barbaric procedure between 2015 and 2030. Bad news for UNPFA, whose collective pledge was to end FGM by 2030. Currently more than 200 million women live with FGM. The UNFPA admitted that these figures show just how far they have to go to eliminate the practice.
I wrote about this issue many years ago for SR. It included the following paragraph: 'Every day in many countries of the world girls between the age of five and 12 years old will be having their legs held apart by an elderly female relative. A surgical implement of some sort is then used to cut off their inner labia and clitoris. The wound and most of the vagina is then sewn up, and their legs then tied together to prevent them from moving, thus facilitating the formation of scar tissue. When the girls get married, their stitched vagina lets the husband know that they are still virgins. It is the husband's job to enlarge her vagina, usually over a period of weeks. Sometimes midwives have to assist in this process. To give birth the girls need to be cut open, only to be sewn back up again.'
At the time, I wrote that FGM is common in 26 of 43 African countries, but it is most prevalent in the Middle East, parts of Asia, India, Indonesia and Malaysia. Not our problem then? You would have thought so, but no. It is practised right here in Glasgow despite the fact that since 2003 it has been illegal in the UK to take girls abroad to be 'cut'.
Campaigners in Glasgow have tried to raise awareness of this illegal practice. Although their voices are not heard loudly enough, the City Council held an event on zero tolerance of FGM in the city chambers to listen to horrific stories, and to discuss how to make girls and women aware of their rights. A friend of mine said the details, particularly from midwives, were harrowing.
An appalling irony is that creeping 'medicalisation' of the procedure is partly responsible for the increased numbers. It is a lucrative business for unscrupulous doctors and the practice as outlined above is less traumatising and will salve the conscience of some. But the aftermath, as witnessed by midwives, tells a different story.
FGM is child abuse and a feminist issue (whatever that means these days). The practice must be loudly, clearly and universally condemned instead of receiving a shrug in the name of a grotesque moral relativism. The law in this country at least, must be enforced. Can I suggest prosecutions for 'historic' FGM? I won't hold my breath.
In a desperate attempt to avoid depressing Brexit and Trump news, and to avoid the feeling of hopelessness in the face of it, I have taken to reading obscure articles on subjects I know little about. I came across a rather exciting announcement this week in Joule, a journal devoted to research on sustainable energy. A Canadian company, Carbon Engineering, has announced that it has developed a technology that lowers the cost of direct air extraction of CO2 from about $600 to $100. This is great news in itself, since there seems to be no sign that anyone is willing to pay anything more than lip service to the idea of reducing emissions to curb climate change.
Sure, we all dump on Trump, rightly, for scuppering the Paris accord; but how many of us have given up our cars, our flights, air conditioning units and the rest? And since the renewables industry, while making great strides, will always be at the mercy of vagaries of sun and wind, this new technology appears to make it possible to continue to use fossil fuels without damaging the environment. Even better, the CO2 removed from the atmosphere can be used either as fertiliser (high CO2 levels are actually rather good for plants) or as a basic ingredient of a carbon neutral synthetic fuel. Talk about taking lemons and making lemonade.
This news will not be welcomed in certain circles. On ideological grounds many would prefer that we renounce our use of fossil fuels entirely, rather than seek to mitigate the consequences of our dependence on them. But since we in the West are clearly unwilling to give up our current lifestyle, and since developing countries understandably want to match the standard of living we currently enjoy, it is probably best that we choose to celebrate another feature of human nature rather than dwell on our collective moral shortcomings.
Human ingenuity and capacity for innovation has repeatedly saved the human race, and this piece of research might be the most important example of our ability to learn enough about how the world works to solve its problems. And it's not just us humans that benefit. Don't forget that the initial shift to fossil fuels meant that we no longer relied on whale oil to light our lamps and run our engines. (Remember 'Moby Dick'?) That was a great boon to us all, and the whales have survived as a species – for now.