it was a catastrophe. No amount of spin by world leaders and would-be world leaders is going to change that.
They are thinking big instead of thinking small. They want to make grand gestures instead of small movements. They are looking at the big picture without understanding how it was put together. They think they can see the forest but they cannot even see the individual trees.
Even many of the most well meaning activists and 'green' lobby groups are starting at the wrong end. They want, quite understandably, to make a big difference.
It does not work like that. It has never worked like that and it never will. If we want to make a difference we have to start small and grow big.
If we want to make a difference we will plant trees, grow some of our own food, walk or ride a bike when the distance allows it and catch public transport when it does not. We will recycle all we can. We will build houses that suit the environment in which we live and reduce our dependency on heating and cooling. We will put on another layer of warmth in winter instead of turning on the heater. We will wear natural, renewable fibres and recycle the water they are washed in.
When we want to provide aid to others we will listen to what they need. We will not do the job for them but allow them to get on with the job for themselves having provided the right tools for them to do the job. We will not feed them but help them feed themselves.
It sounds good and it will not happen. It will not happen because our own economies are dependent on luxuries like the car and our belief that we should be able to eat whatever food we choose at any time of the year, not merely when it is in season. We believe it is our right to flick a switch for instant energy. We believe we cannot live without television, microwaves, refrigerators, entertainment systems and - dare I say it? - the computer. We want things, if not immediately, as soon as possible so they are flown in from other parts of the globe.
No government of a 'developed' economy is going to put any of that at risk. They know that, if they did, they would lose government. They will continue to talk big and they will appear to look at compromise. They will do nothing. The United Nations will do nothing because it can do nothing. It could have done something if it had been prepared to start small and grow.
I know this. I never expected or even wanted International Literacy Year to teach everyone to read. That was not possible or even desirable. What was possible was the setting up of thousands of small projects that made a local difference and that could go on making a difference. That is what happened. The smallest thing provided that year had to be "a little machine for making the pencil thin" or a pencil sharpener for a child in Burkina Faso. That same child is now teaching mathematics to adult students. There was the "book-boat" which serves as a mobile library along a stretch of river. The librarian was one of the first children to borrow from it and borrowing has increased to more than forty times the original figure. There is the craft cooperative for the disabled where they now do their own bookkeeping because literacy is also taught. There is the mobile school which serves three remote villages and provides for adults as well as children. With the rise in literacy there has been a rise in health and overall living standards.
They were small projects and they made a difference. We need to work from the inside out, not the outside in.