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Licking the earth.

When I was a child, I was taught that attaining eternal salvation was Job One. Nowadays children are taught that saving the earth should be their main focus.

So, no surprise then that rather than attending church on Sundays, saying their prayers, and finding ways to live more selflessly, today's children devote their considerable energies to recycling, worrying about the planet and 'building self-esteem'.

In forty years, the meaning of life has been turned on its head. Pantheistic religions notwithstanding, for the millennia that preceded this inversion, the Judeo-Christian belief was that the earth was made for man, not man for the earth.

Never was this inversion as pronounced as at the recent Earth Summit in Johannesburg where thousands of activists and politicians gathered to bow down to the earth which, they hope, will reward them for their high-profile slavering. George W. Bush, God bless him, refused to attend. But President Robert Mugabe, who has recently pushed his country, Zimbabwe, into famine (another Ethiopia in the making), was front and centre for the champagne and lobster fest aimed at ending world hunger.

Indeed, the head chef of the swank hotel hosting the Summit pilgrims boasted of the mountains of food laid on for the event. "Money is no object," said Desmond Morgan, head chef of Johannesburg's five-star Michelangelo Hotel, where world leaders and other VIP delegates stayed for the 'save the planet' gathering. Morgan told how he had stocked up an extraordinary array of delicacies and fine wines--including 5,000 oysters, 1,000 lbs of lobster, buckets of caviar and pate d foie gras, 4,400 lbs of filet steak and chicken breasts--to insure his guests would want for nothing.

The $50-million summit--aimed at combating hunger, poverty and pollution--was centred around Sandton, the most exclusive suburb in all of Africa, with streets lined with expensive restaurants, gated villas and gleaming shopping malls. Yet nearby, families scratch a desperate existence in the sprawling shanty town of Alexandra, living in corrugated shacks. Here, hungry children play among piles of garbage and line up for water at standpipes, while their parents earn less per week than the price of a single bottle of brandy at the Michelangelo Hotel.

During the week that saw Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and British Prime Minister Tony Blair address 30,000 summit delegates from 182 countries, 80,000 bottles of mineral water were drunk, while an estimated 6,000 African children were dying daily from diseases caused by contaminated water. What's more, it is estimated that since the last Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992, the number of Africans living in poverty has soared from 220 million to 300 million.

A few environmentalists were disgusted by the spectacle. "It is to be deplored, especially as politicians are scrabbling to do nothing about the problems of environment degradation and poverty," lamented Friends of the Earth spokesman Mike Childs. "They are living it up while not taking action for the millions around the world who will die because of inaction." British Tory MP Teddy Taylor also dismissed the summit as absurd. "The whole thing makes me feel sick," he said. "When you think about the starving people in the world and then see this sort of lavish display, it just isn't right. I'm sure nothing will be achieved at the meeting except for photo opportunities allowing politicians to say how great they are."

Louis XIV's Versailles comes to mind. So do the Pharisees of the New Testament whose message is always the same: "Only we enlightened ones understand the current danger and you, poor idiots, can only achieve salvation by following our teaching."

Never mind that their science is shoddy at best and completely wrong at worst. Never mind that not a single delegate or activist has the power to create or control a single minute of a sunny day, let alone defuse a hurricane. Suffice it to say I find their religion not just false but preposterous.

Nowhere in this secular jamboree was God--the maker of the heavens and the earth--mentioned. Nowhere was His absolute authority invoked. Nowhere were His goodness and mercy beseeched. Here for the world to see was yet another example of man attempting to solve his problems without his Almighty Creator. All such ventures are doomed. Naturally. You would have to laugh, if it weren't so pathetic. I mean, how likely is it that a conference delegate--finding himself stricken with a heart attack during a major speech and knowing he's about to meet his Maker--would implore his audience to commit their lives to sustainable development? To give all they had to Save the Earth? And then, dying, commend his spirit to Gaia?

Paula Adamick is our London, England columnist. Her column appears five times a year.
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Title Annotation:United Nations Earth Sumit
Author:Adamick, Paula
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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