The Resources of Londoners

As Londoners, we are citizens of a large trading city, with a port, an airport or two, the centre of a network of main roads, motorways and railways. When they work well we have easy convenient access to the rest of the country, elsewhere in Europe, and the rest of the world. With this easy access to the global market we can easily buy electrical goods from the Far East, tea, coffee, cocoa, citrus fruits, bananas, cane sugar and rubber from many tropical places, oil from the Middle East, Venezuela or Nigeria for transport, heating or our petrochemical industries, industrial raw materials, wine from every continent, pate and chocolates from Belgium, even blackberries from Chile in April. All these commodities enrich our lives, but we have them because of our trading arrangements.

Imagine the resources that would be available to us without any national or international trade. Suppose we think of the situation after 55 years of Queen Victoria’s reign, instead of after 55 years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. What are now outer London suburbs were then villages in rural Middlesex, Essex, Kent or Surrey, and inner London suburbs also had some rural character. Globalisation had started long before we used the word, and a lot of the comforts then were due to trade elsewhere in England for metals, and with other parts of the world for tropical foods. What we would have had then from local sources would have been temperate vegetables, dairy products, meat, a water supply, grain, beer, building materials, (clay bricks from wood-fired kilns, lime mortar, gravel and sand, timber), fodder for horses, all of which we would have to process with flint tools or with bone tools, as there was no local source of metals. A lot of competing uses for the land, and the population it could sustain would be much less than the population we have now. I would find this situation most bleak.

Metals we depend on are iron and aluminium. English deposits of iron ore have a fairly low proportion of iron, so we now import richer ores into coastal steel plants at Teeside, Scunthorpe or Welsh plants such as Port Talbot, Llanwern or Shotton, typically from ports such as Dampier in Western Australia which serves a large iron-field. Dampier is unpleasantly hot and dusty, and is one of our sources of iron ore. So as well as depending on Australia or elsewhere for the mineral we also depend on the seafarers who travel there to transport it here.

We have no local source of aluminium, and the ores we use are from Jamaica, Guyana, Ghana or elsewhere. Further, the process needs a second mineral which is only found naturally in Greenland. The process we use was discovered simultaneously by a Frenchman and an American.

What we must conclude is that our life and our comfort in London, England and Europe is heavily dependant on the outside world, our trade with it, and our cooperation with it.

The Make Poverty History conference early in 2005 reminded us that

God gives but he does not share, and concluded that sharing was our job.

The prayer which all Christians use includes:

Give us this day our daily bread,

which asks God to meet our needs for today, today. We are not asking for tomorrow or for the distant future. This universal prayer is used by all Christians, so overall it asks God to meet the needs of all humanity. In our use of God’s resources, of food as we ask in the prayer, and of water, which we also use and need, we should recognise that we need to share what we have with our fellows today.

Similarly we also need to share the industrial raw materials he has given us. We are now able to convert these into a wealth of materials and products which were not available to early man. We in London would have a very humble existence if we were restricted to what we have locally – we are taking our share and more of what there is available globally. But all of humanity has its needs, for food, water and technology - we should take serious steps to ensure that all benefit from it.

The Brandt Commission gave a definition of Sustainable Development:

Development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

In this declaration we see that we have a similar responsibility to future generations.

We thus face two challenges, to share what we have with our fellows today, and also to leave resources available for future generations. Our challenge is to use the materials and knowledge we now have to meet the needs of all of humanity today, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.