Threats To Our Common Interest

24th July 2022 |

Marabou stalks in Tanzania’s Mikumi Nature Reserve

Marabou stalks in Tanzania’s Mikumi Nature Reserve

Forty-eight years ago, when I was riding through Tanzania on my way to Mbeya, I came across an elephant. *


“It stood a little way back from the road and facing me, arrested in the act of chewing a trunk-load of grass. The grass stuck out on either side of its mouth behind the trunk, like a cat’s whiskers, giving it an undignified and rather lugubrious look. We stared at each other for a while. Then I got the definite feeling that it was fed up with me and planning to do something about it. I kicked over the engine and rode on.”

“Farther along a small troop of zebras also stood grazing and again I stopped. All stood still as statues, heads turned to face me from whatever position they had been in. Their small, round ears strained upwards and seemed to tremble with the effort to pick up any slightest signal. Their markings were immaculate, as if freshly painted on with immense care. All wild animals gave this impression of sharpness and clarity that was new to me, and I began to remember zoo animals as having lost this edge and looking faded and grubby by comparison.”

“Nothing ever enchanted me so much as coming across wild animals. I thought often how human society had impoverished itself by driving this element out of its life. In Africa I began to see the human race, sometimes, as a cancerous growth so far out of equilibrium with its host, the earth, that it would inevitably bring about the destruction of both.”


Well, we’ve gone a lot farther down that road since then. I’m writing from one of those heat waves which are soon likely to become another word for summer. I shall leave this world long before the worst of it but how dismal to see it coming. Are any of you from West Virginia? Can’t you recall Joe Manchin? Is there anyone in Moscow? Can’t you plant a bomb under Putin? We’ve got rid of Boris, but not in a very useful way. If only my pen were really mightier than a sword. If only I were mighty enough to wield it.

So far life is still manageable. I rode my new MP3 a few hundred miles recently, just as the heat was coming on. I rode past grand vistas of green grassland and newly verdant vines, and plunged into aromatic forests of evergreens. It’s a 500cc machine and it gobbled up the miles with ease. So I still get these ideas . . .

Africa may be a bit too far for me now. Anyway, the second time I went, there were no elephants on the road. But the first time will always be an explosive experience.

I have to assume that if you are reading these words you have an interest in travel, probably by motorcycle, and that you are curious about those parts of the world you haven’t experienced. Even though the abundance of images from everywhere today can give the illusion of being there, you know that it is an illusion. You need to be there to know it and, more importantly, to know how you personally respond to it. Adventure travel, after all, just means getting out of your comfort zone and finding out what happens.

So, of course you would want the world, as it is, to survive, and you would want travel to be possible and unhindered by wars and dictators.

This is my clumsy way of establishing what it is that you and I have in common, regardless of age, nationality, politics, religion and gender: and I want to say that what we have in common is vastly more important than those other things. So, what are the biggest threats to our common interest? Well, I would say, first and foremost, climate change. Apart from making “normal” life abnormally uncomfortable, it will create dangerous, chaotic conditions in the most interesting parts of the world, like Africa and Asia – travel will become difficult and downright dangerous, but not in a very interesting way.

What is puzzling, and extremely aggravating, is that American voters, who have the power to turn the tide, are so concerned about their current discomfort that they are shutting the door on measures that must be taken now to avoid a dystopian future. Do they feel helpless? Why is the only charismatic leader around determined to make a bonfire of the environment?

I reckon I may be talking to a couple of thousand people who feel as I do. I keep coming back to it, I know, but are we helpless too?


* Jupiter’s Travels: P 153