Pippa Passes: Earth Day, The Galapagos, the Military Build-up in the Pacific, Premios Verdes and White Space
It’s Earth Day. I write from The Galapagos, the Mecca of Biodiversity. Here, near the Equator, an hour and a half by plane to the West of Ecuador, a storm of forces bear down on these islands. There is no potable water here, so plastic bottles are essential and everywhere. Apparently, there are companies here that can provide clean water and sewage treatment, but “there is a political problem.” As a result, plastic bottles abound around town, and sewage is dumped straight into the sea. This is common among island nations around the world. Nobody can scale a sewage solution for them so far. People understand “no fins, no future,” and yet the guardians of this place, some 30,000 locals, get little support. They resent the fact that international donors are endlessly committee support the turtles and other creatures but are unconcerned about humans.
The Galapagueños suffer from some of the highest rates of diabetes in the world because there’s virtually no farming here. The place reminds me of Nepal where the locals at the highest altitudes also live mainly on processed sugary products like biscuits, crackers, and cookies. In both places, this gives rise to nutrition-related illnesses. Few Galapagueños can swim, so the guardians of this extraordinary place feel little connection to the ocean. As it stands, the belief abounds that there is time to clean the mecca of biodiversity, and someone else will fix it even as the archipelago continues on a pathway to self-destruction. There is good news. The day I arrived was the day Starlink went live here. Suddenly, these islanders can properly access the net without absurd delays or bandwidth constraints. That’s a start. There is also bad news. China and Russia now view Starlink as a military opponent. China has just announced its intention to build its own competitor mega constellation of comms satellites, but theirs will be armed and tasked with disarming and destroying Starlink satellites. Space wars will affect those who depend most on internet connectivity. The ongoing attacks on the world’s main subsea internet cables reflect this strategic understanding.
I’m here as an Advisory Board Member of Premios Verdes, which has been awarding the Green Oscars for the last eight years. They focus on clean tech start-ups and have over 20,000 start-ups in the stable. Some are very small and will never be more than a local business. Some are competitive with the best American start-ups. I was grateful for the Starlink wifi and was able to broadcast to a British Ministry of Defence Conference on Innovation and Creativity thanks to their partner, White Space. White Space refers not only to the white space on a page where there is room to write notes between the words, the graphics, and the visual content. As Real Clear Defence wrote, “White space refers to the time needed to process and ponder information, not just read the required material for the day.” I used a little of the white space I had this week to ponder the sharpness of the contrast between the Premios Verdes eco-warriors who are trying to save the Earth through regenerative and sustainable tech and business practices and the military leaders who are being tasked to prepare for a superpower war that could necessarily involve firepower that is deeply destructive to the Earth. As it stands, the belief abounds that there is time to avoid a superpower conflict, and someone else will fix it even as the military build-up continues.
Lest you think I am exaggerating, take note of what America’s most senior military commanders said this week. General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, "There's a really an underreported arms race going on in the western Pacific right now. These countries are arming themselves up, and they very much, with very few exceptions, want the United States there”. The US is also arming itself, of course. The Commander of the Indo-Pacific Fleet, Admiral John Aquilino, pleaded for his colleagues to stop guessing when this next war would begin. Instead, he tried to remind everybody that deterrence is all about preventing war and that’s where the focus should remain. Yes, you have to be ready to fight and win (whatever that means in a nuclear world) but the main this is to make it hard or impossible for the other side to commence a war.
Deterrence has long been forgotten by the old and never considered by the young. As the peace dividend unravels, we are going to find ourselves in an argument about what deterrence is and should be. For some it means making the risk of nuclear annihilation so high that nobody dares trigger a conflict. It means nuclear escalation. For others, nuclear weapons prevent superpower wars but this just pushes war into 3rd countries, proxies, where the conflicting parties are backed by superpowers (think Ukraine, Sudan, The Sahel conflicts, the organized crime battle for Ecuador and other Latin American locations). These conflicts rely on less sophisticated but still highly …