It was suggested to me recently that it would be an excellent idea to introduce a floating island onto my pond, in order to provide a platform for water voles and a haven for newts and other wildlife.
I loved the idea, and explored and researched the project to the point of being about to arrange for it to be done. I paused, however, when I saw, somewhere on the internet, that floating islands were known also as duck islands – for ducks are not (to me) very desirable in a wildlife pond: they eat amphibians and pollute water, and can destabilise the natural system badly.
The more I thought about it, the more I saw that I could, unintentionally, have been making a serious mistake, and I was thankful to have been shown this before it was too late. I have dropped the idea of a duck-attracting floating island, realising that sometimes efforts to improve what exists already can be very counter-productive, and the importance of seeing what matters in a situation before rushing to action.
This premise applies in many situations. Obesity is much in the news now, and efforts to deal with a serious social problem have included counselling, surgery, and most recently in the UK the suggestion that obese people are paid to diet. What has not been addressed is the key factor in what makes people overweight – which is the sort of food they eat. It is known that processed, sugary foods are unhealthy and fattening, and largely responsible for obesity, but nothing has been done about it by successive governments in the UK and the US, the countries where the problem is greatest, probably because of the money junk food generates for the producers and sellers.
If some of the cost of medical treatment for the obese were channelled into a determined effort to force change, of culture, attitude and practice, it would save many lives and much cost, though it would be unpopular and resisted. It need not be all bad! Chips and ready meals could available still, but without the trans fats, sugars and additives which make them so unhealthy. It can be done.
It is funny how caring for the well-being of a colony of water voles can lead to potential error and then awareness that “improving” an existing situation can be a blindness to its essence. My pond works, it is a happy home to many creatures and so maintaining its balance carefully is more important than adding to it. Conversely, programmes to help the obese have only limited success for a growing problem, the core reasons for which has been ignored. Rather than pretend it is the people not the food products which are to blame, let us speak the truth – and do something about it.