Mozart and the Desert
01 February 2006

I looked up '2006 year of' on the internet and discovered that, according to various authorities, this is the Year of Deserts and Desertification, of Rembrandt (born in 1606) and of Mozart (born in 1756). It is also the European Year of Workers' Mobility, but we won't go into that now.

I quite like the juxtaposition of desertification, one of the great environmental challenges threatening humanity today, with a great painter and a great composer. It counterbalances the destruction we are wreaking on the planet with the power of art and music to stir and inspire; the ravages of materialism with the creativity of the spiritual. Is it going too far to suggest that there is a link between the spiritual deserts of the West and the physical deserts of the South?

The world loses 240 billion tons of fertile soil every year, as overuse, drought and deforestation turn farming and grazing land into desert. Worldwide 250 million people are directly affected. Desertification both causes poverty and feeds on it, because the poor can rarely afford to think for tomorrow. It is also linked to overconsumption by the rich, as pollution changes the climate and international trade barriers hamper development.

For a Change believes in individuals' power to make a difference - by campaigning, yes, but also by the everyday choices they make. The environment is surprisingly susceptible to this approach: visit the internet and discover how many planets we would need if everyone lived the way you do (2.9 in my case).

Lifestyle choices are important, and life choices even more so. During a recent tour of the UK, Prof Rajmohan Gandhi (see p16) challenged Oxford students to factor the needs of the world into their decision making. 'What questions or needs agitate under your skins, what issues nag at your souls, I do not quite know,' he said. 'What I do know is that... a decision to follow one's deepest and highest calling - to do God's will rather than one's own - is a career option.'

Such choices - by all ages - are vital, if we are to beat back the deserts of our world, both physical and spiritual.
Mary Lean