What have wooden handrails on a river bridge near my house and beneath the Royal Festival Hall got in common, apart from the fact that they are overlooking the Thames? Answer: they are both relatively new, made from inappropriate species and as a result are decomposing prematurely. Why? Almost certainly because the timber used was specified primarily on political and environmental criteria, without technical considerations.
Years ago a Local Authority works manager wouldn't have thought twice about proposing to use Burmese Teak; a wonderful outdoor species which nearly lasts forever. But today, Burmese Teak can't be used because understandably, we find it politically unacceptable to use timber from a country run by despicable military tyrants.
Waste is the inevitable outcome and the environment suffers doubly from the trashing of good wood and its decomposition into the atmosphere. The Burmese tyrants still remain just as tyrannical and the old works manager, who knew his timbers, has been replaced by a grey suited clerk, who knows his politics.
There is no easy solution here but the worst of it is that the generals continue to live high on the hog while the Burmese population suffer terribly because we don't buy their timber or other products. These desperately poor folk endure virtually all the pain, and we have to replace rotten handrails.
I genuinely have no idea how to remove the detestable regime that runs Burma. All the trade embargoes the western world can muster have not made the slightest difference to the Burmese military government and as long as India and China don't support sanctions, there is no chance of them ever being effective. We have to think of a more humane way to bring about regime change rather than just impose futile economic sanctions. Answers on a postcard…
Out of respect for our democracy we have to accept that the handrails can't be replaced with Burmese Teak. I just hope that the clerk checks with TRADA as well as the NGO community before the replacement species is selected.