The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Emergency and Emergence

What follows is an excerpt from a book I am due to publish in May this year (2017).  OPPORTUNITIES EMERGING: Social Change in a Complex World offers a simple way of thinking about social change, how we act, the consciousness we bring to social change work, and the very process of social change itself.  Critical of traditional top-down, hierarchic, self-centred, technological approaches to social change this book suggests working with emergence.  Emergence is an aspect of Chaos and Complexity Theories and allows us to understand our role in the world, how we influence that world, and crucially, how we acknowledge our part in social change.  This excerpt is from the beginning of the first chapter and the start of chapter 3 and asks us to consider the many emergencies facing us in the 21st century.  I hope you appreciate this introductory snippet.

How many of us worry about the state of the world? When we read the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report we get worried. When we read of thousands of refugees fleeing across the borders of Afghanistan, Syria, or Somalia and into Europe, we get worried. When we turn on the television and watch paramedics struggling to contain Ebola in western Africa we get worried. When we hear Prime Ministers speak of “imminent terrorist threats” or watch the violence erupt in Iraq, Syria, the Gaza Strip or Ukraine, we get worried.

Closer to home, we read daily newspapers reporting on the growth in youth suicide, the obesity problem or the increase in rates of depression and anxiety disorders. These reports are worrying.
We don’t have to dig very far to notice that the amount of plastic in our landfills and our oceans is growing rapidly or that e-waste is now a concern. All worrying.

We look around our own neighbourhoods and communities. We see people living off the street, we see young men sitting outside the Courthouse on Monday mornings waiting for the bailiff to call them before the judge. We see elderly people, or people with disability, struggling to cope with the kerbing or the steps into buildings. If we think of what it is like for all these people, we get worried.

We look to our leaders; the Prime Ministers, Presidents and Premiers of nations. We watch as they debate the issues at Climate Change Summits, G20 meetings or within our own parliaments, senates and congresses. In our own cities and towns, we watch and listen to our mayors and councillors debating and deliberating in Town Halls and council chambers.

Then we really do get worried, because we realise that very few of our leaders have any idea of how to avert these emergencies or, worse still, have no interest in doing so. Many times we may even wonder if they are contributing towards the emergencies - grinning like the pale rider of death, racing full tilt towards the apocalyptic abyss.

Now we have another emergency to add to the growing list: our public decision-making institutions and bodies, or what we otherwise know as government. Democracy (or at least we call it that) is in a state of emergency. We don’t trust politicians, we are wary of the lobbying power of powerful, rich corporations; we are withdrawing from political processes by not voting and joining traditional political parties in fewer and fewer numbers.

In fact, with all the ills of the world only apparently getting worse and no-one seeming to care, it looks as if the world and we humans along with it are on the brink of a series of serious emergencies.
Is this our fate? To collapse from a multi-faceted emergency? Is there an alternative? Perhaps there is.

Instead of EMERGENCY we might look towards EMERGENCE.

Emergence is an aspect of chaos and complexity theory. Although these theories arose within the mathematical and scientific arenas, they have useful insights for those working for social justice, community development and/or sustainability.



Emergence – what’s emergence? Let’s begin with a simple example that illustrates some of the features of emergence.

Everyone has heard of the elements hydrogen (H, oxygen (O and carbon (C). What do we know about each of them? We know that hydrogen is bitter, sour smelling, and explosive. We know that oxygen is tasteless, odourless and a vital ingredient of the air that we breathe. We know that carbon is also tasteless, inert, and cold.

Now, what would we expect to get if we combined these three elements like this: C2H5OH? (Those of you who understand chemistry, please put aside your acquired knowledge for the time being and assume that all you know is the properties of each individual element as outlined above). From our knowledge of each of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon we may expect to get a compound that is largely tasteless, perhaps slightly bitter, with a very faint smell. Knowing what we know about hydrogen we may want to be wary of the compound – it could be explosive.

But, what do we get? We get ethanol – an alcohol that most of us associate with wine, beer or spirits. The result of this particular mixture of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon is unexpected and unable to be explained by our knowledge of the individual elements. That’s emergence.

Emergence is a coherent structure or property that arises from the organisation of component parts where the emergent structure or property cannot be predicted from knowledge of the individual component parts.

As well as being unpredictable, other features of emergence are that:

· It creates an order out of disorder,
· It is sensitive to initial conditions. Meaning that very small changes in the initial state can produce massively different outcomes. (Often known as the Butterfly Effect discussed in the previous section),
· It is often spontaneous,
· It is not simply the sum of its parts,
· It is often dynamic and continuously evolving,
· It is a bottom-up process, not a top-down one. The process is an emergent one rather than one that is compelled.

The book will be published in May 2017 and readers who may be interested in obtaining a copy will find more detail on this site when the time comes.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

What If We Stopped?

We rush out the door, glancing at our watch.  We’ve got to run.  Next appointment is set to begin in five minutes and its at least a ten minute walk.  We finish that meeting, only time for a quick coffee-to-go.  Drink it as we get into the elevator.  Glance at our watch again.  Oh no.  Late.  We’ll have to apologise for being late.  Lunch is eaten whilst checking the mornings emails.  Many can be deleted.  Check our watch again.  Time for the afternoon session.  Rush, rush, rush.

What if we stopped?

Our mobile phone beeps and vibrates.  We open the message.  Read it quickly.  Respond with urgency, maybe adding an emoticon at the end, to show we care.  We’re stuck in traffic.  Cars rush by in the other lane.  But we can’t get out, besides its our turnoff coming up soon.  Behind us someone toots.  Road rage – the anger of the times.  Off the freeway.  Stop quickly at the Supermarket.  What’s needed?  Oh yes; milk, flour, maybe a bottle of red.  Back in the isolation of the car.  Pump up the volume on the stereo.

What if we stopped?

Home at last.  Turn on the tele.  War in the Middle East, famine in Africa, dozens killed in an avalanche somewhere.  The dollars down.  Our favourite footy team lost at the weekend.  Reality TV.  Are those people for real?  Son wants to borrow the car this weekend.  Daughter presents us with a fund-raising leaflet from school.  The dogs barking at something outside.  The wine is okay.

What if we stopped?

Try reading.  Read a few pages and realise we haven’t taken a word in.  Throw the book aside and pick up a magazine.  Flick through it.  Celebrities, sports stars, politicians caught in compromising situations.  What a boring life we lead.  Time for bed.  Brush teeth, set alarm.  Toss and turn.  Get up, drink a glass of water.  Try sleeping again.  The alarm buzzes, rudely disturbing our dream.  Another day.

What if we stopped?

What if we stopped?  What if we had a Stop Hour?  We have Earth Hour, why not a Stop Hour? 
What if we all just stoped for one hour?  What if we all just stopped exactly where we are and asked ourselves “who are we?”  What if we turned to the person next to us and asked “who are you?”  And, what if we were to give honest answers and expect honest answers from the other person?

What if we stopped and continued that conversation.  What if we then asked “what are your dreams?”  What if we asked “what are you here for?”

What if we all stopped for one hour and looked around?  What if we stopped and noticed the blue sky, or the grey clouds in the distance promising needed rain.  What if we looked at the children playing in the playground?  What if we looked at the vibrant colours of the flowers?  What if we sniffed the breeze and caught the scent of those flowers?  What if we just looked?

What if we stopped for one hour and ran and danced in the rain?  What if we stopped and rolled over and over in the grass?  What if we felt the sand between our toes?  What if we touched the hand of a child?

What if we had a Stop Hour?  What would it be like?  What would we do?  Would we know what to do?  Would we see something we have never seen before?  Would we hear a sound that is unusual?  Would we smell a fragrance that delights us?  Would we learn something?  Would we notice something about our self that we didn’t know before?  Would we discover something new about the people around us?

What if we stopped?  Just for one hour.
What would we do when the hour was up?

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Are We Any Safer?

Recently I was involved in a conversation with a dozen men.  One of them made the claim that “we are safer now than when I was younger.”  That claim intrigued me so I thought I’d do some research.  My research question: are we any safer than we were?  Immediately, there are some problems with that question.  First, who is the “we” referred to, and second, “safer” from what?  I decided that safer referred to safety from disease, harm or preventable death.  Here is what I found out.

The number of deaths from war is on the decline.1  Since the 1980s the number of deaths in armed conflict have been decreasing - apart from a spike in sub-Saharan Africa at the end of the 20th century.  However, this is not a universal trend.  The death rate from armed conflict in much of the Middle East and parts of Africa (e.g. Somalia, Darfur) number in the millions.

In most of the world the murder rate is dropping.2  So, it can be claimed that you are safer from being murdered, unless you happen to live in the Caribbean, Central America or parts of South America.  In these areas the homicide rate is increasing.

The number of people killed in terrorist attacks, since 2001, in most of the world has remained fairly steady.3  However, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria it has risen dramatically since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.  It has also risen in Nigeria and Pakistan.

Albeit difficult to quantify because of differing reporting methods around the world, hate crime appears to be on the increase.  It has been recently exacerbated by the Syrian civil war, as well as the Brexit and Trump political triumphs.

Suicide rates appear to be stable or declining throughout most of the world, except for Korea, Mexico, Russia, Greece, Poland and Japan where it is increasing.4

Infant mortality is dropping almost everywhere, although it is still high in many parts of Africa.5

If you drive, especially in OECD countries, then you are safer than you were a number of years ago.  The number of road fatalities is not only decreasing per 100,000 people but also reducing in absolute terms.

Although the number of people who are malnourished has been dropping, recently there has been little change and the number remains at almost 800 million world-wide.7

The rate of domestic violence assault in many parts of the world seems to be fairly stable – that is, it is neither decreasing nor is it increasing.  Because of the difficulty of obtaining comparative data it is difficult to gain a clear picture of whether the incidence of domestic violence assault is increasing or decreasing.  There is certainly no evidence that women are any safer from domestic assault.

What Does This Tell Us?

A brief analysis of these trends would suggest that we are safer from being killed in war, by murder or by terrorist attack; we are less likely to die from malnutrition, in infancy or by our own hand (suicide).  But, that only tells half the story.  If you live in the Middle East, the Caribbean, Central America, or parts of Africa, then you are quite possibly less safe than you were at the turn of the century. 

If you are a woman anywhere in the world then your safety from domestic violence is no greater than it was fifty years ago.

But That’s Not All

Species have been evolving and becoming extinct for millions of years.  Over the past 450 million years there have been five mass-extinction periods.  There are indications that a sixth mass-extinction period is underway – this time human-induced.  Of the almost 9 million species upon the Earth around 99% of these are thought to be under threat, with the major threats coming from climate change, agriculture, wildlife crime, pollution and disease – all human induced.  Human habitation and habits have increased the background extinction rate at least one-thousand times (with some suggesting that it is up to 10,000 times the background rate.)

It’s not safe being a non-human on this planet.

There is another factor that must be looked at if we are to assess our safety.  The future of our climate.  Recent trends in extreme weather events suggest that our future safety may be compromised.  Since the 1990s extreme weather events have become more frequent, and more intense.  Although it is difficult to attribute any one such event to climate change, the overall trend is consistent with predictions from climate scientists.  These scientists note that a warming of the planet will precipitate more extreme weather events.  We have already seen these.  Heatwaves becoming hotter and lasting longer.  Cyclones, tornadoes and superstorms ravishing Caribbean and Pacific islands and people.

Our climate will become less safe for us.

Finally, lets consider what the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Sciences has to say.  This Board annually updates the Doomsday Clock – an illustrative representation of the safety of the world: the closer the hands of the clock to midnight, the greater the threat.  On 26 January 2017 the Board again updated the clock, this time setting it half a minute closer to midnight – it is now set at 2 1/2 minutes to midnight.  This is the closest the clock has been set to midnight since 1953, the year the US and USSR decided to proceed with nuclear weapons testing and development.

This year the Science and Security Board decided to move the hands of the clock forward because of the twin existential threats of nuclear weapons proliferation and climate change.  Citing the cases of North Korea, India-Pakistan tensions, the situation in Syria, the inflamatory rhetoric of President Trump, and Russian nuclear development, the Board noted that nuclear weapons threats were greater now than the previous year.  They also noted, despite the Paris accord, that the “international community did not take steps needed to begin the path toward a net zero-carbon-emissions world.”

Eminent scientists suggest our planet is less safe than it was.

Safer or Not?

Are we safer?  From the above, admittedly brief and non-conclusive, analysis, we might suggest that men from rich nations are safer than they were.  However, women in those countries are no safer from domestic violence than they were.  Men from the poorer nations are no safer (some less safe) than they were. 

The question of safety then becomes a question of “who benefits?”  Those that do benefit can claim that “we” are becoming “safer,” but cannot claim it as an universal experience.  The claim of increased safety ultimately becomes one of Euro-centrism, macho-centrism, and anthro-centrism.

Notes:
1. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
2. Global Study on Homicide, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 2011
3. ourworldindata.org  accessed 19 Feb 2017
4. World Health Organisation (WHO)
5. World Health Organisation (WHO)
6. OECD Factbook, 2015-16

7. The State of Food Insecurity in the World, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 2015

Apologies to Readers

My apologies to readers of this blog.   The blogsite has been unavailable for the past couple of weeks because the domain name had expired.  It has taken me until now to navigate my way around the virtual space of the internet to renew the name.

Thank you for your patience.  A new blog will be appearing very soon.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Just Anger (Part 2 of 2)

The previous blogpost suggested that when anger arises inside us we are faced with two pathways. The first pathway leads in the direction of resentment, a desire for revenge, and possibly all the way to violence.  Standing at that junction this first pathway is highly visible.  It is well–trodden.  It is lit up with signs seducing you with promises of retribution, righteousness and winning.  It promises relief from the anger.  Yet, as we all know, such promises are illusory.

The second pathway, in contrast, is hard to see.  It is obscured, perhaps hidden by the bushes along the roadway.  Not many turn towards this pathway.  However, many of those that have are house-hold names, giants in the history of the world: Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Rev Desmond Tutu, Emily Pankhurst, Te Whiti o Rongomai, Vaclav Havel, Rosa Parks, Thich Nhat Hanh.1 

Anger is often a secondary emotion, meaning that some other feeling or emotion has triggered the one of anger.  The first pathway is very easy to step onto when all we recognise is the emotion of anger.  However, if we are mindful and patient, we can realise that our anger is a signpost to something else within us.  If we allow our anger to dictate our actions then we will never discover the underlying emotions.  But, if we step back, perhaps take a few deep breaths and just witness our anger (not acting on it, nor trying to drive it away, or suppress it), then we may find that the underlying emotions are ones of hurt, pain, insecurity, dejection, revulsion, or (the biggie) fear. 

Uncovering and discovering these emotions that lie beneath our anger is how we do justice to our anger.  We treat anger as a friend, saying “thank you my friend anger; you have allowed me to discover my fears and pain.”

The next thing we notice on this pathway is that we are all the same.  Our anger hides pain, hurts and fears.  This is just as true for the person who we believe has angered us.  They too are likely to have acted out of a hurt or fear.  Their words or actions that angered us came from their hurt and fear.  When we start to understand our own suffering then we also start to understand the suffering of others.  With that clarity, compassion can arise.  Once compassion has entered our heart we are well on our way down the second pathway.

But, what about those situations we (as social justice activists) should be angry about?  Certainly, there are many injustices in the world and we get angry because of them.  When Khandro Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, was asked this question, she replied “Anger is always a waste of time.”  Persisting, her questioner responded that there were some things we should be angry about.  Khandro Rinpoche immediately replied, “I didn’t tell you to give up your critical intelligence.  I told you anger is a waste of time.”2

Acting with compassion, and critical intelligence, is a very different venture to that of acting from anger.  Compassion and critical intelligence open up the space for creativity, honest dialogue and the chance of healing.

Pathway Tools

Along this second pathway there are many tools at our disposal.  Sadly, our cultures have very rarely used these tools and few of us get the opportunity to learn them.  Here, are some of the tools we can pick up on this pathway:
  • Forgiveness:  The forgiveness cycle has been eloquently described in The Book of Forgiving, by Desmond and Mpho Tutu.3  They describe a fourfold journey of: telling the story, naming the hurt, granting forgiveness, renewing or releasing the relationship.  Forgiveness is not a condoning of the action, nor is it forgetting.  Forgiveness is not a weakness, nor is it easy, and it certainly does not undermine the concept of justice.  In most cases forgiveness is an action that frees the forgiver from the trap of pain, anguish, revenge, and anger.
  • Nonviolent Communication (NVC):   Developed by Marshall Rosenberg at the time of racial tensions in the USA, NVC recognises that our emotions arise from our needs (or values).  If our needs are met, then we will experience “good” emotions, such as happiness, joy, excitement, peace.  However, if our needs are not met, then “bad” emotions such as despair, misery, distress, fear, or anger, will arise.  NVC provides tools for dealing with our emotions and needs and how we communicate these with others.
  • Nonviolence:  As a means of dealing with social conflict, nonviolence has a long history and theory of practice.  Nonviolence has often been defined simply as non-harm.  However, it also recognises that conflict is natural in society and there are positive ways of dealing with that.  Nonviolence separates the issue from the person, recognising that our opponents have value and are worthy of respect and dignity.  Nonviolence often espouses a more holistic view of the world and one that is non-hierarchical.  It is often used as a socio-political means of confronting injustice.
  • Mindfulness:  Mindfulness has already been alluded to – it is a practice of awareness.  Becoming mindful we become aware of each moment, we become aware of our bodily sensations, of emotions arising and passing away.  The practice of mindfulness means that we do not grasp and hold on to our thoughts and prejudices with desperation, nor are we repelled by them.  They simply are.  With mindfulness our attachment to ego begins to dissolve and we recognise our interconnections – what Thich Nhat Hanh calls interbeing.
  • Non-attachment to Outcome:  Acting from anger we are often wanting an outcome.  We may desire revenge, retaliation, or perhaps just the self-satisfaction of winning a verbal battle.  However, one of the biggest realities that we must come to terms with is that there is no such thing as a surety of outcome.  We can no more control the future than we can control the spin of the Earth.  Understanding this we can approach our anger with compassion and wisdom.
A final word of caution.  Just because we decide to travel down this second path does not mean that the other(s) will join us on the journey.  Although we offer the hand of forgiveness, or the words of NVC, we may be responded to with anger.  Does this mean we should not turn down this path unless our opponent, enemy, or rival does so also?  No.  Vaclav Havel understood this when he noted that, “Hope, in the deep and meaningful sense … is an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.”

Anger.  An intense emotion.  With practice, we can work with it, instead of it working us over.

Notes:
1.  In previous blogposts I have written about GandhiRev Desmond Tutu,Te Whiti o Rongomai, Vaclav Havel, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and Thich Nhat Hanh.
2. This story is related by Rita Gross in Melvin McLeod (ed) Mindful Politics, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2006.

3.  See my review of The Book of Forgiving  here.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Just Anger (Part 1 of 2)

Is anger ever justified?  Some suggest the notion of a Just War – does that mean there can be a Just Anger?  Working in the area of social justice we can be confronted with ideas, articles, speeches, or everyday conversation that causes our anger to rise.  If the offending speech was given by a public figure we can often react with outrage, condemning the speaker by suggesting that they are idiots, bigots, or inhumane.  We might label them racists, misogynists, war-mongers, or a number of other epithets.

In doing so, has our anger been justified?  When our anger lapses into such verbal abuse, or worse, into violence, then it is not justified.  Nor, paradoxically, have we done justice to our anger. 

When anger arises it opens up for us two possibilities, two pathways that we can take.  One pathway is the pathway just described: it includes verbal name-calling, abuse, labelling, right through to violence.  The other pathway is one where our anger is a pointer towards something deeper inside us.

Taking the First Path

Too often, in our culture, the first pathway is chosen.  This is unsurprising as it is the path that many before us have chosen.  It is the path that our “leaders” take time and time again.  We hear it in our parliaments and debating chambers: name-calling, verbal abuse, confrontation and adversarial debate.  We see it on the battlefields of the world.  Our televisions beam it into our living rooms daily.  Newspaper headlines scream it out in bold print.

Not only do we see and hear this pathway being taken, we are not taught an alternative.  If we are taught anything about dealing with anger it is to tell us to suppress it, deny it, or perhaps to vent it by beating a cushion or yelling and screaming in the middle of a forest.

Choosing this first pathway becomes habitual.  Every time we arrive at that junction we take this path, without even seeing that there is another option.  Blissfully unaware we follow this path of rising venom, abuse, or violence.  We continue down this path thinking that the person we feel anger towards “owes me.”  With our anger so justified, we think that we have a duty to teach the other person a lesson.  “I’ll show them” we say to ourselves.  This path holds out the hope that we’ll feel better if we react against our “opponent.”  By venting against our “enemy” we are appeased, we think we are justified because we are doing so from a higher, or superior, understanding or moral standpoint.

But, where has this pathway truly taken us?  We have taken our “opponent or enemy” with us down the same path.  But, we have not arrived at a peaceful, harmonious, or even mutually agreeable place.  More often than not we have arrived at a point where our “enemy” is now more entrenched than before, likely to more forcefully espouse the ideas they stated earlier.  And us?  Our “enemy” has not become contrite and has not shown a new understanding that accords with our own, so we attack them again, perhaps more vehemently than before.  And then what?  The cycle begins again.

And what a cycle it is.  It goes round and round, gaining strength and power with every revolution.  It becomes so entrenched that there appears to be no way to break out of it.  All we can do is forlornly hope that the other person or group will eventually give in, give up, withdraw, or get beaten into submission.  Any such outcome is unlikely to be lasting.  The seeds of resentment, frustration, and anger will simmer below the surface and erupt somewhere else or sometime later.  It is a false accord. 

We could, however, take the second path that lies before us.  Before exploring that pathway, a brief diversion into a discussion about the nature of anger.

Just what is Anger?

Anger is one of those emotions that is a combination of feelings and thoughts.  We all know the feelings associated with anger: tightness in our hands (clenched fists), gritting of the teeth, a quickening of the heart, a general tenseness in many of our muscles.  There is an intensity about anger that is unlike most of the other human emotions.
 
Our anger is fuelled also by our thoughts.  Anger can arise in us because we think we are right, because we think our way, or our understanding of the world is the correct one, the acceptable one, the just one.  We think that our morality is superior or more humane than that of others.  Anger is often coloured by our judgements – our thoughts about what others think and feel.

It is the thoughts within anger that give us the opportunity to understand our anger and respond in ways that do not follow the first path of increasing vehemence, resentment and violence.  We gain the possibility of clarity.  It seems strange to use a word like clarity when speaking of anger.  Anger is often metaphorically associated with murkiness and unfathomable depths.  Yet, by looking to anger as a signpost to something deeper within us then clarity is what emerges.


Part 2 will explore the second pathway and look further at how we can gain clarity from understanding our anger.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

It's An Anthropogenic World

We’ve heard of anthropogenic contributions to climate change, even those who deny it.
Anthropogenic – meaning; caused or produced by humans.  Most of us will have come across the term in reference to climate change.  Climate scientists refer to the major contributor to climate change being anthropogenic.  Climate change is certainly a threat and a worrying concern.  Yet if we cast our view wider we discover that its not the only anthropogenic concern.  Here are just a few more:

War/Terrorism

Clearly the act of aggression between one state and another, or that of one sector of society on another, is human induced.  It can scarcely be thought of any other way.  Human beings have been at war with one another for centuries.  Humans have decided to resort to violence to settle disputes.  War and terrorism are anthropogenic occurrences.

Refugee Crises

Most refugees are fleeing the ravages of war.  Whether it was the mass exodus during World War II or the current flow of refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries in the Middle East or Africa, conflict is the major reason someone becomes a refugee.  Refugees become refugees because of the actions of human beings.  The refugee crisis is an anthropogenic one.

Species Extinction/Biodiversity Loss

Jorgen Randers (Norwegian Business School) has calculated that the current species extinction rate is 1,000 times that of the natural rate.  His calculations show that we are losing 100 species of flora and fauna every day, mainly because of our human desire for timber, soya, palm oil, and beef.1  Illegal wildlife trafficking is further contributing to this rapid decline.  Again, this is all from human causes – anthropogenic.

Economic Inequality

The latest Oxfam report of global inequality shows that just eight men own as much wealth as the poorest half of the planets population – 3.6 billion people.2  The French economist, Thomas Picketty, points out in his widely acclaimed book, that this inequality (both between nations and within nations) has been rising rapidly since  the early 1980s.3  This rise in inequality is not because of some externality – it is because of human activity.  Whether it be squeezing the wages of working people whilst increasing the salaries of CEOs exorbitantly, large transnational corporations paying little or no tax, or corporations using their wealth to influence regulations in their own interest and not that of ordinary citizens; it is all by human agency.  Economic inequality has anthropogenic causes.

Waste

Roughly one-third of all the food produced annually for human consumption is wasted.4  In OECD countries, more than 2 kg of waste is produced per capita each and every day – 800 kg per year.5  In some countries the average per capita waste per year is around 1.3 tonnes.  What’s more – OECD consumers are throwing away 35% more wast now than they did in 1980.  Human beings produce the stuff.  Human beings throw it away.  Anthropogenic waste production!

Anthropocene and Wetiko

Earlier this century the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Paul Crutzen coined the term Anthropocene to mean  the geological epoch in which humans have altered the planet.  He coined the term in order to help us humans understand that we did indeed shape the earth and that we had a guardianship here on earth.  It seems we may have forgotten this.   We have forgotten not only our guardianship role with the earth, we have forgotten our goodwill to our fellow human beings.

Another term that has entered the conversation relating to our role on earth is wetiko.  Wetiko is an Algonquin word describing the European conquerors who arrived in North America with a mean spiritedness of greed, excess and self-centred consumption.  Within the word is a sense of lack of empathy – both for other humans and for the earth.

When the concerns such as climate change, war/terrorism, refugee crises, species extinction/biodiversity loss, economic inequality, and waste are seen are understood as being anthropogenic it is easy to appreciate how the two terms, anthropocene and wetiko, have come to be associated with the way in which humans treat one another and the earth.

With this understanding, and the full comprehension of these two terms, then the questions we need to be asking ourselves are not ones of: what do we do? or how doe we solve this?  The questions we must ask ourselves are questions such as:  who are we?  what is our nature?  These are questions related to our psychology (individual and collective), our consciousness, and ultimately, our very humanity. 

Are we prepared to ask such questions?

Notes:
1. Jorgen Randers, 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, Chelsea Green Publishing, Vermont, 2012.
2. An Economy for the 99%, Oxfam Briefing Paper, January 2017.
3. Thomas Picketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Harvard University Press, 2013
4. Jenny Gustavsson, Christel Cederberg, Ulf Sonesson, Robert van Otterdijk, Alexandre Maybeck, Global Food Losses and Food Waste, Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations, Rome, 2011.

5. Daniel Hoornweg, Perinaz Bhada-Tata, What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management, World Bank, 2005.