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.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Thanks 2013

I'm taking a short break from writing of a week or two.  Thanks for visiting this site during 2013.  Back again in 2014.  Best wishes to everyone.  Bruce

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

War, Terrorism and Fear

A couple of postings ago I questioned whether our fear created climate change? 

When we ask ourselves “who are we?” often we are confronted with our mortality and the realisation that we are alone.  This realisation leads to one of two fears.  One fear is that we are alone, that we are empty.  That is the fear explored in the previous post.

The other fear is the fear of the other, or of the unknown.  The realisation that we are alone causes us to ask “who are those others?” or “what’s out there, beyond us?”  Both reactions can stimulate a desire to overcome the other or to control what is out there.

But, we cannot do this on our own.  Somehow, we put aside enough of our fears to combine with those that we consider friends, allies or, at least, those with similar ideas and values.  These alliances are often grounded in cultural, ethnic, religious or national affiliations.  Now, we have a collective group to which we can belong, to which we can identify.

Complementary to this arises other collective groups to which we assign the titles of; them, enemies, aliens, foreigners, inferior beings or outsiders.  The group with which we identify gains a group mentality which, if followed in a noxious manner leads to “Us vs. Them” or “We are Good, They are Evil” mental states.

The combined xenophobia and chauvinism that this mentality leads to is a build up of military capacity and/or the willingness to die for the cause.  Ultimately, this gives rise to large arms expenditures, arsenals that could destroy the world many times over and heightened tensions.
There are at least two possible outlets for this spiralling madness.  One is war.  The other is terrorism.  Peter Ustinov1 however, suggests (and who can really contradict him) that:
“Terrorism is the war of the poor.  War is the terrorism of the rich.”
And so, we arrive at a place where violence becomes the accepted means by which disputes and other issues are resolved.

And, what happens when we face violence?  We collapse back into our fear of our mortality.

So the spiral goes, in tandem with the spiral leading to climate change.  Neither spiral can be stopped at the top-end of the spiral (i.e. in the climate change or violent solutions boxes).  We must look to our fears and try to understand who we are and what is the self.  Are we truly alone?  Another blog post, I fear!

1. Peter Ustinov (1921-2004) was an English actor, writer and dramatist.  he won two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor.  In his later life he dedicated himself to his role as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Madiba; Farewell, Farewell, Farewell.

Nelson Mandela with Francois Pienaar (Springbok captain)
at Rugby World Cup 1995.
One of the greatest men of the 20th Century, Nelson Mandela has died peacefully.  Mandela’s legacy will live on far beyond the shores of his native South Africa where he was also known as Madiba – his Xhosa clan name.

South Africa in the second half of the 20th Century was one of the last nations on Earth to retain the institutionalisation and legalisation of racial oppression under the name apartheid.  The names Steve Biko, Walter Sisulu, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others came to be known throughout the world as indigenous leaders of the resistance to apartheid.  But by far, the most well known name was that of Nelson Mandela.

Originally espousing violence as a means, albeit one he felt forced into by the brutality of apartheid, Mandela went on to proclaim a nonviolent resistance.  Later, when he became the nations Prime Minister he solidified this commitment with nonviolence by seeking to forgive rather than to condemn and punish.

In 1995 when Mandela walked onto the rugby field at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, at the start of the Rugby World Cup final wearing the green Springbok jersey Mandela was signifying not just to his nations people, black and white, but to the entire world, that reconciliation is possible.  The green Springbok jersey until that moment had become a hated symbol of apartheid by those opposing sporting contact with South Africa throughout the world, particularly in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

Yet, there stood a man who had suffered incredibly under the system of apartheid that the Springbok jersey had come to represent.  Mandela had moved from being a victim to being a merciful forgiver.  Mandela had moved from being a perpetrator of violent means to being a man of peace and justice.  When he stood on that field in that jersey, Mandela was announcing that we could all do the same.  We could all become peaceful, we could all be forgivers.

At his 90th birthday celebratory concert in London’s Hyde Park, attended by thousands, Nelson Mandela ended his speech by saying that after ninety years of life the work was now in the hands of others.

Let us accept and cherish his gift.  Let us continue to work for peace, justice and freedom using the two tools that he left us: compassion and forgiveness.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Does Fear Create Climate Change?

Climate Change.  Those two words create all sorts of thoughts, feelings and emotions in people.  Do our own emotions create climate change itself?  Specifically, does fear give rise to climate change?

Have a look at this model.

Fear and Climate Change
© Bruce Meder, 2013    We are all mortal.  Some psychological theories and spiritual understandings suggest that when we think of our mortality we are faced with fears.  One of those fears is the fear that we are ultimately alone, that we are “empty.”

In order to satisfy that emptiness we turn to various activities in an attempt to fill up that empty space.  One of the ways we do that is via consumerism.  Go out and buy something; the latest technological gadget, fast food or alcohol.  At a national level it may be the purchase of a multi-million dollar jet fighter or the building of a new palace or parliamentary building.

Consumerism feeds Economic Growth.  Economic Growth has come to be seen as the panacea for a all sorts of issues in the world.  “We need growth” the industrialists and political leaders will cry.  But do we?  Really?
As we know, economic growth leads to resource depletion and to more and more carbon emissions and other forms of waste.

And carbon emissions lead to …. Climate Change.

Then what?  If we seriously consider climate change and the possibilities that continuing climate change has upon the earth and us humans living on the earth then we end up facing (again) our mortality.  This time as a whole species, not just as individuals.

And so, the ever increasing spiral collapses back into the point at which we started.

Notice too that, although the spiral model above began with the individual, as we move around the spiral the “I” becomes “we.”  Climate change is not caused by any one of us, it is caused by our collective actions.

Does this model help us understand the connection between ourselves and our fears and how that helps to create climate change?  I would like to hear your thoughts?

P.S.  One of the other fears that we can have as a response to our mortality is the fear of the “other”, fear of the “unknown.”  Via a similar spiral of connections that can lead to the another of the major issues facing humanity – war and terrorism.  That’s for another posting.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Charting Climate Change

For years (possibly as early as the 17th Century) traders in shares, currencies, commodities and various derivatives have used graphs and charts to track these items.  Many traders use these techniques (often known as Technical Analysis) to make their investment decisions based on those charts.

Today, the science of climate change is awash in graphs.  We see them everywhere; printed in newspapers, flashed on TV screens and dotted throughout articles relating to climate change.  Have those using Technical Analysis learnt anything that can help with interpreting climate change charts and graphs?

Let’s look at three recent graphs.



20111004_Figure3 with highs

Graph A tracks the global temperature changes for each year from the 1880s until this year (2013). Graph B records the monthly global mean sea-level height from 1992 through to mid-2013.  Graph C shows the average monthly Arctic sea-ice extent in the years 1978 to 2011.

When arguing that climate change is occurring many activists point to the peaks in the graphs as evidence of increased temperature, increasing sea-level rise or decreasing Arctic sea-ice.  In response, climate change deniers will point to the dips in the graphs.

This is where Technical Analysis aids in interpretation.  In Technical Analysis an upward trend is defined by a series of higher lows and a downward trend by a series of lower highs.

Confused?  Take a close look at Graph C.  On the graph I have circled in red the lower highs.  In each of the years 2001, 2006 and 2009 there were “spikes” in the graph.  But, the height of each of those spikes was successively lower than the height of the previous spike.  This is a classic example of lower highs indicating a downward trend.

Using similar analysis in Graphs A and B it is possible to identify a number of higher lows in each case: indicating clear upward trends.

What does this tell us?
  1. There has been an upward trend in global temperature since the early part of the 20th Century; rising steeply since the mid-1970s.
  2. There has been an upward trend in global mean sea level since, at least, the early 1990s.
  3. There has been a downward trend in the extent of Arctic sea-ice since, at least, the mid 1990s.
It’s there, plain to see on the charts.  Technical Analysis, a well-founded aid to share trading and investment, has shown that global warming is happening and having an effect.

When are we going to see an upward trend in the determination by global leaders to take action?

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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Government of…

Seven score and ten years ago one of the world’s most famous speeches was delivered.  In the afternoon of Thursday, November 19 1863 Abraham Lincoln spoke for just a little over two minutes.  Lincoln’s now famous Gettysburg Address ended with these celebrated words:
“…government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
President Lincoln was not the main oration of the day1; rather, his words were to be “dedicatory remarks.”  These dedicatory remarks have become almost the standard by which modern democracy is judged.  However, were Lincoln alive today, he may well be adding a question to the end of his words:
But, which people?
Representative democracy is becoming less and less representative, and world-wide people are beginning to ask why.   In Lincoln’s own nation Congress is dominated by lawyers (40% of members) and business people (20% of members)2.  Other nations show similar percentages.  The Australian Cabinet is composed of 42% lawyers3.  World-wide the percentage of lawyers becoming politicians is 20% followed by business people (16%).

This is changing though.  But the change is resulting in even less representation.  More and more of our politicians are “career politicians".  In other words, politicians who have no experience of anything other than politics.  Career politicians have increased in numbers rapidly since the 1980s.

The proportion of politicians who had previously worked in politics in 1940s Australia was just 1%.  By 2007 that had jumped to 28%4.  The US shows a similar trend.

Where are the ordinary people, the people that Abraham Lincoln referred to?  Where are the plumbers, the hairdressers or the single parent trying to bring up two children?  Where are the ambulance drivers or the pre-school teachers?
“…government of the people, by the people, for the people,”  But, which people?
Representative democracy is struggling to maintain its mantle of democracy, it has certainly lost its claim to being representative.

1. The oration (at over two hours) was given by Edward Everett who had been a US Senator, Governor of Massachusetts, Minister to Great Britain, US Secretary of State and President of Harvard University.
2. Nicholas Carnes, Does the Numerical Underrepresentation of the Working Class in Congress Matter? Duke University, 2012.
3. Matt Wade, Sydney Morning Herald, 21-22 September 2013.
4. Narelle Miragliotta & Wayne Errington, Legislative Recruitment and Models of Party Organisation, Journal of Legislative Studies, March 2012.

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Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Cure or Care?

Photo: Tom Garnett
(Creative Commons)
“The practice of community development would change remarkably if practitioners thought of it as ongoing care rather than the quest for a cure” claim David Westoby and Gerard Dowling in their excellent book1 reflecting upon their experiences working in a variety of community development settings.

Cure and care.  Two little words differentiated only by a single vowel.  Yet, that single vowel difference contains an oceans worth of difference between how a community development worker understands a community, works with a community and what their goals for a community might be.

If a worker comes with a cure mentality then they will view the community as a site of issues, needs and problems.

A caring mentality, on the other hand, views the community as place, people and relationships.

Curing a community will mean bringing a series of technocratic, bureaucratic and expert-led programmes and techniques into a community with the intention at the end of these interventions that the community will be cured, or fixed.  A cure mentality believes that “I know what’s best for you.”

Caring for a community, however, means accepting those that live, work and play there.  It means being prepared to enter into relationships with local people and local community organisations to the point of being inquisitive and open to learning and change.

Cure or care begs the question: what is a healthy community?

First and foremost, a community is its people; each with skills, knowledge and experience.  Second, a community endures, it continues, it expects and hopes for a future.  It is not static.

To arrive with the intention of curing a community assumes that its people lack skills, have little knowledge and are inexperienced.  Such an intention further assumes that the community has no aspirations and that it is stuck and needs shifting – often to a place determined by the curer.

Arriving in a community with a caring intention assumes that the community development worker is not the expert, that the worker does not know all the answers (indeed, most likely doesn’t even know all the questions).  Caring assumes that the community is alive and that the primary role of the community development worker is to help the community to realise its dreams – by being a part of that dream.

Let us bring caring to our practice as community development workers.

1. Peter Westoby & Gerard Dowling. Theory and Practice of Dialogical Community Development,  Routledge, London and New York, 2013.  See my review of this book here.

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Friday, 8 November 2013

The Problem with Cotton (Part 2): Guest Blog

Recently my first “guest blog” appeared on this blogsite.  “Cottoning On” received a number of visits and so I’m now posting Part 2 of Charlotte French’s commentary on the problems with cotton.  What follows is from Charlotte:  
I have touched on the pesticide problem in growing and harvesting conventional cotton but of course there is also the manufacturing process. 

Manufacturing cotton fibre into fabric and garments consists of several major processes – cleaning, ginning, spinning, knitting or weaving, dyeing, cutting and assembly, finishing, and cleaning.  Most of the chemical residues from the farming of cotton will be washed out.  However washing, bleaching, dyeing and printing processes in garment production will use a new set of chemicals classified by the WHO as moderately to acutely hazardous.

First, cotton gets cleaned up and then ginned.  In the gin the 40% fibre is separated from the 60% cotton seeds.  Cotton seed and various ginning by-products are used for animal feed and for human food, mostly in the form of cottonseed oil.  With conventionally grown cotton, the pesticide residues from the   concentrate in the fatty tissues of these animals end up in meat and dairy products.  Cottonseed oil is also a common ingredient in cookies, potato chips, salad dressings, baked goods, and other processed foods.    The ginned cotton now goes through spinning which is a mechanical process without anything added.  After spinning, the yarn receives a polyvinyl alcohol, after weaving the fabric is then bleached, either with hydrogen peroxide or a highly toxic chlorine.  Then it is washed or “scoured” with sodium hydroxide and finally piece dyed, often with formaldehyde-fixing agents.  An additional washing is needed to attempt to remove the formaldehyde-fixing agents.  A urea-formaldehyde product which cross-links molecules is often applied to reduce shrinkage and wrinkling.  “Finishing” is the final processing step for many conventional cotton garments to create easy care clothing that is soft, wrinkle-resistant, stain and odour resistant, fireproof, moth proof, and anti-static.

Chemicals often used for finishing include formaldehyde, caustic soda, sulfuric acid, bromines, urea resins, sulfonamides and halogens.  Unless clothes are 100 percent organic, you should always wash new clothes or bedding first before wearing or putting on the bed.

Of course there are other issues such as when huge US farmers get subsidised by their government and can keep the prices down.  That puts pressure on the smaller, non-subsidised farmers.  The smaller producers in places like India, West and Central Africa and Uzbekistan have trouble competing and then we end up with underpaid workers and child labour.

GM (genetically modified) seeds that seem to be an answer must be bought every year from Monsanto, who can put any price on their seeds.  On top of that there are the usual droughts and floods.  Growing cotton is a road with obstacles it seems and the demand for cheap and fast fashion doesn’t make it easier. 

A little while ago the Greenroom1 was approached by a company to buy T-shirts from them (wholesale conventional cotton) for less than $5 each.  The Greenroom is, of course, only interested in organically grown cotton but the price astounded me, even for conventional cotton.  Once you have an idea of the journey from cotton seeds in the soil to a finished garment, a price like that doesn’t seem reasonable. Cheap for me, the consumer, must means it has cost someone else too much. (my emphasis, ed)
Part 1 of Charlotte's guest blog is here
1. The Greenroom is the name of the shop/gallery that Charlotte runs with her husband (and artist) Wayne.  She retails eco-friendly fabrics and fair trade items from all over the world.  Wayne displays and sells his vibrant, ocean-inspired paintings as well.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Who Am I? (Warm-up game)

Photo: Essellee
(Creative Commons)
When groups get together for the first time, many group members ask themselves: who are these other people?  do I fit in here?  what will they think of me?  This game gets people mixing quickly and asking questions of each other yet allowing everyone to feel comfortable as the questions are not about them personally.  It’s an oldie but a goodie, and hence worth repeating here.

Props Needed

The props are simple.  The facilitator thinks of a list of known characters, fictional or non-fictional, dead or alive, male or female.  Some examples may be: Albert Einstein, Snow White, Barack Obama, Florence Nightingale etc.  There needs to be enough names generated for the number of people in the group.  These names are written on a piece of card.  Each card is then pinned to the back of a person in the group, without that person seeing the name written on the card.


Once every person has a name pinned to their back, the facilitator issues simple instructions:
  • The objective for each person is to identify the character written on their back.
  • Explain that the person on people’s backs are known characters and may be fictional or non-fictional, dead or alive, male or female.
  • To do so people need to ask other people questions in order to obtain information about their character.
  • Only three questions can be asked of any one person, before moving to another person.
  • Questions are to be of the yes/no variety.  Examples may be; “am I alive?”; “am I female?”; “am I fictional?”
  • At any stage the person may ask of another person “am I so-and-so?”  This counts as one of the three questions.  If the answer is “no” then the person continues on until such time as they have correctly identified their character.
Then leave people to it.  As the facilitator you may also answer questions for people, under the same circumstances as others (i.e. only three questions and ones that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”

Have fun with the names and the game.  Following this game I’ve found that people are more receptive and responsive to those who, up until then, have been strangers.

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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

As Easy as ABCD

Community Development is not rocket science.  In fact, Community Development, according to Peter Kenyon, is as easy as learning ABCD.  Peter is the developer of the Bank of I.D.E.A.S and a strong advocate of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD).

I recently had the chance to listen to a presentation by Peter at a conference on ageing and disability.  I had heard Peter speak before and was keen to hear him again.  He is an engaging speaker who speaks with a passion about his belief in communities.

Throughout the talk Peter often reminded us that “Community Development is not rocket science” and that the simple approach is much preferred to a complicated one.

Peter’s message is, in fact, just that – simple and straight-forward.  Development only really happens if it is from the inside to the outside and bottom-up.  It cannot happen from the outside-in nor top-down.

Peter’s theme and challenge for those of us listening was “How do we create caring, healthy, inclusive and resilient communities?”  Before directly answering that question Peter produced one of the many quotes that he shared with us during the hour and a half:
“In terms of change it is the learners who inherit the future.  Those who have finished learning find themselves equipped for a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer
The idea of continual learning was ever present during the presentation.  The world is constantly changing, meaning that we are constantly adapting (some may even say evolving).  All of which means constantly learning.

Seven Pillars of a Healthy Community

Peter claims that there are seven pillars to a healthy community:
  • A community that practices ongoing dialogue.
  • A community that generates leadership.
  • A community that shapes it’s own future.
  • A community that enhances diversity.
  • A community that knows itself (it’s people and it’s physical assets).
  • A community that connects people and resources.
  • A community that creates a sense of community.
The final four of these pillars are at the heart of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD).

Six Concepts of ABCD

Much of the rest of Peter’s presentation expanded upon six concepts of ABCD.
  1. Appreciative Mindset Focus.  We must change our focus from what is wrong to what is strong. Peter used the old metaphor of the glass being either half-full or half-empty.  His view is that "it is both, but you can't do much with the top half."
  2. Community Driven.  If we begin with a needs analysis of communities then we are likely to view people as clients or consumers.  However, if we begin with an assets analysis then people are seen as citizens – implying an entirely different way of relating.  Another quote epitomised this approach: “The wisdom of the community always exceeds the knowledge of the experts.” - Harold Flaming.
  3. Communities are Asset Rich.  Peter used a couple of examples of small communities (Beechworth in Australia and Bulls in New Zealand) where the townships had turned from being down-trodden, disintegrating communities to ones that were vibrant and engaged.  The difference?  Discovering what was already there and enhancing and celebrating those assets.
  4. Giftness of Every Peron.  Each person in a community is important.  A strong community is one in which people’s gifts and skills are given.  A weak one is where they aren’t.
  5. Importance of Relationships and Social Connection.  If there was one moment in Peter’s presentation where he became briefly morose it was when he lamented that our society is becoming less and less connected.  But overcoming that is simple Peter notes.  It took just a simple 4 step cycle:
  6. Importance of Collaboration and Partnership.  Two more of Peter’s seemingly endless supply of quotes appeared on the screen behind him, to nicely summarise this concept.  "I can’t save the world by myself – it’ll take at least three of us,”  and an African proverb:  “If you want to go faster, go alone.  If you want to go further, go together.”
There it is.  Simple really, isn’t it?  Peter Kenyon thinks so, I think so.  As simple as ABCD.

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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Crisis? What Crisis?

“In times of crisis we come together to help each other and make things better.”  We heard this statement recently in regard to the severe bushfires devastating homes and dreams in New South Wales, Australia.

Similar words have been heard following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.  Undoubtedly, a Hindi language version would have been heard following the North India floods of June 2013.

But what if we don’t think there is a crisis?

Like the story of the frog in the water that is slowly brought to the boil, are we also unaware of just how hot the water is becoming?

Yet the three real-life scenarios mentioned above should give us a hint that something more than isolated, one-off events are occurring.  What links Australian bushfires, hurricanes in the Caribbean and Indian floods?  Two words: Climate Change.

Australian Greens MP, Adam Bandt, succinctly and unambiguously observed (following a day of fiery devastation) that “this is what global warming in Australia looks like and it’s going to mean more fires happening more often and some of them more severe when they happen.”

Bandt could easily have been talking of any country in the world.  He could also just as easily replaced the word fires with the words hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, drought or heat-waves.

That’s the real crisis.  Yet, for some reason, we are not coming together to help each other (let alone the planet) and make things better.

We are still driving vehicles for thousands of km each year, often with just one occupant.  We are still heating our homes using energy from coal.  We are still purchasing vegetables, fruit and groceries that have been transported from thousands of km away, often from the other side of the globe.

Importantly too, we are still letting our politicians, business leaders and policy makers off the hook.  We are not demanding the accountability necessary of them.

A Poignant Image

In 1975, the progressive rock band Supertramp released an album titled Crisis? What Crisis?  The cover of that album showed a man wearing dark sunglasses sitting in a deck chair underneath a beach umbrella. 

Meanwhile in the background grey factories are belching fumes into the atmosphere and all around him is ruination.  A more poignant illustration of our avoidance of the crisis around us would be hard to find.

A few lines from that same album are also worth quoting:

“Well, I just don’t know the reason
I don’t know what to say
it just seems a normal day
and I’ve got to live my own life
I just can’t spare the time."

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Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Cottoning-on (Guest blog)

Cotton-on: (intrasitive verb) To understand, to finally make sense of.

I had never really thought about cotton.  More especially, I had never really thought about cotton’s negative aspects, aside from an understanding of it’s association with a very inhumane past – slavery.

Recently though, a newly made friend and owner of a boutique shop that sells clothing made with hemp, bamboo and other natural products alerted me to some downsides to the cotton industry.

So, I’m delighted to post here a blog from her that discusses some of these issues. For my first ever guest blog I’d like to introduce Charlotte French who owns and operates (with her husband) the Greenroom Gallery.  What follows is her blogpiece.

The Problem with Cotton (Part 1)

A few years ago, my eyes were opened to the conventional cotton industry. I couldn’t believe how troublesome it is. Within a few hours of research on the net, I made a decision to not buy cotton again, unless it was grown certified organic. I have been meaning to write about cotton for a long time so here’s a little about the problem with the ‘White Gold’. Before I go any further though, please note, I am not a scientist but rather someone who’s trying really hard to sort through endless information, coloured by different parties invested interests.    It’s not only humans that like cotton. There are different kinds of worms, weevils, aphids, mites, thrips, caterpillars, loopers and bugs that love cotton. Not surprisingly cotton is known as a dirty crop. It uses more pesticides than any other crop. The world’s cotton crop is only 2,5 % of everything that gets harvested. However these 2,5 % demands 16% of all pesticides. Some of the most toxic chemicals in the world are used to kill all these creepy crawlies. Stuff like Cyanide, Dicofol, Naled, Propargite, and Trifluralin which are all KNOWN cancer-causing chemicals.The World Health Organisation has estimated that 20,000 people die annually from pesticide misuse with at least one million requiring hospitalisation. Aldicarb, the world’s second biggest selling pesticide is classified as extremely hazardous by the World Health Organisation. One drop absorbed through the skin is enough to kill an adult, yet this pesticide is still widely used in cotton production. Most pesticides are applied in developing countries, where farmers often lack the equipment, information and training to handle pesticides effectively.    After years of dangerous pesticide use in Uzbekistan, the population of the region of Karakalpakstan face a host of appalling health problems. Malnutrition is rife as vegetables will no longer grow in the polluted soil; 99% of pregnant women suffer from anaemia and rates of throat cancer are the highest in the world. Scientists have found a level of DNA mutation 3.5 times higher than normal — meaning health problems could be around for generations.   Synthetic fertilisers are also a huge problem.  Nitrogen synthetic fertilizers are a major contributor to increased N2O emissions, which are 300 times more potent than CO2 as greenhouse gas. Genetically modified (GM) is seen by many as an answer to this problem with pests and pesticides. GM cotton is used worldwide with the main seed supplier being Monsanto. In Australia GM cotton was introduced in 1996 and today 90% of all cotton grown in OZ is genetically modified. BT (biotechnology), the fastest and most controversial change in agricultural history has helped to a degree in decreasing the pesticides. In BT cotton, the insecticide is always present in the plant rather than applied in periodic spraying sessions. There is fear however that this may lead to rapid rates of pest immunities and possibly produce super pests. In some parts of the world GM cotton has got rid of certain pests but opened the door to others that become an even bigger problem. The whole GM industry is still very much developing and controversial. I must admit that I don’t know near enough on this subject so I shall leave GM cotton for now.    Cotton is also the world’s thirstiest crop. Three litres are needed for one cotton bud. One pair of jeans requires 8,000 litres of water; a 250 gram shirt needs 2495 litres. Local water supplies are threatened by excessive abstraction for cotton cultivation. The Aral Sea was the world’s fourth largest lake, but it has shrunk to 90 per cent of its former size in the last 50 years as the rivers that fed it have been diverted to boost cotton production. A desert of salty sand remains, and the fishing industry has been devastated. (See Below)    
 Surveys show that rural cotton farmers lack the necessary safety equipment, protective clothing, and training for handling hazardous pesticides. They may store pesticides in their bedrooms or in close proximity to their food and some even reuse pesticide containers for drinking water. These farmers and their families are at highest risk for acute pesticide poisoning as well as chronic effects. Sometimes change must come in small steps. Here’s a long and excellent article reporting from Pakistan, well worth the read.  The Problem with cotton is to be continued…………  Thanks Charlotte (ed).

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Political Party Gets It

“Much of our present intervention in the relationships between living species is not making the world a better place.  It is not in the interests of any species… (The) Party exists to tell anyone who’ll listen that we must start taking sensible action now in case our species does not find a last-minute escape route from the logical consequences of it’s greed and stupidity… We do not need to destroy the ecosphere utterly to bring catastrophe upon ourselves: all we have to do is to carry on as we are.”

Finally!  A political party that seems to be listening to the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and others.  The latest IPCC report (released in September 2013) was unequivocal: “Human influence on the climate system is clear.”  Humans need to take action, the report stated:
Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.”
So, which political party was it that made that opening statement?

It was the New Zealand Values Party – in 1975!!!

The political manifesto that the Values Party published then (Beyond Tomorrow1) remains today as one of the most visionary and sensible documents ever published by any political party in the world.

What Was the Values Party

The New Zealand Values Party was scrambled together just six months before New Zealand’s 1972 general election becoming the world’s first green political party.  Promoting an entirely new approach to politics, the Values Party eschewed both left and right political doctrines and focused on a zero growth blueprint for the future.  Zero growth!  Neither the capitalists nor the socialists could tolerate such anathema.  But, almost 2 percent of the voting public did.

When it contested the next election, in 1975, Values gained over 5% of the vote.  If New Zealand had had it’s MMP system then, this would have translated to four of five seats in the New Zealand Parliament of 87.

Had those few party members gained access to the realm of public decision-making in New Zealand, would we have seen an alternative socio-economic path taken to that of the past four decades?  Such a small initial difference may have been just what was needed to make a significant difference in the future of the world.

In 1972 and 1975 the terms “global warming” and “climate change” had not entered our vocabulary.  But, the warnings were there.

Warnings from the 1970s…

Just a few months before the Values Party was founded an important book was published. The Limits to Growth2 had, in fact, informed the thinking of the founders of New Zealand’s fledgling political party.

Both the authors of the book and the members of the political party were dismissed at the time as crack-pots, doomsayers or just plain starry-eyed tree-huggers.  Yet, those authors and party members may have been the sanest, most visionary and realistic people around.

Today, we know that the authors of The Limits to Growth were correct.  Unfortunately, we did not heed their warnings.

… and Solutions

There were some solutions being offered as well. Beyond Tomorrow was 80 pages of visionary alternatives designed to promote sustainability and social justice for the poor and marginalised, yet retaining and enhancing well-being for all.

It’s Not Too Late

There were warnings in the 1970s.  There are warnings today.  We took no notice in the 1970s.  Will we do so today?

1. Beyond Tomorrow: 1975 Values Party Manifesto, New Zealand Values Party, 1975.
2. Meadows, Meadows, Randers, Behrens III, The Limits to Growth ( A report to the Club of Rome), Universe Books, New York 1972.

PS.  I am seeking feedback about this site at present.  Please feel free to complete the short survey,  There is a link to the survey at the top right of this page.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Ignorance is bliss

This week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first part of it’s Fifth report.  Briefly, the report tells us: a) the planet is hot, b) it’s getting hotter, c) it’s going to get much hotter and d) we (i.e. us humans) are to blame.

The report states that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”  Pretty strong stuff.  But will we do anything about it?  Not if we look at our past history. 

The IPCC was established in 1988 with it’s first report coming out in 1990.   During the IPCC’s lifetime the earth’s surface has become successively warmer, with the past three decades being hotter than any preceding decade since 1850.  During those three decades (and despite four previous IPCC reports) the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased from under 340 ppm (parts per million) to over 380 ppm.

That doesn’t augur well for us acting.  So, why don’t we?

Clive Hamilton (the author of Affluenza) has also pondered this question.  In his 2010 book, Requiem For A Species1, Hamilton outlines a number of reasons for the inaction encompassed within two broad themes – denial or avoidance.


Inaction by denial includes:
  • Uncomfortableness.  We will tend to dismiss evidence that conflicts with our beliefs or world view.  In doing so we will seek out information that accords with our view and/or we will associate only with people who think like us.
  • Threats to our identity.  Climate change,may threaten our sense that we are the “masters of our destiny” and so we deny it’s reality.
  • Political persuasion (Part 1).  Studies in the US have indicated that those with more conservative political allegiances are more likely to deny that climate change is a reality.
  • Political persuasion (Part 2).  Even some on the “far left” of the traditional political spectrum dismiss climate change because climate change is viewed as the cause of “elitist middle-class do-gooders.”
  • Religion.  Some forms of fundamentalist religious views have an anti-scientific stance, as a consequence of which it becomes easy to deny the veracity of climate change.

Amongst the ploys of avoidance, the following are common examples:
  • Values.  It has been shown that our we are able to invoke our “higher values” when it comes to planning for action into the far future, yet when making decisions for the near future, these higher values are subsumed by more immediate concerns such as “the economy.”
  • Distraction.  When faced with unpalatable reality we sometimes prefer to switch-off and find something more agreeable to watch, read or engage in.  Television, computer games and the like are classic examples.
  • Wishful thinking.  In Australia and New Zealand there is a common saying that “she’ll be right, mate”, meaning that if we ignore something things will turn out OK in the end.
  • Shifting the blame.  With the growth in the emissions of China and India in the past decade or so it becomes very easy to avoid our own responsibilities by suggesting that until those countries act then we shall carry on as before.
  • Unrealistic optimism.  Similar to “wishful thinking” this is a case of blind faith and a belief that “it can’t happen to me.”
  • Green consumerism.  Although we all must think about our purchasing options, green consumption can sometimes be an avoidance as we can become vain in thinking that “I am doing my bit.”  Yet, the very process of over-consumption is at the heart of the drivers of climate change.
Noting that “buying green” is not to be criticised, Hamilton warns that “when (eco-friendly) products are promoted as the solution to environmental decline they may actually block the real solutions.”  This is because “climate change is a collective problem that demands collective solutions.”  Hamilton pulls no punches:
“The danger of green consumerism is that it transfers responsibility from the corporations mostly accountable for the pollution, and the governments that should be restraining them, onto the shoulders of private consumers.”
If abating the heating of the planet requires collective effort then those that have some skill and knowledge of promoting that are Community Development workers and activists.  Perhaps more than any other time in it’s history, the whole planet now needs the skills of community development workers, not just individual communities.

I am presently seeking feedback on this blogsite.  Please take a couple of minutes to complete the survey on Survey Monkey.  See the link to the right at the beginning of this blogpiece.

1. Hamilton, Clive. Requiem For A Species: Why we resist the truth about Climate Change, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW, Australia, 2010.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Feedback wanted. One hundred posts and counting.

I began this blogsite (Rainbow Juice) about one and a half years ago.  At the time I thought that I might be able to post items to it for a few months,  I am surprised that there are now just over 100 postings and that I’m still finding topics to write about.

The milestone of 100 postings brings with it a wish on my part to get some feedback from you, the reader.  I’m keen to discover what you think of the site, what you like, what you don’t like.

I’ve left a comment box at the end for you to add any other comments that you wish.  Please do so.
Here is the link to the Survey Monkey questionnaire.  It is short and shouldn’t take too long to fill in.

In the meantime, thank you for visiting the site.  I certainly hope that you have found it of interest, and I look forward to sharing more with you in the coming months. 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Freedom Now!

F..R..E..E..D..O..M.  What’s that spell? Freedom!  When do we want it? Now!

The cry for freedom has rung out over the centuries.  Many social justice campaigners call for freedom.  Freedom occasionally gets listed amongst the goals of Community Development.

But, what is freedom?  In today's neo-liberal climate freedom seems to be equated with “let me do what I want, when I want, how I want, without outside interference.”  Such a notion of freedom is highly individualistic.  This voice of freedom begins and ends with me, the ego.  It shouts: “I want, I need, I get.”

This individualised freedom quickly leads to:
  • economic exploitation,
  • environmental degradation,
  • lack of regard for social responsibility, and
  • a belief that inequality is OK, even justified.
Yet this is not always how freedom has been posited.  Many of the early philosophers of freedom recognised that freedom required a freedom from domination, exploitation and injustice.

Borrowing from some of these early philosophers, freedom came to embrace the call for independence in many settings; from the French Revolution and the American Declaration of Independence to the feminist and indigenous rights movements of the latter half of the 20th Century.
These calls for independence recognised that domination and exploitation were impediments to freedom.  Understanding that necessitates a rejection of the highly individualistic notions of the present neo-liberal slant on freedom.

Many of those now working within social justice settings, and more especially in environmental fields, are now understanding freedom in other ways.  Underlying the new thinking on freedom is the growing awareness of the inter-relatedness, the inter-dependence and the mutual co-existence of all things.

With this understanding there is no possibility of an individual detached from their surroundings or environment.  Nor can there be independence, for everything is connected to everything else.

So, in a world of inter-dependence and inter-being (to borrow Thich Nhat Hahn’s term) what does it mean to call for freedom?

Simply, it means recognising and accepting this inter-connectivity and understanding that one persons freedom is conditional upon that of all others.

A further word that in many peoples minds is a synonym for freedom is the term liberty.  Today, we must understand liberty to mean not just a liberation from the domination and exploitation of others, it must also mean liberation from out-dated, unhelpful ideas, concepts and world-views.

It means letting go of our sense of the independent, ego-centric self.  Doing that allows us to transcend and incorporate both the desire for independence, yet appreciate our uniqueness.  When we do so we might truly claim to be free.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Weighing The Pig (Four Problems with Accountability)

There is a disturbing practice that is appearing more and more within the community development and social service fields.  It goes under the rubric of “accountability.”  Being accountable for one’s actions is necessary, however, being hamstrung by innumerable, frequent and often ill-advised measurements and forms of accountability is neither necessary nor warranted.  Accountability is not a problem, unless one or more of the following issues become involved.

Hindering Results

For many community organisations the undue accountability requirements of funders, government agencies and politicians is one of their biggest sources of frustration.  The requirements of accountability can be time consuming, a drain on resources and, more importantly, a diversion from the core work of the organisation.

Garth Nowland-Foreman, a New Zealand based researcher and educator in NGO work, has commented that
“…even when accountability requirements are perfectly aligned with organizational mission, it can subtly sideline and shift responsibility away from “legitimate” governance structures of the organisation’s board and members. (This)... is likely to expose the organisation over the longer term to greater risk of accountability failure.”1
This over-exuberance for accountability has been likened to spending so much time weighing the pig, that there is little time left for fattening the pig.

So, are accountability requirements putting in jeopardy the very outcomes that those requiring accountability are seeking?  Sadly, the answer could be “yes!”

Valuing the Wrong Skills

For many community based organisations one of their prime objectives is to increase community participation and engagement in civil society.  They may achieve this through a parents and toddlers playgroup, an art therapy course or an alternative education school for disengaged youth.  Irrespective of the outward appearance, all are attempting to engage people in their respective communities.

Yet, as a one-day workshop at Oxford University in 2011 reported, participatory skills and results “are increasingly less valued than the ability to set targets, monitor progress against plans and report ‘results delivered’ in quantitative terms.”2

Top-Down Approach

The requirement by funders, government agencies and politicians for greater accountability on the part of NGOs displays a worrisome imbalance, verging on dysfunctional, in the relationship between them.  By forcing NGOs to adopt particular accountability measures funders and others display a lack of trust in NGOs.  This is the age-old mentality of we-know-what’s-best that ignores the possibility that NGOs know themselves what it is that they are trying to achieve and how to go about monitoring their performance in achieving that.

Neglecting the Long-Term

In the world of social relationships and complex inter-connections results of interventions can take years, sometimes decades, to become manifest.  Indeed, results may not be noticeable until well after the programme or project has been completed and years after the last of the funder’s dollars has been spent.

A story about a Chinese diplomat comes to mind.  At dinner one evening, a French diplomat seated next to him decides to engage in small talk.  “Tell me, Monsieur” he says, “do you think the French Revolution was a success?”

The Chinese diplomat sits back in his chair, thinks for a few seconds and then slowly responds “hmmm… too early to tell.”

Let us not get too excited about weighing the pig.  Let’s fatten it up first.3

1. Nowland-Foreman, Garth. Dangerous Accountabilities: remaking Voluntary Organisations in Someone Else’s Image, paper presented to the 29th Annual Conference of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organisations and Voluntary Action, New Orleans, 16-18 November 2000. p5.
2. A perfect storm: what happens to women in the context of the perverse incentives of development aid funding, A one-day workshop convened at Oxford University, 5 February 2011.
3. With apologies to Animal Rights Activists.  This is a metaphor only.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Illiteracy of Nonviolence

How peacefully literate are we?  Listening to a recent talk by Stuart Rees1 prompted me to ponder this question.  Stuart Rees had suggested that our literacy of peace was almost non-existent, whereas in matters of war and armed conflict we are extremely literate.

I decided to check.  Where I live there are just two main bookshops.  One is a low-price, middle-of-the-road bookstore, the other is one of the major bookseller chains.

In the first, I counted 113 different books with the theme of war or armed conflict.  There were just four (4) books that could be related to nonviolent means of conflict resolution.  Three were biographies of Nelson Mandela’s life and one was by the Nobel Peace Laureate, Thich Nhat Hanh.

The other bookstore had just one book that I could find that spoke of peace or non-aggressive means of resolving conflict.  Waging Peace is the memoir of a remarkable Australian journalist, social commentator and film-maker.  Anne Deveson wrote the book because:
“…when I went to London in July 2000 to attend a big international conference on War and Peace and I found all the emphasis was on war, rather than peace. In the section where books and articles were on sale, 111 titles were on war, only three on peace.”2
In that bookshop that stocked the one solitary copy of her book there were no less than 81 books (many that had multiple copies) dealing with war and violence.

If that is representative of what is written and what is read, then what chance is there of those leading our nations obtaining a literacy of nonviolence?

Yet, there are a number of examples of nonviolent approaches to conflict.  Additional to those mentioned above we can think of: Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Te Whiti o Rongomai, Leo Tolstoy, Bertrand Russell and the anonymous “Tank Man” in Tiananmen Square.  Before too long we have to do some serious thinking in order to add to the list.

These practitioners and prophets of nonviolent conflict resolution are remembered as much for the fact that there are few of them, as much as for their wisdom and compassion.  They are part of the small number of candles burning in a dark cave of warfare, terrorism and violence.

Tellingly, when asked to think of those associated with warfare then many names spring to mind: Hitler, Churchill, General Patton, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Osama bin Laden, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Reagan, Thatcher, Bush (both of them), Mugabe, Idi Amin, Milosevic, Tito, Mussolini, George Custer, Ho Chi Minh, Tony Blair…..  Adding to this list does not take too much intellectual effort.  There are dozens of biographies of each of these adding substantially to the literature of armed conflict.

So where do we go to find the literacy of nonviolence?  I have a number of such books in my collection.  Few of them, though, were found in the average bookshop.  Often they have been sought from specialist bookshops or via determined Internet searches on Amazon and the like.

The other source of nonviolent literacy seems to be in the experiences, writings and learnings of parenting courses, small scale activist groups, mentoring organisations and other community based programmes and projects.  The wonderful insights and learnings from these and other groups do not yet seem to be translating into the mindsets of national leaders.

1. Stuart Rees is the Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation.
2. In answer to an interview question from Stephanie Dowrick (co-host of the Universal Heart Book Club) who asked: Was there any particular moment in which you knew, "I have to write this"?

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Thoughts on Bullying

Bullying has been gaining a lot of attention over the past few years.  The rise of social media has brought with it an increase in bullying.  In past years young people could be bullied at school for five or six hours a day for five days a week.  Now, however, cyber-bullying means that young people can be the target of bullying 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Of the solutions put forward, many suggest that there is a need for political leaders to act in some way.  More legislation, more education, more of what politicians do – make decisions.  I for one do not have any magic solutions but I do have an observation to make about how political leaders might act.  The greatest contribution that political leaders and politicians generally could make towards helping to reduce bullying is to stop acting the way they do.

Politics seems to bring with it an acceptance, maybe even an encouragement of bullying behaviour.  How often do we see on our television news scenes of one politician or another deriding, often using derogatory language, a politician of another political faction.  It seems to come with the territory.  If you are of Party Alpha then you must automatically denigrate, humiliate and attack those in Party Omega.

Of course, this is not confined to politicians.  The media itself focuses on these bullying moments and may, by doing so, actively encourage the behaviour.  Even more, the media can, in unscrupulous hands, bully its readership.  the current Australian election campaign is a perfect example of this.  The media Barron and tycoon, Rupert Murdoch owns a number of Australian newspapers.1  In the run up to the election many of his front-page headlines have been bullying the Australian voter into voting against the Labor Party led by Kevin Rudd.2  Hardly unbiased news reporting.

At a global level nation states have been bullying people around the world for centuries.  Throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries and continuing into the 20th Century European nations bullied the indigenous peoples of Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand and the Americas.  Following World War II the British, French and Americans bullied Pacific Island peoples with their nuclear weapons testing programmes.

State led bullying has not abated in the 21st Century.  As I write this the US is planning strikes on Syria seemingly having learnt nothing from the invasion of Iraq in 2003.3

No wonder children and young people grow up with minds attuned to bullying and behaviours that state “I’m gonna show you who’s boss!!”  They learn it from their parents, from their politicians, from their nation’s foreign policy.

1. Via News Corp Rupert Murdoch owns at least 16 newspapers including The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, The Courier Mail, The Advertiser and over 100 community suburban newspapers.
2. The most notorious of these headlines appeared on the front page of the Daily Telegraph on 5 August 2013: “Finally you now have the chance to…KICK THIS MOB OUT” – those last four words taking up 1/4 of the space on the front page.
3. I know that some would claim that the Syrian government is bullying it’s own people thus justifying the strike.  No!  One playground bully bullying another does not make it anything other than bullying.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Theory and Practice of Dialogical Community Development (A Review)

If one word sums up Peter Westoby and Gerard Dowling’s1 approach to Community development it is “hospitality.”  Theirs is a hospitality in which opportunities for dialogue and collective decision-making are enabled.

Theory and Practice of Dialogical Community Development2 is a thorough exposition of Community Development by two long-time community workers (between them they have 50 years of experience).  Although sometimes one must read their text with precision and alertness, taken as a whole the book is a delight to read.

A word of caution: this is not a “how to” book, it is not a text of techniques and skills for the aspiring Community Development worker.  It transcends such an approach and encourages the reader to  seriously think about their engagement with Community Development and with communities.  You will not find easy answers in this book.  Indeed, it is possible to put the book down having more questions in mind than when first opening it.  I suspect that if that is the case then the authors will have thought that they have done a good job of authorship.

Questions, say the authors, are of more importance than answers.  As if to prove the point, early on the authors pose a disturbing question: has Community development “lost something in its depth and potential soul (by) increasingly being co-opted by a hegemonic, Euro-centrist, modernist approach to philosophy and life which leads to a technical orientation to practice.”?  For Community Development workers the question is one which should be foremost in their thought and self- appraisals.

Westoby and Dowling propose transcending technical fixes by encouraging readers to “remain open to complexity” – to become hospitable and open to honest dialogue.

Hospitality implies being welcoming and open to, not only differing people and cultures, but also to “shifting” ideas and even to “shifting” identity.  It also means being welcoming of “the stranger.”  “The stranger” is meant not just in its literal sense; it is also meant in a metaphorical sense so that “the stranger” suggests “the unknown.”  Community Development involves, for the authors, a practice of “not knowing.”  Thus, a Community Development worker is a continual seeker and should never assume that they have arrived at a point where they have the answer, or have obtained what is “sought.”  This is far from the technocratic track that Westoby and Dowling worry that Community Development may currently be travelling along.

Hospitality involves conversation and dialogue, hence the title of the book.  Much of the book explores various aspects of true dialogue: participation, sense of place, love, analysis, conflict and caring.  Dialogue is a transformative process that…
“unlocks the possibility of story, and story unlocks the possibility of genuine exchange of ideas and perspectives, leading to potential change of all parties to the dialogue.” (p 66)
Theory and Practice of Dialogical Community Development is one of the best books traversing the complexity of Community Development that I have read.  Thoroughly recommended.

Note (added 24 April 2015):  This book is now published as a paperback making it a lot cheaper for those on a limited budget.

1. Peter Westoby is a lecturer in Community Development at Queensland University, Australia as well as being a Research Fellow with the Centre for Development Support at the University of Free State, South Africa.  Gerard Dowling has 20 years experience working with Community Development roles in Brisbane, Australia and currently manages a strategy unit organising youth projects for Brisbane City Council.
2. Westoby, Peter and Dowling, Gerard. Theory and Practice of Dialogical Community Development, Routledge, New York, 2013.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Grey Owl (A film review)

During the 1930s an Englishman, Archibald Belaney, masquerading as a Native American, mesmerised audiences numbering in their hundreds with stories of life in the Canadian wilderness and a plea for the beaver amongst other environmental messages.

Over sixty years later (in 1999) Richard Attenborough directed a film based on Grey Owl’s life.  Attenborough was perhaps destined to have directed this film (“Grey Owl”), as he had queued with his brother (the noted naturalist David Attenborough) for hours outside the De Montford Hall in Leicester in 1936 to see and listen to Grey Owl.

The movie is a well-paced and easily accessible glimpse of the life of an intriguing man.  The film depicts Grey Owl’s (played by Pierce Brosnan of James Bond fame) life from his latter days as a trapper through to his hugely successful lecture tours in England and America.  He meets a woman with Iroquois ancestry, Anahareo or “Pony”, with whom he, reluctantly at first, cohabits.  Pony encourages Grey Owl to leave his trapping and to take on a greater environmental vision.  It is this environmental vision that Grey Owl speaks of in his public lectures, dressed in Native American costume complete with full war bonnet of eagle feathers.

Attenborough describes Grey Owl as a “major charismatic figure” and Brosnan declares that the “film is very timely.”  Indeed, it is.  The message that Grey Owl brought to the world’s attention in the 1930s is as much needed today as it was then.

Towards the end of the movie Grey Owl strips away his outward trappings and lays bare the essence of his message:
“We’re not the Lords of the Earth – we are it’s children… If we can say that there are some things that are not for sale, that there are some things that belong to all of us and to future generations, then maybe other people will hear us and they will begin to say it too.  Some day there will be enough of us and we’ll believe that it can be done, that we can begin to change the world.”
Grey Owl is finally unmasked by a journalist who asks him to tell his story.  Archie Belaney replies that he was “just a kid with a dream of living in the wilderness.”  The journalist responds: “that's a fine dream.”  So it is!  Archie Belaney (aka Grey Owl) went and lived it.

Find a copy of “Grey Owl” in your local video parlour, rent it, watch it, dream it, live it.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013


Numbers transcend the world, or so it’s said.  Whether that is true or not, numbers occur in all aspects of life; social, community, environment, cultural.  Here are just five such numbers that have significance in social justice, peace and environmental matters.


Off the coast of South Africa lies Robben Island, the site of one of the world’s most notorious prisons.  For many years it was where South Africa’s apartheid government sent it’s “political prisoners.” 

The 466th prisoner to be incarcerated there in 1964 was Nelson Mandela who was to spend the next 18 years there, mostly confined to an 8 ft. by 7 ft. cell.  On 12 June 1964 Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment.  In April 1982 he was transferred from Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town.  Then, with the apartheid system crumbling he was released in 1990 and all the formerly banned political parties were legalised.

Thirty years after his first imprisonment, as prisoner number 466/64, Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s President, being inaugurated on 10 May 1994.


For 236 months the Greenham Common Womyns Peace Camp remained encamped outside the site in Berkshire, England, where US cruise missiles were based.  Each of the 96 cruise missiles housed at Greenham Common contained a nuclear warhead equivalent to 16 Hiroshima bombs.

On 5 September 1981 women arrived at Greenham Common after marching from Cardiff, Wales.  They came with the intention to debate the siting of cruise missiles at the base.  With the rejection of a debate they promptly set up camp out side the base.  The first blockade of the base occurred with 250 women present.  By December that year the site was being encircled by 30,000 women holding hands around the almost 10km perimeter of the base.

The women's’ camp that remained at the site became a symbol of hope to many in the peace movement throughout the world.  Hundreds of women from other parts of the world visited and camped at Greenham Common in a show of support.

Although the cruise missiles were removed in 1991 the camp remained until January 2000 when the last of the women left.  Today, seven standing stones from Wales and a “flame” sculpture (symbolising a campfire) commemorate the women, their camp and what they achieved.


The Indigenous Peoples Earth Charter contains 109 clauses.  Over 700 indigenous leaders from all over the world met at Kari-Oca, Brazil from 25 – 30 May 1992 in the days leading up to the United nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

On the final day of their meeting the Indigenous Peoples Earth Charter was unanimously signed with the preamble beginning:
“We, the Indigenous Peoples walk to the future in the footprints of our ancestors.”

In order to sustain human life at it’s present level of consumption we need 1.5 Earth-sized planets.  In other words, based on the amount of resources we consume in one year it takes the Earth one year and six months to recover from the waste generated from that year’s worth of consumption.  We are creating waste from resources at a rate quicker than the Earth can create resources from the waste.

Another way of measuring our impact on the Earth is to work out how many hectares of land per capita (ha/p) we use.  The average number of ha/p for the whole World is currently 2.7.  However, this figure does not show the disparity in consumption between various parts of the World.  As can be expected, the rich nations are well over consuming.  In the US and Canada 7.9 hectares are required for every person.  In Europe the figure is 4.7 ha/p and in Oceania (mostly Australia and New Zealand) the figure is 5.4 ha/p.

For the poorer nations in Africa (1.4 ha/p) and Asia (1.8 ha/p) the amount of land per person is much less.  Even these figures do not show the full picture as some countries live way beyond their planetary means and others have a footprint less than one planet

The Global Footprint Network has calculated the footprint for all the nations of the world and also allows individuals to calculate their own global footprint and find ways in which they may reduce that footprint.


The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) when it published this number in it’s Human Development Report 2010 called it “startling.”  Indeed it is.  0.71 is the 2010 Gini Coefficient for the entire world.

What is a Gini Coefficient?  Also known as Gini Ratio or Gini Index, the Gini Coefficient is a statistical measure of inequality.  Developed by the Italian Corrado Gini in 1912 it is commonly used to measure wealth and income inequality.  The coefficient is a number between 0 and 1 with zero representing a state of perfect equality and 1 a state where there is maximum inequality.  Thus, the higher the number, the greater the inequality.

The “startling” aspect of the number 0.71 was that this showed a huge jump in recent years from what had appeared to be a flattening out of the curve of inequality.  In the mid 1980s the Gini Coefficient had been around 0.47, but then came globalisation and a rapid rise in the coefficient and what it measured – inequality.

What is particularly disturbing about a rise in the Gini Coefficient is that as inequality rises so too do social ills.  Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett1 have shown that with high rates of inequality come increased drug use, lower life expectancy, greater obesity, higher levels of violence, lessening educational performance and poorer mental and physical health.

1. Wilkinson, Richard and Pickett, Kate, The Spirit Level: Why Equality is better for Everyone, Penguin, London. 2010.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Seven Sortition Stories

Source: David Eccles (Flickr)
My last posting suggested that democracy was facing a crisis of losing credibility in the face of sortition (random selection) may be one means by which democracy can be re-imagined and can shed the corruption charge.  This post briefly tells of seven examples of sortition in practice, ranging from 2,500 years ago through to the present day and from all over the globe.

1. Korea

The Korean Green Party held their first congress in March 2013.  All of the 134 delegates to that congress were chosen by random selection.  The International Secretary for the Green Party of Korea, June Gyeon Lee, reported that the congress was a “successful example for the idea of sortition democracy.”

2. Athens

Where it (democracy) all began.  During the 5th and 4th centuries BC the most important decisions in Athens were made by the Assembly, to which all citizens1 were eligible to attend and participate.  These Assemblies had their business prepared by the Council of 500.  The 500 were chosen from amongst the 10 tribes of Athens, each tribe selecting 50 Council members by lot.  Furthermore, the person presiding over the Council and the Assembly was chosen by random selection on the day of the meeting.

Much of the day-to-day running2 of Athens was overseen by various committees, again with all members of the committees chosen by random selection.  Each of the committees usually consisted of 10 members who each sat on the committee for one year.

3. Switzerland

From 1640 until 1837 mayors in many parts of Switzerland were chosen via sortition.  Because the mayoralty of Swiss cities involved financial gain it was considered fair that everyone should have an equal chance at this.

4. Italy

Sortition was used between the 14th and 16th centuries in many Italian city-states to select the 6 – 1 2 members of the city’s governing body, often with very short terms of office.  Sortition was also used during the same period to select the city’s chief magistrate (the doge).  The process in Venice was particularly elaborate so as to ensure that it was impossible to rig the outcome.  This system of selecting the doge in Venice lasted until 1797.

5.  U.S.A.

In 1974 Ned Crosby founded the Jefferson Center which used random selection to choose people to be part of Citizen Juries.3  Citizen Juries are brought together to help public institutions make decisions on complex and/or controversial issues.  The Juries have been used in issues as diverse as water quality, organ transplants, teenage pregnancy and AIDS.

6. Germany

At the same time that Ned Crosby was creating Citizen Juries, Peter Dienel was independently developing Planning Cells (Planungszelle) in Germany.  Planning Cells were experimented with in order to improve public decision-making.  Each cell involved about 25 randomly selected people working together for two to five days on issues of planning, assessment or control.  Dienel’s motivation was to “find ways in which virtually anyone could play the function of decision-maker if his or her life was affected by the decisions.”4

7. Iceland

Following the collapse of Iceland’s economy in 2008, the people of Iceland became disenchanted with not only their financial sector but also their government.  Thousands gathered outside the Althing (national parliament) banging pots and pans in what became known as the “kitchenware revolution”, eventually toppling the government.  Deciding that it was time to do away with the constitution that had been introduce by Denmark, a new Constitutional Bill was proposed.  A National Assembly of 950 randomly selected citizens met to draft that Bill.  By using sortition the Icelanders ensured that every Icelander over the age of eighteen had an equal chance of participating in the Assembly.

It’s Fair

These are just seven examples of sortition.  There have been dozens of examples over the years, some small involving a local area and a few participants, others much bigger involving nation-sates and many hundreds of people.  Most often the reason given for using sortition is that it is fair and gives everyone an equal chance in participating in the decision-making processes of their community or nation.

1. A “citizen” in Athens at that time did not include women, slaves, foreigners or children.  Notions of equity were to come later.
2. Such as: treasury, mining, law, jails, road building, law suits, auditing and festival organisation.
3. Citizen Jury is a trademarked term by the Jefferson Center.
4. Carson, Lyn and Martin, Brian. Random Selection in Politics, Praeger Publishers, Westport, CT. 1999.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Corruption of Democracy

The outlook for Western democracy is grim.  The latest set of figures for Transparency International show an increase in our perception of corruption in political institutions.  In the five large, Western, English-speaking nations1 the proportion of people responding that their parliament or legislature was “corrupt” or “extremely corrupt” ranged from 1 in 3 in New Zealand to almost 2 in 3 in the U.S.2

Political parties fared even worse.  46% of respondents in New Zealand felt that political parties were “corrupt” or “extremely corrupt.”  The other five nations ranged from Australia (58%), Canada (62%), the U.K. (66%) and the champion of democracy, the U.S. at (76%).  Those should be worrying statistics to any advocate of democracy.

When a political institution is seen as corrupt we perceive that those within it are acting in their own self-interest and not in the interests of the common good.  Transparency International also asked a question about self-interest.  It asked whether we felt that our governments were run by a few big entities in their own interest.  Again, the responses showed a great deal of distrust in our governments.3

Source: watchingfrogsboil (Flickr)
This finding is hardly surprising when we think of the amount of money poured into election campaigns.  In the 2010 U.K. election around $50 million was spent by the political parties; just under $2 per voter.  But even that pales against the amount spent by Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in the 2012 Presidential election – $1.1 billion, approximately $8 per voter!

Corruption in politics attacks our sense of fairness.  So, how do we re-imagine our democracies so that we perceive politics as fair?

At present our democracies involve the election of a group of citizens who are then charged with making decisions on behalf of all of us.  Inevitably, those elected “representatives” are drawn from within the ranks of political parties, although there are those who claim to be “independent.”  But, if you poke an “independent” sufficiently we will usually find an individual on a personal crusade or with an already fixed agenda.

No matter whether corruption is real or only perceived as such,4 it is clear that Western democracy is in trouble.  How can politicians and political parties be trusted when there is a perception of corruption of significant proportion?

The stock response seems often to be a variant on the theme of “vote them out” and elect some more worthy candidate.  Unfortunately, this does not change the underlying issue.  As some wag has put it: “voting only encourages them.”

Re-Imagining Democracy

So, what’s the alternative?  Throw away democracy?  Au-contraire.  We must re-imagine democracy, re-think what fairness in a democracy would be like.  For, isn’t that what we would like our public decision-making to be?  Fair, unbiased and made in the collective good.

In some, small situations, our collective decision-making could be totally participatory.  All members of the community would be entitled to speak and take part in the decision-making.

However, most of our public decision-making needs to be made on behalf of larger communities, societies, nations and inter-nationally.  In these situations we need a representative system that is fair.

Now, here’s the leap.  What could be fairer than random selection?  A flip of a coin, a roll of a dice, a card cut from a deck, a name pulled from a hat?  “Ludicrous” I can hear from some, “unworkable” from others.  Yet, it has been done.  Not only has it been done, but random selection (otherwise known as sortition) was the means used in the birthplace of democracy (ancient Athens) to select political representatives.  Unfortunately, this was conveniently forgotten by the modern constructors of democracy.

The Athenians used sortition to select all their public decision-makers, reserving voting as a means of selecting their military leaders.

Sortition is fair, transparent, cost effective and overcomes self-interest.  Let’s give it a shot.

My next posting will provide some examples of sortition, including some very recent.

1. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States of America.
2. The percentages are: Australia (36%), Canada (47%), NZ (33%), UK (55%), US (61%)
3. Australia (53%), Canada (54%), NZ (44%), UK (59%), US (64%).
4. Just the day before posting this item the Australian media released the findings of the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) into corruption charges against two state politicians.  ICAC found both to have undertaken corrupt dealings in their roles.