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.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

4 Beliefs that we must dispense with

If we are to achieve a just and sustainable society and planet, then the rich, Western nations are going to have to dispense with, at least, four beliefs.

1.  Economic Growth

Turn on the TV news and most nights there will be a clip of some politician or economic commentator exhorting the mantra of economic growth.  What could be more natural?  We all grow.  But, what politicians and economists forget is that all systems reach an optimum level of growth and then de-grow.  Yet, the mantra continues, even though it is patently obvious that we are well past our optimum.

Despite economic growth of around 30% in developing countries between 1981 and 2001, the number of people living on less than $2 a day increased from 2.4 billion to 2.7 billion in the same period1.  Even within OECD nations, inequality has risen enormously since the 1980s, at the same time as high growth rates.

Research has indicated that for each $100 worth of growth since 1990, just $0.60 has contributed towards reducing poverty for those living on less than $1 per day.2

Nor does economic growth facilitate a healthy planet.  Economic growth has only given us a planet with; less rainforest cover, more land prone to erosion, less biodiversity, melting icecaps, greater levels of toxic waste and in many parts of the world, pollution levels well over the WHO recommended guidelines.

2. Technological Fix-All

The idea that technological advances will solve the problems facing us is a seductive one.  The history of technological fixes should make us wary.  Remember when the advent of the personal computer was going to allow us more leisure time, when we were going to have less mundane and administrative tasks.  What happened?  We work longer hours, we are stuck at the computer (in fact, the computer today often is our leisure), and bureaucracy is overwhelming.

Economists call this the “rebound effect” whereby the benefits of efficiency improvements are negated by extra growth and consumption made possible by the efficiency improvements.

Technology has given us some great benefits.  Technology has also come near to wiping us off the face of the earth.  It is technology that has driven climate change.  It is technology that has driven peasant farmers in India off their land.  We cannot afford to put our faith in technology.

We must heed the words of Albert Einstein who cautioned that “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  Einstein also noted that “it has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”

3. Representative Democracy

To say that our democratically elected leaders have failed us in recent decades is possibly an understatement.  It is no wonder.  Those elected to our parliaments, congresses and city halls are becoming more and more homogenous.  Our elected leaders come from an ever smaller sector of society: the wealthy, business owners, industrialists, celebrities and, increasingly, career politicians.

There is no room for the ideas, dreams or wishes of common folk in that mix.  How much empathy can a politician of wealth and/or status have with families struggling on low incomes?

Furthermore, politicians have been woefully inept when it comes to planetary issues such as climate change.

Democracy must be reclaimed by the demos – the people. Democracy must take the next step on it’s journey if it is to be a vehicle for public decision-making in the 21st Century.

4. Consumerism

Every year we globally consume the equivalent of one and a half Earth-sized planets.  That figure doesn’t show the big picture though.  If we all lived at a consumption level of the average American then we would need five Earths.  Australians consume the equivalent of almost four Earths and Europeans more than two and a half.

Yes, our consumption is skewed.  The rich, Western nations consume at a much greater rate than does much of the World.  For example, Europeans spend more annually on ice-cream ($11 billion) than it would take to provide clean drinking water for everyone ($10 billion).

As Gandhi put it years ago: “There is enough for every persons need, but not enough for every persons greed.” 

Beliefs are fine, but if they blind us to the possibility of a just and sustainable world, then they become chains.

1. Figures from The World Bank.
2. David Woodward & Andrew Simms, Growth isn’t working, nef (the new economics foundation), January 2006.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Economics of Happiness (A Review)

Helena Norberg-Hodge in Ladakh
Have you ever suspected that there was a link between poverty, climate change and biodiversity loss?  If so, then go and see this film.  If not, then go and see this film.

The Economics of Happiness is a film directed by Helena Norberg-Hodge, Steven Gorelick and John Page for the International Society for Ecology and Culture.

The film begins in Ladakh (NW India, sometimes called “Little Tibet”) where Norberg-Hodge has spent a lot of time since 1975, most of that attempting to understand and explain what is happening in the world in ecological, economic and cultural ways.  The film has two parts. Part 1 talks about the problems that globalisation has brought to the world: urbanisation with its attendant slums and urban sprawl, trading stupidity (whereby one country may export a commodity, only to import roughly the equivalent amount of the same commodity), theft of land from poor and peasant farmers, meanwhile being a significant driver of climate change.

Norberg-Hodge as the narrator interviews a number of commentators from all parts of the world; from Brazil to Japan, Thailand to the US, India, South Africa, Bhutan, the UK, Tibet and Peru.  Many have damning condemnations of the effects of globalisation.  Vandana Shiva, for example, speaks of the hundreds of thousands of suicides by peasant farmers in India.

The directors suggest that humanity is facing three major crises: an ecological crisis, an economic crisis and a crisis of the human spirit.  The film asks us to “connect the dots” and to realise that these three crises are interconnected.

All is not gloom and doom in the film though.  Part 1 segues easily into Part 2 which provides some solutions.  Many of the examples given remind us that the solutions are in our own backyard, and at our front doorstep.

A local market, for example, not only provides fresh local produce, reducing transportation waste and allowing local growers to earn a living, but a local market also stimulates conversations hundreds of times more often than does a supermarket.

The film introduces us to one of the largest movements in the world – La Via Compesina (International Peasants Movement).  La Via Compesina is made up of 150 local and national organisations in 70 countries, representing around 200 million farmers worldwide.

The Economics of Happiness has been criticised for not presenting the “other side.”  When one realises the weight of media presenting the benefits of globalisation then that criticism is nothing short of a chimera.  This is exactly the sort of film that needs to be made, that needs to be shown and needs to be seen.

The film may start in Ladakh, but it ends very squarely in our own hearts and minds.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Parts, Fragments and Diversity

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” is a well-known truism.  Parts fit together.  A computer for instance.  Take a computer apart and lay all the parts out in front of you.  Each part is not a computer, but each part as a role to play in the whole computer.  Each part is necessary for the whole.

But, what if you take a hammer to the computer and hit it repeatedly?  You end up with fragments.  Is it possible to rebuild the computer from these fragments?  No, they remain fragments.

Social Fragments

When it comes to our community and social life we have a problem when parts of our society are thought of as fragments.  We see this everywhere.  Homeless people are not seen as part of society, nor are those with disabilities.  Others too; refugees, landless farmers in India, teenage mothers or sweatshop workers in SE Asia for instance.  Often not thought of as part of society, but rather as fragments.  The broken and shattered bits of society.

Yet society faces a number of crises.  It is those thought of as fragments that are and will bear the brunt of these crises.  Tackling these crises will require the contribution of all parts of society.  In short, we will need diversity.


Diversity is often thought of in terms of difference.  Difference of ethnicity, of country of origin – different cultures.  Fragmentary thinking will over-emphasise the difference between us and tend to separate us.  Sure, we are different, but diversity is also about how we come together and utilise the difference between us.

Diversity is about the difference and about the connection.  It is about parts coming together to produce a whole that is greater than any of us.

Fragmentary thinking is what will stop us solving our collective problems.

Creative and collective thinking, using diversity, is what we need to solve our collective problems.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Liars, cheats and thieves

Many years ago, when I was an University student, in the days when door-to-door appeals still existed, I collected for a New Zealand based international aid agency.  I used to collect in one suburb, but it had two distinct demographics.  The hillside was dotted with high-priced, large houses.  The valley residencies were more often older, smaller and inexpensive.  In short, the hillside was the home of the rich; the valley was the home of the lower middle-class.

What struck me, as a young, naive student, was that when I knocked on the door of a hillside residence I was often met with; “not today, thanks,” “I’ve already given,” or sometimes just a short “no.”  Not always, but it was common enough.

However, when I knocked on a valley door I was often met with someone who would go away, collect their purse or wallet, and then tip out whatever coins they had and place them in my collection bucket.  I just knew that person was giving possibly the last of their spare cash.

Forty years later I have come across a piece of research that suggests my experience was not atypical.  Piffa et al1 conducted a series of seven experiments and concluded that the wealthy are more likely to lie, cheat and steal than are the poor.

We often hear from politicians, talk-back hosts and others that people on welfare and those in the lower strata of society are layabouts, out to rip off the system or no-gooders.

Piffa’s research does not dispute that people in lower socio-economic strata are capable of lying or cheating.  But, those who are wealthy in comparison, are much more likely to do so.  This conclusion turns the common myth (promoted by those politicians and talk-back hosts) on its head.

Before you go thinking that rich people are liars, fraudsters or cheats though, give some consideration to the next part of the research.

What’s the Difference?

In further experiments they placed people who came from wealthy backgrounds in roles where they played poor persons.  In the same experiments they placed people from poorer backgrounds in roles of being wealthy.  And, guess what?

Those playing the role of a wealthy person became more likely to lie, cheat and steal, even though their background was exactly the opposite.  Those put into poorer roles became more compassionate, again irrespective that their own background was as a member of a wealthier class.

What does this tell us?  Compassion on one hand or selfishness on the other is not a consequence of whether one is wealthy or poor.  It is a consequence of the difference in wealth in a society.  In short, the difference in attitudes is a result of inequalities.

This research supports the findings of Wilkinson and Pickett in their ground-breaking book, The Spirit Level2.  Furthermore, Wilkinson and Pickett suggest that as inequalities widen then the incidence of social ills grow,

Its time to stop stereotyping the poor or those in lower socio-economic strata as liars, cheats and thieves.  However, castigating the rich as liars, cheats and thieves is not going to change anything.

Until we start working at reducing inequality then nothing will change.  That will require the will of those who presently control our political and economic institutions.  That is, those who are wealthy.  But then, as the research suggests, they are presently in positions whereby they are more likely to lie, cheat and steal.

Oh dear.  How to get out of the systemic spiral?  That is our collective challenge.

1. Piffa, Stancatoa, Côtéb, Mendoza-Dentona & Keltnera, Higher social class predicts increased unethical behaviour, Dept. of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley and Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, Canada, January 2012.
2. Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level; Why Equality is Better for Everyone.  Penguin, London, 2010.