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

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Balancing Equations

One of the important rules of mathematics that we learn early in our school life is that both sides of an equation must balance.  For example 2 + 2 = 4, or 6 x 5 = 30.  When the equation doesn’t balance it is known as an inequality.

Let’s apply this basic understanding to this equation:

22.6 + 30 + 26 + 24 + 5.9 + 24.6 + 6 = 1,767

It doesn’t balance does it?  It’s an inequality.

What do these figures represent?  Let’s take the left hand side of the equation first.

The cost of supplying clean and safe water and sanitation to everyone in the world is estimated at $22.6 billion each year for five years1.

The cost of eradicating extreme hunger is estimated at $30 billion per year.2

The extra money needed annually to provide access to primary education for all children is estimated at $26 billion.3

The cost of preventing HIV/Aids is estimated at $24 billion per year.4

The cost of first line treatment of malaria is estimated at $5.9 billion.5

The cost of providing universal maternal health care in developing countries is estimated at $24.6 billion.6

The cost of saving the deaths of two million children each year from pneumonia and diarrhoea is estimated to cost $6 billion.7

If you add all those together you get $139.1 billion.  That doesn’t equal $1,767.

So, what does the 1,767 represent.  That is the amount that the world spent on it’s militaries in 2014 – $1,767 billion!  In one year.8

Talk about an inequality.

The nature of estimation is, of course, open to debate and error.  However, it cannot be argued that even considering that there will be errors, the inequality is glaring.  So too is the immorality of it.

1. World Health Organisation (WHO)
2. Speech by Director-General (Jacques Diouf) of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 2008.
3. The Guardian, November 2013, quoting UNESCO report.
4. AVERT (an international charity working in the HIV/Aids sector, based in UK), 2013.
5. Global Malaria Action Plan, Roll Back Malaria.
6. Adding It Up, UN Population Fund and Guttmacher Institute, 2009
7. Ending Preventable Child Deaths From Pneumonia and Diarrhoea by 2025, WHO/UNICEF
8. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Yearbook 2014.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Is It Any Wonder?

There are constant moans and grumbles about the behaviour of individuals in modern western society.  Drugs, violence, theft; all symptoms (apparently) of a society in decline.  We can blame the individuals in each case, but are we really doing anything to curb the underlying causes?

Is it any wonder?
That: children bully others at school,
When: politicians yell at and verbally abuse each other in parliaments.

Is it any wonder?
That: women are the primary victims of domestic abuse and violence,
When: men make and tolerate sexist comments and jokes.

Is it any wonder?
That: people on little or no income steal,
When: transnational corporations avoid tax through spurious loopholes.

Is it any wonder?
That: young men readily resort to violence,
When: the nations of the world regularly go to war.

Is it any wonder?
That: young people take drugs,
When: the liquor and tobacco industries are two of the world’s largest industries.

Is it any wonder?
That: people end up in debt,
When: the advertising industry is constantly bombarding us with messages to buy, buy, buy.

Is it any wonder?
That: rates of anxiety, depression and suicide are on the increase,
When: so much of the entertainment media idolises celebrities, status and self-glorification.

Yes, it can be easy to look at the behaviour of individuals and place the blame for their behaviour upon them. But, every individual is located within a wider environment.  If we don’t take that environment into account then we will often end up just putting sticking plaster on the problem.

We can offer drug rehabilitation programmes, anger management courses, jail sentences or financial counselling.  But, if we just send people back into the same environment can we really expect any real long-term or inter-generational change?

This is one of the major challenges for community development.  How do we change social conditions rather than trying to change the behaviours of individuals?  The first thing for a community development worker to do is to be able to see the bigger picture.  A community development worker must be able to look outside the square, and challenge the cultural and social mores and values that are the cause of many of the behaviours that individual display.

As a society we are quick to condemn the young person on ice, quick to condemn the bully at school, quick to condemn the father stealing to provide for his family.

Before doing so, perhaps we should be asking:

Is it any wonder?

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Development Does Not Mean Growth

There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about development, sustainability, sustainable development and growth.  Some of it may simply be a lack of clear definition and some of it may be deliberate obfuscation.

Much of the confusion stems from a poor description or understanding of the word development itself.  The root of the word is Old French: de-envelop.  That is, peeling back, getting to the core.  Quite the opposite of how the word is commonly thought of; to add to or increase.

Growth on the other hand, very clearly implies adding on, extending, becoming bigger, more more and yet even more.

Clearly, the world is finite and continual growth is not possible.  Development, however, is and should be, possible.  We desperately need to discover the core of what it means to be human on a finite planet that we share with 7 billion other humans. 

To be human and to live good, healthy, fulfilling lives there are some fundamental (core) needs that must be satisfied: fresh, clean water and sanitation, food, security, adequate housing, income, health, education, energy supply etc.  For some of us these are satisfied, but for many millions and billions of humanity there is clearly need for development.

For example, over 900 million people do not have adequate food supplies, yet 1/3rd or more of all food produced never reaches an human stomach.  One in five of us live on less than $1.25 per day and 51.2 million people are forcibly displaced because of persecution, conflict, other forms of violence or human rights violations.  It is estimated that nearly one in three people do not have regular access to essential health care.

So, for much of the world there is an urgent need for development.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the rich nations are hell-bent on growth – specifically, economic growth.  Consider these quotes from Western leaders (from the US, Germany and Australia):
“The most important thing that the United States can do for the world economy is to grow, because we continue to be the world’s largest market and a huge engine for all other countries to grow.” – Barack Obama 
“We need a growth-oriented, sound fiscal policy, we need investments by the state…” – Angela Merkel 
“As always, stronger economic growth is the key to addressing almost every global problem.” – Tony Abbot
That growth is not sustainable.

The term sustainable development has entered the jargon over the past decade or two.1  What does the term mean?  One model that attempts to illuminate it has been conceived by Kate Raworth, writing for Oxfam.2 

The Doughnut

Fig 1 (Oxfam)
Raworth likens her model (Fig 1) to a doughnut, with social foundational needs forming the inside circle of the doughnut and an environmental ceiling forming the outside circle.  Between the two (the core of the doughnut) is the “safe and just space for humanity.”  Getting to that space and maintaining ourselves within it is the goal of sustainable development. 
“Moving into this space demands far greater equity – within and between countries – in the use of natural resources, and far greater efficiency in transforming those resources to meet human needs.”
Raworth has identified eleven dimensions to the social foundation and nine dimensions to the environmental ceiling.  Furthermore, Raworth has quantified how well we are doing against each of these dimensions (except the three social dimensions of jobs, voice and resilience, and the two environmental dimensions of atmospheric aerosol loading and chemical pollution). 

How are we doing?  Not very well.  How equitable and efficient are we?  Not good. (Figs 2 & 3)

Fig 2 (Oxfam)

We have exceeded the ceiling for biodiversity loss, climate change and the nitrogen cycle and are dangerously close to the ceiling for the phosphorous cycle and ocean acidification.

Fig 3 (Oxfam)
In terms of the social foundation, we have not yet met any of the “developmental” needs for any of them,  We are getting close on education, food, water use and electricity.  We still have challenges in the areas of social equity, health, sanitation, and the employment gap between men and women.  We have an enormous challenge in terms of representation by women in national parliaments – the gap stands at 77%.

Is the doughnut useful?  Yes, it is.  If only because it provides us with a conceptual framework within which to understand sustainable development and guide policy making that provides the social foundations, yet does not crack the environmental ceiling.

Clearly, we have some work to do.

1.  Indeed, as far back as 1987 the World Commission on Environment and Development defined sustainable development as “the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.”
2. Kate Raworth, “A Safe and Just Space for Humanity,” Oxfam Discussion Paper, February 2012

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

5 Environmental Equations We Should Know

To some of us equations help to model the world.  To others of us they can open up new perspectives.  And then there are those of us who just can’t stand equations – too much reminder of “maths” at school perhaps.

But mathematics and it’s associated equations are everywhere, and environmental science or the science of climate change are no different.  Here are five such equations that any environmental or climate activist should know about.

1.  I = PAT

Perhaps one of the simplest and also contentious equations is this one formulated in the 1970s by Paul Ehrlich, Barry Commoner and John Holdren.  In this equation I stands for impact of humans on the planet, P for the human population, A for affluence, or consumption rate per person, and T for technology, or resource intensity.

PAT has been expressed as P x A x T, i.e a simple multiplication effect.  However, this is too simplistic.  The equation should perhaps be better written as I = f(P,A,T).  That is, human impact is a function of the combinatory effects of Population, Affluence and Technology.

However you understand the equation, what it does tell us is that all three components of the equation must be considered if we are to reduce our impact on the earth.  There are indications that the world population level may begin to flatten out in the second half of this century.  There are also some exciting looking technological breakthroughs on the horizon, allowing for greater efficiencies.  Greater efficiencies mean a reduction in the impact due to technology.  Many climate change activists promote these technologies and put faith in them to stall off climate catastrophe.

However, the one component of I=PAT that is often overlooked or possibly shunned is that of affluence, or our consumption rates.  Affluence is highly variable around the globe, with those of us in the western, rich nations consuming at a rate considerably greater than those in developing nations.1  Those of us in these rich countries who are concerned about climate change and our impact upon the earth must take a long hard look at our consumption.

2.  F = P x G/P x E/G x F/E

This equation is known as the Kaya Identity and is a special case of the I=PAT equation in that it considers human impact upon the climate.  In this equation:
  • F is global CO2 emissions from human sources
  • P is global population growth
  • G is world GDP, and
  • E is global energy consumption.
Developed by Japanese economist Yoichi Kaya the equation is used extensively by the IPCC2 for the projection of it’s emissions scenarios.  Breaking down each term into population growth, GDP per capita, energy use per unit of GDP, and carbon emissions per unit of energy used has proven to make the calculation of global emissions easier.

3.  Private Car Emissions per year

Transportation world-wide makes up about 14% of global carbon emissions.  Here is an equation that allows individuals to calculate the tonnes of carbon dioxide that their private car emits per year.
CO2 emissions (tonnes) = k x e/100 x 0.00237, where
  • k is the number of kilometres driven per year,
  • e is the fuel efficiency of the vehicle, measured by the number of litres per 100 km.
  • 0.00237 is how many tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted by burning one litre of fuel.
So, for example, suppose you travel 20,000 km in a year and your car has an efficiency of 9 lt per 100 km, then the number of tonnes of carbon dioxide you would emit that year would be:  20,000 x 9/100 x 0.00237 = 4.3 tonnes.

4. EDD = WB/WEF x 365

This simple looking equation is used to calculate the Ecological Debt Day (EDD), otherwise known as Earth Overshoot Day.  Ecological Debt Day is the day on which it is calculated that we humans have expended as much of the earth’s resources as the earth is capable of restoring in that year. 

Last year (2014), this day was calculated as being on August 19. In other words, from 20 August onward for the rest of that year we were living beyond our means.  It is akin to having our annual salary and expending every last dollar and cent of it by August 19.  Thereafter, we must beg or take out a loan against the future.  A bank may be prepared to do that but it is extremely doubtful that the earth can continue to do so.

In the equation above EDD is calculated by dividing WB (World Biodiversity: the amount of natural resources the earth produces in a year) by WEF (World Ecological Footprint: the amount that we humans consume per year) and multiplying that figure by 365 (days in the year).

There are a number of sites on the Internet that give data for world ecological footprint, the footprint of specific countries and even calculators allowing you to discover your personal ecological footprint.

5.  1 = 1

This is the simplest, yet possibly the most important of the five equations.  It simply says one equals one.  One does not mean two or three, but one.  That is the most basic equation we need.  We have one planet.  We live on one planet.  We are part of one planet.  We depend upon one planet. 

We do not have two planets.  We don’t even have one and a half planets, yet that is how many we are presently using on a global scale.  We are consuming one and a half planets worth of resources each year.  And, some of us are consuming at an even higher rate. 

This equation brings us back to reality.  One Earth.  The other equations may tell us how much we have overshot, what factors we need to consider and even how much we personally contribute, but this equation says it simply: ONE means ONE.

1.  North America and Western Europe has 12% of the world’s population, yet accounts for 60% of private consumptive spending.  Meanwhile the 1/3rd of the world’s population living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa account for just 3.2% (source: Worldwatch Institute)
2. IPCC = Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.