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 29 January 2013

Interview: The Laotian Water Cycle

Photo: Kate McLennan
In November/December 2012 Kate McLennan travelled to Laos with 16 other people to cycle through parts of the Laotian countryside.  But this was far more than a pleasant cycle in the country.  The 2 1/2 week trip was part of ChildFund Australia’s programme of development in Laos.

I recently sat down with Kate and she shared some of her experiences and thoughts from the trip and the work being done.

The region in which Global Community (ChildFund Australia’s project in Laos) is working is Nonghet District in the mountainous area of North East Laos on the border with Vietnam.  It is a region of approximately a dozen villages, very mountainous and where daily life for the rural people can be extremely dangerous (as we shall see).

Kate found that the people were easy-going, kind and generous.  Primarily Buddhist they live in a country that has been invaded many times, with France having been one of the most recent.  The influence of this invader is notable in the architecture, the cooking and with French being often spoken.  The two major indigenous languages are Lao and Hmong (which is spoken by most of the rural villagers in Nonghet).

The danger faced by villagers comes from an even more recent invader – the US.  During the 1960s and 70s at the time of the Vietnam War, the US was also conducting what became known as the “Secret War” in Laos1  More than 2 million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos in that war.  Dangerous enough then, but even more damaging has been the ongoing danger of unexploded bombs.  30% of those bombs are estimated to be unexploded – UXOs (UneXploded Ordinances) in the parlance.

These bombs still contaminate the region and pose an ever present threat to local populations.  Heavy rains (common in the area) dislodge the bombs and carry them into the fields in which the people farm and the children play2

Leading up to the cycle trip members of the group that Kate was part of raised over $80,000 which was used to build toilets and water systems in the villages of Nonghet.  Whilst the building of a toilet may be straightforward and cost little (approximately $150), a water system is not so simple.  The water tank is just the concrete outcome.  That tank requires a supply, often from the mountains.  This means surveying a pipeline route and the clearing of land and forest – remembering always that this is through land still heavily contaminated with UXOs.

However, Kate is rightly proud to be part of a project that has brought clean, fresh water to hundreds, thus helping to reduce diarrhoea and child mortality rates.  After three years work in the region ChildFund Australia is gaining the trust of the local government making the work much easier.

Asked what difference the trip had made to her, Kate enthusiastically notes that she is now “more connected in my mind that I want to help.”  Kate is also keen to “spread the word” not only about Nonghet but also about the work that is being done by ChildFund Australia.

The NGO is a member of ChildFund Alliance, which currently assists more than 16 million children in 51 countries and has over 55,000 donors in Australia. The Global Community programme is a relatively new programme with a growing number of sponsors gifting $35 per month each.  Kate has an obvious enthusiasm for this work and an engaging way of presenting the case for the people of Nonghet, Laos and for the work of ChildFund Australia.

Did her experience suggest anything for Australia and the rich world?3

“Yes” she states firmly, “we spend so much on crap.  $35 per month is so little, but it can make a huge change.”

Wouldn’t it be good if there were more Kates in the World?

1. Laos was at the centre of a covert war that involved many of the belligerents in the Vietnam war.  The war, known as “The Secret War”, ended in 1975 but it was not until 1997 that the US officially acknowledged it’s role in the war.
2. In the decade from 1999 to 2008 there were 2,184 casualties (including 834 deaths) from UXOs in Laos. (Mines Advisory Group website).
3. The median income in Laos is approximately A$36 per month.  The median monthly income in Australia is approximately A$4,560 – more than 120 times as much.

Friday 25 January 2013

The Ehrlichs Warn Us Again

In 1968 when Paul and Anne Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb there were 3.5 billion people on the earth.  Today, 45 years later there are twice that number and both Paul and Anne are in their 80s.

Notwithstanding their ages, they are both still writing and warning us of potential consequences of our “growth” mentality.

In 2012 Paul Ehrlich was elected to the fellowship of the Royal Society and marked the occasion by publishing (with his wife) a paper in January 2013 asking: Can a collapse of global civilisation be avoided?

As with their 1968 book and many other books and articles the Ehrlich's are again alerting humanity to face up to the damage that we are doing to our planet, its ecosystems and to ourselves.  Although a lot of the public face of environmental threats has been about climate change in this paper the Ehrlichs warn of other elements that could lead to collapse.  Amongst these they include:
  • an accelerating extinction of animal and plant populations and species,
  • land degradation,
  • a spread of toxic compounds,
  • ocean acidification and eutrophication (dead areas),
  • worsening of aspects of the environment that make us (humans) susceptible to infectious diseases, and
  • depletion of scarce resources.
Returning to a long-running theme of theirs, the Ehrlichs state that “No civilisation can avoid collapse if it fails to feed its population.”  Yet our agricultural practices, techniques and technologies have led us into a Catch 22 situation:.
“Agriculture itself is a major emitter of greenhouse gases and thus is an important cause of climate disruption as well as being exceptionally vulnerable to its consequences.”
However, food supply is not the only threat according to the Ehrlichs.  Global toxification, population growth, weakening of immune systems, rapid transportation and misuse of antibiotics all could contribute to world-wide epidemics.

Having lived through the horrors of Hiroshima/Nagasaki, the Cold War and now dangerous conflicts such as that between India and Pakistan it is little surprise that the Ehrlichs are also worried about the potential of collapse via nuclear warfare.

So, are the Ehrlichs hopeful of a positive answer to their question: Can a collapse of global civilisation be avoided?

Their guarded answer is yes.  They recognise that humanity does have the capacity and the assets needed, but unfortunately “the risks are clearly not obvious to most people.” 

Thus, yet another warning is issued to humanity by two of the world’s leading biologists.  When will we sit up and take notice this time?

Cartoon source:

Monday 21 January 2013

Letter to Gen X & Y (Part 1: An Apology)

Hello Generation X and Y,letter

I’m a Baby Boomer.  I was born seven years after the Second World War.  I entered my teenage years during the 1960s.  By the late 1960s I was reading Kerouac, Hermann Hesse and Graham Greene.  I was listening to the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.  I was attending poetry readings by Sam Hunt and Gary McCormack and hearing the rhetoric of student radicals like Tim Shadbolt1.

Like Tim, I was becoming incensed by the injustices of the ill-conceived war in Vietnam.  One Summer holiday I began reading the daily newspapers and watch television news more than I had before.  And there, in front of me, was the atrocity of that war summed up in one village massacre – My Lai.  The power of mass, world-wide communication, via TV, had arrived.  Today, some 50 years later, television may seem normal (or even “old hat”), but as a 17 year old in 1969, it was a window to the world.

Attending University in the early 1970s steepened my learning curve.  The world wasn’t a paradise, it was full of social injustice.  The Vietnam War was a stimulus for what seemed like monthly marches or demonstrations.  I learnt about the apartheid system in South Africa and later about the appalling statistics of indigenous people (Maori) in my own land.  I was confronted with the benefit of being a male in a male-dominated society.  Books discussing ecology and environmental issues began to be published on a regular basis.  The World’s first green political party – the Values Party2 – was formed under my nose.

Yes, I was having my consciousness raised.  Yes, I was confronting my sexism.  Yes, I was signing the Maruia Declaration.  Yes, I stood as a candidate for the Values Party.  Yes, I sat in the wharenui (meeting house) at Bastion Point3.  Yes, I campaigned for a Non-Nuclear Future.  Many of us did, there were thousands in the streets, hundreds of thousands signed the Maruia and Non-Nuclear Futures petitions.  Yes, we were all looking forward to a bright, optimistic, free and equal society.
But somewhere, Gen X and Y, we got it wrong.  We should apologise for that.

That television that was our window on the world was a two-edged sword.  Not only did it allow us to see the world, but it also allowed the world to invade our space.  Although globalisation had been occurring throughout the preceding millennium, the world in the 1960s and 70s was about to enter a new form of globalisation.  The globalisation of greed, ill-will and cultural imperialism.

We didn’t see it coming!

If we did see it coming, we didn’t appreciate or understand it’s insidious underbelly.  We enjoyed the greater choice we had, we enjoyed the falling prices we paid, we enjoyed the faster travel, we enjoyed the new technology.

What we failed to see clearly was the development not just of globalisation as material improvement but that it also became (from the 1980s onward) an ideology.  Espoused notably by Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US, neo-liberal globalisation had two primary tenets: deregulation and privatisation.

Those twin pillars of globalisation led to; some 2/3rds of the world’s trade being accounted for by just 500 transnational corporations (TNCs), a hugely increased gap between rich and poor, lack of accountability leading to environmental degradation, laying off of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of workers when companies are “rationalised”, growing debt (and the servicing of that shifted to those not benefiting from the loans).

Yes, Gen X and Y – we did it.  We Baby Boomers created this monster from within our own ranks.  Like Mary Shelley we created new life but failed to see that the life we were creating was a monster.  As in Shelley’s Frankenstein, the monster is out and sadly has not been seen for what it is.  National governments, the World Bank, the IMF and especially TNCs, refuse to acknowledge the monster.  Instead, they continue to trot out the neo-liberal theory as if it was working.

But it’s not.  George Monbiot (another Baby Boomer) has rightly pointed out the absolute failure of the theory.  We can see it now, I’m sorry Gen X and Y, that we didn’t see it earlier.  We have burdened you Gen X and Y.

I must apologise further, for to this burden of corporate globalisation we Baby Boomers are adding a further burden by our very own existence.  We Baby Boomers are becoming senior citizens, superannuants and pensioners.

When we were your age there were approximately 7 people of working age for every person aged over 65.  Today there are 5 and within your lifetime that is expected to decrease to just 2.5 by 20504.  Yes, we are going to be a burden.

So, I write this letter of apology to Generation X and Y.  I and others of my cohort can apologise, but can we offer anything in return?  I believe we can.

If nothing else, I think we have learnt something, and maybe, just maybe, we can pass that learning on to you before it is too late.

Best wishes
A Baby Boomer

P.S. I will write you another letter suggesting some challenges you will have to face.

1.  Sam Hunt and Gary McCormack are well known New Zealand poets influenced by the beat movement and counter-culture of the 1960s and 70s.  Tim Shadbolt became the face of student protest in the late 1960s earning the ire of politicians throughout the country, writing a book (Bullshit and Jellybeans) and eventually becoming a long-time Mayor of two cities.
2. The Values Party was formed in 1972 by Tony Brunt and in its first electoral contest just six months later obtained 2% of the vote.
3. The Maruia Declaration was a petition aimed at protecting native forests from logging.  Bastion Point was the site of an occupation by Ngati Whatua (the traditional tribal owners) of disputed tribal lands in 1977-78.  After an occupation of 507 days the protesters were evicted by police and ten years later the land was returned to Ngati Whatua and an apology made to the traditional owners.
4. Figures are for Australia and New Zealand.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Guns, guns, guns.

The shots that rang out in December 2012 from the Sandy Hook school, and those that were heard earlier that year from inside the theatre in which the Batman movie was playing, echoed around the world.  Gun reform debates were rekindled in the US.  In other parts of the world analyses and opinions were printed in major newspapers.  In Australia much mention has been made of the gun reforms that were instituted after the Port Arthur massacre1.

So I thought I’d do a little of my own research.  I found the statistics for gun ownership and also for the incidence of homicides where firearms were involved2.  I limited the research to the Western nations of Europe plus Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, Canada and the US so as to, as best I could, be comparing like with like.  I then plotted gun ownership versus firearm homicides for each country in a scatter array.  The graph is shown below.  The y-axis shows the number of firearms per 100 population.  The x-axis shows the number of homicides by firearms per 100,000 population.  The straight line moving diagonally up the graph is the line of best fit. Make of it what you will, however, I have a couple of thoughts.

Guns vs homicides

Firstly, the position of the US is vastly different from that of the other nations.  It has a significantly higher gun ownership level (89 guns for every 100 people living in the US).  It also has the highest incidence of homicide by firearm: 2.97 per 100,000 of the population.  This is almost four times the level of the next highest - Switzerland at 0.77.  Of the 29 nations plotted, 24 have an incidence less than 0.5 per 100,000.  The US firearm homicide rate is six times that of most Western countries!

The rising slope of the “best fit line” suggests to me that there is a positive correlation between gun ownership and the number of homicides by firearm.  In short, the more guns there are, the greater the likelihood of firearm homicides.

I also thought that I might plot the number of incidences of firearm massacres (defined as an incident in which four or more people are killed) versus gun ownership per country.  But, when I looked at the data the graph would be ludicrous.  Graphed over a period of 20 years most countries would be grouped around the x=0, y=0 point and the US would be off the chart.  Go figure!

Decide for yourself, but I for one am totally unconvinced by any of the arguments put forward by gun lobbies, either in the US or any other part of the world.  To mimic one comment from the National Rifle Association – the way to stop bad guys killing people with guns is for good guys to stop the manufacture and sale of guns3.  Guns kill – full stop.

1. Port Arthur (in Tasmania, Australia) was the site of one of the worst mass shootings in the Western world, with 35 people being killed in 1996.  Shortly afterwards, the Australian Prime Minister (John Howard) introduced sweeping gun reform measures including restrictions on the type of gun able to be owned, controls on use and a buy-back of almost one million guns   Prior to 1996 there had been 13 mass shootings in 15 years.  Since then, Australia has witnessed not a single firearm massacre and there is also research indicating that firearm homicides and suicides have reduced significantly (and have not been replaced by homicides using other weapons).
2. The stats on gun ownership came from the Small Arms Survey, an independent research project based in Geneva, Switzerland and are for the 2007 year.  The stats for homicides from firearms come from UNODC (UN Office on Drugs & Crime).
3. After the shooting at Sandy Hook, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre commented that “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.”

Monday 14 January 2013

Can Community Development Save Us?

Society is unhealthy.  We are ill.  We suffer from debilitating inequality, global terrorism, wars, malnutrition, mistrust and doubt.  Our environments are filling with CO2  emissions, spilt oil and toxins.  World-wide we demand greater transparency and accountability from our elected leaders, yet we trust them less and less.

We need professional intervention.  Which of the many professions can we look to?  The political or legal profession?  Both are too enamoured with an adversarial approach.  Business and financial leaders?  The last couple of years should shy us off that road.  Academia perhaps?  Certainly academics have supplied us with compelling analysis and information, but lack the capacity to translate that into a common vocabulary or action.  Perhaps professionals from within the sporting or musical arenas can inspire us?  Notwithstanding the worthy efforts of the likes of Bono or Sir Bob Geldof, celebrities have not been able to initiate widespread change beyond big-scale, high-profile events that come and go like, well - pop songs.

The profession of Community Development has many attributes going for it that other professions do not.  Community Development professionals:
  • Attempt to work in a consensus model, respecting the contributions of all.
  • Seek to empower people no matter what their status.
  • Espouse a vision of equity, social justice, respect and diversity.
  • Understand the connections between people and their environment.
  • Work in an holistic manner.
  • Take a bottom-up, rather than top-down approach.
  • Realise that community development requires a long-term, sustainable strategy.
  • Recognise that in order to solve many of our problems, we need to look for underlying causes and not just treat symptoms.
  • Understand the need to have a big picture, yet are able to work at a local level.
  • Reject the notion of the “expert” and put their faith in the collective wisdom of local communities.
Of course, the political and legal professions may embody some of these attributes, as also do some business and financial leaders.  My contention is that, community development may be one of the only professions that can lay claim to espousing all of these attributes, and this is what gives the profession of Community Development an unique place in the future of humanity and the earth.

Let us not get complacent however.  Professionals acting within a community development framework have some serious work and thinking to do.  To help guide us through the many and complex issues facing humanity over the coming decades community development practitioners must think about:
  • Becoming community educators, enabling communities to understand the forces at work in society that have shaped our predicaments.
  • Furthermore, helping communities to understand that global forces are having serious impacts upon local lifestyles and vice versa.
  • Enabling communities to understand that climate change and environmental breakdown will impact seriously on the lifestyles that we have become used to.
  • Also enabling communities to understand that corporate globalisation seriously impacts upon the wellbeing of local communities throughout the world.
  • So much so that, community development/education professionals will need to understand and be able to translate the message that our current lifestyles are no longer sustainable.
  • Assisting communities to become resilient in the face of possible breakdown.
  • Helping communities establish alternative economies, workplaces, transport, agriculture, energy production, leisure and recreation.
  • Empowering communities to discover forms of governance and public decision-making that encompass diversity and broad participation without giving rise to party politics or career politicians.
Can we do it?  Can community development professionals rise to the challenge?  Hopefully, we have not become too complacent and that we have not bought into the idea that community development is nothing more than developing communities within the current paradigm.

The role of community development professionals must be to act as change agents to help society reject its current unhealthy lifestyle and find a way of living that is sustainable, just and equitable.