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 28 May 2014

The most important equation on the planet

At school we learnt about a number of equations.  We learnt the Pythagoras Theorem:  a2 = b2 + c2.
We heard about, even if neither we nor our teachers understood it, Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2

Equations are useful things, even if most of us go about our daily lives without considering any of them.  But there is one equation that we all need to be aware of and consider, because it relates to our well-being as well as the well-being of the whole planet.

The equation is quite simple: 

I = P x A x T (or simply I = PAT). 
The I stands for human environmental Impact, P for Population, A for Affluence and T for Technology.

The equation was developed in the 1970s by Barry Commoner, Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren.  The three scientists were debating the environmental impact made by humans.  John Holdren emphasised technological change following the second World War.  Barry Commoner and Paul Erhlich suggested that all three factors (P, A, T) were important, especially population growth.

In the previous blog posting it was noted that we presently need one and a half Earth-sized planets to satisfy our lifestyle and that we would need 3 by the 2050s.  That blog suggested that to reduce our impact on the Earth we needed to consider population, affluence and technology – exactly what this equation does.

The equation suggests that the mathematics is simply one of multiplication.  However, its not really quite that straightforward.  Each of the factors are interrelated and influence each other.  It is possibly better to write the equation as:

I = f(P, A, T)
so that I is seen as a function of the interplay between all three factors.
Of the three factors, population is the easiest to understand.  It is simply how many people are living on the planet.  It is presently just over 7 billion and expected to reach 9 billion by 2042.  The 20th Century saw a massive increase in our population, growing from 1.6 billion at the beginning of the century and ending it with over 6 billion.  The growth rate has slowed over the past 30 years so that by 2050 the population would be about 10 billion and was expected to stabilise at that level.  However, recent UN projections suggest that the world’s population will continue growing beyond the 2050 level.
Affluence is a measure of our per capita consumption level, with the best guestimate being GDP per capita.  World GDP growth has almost doubled so far this century from around $7,000 per capita at the beginning of the century to around $13,000 in 2012.  Affluence varies extremely as we know, not only between nations but also within nations.  Hence, with respect to the equation the impact upon the environment is much worse from the rich nations.
The factor here is one of how efficient our technology is.  The more efficient it is the less the environmental impact.  Unfortunately, increases in efficiency often do not contribute to significant lessening of environmental impact, due to a phenomenon known as the rebound effect.  The rebound effect is an effect whereby an increase in efficiency simply means that the technology is used more, not that the present use is more efficiently used.  An example may help.  Most readers will have had the experience of a new road being built to enable traffic to move more freely and quickly.  However, what happens?  More traffic uses the new road and it quickly becomes just as congested as the old system.  That’s the rebound effect.
Solving the Equation
The equation at the present moment in time is unbalanced.  We only have one planet, so I can be no greater than 1.  Yet, the three factors on the other side of the equation combine to give a figure of 1.5.  It doesn’t balance.  So, how do we get it to balance?
Our population is increasing and will not stop doing so until at least 2050 (and may not even do so then).  Not much chance of getting the equation to balance from that component.
We can continue researching and developing new technology, but the efficiencies gained may not be as great as we would hope.
That leaves affluence.  We can reduce our consumption levels – and, we can reduce them immediately.  It’s going to take work, and it’s not going to be easy – we need to reduce our consumption by around one-third of present levels.  Given that around 80% of the world’s population live on less than $10 a day, that means that those of us in the rich world are going to have to do some very, very serious slowing down, downsizing, and de-consuming.1 
Numerous people have said that if something is worth doing, then the rewards usually come from hard work.  Someone else said, hard work never killed anyone.  We need to do the hard work, because by not doing so we condemn others to death, and we condemn our own planet.
1. According to the World Bank (in 2008), the world’s richest 20% consume 76.6% of the world’s resources and the world’s poorest 20% consume just 1.5%

Wednesday 21 May 2014

How many planets are there?

How many planets are there in the Milky Way – our galaxy?  Estimates vary, but according to scientists there could be as many as 80 – 100 billion or more.  Of those, maybe 9 billion would be “Goldilocks” planets.  That is, they would be of an habitable Earth size.  Sounds like plenty.

We may need them.

We have been rapidly using up the land and resources on this one.  Since 1960 we have been roughly doubling the amount of space that we need every 60 years or so.

The concept of Ecological Footprint is one that measures the amount of land we require in order to satisfy our lifestyle.  It measures the rate at which we use  resources versus the rate at which those resources regenerate.  Over the centuries we gobbled into those resources at an ever increasing rate, but still within bounds of regeneration.

That all changed in the early 1970s however.  Then, we surpassed the planets capacity to regenerate at the same rate we were using resources.  But, we continued gobbling.  Now (in the early 2010s) we require one and a half Earth-sized planets to satisfy our lifestyle.  For some, notably those of us living in the rich world, we require much more – up to six Earths!

At current levels of growth we will need two Earths by the 2030s and three only 20 or so years later.

What are we going to do?

Inhabiting other planets

Venus and Mars offer possibilities.  They are both near Earth sized and sit within a belt that could (with some modification) be habitable.  That would take us to the 2050s.  Then what?  We’ll need a fourth planet before the end of this century.

What about those 9 billion or so habitable planets.  Well, that’s the good news – there are plenty of them.

The bad news?  The nearest of them is thought to be about 12 –15 light years away.  That means that even if we could travel at the speed of light, it would take us 12-15 years to get there.

Can we do it?  We’ve come a long way in terms of air speed in the last 100 years.  In 1920 we first exceeded 300 km per hour.  Rockets today can reach speeds of 30,000 km per hour – 100 times faster.  Impressive - but light travels that distance in about 1/10th of a second.

So, that nearest habitable planet would take us something like 500,000 years to get there at our current level of technology.  Lets say we can improve our speed by the same factor (100 times) over the next century as we did in the past century, ie reaching a speed of 3 million km per hour.  If we did that we could reduce that trip to just 5,000 years.  Does that sound better?

But by then we would need at least 6 planets!

Let’s face it folks.  We have got just the one planet.  Let’s allow it to regenerate.  That means reducing how many there are of us, drastically reducing our consumption levels and improving our technological efficiency.  (See the next post for a discussion about these 3 factors)

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Who won the war?

Artist: Dave Derrett
Who won WW I?  What about WW II?  Who won the Vietnam war?  Who’s winning in Syria, or Afghanistan or Ukraine?

Can anyone honestly answer those questions with a positive assurance that one side or the other totally won?  WW II was ostensibly won by the Allies.  Yet, when approximately 40 million people were killed on the Allied side (with almost 2/3rds of those being civilians) it becomes almost impossible to claim that the Allies won.

What of Vietnam?  First the French, then the Americans and their allies were expelled forcefully from the country with the claim that the Viet Cong won.  But, Vietnam and its people were left devastated.  Even today, forty years after the end of hostilities, hundreds of people are being killed every year by left-over bombs in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

So, who wins wars?  No-one it seems.

There is one group that always wins, though, and they are prepared to back either or any side in a war.  The arms dealers.

The arms trade is big business.  BIG business.  It is estimated that over $1.5 trillion is spent every year on arms.  That is big.

Who are the arms dealers, and where do they come from?  Before answering that, a brief background aside.

The UN has a body called the Security Council whose primary function is the maintenance of international peace and security.  It is comprised of five permanent members (China, France, the US, Russia and the UK) and ten non-permanent members elected for two year terms.

Back to the arms trade.  Just five countries control over 90% of the world’s arms trade.  Guess which?  Correct:  China, France, the US, Russia and the UK.  The five permanent members of the Security Council.  Surely that is a conflict of interest.

Not only is it big business, but the arms trade is also a notoriously corrupt business.  Transparency International considers it to be one of the world’s most corrupt industries, with corruption estimated to be more than $20 billion per year. 

Professor Robert Neild of Cambridge University has written extensively on corruption and has this to say about the arms trade:
“The Cold War arms race enhanced the opportunities for corruption in the arms trade…. It is not just the buccaneering arms salesmen of the USA or the m├ęchant French who have resorted to bribery. The leading arms firms in virtually every major arms-producing country have been implicated, including reputable firms from most respectable countries…. Nor have bribes been paid only to buyers in the Third World….”
Recent Wars

Two recent examples help to show that it is the arms dealers who are the only winners in war.  Syria is presently being torn apart by arms supplied by Russia, Iran, China, North Korea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Lybia, Croatia and others and numerous weapons obtained on the black market.

Ukraine has large arms resources, so much so that in 2012 it was the world’s fourth biggest arms exporter.  Ironically, it was only in April this year that Ukraine stopped exporting arms to Russia.  The US is considering sending arms to Ukraine with a number of prominent US politicians calling for the US to arm Ukrainians.  Many of these politicians have links to the arms industry, either directly or through arms companies funding their campaigns.

In both cases it will not be the Syrian people or the Ukrainian people who are the winners.  Over 2 million Syrians have already fled their homeland to neighbouring countries.
No one wins wars.  It is time that we realised this and stopped spending money on arms.  All that we are doing is lining the pockets of a corrupt, irresponsible and unnecessary business.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

What’s with all the graffiti?

What’s with all the graffiti, man?  Everywhere I go I see it.  On the side of the road, on walls in subway stations, plastered on the sides and backs of buses and trains.  I see it on the walls of buildings in the Central Business Districts.  I even see it spray painted on sports fields.

It is not as if we don’t know who is doing this either.  Their taglines are prominently displayed.  Some just leave their initials; the most prolific seem to be KFC, BP, IBM and so forth.  Others give us their full names; McDonald, Ford, Nestle and others.  Still others come up with trendy, made-up names such as Coca-Cola or Nescafe. Many have quite distinctive tags that don’t use letters.  There’s a swoosh, something that looks like a three-spoked steering wheel and even an apple with a bite out of it.

Oh!  I see.  It’s not graffiti at all.  Graffiti is illegal – but this isn’t.  It isn’t?  Why not?

Every day we are bombarded with advertising.  Not just of the visual kind, but also audial.  Nowadays enterprising advertising agencies are getting at us via our olfactory organs too.  Very clever.  Apparently our smell is the sense that is most associated with emotional recollection.

Each and every one of those adverts has a message: buy, buy, consume.  The messages tell us that unless and until we have this product or experience then we will not be fulfilled, we will not be happy, we will not even be human.

Advertising is big business.  Over $500 billion is spent every year persuading us to buy.  Furthermore, the amount is increasing.

The biggest ten advertisers in the World spend each year the equivalent of the GDP of the worlds eight poorest nations (home to roughly 75 million people).

What is all this advertising doing?  It is getting us to buy more and more, thus consuming more and more of the planet’s resources and contributing to carbon emissions and so helping to stimulate climate change.  At a personal and community level advertising insinuates that our happiness and sense of well-being lie in buying and owning things, stuff, material goods – all of which are extrinsic to us.  Happiness say the advertisers is not found in our intrinsic values and motivations.  Advertisers point in exactly the opposite direction.

Advertising damages.  It damages the Earth and it damages us.  It should be illegal.
But it isn’t.  Meanwhile, we haul young people before the Courts and we spend millions of dollars cleaning graffiti off walls.  We are looking in the wrong direction again.