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 31 March 2015

We Learned to Talk…

Source: Onnolo,
Creative Commons
If you listen to the album The Division Bell1 by Pink Floyd you will hear a sampling of Stephen Hawking speaking these words:
“For millions of years man (sic) lived just like the animals.  Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination,  We learned to talk and we learned to listen.”
The quote is from an advert that Hawking recorded for British Telecom in 1993.  In that same advert Hawking went on to say that
“Mankind's greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking.  It doesn’t have to be like this… All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”
Speech, as Hawking notes, has perhaps been the greatest invention (or discovery) that we ever made.  It has enabled us to organise ourselves collectively.  It has enabled us to make sense of our world.  It has enabled us to tap into our consciousness.  It also enables us to be abusive, discouraging and vindictive. 

So, what forms of speech do we use to continue “unleashing the power of our imagination” and allow us to “keep talking” without degenerating into abuse and intolerance.

Contained within the power of speech is the power of words.  Lets look at four words that articulate the ways in which we talk with one another. 


Many of the foundational institutions of our culture (certainly in the west, less so in indigenous cultures) are founded on debate.  Our parliaments, our legal systems, and sometimes our educational systems, utilise the adversarial processes of debate.  To debate means to take a viewpoint and then use your debating skills to defend that point of view and attack that of the opposition.

Its not surprising then that the word debate derives from the Old French word debatre – to fight.  De meaning “down” and batre meaning “to beat.”  Hence, literally, debate means to beat down.


Less antagonistic than debate, nevertheless discussion does have an oppositional sense to it,  The word shares a common etymology with other English words such as percussion and concussion.  Its Latin roots are in the words dis meaning apart and quatere – to shake, smash, scatter, disperse.  Thus, discussion means to shake apart.  The implication here is that the outcome of a discussion is one in which the topic of discussion is unpicked and broken down, often without anything creative emerging.


Conversation has a pleasantness about it, a sense of companionship, a feel-good element.  It suggests friends sitting around a camp-fire or perhaps on a balcony sharing stories and comparing experiences.
Indeed, when we research the roots of this word we find exactly those elements.  Again, it is Latin in origin combining the word com (= with) and the word vetere (to turn, to turn about) giving us the idea of “to turn about with.”  For the Latins it connoted the act of living together, having dealerships with others.

Nice as it may be, conversation is not generally the wellspring of creative new thoughts, ideas or possibilities (although it could be the catalyst for dialogue – see below).  It can open up our minds somewhat, but it falls short of “unleashing the power of our imagination.”


Dialogue however, does have the capacity to “unleash the power of our imagination.”  The power of dialogue has been brought to our attention by David Bohm (the quantum physicist) and Mikhail Bakhtin (the Russian philosopher). 

David Bohm described dialogue as a shared pool of meaning, that was constantly flowing and evolving giving us deeper levels of understanding.  These new understandings, he said, were often unseen before the dialogue was entered into.

Bakhtin described the dialogic process as one in which:
“Truth is not born, nor is it to be found inside the head, of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction”
For both theorists then, dialogue involves a shared approach, that is based on trust and respect and is aimed at discovering new thoughts, new ideas and the ability to create a new future.

Again, the etymology of the word is instructive.  This time it comes from two Greek words: διά (dia), meaning through, across or inter, and λέγειν (légein) meaning to speak.  From this we get a sense of the speech coming through us and between us, rather than being a possession of any one of us.  Dialogue can sometimes be mistaken to mean speech between just two people.  This is because of the mistaken assumption that the prefix is from the word di rather than dia.

Paulo Freire (the Brazilian educator) also did much to deepen our understanding of dialogue.  For him, the educative and emancipatory process is intimately tied up with dialogue.  His dialogic approach to education was that the learner and the teacher were engaged together in a process of discovery, both learning from each other to such a point that there was no distinction between teacher and learner.  His approach presupposes an equality and a trust. 

For Freire the participants approach dialogue in a manner in which they question what they know, and accept that in dialogue their thoughts will change and new knowledge will be created.  He also claimed that
“if the structure does not permit dialogue (then) the structure must be changed.”
… and we Learned to Listen

Returning to Hawking’s quote that began this blog.  On the Pink Floyd album you don’t hear the final five words of that quote – “… and we learned to listen.”

Listening; true, creative, active listening may just be the hidden magic that we need to tap into in order for our communication to move from one end of the spectrum (debate) to the other (dialogue).  One of the challenges of our times is to “unleash the power of our imagination,” and to do so we must enter into dialogue. 

And, if our institutional structures (e.g. parliaments, law courts, schools etc) don’t allow for dialogue then we must change them.

1. The Division Bell, Pink Floyd, EMI Records, March 1994.  The track which samples Stephen Hawking is “Keep Talking.”

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Earth Hour, Our Earth

Photo taken from Voyager 1 on
14 February 1990.
In a few days time (on 28 March 2015) it will be Earth Hour – the ninth such worldwide event.  Beginning in Sydney, Australia in 2007, with a little over 2 million people involved, the event has grown to involve hundreds of millions of people in more than 7000 cities, towns and villages in more than 160 countries of the world.

Earth Hour aims to mobilise millions of people to make a planetary difference.  The key event is a symbolic switching-off-of-the-lights for one hour every March.  It may be just one hour, but the symbolic gesture has the power to motivate people beyond that one hour.  It has the power to help us to see that this Earth is our Earth – our one and only planet.  Here, the word “our” is meant less in the possessive form, as in “this belongs to us,” rather more in the sense that “we are associated with.”

Our Only Planet – An Overview

The Earth, that third rock from the Sun that we live on, is the only planet we have.  We can’t ignore that.  We have to care for the Earth and with it, ourselves. 

Taken from Japan's Kaguya
spacecraft on 6 April, 2008
When astronauts travel outside of the Earth’s atmosphere and into space the sense they get when looking at the Earth is one of awe, inspiration and humility.  It has been called the Overview Effect – a cognitive shift in the awareness of the viewer when viewing the Earth firsthand from space. 

Some of the comments from these viewers allow us to glimpse what this Overview Effect may feel like:
“What beauty. I saw clouds and their light shadows on the distant dear earth.... The water looked like darkish, slightly gleaming spots.... When I watched the horizon, I saw the abrupt, contrasting transition from the earth's light-coloured surface to the absolutely black sky. I enjoyed the rich colour spectrum of the earth. It is surrounded by a light blue aureole that gradually darkens, becoming turquoise, dark blue, violet, and finally coal black.”  - Yuri Gagarin (the first person to travel into space)
“Oddly enough the overriding sensation I got looking at the earth was, my god that little thing is so fragile out there.” - Mike Collins, Apollo 11 astronaut
“For those who have seen the Earth from space, and for the hundreds and perhaps thousands more who will, the experience most certainly changes your perspective. The things that we share in our world are far more valuable than those which divide us.” – Donald Williams, Space Shuttle pilot
“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, "Look at that, you son of a bitch." – Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 Astronaut
“For the first time in my life I saw the horizon as a curved line. It was accentuated by a thin seam of dark blue light—our atmosphere. Obviously this was not the ocean of air I had been told it was so many times in my life. I was terrified by its fragile appearance.” – Ulf Merbold, German Spacelab crew member.
They all paint a very clear picture.  A picture of the Earth as a whole, undivided, complete and fragile.  Borders have no meaning, nationalities have no meaning, even cultures have no meaning.  It is a pale blue dot, and that dot is where we live. The phrase “pale blue dot” was coined in 1990 when Voyager 1 space probe took a photograph (see photo at the top of this blogpiece) from about 6 billion kilometres away, as it was leaving the Solar System.   In the photograph you can see the Earth – it appears as a tiny bluish-white dot just over half way down the brown band to the right.  The photograph, the last Voyager 1 took of the Earth, was requested by the astronomer, and science fiction author, Carl Sagan. The size of the Earth in this photograph is less than one pixel and yet, as Carl Sagan wrote:
“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”1
That’s it.  That’s where we live, work and play - together; on that pale blue, insignificant dot.  That is what Earth Hour is about.  It is about Our Earth. 

1. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, Carl Sagan, Random House, 1994. 

Wednesday 18 March 2015

Lifestyle Choices

In recent weeks the Australian Prime Minister (Tony Abbot) has threatened to close more than 100 Aboriginal communities in Western Australia because of what he calls “lifestyle choices.”1 

It is not the intent of this blog to comment upon Australian politics in particular.  However, the comment does suggest a theme that is worthy of comment:  the lifestyle choices that we in the western, rich nations make time and time again.  Choices that; marginalise indigenous people, create enormous inequalities, contribute disproportionally to climate change, allow large transnationals to control food supplies, and continuously exploit others (including animals and the earth).

Beneath the choices that we make lies the assumption that “our” choice is the right one, perhaps even the only one.  Inherent in that assumption is the belief that indigenous people, people of colour, those with disabilities, those with differing sexualities, or people with different cultural or religious understandings are making poor or inappropriate decisions.

But, consider these lifestyle choices that western culture makes2:
  • We choose to consume at a level that if everyone on earth were to do so, four and half Earth-like planets would be needed.
  • We choose to grab land from peasant farmers in India, Africa, Asia and South America.
  • We choose to use our private car to travel less than 5km, rather than using our feet, a bicycle or public transport.3
  • We choose to condone an economic system where the assets of the world’s 200 richest people are greater than the GDP of the entire African continent.
  • We choose to spend over $1 trillion on our militaries.  The cost of providing clean water and sanitation to the 2 billion people without this basic need is approximately 3 days worth of this expenditure!
  • We choose to consume enormous amounts of calories – growing obese in the process, whilst 900 million people are undernourished.
  • We choose to throw away each year almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).4
  • We choose to chop down the equivalent of 50 soccer fields of forest cover every minute – contributing between 12% and 25% of human-induced CO2 emissions.5
  • We choose to spend $523 billion subsidising the fossil fuel industry, yet only $135 billion on climate change initiatives.6
  • We choose to produce 2.2 kg of waste per person per day – and we are producing 35% more than we did in 1980.7
All of these are lifestyle choices.  We make them every day (along with many others), either consciously or by way of collusion or by condoning the actions of others, including our governments and businesses.

Surely, these are the lifestyle choices that are not conducive to the kind of full participation in the world society that everyone should have.

1. Tony Abbot’s speech, delivered on Tuesday 10 March 2015, included the words: "What we can't do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have."
2. These choices are generalisations.  It should not be taken that every person living in a western culture makes these choices.  There are significant numbers searching for, and practicing alternatives to these choices.
3. In most western nations, around 60% of all car trips are of less than 5km in length.
4. UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report Global Food Losses and Food Waste, 2011
5. Science, 15 November 2013, Vol 342, no. 6160 pp. 850-853. 
6. OECD report.
7. What a Waste: A global review of solid waste management, The World Bank, 2012

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Wasting Time and Energy on Politics (Part 2)

Royalty free cartoons.
The previous post noticed that the world in the 21st century is facing some highly complex issues. It also suggested that our political systems were largely unable or unwilling to address these issues with any sort of determination.

That blog post also recognised two major streams that were posing the sort of questions that must be addressed.  One was the oppositional stream, epitomised by the Occupy movement, opposition to Big Oil, Big Coal and other environmental destroyers.  The second stream is that of the alternatives that are largely local, non-hierarchical and globally connected.

Those working within these streams (and many supporters) understand that the changes that are needed are not going to come from the parliaments, senates and congresses of the world.  The changes are going to be made by ordinary people; you and me, our neighbours, cooperatives and those working at a local level, yet understanding the global connections.

So, why do we continue to campaign for political representatives?  Why do we continue to work for political parties?

Corporate Representative Democracy

Representative democracy has worked its way into a blind alley and is no longer providing us with the forum within which the decisions that we must collectively take are able be made.  Nor is it any longer representative.  That is largely because, as Vandana Shiva recently lamented, “the old representative democracy has been hijacked (by) corporates.”1  She is right.  Over $3 billion is spent annually in the US by corporate lobbyists – and that’s just the declared, tip-of-the-iceberg, money.  Furthermore, a number of corporates fund various PR and other organisations where the intent is to manipulate public opinion and to undermine action on climate change for example.

Transnational corporations also donate to political parties electioneering funds. In the 2102 US Presidential elections around $1.2 billion was raised by the two major contenders.  Around 3/4 of this funding came from the corporate sector.  Although the amounts are significantly less than those of the US, data from other western representative democracies show high levels of corporate donations to political parties, especially during election years.

The money is only one part of the equation.  It has been known for sometime that there is a shuffling of the players between the big transnationals and our political institutions.  For example, the former Monsanto vice-president is now a senior adviser to the US Food and Drug Administration.  It doesn’t take much searching to discover these links.

A Disquieting Question

If we understand that the real change that we need is not going to come from our political system; if we understand that the changes we want will come from local initiatives, then we are faced with a disquieting question.  Why do we continue to put our faith in that system?  Why do we continue to participate in a system that is not addressing the issues?  Why do we continue to campaign for individual politicians and particular political parties?

It is a question that rarely gets asked.  We act as if the present system of representative democracy is going to work, if only we could get the right people elected.  So, let's ask the question.  Let's then ask the corollary:  How do we change that system?

Any system is made up of three things: its parts, the connections between those parts and the purpose of the system.  The easiest things to identify and change in a system are the parts.  For example, your household water system.  If you change all the taps, faucets and pipes you still have a water system.
It is the same in political systems.  If you change the parliamentarians, the senators, or the members of congress you still have a political system.  So, how do we change a system so that we are affecting not just the parts, but the purpose itself.

Donella Meadows2 has given this some thought. Before she died she was working on identifying the leverage points in any system.  She came up with twelve leverage points and ranked them from the least effective to the most effective.  At the least effective end were things like numbers, buffers and stocks, delays, structures, and feedback loops.  The more effective leverage points were, according to Meadows, around the goals and mind-set of the system itself.

Stop Wasting Time and Energy

We know what the issues are.  We know that change will come from the bottom-up.  We know that the political system is no longer representative.  We know that the political system is no longer responsive.  So:
  • let’s stop campaigning for individual politicians,
  • let’s stop working for particular political parties,
  • let’s stop wasting our time,
  • let’s stop wasting our energy.
  • let’s put our energies into developing economic, social, environmental alternatives so that these alternatives become mainstream (changing the goals),
  • let’s put our time into directly confronting the transnationals and corporations that are exploiting the poor and damaging the planet (challenging the mind-set),
  • let’s put our energies into having the discussions that are needed in order to co-create a collective decision-making system that truly serves our collective needs and recognises the rights of the Earth.(creating a new paradigm)
If we redirect our energies in this way we may just have enough time to address the various complex issues facing us.

1. Vandana Shiva, Valuing our planet panel discussion at WOMADelaide, Adelaide, Australia, 7 March 2015.  Dr Vandana Shiva is an internationally recognised environmental thinker and campaigner.  Time Magazine has called her an environmental hero.
2. Donella Meadows was the lead author of the Limits to Growth (1972), the ground-breaking study that brought to the worlds attention the finiteness of resources and that the continual business-as-usual approach was going to become problematic.  She was also one of the world’s most distinguished systems analysts.  She died in 2001, as she neared completion of her excellent primer Thinking in Systems; the source of these leverage points.
3. Bolivia’s Law of the Rights of Mother Earth enumerates seven specific rights to which Mother Earth and her constituent life systems, including human communities, are entitled.

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Wasting Time and Energy on Politics (Part 1)
Royalty free cartoons
We are now well into the 21st century and two observations about our collective human endeavour can be made.  First, if we do not collectively address the complex issues of now, there is little likelihood of human-kind continuing to enjoy a worthwhile existence into the 22nd century.

The second observation is that our collective decision-making institutions (governments) are either incapable or unwilling to address these issues in the manner in which they must be addressed.

During the 20th century representative democracy (that institution that embodied our collective decision-making enterprise) made some worthwhile and beneficial advances.  Women were enfranchised, many indigenous people finally obtained the vote from their colonial oppressors, dictatorial and cruel regimes were replaced by democracies (e.g. South Africa, India, Chile).  Two world wars were fought supposedly to protect democracy and freedom.  By the end of the century the fall of the Berlin Wall seemed to suggest that representative democracy had prevailed.

But, also by the end of the 20th century representative democracy was showing clear signs of not coping with societal pressures, and the changes in technology, population and consumption that had been made since WW II.

Some Complex Issues

Climate change was beginning to be understood, but not taken seriously by politicians and global institutions.  Kyoto failed, Stockholm failed, and we continued to pump CO2 into the atmosphere.

Violence continued to be the method-of-choice when it came to resolving conflicts.  Although it was reducing1, the world still spent around $12 trillion (that's 12 million, millions) or more on its militaries in the final decade of the century.  At least two dozen wars were being fought as the century came to a close.

Social inequality grew at a staggering rate in the final decades of the 20th Century   The world gini coefficient2 grew from 0.66 in 1980 to 0.71 in 2002 (one of the largest increases the world has ever seen).

Of all the animals that have become extinct in the last 500 years, 60% became so in the 20th Century.  In other words, the rate of extinction is increasing at an alarming rate.  Some scientists are so alarmed that they suggest that one-half of the world’s multi-cellular life forms will be extinct by 2100 because of “human-disruption of the biosphere.”

Opposition and Alternatives

Since the turn of the century there has arisen at least two major oppositional movements for social change.  One of these called for greater equality and was epitomised by the Occupy movement – along with it’s attendant slogan of “we are the 1%.”  The other is the opposition to those businesses that significantly fuel climate change (such as Big Oil and Big Coal).  At the forefront of this opposition are movements such as, Greenpeace and others.

Concurrent with these oppositional movements has been the growth of alternative approaches – often local, low-impact and non-hierarchical, yet highly innovative and inter-connected.

Many within these movements understand clearly that if change is going to be made, then it will have to be made by them.  It will not be made by politicians sitting and debating in parliaments, senates and congresses around the world.  It will not be made by high-level diplomats and government advisers meeting in summits, forums and conferences around the world.

These movements are implementing and proving the exhortation from Margaret Mead3 to:
“Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world.  Indeed, its the only thing that ever has.”
Part 2 will question the efficacy of continuing to work for politicians and political parties if what we desire is better ways of making collective decisions and making decisions that will seriously address the issues we face in the 21st century.

1. Although world spending on the military did fall during the 1990s, it has been climbing again since the beginning of the 21st Century, The US is the biggest spender, contributing around 40% to the world spending.
2. The gini coefficient is an internationally recognised statistical measure of income inequality.  The coefficient is a number between 0 and 1, the closer it is to 1 the greater is the inequality.
3. Margaret Mead (1901 – 1978) was a highly respected cultural anthropologist who did much to make the insights of anthropology available to a wider audience.