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 25 August 2015

If You Want To Change The World, Here’s 5 Books To Read

Concerned about climate change or global inequality?  Maybe you want to advocate for better youth recreation facilities in your community?  Whatever your passion; to change the world, or just your corner of it, here are five books worth reading.

If we really want to change the world then it helps to understand how it works, recognise patterns, and think about where to focus attention, and who with.  No matter whether you are a community development worker, a social justice advocate or a sustainability advocate, these five books are worth reading.   Here I have presented them in a sequence, beginning with the bigger picture and moving on to suggestions for personal and collective action.

Whether it be the entire world, the country you live in or your immediate community, you will be dealing with systems.  Fortunately, Donella Meadows has given us a very lucid and comprehensive introduction to systems thinking.  Thinking in Systems1 provides clear examples of what systems are, how they work and what happens when you change aspects of systems.  Meadows helpfully provides a list of twelve points of leverage in a system that range from the less effective tinkering with the numbers within systems (e.g. standards) through to thinking about and changing the paradigm of the system itself.

Another systems thinker is keen to alert us to the dire need to change the systems around us.  Ervin Laszlo warns that if we fail to do so then we run the risk of breakdown and global disaster.  However, if we do so then we just might breakthrough to herald in a sustainable planet.  The thesis of his book, Chaos Point: 2012 and Beyond,2 is that we are living in a very brief “chaos-window” where we have a conscious choice of which way the balance could tip.  Laszlo succinctly summarises the possibilities on either side of this chaos point.  It’s up to us to act, he says, and we must do so urgently.

What is this chaos that Laszlo refers to?  Chaos Theory has been with us for a few decades, although often misunderstood or even neglected by social change activists.  John Briggs and F David Peat seek to rectify that with a simply written exposition of the theory and lessons that can be drawn from it and applied in our work for social change.  One crucial characteristic of chaos theory is that it is not possible to accurately predict or control outcomes.  That, however, does not suggest a descent into fatalism.  Briggs and Peat ask: “What if we acted through the myriad tiny feedback loops that hold society together?  Alluding to another chaos theory characteristic,4 they note that “although we may not have power of the controller in the traditional sense, we all possess the ‘butterfly power’ of subtle influence.”

Exercising that subtle butterfly influence is the subject of The Power of Collective Wisdom,5 written by four authors from the Collective Wisdom Institute – an informal network of practitioners and scholars interested in collective wisdom.  The intent of their book is to recognise that wisdom belongs to all of us collectively, and that no single person or even group of people have complete access to that wisdom.  Indeed, the authors would contend that our traditional styles of leadership and decision-making are inadequate in a world of complexity and chaos.  The authors researched collective wisdom for nine years before publishing this book and have identified six stances needed to allow collective wisdom to emerge: 1. Deep listening, 2. Suspension of certainty, 3. Seeing whole systems/ Seeking diverse perspectives, 4. Respect for others/ Group discernment, 5. Welcoming all that is arising, and 6. Trust in the transcendent.  And, just in case you may worry about the dangers of “group think”, the authors tackle this as well.  Indeed, the subtitle of the book is “…and the trap of collective folly.”

Where Briskin et al outline the conditions for the emergence of collective wisdom, Paul Born gets down to the nitty gritty of how to bring about the conversations needed.  Community Conversations6 is exactly that: insights into what makes for helpful conversations (including systems thinking, bringing us full circle), how to utilise diversity and, critically, some techniques that enable all of this.  Born is also keen to encourage us towards truly collaborative conversations and efforts.  Continuing to act in silos is unhelpful and many of our traditional organisations and “…are sorely lacking in the face of personal and community problems that are multifaceted, adaptive, and interconnected.”

Five books.  Not necessary the definitive collection, and not necessarily the best in their field.  However, they do provide the basis for clear thinking about our analysis and actions, as well as the stepping stones towards further study. 

If you want to purchase any of these books, check out the links to the right of this post.

1. Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems. Chelsea Green Publishing, Vermont, 2008
2. Ervin Laszlo, Chaos Point: 2012 and Beyond. Hampton Roads, Virginia, 2010
3. John Briggs & F David Peat, Seven Life Lessons of Chaos. Harper Perennial, New York, 2000
4. The characteristic that a very small change in the initial conditions can trigger a massive difference in outcome.  Otherwise known as the Butterfly effect.
5. Alan Briskin, Sheryl Erickson, John Ott, Tom Callanan, The Power of Collective Wisdom, and the trap of collective folly.  Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, 2009.
6. Paul Born, Community Conversations. BPS Books, Toronto & New York, 2012

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Racism, Sexism and Climate Change

Everything is connected may be intuitively acknowledged, but often debates can relapse into single-issue focus.  Similarly, when it comes to deciding on strategies to address social issues we can forget that other issues could be contributing factors or be themselves affected by those strategies.  Climate change is not a single-issue subject but is intimately wrapped up with issues of racism and sexism.

Firstly, what are we talking about?  The terms “racism” and “sexism” have been part of the language for so long now that the full depth of their meaning is often unrecognised, allowing many who benefit from either to exclaim: “but I’m not a racist/sexist.”

Racism and sexism are both the product of two primary components: prejudice and power. 

Racism/sexism can be expressed as Prejudice + Power and, crucially, the power to define what is “normal.”  Thus, for example, the oft heard claim that “we are all the same,”  “there should be one law for everyone,” or “if they don’t like it, go home,” can be heard from those with European heritage.  Those espousing this claim also avow that they are “not racist.”  If racism was simply a question of prejudice, they may have a case (albeit a spurious one).  However, it is the power that those with eurocentric views have to define what is “normal” – what it is to be “the same.”  It is the “normal” of eurocentrism.

So, how does racism and sexism relate to climate change?

Climate change racism.
Source: World Health Organisation

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the people who are worst affected by climate change are those from Africa, SE Asia and the Pacific Islands (see map).  In short – people with dark skins.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that over 150,000 people are killed every year by the effects of climate change.1  Analysis of the WHO estimates indicates that people in Africa and SE Asia are 20 – 50 times more likely to die from climate change effects than are their counterparts in Europe, North America and Australasia.

It is no secret that people from Africa, SE Asia and the Pacific Islands have been subjected to centuries of racist aggression, mostly in the form of colonialism.  Africa has been exploited by the nations of Europe for centuries; mining its mineral wealth, stealing its people (slavery), and decimating its environment for agribusiness.  India and the rest of SE Asia have seen much the same.

Indigenous people in the Pacific and Australia have been subjected to social and environmental racism also.  They have been the unwilling victims of atomic bomb testing since the 1950s by England, the US and France.  Today, it is their lands that are stolen, mined or farmed for export to, and the use of, the rich, white, nations of the world.

We have to face it.  The world economic order and its attendant industrialisation (the major contributor to climate change) has been built to a large extent on colonisation of the world by the nations of Europe.  It has been built on the racist ideology of white supremacy, or, if you prefer a milder term – eurocentrism.

That colonisation and exploitation contributes to climate change.

Climate change sexism.

In 2013 the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) published a policy brief that noted that women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die during a disaster.2  The report went on to say that “climate related disasters (e.g. storms, heavy rainfall, floods, droughts, landslides, water stress and heatwaves) could overturn years of progress made towards achieving sustainable development objectives and the Millennium Development Goals.”

Not only do women bear the brunt of climate change, sexism is also a contributor to climate change.  Throughout the world women are largely excluded from positions of authority, business leadership and decision-making. 

It is telling to look at the entities that contribute significantly to the emission of carbon and methane into the atmosphere.  Between 1854 and 2010 just 20 entities contributed nearly half (48%) of all industrial carbon pollution into the atmosphere.  Many of these entities are well known corporations – Chevron, Exxon/Mobil, BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips being the largest five.3

Is it any surprise to find that the CEO (or equivalent) of each and every one of those 20 entities is a man?  Not a single woman amongst them.  Political leadership fairs only slightly better.  Of the world’s 10 biggest emitters by country4 only one (Germany) has a woman as its leader.

White Male Mindset (or Eurocentric Patriarchy)

If there is a single mindset that underpins both racism and sexism it is violence towards the other.  Racism exists because those who are white view those who are black as being something “other” than white – something inferior.  Sexism exists because men see women as separate to themselves, undeserving of being considered an equal partner to men.  The “other” in each case is considered by the White Male Mindset to be “not normal” and hence to be dismissed, abused and in the extreme, victims of violence.

This idea of “otherness” and separation further manifests itself in the way that white men rape, pillage and plunder the earth – directly contributing to climate change. 

Many indigenous cultures understand this.  For many such cultures the earth is viewed as having female characteristics – Mother Earth.  Indigenous cultures recognise that the environmental degradation of the earth is another form of violence against the feminine.

If we are going to have any influence upon averting our path towards climate change dystopia then we are going to have to address the issues of racism and sexism also.

1. World Health Report 2002, WHO
2. Gender and Disaster Risk Reduction, UNDP Policy brief 3, 2013
3. These five corporations contributed 12.5% of global industrial carbon pollution.
4. Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Russian Federation, USA.  These 10 countries contributed in combination approximately 2/3 of global carbon emissions.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Inequality Truths: Guest Blog

Greg Barron
Recently I had the good fortune to meet Greg Barron, an Australian author of three books.  The plot of his first book, Rotten Gods, involves an extremist hijacking of a conference centre.  The book is set slightly into the future, where climate change has become readily apparent, affecting the poor of Africa and elsewhere.  Greg did a lot of research for his book including travelling into the Horn of Africa, where he clearly saw the inequalities of the world.  I asked him how his understanding of inequality changed as a result of his research for his book?  Here is his reply:

I’d always understood that society is not equal. Everyone knows that there is a wide spectrum of economic standing ranging from billionaires to the truly destitute. What changed, for me, was an understanding of the truths that hide behind the statistics.

Through the necessary research for Rotten Gods I discovered just how many humans occupy the poverty stricken end of the scale, and this understanding came through travel in the Middle East, Asia and East Africa. When we read that 80% of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day it tells a story, but doesn’t evoke sympathy like a mother begging for money to feed the skeletal child she holds in her hands, or shanty towns, with endless row after row of makeshift housing, or children sifting through rubbish at a dump for food.

I also learned that financial comparisons can be meaningless. The buying power of money is hugely variable. You can buy a rice and curry meal from a street vendor in Yangon for the equivalent of fifty cents, then walk into the centre of the city and spend fifty times that amount for a similar meal at a restaurant frequented by Western aid workers and travellers.

Through my research I came to understand that many of the economic and legal systems in place, throughout the world, have the effect of either maintaining inequality or widening the gap. The rich are able to use the system to protect their wealth and power, the poor have no such ability.

Not all inequality is economic, in many countries certain races or religious groups also suffer political discrimination. This has been the case, in several different ways, with the Shia and Sunnis in Iraq. The massacre in Rwanda came about because the Hutu majority was tired of being repressed by the Tutsi minority.

Inequality can be gender-based. In some cases, such as most Arabic states, and to a lesser extent, Western countries, one gender has an unfair stranglehold on most of the wealth and power.

Some groups, such as the Rohingyas, have no political or economic power at all.

Inequality underpins so much of the violence and conflict in the world today. From Syria to Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen, I personally believe that inequality is a more pressing concern for the human race than even Climate Change. History tells us that inequality ultimately becomes instability. The Arab Spring, London Riots and even the Occupy movement that spread across the West a few years ago are just early signs of what is yet to come.

All people, everywhere, will fight for a better life, and the informative power of the internet is showing the destitute that better lives are possible.

I wrote Rotten Gods as a work of fiction, but I wrote it angrily, in the spirit of wanting to change the world. It hasn’t worked yet, but I’m still hoping.

Thursday 6 August 2015

70 Years On

70 years ago today Hiroshima was obliterated by the world's first nuclear bomb dropped in anger.  Three days later Nagasaki received the same fate.  Let it never happen again.  Lest We Forget.

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Prosperous Descent: A Review

If you’re looking for a concise, thoughtful and optimistic explanation of the much needed shift from crisis to opportunity, then Samuel Alexander’s book of collected essays is a good place to start.

Alexander has brought together a collection of articles and essays that critique our current obsessions with growth, oil and technology.  Yet, within the critique lies optimism.  The essays are bookended by two optimistic quotations.  He begins with a quotation from Theodore Roszak that includes this sentence:
“What people must see is that ecologically sane, socially responsible living is good living; that simplicity, thrift, and reciprocity make for an existence that is free.”
There follows a dozen essays that cover; a critique of techno-optimism, the economics and politics of degrowth, consumerism, peak oil and the paradox of cheap and expensive oil, voluntary simplicity, ethics and the opportunities that exist within the crises that we face.  He then adds another bookend by way of another quotation, this time from Friedrich Nietzsche:
“Those who have a why to live, can bear almost any how.”
Alexander’s essays can be read individually, and even out of order.  Taken together though, they provide a coherent and connected whole that points to a simple thesis: our growth oriented and oil-based lifestyles and culture are unhealthy for the planet and ourselves. 

The way out of the crises is to adopt lifestyles of voluntary simplicity as a precursor towards a restructuring of society and culture.  It is as simple as that Alexander would claim.  That may be, but he is not blind to the often convoluted and complex arguments of economists, politicians and other proponents of our current world order.  So, he tackles them.  This makes for some careful reading in parts.

One such challenging chapter is the one in which Alexander takes issue with Joseph Tainter’s assertion that as society seeks to solve it’s problems it must necessarily require greater use of energy and resources, leading to an inevitable social collapse.  Alexander will have none of that and very carefully unpicks the arguments to show that voluntary simplicity does not follow Tainter’s trajectory.  This is not the place to outline Alexander’s rebuttal.  All I will say is, read the chapter.  It is worth taking the time and effort to do so.

Alexander’s essays are a thorough look at the combined issues that give rise to climate change, social inequality and the failure to provide well-being and happiness for all.

The book is titled Prosperous Descent which makes a provocative and enticing title.  The two words form a rather neat, pithy, abstract of Alexander’s analysis and ideas.

Alexander writes with passion and authority.  His passion is evident when he talks about the advantages of voluntary simplicity for individuals.  Voluntary simplicity, he says,
“…ultimately gives rise to a happiness, a contentment, and even a freedom significantly greater than that which is ordinarily known in the work-and-spend cycle of consumer culture.”
His authority can be seen in his resume,1 but it is his writing that confirms it.  His arguments are rigorous.  He is unafraid of tackling the hard issues, and does not shy away from taking on the polemics of oil-based, growth-oriented, proponents.

Yes, well worth getting hold of and reading.  It can be purchased here.

1. Samuel Alexander lectures a course that forms part of the Masters of Environment degree at the University of Melbourne.  He is a co-director of the Simplicity Institute and a fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society.  His Ph.D. thesis is titled Property Beyond Growth: Towards a Politics of Voluntary Simplicity.