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 16 December 2015

5 Success Stories for 2015

Sometimes those working for social justice or towards a more sustainable world can feel overwhelmed by the odds we face.  It can seem that no matter what we do, the issues we face are becoming more entrenched, worsening, and becoming more widespread.

So, it can be worthwhile to take a step back and reflect on some of the positive achievements that have been made.  There are many that could be showcased, but here are just five. 

Keystone XL Pipeline Dismissed

Phase IV of the giant Keystone XL pipeline was to have brought oil from the oil sands of Alberta (Canada) all the way through to Steele City in Nebraska.  The pipeline would have added 800,000 barrels of oil per day to only worsen the problems of climate change.

However, in a massive display of public opposition including an unique alliance between mid-Western farmers and native Americans (the Cowboys and Indians Alliance) the pipeline was disrupted physically, politically and legislatively.  Opposition took place not just along the route of the pipeline, but throughout the US, with hundreds arrested at the White House in March, after tying themselves to the fence.

On 6 November 2015 President Obama rejected the proposal.  Bill McKibben, co-founder of the group, noted that this “is nothing short of historic, and sets an important precedent that should send shockwaves through the fossil fuel industry.”

Divestment Increases

One of the most innovative campaigns opposing the fossil fuel industry has been the Divestment Campaign.  Indeed, divestment was one of the factors involved in the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline.  The campaign calls on individuals and institutions to withdraw their funds from companies associated with the fossil fuel industry.  Companies targeted include banks, insurance providers, universities, large charities, and wealth funds, as well as smaller, local institutions.  Individual investors have closed their accounts with banks that continue to invest in the fossil fuel industry, and shifted to financial institutions that pledge to not fund such companies.

Some well-known celebrities, including Leonardo di Caprio, have supported this campaign and have committed to divesting.  The world’s largest sovereign wealth fund1 (worth $945 billion) is the biggest divestor yet. 

The campaign now covers 43 countries and as of September 2015 it is estimated that over US$2.6 trillion has been withdrawn from the fossil fuel companies.  The value of divestments in 2015 rocketed by over fifty times the level it had been at just a year ago.  The 436 known institutions to have divested represent almost 650 million people world-wide.

The campaign is truly a world-wide, financially significant, phenomenon.

Making Bankers Responsible

Whilst most western countries were bailing out the banks and other financial institutions following the 2008 financial crisis, the small nation of Iceland took a decidedly different tack.  Iceland decided to make those at the heart of the collapse responsible for their actions.  So far, 26 bankers have been jailed in Iceland, with a combined prison sentence between them of 74 years.  This is in complete contrast to that of rewarding bankers elsewhere with bail-outs at the expense of everyday citizens.  In fact, Iceland intends paying every Icelander kr30,000 after the government takes back ownership of the second of the there major Icelandic banks.

Iceland is the only European nation to have fully recovered from the financial crisis, including paying back in full it’s debt to the IMF – ahead of time.  Asked how Iceland managed to do this, the President, Olafur Ragnar Grimmson, replied that:
“We were wise enough not to follow the traditional prevailing orthodoxies of the Western financial world in the last 30 years.”
Wise indeed.  Would that a few other governments had the courage to expose the fraud, corruption and deceit of the world’s banking systems.

Flagging Down Racism

Flags may be just symbols, but symbols can be very powerful.  For many black Americans the Confederate flag is a symbol of a system that was based on slavery, an extreme outward show of racism.

In 1961 the Confederate flag was flown from the dome of South Carolina’s statehouse to mark the 100th anniversary of the American Civil War.  It remained there as a symbol of opposition to the civil rights movement.  In 2000 amidst protests it was moved to a flagpole near a Confederate monument in the Statehouse grounds, as a compromise.

However, the massacre of nine people in an historic black church in Charleston in June 2015 sparked further protest, not just in South Carolina, but throughout the US.  The person accused of this crime had posted photos of himself posing with the Confederate flag and guns before the shootings.  Within a month of the racially inspired killings South Carolina lawmakers had passed by 93-27 votes a law requiring the flag to be removed from Statehouse grounds.

Of course, there is nothing in this act that suggests historic revision.  Recalling history and exhibiting memorabilia from those times is entirely appropriate.  However, displaying the Confederate flag on flagpoles in the state capitol would be akin to the Nazi flag being flown above the Reichstag in Germany.

Getting Real on Domestic Violence

Research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2013 found that “worldwide, almost one third (30%) of all women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.”  In Australia the incidence is similar, if not, somewhat higher – possibly as high as 40%.

So, it was pleasing to note that the Queensland government, in August 2015, adopted all 140 recommendations in the report by the Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence.2  Adopting the recommendations, the Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuck, noted that “the time is right for action and I believe the community has the will to change," going on to say that the State would work to bring about a shift in attitudes towards domestic and family violence.

Measures include funding for more crisis centres, a campaign of education, a review panel to identify gaps in procedures and systems, and funding to help develop services for clients. 

In an age of heightened awareness of domestic and family violence it is heartening to find a government willing to take on board all recommendations made by an independent taskforce.

Further Successes

As I write this blog news is coming out of Paris that an agreement has been reached that would see the nations of the world halt global temperature rise to 2 degrees, with a target of just 1.5 degrees.  The success or otherwise of this agreement will be seen over the next couple of years.

Let us celebrate these and other successes from 2015, and look forward to more in 2016.

1. Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG).  It is likely to divest of $9 billion – $10 billion from fossil fuel industries.
2. Not Now, Not Ever: Putting an End to Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland.  Report produced by Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence, chaired by Honourable Quentin Bryce and presented to the Queensland government on 28 February 2015.

Note: This is the final posting on this site for 2015.  The next posting will be in the second week of January 2016.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Beasts and Gods (A Review)

Democracy:  the hallmark of a civilised society, the pinnacle of our search for equality and freedom, the best political system ever devised.  Well, not according to Roslyn Fuller.

In Beasts and Gods: How democracy changed it’s meaning and lost it’s purpose,1 Roslyn Fuller picks through our democratic claims to fairness, equality, freedom, and representation; and finds all of them wanting.

Fuller presents a compelling case against our electoral/representative democracy.  Using case studies from all over the world, plus devastating statistics, Fuller shows how modern democracy has enabled those with wealth to obtain political power, and then those with political power to gain more wealth.  Simultaneously, the rest of society are excluded from public decision-making and not even represented in the process.

With clear examples Fuller unpicks many of the myths that continue to support our hold on electoral democracy as a sacrosanct institution. 
  • Representation is “mathematically impossible” when such a small number of citizens represent an entire nation.  Furthermore, Fuller claims, tinkering with the system will get us no closer to accurate representation.
  • Getting elected costs money, meaning that those who are rich, or have access to money (from corporate donations etc.) have a greater chance of being elected.  Pulling together statistics from various nations, Fuller shows that as the amount of money spent in a campaign increases so too does the chance of being elected.  So much so that if one candidate spends just twice the amount of another, the chance of being elected can be 90%.  If that ratio  increases to 5:1 then the chances of election become 100%
  • Not even the use of referenda can make a difference.  Because referenda are used so infrequently, they just become another bottleneck (as Fuller terms them), along with elections, for the rich to assert their influence.
  • Participation is one of the greatest myths of electoral democracy.  Large corporations have the inside running and the rest of society is shut out.  Even using petitions only gives the petitioners the right to ask politicians to do something, they do not enable citizens to do anything.  Protest is often claimed to be essential to democracy, but as Fuller exclaims, “far from being a part of democracy, protest is a reaction to a lack of democracy.” (emphasis in original)
  • Those who control the media essentially also control the political system and who gets elected.  Fuller uses damning case studies to prove her point.
  • But it gets worse.  Once we get to international politics and representation, the problems at national level only get heightened, intensified and exacerbated.  Taking just one of Fuller’s many examples, the IMF is a case in point.  Although the USA has just 4.4% of the world’s population it has 16.7% of the votes on the IMF.  Japan at just 1.8% of the world’s population claims 6.2% of the vote.  Meanwhile, those on the Indian subcontinent with 20% of the world’s population hold on to just 2.8% of the votes.  This, and numerous other examples indicate how the poor are cut out of decision-making, thus exacerbating the power/wealth imbalance.
Fixing It

It would seem that democracy is broken and that we need to fix it.  But, asserts Fuller, what we have is not even democracy.  It doesn’t even derive it’s identity from Athens where we have been taught it comes from.  Our present system finds its roots in another city and another system – the oligarchic Roman Republic.  Whatsmore, Rome decayed from the inside and there are signs that our current electoral system is doing the same, for the same reasons.

So, what does Fuller suggest we do?  Look to the true source of democracy she replies: Athenian demo-kratia, literally "people power."  The Athenians had already tried elections and had discarded them as being not democratic enough.  They brought in two new elements in public dialogue and decision-making: the Assembly and the cleroterion.

Most of us will have heard of the Assembly, whereby any Athenian citizen2 could turn up to participate in public discourse and decision-making.  Up to 15% of those eligible did so, a far cry from the 0.01% (or less) that make up most of the parliaments of electoral democracies today.  However, many of us will not have heard of the cleroterion.  It was a simple piece of technology that allowed for a very simple method of selecting public officials randomly.  Yes, randomly, much like a lotto system today.3

The Athenian democratic system had  a lot going for it, according to Fuller.  It was fair, it was representative, it was equal, it provided for freedom.  Most of all, it was – democratic.

But, can it work today?  Why not, replies Fuller.  She describes a number of already existing technologies and processes that enable the use of both direct democracy and random selection.  For example:
  • Participatory budgeting which originated in Porto Alegre, Brazil, but now used in New York, London, Toronto, Cologne, Paris and many other municipalities around the world.
  • Citizens Juries whereby citizens are randomly selected to make public decisions on a number of issues.  The use of such juries is wide-spread and have proved to be highly effective.
  • Online technologies such as LiquidFeedback, Loomio and DemocracyOS can be used in much the same way that the Athenian Assembly was used.
Fuller’s book is a welcome addition to the discussion about the future of democracy.  If this review does nothing more than whet the appetite for those thinking about running for political office in order to change something to read this book first, then it will have done it’s job.  As Fuller asserts, it is not that we need to find alternative candidates to vote for:
“We simply need to create a parallel politics that encourages real democracy.  Indeed, when one is locked into a self-perpetuating system, which is what the electoral representative system is, this is the only approach that really has any chance of success.”
That is something that we can all do.  First though, get a hold of this important book and read it.  It will change the way you think about democracy.

1. Roslyn Fuller, Beasts and Gods: How democracy changed it’s meaning and lost it’s purpose, Zed Books, London, 2015
2. At the time (6th to 4th centuries BC) citizenship in Athens did not include women, slaves, children or metics (Foreigners residing in Athens).  However, such criticism does not deny the basic democratic ideas.  We must remember that even our electoral system has only allowed women to vote since the early part of the 20th century, and many indigenous people have been disenfranchised until very recently.
3.  Indeed, the cleroterion bore an uncanny resemblance to modern day lotto machines.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Let’s Not Cop Out

Effects of sea level rise in the Maldives
This week (beginning 30 November 2015) COP21 began in Paris.  COP being the Conference Of Parties, an annual gathering of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, adopted in 1992.  The avowed aim of this conference is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.

Some are claiming that 2°C is too great a warming.  Significantly, it is the least developed nations calling for a target of 1.5°C.  Mr Giza Gaspar-Martins, from Angola, and chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) group said:
“The current plans to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions do not keep the world within the ‘safe’ temperature rise of 2°C. But from a Least Developed Country perspective, it is far worse than that. For the LDCs, economic development, regional food security, ecosystems, and the very survival of their populations and livelihoods are at risk if talks aim only for a 2°C world.”
Gaspar-Martins and the poorest nations of the world are supported by the Alliance Of Small Island States (AOSIS), who are already suffering the effects of sea level rise.  The chair of the Alliance, Thoriq Ibrahim from the Maldives1 had this to say:
“Slower onset events like sea level rise and ocean acidification continue to assault our small states. Climate change in all its forms is a new reality for us and it is getting worse.”
He went on to say that
“a long-term temperature goal of well below 1.5 degrees must be reflected in the Paris Agreement, along with an indicative pathway for achieving it, including urgent peaking and deep mid-century emissions reductions.”
Those of us in the western-styled, rich nations of the world must take note.  It is the poor nations and the small island states that are experiencing the worst effects of climate change, yet they are the nations contributing the least to this change.  A simple graph plotting per capita GDP against per capita greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) is very telling.

In this graph the horizontal axis represents per capita GDP in US dollars and the vertical axis per capita tonnes of GHGs.  The vertical blue line marks a per capita GDP of $10,000 US – one hundred and twenty nations lie to the left of this line!  The graph is a scatter diagram with the red line representing the “line of best fit” showing the rough correlation between GDP and GHG emissions.
Telling, isn’t it?  Clearly, it is the rich nations that contribute most significantly towards GHG emissions and therefore climate change.

And we in the western-styled, rich nations continue to consume at ever alarming rates.  The richest 1/5th of the world’s population consume 86% of the world’s resources.2  Meanwhile one-third of the world’s population living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, consume just 3.2%.

We must face it – it is our consumption patterns that contribute to climate change.  It is those of us in the western-styled, rich nations that continue to consume in great, excessive, obscene levels; who condemn those living in poor nations and small island states to the ravages of climate change.

Certainly, we must continue to ensure that our leaders put in place the policies needed at COP.  Certainly, we must continue to oppose mining and drilling for fossil fuels.  Certainly, we must continue advocating for renewable energy.

But, if we continue driving our cars to climate change rallies, continue to eat meat in vast quantities, continue to throw food away, continue to adopt the latest fads and fashions, continue to be hooked on electronic and telecommunications gadgetry then we will continue to cop out.3

Let’s not cop out.

1. The average height of the Maldives is just 1.2 metres above sea level, and the highest point is only 2.4m above sea level, making this nation the most vulnerable to sea level rise.
2. This 20% consume:  45% of all meat and fish,  58% of the total energy, 84% of all paper, have 74% of all telephone lines, and own 87% of the world's vehicle fleet.  (Source, accessed 1-12-15)
3. Cop out is a slang term meaning to avoid or shirk responsibility, to fail to fulfil a commitment, or to provide an evasive excuse.