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 28 June 2016

The (Western) Consumption Disease

Around a quarter of all deaths in Europe during the early-mid 1800s was due to “consumption.”  Since then, the disease has come to be understood, fought against, and renamed.  We now know it as tuberculosis.  By 1950 its rampant mortality was reduced by 90% in Europe.

Prior to the 20th century it was known as consumption because it consumed the body of the sufferer – drastic weight loss was one of its more glaring symptoms.  Today, fortunately, tuberculosis (or simply TB) is largely eradicated in North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.  Not so in sub-Saharan Africa and most of Asia however, where it affects more than 750 people per 100,000 of the population.  In some parts of these continents the rate of infection can be 2,000 or 3,000 or more per 100,000.

The disease is so prevalent in Africa and Asia that in 1993 the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared TB a “global health emergency.”

The Western Disease

In the west we may have eradicated TB but we haven’t got rid of the disease of consumption.  We’ve just transformed it.  Our consumerist society is eating away at our collective body just as surely as TB eats away at the individual body.  This western version of the disease of consumption has another name – affluenza.  Indeed, there are at least three books out with that title.1

Yet, we are unwilling to talk about it.  When we talk about solving the climate change crisis the discussion often revolves around renewable energy sources, green technology, and/or recycling.  These, although laudable, all address only one side of the equation – the supply side.  We seem unwilling to discuss the demand side - our rampant consumerism.

So, allow me to talk about it a little.  Every year we extract 55 billion tons of bio-mass, fossil fuels, metals and minerals from the earth.  This is expected to rise to 80 billion tons within the next four or five years.  Much of this is converted into stuff that we buy or consume in one way or another.  We buy it, and then what happens?  99% of what we buy is trashed within 6 months.  OECD countries generate over 2 kg of municipal solid waste per person – per day!  High levels of waste also occur in some of the world’s poorest island nations, often because of that other favourite consumer activity – tourism from rich nations.

Lets think about renewable energy.  The saviour of the planet we hear from some climate change activists.  Is it?  A few calculations suggest that pinning our hopes to a sustainable world, where global temperature rise does not exceed 2 degrees Celsius, is a forlorn hope if all we do is convert to renewable energy and green technology.  Currently, the world average electricity consumption per capita is 3 MWh per year.  In western nations consumption is around 8 MWh  per person per year.  Over 40% of this consumption is by industry with private residences making up a little over one-quarter.  Transport consumes just 1-2% of global electricity.

One of the recent glad tidings coming from the renewables sector is that of battery storage.  Tesla and others have made tremendous strides in battery technologies, and these are often highlighted.  But, wait a moment.  These batteries use lithium.  Our current rate of extraction and use of lithium is around 40,000 tonnes per year.  If we we want to power our new Prius or other hybrid or fully-electric vehicle, plus store electricity from solar, wind and other renewable sources, then by 2040 we are going to require 800,000 tonnes of lithium per year.  With known reserves of lithium we could manage that until about the mid 2050s.  This assumes too, that Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina2 are going to allow rich foreign corporations to mine their countryside.

Lithium mining is not without its environmental and social impacts.  The extraction of lithium from the salt planes of the Atacama Desert and elsewhere requires a lot of water and the use of toxic chemicals.  As these areas are arid, the high use of water by lithium mining means that local communities and flora and fauna in these area are deprived access to clean water.  Already local communities in northern Chile and those around the Salar de Hombre Muerto in Argentina are claiming that lithium mining is contaminating local water sources used by humans, livestock, and crop irrigation.

We Have To Talk About Consumption

Our global population is expanding (expecting to reach 9 billion people by the middle of this century) and along with it the expectation of electricity by those in the emerging economies.  Certainly, renewable sources must be developed and used.  But, we cannot expect to continue doing so in the affluent way that we presently do.  We must do something about our consumption.  Not just hold it at present levels, but reduce it.

What if we had a bathtub that was overflowing?  The majority of our present thinking about climate change solutions is like building up the sides of the bath to hold the water in, or maybe devising an automated, solar-powered, siphon to transfer the water to another tub.  When what we really need to do is turn the tap off!

It is us, in the western world that need do something about our consumption.  This is not suggesting that it is simply up to the individual consumer to make choices.  Although the individual can take action to down-size, buy organic, local goods, and swap their lightbulb for an eco-friendly one, the actions we need are systemic.  Western consumption is a disease of the whole cultural body, and needs to be tackled holistically and using systems thinking.

But first, we have to start talking about it.  We have to stop putting our faith in technical solutions (even green ones).  Like any disease we have to start with a thorough diagnosis. 

1. Affluenza is the title of books by: i) John de Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas Naylor (2001), ii) Oliver James (2008), and iii) Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss (2005).

2. Between them,  Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina contain over 50% of the worlds known reserves of lithium.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

What If Things Don't Work Out For The Good?

Those of us who work in the fields of community development, social justice, or environmental
advocacy do so because we want to change the world.  We want to change it for the better.  We want to get rid of inequality.  We want to rid the world of oppression.  We want to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

We want to act for good.

All actions, however, have unpredictable or uncertain outcomes.  We can never be sure of what is going to happen.

“Hang on,” I hear from various quarters, “we do know what will happen – we’ll bring about a better world.”

Therein lies our delusion.  Western notions of linearity, of cause-and-effect, of predictable outcomes, give rise to delusions of permanence and security.

Ever since the Age of Enlightenment (or Reason) we have come to believe that the world and everything in it is permanent.  Even change is permanent in the sense that change happens in a predictable, understandable, consistent, and controllable manner.  We have come to view change like a train moving along a railway track.  When the train comes to a junction we can flip the switch one way or another.  Flip it one way and the train continues along in the one direction.  Flip it another way and the train changes tracks and moves off in a different direction.  Our scientific approach was based on this assumption.  Eventually our cultural and social understandings took up this assumption also.  This consistent permanence provided us with the security of surety and certainty.

But, it is a myth; it is an unfounded assumption; it is a delusion.

The world does not work this way.  The train may end up as a wreck.  Indigenous cultures and eastern philosophies have known this for millennia.  Western science has come to realise this delusion over the past century or so, especially with the development of quantum physics, meteorology, and systems, chaos, and complexity theories.

Socially however, we have been slow to catch on.  We still tend to think that if we act for good then good will happen.  What if it doesn’t?  What if unwelcome, or harmful, outcomes arise because of our actions?

What do we do then?  Do we become despondent; do we collapse in despair; do we give up and withdraw?

No!  We continue to act, but accept that our actions may or may not have the outcomes we would like.  Alan Clements1puts it well when he says,
“We must live with the anxiety of an unpredictable world, where the unthinkable often happens.”
We know that the world needs to change.  We know that there is injustice and oppression in the world.  We know that humans are contributing significantly to climate change.  We know that species are becoming extinct because of our actions.  We know that war forces families and whole communities to become refugees.  We know it must change.

So, notwithstanding that we know it must change, and we know that outcomes are unpredictable, we continue to act.

One person who knew that we must continue to act for good, no matter the outcomes, was Vaclav Havel, the last president of Czechoslovakia and then the first president of the Czech Republic.  Havel was a vocal critic of the communist regime, an advocate of direct democracy, an environmentalist and humanitarian as well as being a poet, philosopher and writer.  He was jailed numerous times by the secret police, before finally leading his country to a new phase.  In one of his books, he declared that,2
“Hope, in the deep and meaningful sense … is an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.”
The key, then, to finding the justification for our action is in the act itself and not become attached to the outcome.  We learn to accept.  Acceptance in this sense means that we must transcend our ego.  We must go beyond an egocentric thinking that says “I can control the future.”  Another poet, T S Eliot, alluded to this letting go of attachment in his poem East Coker:3
“For us, there is only the trying.  The rest is not our business.”
1. Alan Clements, Instinct For Freedom; finding liberation through living, Hodder, 2003
2. Vaclav Havel, Disturbing The Peace, Vintage Books, New York, first English edition 1990.

3. T S Eliot, East Coker (second poem in Four Quartets), first published 1940.

Tuesday 14 June 2016

A Simpler Way: Film Review

The world is complex.  How many times have you heard that?  The complexity of the issues and problems facing us are enormous.  Peak oil, climate change, inequality, resource depletion, war, terrorism.It’s all so complex’ dozens of advisers, diplomats, politicians, and leaders of industry tell us.

Complex, maybe, but the solutions could actually be quite simple.

In fact, there is a simpler way the writers and directors of this film tell us.  So simple that they decided that should be the film’s title: A Simpler Way.  The simple setting of the film is to follow the journeys of a dozen or more people over one year, who came together to form an intentional community based on sustainable principles.

Wurruk’an, as the community is named, is located in Gippsland, approximately 200km east of Melbourne, Australia.  The name, Wurruk’an is a combination of the local indigenous word, wurruk, meaning earth and/or story and the Mayan word, k’an, meaning seed.  Hence this film could be considered to be the seed of the (new) story of the earth.

Using the stories of those who undertook this journey, and the commentaries of a number of people who have thought about and written about the need for a simpler way, the film gives us a glimpse of tomorrow’s story.  The old story of endless growth, consumerism and destruction must give way to tomorrow’s story these people tell us.  One commentator notes that, as a society, we are between stories, “desperately clinging to yesterday’s, but uncertain of tomorrow’s.” 

This film is important because it allows us to think about, imagine and seek a new story for tomorrow.  It is also important, because “we are facing limits,” and our present story is harmful and unsustainable. 

Sustainable is another of those words and concepts (like complexity) that we hear a lot about.  This film notes that sustainability is not sufficient; what is needed is regenerative solutions.  We must find ways to regenerate the earth, ourselves and our relationship with the earth and with each other.  We drastically need to reduce our demand upon the earth and our demand for energy.  We will not be able to meet ongoing energy demands with renewables, yet, if we reduce demand we will make it easier for that demand to be met by renewables.  This film shows that all of this is possible.

It also shows that our other great demand – food – can be changed.  “Food consumption is a moral and political act,” states Zainil Zainuddin, an Urban Agriculture researcher based at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Food is the most intimate connection we have with the land via our senses, she says.  We can taste it, smell it, see it, and it has texture.  Many of Wurruk’an’s residents echo this, telling stories of the pleasure of growing their own food, discovering the joys of getting their hands dirty and learning what works.

However, just because it is simple doesn’t mean it is easy.  The film does not shun the difficulties that residents faced.  Most of the difficulties lay in the communications and relationships between people.  As one interviewee noted,  the knowledge and skills of being together, living in community, have been broken in our western culture.  The arts of communication, conflict resolution, celebration have been ripped out by our individualised and isolating lifestyles.  These arts had to be rediscovered, tried out, and learned anew.  Many mistakes were made over the course of the year, conflicts and contradictions arose.  “Judged that way, we failed,” the interviewee says, but goes on to say that these mistakes were the gifts and learnings from the year.  He ends the interview by exhorting the viewer to “make beautiful  mistakes.”

A Simpler Way follows only one small community on it’s journey.  How does this approach make any difference in a world of suburbanised cities and concrete jungles?  This film does not address this issue in depth.  That is the next part of the story that needs to be experimented with and told.  However, David Holmgren, the co-originator of the permaculture concept, is unafraid to address this.  He advocates an incremental approach with individual households and small urban collectives harvesting water and using space much more creatively. 

The film is unashamedly upbeat about the possibilities for the future.  The future is up to us, it’s not about getting “good guys into large structures” Helena Norbert-Hodge warns us towards the end of the film.  It is up to each one of us, acting collectively to work systematically towards smaller and more localised systems and structures.

Wurruk’an is one of the experiments and examples that we have for this new story.  It is one of the “bubbles of creative responses,” as John McKenzie from the Black Bulge Community tells us.  This film is a further example that we have – a highly transportable one.

The opening screen shot of the film is depressing - a number of large smokestacks belching filth into the air.  It ends though with a positively encouraging quote from Buckminster Fuller:
“To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
A Simpler Way is co-directed by Jordan Osmond and Samuel Alexander and funded by the contributions of almost 80 people.  It is highly recommended, easily understood, encouraging, optimistic and enjoyable to watch.  It is available at

or on youtube at

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Are You The Hundredth Monkey?

Seeking social change can sometimes seem disheartening can’t it?  Nothing seems to change.  In fact, sometimes it can appear that we are going backwards.  More war, more inequality, greater environmental destruction, more famine, more refugees.  We can become disparaged, disillusioned and even plummet into the depths of despair and despondency.  It seems that the only thing left to do is to withdraw.

Maybe it’s not all so discouraging.  What if there were already 99 monkeys, and you were to be the one-hundredth?

The Hundredth Monkey

The story of the hundredth monkey is becoming a fairly well known urban myth.  It tells of monkeys on a Japanese island eating sweet potatoes that were often made less tasty by the dirt.  One monkey found that by immersing the sweet potato in water the dirt would wash off and the potato became more palatable.  Eventually other monkeys copied and began to wash the sweet potatoes also.  Finally, the one hundredth monkey took up the habit and, so the story goes, immediately all the monkeys on other islands adopted the practice.

Maybe you are the one-hundredth monkey, and that once you take up a new action or behaviour then many others will do likewise.  Or, perhaps you are the ninety-ninth monkey and still nothing seems to have changed.  But wait – it may only take one more.

The story of the Hundredth Monkey has been disputed, even ridiculed, and with it the metaphorical meaning.  The hundredth monkey may be a mythical story but it tells an universal truth.  We all know the truth of the story and we have a number of metaphors and theories to tell it.

Other Metaphors

The straw that broke the camels back is a well known saying that has been with us since at least the early 19th century.

The Domino Effect tells of a whole row of standing dominoes being tipped over one by one, simply by tipping the first one.  During the 1950s and 1960s the US administration developed the Domino Theory speculating that if one country in SE Asia fell under communist rule then others would follow.

A Chain Reaction is similar to that of the Domino Effect.  One action in one place causes an action in another place and so on in an ongoing action-reaction.

Critical Mass states that once a phenomena has reached a certain stage (or mass) then it becomes self-sustaining and grows.  A nuclear explosion is a well-known example of this.

Getting on the bandwagon is a metaphor illustrating how once a number of people have accepted an idea then that idea becomes popular amongst a wider population.

A Tipping Point is the point where something that has been trending in one direction suddenly veers from that direction and goes in a completely different direction.  Malcolm Gladwell has written much about tipping points in his book of the same title.1

The First Follower is a graphic illustration of how a movement begins with one person and is, crucially joined by the first follower.  Derek Sivers in a 3-minute TED talk expertly shows how this works.


A number of scientific theories bear similarities to the basic idea of the hundredth monkey.

Catastrophe Theory (also Bifurcation Theory) is a mathematical theory that explores what happens when phenomena suddenly shift in behaviour because of small changes in circumstances.

Chaos Theory provides us with the well known Butterfly Effect, whereby a small change in initial conditions can produce widely varying outcomes.  The Butterfly Effect gets its name from the idea that a butterfly fluttering over the Amazon forest can set off a storm in Tokyo.

Emergence describes the process whereby larger entities or patterns arise from the interaction of smaller or lesser entities.  Furthermore, the properties that arise (emerge) in the larger entity do not exist amongst the smaller, separate, entities.

Fractals are natural, or mathematical, structures that exhibit a set of repeating patterns at all scales, from the micro through to the macro. 

All of these metaphors and theories tell us that small and apparently insignificant inputs can contribute to large and significant outcomes.  They also tell us that we will never know what those outcomes will be.  Nor can we predict which specific input it is that tips the balance, because they are all inter-related.

So, are you the one hundredth monkey?  Are you the final straw on the camel’s back?  Are you the butterfly over the Amazon?  Are you the first domino?  Are you the first follower?

Have we reached the tipping point?  Is a new paradigm emerging?  Have we reached critical mass?

We are unable to answer any of those questions categorically.  But we can continue, knowing that the hundredth monkey will come along and we will all take up the habit of washing our sweet potatoes and enjoying a more palatable meal.


1. Malcolm Gladwell, Tipping Point: how little things can make a big difference.  Little Brown, Boston, 2000

Wednesday 1 June 2016

The Dream (or Nightmare) of Control

Artist: Dave Derrett
(used by permission)
How many of us desire control?  It may be self-control.  It may be control of a small fortune.  Perhaps even a desire to control an empire.  Whatever form of control we desire it often turns out to be just a dream.  Our control is limited, yet we often think it is more.

At an individual level we notice that feelings and emotions arise.  We have no control over them.  But we get told to “get your emotions under control” or “why don’t you control your anger?”  Growing up, boys may encounter the admonishment of “boys don’t cry” – implying that the emotions that gave rise to the tears should be kept in check.

The problem is not that emotions arise or do not arise, it is how we respond to them.  If we respond by grasping onto them then an emotion like anger can become a desire to lash out.  Grasping anger is seen everywhere, from bullying to domestic violence, from war to terrorism.  Grasping at sadness can lead to a “poor me” or a victim mentality.

The opposite of grasping is aversion.   Pushing against anger for example can lead us into fearing our anger.  In that fear we bottle our anger up inside us.  Fearing it, we may become timid, or overly stoic.  But we haven’t controlled it at all.  Its still there – hidden, for the time being, but not controlled. 

The desire and attempt to control emotion is a dream.  We do, however, have some control over our actions in response to emotion.  We do not have to resort to violence because of our anger.  The Buddhist practice of mindfulness is especially helpful when it comes to working on our emotions.  Mindfulness suggests that we notice our emotions, name them, and then just let them pass by.  They will, like everything, pass by.

Having control over our actions though is limited to just that.  We do not have control over the outcome of our actions, except for those outcomes that exist at that specific moment.  The desire to control outcomes is another dream – an unattainable dream.  Think about it.  Pick an outcome, even a simple one like going to the shop to buy an ice-cream.  It seems that you should be able to have complete control over that outcome doesn’t it?  But, the world is a lot more complex than that.  Maybe you arrive at the shop and find that the ice-cream has run out, or you left your wallet behind and have no money to pay.  Perhaps you don’t even get to the shop.  A car runs into you as you step off the pavement and you end up in hospital.  Or you meet a friend on the way and decide to go to a cafe for a coffee together.  We just never know.  Control is only a dream.

But when it comes to our collective selves - our neighbourhoods, nations and our global community – the dream of control is further from reality.  Indeed, we may have taken our desire for control so far that the dream has become a nightmare.

Western societies have been trying to control nature and other societies for centuries.  In doing so we unleashed the nightmare of nuclear weapons.  There are many examples of this.  Just three will do.  We have deforested so much of the planet that many species live with the nightmare of loss of habitat.  We have tried to control our urban environment so much that we now live with the nightmare of increasing depression, isolation and anger issues (e.g. road rage, domestic violence).

All because we think that we can control emotions and outcomes.  So, if we cannot control emotions nor outcomes, what can we learn?

From realising we cannot control emotions we learn to let go.

From realising we cannot control outcomes we learn to live in the present, the now.

From learning to let go and to living in the present, we discover contentment.