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.

Monday, 16 December 2019

English Knows It Too

We are from the Earth.  We are of the Earth.

And, the English language knows it too.

Every so often I become involved in a conversation about how we are part of the Earth.  In some of those conversations I hear a comment about how indigenous languages often use the same word for ‘people’ as for the ‘earth,’ or similar.

So does English.

The word human and the word humus are directly related.  Humus, of course, being the dark, organic, component of soil, of the earth.  Humus is produced by the decomposition of plant or animal matter, and is essential for soil fertility.

The word itself comes from its Proto-Indo-European root dhghem, meaning earth.

That is the same root word that gives us human. 

So, there we are (humans) right there in the English language being directly related to the earth.

Dhghem is, not surprisingly, also the root of the word Homo that forms part of who we are – Homo Sapiens.

We are related to the Earth.  We are of the Earth.  We come from the Earth.

Perhaps, as we think about that, we might consider another word that derives from dhghem, and is bound up in human and humus – humble.

Yes, perhaps, it is time we took a humble approach to our association with the Earth. 

When we act with humility (the practice of being humble) then we act with courteous respect.

The Earth is deserving of no less than our courteous respect, no less deserving of our humility.  And, in mutual reciprocity, we are no less deserving of the Earth recognising us as humans.

Let’s act as if we deserved that recognition.

Monday, 2 December 2019

The Horizon Calls

Recently I had cause to pass through Sydney.  I arrived by train and had five hours before my connecting train.

As I wandered the inner-city streets looking for somewhere to purchase dinner and to relax, I watched my fellow human beings.  Many seemed stressed.  Half of them seemed to have a mobile phone in their hands connected to ear-plugs.  Others were in a hurry.  And, it was noisy.

After a couple of hours I noticed my own sense of calmness begin to diminish, replaced by a rising uneasiness.

Then I noticed something, or more correctly, failed to notice something.  I could not see the horizon.

Everywhere I looked were buildings, most of them high-rise.  My view, if any, of the sky, was comprised of a narrow strip between the roof-lines of the buildings on either side of the street.

No horizon.

Where I’d come from earlier in the day I had always been able to see the line between sea and sky, or the outline of Ngali (Old Man Dreaming as the mountain range is known to the local Gumbaynggirr people.)

On any given day I could see the horizon.

I was struck by the thought: is our psyche, or our soul, nourished by the sight of the horizon?  When we are able to see the boundary between Father Sky and Mother Earth are we, somehow, more grounded in who we are and what we are part of?

Whether it be a fairly continuous line, as between sea and sky, or one that is fractalised, such as by trees and mountains, the horizon always calls to us.

The horizon calls us to notice our Sky Father and our Earth Mother.  The horizon calls us to remember our links to sky, to sea, to forest, to mountain.  The horizon calls us to seek our soul, especially at the time of day when the sun dips below the western horizon.  The west is metaphorically the place where we enter the darkness and the mysteries of soul.

Then, in the morning, the sun rises above the eastern horizon, bringing brightness, wonder, and frivolity to our lives.

As I write this the sun has set in the city, but I did not notice it – because I cannot see the horizon.

So, next time you gaze at the horizon, give thanks that you can, and listen to how it calls you.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Is This The Most Effective Social Change Strategy?

R Buckminster (Bucky) Fuller
All around the world there are thousands upon thousands of people seeking and working towards social change.

What’s their strategy?

Many, I would venture, may not be able to answer that question.  Others may answer in terms of tactics rather than strategy.

So, perhaps a clarification of the distinction between strategy and tactics is in order.

Strategy defines how a long-term goal is to be achieved.  Tactics describe the specific actions along the way that get you there.

Strategy can be visualised as the path you wish to take.  Tactics are the steps you take on that path.

Working towards social change requires both strategy and tactics.  2,500 years ago the military strategist Sun Tzu wrote that,
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
Thinking about, and formulating, a strategy before considering tactics is crucial if we are to achieve our goals.  Otherwise all we do is create a lot of noise.1

Social change advocates utilise many strategies with greater or lesser effectiveness.  Are all strategies of equal worth?  Is it better to have an ineffective strategy than no strategy at all?  What is the most effective strategy?

Is It This One?

Richard Buckminster Fuller (Bucky) was an American architect, systems thinker, futurist, designer.  He wrote more than 30 books, was awarded 47 honorary degrees, and is perhaps best known for popularising the geodesic dome.

In a 2011 book on Bucky’s life and philosophy Fuller is quoted as saying,
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”2
Is this the most effective social change strategy ever espoused?  It is certainly quite different than most other social change strategies, which strategise about how to change the present reality by opposing it.

Fuller however, not only tells us what strategy does not work, he suggests a strategy that does.  In one of his last books published whilst he was still alive, Fuller tells us that he,
“…resolved never to attack or oppose undesirable socioeconomic phenomena, but instead committed myself to evolving and cultivating tools that would accomplish humanity’s necessitous tasks in so much easier, more pleasant, and more efficient ways that, without thinking about it, the undesirable ways would be abandoned by society.” 3
Was Fuller na├»ve, or was he just able to see more clearly than many of the rest of us?  Certainly this quote suggests he had a lot of faith in humanity.  Perhaps more faith than those who espouse strategies of opposition and confrontation.

But, let us stop and consider for a moment.  If we were to adopt Bucky’s strategy what would that mean?

First, we would be working for something rather than against something.  Surely that would serve to reduce our feelings of frustration, despair, and anger.

Second, it would save a lot of wasted energy.  Energy that could be put towards a better future, and in doing that, a better now.

Third, it would inspire us to think creatively and to use our imaginations in a fuller (thanks Bucky) manner.

Fourth, this strategy shifts our thinking away from hierarchical and centralised power structures to inter-connected networks in which power is shared.

You could call this strategy the Strategy Of Ignorance.  Not a blissful sort of ignorance, nor an ignorance that offers nothing.  Rather, a very conscious disregard of, a snubbing of, social structures that do not serve the needs of people and the planet.  It is a strategy that gives the cold-shoulder to elites.  But, it does not stop at ignoring, it then goes on to do something - to "build a new model."

Now For Tactics

Adopting this strategy also means co-creating new and different tactics.  No longer the tactics of opposition, anger, and frustration; rather, tactics that call on our resources of cooperation, mutuality, and respect.

Already, there are many people undertaking tactics that fit with this strategy.  Think of the permaculture movement, or Transition Towns, of those exploring truly democratic decision-making methods, or nature-based therapies.

All these, and others, are examples of tactics that guide our steps along Fuller’s strategic pathway.

Do we have the willingness, and the courage, to adopt Fuller’s strategy?

Notes:
1. Sun Tzu’s use of the word “noise” is interesting.  Many of the tactics of the strategies of opposition are often noisy. 
2. L Steven Sieden, A Fuller View - Buckminster Fuller´s Vision of Hope and Abundance for All, Divine Arts Media, 2011.
3. R Buckminster Fuller, Critical Path, St Martin’s Press, New York, 1981







Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Kindness Amongst Kin

We’ve always known it, haven’t we?  We’ve known that we are all family, that we are all connected.  And… we’ve known that our acts of kindness celebrate and sustain that connection.

Sometimes we forget though.  Perhaps we lose the knowledge.

It’s easy to find though.  It’s right there in our language.  There’s kin in our kindness; our kindness embraces our kin.

That’s no coincidence.  Both words – kin and kindness – derive from the same etymological roots.  The Proto-Germanic word kundjaz (meaning family, race) is the grand-kin of both words.  Before that, the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) word gene is an ancient forebear.  Meaning to give birth, to beget, it is clearly the foundation of many English words such as generate, genome, generation, generous, and congenial. 

A few iterations also gives us kin and kind.

When we remember this linguistic connection it becomes much easier to understand our human connection and inter-relatedness.  Then, it becomes quite normal and routine to show kindness to our kin.

So, on this World Kindness Day,1 let us recall that we are all kin and allow ourselves to offer some kindness.

Note:
1. World Kindness Day (13 November) is an initiative of the World Kindness Movement.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Law Of The Jungle

Often we seem to live our lives according to catch-phrases; phrases that sum up in a few words a concept, ideology, or world-view.  One such phrase is the Law of the Jungle.

In general terms this phrase has come to be synonymous with other catch-phrases such as; ‘dog eat dog’, ‘only the strong survive’, ‘every man (sic) for himself’, ‘kill or be killed.’  Harsh, terrifying, and ultimately degrading, both to us as humans, and also to the inhabitants of jungles.

Is the Law of the Jungle so brutish, violent, and full of such terror?  Indeed, is there a law of the jungle?

The phrase Law of the Jungle is only a little over 100 years old.  It was coined by Rudyard Kipling in his The Second Jungle Book.1

In that book Kipling wrote a poem that outlined The Law for the Wolves.  It is noteworthy that it was the wolf pack that raised Mowgli – a human child.

Early in the poem Kipling writes this line:
“For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”
This is an acknowledgement of co-operation, mutuality, and inter-connection – a far cry from the associations we have today of the law of the jungle.

When we do enter the jungle, or any natural environment, we observe a law (lore) that speaks of reciprocity and connectivity.  Yes, there may be killing and death; what is far more noticeable is abundant life, staggering diversity, and a mutuality of associations.

Noticing this about the jungle we might come up with catch-phrases such as ‘give and take’, ‘live and let live’, ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’, or ‘we’re all in this together.’

So, where do the harsh, terrifying, catch-phrases come from?

Fear!

We have come to fear the jungle.  We have come to fear nature.  Our fear is derived from our disconnection from nature.  A disconnect that began 5,000 – 10,000 years ago when we began to domesticate plants and animals, and to settle in one location.  The Industrial Revolution exacerbated this disconnection within western-styled cultures. 

Nature had to be “tamed” in order for us to progress and overcome the fear that had become so embedded within our collective psyche.

In western-styled cultures, and cultures that are not nature-based, our fear is so embedded that we no longer recognise the basis of that fear.  The modern associations with the Law of the Jungle become normalised.

Not only has our disconnect from nature given rise to a fear of nature, it has promoted disconnection from one another, and a fear of other humans.  The catch-phrase ‘every man (sic) for himself’ epitomises this disconnect and fear.

Overcoming The Fear

How do we overcome this fear?

By delving into it.  Not by pushing it aside, or trying to nullify it.  But by jumping into it, and exploring it.  How does this fear feel in my body?  What beliefs do I have that support my fear?  What lies behind my fear?

Once we have done that we may decide to spend some time in nature.  Doing so can help overcome our fear, it can also assist with our general well-being.

We can explore how each of our exterior senses (smell, taste, touch, sight, hearing) is stimulated by trees, creeks, birds, earth, insects, rocks, ferns.  Doing so may enliven our inner senses too – our intuition, our inner radar, our proprioception, our imagination.

Overcoming our fear and reconnecting with nature in this way may lead us o discover quite a different understanding of what is meant by the Law of the Jungle.

Note:
1. Rudyard Kipling, The Second Jungle Book, UK, 1895.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Rescuing Ourselves And The Planet

There is a common unhealthy triangle that plays out in many social settings.  It requires three players: a Perpetrator of harm, a Victim of that harm, and a Rescuer who “saves” the Victim.1

Why unhealthy?  All three are in a co-dependent relationship, and require the presence of the other two to satisfy their egos.  The Perpetrator needs the Victim and, as absurd and senseless as it may seem, the Victim needs the Perpetrator.  The Victim also needs the Rescuer to “save” them and rescue them from their helplessness.  The Rescuer too, needs the Victim in order to satisfy their desire to be worthy, as their own sense of self-worth has been lost or abandoned, possibly in childhood.  The Rescuer also needs the Perpetrator to create the Victim that can then be “rescued” by the Rescuer.

And, of course, the Perpetrator needs both the Victim and the Rescuer.  The former to represent someone (or something) that they can take out their deep held frustrations and anger upon.  And the Rescuer is necessary so as to maintain a steady supply of Victims.

It’s an unhealthy triangle.

Each of these roles often get developed early in life as our egos are forming.  Our western-styled society remains trapped within an ego-centric approach to individual and cultural development and places too little, if any, emphasis of eco-centric or soul-centric development.

Thus, we are enmeshed in a society that accentuates an ego-centric psyche, and because of that, perpetuates a continuing ego-centric culture.

Rescuing The Planet

All too often this same unhealthy triangle plays out in our response to environmental issues, including climate change.

Apart from minor exceptions, we humans play out the roles of Perpetrator, Victim, and Rescuer.

There is little doubt that we are the major Perpetrators of environmental damage upon this planet.

Many around the world are now recognising that we humans have become the Victims of our own actions - our perpetrations.  Some have thought beyond this anthro-centric view and perceive nature, the planet, the Earth, to be a Victim of this Perpetrator called homo sapiens.

With a Victim mentality we then approach the Earth and nature as Rescuers.  It is our job to rescue the planet, to “save” the Earth.

Somewhere, somehow, we must overcome and disrupt this unhealthy triangle.

We need to re-think who we are.  We are not the “top of the pile” dominators, exploiters, and/or consumers of the Earth’s resources.  Nor are we the “ultimate consciousness” that can rescue our future or save the planet.

We need to discover (perhaps re-discover) a nature-centred (eco-centric) consciousness – one in which we are no more, nor any less, than all the rest of nature.

Notes:
1. The use the capitalised forms of Perpetrator, Victim, Rescuer are meant to indicate a part of one’s psyche that informs one’s approach to the world, and relationships within it.  These three roles often get formed in childhood.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

THINK Of A Better World

In 1872 Mary Ann Pietzker wrote a poem entitled “Is It True? Is It Necessary? Is It Kind?”  Since then this poem has morphed into an acronym that exhorts us to THINK before we speak (or write).  The acronym suggests we ask ourselves, before speaking:

Is it …
   True?
   Honest?
   Inspiring?
   Necessary?
   Kind?

Most of us, in our work for social justice, environmental preservation, or community development, have one common goal – the desire for a better world.

The creation, or evolution, of a better world surely includes how we treat one another, including those with whom we may disagree.

In that disagreement it is still possible to speak with thought – to THINK about what we say, and about how we say it.

Note that the acronym does not ask: Is It Agreeing?  We do not need to agree in order to be kind, honest, or inspiring.

Let’s also be clear about how we disagree, and what we disagree about.

Suppose you have a preference for Earl Grey tea over English Breakfast tea.  Suppose I prefer English Breakfast and dislike Earl Grey. 

What if I say to you “Earl Grey is vile, loathsome rubbish.”  That may be my truth, but it is hardly inspiring.  It is also unnecessary, and it is definitely unkind.  I could have just said “I prefer English Breakfast,” or nothing at all.

Disagreement for disagreements sake is pointless and often ignites tensions and quickly descends into an unnecessary argument.

The other sort of disagreement that is pointless is that of name-calling and insult.  In a recent post I noted that this usually leads to disconnection and greater polarisation.

In our work towards a better world we eventually come to a realisation that we are all connected.  At some deeper level we are all kin.

In our speech (and our writing) it would pay to THINK first, and then speak (or write) with kindness.1

Note
1. The word kin and kindness come from the same etymological root.


Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Going On Holiday

I overheard a conversation this morning:

“I’m going on holiday,” said one.

“Oh, where are you going?” came the reply.

It’s a fairly common conversation isn’t it?  We say we are going on holiday.  Why do we say that?  What is it about our current location that means we must go somewhere for a holiday?

In one sense it’s a little sad.  What has come to pass in our culture that we have to go somewhere else for recreation, relaxation, or pleasure?

It hasn’t always been that way. 

A Holy Day until fairly recently has been a day on which we acknowledged something important in our culture – an anniversary of a momentous event, or a day that contained spiritual significance.

Holy comes to us linguistically from the Old English word halig meaning consecrated.  It pre-dates Christianity and had the sense of “that which must be preserved whole or intact and not violated.”

We have forgotten what is holy in the here and now, and we must leave the here and now and go on holiday.

Vacating Our Place

In the US, the more common term for holiday is vacation.  This word perhaps even more tersely signals the desire to go.  The word gives us a clue – we vacate. 

The root of the word vacation is the Proto-Indo-European word eue meaning to leave, abandon.

What are we abandoning, or going away from? 

Is that what our work ethic, and our institutionalised lives have come to?  That when we celebrate a holiday we must go somewhere else, we must abandon our everyday lives?

The Tourist Fantasy

Going on holiday has now become more and more synonymous with tourism.  We become tourists.

The word tourist entered the English language fairly recently, at the end of the 18th century.  But. my, how we have embraced it.  Tourism has soared.

In 1950 there were approximately 25 million “tourists” world-wide.  Today, every year, the world sees over 1.4 billion tourists.  That’s a 5,600% increase in just 68 years!

One person in every hundred was a tourist in 1950.  Today, one in every 5 is.

Sad, isn’t it?

That we must go somewhere else and abandon our lives in order to find rest, recreation, and/or pleasure.

We have lost the ability to celebrate what is holy in our lives.  We have forgotten how to enjoy our Holy Days.  We have lost connection with our place.



Friday, 4 October 2019

Feeding That Which Feeds Us

Most of us have heard of the fight or flight response.  When faced with a threatening situation, we become distressed, and an instinctual evolutionary response ensues.  We either turn tail and run, or we stand and fight.  We may also just freeze.

When we are threatened, our brain (specifically the amygdala) notices the threat and then, like a central command post, sends out distress signals resulting in the production of adrenaline and other hormones.

Most of us know what happens next:  our heart beats faster, our pulse rate goes up, so does our blood pressure.  We breathe more rapidly, and our senses sharpen.  Blood sugars get released.

If we continue to perceive the cause of our distress then the body releases cortisol, which acts to keep the body on “high alert.”

A continued state of high alert, however, is not good; it can become chronic and toxic.  We get into a vicious downward cycle. The build-up of cortisol in the brain increases the size of the amygdala, thus making the brain even more susceptible to distress.

Long-term, chronic distress negatively affects us.  We suffer from high blood pressure, obesity, anxiety, depression, and form addictions.

Constant Stress

Our modern lifestyle is no longer a “healthy” one.  We are bombarded daily with stressors and other threats.  From the constant racket of traffic, to the deadline to be met by 4.30pm.  From the glare of an iPad or TV monitor, to the lack of car parking space.  Daily there may be hundreds of distress-causing events.

It is little wonder then that most of us are living with chronic distress.  Our bodies are constantly on “high alert,” our sympathetic nervous system is always switched on.  Our parasympathetic nervous system becomes redundant.1

This constant state of distress impairs our ability to think critically,2 and dampens our creativity.

Climate Stress

Right now we are witnessing a dramatic increase in atmospheric carbon concentrations and a warming of the planet, bringing about climate change.

We have already witnessed how this is stress-inducing for people.  People in low-lying Pacific nations live with the constant fear of flooding.  In other parts of the world people live with the stress of drought, or massive hurricanes and tornadoes.  Others find their crops failing and soils being depleted.

It would seem that, in this early part of the 21st century we require both critical thinking and a creative response.

But, if our modern lifestyles hinder both, how do we nourish these capabilities?

Feed That Which Feeds Us

Fortunately, nature provides a solution.  And, it’s a simple one.  It doesn’t cost anything.  It is readily available.  It can be applied by oneself, in pairs, or in larger groups.

It just asks one thing of you: get outside, get into nature.  Go and sit under a tree, in a forest (bush) if nearby. 

Spending time, mindfully, in nature has been shown to reduce distress by lessening the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.  Time spent in nature reduces blood pressure (some research suggests this can last up to 5 days). 

So, the very thing we wish to “save” is the very thing that will feed the critical thinking and creativity we so desperately need.

We must learn to feed that which has been feeding us all along.3

Notes:
1. Our bodies have two nervous systems.  The Sympathetic Nervous System is the one that kicks in with adrenaline to ready the body to fight or flee.  On the other hand, our Parasympathetic Nervous System is the system that brings our bodies back into balance, it calms us.
2. Note that critical thinking is not the same as to criticise.  Although both come from the same Greek word (kritikos) critical thinking means analysing facts, in a clear, rational, open-minded, evidence-based, manner to form a judgement.  Criticise, however, means to find fault in someone or something, and has the sense of shame, censure, or condemnation about it.
3. With thanks to Stephen Jenkinson for this metaphor.  Stephen (MTS, MSW) is a teacher, author, storyteller, spiritual activist, farmer and founder of the Orphan Wisdom School (based in Canada), a teaching house and learning house for the skills of deep living and making human culture.
 







Friday, 27 September 2019

Science and Spirituality: Adversaries?

Western societies seem overly keen to separate things, to allocate different aspects of life to different boxes.  Woe betide anyone who mixes up the contents of the different boxes.

Perhaps the two most significant boxes are those labelled science and spirituality.  Science is science, and spirituality is spirituality.  They are not to be confused, certainly not connected.  Unified?  Heavens no!  At least this is what the dominant mindset would have us believe.

Yet, has it always been this way?  Interestingly the words science and spiritual only entered the English language in the 14th and 15th centuries respectively.

It seems that previously the two were understood as being two sides of the same coin, they were ways in which our quest for understanding was undertaken.

In modern versions, science tends to ask questions about what is out there, and spirituality about what is in here.  Science today asks “why is the sky blue?” or "how do black holes form?”  Today, spirituality asks “who am I?” or “what is the purpose of life?”

But they are not separate.  They are two aspects of our innate curiosity, and our quest for meaning and identity.

For First Nations people there is no split, nor was there for ancient forebears of western cultures.  The Druids, for example, were the holders of knowledge and wisdom, whether it be knowledge of practical use or that of an esoteric nature.  Furthermore, theirs was a knowledge base firmly rooted in nature.  Indeed, the words Druid and tree come from the same Proto-Indo-European root word – deru.
 
So, why is that today we are so keen to put these two aspects of our quest into separate boxes?  And why is it that, by separating them, we tend to give one greater precedence than the other?  Some of us esteem science and dismiss any spiritual element.  Others put spirituality at the forefront and disdain science.

That is a folly, and a dangerous one at that.  The danger lies more with the offshoots of spirituality (religion) and science (technology).

However, the original folly lies in venerating one over the other.

The Time Before

Let’s return to the time before science and spirituality were split apart by western minds.

The ancient shamans, elders, and wisdom-keepers were keen observers of nature, both “outer” nature and “inner” nature.  Had they not been so keen, and hence able to recognise cause and effect, there is little chance that we would have been here today.

Their inner-directed search led them to understand clearly that humans are part and parcel of that “outer” nature – that humans are not separate from nature.

These nature-based scientist/spiritualists recognised that it is a
“…human obligation to maintain the balance and health of the natural world as a solemn spiritual duty that an individual must perform daily – not simply as admirable, abstract ethical imperatives that can be ignored as one chooses.”1
We see in this quote a sacredness bestowed upon scientific knowledge of the natural world, and the spiritual journey of each person.

Today’s Mistake

And so, today, when the science of cause and effect is ignored and dismissed, we are making a big mistake.  We make an even bigger mistake when we dismiss science in the name of religion, or even spirituality (as some New Age spiritualities are wont to do).

Similarly, we make a mistake when spirituality is dismissed because it cannot be measured and tested according to “scientific” rules.

Science and spirituality are not separate domains with nothing (or little) to offer one another.

We are creatures of nature, and as such have a part to play in nature.  A part that has consequences, and hence a part we must take responsibility for.

It could be said that it is our sacred duty to be response-able participants upon this planet.

Note:
1. Peter Knutson & David Suzuki, Wisdom of the Elders, Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd., North Sydney, Australia, 1992.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

What Do I Say To Young People?

For 800,000 years the concentration of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere oscillated between about 170 parts per million (ppm) and 300 ppm.  Prior to that the concentration had fluctuated wildly, sometimes up to 2000 ppm.  Then around 5 million years ago levels began to decrease and eventually stabilise in the 170-300 ppm range around one million years ago.  Well before homo sapiens began to roam the planet.

When I was born the atmospheric CO2 concentration level had just broken through the top end of the 170-300 ppm range.

Only 60 years later (a blink in geologic time) concentrations surpassed 400 ppm and this year reached 415 ppm.

That CO2 increase has directly caused the warming of the planet.  We, homo sapiens, have hugely contributed to the increase.

In my lifetime atmospheric  CO2 concentration has leapt over 100 ppm to a concentration level unseen for more than 800,000 years – and at a rate 100 times faster than the “natural” background rate.

Tomorrow (20 September 2019), students and young people all over the world will be striking for action on climate change.  They have been doing so since 2012, and moreso since August 2018 when 15 year old Greta Thunberg took time off school to demonstrate outside the Swedish parliament.

These students and young people are challenging older people to take notice, and to do something.

As one who grew up contributing to, or at least, benefiting from, the increase in CO2 concentrations, what do I say to these young people?  I don't know the answer to that question, but here are some preliminary thoughts.

The first thing I have to say is – nothing!  Absolutely nothing.

Just listen.

When I was young, I and my cohorts, accused my elders of not listening.  My elders were not listening to our call for an end to the Vietnam War.  My elders were not listening to our call for an end to apartheid and other racist regimes.  My elders were not listening to our calls for a halt to native forest logging, not listening to our calls to abandon nuclear arms and nuclear power.

Now, I am of the “older” generation.  How can I possibly choose to not listen to younger generations.  Conscientiously I cannot.  Nor should any of my cohorts.

The next thing to say does not involve words either.  It is about what I do, or do not do.  I do not go on living in unconcerned comfort as most of my generation has always done. 

I grew up in a generation which demanded individual rights - a mistaken claim.  I cannot now assume that it is my right to play and luxuriate in the comfortable nest created by my generation’s consumerist approach of the past 60 years.

Stephen Jenkinson (1) said it well when he said that “now is not an okay time for okay people to be okay.”  He’s right.  And young people know he is right, and are not afraid to tell us, as they will be tomorrow.

So then.  Listen.  Don’t get comfortable.

Then, I have to take responsibility.  I have to become aware of the ripples of consequences (the wake) that flow out behind my behaviour and actions.

Four Effective Choices

The four most effective things in terms of climate change that I can be responsible for as an individual are:
  • limiting the number of children I have,
  • drastically reducing the number of international flights I make,
  • eating a meat-free diet,
  • going car less.
Note that each of these choices is an active one.  I must continually make the choice.  They are not choices that once made I do not need to consider again.  Whereas putting a solar panel on my roof, for example, is a passive choice.  Apart from maintenance choices, it is not a choice I need to continuously make.

My choices then become part of my lifestyle.  I make them over and over again.  I do not renege, I do not give up, I do not abandon younger generations.

I make these choices as an older person who accepts response-ability.

My first choice though, is to listen to the students and young people tomorrow.

Note:
1. Stephen Jenkinson is the author of Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Optimism, Responsibility, and Social Change

Oftentimes when I turn on the TV news I am confronted by what appears to be a world of increasing polarisation.  Factions and fractions seem to be displayed everywhere.

I hear women calling men out for their misogyny and sexual predation.

I listen to victims of colonisation decry white supremacy and racial abuse.

I watch demonstrators railing against the inaction of governments on climate change.

I could sink into the couch in a self-consuming wave of despair.  I could also be “shamed and blamed” into action.

I’ve done both.

Neither works.  Neither despair, nor shaming brings about social change.

However, acceptance and responsibility do.

I’m not talking about a complacent form of acceptance.  I mean accepting that something is real, that it happened.  It means recognising that I am part of a system that has given rise to sexism, racism, and climate change.

And that’s where responsibility comes in.  When I accept my part in those systems, I can accept my responsibility for contributing to (or at least benefiting from) those systems.

As a man I have benefited from the patriarchal system.  As a man of European heritage I have benefited from colonisation and the continuing racist system.

As an unthinking consumer I have contributed to the rise in carbon emissions.  I have benefited from the levels of “comfort” our consumerist system has created.

I have been a part of creating and maintaining those systems.

Despair and shame do not allow me to change, nor do they enable me to bring about social change on a systematic level.

My re-sponse-ability does.

When I recognise my part in the systems, when I recognise my responsibility, then I can make a choice.  I can choose to be re-sponsible.  And, when I take on those choices, my sense of optimism increases.  I am optimistic because I understand that my choices can make a difference.  That difference may be only slight, it may be huge (if we understand the Butterfly Effect).

I do not know if my choices make small differences or huge ones.  I don’t need to know.  I just need to know that I am taking responsibility for my choices and the consequences of those choices.

So, I can stop making sexist and racist jokes and can question others when I hear sexist or racist jokes being told.

I can make choices about the footprint I leave on this earth.  I can choose to ride my bike or walk the few kilometres to town, to the beach and bush, or to a climate change rally.  I can choose a meat-free diet.  I can choose to not take an international flight.

When I take responsibility for my choices I do so recognising that sexism, racism, and climate change exist.  I am not denying them, I am not wallowing in despair, and I am not feeling ashamed.

I am optimistic.

I am attempting to take responsibility.

Friday, 30 August 2019

Letter of Apology to Gen X and Y

This letter was first published in 2013.  It seems just as relevant now as it did then.

Hello Generation X and Y,

I’m a Baby Boomer.  I was born seven years after the Second World War.  I entered my teenage years during the 1960s.  By the late 1960s I was reading Kerouac, Hermann Hesse and Graham Greene.  I was listening to the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.  I was attending poetry readings by Sam Hunt and Gary McCormack and hearing the rhetoric of student radicals like Tim Shadbolt1.

Like Tim, I was becoming incensed by the injustices of the ill-conceived war in Vietnam.  One Summer holiday I began reading the daily newspapers and watching television news more than I had before.  And there, in front of me, was the atrocity of that war summed up in one village massacre – My Lai.  The power of mass, world-wide communication, via TV, had arrived.  Today, some 50 years later, television may seem normal (or even “old hat”), but as a 16 year old in 1969, it was a window to the world.

Attending University in the early 1970s steepened my learning curve.  The world wasn’t a paradise, it was full of social injustice.  The Vietnam War was a stimulus for what seemed like monthly marches or demonstrations.  I learnt about the apartheid system in South Africa and later about the appalling statistics of indigenous people (Maori) in my own land.  I was confronted with the benefit of being a male in a male-dominated society.  Books discussing ecology and environmental issues began to be published on a regular basis.  The World’s first green political party – the Values Party2 – was formed under my nose.

Yes, I was having my consciousness raised.  Yes, I was confronting my sexism.  Yes, I was signing the Maruia Declaration.  Yes, I stood as a candidate for the Values Party.  Yes, I sat in the wharenui (meeting house) at Bastion Point3.  Yes, I campaigned for a Non-Nuclear Future.  Many of us did, there were thousands in the streets, hundreds of thousands signed the Maruia and Non-Nuclear Futures petitions.  Yes, we were all looking forward to a bright, optimistic, free and equal society.

But somewhere, Gen X and Y, we got it wrong.

That television that was our window on the world was a two-edged sword.  Not only did it allow us to see the world, but it also allowed the world to invade our space.  Although globalisation had been occurring throughout the preceding millennium, the world in the 1960s and 70s was about to enter a new form of globalisation.  The globalisation of greed, ill-will and cultural imperialism.

We didn’t see it coming!

If we did see it coming, we didn’t appreciate or understand it’s insidious underbelly.  We enjoyed the greater choice we had, we enjoyed the falling prices we paid, we enjoyed the faster travel, we enjoyed the new technology.  And, on the whole, we still do!

What we failed to see clearly was the development not just of globalisation as material improvement but that it also became (from the 1980s onward) an ideology.  Espoused notably by Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US, neo-liberal globalisation had two primary tenets: deregulation and privatisation.

These twin pillars of globalisation led to; some 2/3rds of the world’s trade being controlled by just 500 transnational corporations (TNCs), a hugely increased gap between rich and poor, lack of accountability leading to environmental degradation, laying off of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of workers when companies “rationalise”, growing debt (and the servicing of that shifted to those not benefiting from the loans).

Yes, Gen X and Y – we did it.  We Baby Boomers created this monster from within our own ranks.  Like Mary Shelley we created new life but failed to see that the life we were creating was a monster.  As in Shelley’s Frankenstein, the monster is out and sadly has not been seen for what it is.  National governments, the World Bank, the IMF and especially TNCs, refuse to acknowledge the monster.  Instead, they continue to trot out the neo-liberal theory as if it was working.

But it’s not.  George Monbiot (another Baby Boomer) has rightly pointed out the absolute failure of the theory.  We can see it now.  I’m sorry Gen X and Y, that we didn’t see it earlier.  We have burdened you Gen X and Y.

I must apologise further, for to this burden of corporate globalisation we Baby Boomers are adding a further burden by our very own existence.  We Baby Boomers are becoming senior citizens, superannuants and pensioners.

When we were your age there were approximately 7 people of working age for every person aged over 65.  Today there are 5 and within your lifetime that is expected to decrease to just 2.5 by 20504.  Yes, we are going to be a burden.

So, I write this letter of apology to Generation X and Y.  I and others of my cohort can apologise, but can we offer anything in return?  I believe we can.

If nothing else, we can listen to you, and perhaps if we each seek each other out in respect, then we may be able to enter into a dialogue, and maybe, just maybe, we can each learn something before it is too late.

Best wishes
A Baby Boomer

1.  Sam Hunt and Gary McCormack are well known New Zealand poets influenced by the beat movement and counter-culture of the 1960s and 70s.  Tim Shadbolt became the face of student protest in the late 1960s earning the ire of politicians throughout the country, writing a book (Bullshit and Jellybeans) and eventually becoming a long-time Mayor of two cities.
2. The Values Party was formed in 1972 by Tony Brunt and in its first electoral contest just six months later obtained 2% of the vote.
3. The Maruia Declaration was a petition aimed at protecting native forests from logging.  Bastion Point was the site of an occupation by Ngati Whatua (the traditional tribal owners) of disputed tribal lands in 1977-78.  After an occupation of 507 days the protesters were evicted by police and ten years later the land was returned to Ngati Whatua and an apology made to the traditional owners.
4. Figures are for Australia and New Zealand.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

When Is A Forest Not A Forest?

Question:  When is a forest not a forest?

Answer:  When it’s a plantation.

Have you noticed lately how there seems to be an urgent appeal to plant trees – millions of them. 

The reason?  To combat climate change.  The Earth’s atmosphere is becoming more and more saturated with CO2.  For the past 800,000 years or more the concentration was less than 300 parts per million (ppm).  That changed rapidly over the past 60 or so years, so that now the atmosphere contains well over 400 ppm.1

One of the ways to combat this build-up is to plant trees, lots of them.

Great idea, but let us not pretend that we are planting forests.  We’re not!

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines a forest as being an area of greater than 0.5 hectares, with trees that a more than 5m tall and where the canopy covers more than 10%.

That definition is woefully inadequate for a forest.  It may define a plantation, but a forest it does not.
A couple of other features of forests help to show just how insufficient, and inaccurate, that definition is.  A forest is:
  • Diverse.  The variety of trees, shrubs, ferns, fungi, mycelium, birds, animals and insects is immense within a forest.
  • Complex.  The connections, inter-connections, and symbiosis of a forest is a lot more complex than is a plantation.  The complexity is such that it is impossible to enumerate.
  • Contains elders.  Ancestral trees in a forest can be thousands of years old.  They have provided shelter, nutrients, and protection for saplings and other plants for many hundreds of years, allowing the forest to survive.
  • All stages of life are included.  There are day old saplings, 50 year old youngsters, and the elders.  There are also decaying trees, providing the much needed nutrients for the young.
  • Underground there is so much going on that we don’t really know much about it.  The Wood Wide Web of mycelium, roots, and fungi connect trees so that they can share nutrients, warn one another of dangers, and nurture the young.
We know so little about forests.  We may know a lot about individual trees, but when it comes to the complexity and interconnectivity of a forest, we are fairly ignorant.

But, ignorant or not, we can appreciate the beauty, the magnificence and the healing power of forests.

We know how much forests help in keeping the planet healthy (that’s the reason for the current desire to plant trees).  We are coming to learn how much forests can do for our own well-being.

Now, here’s the rub.

A plantation can be re-planted.  A forest cannot*.

When we lose a forest, we have lost it for thousands of years. 

Notes:
1. The website co2.earth gives a reading of 411.7 ppm for July 2019. (accessed 13 August 2019)
* I need to modify this statement a little.  A forest can be replanted, so long as those doing the replanting accept that they will not live to see the forest in its glory, and that the forest may not be a "forest" for several hundred years.

Monday, 5 August 2019

A More Beneficial A.I.

The world is full of acronyms, and A.I. is one of the more recent.  I guess most people when confronted with the acronym A.I. will think Artificial Intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence though, has risks and harmful effects.  Elon Musk (who you think would know something about A.I. with his electric cars, spaceships and Mars project) has called A.I. our biggest existential threat and that
“With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon.”1
I’ve been searching for a more beneficial A.I. and I’ve found it.

A.I. in my world stands for Arboreal Immersion.

Arboreal means relating to trees or resembling the form of a tree, especially its branching patterns.

Arboreal also means inhabiting or frequenting trees.  This is the sense with which I mean the term  A.I. – Arboreal Immersion.

A.I. means to immerse oneself within trees, in a forest.

You may recognise this idea in its more common term – Forest Bathing.

Forest Bathing is the English term given to the Japanese word Shinrin-yoku, where the practice began in the 1980s.

Of course, the benefits of nature and being in a forest setting have been understood by many cultures for many thousands of years.  However, the specific practice and study of Shinrin-yoku is recent.

Forest Bathing (Arboreal Immersion) involves entering a forest slowly and quietly, with no intention to get anywhere.  The idea is to simply immerse oneself in the forest and open ones outer senses to the surroundings.  What do you notice?  What do you see, hear, smell, touch, taste?  Arboreal Immersion is not an intellectual practice of identifying species, nor is it a setting in which to display or increase our knowledge.

It is simply a container in which we allow our senses to just – sense.

We also open ourselves to our inner senses.  We allow nature to access our inner nature.  What do we intuit from the forest?  What feelings and emotions are stirred inside us?

Over the course of the past few decades there has been a lot of research carried out with much of that research showing the tremendous benefits of Forest Bathing.  Benefits that include:
  • assisting in mental health disorders, including ADHD, anxiety, and depression.
  • helping to mitigate migraines,
  • overcoming obesity, musculoskeletal complaints, and respiratory diseases,
  • increased feelings of gratitude and wonder,
  • a deeper sense of relaxation (mental and physical).
In our hurly-burly, go-go-go, daily lives our sympathetic nervous system (the one that kicks in as a fight/flight/freeze response) is constantly on edge, just waiting nervously to be set in motion.  When continuous, this is an unhealthy state and keeps our heart rate on constant alert.

Forest Bathing helps to settle this sympathetic system so that our parasympathetic nervous system can restore our “natural” state.

Planetary Benefits

Of course, the benefits of Forest Bathing go well beyond the individual benefits.  Jacques Yves Cousteau commented that
“People protect what they love.”
People who spend time Forest Bathing come to love the forest and nature; and thus come to feel more protective towards nature and forests in particular.

The benefits of forests are well known in terms of the carbon/oxygen cycle.  If we love the forest, we will protect the forest, and in doing so will protect the whole planet, and ourselves.

Yes, Arboreal Immersion has many benefits for individuals, communities, natural systems, and the planet as a whole.

I prefer the natural benefits of this form of A.I. rather than the artificial dangers of the other form of A.I.

Notes:
1. The Washington Post, 24 October 2014.



Monday, 29 July 2019

There Goes Our Budget…. Again!

Imagine that on January 1st you have a nest-egg of $365,000.  Imagine too, that you spend $1,000 every day following.  Imagine that you are a savvy investor and you are able to generate $1,000 every day.

Now do the arithmetic.  It’s easy.  You start the year with $365,000.  During the year you spend $365,000, and you also generate $365,000.  So, at the end of the year, on 31 December, you have $365,000 in your account. 

You can now begin the next year with your nest-egg of $365,000 intact.

Now, imagine that you increase your spending by $100 a day.  You now spend $1,100 a day, and you generate $1,000 a day.

This time the arithmetic is a little harder, but not too difficult.  By the end of the year your nest-egg will have decreased to $328,500.

Imagine that you do nothing to correct this overspend; instead, you increase your spending.  And if you do this every year then each year your nest-egg will decrease quicker and quicker.

If you wanted you could even work out the date each year on which your spending outstripped the amount you generate each year.

For example, using the figures from above.  Spending $1,100 each day it would take you 332 days to spend $365,000.  You would have spent your years generative amount by 29 November.  During December you would effectively be stealing from your nest-egg.

So, you could work out year by year the date on which your spending outstrips the rate at which you are able to generate income.  You could, if you wanted, call this the day you overshoot your budget for the year.

Earth’s Budget

Now imagine that the same arithmetic is applied to the rate at which we humans spend the resources of the Earth and the rate at which the Earth is able to replenish those resources.

It turns out that some mathematical boffins have been doing exactly that for the past 50 years or so.
According to their equations, prior to 1970 we were “spending” the Earth’s resources within budget.
But then we became more spendthrift and the day on which we overshot our budget worked out to be a few days before the end of the year.  By the end of the 1970s Earth Overshoot Day (as it came to be known) was late October.1  By the end of the 20th century we were overspending Earth’s budget even earlier – by late September.

This year Earth Overshoot Day is the same date as last year, but still as early in the year as 29 July (the day on which this blog is published).

We all know what happens when we overspend our budget at an increasing rate – bankruptcy.
That is what we are doing with Mother Earth – bankrupting her.

Some Spend More

You may be inclined to think the increasing population is the reason for this overspend.  That is only part of the reason.

For some nations their day of overshoot is much earlier in the year.  For North America, Australia, Kuwait and the U.A.E. the date falls in March – at least four months earlier than it does for the Earth as a whole.  The Scandinavian nations overshoot during the month of April, and most of Europe have overshot during April and May.

New Zealand and Japan overshoot on May 6 and 13 respectively.

China, the most populous nation on Earth overshoots this year on June 14th – between one and three months later than the western-styled nations. India overshoots in late June.   Indonesia, the world’s 4th largest nation in population size does not overshoot until December 18th.

I seems that the biggest driver of overspending our Earth budget is quite literally – over spending.  The consuming power, and consumption addiction, of western-styled nations is what drives Earth Overshoot Day. 

We in the western cultures need financial counselling.  We have to seriously curb our spending, our consumption and our continuing grab for Mother Earth’s resources.

We cannot continue to use up the Earth’s resources at a faster and faster rate.  We have to get serious about our addiction.  That means we must face up to who we are and what we have become.

Note:
1. see https://www.overshootday.org/