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.

Thursday 28 May 2020

Nature Is...

Photo: Solveig Larsen
How many of our buildings do we really need?  I asked myself this question a few days ago whilst I was running along a bush track close to my home.  As I ran I realised that many of those buildings we think we need are already provided by nature. 

Here are just a few of the “buildings” that nature already provides me:

Nature is my gym.  Nature provides ample locations and opportunities for exercise.  I can run or walk on trails and tracks through bush and forest, or along a beach or beside a lake.  I can swim in lakes, sea or rivers.  My soundtrack is freely provided – birdsong, surf crashing and rolling, rustling leaves, or waves gently lapping on lakeshores.  For strength work I need only use a rock or boulder, or a low-hanging branch for chin-ups.

Nature is my school.  Nature teaches us the complexity and inter-connectivity of life far better than we will ever learn sitting in a classroom.  Sitting in a natural setting I learn the cycles of life and the contentment and acceptance that can bring.  Nature teaches patience and observation skills.  If I watch carefully I can see how nature does not compete, but rather cooperates, sometimes in very subtle ways.  Each plant, insect, bird, amphibian, reptile, or mammal has a niche – a place where it fits.

Nature is my supermarket.  All my daily nutritional requirements can be met from natural supermarket, so long as I am willing to eat seasonally.  I must admit that, personally, I do not know much about the natural supermarket, and so I must seek out a guide – perhaps someone who knows about permaculture.  Like most of us in the industrialised world, I have been brought up without any real knowledge of how nature can be my supermarket.  I know it can though.

Nature is my psychologist’s office.  Nature soothes and heals us.  We have known for millennia that nature helps to lessen states of anxiety and depression.  Over recent decades there have been numerous studies showing the healing power of nature: lowering blood pressure, relieving stress, increasing calmness, improving immunity.  A few minutes contemplative exposure to nature can have significant bearing upon our emotional and psychological states. 

Nature is my church (or, if you prefer, mosque, synagogue, stupa, shrine, temple, ashram.)  When in a bush or forest setting we can look upward towards the canopy and feel a pull towards our spiritual side.  We can look down, and dig down into roots and mycelium, towards our soul.  The dappled light of sunlight filtering through green leaves or moonlight reflected off water rival any stained glass window.  For millennia upon millennia (long before most of the world’s current religions were established) humans have been finding nature to be a spiritual guide.  We named some parts within nature as sacred: sacred groves, springs, tors.  The Druids, for example, recognised the divinity within trees.  Nature can be a monastery, as it is for the Thai Buddhist Forest Monks.

Nature is these and many more.  Nature can also be my art gallery, my museum, my zoo, my aquarium, my doctor’s surgery, my restaurant.

Nature can be, and is, all these things.

Wednesday 20 May 2020

Can We Reduce Emissions? We Can.

For a couple of months early this year (2020) the world reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by up to 25% - 30%1.  That's substantial!

Q:  How did we do it?

A:  More solar panels were installed.  No!
A:  More wind farms were built.  No!
A:  More electric vehicles were driven.  No!
A:  The population was reduced.  No!

How then?

We consumed less!

Primarily we consumed less travel.  Over the first couple of months of coronavirus, international air travel dropped by around 70%.  Traffic on the streets of the world's cities declined by between 70% -  90%.

The correlation between CO2 emissions and transport makes sense.  Transport accounts for almost one-quarter of the world's total emissions.  Thus, when this sector has a huge decline, it must translate into significant reductions in COemissions.

In last weeks post I suggested that we needed to talk about PAT (Population, Affluence, Technology).  Many of the messages that we have been hearing over the past decade or two about how to reduce COemissions have been about renewable energy.  More recently, perhaps because of the coronavirus, some have been suggesting that population is key.  

Yet, the circumstantial evidence presented above would suggest that it is our consumption (affluence) that has the potential for making the biggest, and quickest, impact upon reducing these emissions.

Can we reduce emissions?  We can.  We can by reducing consumption.

Now, the next question becomes: how?  How do we reduce consumption without having to endue a global pandemic to scare us into it?

In answering this question we have to recognise some uncomfortable facts.  It is the western-styled, rich, nations who consume most, and who emit most (per capita) of the world's emissions.  For example, a person in Australia, Canada, or the US emits as much COevery day as a person in most of central Africa.  Other rich nations (e.g. UK, Germany, France) do so every two or three days.

In just two or three days, the average person in a western, rich nation, emits as much COas does an average person in Africa, in a whole year.

The responsibility to reduce our consumption lies with us - the individuals and societies of the rich nations.

We can do it.  How do we reduce consumption?  That is the question that we should be having in the rich nations.  That is the question climate activists should be asking.

Let's ask it.  And let's have the conversations needed to answer it.

There is, of course, an unasked question, lying hidden below this question:  Are we willing to reduce our consumption?

Who is willing to ask that question?

1. The expectation is that reductions will amount to around 5% for the year, because it is assumed we will go back to business-as-usual.
2.  A back-of-the-envelope calculation (using official death tolls and CO2 emissions per capita by country) suggests that a reduction in population because of coronavirus accounts for only 0.02% - 0.03% of the emissions reduction.

Wednesday 13 May 2020

We Need To Talk About Pat

In the wake of the controversial film Planet of the Humans we are beginning to have conversations we need to have.  The film has received praise and condemnation alike, and everything in between.  No matter whether you are wont to praise or condemn, it must be acknowledged that it has got us talking (albeit primarily online.)

It has got us talking about Pat.

Pat?  Who’s Pat?  There’s no mention of anyone called Pat in the film.

The Pat I’m referring to is not a person.  Pat is the right hand side of the equation I = PAT.

Anyone remember this equation?  It was devised during the 1970s, and along with the phrase “Zero Growth” from the same era, became a fairly influential part of the environmental conversation of the time.  Sadly, since then, both the equation and the phrase have been largely forgotten or ignored.

The equation?  I represents our human Impact upon the Earth.  P stands for Population, A for Affluence (consumption levels), and T for Technology.  More accurately the equation is written as I = f{P, A, T} indicating that Impact is a function of the inter-connected factors of Population, Affluence, and Technology.

Although it is not an equation that can give us a perfect and discrete solution, it does give us a way of thinking about our Impact in a way that makes sense and is easy to understand.  It is also possible to use it in a crude mathematical way (as follows.)

How Have We Done?

The year 1990 is often cited as the year to which our carbon emissions (and other impacts) need to return.  So, let’s plug some figures from 1990 and the present time into the equation.  In 1990 the world’s population was 5.3 billion, it is now 7.8 billion.  The world’s GDP (one of the best measures we have of Affluence/Consumption) increased from $US8,926 per person to $US15,469  (both in 2011 dollars.) 

Thus, today, world population is 1.472 times what it was in 1990, and consumption 1.733 times.  (For those who think in terms of percentages these are increases of 47.2% and 73.3% respectively.)

A very rough, back-of-the-envelope, calculation gives us:

            ΔI = (1.472 x 1.733) ΔT

(where ΔI and ΔT are the change in Impact and Technological innovation respectively.)  This gives:

            ΔI = 2.55 ΔT

So far, so good?  What of the other two variables: ΔI and ΔT?

We do have a way to calculate ΔI.  Since the late 1960s we have been measuring our ecological footprint and the Earth’s biodiversity.  The difference between the two (ecological footprint minus biodiversity) gives us the world’s ecological deficit.  Without going into all the data, our ecological deficit today is 1.7 times what it was in 1990 (i.e. a 70% increase.)  Now what happens when we put this figure into our equation?

            1.7 = 2.55 ΔT  which gives us ΔT = 0.67

(A quick aside: We can take something positive from this.  For technological innovations to have a moderating effect upon population and consumption growth, then ΔT must be less than 1.00.  It is – so that’s good.)

However, what if we were keen to have limited our Impact to not changing between 1990 and now?  In that case, the equation would look like this:

1.0  = 2.55 ΔT  giving us ΔT = 0.39

This is much less than 0.67.  One way to interpret this is that our technological innovations are no-where near the effectiveness and/or efficiency levels that they need to be, if our intent is to return to 1990 levels.

We need to talk about PAT.

Specifically, we need to talk about the P and A factors, as clearly, our technological innovations are not keeping up with population and consumption increases. 

Forward Projections

What if we do a projection thirty years hence, to 2050?  Estimates for 2050 world population are for an increase of 26.9% to 9.7 billion, and a consumption level of 36% higher (based on expected 3.0% annual increases.)  The equation for 2050 now looks like this:

            ΔI = (1.269 x 1.36) ΔT = 1.72 ΔT

Now, what if our technological innovation effectiveness/efficiency remains as 0.67?  Then ΔI = 1.16.  A further 16% increase in our Impact.  It’s starting to look dire.

If we wish to have no further impact upon Earth (and population and consumption per capita remain the same) then our technological innovation rate would have to reduce from 0.67 to 0.58 (1/1.72)

But, we don’t just need to keep our Impact at today’s level, it needs to return to 1990 levels (or even earlier.1)  For that to happen the equation needs to look something like this:

            1.00 = (1.83 x 2.36) ΔT, implying ΔT = 0.23

This figure (0.23) is hugely, massively, less than the figure of 0.67 that we have managed over the past thirty years.

Remember that all these calculations are rough, imperfect, and back-of-the-envelope ones.  However, what they do show is the extent of the problem.  Our technological innovations (although partially effective) are just not going to be anywhere near sufficient enough to not only halt our Impact, but to reduce it to 1990 levels.  Nor are they likely to become so.

The message from this?

We need to talk about P and A.  Specifically, we in the western, rich, nations need to talk about our consumption levels.  Currently, the western-styled, rich, nations are consuming between four and six times the world average.

Technology is not going to save us.

We must talk about our consumption.

We must talk about Zero Growth.

1. The last time that our ecological deficit was zero was in the late 1960s, so there is some argument to suggest that we really need to be getting our Impact back to the late 1960s, which of course means the need to look into our consumption levels is even more urgent.

Wednesday 6 May 2020

Let's Go Back

In recent weeks, in the midst of coronavirus, there have been calls to return, to go back to what was before, to return to "normal."

I'm in agreement.  Let's go back.

Let's go back ... and back ... and back ... and back ...

Let's go back to before there were iPads, tablets, smart phones, iPhones.  Let's go back to before mobile and cell phones.  Let's go back to before everyone had a constant-and-continuous-contact-contraption in their hand, or back pocket, or in their handbag or backpack.

Maybe we would rediscover the joy and ease of face-to-face communication.  Maybe we would find we're not quite so stressed.  Maybe we would find it relaxing to not be under constant pressure to respond ... immediately!

Let's go further back.  Let's go back to before there was television and a computer in every household.  Let's go back to before we became obsessed with the goggle box in the living room.

Maybe then we would re-connect with each other, our families and loved ones.  Maybe we wouldn't be as scared by the nightly news of mayhem, disaster, and terror.  Maybe we would read or tell each other stories.

Let's go back to before airline companies began jetting us all around the globe.

We might then recognise the beauty of our local countryside.  We might learn to slow down.  We might not put tourist pressure upon local communities, we might not force communities into tourism dependence.  We might not contribute thousands upon thousands of tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere.

Let's go back to before the combustion engine was invented.  Let's go back to before we locked ourselves into a heavy four-wheeled metal and plastic container in order to get from A to B.

Maybe we would enjoy slowing down for a change.  Maybe we would notice more as we pass by at a slower pace.  Maybe we would notice the trees, or the smell of fangipani, or freshly baked bread.  Maybe we would stop if something caught our eye, or if a neighbour called out a cheery "hullo."  Maybe we would feel the earth beneath us, rather than simply something to pass over.  Maybe we wouldn't need all those billions of barrels of oil every day.

Let's go back to when we knew where our next meal was coming from.  Let's go back to knowing and trading with the farmer down the road, or the baker at the corner of the street.  Let's go back to when we had a garden around our house.

We might then appreciate the freshness of fruit and vegetables.  We might look forward to harvest time.  We might enjoy the ever-changing seasonality of the plants we gain nourishment from.  We might also learn the names of those who contribute to that nourishing.

Yes, let's go back ... and back ... and back ... and back ...

We might enjoy it.  We might discover a thing called community again.  We might find ourselves less stressed, less depressed, less anxious.  We might discover that nature nourishes, heals, and calms us.  We might notice our air and water quality is a lot cleaner and clearer.

We might discover each other.  We might discover our own selves.

We might never want to go forward again!