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 July 2022

How Much Do We Need To Cut Back?

Today (28 July 2022) is Earth Overshoot Day – the day on which the Earth can no longer cope with human exploitation and waste. It comes around every year, although (depressingly) it normally comes one or two days earlier each year than it did the year before.1 This year it is one day earlier than it was last year.

Overshoot Day is an important marker as it provides us with a very good indicator as to how quickly we are degrading the planet upon which we rely for our nourishment, shelter, clean water, and fresh air.

Closely associated with Overshoot Day is the calculation of how many Earth-like planets we would need to be able to continue to support our lifestyles indefinitely.

At present, on a global average, we would need 1.7 Earth-like planets!

Remember though, that this figure of 1.7 is the average for the entire planet. The rich nations require a lot more than 1.7 Earth-like planets. How many? Well, the computations have been done. What those computations show is bleak.

The U.S.A., Canada, and U.A.E. would each require 5.1 Earth-like planets. Australia would require 4.5, Russia 3.4, New Zealand 3.3, and Japan 2.9. The European nations require between 2.6 and 4 Earth-like planets each.

What about China? I hear some ask. Well, yes, the Overshoot Day and number of planets required by China has been calculated. China would require 2.4 Earth-like planets.2

What of the rest of the world? Most of the African nations, and much of Asia (including India) and Latin America require 1.0 or less Earth-like planets.

We can now ask ourselves: How much do we need to cut back in order to bring our lifestyles back to a sustainable level where we require just one Earth-like planet – this one Earth?

If you live in one of the rich nations then the answer to this question is simple. A lot!

Again, the calculations are straight forward. On a country-by-country basis, the rich nations of the world need to reduce their consumption and production of waste by the following amounts:

  • U.S.A., Canada, and U.A.E. by more than 80%.
  • Australia by almost 80%.
  • Russia and New Zealand by around 70%.
  • The European nations by between 60% - 75% each.
  • Japan by 65%.
  • China and South Africa by 58% each, and Brazil by 37%.

These numbers are extremely important. There is so much hype and focus on climate change and carbon emissions, that the importance of Overshoot often gets ignored, misunderstood, or lost in the debates. Climate is not the issue – Overshoot is. Carbon emissions are a by-product of Overshoot.

Dealing with Overshoot would automatically deal with carbon emissions.

Replacing and Substituting Will Not Work

When one truly considers and understands the implications of how much we must reduce our consumption and waste, it becomes obvious that trying to do so by replacing, or substituting with alternatives does not work.

We must reduce (by up to 80%) our use and production of transport. Replacing cars with electric (or hydrogen) vehicles will not work. We have to walk, cycle, or take public transport. We have to stop flying.

We still need food, but we do need to reduce our meat consumption (by at least 80%.) Furthermore, we must dramatically reduce our reliance on food that is produced overseas (and out-of-season) and food that is produced by monocultural agricultural transnationals.

We must cut back on our use of technology and our desire for ever more of the latest whiz-bang techo-invention. For example, replacing a mobile phone every three years does not work.

We must reduce our electricity demand – significantly. Switching the production of electricity from fossil fuels to “alternatives” will not work.

We must reduce our waste. Throwing away food, tins, paper, cardboard, plastic, and other items does not work. Especially, we must curtail (not simply reduce) our production of toxic wastes.

In each and every one of these cases above we, in the rich nations, must cut back by at least 60% and in many cases by up to 80%.

Can we do that?

Can we afford not to?

Will we do that?


1. I say “normally” because in 2020 it went “backwards” by about three weeks, because of the pandemic induced lockdowns around the world.

2. China is often pointed at when it comes to discussions about how much carbon is produced. Yes, China needs to reduce its consumption and waste production, but we in the rich nations cannot point fingers. We are far more responsible for Overshoot than is China.

Wednesday 20 July 2022

How Many Butterflies Will It Take?

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)
Have you noticed the lack of butterflies these days?

When I was younger (40 or 50 years ago) there seemed to be butterflies everywhere. The cabbage white, cabbage butterfly, or simply white butterfly (Pieris rapae) is (or at least, was) common throughout Europe, North America, eastern Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

The other (then) common butterfly – the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) has a similar global distribution.

Both are in decline. We see far fewer of them today than we did 40 or 50 years ago. I was recently talking with a friend who is twenty years younger than me, and he could not identify the butterfly (Monarch) I was telling him about – he could not recall having ever seen one!

These butterflies are in decline because of (unnatural) human intervention into natural systems. Pesticides, insecticides, habitat loss, food source depletion, and climate change are all causes for the decline.

Butterfly decline may be one of the “canaries in the mine.” The loss of butterflies signals to us that it is time we did something – and did it fast!

What? What can we do? What does any individual do? How can I bring about change?

An allegorical butterfly may be a way to think about this.

Allegorical Butterflies

We might be able to do something if we understood the Butterfly Effect. This effect, an aspect of Chaos Theory, allegorically suggests that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon can trigger a thunderstorm in Japan. That may sound far-fetched. However, there is scientific and mathematical support for this.

Put another way (more technically) the hypothesis can be stated as: sensitive dependence upon initial conditions in which a small change in one state can result in significant change in another state.

The idea was initially proposed (discovered may be more accurate) by Edward Lorenz (a meteorologist) working in the 1960s. He stumbled upon the effect when he wanted to re-run a computer simulation of a weather model he was working on. However, to save time, he inputted data that was correct to three decimal places (rather than the six places in the original simulation.) He assumed that the resulting outcome would not differ significantly from that of his original run.

He was wrong! The outcome was significantly different. So much so that the two resulting scenarios looked nothing like each other. He was also surprised.

Lorenz’s discovery led (along with some work by other theorists) to the idea of Chaos Theory. This theory upended our historical mindset that says we live in a linear and predictable world.

We don’t. Our world is non-linear, it is inherently unpredictable, self-organising, and fractally based. To our minds it looks – chaotic.

What can we do with this?

If small changes in initial conditions are able to produce large changes in a subsequent state, then that suggests we have agency, even if small. We can effect change. We can make a difference.

However; a caveat. Just because we can influence the initial conditions, this does not guarantee that the outcomes will be what we want. Chaotic systems have inputs and feedback loops that can be positive and/or negative. Once a system receives an input there is little controlling what happens because of that input. Hence, although the input we make can be made with the best of intentions, we would be foolish to think that the outcome will be as we wish it or envision it.

Vaclav Havel (the last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic) understood this well. Even though he worked to bring about change in his country he fully understood the difference between what we may hope for and what we get.

“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.”1

Although we are unable to predict the outcome, we can help to tip the probabilities in our favour. We can, as Havel says, “…work for something because it is good.”

The Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, advised similarly. Merton was opposed to the Vietnam war, and worked non-violently towards bringing about an end to that war. In a reply to a young correspondent who wrote to Merton of his despair, Merton had these words of advice:

“(Do not) depend on the hope of results… You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect.  As you get used to this idea you start to concentrate more and more not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.  And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people…  In the end… it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”2

Our small, individual, and collective, actions may bring about the significant change we wish. They may not. As Havel and Merton attest, however, the value and rightness of what we do in our relationships should be what we value and work with.

And in that work, the Butterfly Effect may just result in significant change.

This brings us back to the question that is the title of this blog.

How many butterflies will it take?

How many butterflies need to disappear or go extinct before we wake up to the fact that we must do something?

How many of us need to begin flapping our “butterfly” wings in order to do what is right and of value?


1. Václav Havel, Disturbing The Peace, Vintage Books, New York, first English edition 1990.

2. My apologies for those looking for a reference to this quotation. I have it written down, but neglected (at the time) to note the source. I’m sure that some judicious seeking may turn it up.

Thursday 14 July 2022

The Insect Crisis (Book Review)

In 1962 Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, the book that kick-started the modern environmental movement. In that book she outlined the environmental issues caused by the widespread use of pesticides and insecticides.

She also asked the following question: “How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought threat of disease and death even to their own kind?”

Now, Oliver Milman, in The Insect Crisis,1 is showing us that the question is still relevant sixty years later. Not only does Milman continue this line of questioning, but he has also produced a book clearly describing the consequences of not heeding or listening to Carson’s pleas.

These two books coming exactly sixty years apart (Silent Spring and The Insect Crisis) could easily be the two books that flank the modern environmental movement. One warns us, the other shows us what happens when we don’t listen.

Milman provides so much research and surveys showing the drastic decline (in lots of places, extinction) of insects since the release of Silent Spring that it is almost overwhelming and difficult to read.

Yet, we all intuitively know that Milman is correct. For those of us who were alive at the time of the release of Carson’s book, we can clearly recognise today: the lack of bugs on car windshields; the severe reduction in the number and variety of butterflies in our gardens and parks; the fewer bee stings; the lessened likelihood of seeing a praying mantis or cricket on our lawns. These and many other once commonly seen insects have all but disappeared.

And that is a serious problem says Milman. Most of us recognise insects (especially bees) as pollinators. They are also responsible for breaking down dead vegetation, for removing waste material, for aerating soils, for shifting nutrients around, and providing food for other creatures.

The reason for this demise? Milman is unequivocal. He points the finger squarely at us. We might think that climate change is the reason for the decrease. Climate change is only but the latest human-invoked threat that insects are facing. Insects have faced the same threats since Carson first pointed them out sixty years ago. Insects are threatened by insecticides, pesticides, deforestation, monocultural agriculture, urbanisation, light pollution, and the extinction of other species.

These pressures upon insect populations predate our current recognition of climate change. Insects and many other flora and fauna are now facing extinction. We have come to recognise this as the Sixth Mass Extinction. Yet, insects predated dinosaurs. In a chilling passage just one page from the end of his book, Milman quotes from a December 2020 research paper:

“This is not insects’ sixth mass extinction – in fact, it may become their first.”

If we understand the importance of insects to the life of the rest of the planet, including humans, then it could be that this may not become just the first mass extinction for insects – but also the first mass extinction for humans!!

Milman’s book is a must read for those who want to gain a greater understanding of another of Rachel Carson’s statements in Silent Spring:

“In nature, nothing exists alone.”


1. Oliver Milman, The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires that Run the World, Atlantic Books, London, 2022.

Tuesday 5 July 2022

No Way Out; Only Through

Photo: Ricardo Viana on Unsplash
We’re in a mess.

There’s no way out. There may (or may not) be ways through.

Let me explain.

In 2006 (updated in 2010) the eminent philosopher, futurist, and systems thinker, Ervin Laszlo, published Chaos Point: 2012 and Beyond.1 In that succinct book Laszlo proposed that when societies undergo transformation, they do so in four phases. First is the Trigger phase, followed by the Accumulation phase, then the Decision-window, and finally the Chaos Point.

Our current society, Laszlo asserts, saw the Trigger phase pass by from 1800 to 1960 with innovation upon innovation giving humanity greater efficiency and manipulation of our surroundings. The Accumulation phase (1960 – 2010) saw higher levels of resource use, rocketing population growth, increasing complexity, and massive environmental impacts.

Laszlo then predicted that the few short years until 2012 were crucial. These, he proposed, were the years in which humanity had a Decision-window: a few short years in which the pressures of the previous phases made society unstable and subject to fluctuations. These years were the years in which humanity had to make the decision whether to break-through or break-down (in Laszlo’s words.)

The fourth phase, Chaos Point, is one in which the system becomes critically unstable, with wild fluctuations, and will emerge into either Breakdown or Breakthrough.

In the ten years since Laszlo’s critical timing of 2012, it is extremely difficult to argue for anything other than a breakdown in social, environmental, and planetary systems having occurred. Laszlo characterised this period as one of rigidity of thinking and lack of foresight, leading to situations in which institutions can no longer cope with the mounting and intensifying crises.

Simply put – we are in a mess.

A more sophisticated word for mess would be predicament.

Predicaments are not like problems, not even like a collection of problems. Problems suggest possible solutions. Predicaments are not solvable. Erik Michaels writes of this and notes that predicaments only have outcomes, and these are notoriously unpredictable, and hence unmanageable and uncontrollable.

Once in a predicament (or mess) there is no way out. We cannot solve our way out of it. Furthermore, nor can we solve our way out of it before we get into it, if the trigger points tipping us into the mess have already been tripped.

Since Laszlo wrote his book the evidence for triggering tipping points, and exceeding planetary boundaries has been mounting. So much so, that we have to admit we are now in a mess.

Ways Through

If there is no way out of a mess, then what happens?

There may be a way (or ways) through the mess. But, please, do not ask me what those ways are, or where they will lead. No one can answer those questions. The ways through will possibly be many, or none. There is no way of predicting whether humanity will survive this mess.

Furthermore, the outcome of this predicament will not be known for many generations. In terms of the most well-known aspect of this mess – climate change2 – we know that for the earth to cool back to pre-Industrial (or even pre-1970) levels, it will take several centuries once carbon stops being emitted into the atmosphere.

Hence, there is only one question we must pose ourselves.

How do we treat one another, the other-than-human creatures, and the earth herself?

That is a question that only each one of us can answer.

The answers can only be ethical, possibly spiritual. The answers cannot be technological, industrial, nor even political.


1. Ervin Laszlo, Chaos Point: 2012 and Beyond, Hampton Roads Publishing Company Inc., Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, 2006 (updated 2010) There is a review of this book on this blogsite (although readers will note that I am not as optimistic about the outcome now as I was at the time of writing the review – March 2012)

2. Climate change is only one aspect of the mess we are in. Climate change is a symptom, not a cause. The symptom is Overshoot which induces many inter-related and mutually reinforcing symptoms: e.g., deforestation, soil loss and erosion, air and water pollution, insect depletion, flora and fauna extinctions, growing inequalities, war and terrorism, plagues and pandemics, homelessness, food shortage, toxic waste… ad nauseum.