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, 24 January 2023

Fuel Consumption Is A Problem

In our world today climate chaos is recognised as a huge issue, and our consumption of fuel is acknowledged as a major contributor to that chaos. We must do something about it.

However, we are not doing the right (best) thing.

We are trying to do something by focusing upon the noun in the phrase – fuel. Sadly, most of the actors in the conversations around climate chaos are doing this. Those in the business of providing fuel (whether it be electricity, vehicle fuel, fuel for cooking, or fuel for manufacturing purposes) are continually seeking ways to make fuel production cheaper (to increase profits.) Those who are consuming fuel are also searching out ways to bring their fuel costs down. There are many too who, concerned about the emission of CO2 from fossil fuels, are keen to promote alternative fuel sources.

However, doing something about the fuel (whether making it more efficient, substituting with alternatives, or offsetting the emissions) will change nothing. Indeed, it will keep sending us down the same rabbit hole.

Making fuel more efficient to use is a blind alleyway. Mostly, what happens when something is made more efficient, is that people use it more and/or a greater number of people use it. This concept even has a name – the Jevons Paradox (a.k.a. the Rebound Effect.)1

When Henry Ford introduced his Model T Ford in 1908 a driver was able to travel 100 km on about 11 litres of petrol. Today’s driver will travel 100 km using about 8 - 12 litres, hardly a significant gain it would seem – on first sight. Part of the reason for this is that the efficiency gain has been taken up by increased vehicle weight. The heaviest Model T Ford was about 750 kg, today the average private vehicle is about 1,800 kg – 2.4 times heavier. Thus, in the case of private vehicles, greater efficiency has meant bigger and heavier cars, not a reduction in use of fuel. If Jevons were alive today, I’m sure he would be smugly thinking to himself – “I knew it!”

What about alternative fuels? There is a lot of hope placed in the possibilities of; “renewables” (especially wind and solar) for electricity production, lithium-ion batteries for cars and light trucks, hydrogen-fuel cells for air transport, and possibly some other breakthrough-to-come (e.g. sodium-ion batteries.)

Yet, each of these are fraught with difficulties of; scalability, time-lag (from research and development to production,) depleting access to minerals,2 limits on efficiency,3 and poor EROEI (Energy Return On Energy Invested.)4

Furthermore, Simon Michaux (one of the world’s foremost energy and minerals analysts) has estimated the amount of extra electrical power required to phase out use of fossil fuels is almost 38,000 TWh (Terawatt hours.) This figure is approximately 2 ¼ times as much electricity as coal, oil, and gas presently provide, and an increase of 318% greater capacity in all “renewable” electricity generation (including hydroelectricity and nuclear power) than is available today.5

Significantly too, with the rapid growth of the twin favourites of “renewables” (wind and solar) this century, all of that growth has simply added to the supply of electricity – none of it has substituted for fossil fuels at all. William Jevons has been proved correct again.

Remember too, that electrical power generation from wind and solar make up only ¼ of the global “renewable” mix – the rest is primarily nuclear and hydropower. The numbers just are not stacking up when it comes to focussing on fuel as the problem.

The most serious concern however, is that each of these alternatives (like fossil fuels themselves) damage local eco-systems and are frequently disruptive of local (often indigenous) communities.

Just two weeks ago, Bala Chambers, an Anglo-Brazilian freelance reporter and researcher reported on the opposition of a number of Argentinian environmental groups to the mining of copper, gold, molybdenum, and lithium in the country.6

One of these groups is the Assembly of Ancasti for Life based within the Lithium Triangle. One of its members, Luciana Fern├índez (an anthropologist, teacher, and mother of four children) branded lithium exploration as ‘another green capitalist discourse to continue generating new products that get placed in the marketplace – all in the developed world.’ (my emphasis.)

Fern├índez and others, such as Freddy Carbonel, from the northern, mountainous area of Argentina (who has been an environmental advocate since the 1980s) are opposed to the destruction of eco-systems, including waterways, animal habitats, and local communities  - all to fuel rich consumer-industrial societies.

Such opposition and protest is not restricted to Argentina and the Lithium Triangle (including Chile and Bolivia.) Similar groups and opposition exists in Tibet, the USA (Thacker Pass,) and Portugal.7

Solving the problem of fuel consumption by focussing exclusively on the noun (fuel) is not the answer.

The Verb ‘to Consume’

Why is it that very few people and groups are unwilling to seriously question the verb in the sentence: “Humans consume fuel”?

Yet, our consumption levels are where the problem really stems from. Surely, that should be where we look for solutions.

Humans have, in parallel with all living creatures, had to consume. We have had to consume resources to feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves. For thousands of generations we did so within the limits of the natural world. However, over the past couple of centuries, and increasingly so since the end of WW2 we have consumed the planet’s resources at an alarming rate. William Catton (populariser of the term Overshoot)8 calls this period of human history the Age of Exuberance. We have exuberantly raided our planet’s storehouses and left waste and rubbish in our wake.

The eco-theologian and cultural historian Thomas Berry, suggests that this exuberance is an understandable outgrowth of our disconnection from our natural, and sacred, association with Nature – our home. Consumerism, he states, ‘…has found its ultimate expression in our own times, when the ideal is to take the natural resources from the earth and transform them by industrial processes for consumption by a society that lives on ever-heightened rates of consumption.’9

Catton, Berry, and others, clearly understood that the problem lies in the verb – to consume. How many others do?

Do we see any sign of a global movement questioning consumerism and seeking to find the solutions to overshoot?

Yes! Signs exist in the De-Growth movement, the Deep Ecology movement, and with eco-psychologists. But these movements are small in comparison to the movements advocating for, and promoting, alternative fuels.

Very few seem willing to examine what it would mean to consume less, or how we might make the transition towards less consumption. Why?

Perhaps because the implications would disrupt our ‘ego-logical desires for the 6 “Cs” of comfort, convenience, consumption, certainty, control, and coherence.’10 We might need to question who we are, and what our place in this world is, or should be? Is that too hard?

In the meantime, the majority of our thinking, planning, finances, and creativity is weighted towards seeking new, exciting (even sexy), alternative sources of fuel.  

We must shift our focus from the noun (fuel) to the verb (to consume.) The sooner we do so the better.

Notes:

1. Named after the English economist William Jevons, who first noticed the effect in the use of coal in 1865.

2. See for example Simon P Michaux, The Mining of Minerals and the Limits to Growth, Geological Survey of Finland, Report Number 16/2021, March 2021.

3. See for example: Mark P Mills, The New Energy Economy: An Exercise in Magical Thinking, Massachusetts Institute, March 2019.

4. See for example: Megan Seibert and William Rees, Through the Eye of a Needle: An Eco-Heterodox Perspective on the Renewable Energy Transition, Energies journal, 2021. https://doi.org/10.3390/en14154508

5. Michaux, Simon P., Assessment of the Extra Capacity Required of Alternative Energy Electrical Power Systems to Completely Replace Fossil Fuels, Geological Survey of Finland, Report 42/2021, 20 August 2021.

6. Bala Chambers, Environmental defenders join forces across Argentina to stop mining boom, Waging Nonviolence newsletter, 11 January 2023.

7. Oliver Balch, The curse of ‘white oil,’ Electric Vehicles dirty secret, The Guardian, 8 December 2020.

8. Catton Jr., William R., Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1982.

9. Berry, Thomas, The Dream Of The Earth, Counterpoint, Berkeley, California, 1988.

10. de Oliveira, Vanessa Machado, Hospicing Modernity, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 2021.

Tuesday, 17 January 2023

Re. Reweaving The Web Of Life (Book Review)

Just over forty years ago Pam McAllister edited one of the most important books exploring the interface between feminism and nonviolence. With more than 50 contributors writing articles, letters, poems, and songs, Reweaving The Web Of Life1 proved just how incisive and diverse could be the critique of patriarchy. It also helped to unlock the door into a new society beyond the confines and constraints of inequality and violence.

Pam McAllister and the other women (although two men did co-author one article, More Power Than We Want) contributing were not only pointing out the failings of patriarchy and the existing world-order, they were looking forward, expectantly, to a different future. Importantly, they recognised that the future and the present were intricately linked (one of the many wefts and warps woven into the book) together. As McAllister put it in her Introduction:

‘A new world, the world I long for, cannot be built with the tools, psychology, belief systems of the old. It will be born of the changes encoded in the details of our lives as we are living them now. The fabric of the new society will be made of nothing more or less than the threads woven in today’s interactions.’

The title of the book comes from the title of Catherine Reid’s essay – Reweaving the Web of Life ­– in which she tells the story of a group of women calling themselves The Spinners. The Spinners were allied with the “Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance” opposed to the construction and then continuance of a 620 MWe nuclear reactor on the Connecticut River.

Reid’s essay tells how The Spinners used thousands of yards of coloured yarn, threads, and strings which they secured to various trees, and then began spinning and weaving before the police could respond. Significantly, the nonviolent action of The Spinners took place just three days after the beginning of the accident at Three Mile Island nuclear reactor.2

The story of The Spinners is one of dozens of examples of the use of nonviolence by women cited in the book.

McAllister writes of how a Tarot card reading helped her with the strength she needed to write the book. One of the cards she took was labelled Strength and showed a woman stroking a lion. The convergence of feminism with nonviolence and strength is clear in the symbolism.

It is no coincidence that McAllister wove together the threads of feminism with those of nonviolence. In common with many feminists at the time, McAllister raged at ‘patriarchy’s brutal destructiveness’ and refused to adopt it’s (violent) ways. Furthermore, she asserted that she ‘refused to give in to despair or hate or to let men off the hook by making them the “other”.’

In that statement McAllister alluded to one of patriarchy’s underpinnings – that of separation and disconnection. McAllister, and the other contributors were having nothing of that sort of divisive thinking. For many within progressive movements of the time this (idea of non-separation) was quite a radical thought.

All but one of the contributors were US based, which was a deliberate decision on McAllister’s part. She intended following up with a book featuring contributors from other parts of the world. That idea morphed into two books presenting stories of women using nonviolence from all over the world: - You Can’t Kill The Spirit (1988) and This River of Courage (1991).

Reweaving the Web of Life is a landmark book, bringing together as it does, many contributors writing about the theory behind feminism and nonviolence, as well as telling stories of actual experience.

For anyone wishing to delve deeper into ways to re-weave the web of life, then this book is a must-read.

Notes:

1. Pam McAllister (ed.), Reweaving The Wed Of Life: Feminism and Nonviolence, New Society Publishers, Philadelphia, 1982

2. The Three Mile Island accident was a partial meltdown of one of the reactors at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania in March 1979. At the time, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) rated the accident at Level 5 on its 7-level International Nuclear Event Scale. It remains the most significant nuclear accident in US commercial nuclear power plant history.

Wednesday, 11 January 2023

Window Shopping

I wonder how many of us are here on this planet to simply window shop? 

It’s a fairly common behaviour isn’t it? Go to any shopping mall. Many of the people in the mall are loitering and strolling past the shops, gazing into the windows with no intention of purchasing anything. Simply window shopping.

If one of these strollers does venture into the shop, they may be approached by a store attendant asking if they can be of assistance. Commonly, the answer is, “Just looking, thanks.”

For many of us on Earth, is this approach similar to the approach taken to life itself?

How many of us simply window shopping?

How many of us, when asked, reply with, “Just looking.”?

How many of us treat life as if it is something that simply happens? Sure, we may experience it in ways that are joyful and fun-filled (although many on this planet do not.) Yet, experience is not the same as engagement. Experiences are the displays in the window. Engagement is venturing into the store (of life) and actively, consciously, deciding to make a purchase (become involved) of what is available.

Just recently I had the opportunity to sit and dialogue, over a cup of coffee, with a young man who was certainly not here to window shop. This young man had already experienced some of the trauma and damages that life has on offer. His father had died when he was still a teenager, he had struggled with alcohol.

This young man had struggled with the “dark night of the soul,” and in some ways, still is. However, he had also decided to actively engage with life. I listened to him tell of starting to understand the connectiveness of all things. I heard him speak of nature, not as something to be looked at, but as an intimate part of who he is. He told me about beginning to write poetry (I had recently heard him recite one of his poems at a local poetry evening.)1

This young man was not here simply to window shop.

Many young people seem willing to step into the store (life) and when asked, will answer with something other than “just looking.”

Yet, as this young man told me, he opined that there were few people who had thought about things as he had. Consequently, he had little opportunity to engage.

It is not an easy time for young people. The possibility of environmental and social collapse is real. Young people feel this, and know the implications (as well as the signs) of this more clearly than do older generations.

The conversation with him left me thinking that those of us who are older need to be willing to step into the store of life with young people and listen to how they see the world. Sadly, so many older people are still window shopping.  

Note:

1. The eco-psychologist Bill Plotkin considers poetry to be one of the means by which we can engage with our soul identity. See especially The Journey of Soul Initiation, New World Library, Novato, California, 2021.

Tuesday, 3 January 2023

Was Linnaeus Premature?

Carl Linnaeus
In 1758 the Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, published the 10th edition of his pioneering work Systema Naturae. In it he included the species Homo sapiens. This was the first time we humans had been named as a separate taxonomical species.1

Linnaeus coined the term using the Latin words, homo meaning human, and sapiens meaning wise. In the same edition Linnaeus introduced a second species under the rubric of Homo; he named this species Homo troglodytes, meaning human cave-dweller. The term has since become obsolete. In his 1771 edition he introduced a third species, Homo lar. The classification of this species has since changed to Hylobates lar – the white-handed gibbon, found primarily in SE Asia, but originally spreading as far north as SW China and southward to the Malay peninsula.

Since Linnaeus’ original classification a number of other species of the genus Homo have been identified. Most of these have been identified only since the second half of the 19th century. Many of us know of the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalis) and the Denisovans (Homo denisova.) All these species have become extinct, leaving us – Homo sapiens – as the only representative of the genus Homo.

If we consider the naming of the various species of Homo, we notice that each is named either for a physical ability (H. erectus = upright, and H. habilis = handy) or for where the initial findings were made. H. neanderthalis is named after the Neandertal Valley in Germany. H. denisova named after the Denisova Cave in Siberia, itself named after a hermit (Denis) who lived there. H. floresiensis (sometimes nicknamed ‘hobbits’ because of their small stature) and H. luzonensis are both named after islands that they we found on; Flores (Indonesia) and Luzon (Philippines) respectively. H. naledi was first found only recently (in 2013) in the Rising Star Cave in South Africa. Naledi is the Sesotho word for star.

All named after a physical attribute or geographic location.

All, that is, except Homo sapiens.

When Linnaeus coined the term, he arrogated the appellation of a wise human to his own species (i.e., H. sapiens.)

Linnaeus was writing in the mid-1700s, a time of great philosophical, scientific, religious, and cultural change in Europe. We now know this period as the (European) Age of Enlightenment. Linnaeus presumably was aware of (and had probably read) the works of thinkers such as Descartes, Hume, Kant, Leibniz, Locke, Rousseau, and others.

In such an intellectual milieu Linnaeus can be forgiven for thinking that the species he was about to name was indeed wise.

In the ensuing two and a half centuries since Linnaeus we might now be forgiven for thinking that Linnaeus may have been premature in his nomenclature of us.

We now find ourselves in a cataclysmic broth of inter-related and mutually reinforcing predicaments largely of our own making, and most having accelerated since 1758. Indeed, we could now be facing a future collapse of all that we know (as humans.)

Have we been wise?

Was Linnaeus premature in giving ourselves the title sapiens?

Perhaps a more appropriate label for us may be Homo colossus, the term coined by William Catton in 1982.2 Catton characterised Homo colossus as: ‘the more colossal humanity’s tool kit became, the larger humanity became, and the more destructive of (our)own future.’ If we had acted with wisdom, Catton observes, ‘… we would have recognised that progress could become a disease.’

What do you think? Are we wise? Have we acted wisely? If we have not acted wisely, then do we have a chance of proving that we are truly worthy of the name Homo sapiens?

Notes:

1. Linnaeus became known as the ‘father of modern taxonomy.’

2. Catton Jr., William, Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1982.