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.

Friday 29 March 2024

Nuclear: Not Now

I was recently told about a film/documentary directed by Oliver Stone. Released in 2022 Nuclear Now is an unabashed pro-nuclear energy documentary. Stone’s film promotes nuclear as the method by which climate change is to be averted.

Since the disasters of Chernobyl and Fukushima many countries around the world have been cutting back on their nuclear energy programs. Nuclear Now attempts to make the case for halting that decline and rebuilding the nuclear business.

This blog, however, argues – Nuclear: Not Now.

Stone’s documentary, and Oliver Stone himself, begin with a false premise, prompting him to ask the wrong questions. In turn, this leads to erroneous answers.

The false premise is that climate change is a problem to be solved. Beginning with this premise, the film asks: ‘How can we produce more electricity and still cut down on carbon emissions to halt the climate crisis?’ (my emphasis) Stone’s answer to this question – nuclear energy.

However, climate change is not a problem to be solved. There are at least two falsities in this assumption. First, climate change is a symptom, not a cause of something damaging. The cause, if anything, is humanity’s overshoot of planetary boundaries, with climate change being one of those boundaries. Secondly, climate change is part of a much larger phenomenon – a predicament. A predicament is multi-faceted, complex, and inherently unsolvable. A predicament has an outcome (or outcomes) which cannot be predicted, and certainly unable to be controlled by human intervention.

Because of this basic misunderstanding of what climate change is, and how it is manifested, Nuclear Now asks the wrong questions, and hence, gets the wrong answers.

Just Suppose

However, let us make an assumption of our own. Let us suppose that nuclear energy is one of the options available to us to reduce carbon emissions. If it is an option, then how viable is it?

Even with this (futile) assumption, the answer to whether nuclear energy is viable must still be – No!

What follows are just four areas in which the film is in error, or at least, misleading.

1. No climate gases. This claim is ludicrous. From the mining of uranium, to its transportation, to the construction of reactors, to the storage of nuclear waste, the entire nuclear process emits GHGs (Greenhouse gases). The entire process must be considered, not simply the final production of electricity in a built nuclear reactor.

2. Nuclear energy kills far less people. Appealing to this argument is akin to asserting that the death rate from car accidents in my country is okay because it is less than that of a neighbouring country. This argument, is actually an argument for reducing entirely our dependency upon electricity and other energies. The film claims that because the deaths from nuclear accidents have been limited that the technology is safe. Ironically, the film gives the example of the Bhopal chemical disaster in India. A gas leak at the Union Carbide Corporation factory in 1984 resulted in the deaths of an estimated 8,000 people in the first two weeks, and a similar number since. Well over half-a-million people suffered various injuries as a result of the leak. Undoubtedly the US based company (Union Carbide Corporation) as the majority owner of the factory considered it to be safe also! Until the disaster!

A number of other examples of industries that kill people at a greater rate than nuclear are presented in the film. All the examples given (and many more) begs these question: Is industrialisation killing us? Is industrialisation safe? But, these questions never get asked in the film.

Of the nuclear accidents that have happened the film suggests that ‘poorly designed reactors,’ ‘controls were not in place,’ or that ‘human error’ were the cause of these accidents. Yes, all this may be true – human beings are fallible. We do make mistakes. However, if these mistakes and poor designs have led to accidents in the first few decades of nuclear energy, how much more likely is it that mistakes of a human-nature will occur during the coming thousands of years (for that is the length of time that nuclear waste remains toxic and lethal)? The consequences of such a human mistake could be significantly greater than the Bhopal disaster.

3. The increase in use of solar and wind-powered energy are contrasted with that of nuclear in the film. The film notes that these ‘renewables have been going on top of fossil fuels, not replacing them.’ Exactly, and so too has nuclear. During the heydays of reactor construction and operation, the electricity produced by nuclear did not replace that of fossil fuels – it added to the use of electricity. This is a classic example of the Jevons Paradox at work. A paradox that the film makes no mention of.

Jevons Paradox states that when a fuel is made cheaper, more accessible, or simply available, then the use of that fuel will increase, not decrease. Greater numbers of nuclear reactors will increase the consumption of electricity, not decrease it!

4. The most grievous point the film makes about nuclear is that it must be scaled up quickly. The film makes the point that approximately 400 nuclear reactors currently supply 10% of the world’s electricity needs. ‘Reactors,’ the film claims, ‘could be built on a factory scale.’

But, what would this mean? One person who has attempted to answer this, and has done the calculations required, is Dr Simon Michaux, a professor of physics, mining, and geology. Dr Michaux’ arithmetic shows that at current levels of reactor building, decommissioning, and replacement, the earth has about 300 years worth of Uranium reserves.

However, if the world were to ramp up the construction of nuclear reactors, as Stone would want, then those reserves would be depleted within 75 years. Even then, with such a vigorous and aggressive program, less than 70% of fossil fuels would be phased out. Imagine how quickly reserves were to be depleted to reduce the use of fossil fuels by even 50%!!

The real problem (if a ‘problem’ is conceded) is that the question is not nuclear vs fossil fuels. It is a question of supply vs demand. Our demand keeps increasing. Increasing supply is not going to solve that.

IN the final moments of the film, Stone comments ‘We may have reached a point where Earth is asking us – “do you know what you are doing?”’

Exactly! Sadly, the film/doco Nuclear Now does not answer the Earth’s pressing interrogation.

Notes:

1. Dr Simon Michaux, interviewed by Nate Hagen in Minerals and Materials Blindness, The Great Simplification, 18 May 2022

Tuesday 19 March 2024

Elderhood: What Is It and Where Has It Gone?

Five years ago I attended a 5-day immersion with Stephen Jenkinson on elderhood. A few months earlier I had read his book Come Of Age.1 The experience and journey I took during those five days began me on an expedition of enquiry, reflection, and research over the following five years.

I attempted to discover what elderhood was, and where it had gone.

Where has it had gone? Surely it has not gone anywhere. Surely elderhood still exists in our culture?

Sadly not. Or, at least, there are so few elders in our culture2 that it is extremely difficult to find them and name them.

During my five years research one of the questions I kept asking was: can I identify elderhood in indigenous and nature-based cultures? Doing so, led me to ask whether I could identify the characteristics of elderhood in those culture that enabled elderhood to emerge and function? Asking those questions was enlightening. I found I could identify some characteristics, contrast them with concepts such as leadership or mentorship, and identify those characteristics that “our culture” is missing.

What follows is a brief article of a presentation I gave to an older group of men about one week ago.3

Characteristics of Elderhood

·       Community-focussed.

·       Builds wholeness within a community. Other similar concepts often display a healing emphasis. Elderhood may incorporate healing, but that is not its focus. It is focussed on the wholing of people and their relationship with the world and the cosmos.

·       Earth/cosmos centred. Other notions are usually person-centred and anthropocentric.

·       Facilitates ritual and ceremony for specific cultural reasons.

·       Spans 14 generations: Seven generations of ancestors plus seven generations of descendants. Most other similar notions (e.g. leadership, mentorship) are far more limited in time, often considering just one generation or, in the case of politicians, one term of office.

·       Elders are often found in Council, whereas similar concepts are usually displayed in individuals.

·       Elderhood is bestowed upon people. Whereas leadership, mentorship, management, or governance are positions that one can become. One does not seek elderhood, it is a gift (and a burden) that a society confers upon a person. This is done usually after many years training, often stretching back decades to teenage years. I have used the word bestow here deliberately. The etymology of the word is revealing. The stow part is from Old English meaning to put or place. The prefix be intensifies that. Be indicates completely, or thoroughly. Hence bestow can be defined as ‘to thoroughly place.’ Having elderhood bestowed upon someone indicates that others (usually the local community or tribe) are acting upon the recipient of the bestowal process. In contrast, becoming suggests that the person is assertively active in their own becoming.

·       Eldership is usually (but not always) place dependent. Elders have usually grown up within a locality, have explored that locality thoroughly, and have been trained in the lores and customs of the people of that locality.

 

Not all the above characteristics may be found in all indigenous conceptions of elderhood, yet these characteristics can be identified in many.

Where Has It Gone?

Reading the above characteristics, it becomes readily apparent that “our culture” is bereft of true elderhood. So, what has happened? Where have they gone? I gave this question some consideration also. This situation has not just arisen in recent times. The genesis of many of the causes can be traced back 10,000 years or more. Amongst a number of interlocking, interconnected, and mutually reinforcing reasons the following can be discerned:

·       Disconnection from nature,

·       Disconnection from each other,

·       Disconnection from ourselves,

·       Cultural belief (conscious or unconscious) that ‘the life of man (sic) is solitary, poor, nasty, brutal, and short.’ This well-known quote of Thomas Hobbes (17th century) is the epitome of the thinking that dominated European thinking during the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. This view has entrenched itself into “our” cultural psyche so much that we hardly recognise it is there.

·       Loss of the sacred and spiritual.

·       Lack of pathways for transitioning from one life stage to the next.

·       Mechanistic, Cartesian, and linear “understanding” of the world/cosmos. Many of the thinkers during the Scientific Revolution often referred to the world and the cosmos as a clock – the ultimate mechanical metaphor.

·       Rejection of the Gaia Principle. The Gaia Principle proposes that the entire Earth is a single, synergistic, self-regulating, complex system that supports the conditions for life. It is named after the Greek goddess of the Earth.

·       Lack of Elders. Our culture is bereft of elders because of a lack of elders. Being bereft of elders means we will lack elders, and lacking elders… We are locked in a vicious cycle.

 

Where Does This Lead?

Elderhood is an emergent process. True elderhood arises out of a healthy and intact culture. Healthy elderhood is extremely difficult to surface when the sustaining culture is contaminated by many of the beliefs and mindsets described above.

If the cultural container is broken, then the worthiest function for would-be elders is to work towards repairing the culture.

Metaphorically, we could think of this work of reparation as like that of the Japanese art of kintsugi, wherein broken pottery is repaired by gluing the shattered pieces back together with a lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum.

This process does not seek to hide the cracks, but rather, to make them visible in such a way that the brokenness of the pottery is now shown to be beautiful.

It is up to all of us to pick up the pieces of our broken culture and, collectively, repair it, so that we can get 

from here                              





to here.






Notes:

1. Stephen Jenkinson, Come Of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 2018.

2. By “our culture” I mean the culture that is largely western-style, European influenced, industrialised, and rich. Sadly, many indigenous and nature-based culture have been colonised (often brutally so) by this culture that this culture has now come to dominate the planet. The culture that had its origins in one part of the planet has now become tantamount to the global culture.

3. I will not elaborate on every point, otherwise this will end up being a read of well over one hour. However, I will attempt to elaborate briefly on the most salient ideas.

Tuesday 12 March 2024

Scaling Up A Local Café

Most mornings of the week I walk to my local, and favourite, café. Many of the other coffee drinkers (some may say addicts) I know by name and a little about them. As I sit and drink my latte I notice that there are a lot of these friendly interactions. People meet and greet others they know. A large number of them have walked to the café. It is the epitome of local.

Those who take our orders and serve the coffee, and the baristas, are also known by name. And they know our names. Once I asked one of the baristas how many individual coffee preferences she knew from memory. “About fifty,” she replied. It is a friendly atmosphere. I have never witnessed an angry exchange between anyone there. The owner of the café encourages friendliness. A couple of years ago I asked her about what was important to her at the café. Without hesitation she replied, “To make people happy.”

And people are. There are significantly more smiles and happy faces than there are grimaces or scowls. Sure, I’ve had conversations with some there who felt depressed or anxious. Did having conversations with them assist them? I don’t know. Yet, they have turned up at the café for their coffee and have met with others from the locality who have listened.

Furthermore, I have been part of, and overheard, the occasional conversation over coffee revolving around politics, religion, philosophy, and psychology. Sometimes even conversations about climate change, the state of the world, and environmental collapse. Yet, in none of these conversations have I witnessed expressions of anger, judgment, or condemnation.

Bigger Cafés?

Recently, as I sat sipping my coffee, I wondered if it were possible to scale up this café? I realised that I had to answer that with a No! or, at least, a probably not.

When I look at the world and larger groupings of human beings, it does not seem possible for the considered and respectful conversations at my local café to take place. Whether the group be the residents of a large city, the citizens of a nation, or the entire population of the Earth, something breaks down in the way in which we engage with one another at larger scales.

At bigger scales, conversations become debates (literally meaning to beat down) and involve accusations, finger-pointing, and ad hominem attacks. Taken to extreme, these debates become polarising, violent, and, at an international level, often descend into war.

This subjective observation of mine has been explored by a number of social scientists over the past few decades. Most well known of these researchers is Robin Dunbar who found a correlation between primate brain size and optimal social group size in the 1990s. Extrapolating to humans, Dunbar proposed that humans can comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships. This number (150) became known as Dunbar’s Number. Since then various researchers have critiqued Dunbar’s proposal, including Dunbar himself.

Rather than the precise number of 150, the range of human relationships in which individuals are able to have some meaningful connection with ranges from about 5 up to around 1,500. These relationships become nested within each, with the quality of the relationship varying with size.

Small Is Beautiful

More than 50 years ago the German born economist, E F Schumacher, wrote the classic book, Small Is Beautiful, in which he described the virtues of small-scale farming, technology, land use, village size and other elements of social and political human economics and ecology.1 Schumacher noted that,

‘Today, we suffer from an almost universal idolatry of gigantism. It is therefore necessary to insist on the virtues of smallness.’  And then, a few pages later, ‘People can be themselves only in small comprehensible groups.’

That was over fifty years ago. Schumacher’s observation and warning is even more trenchant today. Re-reading Schumacher’s book today in conjunction with my observations at my local café I am certain that we must seek ways to down-size and localise all aspects of human endeavour as quickly as possible.

My local café seats about 20 people indoors and up to about 30 outdoors. Most of the regulars live within a 2 km radius of the café. It is one of the friendliest cafés I know.

Scaling it up would lose all that friendliness and sense of community.

Note:

1. E F Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, Blond & Briggs, London, 1973.

Wednesday 6 March 2024

Bring On Inefficiency

Credit: sketchplanations.com
In the wish to reduce our dependence upon fossil fuels what could be more desirable than increasing efficiency?

Greater electricity efficiency: better lightbulbs, 5-star washing machine ratings, longer lasting batteries for Electric Vehicles (EVs), cheaper solar panels, … the list goes on.

Instinctively such efficiency gains seem like a good thing.

Except… they’re not!

The problem is that when something becomes more efficient, instead of reaping the rewards of lower cost or greater fuel economy, we tend to increase our consumption of whatever it is that has become more efficient.

This seeming paradox has a name – the Jevons Paradox. Named after the English economist William Stanley Jevons who described the phenomenon in his 1865 book The Coal Question. Jevons observed that following James Watt’s improvement of the coal-fired steam engine, allowing for greater efficiency, the consumption of coal, far from decreasing, soared dramatically.

Jevons wrote in his book: ‘It is a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth.’

It is a statement that all those calling for greater efficiencies as a way to reduce energy usage, and hence curtail carbon emissions, should listen to. Jevons statement in 1865 is as true today, in 2024 – almost 160 years later.

We can see the Jevons Paradox playing out today in the private vehicle sector. Private vehicles have become more efficient since the end of World War 2. Yet, globally in 1950 there was one registered car for every 48 people, by 2019 there were only 7 people. That is an almost 700% increase in ownership.

Furthermore, since 1950 the distance travelled per vehicle has increased by approximately 70% (although the coronavirus saw a decrease.)

Consequently, since 1950 there are now far more vehicles all travelling greater distances.

In the alternative electricity sector we find the same paradox playing out. Solar panels and other forms of so-called “renewable” electricity sources have become much more efficient over the past couple of decades. Yet – consumption is growing.

Another word often closely linked with efficiency is effectiveness. Effectiveness is a measure of how well the process for achieving something is meeting the desired goal.

Remaining focussed on efficiency does not appear to be very effective in achieving the goal of reducing dependence upon fossil fuels.

We must do something different.

How about shifting our efforts from efficiency to inefficiency?

What? I can hear the screams already. Efficiency is the name of the game, isn’t it? Calling into question the goal of efficiency is outrageous.

Yet, think about it. If fuel, in whatever form, became more inefficient, would that not reduce consumption? It may be worth a try.

Bring on inefficiency.