Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Have we really decided that progress is profit over people?

Waking up another day during summer drought and a heat wave in Namibia and I watch as our factories spew waste and we all drive singly into the city with our cars sputtering smoke in the air.

We are all complaining. Desperate, for rain. But most of us don't realise that we are the cause of all this, and are continuously making our situation worse. Our development plan is meant to be sustainable but it continues to be a copy-and-paste approach from western paradigms of development. Our air conditioning causes the climate to become hotter, and in turn we put the air conditioning on higher.

We, as humanity have come to a point where our destruction has caused suffering onto ourselves.

Naomi Klein, in her book "This Changes Everything", puts it like this "And we tell ourselves all kinds of similarly implausible no-consequences stories all the time, about how we can ravage the world and suffer no adverse effects. Indeed we are always surprised when it works out otherwise. We extract and do not replenish and wonder why the fish have disappeared and the soil needs even more inputs (like phosphate) to stay fertile. We occupy countries and arm their militas and then wonder why they hate us. We drive down wages, ship jobs oversees, destroy worker protections, hollow out local economies, then wonder why people can't afford to shop as much as they used to. We offer those failed shoppers subprime mortgages instead of steady jobs and then wonder why noone foresaw that a system built on bad debts would collapse."

And so the vicious cycle continues, into the Global South.Yet, what about so many other ways we could be living. What about the better life we could be living, without ruining the conditions we live in.

Why do we live in a world where we choose profit over people? How can we say Namibia is progressing when I see more and more men on the side of the street desperate for work, and more and more fancy Land Cruisers and Prados on the street electronically closing their windows as they come to a stop sign, not wanting to face the sadness of the desperately unemployed and hungry. Off the Prados go home to their high walls and big screen TVs where they don't know their neighbours and spend their time in a virtual world that is causing them depression, anxiety and loneliness. A world where the connection they have is with their smart phones. Smart phones that were built off the bloody backs of desperate people waging war in countries like Congo. What progress is this? Why are we choosing this path - and why are we choosing this path when we know that it will probably kill us in our lifetimes, or at best, our children's lifetimes?

And to think of the rapidly developing nations who are following the god of economic growth, while paying lip service at the major climate conferences. Like Klein says, the victims of this are real people - the workers who lose their factory jobs in Juarez and Windsor; the workers who get the factory jobs in Shenzen and Dhaka, jobs that are by this point so degraded that some employers install nets along the perimeters of roofs to catch employees when they jump. Toddlers mouthing lead-laden toys, the Walmart employee expected to work over the American holiday just to be trampled by a stampede of frenzied customers, while not earning a living wage. And the Chinese villagers whos' water is contaminated by one of those coal plants we all use as our excuse of inaction.

Venezuelan political scientist Edgargo Lander said quite aptly "The total failure of climate negotiation serves to highlight the extent to which we now live in a post-democratic society. The interests of financial capital and the oil industry are much more important than the democratic will of people around the world. In the global neoliberal society profit is more important than life."

Klein in her book says that to avoid carnage there needs to be radical and immediate de-growth strategies. Now, especially to us still trying to "develop", this sounds unfair and apocalyptic - as if reducing emissions requires massive economic crises and human suffering. But that seems so only because we have an economic system that fetishizes GDP growth above all else, regardless of the human and ecological consequences, while failing to place value on those that most of us cherish above all - a decent standard of living, a measure of future security, and our relationships with one another. We are permanently faced with advertisements giving us fantasies displayed as attainable realities, but at the cost of hyper consumption and worse problems in the nations where people live this charade of a Fake Empire than in those where we are considered poor.

Lets look at some of our sectors:

Generally, those sectors that are not governed by the drive for increased yearly profit - the public sector, co-ops, local businesses, non profits should expand their share of the overall economic activity. Prosperity without Growth, by Tim Jackson says that "in the first place, the time spent by these professions directly improves the quality of our lives. Making them more efficient is not, after a certain point, actually desirable. What sense does it make to ask teachers to teach bigger classes? Our doctors to treat more and more patients per hour?"

When we start delving into the depths of the fossil fuel industry excusing the boiling of the climate because the alternatives are just not feasible. So instead we dig deeper and dirtier, conducting the business of mountain top coal, fracking, tar sands, and horizon drilling. All the while renewable energy isn't only in our reach, it is, quite frankly, desirable. Plenty of reports and publications that show various countries in the world being capable of going 60% by 2030 in US, 100% in Australia in next ten years, why still the dependence on oil, fracking, mountain top coal? And for those of us pushing for nuclear power and advocating that it is carbon free - vast amounts of fossil fuels must be burned to mine, transport and enrich uranium!

Lets look at food - its often claimed that the Green Revolution saved the world from hunger. But the problem is, that even with the Green Revolution, starvation continues, particularly in India where it was the most intense. Climate-smart, conservation agriculture or agroecelogical projects can work because they are characterised not by expensive fertilizer from Yara and proprietary seeds from Monsanto, but knowledge developed and shared by subsistence farmers freely and equitably. When we take our fish, for instance in Africa and compare artisanal to industrial fisheries. Every part of the equation, whether its capital investment, employment creation along the value chain, and social positives, come out better with artisanal - yet we still push for export-led large scale industrial fisheries in our economic development in coastal countries of Africa.

The emergence of positive, practical and concrete alternatives to dirty development that do not ask people to choose between higher living standards and toxic extraction do exist. And there are alternative models of development that do not require massive wealth stratification, tragic cultural losses, or ecological devastation. Movements in our Global South are fighting hard for these alternative development models - policies that would bring power to a larger amount of people through decentralised renewable energy and revolutionized urban transport so that public transit is much more desirable than private cars. We just need to ask the right questions - what is important to us? What is important to me? What do I want Namibia, and Africa, and indeed the world, to really look like? And I am sure most of us, probably 99% of us would say, not like this.

So how do we stop and reroute the powerful economic wheel from turning, especially when a number of very powerful individuals, and indeed many of us, think we depend on GDP growth and dirty energy only for our wellbeing. Well, lets look at an example of a large scale social change that happened because a number of people were being treated in a grotesque manner, even though it brought economic returns that were unmeasureable to those in power. The slave trade. Chris Hayes wrote an essay comparing climate change to the abolition of slavery. At the time when the slave trade was being abolished slave labour was worth, in today's terms, 10 trillion USD. This is roughly the same value of the amount of carbon reserves still in the ground. If we have chosen society over profit before for a socially just cause, then there should be no reason why we shouldn't do this again. Especially when the entire human race is now at stake.

[Watch this space for some work on For Progress Namibia - a project some of us are embarking on to look at this very different alternative development model for Namibia.] 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Resources are running out and so is the time! A (very late) response to a Wall Street Journal Article.

In April 2014, Himanshu Shekhar, Roy Cohen and I wrote a response to the article written by Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal. The response was sent to and fro across continents, but then life happened (to all of us) and unfortunately the response was never shaped, finalised, and sent off. In the spirit that late is better than never, I have decided to at least publish our response here: 

This article is a direct response to the article “The World’s Resources are not running out” by Mr. Matt Ridley and published online on the Wall Street Journal (dated April 25, 2014, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304279904579517862612287156). The first half of this response aims to highlight the conceptual flaws in arguments presented by Mr. Ridley while the second half responds more empirically (to various points raised by Mr. Ridley).

Overall, Mr. Ridley’s arguments focus on the notion of technological advancement as the solution for resource scarcity, without discussing the merits and demerits of these “solutions”. This is a very partial and exclusive point of view, which can only be assumed by privileged individuals. According to advocates like Mr. Ridley, advancement in technology will provide alternatives before we run out of present resources. However, this approach ignores the greater processes that inform technological development.

The way our system currently runs, technological development meets the needs of the market. These are dictated solely by profit: investors put their money in technologies that, in their opinion, could scale up and have great returns on investment. Investments in eco-friendly technologies exist but--in the current system--no “green” technology can hope to have the same success as e.g. WhatsApp, a texting app for mobile phones that was purchased for 16 billion USD by Facebook.

Another systemic problem is that the initial cost of investment rises with the increasing sophistication of technology. A self-proclaimed rational optimist, Mr. Ridley fails to see how corporate-patented technologies are used to centralize production. In the agricultural sector, for instance, four firms control more than 85% of beef production in the USA. Small farmers are marginalized and systematically exploited by these corporations (one only has to go to various case studies in Africa to see how this has corroded small scale farming). Many poor countries are forced to be the food basket of the world while the western world keeps more lucrative and remunerative areas such as the service sector for itself. Imbalances in trade and in access to technology further deepen the gap between rich and poor. Technology itself is not “good” or “bad”: it is oblivious when it is being used to aggravate social inequality as well as the climate crisis.

Like many people who share his point of view, Mr. Ridley cites rising efficiency in production as an example for the promise of technology. But it is a biased perspective, which leaves out two other important factors: (1) imports that increase the global footprint (pollution); and (2) the rise in affluence, which increases per capita consumption.

Mr. Ridley further talks about failure of predictions made in the renowned book “Limits to Growth” by the Club of Rome, which — according to Ridley — failed when it predicted that resources will run out by now. But in fact, what the book failed to predict is the widening gap in resource consumption between rich and poor. This gap has been a blessing in disguise, to some extent, in ecological terms, but it indicates that more than half of the people in the world cannot meet their basic needs. In countries such as China, which witnessed the arrival of a strong middle class, the overall consumption has observed multi-fold increase putting extreme pressure on resources. The writers of Limits of Growth foresaw a trend in many of their projections. Their book sparked a revolution in how we value progress, and an awareness of the climate crisis, which Mr. Ridley wants to peg as a purely technological question. But the reality is much more complicated: the values that inform technological development determine what kind of world we are creating with the tools of progress.

Indeed we are hitting resource limits and planetary boundaries as we speak. Ecosystems are collapsing. The global water cycle is disrupted due to massive deforestation in the Amazon forest, which now releases more carbon than it soaks up. The acidifying oceans risk ending life as we know it. At what cost is our system currently operating? Developing economies are aiming for the same unsustainable goal as the developed world – industrializing by logging huge forests for timber, rather than using them for ecotourism or protecting them for the communities who depend on them for their livelihood. Two billion people are starving, with another billion people on the verge of starving – and one billion people are obese. Mr. Ridley’s so-called rational optimism does not account for these statistics.

Furthermore, the British member of the House of Lords talks about pessimists and optimists of climate change. Optimists hope for technological change that would result in the use of lower-carbon energy. However, climate negotiations show us that we are nowhere near. Climate activists  and other sustainability actors are pushing for renewable energy, but oil giants still yield more power than governments. The 2008 financial crisis had Exxon, Shell, Chevron reduce their US workforce by 11,400 workers, but — on the backend — pocketed 4 billion a year in tax subsidies. Globally, subsidies to the fossil fuel industry top 550 billion USD every year and are at least 12 times any subsidies given to energy efficiency and renewable energy. In 2011 Exxon made 5 million USD profit every hour but paid lower taxes than the average American worker.  This is not exactly a conducive enabling environment for more informed technologies.

Ecologists in this sense are not pessimists. They are realists who are pushing for redefining our approach to the entire system so that we do not chase endless growth at our own peril – but instead reduce inequality and work towards the well-being of humans, as well as the ecological health of our planet on which we rely for our own survival.

We have no doubt that innovation is part of the solution. Technology is part of the solution. But where Mr. Ridley fails is in seeing what innovation and technology serve. His narrative for progress is imbued with old fashioned ideas about increased productivity — the same ideas that have brought about the ecological crisis that we are experiencing. But innovation and technology can only help us get out of this crisis if we use them to solve our real, urgent problems — finite resources, unequal distribution and - yes - the climate crisis. It will not magically dissolve.

Resources are running out despite advancement in technology. Access and affordability to technology are as important as the tools we develop. Unless every single human being has sufficient access to basic resources, the pressure on the resources will keep on mounting. Any discussion on resource exploitation without considering the time needed for their replenishment and their impacts on the environment is nothing short of suicidal for the sustenance of the human race. Indeed, present accounting systems and the financial systems are not supportive of a sustainable human society. Our system, by design, erodes into our resources. A redefinition of our value system would help steer innovation towards a more just and equal society, one that lives in harmony within the larger system.  We hope that the leaders, policy makers and people in general will pay heed to Mahatma Gandhi’s words: “There is enough for everyone’s need but not for anyone’s greed”.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The world is as you dream it

This post is a call to critical thinking in Namibia on how we roll out our development plan - a road towards the well-being of our people.

Sequence of events. 
Oil (potential) found off shore. 
The Father of our Nation found celebrating with corporate oil companies. 
US Marine Troops visit our shores and perform humanitarian work as part of their trip along the African coastline. 
A four star US general visits Namibia. 
[Then he visits Malawi and Mozambique. Two other nations who recently found oil/gas.] 

Now I am not saying that I know that there are linkages. Just saying that we all need to think about what we want for our country and our true development plan. Do we follow the trail of other countries (a trail of desolation left behind, high GDP growth and increased poverty going hand in hand) or do we blaze a trail towards the common good of (all!) our citizens. 

And I use the example of Ecuador. I steal an excerpt from John Perkins' "Confessions of and Economic Hitman". 

"In the years since I first went there, in 1968, this tiny country had evolved into the quintessential victim of the corporatocracy. My con-temporaries and I, and our modern equivalents, had managed to bring it to virtual bankruptcy. We loaned it billions of dollars so it could hire our engineering and construction firms to build projects that would help its richest families. As a result, in those three decades, the official poverty level grew from 50 to 70 percent, under- unemployment increased from 15 to 70 percent, public debit increased from US$240 million to $16 billion, and the share of national resources allocated to the poorest citizens declined from 20 percent to 6 percent. Today, Ecuador must devote nearly 50 percent of its national budget simply to paying off its debts - instead of to helping the millions of citizens who are officially classified as dangerously impoverished. 

The situation in Ecuador clearly demonstrates that this was not the result of a conspiracy; it was a process that had occurred during both Democratic and Republican administrations, a process that had involved all the multinational banks, many corporations, and foreign aid missions from a multitude of countries. The United States played the lead role, but we had not acted alone. 

During the three decades, thousands of men and women participated in bringing Ecuador to the tenuous position it found itself at the beginning of the millennium. Some of them, like me, had been aware of what they were doing, but the vast majority had merely performed the tasks they had been taught in business, engineering, and law schools, or had followed the lead of bosses in my mold, who demonstrated the system by their own greedy example and through rewards and punishments calculated to perpetuate it. Such participants saw the parts they played as benign, at worst; in the most optimistic view, they were helping an impoverished nation. 

Although unconscious, deceived - and in many cases - self-deluded, these players were not members of any clandestine conspiracy; rather, they were the product of a system that promotes the most subtle and effective form of imperialism that world has ever witnessed. No one had to go out and seek men and women who could be bribed or threatened - they had already been recruited by companies, banks and government agencies.The bribes consisted of salaries, bonuses, pension and insurance policies; the threats were based on social mores, peer pressure, and unspoken questions about the future of their children's education. 

The system had succeeded spectacularly. By the time the new millennium had rolled in, Ecuador was thoroughly entrapped. We had her, as a Mafia don has the man whose daughter's wedding and small business he financed and then refinanced. We could afford to be patient, knowing that beneath Ecuador's rain forests lies a sea of oil, knowing that the proper day would come.

That day had already arrived when, in early 2003, I wound my way from Quito to the jungle town of Shell in my Subaru Outback. Chavez had reestablished himself in Venezuela. He had defied George W. Bush and had won. Saddam was standing his ground and was preparing to be invaded. Oil supplies were depleted to their lowest level in nearly three decades, and the prospects of taking more from our prime sources looked bleak - and therefore, so did the health of the corporatocracy's balance sheets. We needed an ace in the hole. It was time to cut away our Ecuadorian pound of flesh.

As I drove past the monster dam on the Pastaza River, I realised that here in Ecuador the battle was not simply the classic struggle between the rich of the world and the impoverished, between those who exploit and those who are exploited. These battle lines would ultimately define who were are as a civilization. We were poised to force this tiny country to open its Amazon rain forests to our oil companies. The devastation that would result was immeasurable. 

If we insisted on collecting debt, the repercussions would far beyond our abilities to quantify them. It was not just about the destruction of indigenous cultures, human lives and hundreds of thousands of species of mammals, reptiles, fish, insects, and plants, some of which might contain the undiscovered cures to any number of diseases. It was not just that rain forests absorb the deadly greenhouse gases produced by our industries, give off oxygen that is essential to our lives, and seed the clouds that ultimately create a large percentage of the world's fresh water. It went beyond all the standard arguments made by ecologists for saving such places, and reached deep into our souls. 

If we pursued this strategy, we would continue an imperialist pattern that had begun long before the Roman Empire. We decry slavery, but our global empire enslaves more people than the Romans and all the other colonial powers before us. I wondered how we could execute such a shortsighted policy in Ecuador and still live with our collective conscience.

Peering through the window of the Subaru at the deforested slopes of the Andes, an area that during my Peace Corps days had been lush with tropical growth, I was suddenly surprised by another realisation. It dawned on me that this view of Ecuador as a significant battle line was purely personal, that in fact every country where I had worked, every country with resources coveted by the empire, was equally significant. I had my own attachment to this one, which stemmed from the days back in the late 1960s when I lost my innocence here. However, it was subjective, my personal bias.

Though the Ecuadorian rain forests are precious, as are the indigenous people and all the other life forms that inhabit them, they are no more precious than the deserts of Iran and the Bedouins of Yamin's heritage. No more precious than the mountains of Java, the areas of the coast of Philippines, the steppes of Asia, the savannas of Africa, the forests of North America, the icecaps of the Arctic, or hundreds of other threatened places. Every one of these represents the battle line, and every one of them forces us to search the depths of our individual and collective souls.

I was reminded of a statistic that sums it all up: The income ratio of the one-fifth of the world's population in the wealthiest countries to the one-fifth of the poorest countries went from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 74 to 1 in 1995. And the World Bank, the USAID, the IMF, and the rest of the banks, corporations, and governments involved in international "aid" continue to tell us that they are doing their jobs, that progress has been made. 
So here I was in Ecuador again, in the country that was just one of many battle lines that holds a special place in my heart. It was 2003, thirty-five years after I had first arrived as a member of a U.S. organisation that bears the word peace in its name. This time, I had come in order to try and prevent a war that for three decades I had helped to provoke.

It would seem that events in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Venezuela might be enough to deter us from yet another conflict; yet, in Ecuador the situation was very different. This war would not require the U.S. Army, for it would be fought by a few indigenous warrior equipped only with spears, machetes, and single-shot, muzzle-loaded rifles. They would face off against a modern Ecuadorian army, a handful of U.S. Special Forces advisers, and jackal-trained mercenaries hired by the oil companies. This would be a war, like 1995 conflict between Ecuador and Peru, that most people in the United States would never hear about, and recent events had escalated the probability of such a war.

In December 2002, oil company representatives accused an indigenous community of taking a team of its workers hostage; they suggested that the warriors involved were members of a terrorist group, with implications of possible ties to al-Qaeda. It was an issue made especially complicated because oil companies had received government permission to begin drilling. However, the company claimed its workers had the right to perform preliminary, non-drilling investigations - a claim vehemently disputed by the indigenous groups a few days later, when they shared their side of the story.

The oil workers, tribal representatives insisted, had trespassed on lands they were not allowed; the warriors had carried no weapons, nor had they threatened the oil workers to their village with violence of any sort. In fact, they had escorted the workers to their village, where they offered them food and local beer. While their visitors feasted, the warriors persuaded the workers' guides to paddle away. However, the tribe claimed, the workers were never held against their will; they were free to go whenever they pleased.

Driving down that road, I remembered what the Shuars had told me in 1990 when, after selling IPS, I returned to offer to help them save their forests. "The world is as you dream it", they had said, and then pointed out that we in the North had dreamed of huge industries, lots of cars, and gigantic skyscrapers. Now we had discovered that our vision had in fact been a nightmare that would ultimately destroy us all. 

"Change the dream", the Shuars had advised me. Yet here it was, more than a decade later, and despite the work of many people and nonprofit organisations, including the ones I had worked with, the nightmare had reached new and horrifying proportions.

When my Outback finally pulled into the jungle town of Shell, I was hustled off to a meeting. The men and women who attended represented many tribes: Kichwa, Shuar, Achuar, Shiwiar, and Zaparo. Some had walked for days through the jungle, others had flown in on small planes, funded by nonprofits. A few wore their traditional kilts, face paint, and feathered headbands, though most attempted to emulate the townspeople, wearing slacks, T-shirts and shoes.

Representatives from the community accused of taking hostages spoke first. They told us that shortly after the workers returned to their oil company, over a hundred Ecuadorian soldiers arrived in their small community. They reminded us that this was at the beginning of a special season in the rain forests, the fruiting of the chonta. A tree sacred to the indigenous cultures, its fruit comes but once a year and signals the start of the mating season for many of the region's birds, including rare and endangered species. AS they flock to it, the birds are extremely vulnerable. The tribes enforce strict policies forbidding the hunting of these birds during the chonta season.

"The timing of the soldiers couldn't have been worse", ad woman explained. I felt her pain and that of her companions as they told their tragic stories about how the soldiers ignored the prohibitions. They shot down the birds or sport and for food. In addition, they raided family gardens, banana groves, and manioc fields, often irreparably destroying the sparse topsoil. They used explosives in the rivers for fishing, and they ate family pets. They confiscated the local hunters' guns and blowguns, dug improper latrines, polluted the rivers with fuel oil and solvents, sexually molested women, and neglected to properly dispose of garbage, which attracted insects and vermin.

"We had two choices", the man said, "We could fight, or we could swallow our pride and do our best to repair the damage. We decided it was not time yet to fight." He described how they attempted to compensate for the military's abuses by encouraging their own people to go without food. He called it a fast, in fact it sounded closer to a voluntary starvation. Old people and children became malnourished and and grew sick.

The spoke about threats and bribes. "My son", a woman said, "speaks English as well as Spanish and several indigenous dialects. He worked as a guide and translator for an ecotourist company. He earned a decent salary. The oil company offered him ten times as much. What could he do? Now he writes letters denouncing the old company and all the others who come to help us, and in his letters calls the oil companies our friends." She shook her body, like a dog shaking off water. "He is no longer one of us. My son..."

An elderly man wearing the traditional toucan-feather headdress of a shaman stood up. "You know about those three we elected to represent us against the oil companies, who died in that plane crash? Well, I am not going to stand here and tell you what so many say, that the oil companies caused the crash. But I can tell you that those three deaths dug a big hole in our organisation. The oil companies lost no time in filling that hole with their people."

Another man produced a contract and read it. In exchange for three hundred thousand dollars, it ceded a vast territory over to a lumber company. It was signed by three tribal officials. 
"These aren't their real signatures", he said. "I ought to know, once is my brother. It's another type of assassination.To discredit our leaders."

It seemed ironic and strangely appropriate that this was taking place in a region of Ecuador where the oil companies had not yet been given permission to drill. They had drilled in many areas around this one, and the indigenous people had seen the results, had witnessed the destruction of their neighbours. As I sat there listening, I asked myself how the citizens of my country would react if gatherings like this featured on CNN or the evening news.

The meetings were fascinating and the revelations deeply disturbing. But something else also happened, outside the formal setting of those sessions. During breaks, at lunch and in the evening, when I talked with people privately, I frequently was asked why the United States was threatening Iraq. The impending war was discussed on the front pages of Ecuadorian newspapers that made their way into this jungle town, and the coverage was very different from coverage in the States. It included references to Bush's family ownership of oil companies, and to Vice President Cheney's role as former CEO of Halliburton.

These newspapers were read to men and women who had never attended school. Everyone seemed to take an interest int his issue. Here I was, in the Amazon rain forest, among illiterate people many in North America consider "backward", even "savages", and yet probing questions were being asked that struck at the heart of the global empire.

Driving out of Shell, back past the hydroelectric dam and high into the Andes, I kept thinking about the difference between what I had seen and heard during this visit to Ecuador and what I had to become accustomed to in the United States. It seemed that Amazonian tribes had a great deal to teach us, that despite all our schooling and our many hours reading magazines and watching television news, we lacked awareness they had somehow found. "The Prophecy of the Condor and Eagle", which I have heard many times throughout Latin America, and of similar prophecies I have encountered around the world.

Nearly every culture I know prophecies that in the late 1990s we entered a period of remarkable transiiton. At monasteries in Himalayas, ceremonial visits in Indonesia, and indigenous reservations in North America, from the depths of the Amazonian to the peaks of the Andes and into the ancient Mayan cities of Central America, I have heard that ours is a special moment in human history, and that each of us was born at this time because we have a mission to accomplish.

The titles and words of the prophecies differ slightly. They tell variously of a New Age, the Third Millenium, the Age of Aquarius, the Beginning of the Fifth Sun, or the end of old calenders and the commencement of new ones. Despite various terminologies, however, they have a great deal in common, and "The Prophecy of the Condor and the Eagle" is typical. It states that back in the mists of history, human society took two different paths: that of the condor (representing the heart, intuitive and mystical) and that of the eagle (representing the brain, rational and material). In the 1490s, the prophecy said, the two paths would converge and the eagle would drive the condor to the verge of extinction. Then, five hundred years later, in the 1990s, a new epoch would begin, one in which the condor and eagle will have the opportunity to reunite and fly together in the same sky, along the same path. If the condor and eagle accept this opportunity, they will create the most remarkable offspring, unlike any ever seen before.

"The Prophecy of the Condor and the Eagle", can be taken at many levels - the standard interpretation is that it foretells the sharing of indigenous with the knowledge of science, the balancing of yin and yang, and the bridging of northern and southern cultures. However, most powerful is the message it offers about consciousness; it says that we have entered a time when we can benefit that we can use these as a springboard to higher levels of awareness. As human beings, we can truly wake up and evolve into a more conscious species.

The condor people of the Amazon make it seem so obvious that if we are able to address questions about the nature of what it is to be a human in this new millennium, and about our commitment to evaluating our intentions for the next several decades, then we need to open our eyes and see the consequences of our actions - the actions of the eagle - in places like Iraq and Ecuador. We must shake ourselves awake. We who live in the most powerful nations history has ever known must stop worrying so much about the outcome of soap operas, football games, quarterly balance sheets, and the daily Dow Jones averages, and must instead reevaluate who we are and where we want our children to end up. The alternative to stopping to ask ourselves the important questions is simply too dangerous.

Shortly after I returned from Ecuador in 2003, The United States invaded Iraq for the second time in little over a decade."

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Weed of Change

So here we are. Thirteen of us sitting in a warm room in a very cold Switzerland discussing the world we want and what needs to be done to get there. What is wrong with the world you say? Or do you? We discuss this also. What are the biggest problems? We decide problems is not a good word. Lets call them challenges.

Climate Change

These two stand out in a list of things that take up two flipchart sheets of paper. 

Who are we and where do we come from? We are a group split up from 60 young people chosen by the Club of Rome to come to Switzerland to meet, discuss and find solutions for the world and humanity's role in it.We are part of a growing population the next generation of change agents. This is the hope anyway. 

So we get split up into groups to spit ball a vision of the world we would want and possible avenues to get there. In our group, we represent virtually every continent: Africa, South America, Middle East, North America, Australia, Asia, Europe. We represent a diversity of backgrounds in terms of "career": Politican, Social Justice Activist, Biologist, Global Change Ecologist, Communications Person, Mechanical Engineer, Energy Person, Anthropologist. Would have been nice to have an economist. But never the less here we are. 

Surprisingly, we all come to an agreement that the root of all of our problems is our current value system, and more specifically the economic system. This is the reason why we are in this mess. But we also realise that this is something we cannot change very quickly and that it would take too much time to prevent the looming tipping points to which we are heading. Some of you may or may not know that we have reached seven out of the nine planetary boundaries right now (see a previous post where I allude to this information published in Nature and Science recently).

Okay. So one of the group members comes up with an amazing analogy in terms of what we can do. No, what we must do. To change. Let’s say the world is under attack by a “weed”. Unfortunately, we do not have the means right now to pull the entire plant out – and by the time we figure out how, it will have been too late. We have the possible means of at least cutting the weed to prevent some catastrophic problems our world will face. And this needs to happen now. If the root (the root cause) of our problems is our value system, then the stem is the result of this root. The stem, we discussed, represents things like climate change, poverty, inequality, among others. And to cut the stem would mean fast-tracking some solutions, like renewable energy and agricultural production. We will have to get to the root eventually. If we don’t, we will always only be fixing the symptoms. But never-the-less we need to cut the stem for now. This brings some gentle disagreement within the group. “What’s the point of cutting the stem, and wasting our time, when we need to pull out the entire plant”, one of us says. Others in the group acknowledge this and try and argue that, well, the bottom is that we do need to pull the entire plant. But we really do not have the means right now, or in the near future, to push for an entire global paradigm shift when current value systems are heavily dominated by greed and consumerism. The weed of change we call it. I don’t entirely agree with the name, but its catchy.

So the rest of the week we sit in a room and discuss endlessly how we, as a group, can be part of this change. Both in terms of cutting the weed at the stem, as well as mobilise this value shift. And its hard. And its argumentative. And its passionate. And we come out with a simple plan. Communication. How do we become the communicators…or the connectors…to the Club of Rome. They have this information. How do we go home, use our channels of influence, and become the messengers of this information. How do we package it in a way that incites a critical global human mass to change?

Unfortunately I missed our final presentation because I had to jump on a plane to Equatorial Guinea to assess the country’s vulnerability to climate change and how to come up with interventions which will lead to resilience.

So more reflections on this "change of course" after I have changed gear back to the global picture. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Human Development within Planetary Boundaries

Back home after a very long trip all the way from Jeju, South Korea and I am still trying to put together all the experiences, interesting people I met, and information absorbed during the IUCN World Congress. One of these experiences I just have to share – because it is shocking that this has not gone viral. It was a presentation by Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Resilience Centre followed by him being joined by a panel of some of the most forward-thinking people you will ever meet: Cyrie Sendashonga, Anders Wijkman, Matthias Klum, James Griffiths and Ashok Khosla. Google these people. You will be amazed.

Anyway, let me give you a gist of what was discussed. And before I do that – this information is published, I give the publications list at the end of this post for those who want to go check them out.

So. Basically, we have been very lucky for a very long time. Or should I say, since the industrial revolution. “They” say this because Earth has been our friend during our very destructive path - it has been absorbing a lot of our crap. But apparently the year 2012 will be a monumental year to remember for future generations.

Because the end of the year will mark the arctic spiral event for the first time in millions of years. The Earth will become our Foe. The Arctic polar cap will be completely ice-free. Let me explain: all that ice up there will not be there anymore....that means that what was white will now be black. And as we know, white reflects sun’s rays. Black absorbs. That white cap at the top is our cooling system. You can figure out the rest. If and when you do – you will realise the enormity of the situation.

So, that it just a teaser. Feedback from the current system we have created. We have moved, quite a while ago, into the Anthropocene. That means that this geological timeframe we are in now is named after our species’ actions and influence on Earth. We are having such an impact on our Earth that we are in the 6th Mass Extinction as a result. Due to one species. Us. Humanity is reaching Planetary Saturation Point. A great transformation to global sustainability at this point is not only necessary, but it is possible and desirable. We need to be resilient and transform in the face of crisis.

This is not news. The book “Limits of Growth”, written yonks ago, warned us that growth is limited in a closed system. And many of the things they predicted are happening. Unfortunately, the book was heavily criticized because it made assumptions about human innovations – they underestimated them – as a result some of the predictions did not come true. Which of course Economists used to jump on the entire nay-say bandwagon.

But, Johan Rockström and his friends have developed a new concept.

Planetary Boundaries.

It does not make assumptions about human innovation. It does not make assumptions on growth. All it does is say: Here is the playing field. This is the safe operating space for humanity. It encompasses three strands of science: resilience theory, scale of human action, Earth system and sustainability. The boundaries are made up of 9 processes:
1. Climate Change
2. Ozone Depletion
3. Ocean Acidification
4. Global Freshwater Use
5. Chemical Pollution
6. Land System Change
7. Rate of Biodiversity Loss
8. Bio-geochemical loading: Global Nitrogen and Phosphorous Cycles
9. Atmospheric Aerosol Loading

Now. Imagine the catastrophic event, i.e. when Earth’s system has reached tipping point with all of the above boundaries, as an analogy of the human fever. At 42°C you die. But before that, at around 38°C, you take something to prevent your fever from rising. You take action. The Earth, at the moment, is at that point. 38°C. We have reached the tipping point of seven out of the nine boundaries.

Okay. So now we have the context in which we realize that the global transformation needed is not only massive, but fiercely urgent. What do I mean by this transformation? Read two or three of my posts which came before this one. Johan puts it into good perspective by saying…So…what do we need to do?

1. We need a new type of Science – one which integrates social, natural (etc) science, looking at innovation, solutions, and so on.

2. We need a mindshift in Economics. (Value systems)

But then, he says, that these things will take too long and we cannot, a this point, wait for these – it will take too long. We need to fast-track some things,

3. (a) Agriculture and (b) Energy. These two things can help us drastically within Planetary Boundaries.

So we know the “who” (Government, Business, Consumers) must act, we know the “what” needs to be acted on. Everything moving forward now is HOW.

Now you have this information. Are you going to be a by-stander? Or are you going to make the changes that YOU can?

(List of publications – apologies, they are not exactly in a standardized citation system…but then again this is my blog….so I don’t need to be formal about it: Steffen et al. 2007; Hansen and Sato 2011; “A safe operating space for humanity, Nature, 461:472-475; Rockström et al. 2011, Ecology and Society; Science, 2010:329; Gerst et al. 2012, etc.)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Causing controversy on the Future World Leaders Panel in the Think Tank of Business

So this afternoon I found myself sitting on a panel with three others, defined as "Future Leaders", with the President of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, Peter Bakker, as our Chair. This was part of a kick-off panel - to an afternoon session of experts and prominent business leaders as part of the Business and Ecosystems Think Tank at the IUCN World Congress in Jeju, South Korea. So each of us had two minutes to give our statements, followed by a panel discussion. I had to start. This is a gist of what I said:

I believe that, while great efforts have been initiated over the years, we are still on an extremely destructive path for all of biodiversity on Earth, and this includes our own species. 
And this doom and gloom picture is the product of our entire system, especially in terms of economy, which has been based on valuing commodities which actually have no value, like Gold, and putting absolutely no value on things that are intrinsic to our own survival – such as clean air, fresh water. This “undervalue”, or “no value”, as a result, has completely disconnected us from nature and our dependency on it! 
For instance, we add the price of a bushel of wheat harvested, but we forget to subtract the topsoil lost forever in its mass production. And we are changing too slowly to come back from the MAJOR global losses of ecosystem services and biodiversity as a result of this system. 
We are already getting feedback telling us that our current system is not working, peak oil, peak metal - and the end of the golden age! This seems like we are moving toward a dooms day picture if we carry on the same path. 
However, there is also hope and excitement in this picture – one with many opportunities combined with the challenges. If a critical mass can realise, understand and want to change, we can use these opportunities to move towards a very bright future in which we value human well-being over material wealth – where a successful person is not a rich person, but a happy, healthy person. 
Poverty is eradicated, nature is harmonized with development, and we connect again with our roots. I don’t have the answers to get there – but I know that with like-minded people we can come up with new, brilliant, innovative ways towards this paradigm shift in our society – for the betterment of all living beings in Earth, and especially our human society. 
Business, in this sense, can play a key role toward finding these innovations.

My fellow panelists had their say. And then Peter Bakker, eternally pushing the edge of controversy, pushed us deeper. I decided to speak my mind and screw the diplomacy. So here I spoke about how we really need to make major changes in our own thinking - we should think about the system that we have created - I used the Niger Delta and what oil has done to it as an example - ruining lives and ecosystem services and at the cost of making just a few people rich. Among other things. Anyway - I had my platform; I said my piece. 

I only realised later, when the business leaders panel came up to speak, that the Shell President was one of the panelists (oops). He had obviously taken on some of my oil statements and made some of his own - basically backtracking and talking about that "we cannot go back to scratch and redefine our value systems" - we must instead do things such duplicating best practices. Great. No complaints. But this coming from a corporation which has not made any attempts at research and development for renewables. This coming from a corporation still looking for more fossil fuels when we all know that we have reached peak. This coming from a corporation which has been put in front of the International Court of Justice for human rights violations - a company that has made strides in ruining vital ecosystem services. And for what? A resource which we really don't need anymore - we have the capacity to create energy without it If we could just spend as much time and energy researching for alternatives as we do drilling for oil offshore. In a much more innovative, off-the-grid manner. Why do we insist on continuing to destroy the Earth and its livingbeings, and of course our own human society, for a resource that we quite happily and easily can live without? 

I can tell you why. Because of rich powerful people who have been brainwashed to think that power and money is the be-all and end-all. 

So I question those people: What are you fighting humanity for? Richdom? Why? Why can't you instead enjoy life for what it is - and let everyone else enjoy life too? 

I do not want to delve into detail of these questions. Instead I leave it at that - with you to ponder and think about these a little longer. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Bunny-huggers versus industrialisers is a misconception!

I have just attended two workshops over the space of three days and have come up with the sad realisation that integral people to decision-making processes in my country, and even those sitting in the realm of biodiversity, are still stuck in that old-fashioned mindset that development and “saving the environment” are antagonistic. This has set up the context for the separation of two types of people in our society – on the one side are the perceived “bunny-huggers”, and the other side the perceived “industrialisers”.

The industrialisers think the bunny-huggers don’t care about the progress of the nation, and don’t care about the nation’s people who strive for a better life in terms of employment and quality of life. And in a nutshell, care more about “animals” than they do humans.

The bunny-huggers think the industrialisers just want to destroy everything no matter at what cost.

All the while this old-school antagonistic way of thinking is just separating humanity from sustainability and instead disconnecting us further from each other, our own goals, and a positive and prosperous way forward.
Have we forgotten that we are actually interconnected with the environment? Have we forgotten that we form part of nature and have evolved in a very complicated system where EVERYTHING has a cause and effect? We live on a planet that is a closed system. Everything links to one another in one way or another.

One big example of how we have forgotten this concept: climate change!

We are still intensely naïve in terms of what effect we have on our surroundings, and what effect our surroundings have on us.

I heard someone say the other day that “some people just want the entire Namibia under “conservation” but the truth is “we need to sacrifice some areas for high rate production for the greater good of our country”….i.e. land for high production agriculture. Okay. Good example. So lets say we put aside land for this. So we take the land, do some heavy fast-paced production in the “name of food security”. Woah! Suddenly we have a large amount of food and income from this! Cool.  But wait! We have not been clever enough to subtract the amount of top soil lost in the production of this food from the income generated. That topsoil is now gone and the land is useless. Shocker! Now what?

This is a reflection of the massive problem in our current accounting system. Which is why we are in this massive gaping hole of a problem to begin with! We have valued things that have absolutely no value. And we have put no value on things that we intrinsically need for our own survival, such as productive land, clean air, fresh water and the ecosystem services that provide for these things.

So it is no wonder that we are destroying these very things that we really need. We add to our accounting system the amount of income we have gained from rice paddies, but forget to subtract the loss in storm buffers we will have from destroying the mangroves. And then comes along a massive hurricane and everyone suffers. Well. At least one company made millions for a few years; and one or two percent went to the GDP for a few years.

We have based our entire economic system on extraction. We have not included the sustainability concept, and we have not included the fact that every time we destroy something….it has an intrinsic effect on the economy. Something we have forgotten! This is the very reason why we are having economic meltdowns in the Northern hemisphere. We have forgotten the limits of growth in a closed system. We are now reaching peak oil, peak metals, the end of the golden age. And our civilisation is crashing and burning. Bottom line.

So now we need to think of the way forward.

We need to stop acting stupid.

We need to realise that we are intrinsically connected to the natural world.

We need to take a step back and make a very important paradigm shift in our way of thinking.

And I mean this in the context of our value systems. We have been conditioned all our lives that we need to have lots of money to be successful or happy. And we have based our entire system on this concept. The American dream. We forget that we would physically need four planets if every person would live like the average American. Nevermind the fact that the average American is deeply depressed – probably works three jobs so that he can have three cars and five tvs.

We need to start realising, for instance, where exactly our food comes from and how it is made. We need to become grounded again and start valuing our own well-being instead of what type of car we drive.
How did we get to this point of “I need more and more of stuff that I don’t need to make me happy”?  

And the fact that this system is supposedly helping the poor out of poverty?
We have been on this fast-track economic growth lane at what cost for more than a hundred years. We have lost vital ecosystem services. We have one BILLION people who are starving right now. We have millions of people who have died unnecessarily at the cost of losses of ecosystem services (e.g. flooding, hurricanes, water wars, resource wars). I use Nigeria as an example, or more specifically the Niger Delta. Good old oil. 42 million people here are still living in abject poverty. 600 BILLION USD has been pumped out of here. Not one of those little notes has made it to any of the 42 million people here. But don’t worry, five percent of the world is getting enormously rich at the cost of 95% of the human population, every other species on this planet, and the services that we require for our future survival. WHY?

Why don’t we instead start thinking of new and innovative ways? Why haven’t we started thinking of what really matters: human well-being!

We are realising that we need ecosystem services for our survival and prosperity. Yet we are still destroying it bit by bit. We are still heavily depending on a destructive system, and depending on resources which are exhaustive and are very quickly running out. But wait…we found a little more oil….lets destroy that land and drill the oil out. Thank goodness, it will buy us another five years – and we can put up the price while we are at it.

But we don’t need oil anymore! We have a million other ways to get energy. We have a million other ways to gain, in monetary terms, value from renewable resources and sustainable activities. For instance in Namibia, eco-tourism together with biotrade could far exceed the percentage GDP of mining. Yet mining is the strongest component of the National Development Plan 4.

 What are we doing? Are we going to destroy the possibility for other economic gains because we can make a quick buck for the next five years? And after that we will be pretty much screwed. But hey, that’s the next politician’s problem.

How can we have gotten so far in terms of human progress, but are still so stupid?

Lets start shifting our paradigm now!   

Monday, July 16, 2012

Our education: has it made us successful .... or even more ignorant?

Have you ever noticed that everything humanity depends on is in jeopardy due not to so-called "ignorant" people? It is actually the result of work by people with MDs, MBAs, and PhDs. I was reminded the other day of a brilliant essay written by David Orr called "What is Education for?". And it inspired me to summarise it in my own words (uh...to an extent). 

You know, think about how we have been educated. Our education has conditioned us to think success is equivalent to financial gain and that more "knowledge" pulls us out of  naivety. But...interestingly..the only people who have lived sustainably on the planet for any amount of time could not read. 

What is wrong with our education? Well, for one we learn seperate disciplines and have no fathom of connections and linkages - we live in a closed system where everything is interlinked - but we produce economists who lack basic ecology. As a result, in Orr's words,  our accounting systems do not subtract the costs of biotic impoverishment, soil erosion, the destruction of vital ecosystem services, poisons in the air and water, and resource depletion from gross national product. We add the price of the sale of a bushel of wheat to the GNP but forget to subtract three bushels of topsoil lost in its production. And ironically we have fooled ourselves into thinking that we are so much richer than we actually are (and...slowly....getting information feedback from our current economic system that this very fact has screwed us!).  Universities cough out experts in narrow fields who have no integrated sense of the unity of things. 

Orr gives us six myths which I find very eye-opening. I am not going to mention all of them, only the ones which were particularly interesting to me:

"Ignorance is a solvable problem". I thought so. Apparently, though, it is instead an inescapable part of the human condition. He states that the advance of knowledge always carries with it an advance of some form of ignorance. Makes sense. He uses the example of Thomas Midgely Jr., who discovered CFCs (oops...) - what had previously just been a piece of trivial ignorance suddenly became a critical and urgent, even life-threatening gap in our understanding of the biosphere. Noone actually thought to ask....what does this thing do? until 1990, when CFCs had created a thinning of the ozone layer worldwide. Makes you wonder how much we create and process which we ourselves don't fully understand. 

Another one I find neat, because we try and do this in our daily lives. The myth that we can "manage the planet...with the right technology and knowledge". However, the complexity of Earth and its life can never be safely managed. As Orr puts it, the ecology of the top inch of topsoil is still largely unknown. What might be much more realistic to manage, is us - like our desires, economies, politics and so forth. Orr states that it makes far better sense to reshape our ourselves to fit our planet than attempt to reshape the planet to fit our infinite wants. 

He then goes onto another myth, which (I smile ironically while typing this) states that "our culture represents the pinnacle of human achievement". One word: arrogant. Lets have a look at capitalism and communism as his example. Communism apparently failed because it produced too little at too high a cost (much like renewable energy versus oil). But then again, as Orr rightfully puts it, capitalism has also failed us, because it produces too much, shares too little, also at too high a cost to our children and grandchildren (and quite quite frankly, current generations - look at the impacts already as a result of climate change). Capitalism is failing because it destroys morality altogether. We live in a disintegrating culture. 

I absolutely love the words of Ron Miller, which Orr uses in his essay that 

"our culture does not nourish that which is best or noblest in the human spirit. It does not cultivate vision, imagination, or aesthetic or spiritual sensitivity. It does not encourage gentleness, generosity, caring, or compassion. Increasingly in the late 20th century, the economic-technocratic-statist worldview has become a monstrous destroyer of what is loving and life-affirming in the human soul". 

Our education is a reflection of our culture in a sense. We spurt out people with aspirations and visions that we can all have a piece of an infinite pie. People who have become ignorant of the things we must know to live (well) and sustainably as a species on Earth. In the words of Thomas Merton "mass production of people literally unfit for anything except to take part in an elaborate and completely artificial charade". 

Well...so what are we going to do about it? I suppose its easy. because everyone is capable of change - and we are all responsible for our own learning in the end. After all - we are "only cogs in an ecological mechanism such that, if they work with that mechanism, their mental and material wealth can expand indefinitely but if they refuse to work with it, it will ultimately grind them to dust". Leopold - "if education does not teach us these things, then what is education for?" Mmmmm....lets all have a big think about the changes we can make...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Wake up Call!

So I was listening to my music this morning while I was getting ready for work; a band called 'Rebelution', and the lyrics of this song struck me. They say it like it is! Check it out: 

It's a shame when somebody shows,
Diamonds and pearls to those you don't,
This goes out to the wealthy homes,
That under the moonlight there's a road,
To a place for the struggling,
Where people treat you like a human being,
Free of racism and other things,
Free from money and the imagery,
Why oh why has it come to be?
People look up to celebrities,
They do nothing for you and me,
They should be giving it up to the community,
And this ain't just domestic man,
This is a world wide problem and,
Still people kill for the oil ya,
Why you ask? Well cause there's demand,
But stay on top says the businessman,
And let the world be left to strand,
Hey next month I'll make twice the grand,
Things they are going just as planned,
And he'll spend most of it on what he sees,
Maybe buy something he may never need,
See now this is the mentality,
Wake up call this is reality
You see now this is the mentality,
Wake up call this is reality
Yesterday I saw a man explain,
Why he bought his seventh car to date,
How does it feel to live the life you like,
With millions of us left without a ride?
And yet we look up to the stars and dream,
What's it's like to live among elite,
I see the future in a rut,
With the poorest of the people in the mud
Well here's a message Mr. Business man,
The more you make the more the gap expands,
The more you give the more the love you land,
The more you take the more we suffer man,
But he'll spend most of it on what he sees,
Maybe buy something he may never need,
See now this is the mentality,
Wake up call this is reality
You see now this is the mentality,
Wake up call this is reality

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A few thoughts on the mis-use of the new and sexy word "sustainability"

I received an email from one of my "sustainability" mailing lists the other day. It read:

                                      Coal – Energy for Sustainable Development

No kidding. I suppose there is not something that shockingly controversial in the title. Its not like it says "Coal: A sustainable energy supply". But never-the-less....this was an email notification a report released on coal and its role in clean energy. Mmmm. Interesting. Yar, you can look it up yourself...http://www.worldcoal.org/coal-energy-access/.

Anyway. Coming back from a three-week holiday visiting my sister in Australia, and I come back with a few new experiences and thoughts with this kind of thing in mind. How big corporations, and, for that matter, anyone who has profit in mind, have suddenly jumped on the bandwagon of using the words "sustainable" and "sustainable development" in such a way that I am not sure they actually know what it means.

Two of my friends in the Balaton group, a network of sustainability actors I am part of, recently wrote an extremely good paper entitled "Peak metals, minerals, energy, wealth, food and people towards the end of the golden age; considerations for a sustainable society". Here, they give beautiful definitions of what "sustainability" and "sustainable development" is supposed to mean. They say that "sustainability" is about making an activity take such shape that it can go on virtually forever, without ruining its own conditions. They say that this is fundamentally different from "sustainable development", which in itself needs careful thought on what exactly is meant by "development", or "sustainable growth", which in itself, they say, does not actually exist as a reasonable concept. They go on to say

"Hard thermodynamic limits are set by mass balances for use resources in finite supply (energy, metals, structural materials, fibre, and food through phosphorus and nitrogen). Only resources that have inbuilt regeneration function may be made to last for ever. Limits are also set by social systems in terms of personal integrity and security, interpersonal trust, transparency and degree of democracy. These are different from sustainable development which sometimes include perpetual economic or mass volume growth, which is not possible on a limited Earth and therefore greatly unsustainable."

Anyway, back to my trip to Australia. So there I sat on the "cheapest possible flight" my travel agent friend was able to procure for me. This meant me flying from Windhoek, Namibia, via Johannesburg, RSA to Abu Dhabi, UAE, to Sydney, AUS and then finally to Brisbane, AUS - my final destination. Interesting. In the in-flight magazines, there were mutliple articles on how the airlines are trying to mitigate their emissions, reduce their environmental impacts, and so on. Yet....it is cheaper to fly halfway around the world in several airplanes...than to actually fly a straight, minimum-mile usage, flight path...which would greatly reduce emissions. Now can you imagine how many cheapo people there are out there who are accumulating ridiculous amounts of unnesseray carbon emissions because they are flying via Dubai, when all they need to do is fly from London to Johannesburg, or whatever.

And then...mining. I absolutely LOVE how mining is trying to get in on their "sustainability" slogans. Not that I want to bash them totally...but it seems like such a contradiction to say that "we will mine sustainably". Because within the lines of the definition of sustainability I happen to agree with, mining is not sustainable. It has a short lifespan, contributes much money (often to a tiny amount of people at the cost of many) and then suddenly comes to a halt, leaving behind low qualty, often dangerous and environmentally degraded areas. But wait! There is another deposit....that will buy us another 20 years.

It all just seems so ridiculous. How we can be so intelligent, and so stupid at the same time. We have the ability to live sustainably, and we actually need to do it this way. And yet, for decades, we are brainwashed by the five percent who are forcing the system into what it is, making themselves immensely rich (on value-less items), with the rest of us blindly lapping up the idea that this is what we all want to be: immensely rich. In the meantime the world is slowly becoming a sad and poor place (by poor I mean in terms of things that have value); while at the same time we go around pretending to care about sustainability and superficially doing our part by "using a spoon twice for our coffees". 

Thoughts that are neither here nor there. But something to think about.