"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Noveltea - the Bristol Tea Party

Photos of the Noveltea party held by a bunch of students in Bristol last year in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care. It was a great success.
Do visit the Noveltea website. It's great fun. When all is said and done, we all enjoy an afternoon tea and cake. Noveltea takes this experience to a new level.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Economy - Where is our compassion? Where is our Empathy?

On 28th January I wrote of our Irrational Behaviors, following the theme of the essay by Ervin Laszlo on “The World’s Health Problem: an Integral Diagnosis” in A New Renaissance – Transforming Science, Spirit and Society. Our Irrational Behavior Number One is that "Millions are suffering from overeating and obesity and a thousand million go hungry."Where, I asked, was our compassion for our fellow humankind? Where is our empathy?

Now I want to move on to Laszlo's Irrational Behavior number 2.

"The wellbeing and possibly the very survival of humanity are in question, but most of us remain occupied or preoccupied with making money and holding on to our privileges."

I love this Greenpeace banner:

When the last tree is cut, the last river poisoned, and the last fish dead, we will discover that we can't eat money...

And here is a thought from Satish Kumar from his classic article “Spiritual Imperative,” in Resurgence 2005.

"This notion of spiritless existence can be described as materialism. All is matter; land, forests, food, water, labour, literature and art are commodities to be bought and sold in the marketplace - the world market, the stockmarket, the so-called free market… Business without spirit, trade without compassion, industry without ecology, finance without fairness, economics without equity can only bring the breakdown of society and destruction of the natural world. Only when spirit and business work together can humanity find coherent purpose."

And here is one of my least favorite quotes:

‘What...[is wealth]…to you?’ the headline asked. ‘It’s being able to tell the world to get lost.’ This was from a series of bank advertisements run some while ago on the management of wealth, and it appeared in the popular glossy weekend media. To accompany this particular advert. there was a picture of a lone and pretty girl cantering away on a lovely white stallion into the beautiful and totally unblemished distance.

How can any single one of us afford to turn our back on the world in this way in any sense. How can any of us ride away to an unblemished horizon while so many basic human rights are not available to so many? That surely diminishes us as human beings. But someone, indeed a team of people, wrote that advertisement.

Where is our compassion? Where is our empathy?

But I see a glimmer of hope in what is coming out of Davos, the little mountain village in Switzerland where once a year corporate CEOs, heads of state, and leaders of nonprofit organizations from around the globe gather to reflect upon the state of the world at the “World Economic Forum." Reporting from Davos, Jim Wallis in an article at the Sojourners site Values from Davos, tells us that whilst in previous years he has struggled to bring the subject of moral values within the economy into the mainstream of discussions, now we are in economic crisis, the values conversations suddenly seem far more relevant. In 2009, he tells us,“there were 17 sessions with the word “values” in the title.” Now new buzz topics are “human flourishing” and “the common good.” And business executives have been telling him that they feel alone in their soul-searching for values, and business ethics professors at some of the country’s leading business schools tell him that their courses are over-subscribed, yet they still feel marginal to the curriculum.
But behaviors created this crisis, and unless values talk leads to changed behaviors, it won’t mean very much, he says. This is so much music to my ears - my own thesis really.
Wallis now finds himself the chair of a new Global Agenda Council on Values, its task to shape what the World Economic Forum is calling the “Moral Economy Dialogue.” This is intended to develop serious tools for personal, organizational, corporate, and national values assessments that focus on changing behaviors.

I quote Wallis: "This is all good news to Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of Davos who, as a young Swiss economist many years ago, wrote about the need for business to not only take into account the interests of shareholders, but also of the many other stakeholders — including employees, consumers, the poor, the environment, and future generations…That Davos would take these issues very seriously…is good news…But the headline in yesterday’s International Herald Tribune — “The Super-Rich Pull Ever Farther Ahead” — indicated we still have a long way to go. Many of those super-rich are at Davos, and I indicated yesterday that the only people whose lives seem to have got back to “normal” since the financial crisis began are those whose behaviors caused it in the first place. They are back to record profits, while a seminar I attended yesterday showed how dramatic and devastating unemployment still is around the globe — especially for young people.”

Yes there is hope. But we need two things urgently. We need to develop and feel our empathy for our fellow humanity, in everything we do, at all levels. And we need to address what is a basically flawed economy. I will come back to both these needs in future blogs. This is a big subject, but one we cannot ignore any longer.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Friday, 28 January 2011

Abundant food or parched earth? Where is our empathy? Where is our compassion?

Over the last few weeks I have written about the essay by Ervin Laszlo on “The World’s Health Problem: an Integral Diagnosis” in A New Renaissance – Transforming Science, Spirit and Society. Laszlo concludes: “the world is (1) socially, economically and ecologically unsustainable, (2) saddled with irrational behaviours and (3) governed by obsolete beliefs and aspirations.”

I have covered the four obsolete beliefs in previous recent blogs: that we think the planet is inexhaustible, that we believe that “nature is a mechanism,” that life is a struggle where only the fittest survive, and that Adam Smith's free market will distribute the benefits of economic activity.

Now I want to move on to Laszlo's list of Irrational Behaviors.

Number One: "Millions are suffering from overeating and obesity and a thousand million go hungry."

We have an obesity epidemic in the developed western world. Indeed obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the USA. An estimated 65% of U.S. adults, aged 20 years and older, and 15% of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. Around 34% of adults are obese. That amounts to c. 59 million people! The figures elsewhere are not much better. In 2006 24% of the adult English population were obese, and in children up to 15 years of age the figure was 16%. And both figures are increasing. We can all see it all around us.

The truth is that we have forgotten how to live simply and sustainably with totally unselfish regard for those around us. We have lost the ability to generously share, to ensure that everyone in the same household has had their fill before going ourselves for second helpings.

We have abundant food. Others have only cracked parched earth.

Where is our empathy? Where is our compassion?

We need to find more and better ways to adapt to sustainable living in a world where we can be sure that our good fortune is shared, where everyone has their basic human needs met, where hunger becomes history.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Art in Bournemouth for AIDs

These wonderful painted tiles caught my eye in a pedestrian underpass in Bournemouth. The whole wall was tiled with them; A colourful display of which this is just a small sample. And a moving and permanent tribute to all those who have lost their lives to AIDs in Dorset.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

music and healing

I went to see director and choreographer Matthew Bourne's ballet interpretation of Cinderella, music by Prokofiev, the other evening in London, at Sadler's Wells. I enjoyed it. It was typical Matthew Bourne, in the style of his enormously successful Edward Scissorhands, that I saw twice. There was his typical quirky interpretation, this time set in the London Blitz of the Second World War.

But I did not think it had very much soul. Let me explain.

The choreographer Arlene Phillips once said of dance that it engages the brain, the heart, the body and the soul. I can find watching a beautiful ballet an uplifting and spiritual experience. The theme of Michael Mayne’s book Learning to Dance is ‘the dance of life; the dance of the cosmos, of the natural world and of the tiniest particle of matter; the dance of music and paint and words, whereby artists may make journeys into the unknown in order to recapture lost parts of themselves for our mutual healing.’ Shamanic healing rituals certainly involve dance.
This ballet did not for me have that quality, although it was jolly good entertainment.

And I was also reminded that there is a darker side to music, which probably says much about me and the "black dog" that was stalking me at the time I saw Bourne's production.

The psychiatrist Anthony Storr discusses the possible evil powers of music in his book Music and the Mind, citing as one example the music used by the campaigning Hitler to heighten the emotions of the crowd.
Is black metal and death metal music written from wounds and hurts? Is this destructive to the listener? Or does it satisfy some need? Does it in some way harmlessly channel such wounds during a healing process? Storr is confident that ‘Plato and Aristotle were right. Music is a powerful instrument of education which can be used for good or ill,’ and we should, he says, ‘ensure that everyone in our society is given the opportunity of participating in a wide range of different kinds of music.’He refers to Allan Bloom, who expressed an anxiety in his own best selling albeit controversial book The Closing of the American Mind that the popularity of rock music among students was banishing ‘any interest in, or feeling of need for, any other kind of music.’ This is serious, Bloom says, because great music is ‘powerfully educative.’

Don Campbell in The Mozart Effect writes that he looks forward to new knowledge on the use of music in therapy and healing and his hope is that such information ‘may also influence musical performance, composition, and listening tastes, contributing to the development of individuals and fostering a world community more attuned to the healthful and peaceful rhythms of life.’ This he says would indeed be a ‘joyous revolution.’It certainly would be, but sadly most ‘popular’ musicians of today seem to be motivated to write and perform what they think will sell rather than what will be a healing force for good in the world.
And we provide the demand!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

stop the drop - stop the litter

I was driving to the supermarket this morning - yes I know, I should use and support the local shops more - but at least I combine that car trip with a jaunt, with my rubbish, to the recycling bins, the charity shops, the council's own rubbish and recycling centre, then on to the garage to pick up petrol, call in on a friend on the way back, pop into the church to do my regular verger duties etc. So the trip is as "green" as I can possibly make it. And if you think I live profligately with all this rubbish, it is as far as possible recyclable or compostable - the only stuff in my dustbin these days is plastic (see recent post) and I am working very very hard to reduce that even more.
So back to my trip.
The road to the shops is quite fast and dangerous, with nasty blind bends that catch incautious drivers out. There along the side of that road were council workmen, picking up bag loads of rubbish that thoughtless motorists toss out of their windows. What a dangerous job, I thought - and at a cost that we, the rate payers, indirectly pay for. A bit of serendipity here - driving back home along the same route there was an item on the radio discussing just this point - how much litter picking costs us all, and how lives are endangered when it is cleaned up.
Which is why I support everything Bill Bryson is doing with his Stop the Drop campaign, to clean up our countryside. I know I have written of this before but it is so important I make no apology.
And I am sure England is not unique in this regard - how much of a problem is litter in the States, for example. Please let me know.

If only we could all nurture a reverence, a love and respect for the natural world around us, listen to what it is telling us and be open to its healing powers.
Then we would no longer want to destroy it. We would no longer want to defile it with our gas guzzling cars, our litter and filth, our plastics, our bottles and our cans. We could regain our spirituality and seek a simpler life. We could discover humility and vulnerability and a compassion for all living beings. We could even walk barefoot upon the earth, because as Alastair McIntosh writes in Soil and Soul, we ‘tread on the earth so much more gently barefoot.’

Monday, 24 January 2011

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Charlie Doherty

I was so heartened the other day (14th Jan) by a news item on TV – of Charlie, now 11, but who from the age of 4 has been asking all friends and relations not to give him presents – but to give money to charities instead. After all, he said to the microphone and camera – we don’t need it, we have so much, and so many have so little. Peoples’ faces light up, he said. Mary’s Meals is his favourite charity of the moment. And even between birthdays and Christmas, he is busy washing cars etc to raise money for charity. So far he has raised £15,000. What an achievement! Well done Charlie.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Floods and Climate Change

Images on our TV screens showing the extent of the Queensland floods are almost unbelievable. Images of the Brazilian mud slides and the dreadful suffering and loss of human life there just add to the dismay we feel for the plight of all these people.

But we are struck by the greater potential for survival in Australia. It is a wealthier country of course, and the people are more able to build quality housing, that can better resist all that nature can throw at them. In Brazil, the dwellings are often of cheap construction, perched on the hills, often without planning permission, certainly much more vulnerable to natural disaster.

“We saw the distress that extreme weather can inflict in the 2005 devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. Even those who cannot quite believe or accept the evidence for the part humankind may be playing in climate change cannot deny the extent of human suffering now seen on a global scale. This then becomes more than a debate on climate change. It becomes a matter of human compassion and justice. These injustices brew a potentially dangerous potion of civil unrest and worse. There is a social and moral imperative for us all to share everything, to watch out for each other, to work for global healing. I believe we can no longer ignore our global responsibilities.

It is also a great injustice that those countries with materially comfortable lifestyles are often least affected by the climate change that we now know is ‘very likely’ to have been brought about by our own profligate squandering of natural resources. The developed world has the resources to adapt most easily to any of the resultant climate change. It is the dispossessed and vulnerable in the poorer parts of the world who suffer disproportionately with hunger and disease and homelessness in the face of droughts, floods, tsunamis, and other natural disasters. The habitats of the poor are fragile, and they cannot afford to build defenses or replace their homes and livelihoods without our help. Does it matter whose fault, if any, it is?

Yes it does. There is actually enough productive capacity in the world to provide every living man woman and child with a decent basic way of life. It is important that we help communities become self sufficient for a better future. It is also imperative that we curb our own excesses, that we stop violating the natural world around us, that we acknowledge the integrity of our finely balanced ecosystems. Every time we drive one more animal or plant to extinction, not only are we poorer for that, but also the effect on the fragile balance of planetary life may be profound. That is why it is so important, and ever more urgent, that we do not compromise our future by today’s actions, or indeed through our inactions.

Huge disasters such as we are seeing now simply remind us of this.

The photo is from the cover of Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living by Nick Spencer and Robert White (Paperback - 1 Aug 2007)

Friday, 21 January 2011

Floods in La Gomera

The little town of Playa de Santiago in La Gomera woke up one morning to devastation - an abnormally high tide had coincided with a storm and the waves had swept across the coast road, flooding the basements of shops, knocking down stone walls, and totally trashing the sea level gardens and swimming pool of the hotel at the end of the town, the Hotel Jardin Tecina. But the staff at the hotel were soon working hard to rectify the damage and now all is well and truly back to normal!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

What is Good

I wasn’t looking for this book specifically. It caught my attention in a second-hand bookshop and I thought it might have a contribution to make to the debate on religious tolerance and the future of the world; I have not been disappointed.

This is a book for the general reader, we are told, a non- academic survey and an exploration of the Western philosophical basis of morality, ethics and “the Good Life,” from the ancient Greek pagan philosophers through the Renaissance, the Reformation, the scientific revolution and Enlightenment to the present day. It is a fascinating read.

The tension between the fundamentally different ways of viewing the nature and source of our values, the opposing viewpoints of the secular and the transcendental, has been felt throughout history, he tells us, but never more so than since the scientific revolution, and this tension is one of the greatest problems facing the modern world.

It is written from the Humanist’s perspective, so needless to say it has a certain bias in that direction. Unfortunately as with so much humanist and atheistic writing I found the examples he uses against Christianity and religion generally are prone to too much exaggeration, with sweeping generalisations, often not bearing much relation to what is really practised and believed today by those who have a faith in the Western world, where his focus largely lies.

For example, in the opening pages he compares the surely extreme story of a Japanese secular appreciation of aesthetics (the prose he quotes from In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki certainly conveys well the natural beauty of the world and our experiences of it) with the equally extreme story of the Christian Victorian upbringing of one child, telling us that this latter style is still common throughout the world where religion plays a dominant role. Perhaps, but I think Sam Harris makes the point rather more accurately in The End of Faith. “We should not ignore the fact,” he writes, “we must now confront whole societies whose moral and political development- in their treatment of women and children, in their prosecution of war, in their approach to criminal justice, and in their intuitions about what constitutes cruelty- lags behind our own.”

Grayling describes religion as “the technology of man’s impotence” and dismisses the metaphysical – his arguments of logic starting from the premise that there simply is no metaphysical or supernatural presence. The truth is we simply do not know, we simply cannot know, although there is some fascinating recent empirical research on the power of prayer, the presence of the supernatural, and the metaphysical. But it is very likely true, he says, that supernatural phenomena are just the way the brain works, nothing more.

So it follows that many of his arguments do not have a strong base, are not well supported. What values can we attach to a supernatural or metaphysical belief that itself cannot be taken seriously, he asks. So he dismisses anything built around that belief. My life as a Christian, apparently, is totally dictated by self -interest, my good deeds are done not from any motive of altruism or compassion, but to avoid the posthumous punishment of hell and damnation in an afterlife, and in return for posthumous rewards, to achieve “eternal bliss.” Really?

Christian morality is irrelevant, he says, to modern life, and to contemporary attitudes about what is acceptable – on human rights, oppression, war, poverty, the rich/poor divide. Christianity distracts attention from these things that really count, he writes, by concentrating instead on the “trivia” of teenage pregnancies, sex before marriage, abortion etc. The claim of the contemporary churches that they support charity and help the people of Third World countries in their distresses, demonstrating peace, kindness, brotherly love and charitable works, is the “soft face” of the church, displayed to the world when we are on the “backfoot,” a minority interest looking to recruit, primarily amongst the lonely, the desperate, the timid. When we come from a position of strength, he says, things are very different, witness the Inquisition and the Taliban, for example.

These exaggerations and inaccuracies and the language of disdain he too often uses when talking of religion or faith spoil an otherwise good book, because it is a good book, I enjoyed reading it and have learnt much about the history and thoughts of the great philosophers from ancient Greece to the present day. Of course the purpose of the book, as he admits, is to promote humanism and to show why this is the only way forward for the future of the world. Much of what he has to say is carefully reasoned; he has some very sound arguments and good points to make. But biased inaccuracies around faith and religion feed the minds of the unbelievers with ever more ammunition for their intolerance and serve only to dismay those with a faith.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

8 reasons why the earth needs healing

Someone on another blog site wrote to me thus:

"I'm not a doomsdayer and believe when the earth was created, it had all we would need to inhabit it for as long as needed. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be responsible in caring for it. God's creations are so beautiful, and we all have the errand to help those within our sphere of influence. "

The problem is that we have not been responsible. Here are 8 reasons to start with as to why action is urgent and vital:

Combined wealth of world’s billionaires equals the income of half the world’s population – 3 billion poor people, living on less than $2.5 per day.

The American places twice the environmental load of the Swede on the planet, 280 times that of the Haitian.

Human consumption is nearing, and in some cases has already surpassed, planetary maxima. Oil, fish, and lumbar production have already peaked. 40% of world coral reefs have vanished.

The amount of land that can sustainably respond to human requirements, our “earth share”, of every man woman and child on the planet is 4.2 acres. Average world usage is now 8.9 acres per person.

World population is now 7 billion against 5 billion 22 years ago.

Water and Land resources are continually being diminished. Both will become big problems – along with food shortages.

A thousand million go hungry and 6 million children die annually of starvation whilst 155 million are overweight.

The economy is in crisis.

And so on: thanks to Ervin Laszlo in A New Renaissance for this summary.

And there is no problem? There most certainly is!

We really cannot close our eyes to this – we have to consider not only today but also what we leave to children and grandchildren.

The Plastic Beach

“Marine pollution is a disgusting manifestation of modern consumerism and it necessitates rethinking the ‘story of packaging.’ ”
Thus begins an article The Plastic Beach, in the January/February 2011 edition of Resurgence, No. 264, the beautifully produced magazine “at the heart of earth, art and spirit,” edited by Satish Kumar and his team.

Now in its 45th year, Resurgence exists to encourage “inspiration for a more beautiful world where soil, soul and society are in harmony with each other.”

But back to the article and what it tells us:

Over 70% of the earth is covered by oceans, but we know more about Venus than we do about the ocean floor.
It is estimated that there are 46,000 pieces of marine debris in every square mile of ocean (United Nations Environment programme). Plastic is the greatest culprit.
There are enormous plastic gyres in the North and South Pacific, the North and South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.
In addition the oceans are toxic with chemicals from plastics that have already degraded into microscopic particles, and these chemicals have reached the food chain: mussels and lugworms have already been rendered sterile by the chemicals in some areas. All UK coastal waters contain this toxic “plastic dust.”
At lest one million sea creatures are killed every year by ingesting plastic waste – bags, bottle tops, toothbrushes, cigarette lighters. The pictures of dead birds on the beach, full of this plastic rubbish, are shocking.
I could go on…..

We must stop any more plastic getting into our oceans. Foodstuff and cosmetic packaging is a good place to start. I am not particularly proud to say that if it wasn’t for plastic rubbish I would not need a dustbin. I recycle everything else from my weekly rubbish, but my council will not take plastic for recycling, although all plastics can be recycled; it is a money thing of course. What I can do is try hard to reduce week on week the food I buy that is pre wrapped in plastic – not always easy but I’ll try very very hard.

The plastics industry itself is making some efforts, working with local councils to improve plastic recyling rates, (there is the Plastics 2020 Challenge) but that is not enough. Recycling, reusing, reducing plastic is just sticking plaster on “the gaping wound of planetary pollution.” We must create a new story, make it absolutely unacceptable to produce something that is toxic, or single use or that creates pollution. British Company Cyberpac is producing plastic bags that degrade harmlessly in water. The Good Natured Fruit Company pack their berries in cardboard trays with cellulose windows. The organic tomatoes I buy come in cardboard.

Let’s support when we shop all companies that have made an effort to reduce the toxic pollution that comes from unnecessary packaging.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Shells at Studland Bay

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Hugh's Fish Fight

In the UK we have the taste for salmon and we eat vast quantities of it. I would guess this goes back to a few years ago when we were told that oily fish is an essential part of a healthy diet. Also we don’t like bones in our fish, and salmon is quite bone free in fillet form. Now it seems that we as consumers cannot get enough salmon. So much so that to satisfy the demand at a price we are prepared to pay in the supermarkets and fishmongers, massive fish farms have been built in the lochs of Scotland.

This week I’ve watched Hugh Fearnley-Whittingshall campaigning on TV – Hugh’s Fish Fight, on Channel 4, all week. Last year he campaigned, along with Jamie Oliver, for the welfare of chickens, and as a result the industry had to make many changes – indeed is still doing so, all for the well being of chickens. This year his cause is fish sustainability. After seeing the episode on Thursday about the said fish farms I really am glad I’m a vegetarian. But I still buy salmon for the family, and I will definitely look more carefully at what I buy in future.

Fact number one: 3 tons of small wild oily fish such as anchovies are caught on the other side of the world, made into fish pellets and brought here where they are fed to our farm salmons. That is bad enough – but it gets much worse. Three tons of these small fish produce just 1 ton of the farmed salmon that ends up on our plates. How sustainable is that?

Fact number 2: The pellets are fed continuously to the fish through tubes into the tanks – and the fish certainly don’t have much room to swim around in. As a result of the overcrowding the fish get lice. Chemicals are used in the water to control the lice, but the lice also infect and kill the wild fish in the surrounding waters of the loch.

Fact number 3: Pink dyes are used in the feed to make the flesh an “acceptable” pink colour – to make the pieces of fish look more attractive to us as consumers!

Fact number 4: When the fish are big enough to “harvest” the process is absolutely horrible to watch, (although it is clearly more humane than the treatment of fish suffocated to death in nets at sea – see my recent blog on this). The fish are “hoovered” up through a big tube placed in the tank, travel through the pipe into the slaughtering and processing shed, where men are ready to guide them splashing and struggling into large sharp arrangements of knives which kill the fish before they move along the line for further processing and packing. The men who do this wear lots of waterproof protective clothing but were well bloodied by the procedure – in fact there was blood everywhere. It was a very bloody business and I found it deeply disturbing. I forget the volume of carnage per hour, 8 hours a day – but it was on a horrendous scale.

Quite apart from the question of whether and how much fish suffer, there are two further issues here. Firstly, the process for organic farmed salmon is much more environmentally sustainable and the product that reaches our plate is likely to be a healthier option, free from chemicals with unknown long term effects. Organic farmed salmon are fed on pellets made from locally sourced fish scraps – offcuts and trimmings they are called, wastage from other fish processed elsewhere and that would otherwise be thrown away. But organic salmon represents less than 5% of the total farmed salmon we eat. If we have to eat so much salmon, let’s at least go organic.

But the second issue is this. It seems we are very conservative in the fish we eat – it’s basically and almost exclusively cod, salmon or tuna. Cod stocks are dangerously low. Tuna fishing is often far from sustainable and depending on the method used can threaten other species in the sea such as dolphins and turtles. And salmon farming – well the facts are as given. So why not try all the other wonderful fish that are freely available in our seas, and give non-organic salmon, tuna and cod a break.

I could write so much more on all of this and probably will in later blogs, but do visit Hugh’s website from where you can link to the Fish Fight pages.

Now I know this story is from the UK. But in the United States 1 in every 30 Americans, that is 10 million people, back the Humane Society of the United States, an organization that seeks a humane and sustainable world for all animals and is America’s ‘mainstream force against cruelty, exploitation and neglect.’ This means that 29 out of every 30 or 290 million Americans may not care very much about animal cruelty. That is a huge number of people. Perhaps Americans need a clone of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingshall!

I also know the pictures are not of salmon! They are of the fish market in Funchal, Madeira.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Friday, 14 January 2011

Obsolete Beliefs numbers 3 and 4

Over the last few weeks I have written about the essay by Ervin Laszlo on “The World’s Health Problem: an Integral Diagnosis” in A New Renaissance – Transforming Science, Spirit and Society. Laszlo concludes: “the world is (1) socially, economically and ecologically unsustainable, (2) saddled with irrational behaviours and (3) governed by obsolete beliefs and aspirations.”

I have covered the first two obsolete beliefs in previous blogs: that we think the planet is inexhaustible, and that we believe that “nature is a mechanism.”

Here is Obsolete Belief number 3: Life is a struggle where only the fittest survive.
“The (mal) adaptation of Darwin’s theory of natural selection to society,” Laszlo writes, “produces a growing gap between rich and poor, and concentrates wealth and power in the hands of a small group of smart but often unscrupulous managers and speculators.”
And here is his Obsolete Belief number 4, which is closely linked to number 3: The Market Distributes Benefits.” Affluent people tend to hold on to the belief that the free market, governed by what Adam Smith called the “invisible hand,” distributes the benefits of economic activity…the poverty and marginalization of nearly half of the world’s population,” he writes, “is eloquent testimony to the fact that this tenet doesn’t work in the context of today’s power- and wealth-distorted global markets.”

While we enjoy material riches, real poverty is indeed rife and 923 million people across the world are hungry. In addition, almost 16,000 children die every day from hunger-related causes. That’s one child every five seconds. Yes, one child dies from hunger every five seconds.
The injustices of the rich/poor divide bring discontent and envy, particularly with the globalization of information. Poverty brings disease and lack of education, which itself perpetuates that poverty. Lack of resources also increases vulnerability to natural disasters that in the developed nations we are broadly speaking better able to handle. Inadequate and poor quality housing exacerbates the impact of floods, hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes. Although we often call such disasters ‘Acts of God’ there is evidence that some of these ‘natural’ disasters are linked to man’s own interference with the planet. There is widespread homelessness, and a devastating AIDS/HIV crisis. I have seen various estimates of the number of children who will be orphaned by AIDS in Africa by 2010, ranging from 20 million to 50 million. Even the lower figure is appalling.

These statistics are an affront to our humanity. We need to do all we can to lift the most disadvantaged in our world out of poverty. This is a matter of justice and it is a matter of human compassion.
In 1976 an economics professor Dr Muhammad Yunus conducted an experiment. He gave the equivalent of $26 to each of 42 workers. From this they all bought materials, spent a day weaving chairs or making pots and were able to sell their wares and repay the loans. Thus was born the concept of microcredit.
Microcredit refers to small loans of less than a few hundred dollars, with no collateral, at nil or no more than commercial interest rates, made to help the poorest of the poor in the third world to start up small enterprises. This enables them to spread their productive capacity and gain some measure of independence and a better standard of living. For Yunus’ subsequent work with Grameen Bank, which was founded to foster this use of microcredit, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to them both in equal shares, for ‘their efforts to create economic and social development from below’, while improving the lives of millions of people in Yunus’ native Bangladesh.
Every person we help out of poverty, and towards independence, contributes towards making the world a better place for us all.
We cannot all be in the front line, at the sharp end of humanitarian relief efforts. But we can all make a contribution, however small, to reputable aid agencies to help and support them in their work.
I have a Cooperative Community card. Every time I shop at the Co-op, one penny is taken from me for every £1 I spend, and given to local deserving charities. What a fine and painless way of helping the community where we live, helping to make it a better place for us all.

The picture, by the way, is from the cover of Creation in Crisis; Christian Perspectives on Sustainability that I have reviewed previously.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Shopping to Drop

So we have a hike in our UK VAT rate to 20%, the highest we have known. People have rushed to the shops, seduced by retailers promising to absorb the increase, not passing it on to the customer for the time being. But how much more stuff do we want? Are we shopping for personal need or greed? There is one easy way to avoid the increase in VAT. Don’t shop!
One of the joys to me of going away is not being cluttered up with possessions. It is amazing just how comfortably one can live out of a small suitcase, or in a basic tent, surrounded only by what we really do need. Alice Thomson said just this in her Opinion in The Times on 5th January, only for her the realisation came when the plane took them her and her family away on holiday without their suitcases, left languishing in the snow at Heathrow and they were forced to buy the basic essentials when they arrived at their destination.
What is it about us that we are obsessed with shopping? It is a national pastime. Why do we eat too much, consume too much? Mass consumerism is a disease of our overly comfortable Western lives. It is as if we are always feverishly looking for something to satisfy us, to fill some kind of hole in our lives. And the media are far from blameless. Driven by profit motives, they shamelessly exploit us in advertisements and articles to pamper ourselves, to treat ourselves, to have whatever we want at all times. This fuels greed rather than need. Competitions reward us with a supermarket trolley dash: the winner fills a trolley with as much as possible from the shelves in a frenzied grab over a given time. Color supplements publish glossy images of items we must have. Surely the fostering of pure self-indulgence is an affront to our humanity while so many starve and suffer elsewhere in the world.
That is not to say that we should deny ourselves an adequate standard of living. But neither should we live extravagantly. We should strive to live responsibly and sustainably. We should minimize our own footprint and always have regard for the needs of our fellow human beings as if they were living with us under our same family roof.
‘We need an expression,’ mused Alastair McIntosh to The Honorable Sir Maxwell MacLeod of Fuinary and the Isles as they shared a car journey in Scotland back in 1992. ‘We need something that describes the way people mask their misery by going out shopping.’ ‘How about,’ Maxwell pondered, ‘how about ‘retail therapy’?’ And that, according to McIntosh in his wonderful book Soil and Soul, is the origin of the phrase now so widely used today across the globe.

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