"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.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

What hope for our future? It's a matter of hearts and minds

I've just been given the link to a superb essay My Great Hope for the Future on a great blog worth following Do the Math. It's by Tom Murphy, an associate professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego.

"Our predicament," he says, "is that we rode the fossil fuel bonanza to the highest possible heights, without a plan for what to do when the inheritance tapers off." And of course that inheritance is tapering off. But what to do about it. 

Tom is like me concerned deeply with the non-sustainability of our obsession with growth as an economic model, and the linked unsustainability of our profligate lifestyles. See his list of "problems", which he prefers to refer to as predicaments, and his ideas about what we would have more or less of  in his imagined new world. It all sounds good to me, but won't appeal to all, and he agrees with me that this all calls for a change in our values, not to mention a recognition of personal responsibility. Not the most exciting prospect of the future perhaps for some, but better surely than not much of a future at all? 

Any way it's a good essay - well worth reading!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Climate Change Deniers in US Schools

My last post here was on the education of our children - I called for the need to help them develop into decent citizens equipped with a spiritual literacy, and properly prepared to accept  responsible and fulfilling roles in the world.
Now I have found some disturbing news from America on the teaching of science. There has been a long running saga over whether or not Creationism should be taught in schools as an acceptable theory, as against evolution. Now there is a further twist. Apparently according to New Scientist the Oklahoma House of Representatives has moved closer to approving a bill that some fear will allow for the teaching not only of creationism but also of climate change denial in the classroom.
Now this is worrying indeed. The science behind climate change and man's contribution to global warming is just about indisputable now. The implications for our children and grandchildren are potentially serious. If children are brought up to share a cynicism and skepticism with their elders about climate change what hope is there to make any real moves towards more sustainable living in a country whose ecological footprint is something like twice that of Europe per capita.
Not that Europeans can afford to be complacent either. It already takes Earth something like eighteen months to replenish the resources we use globally in a year. If everyone shared our levels of consumption in the West, we would need somewhere between three to five planets like Earth to sustain us. Commonsense tells us that the figures simply do not add up. Our behaviour is totally unsustainable in the long term.
We can all see the violent natural disasters for ourselves, and observe that the poorest amongst us suffer the most for the damage caused when houses collapse or are washed or blown away, livestock drowns or starves to death, disease spreads through stricken areas. I know many would love to believe that the earth will always be able to sustain the profligate Western lifestyle as it spreads across the whole world.
But Earth has finite resources and is groaning.
Personal prejudices should not be allowed to stand in the way of teaching good science. 

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Educating our children

Most of our young people are wonderful! But we seem to be failing far too many of them. Every time I read about those disaffected youth who are setting fire to old established family businesses, getting into drink and drugs in a big way, spending all day glued to TV's and computer games, I ponder where we are going wrong, and inevitably I always come back to education.
I visited Herm a few years ago, a very small Channel Island ‘community’ where life of necessity is simple. I watched the children playing outside, gloriously free and dirty and happy, using what nature has given them, the trees and bushes and grass and flowers, and their own abilities to run and hide and shout and climb trees, to be themselves. There was not an adult in sight. And I recalled the vision held by Alastair McIntosh in his wonderfully inspirational book Soil and Soul for a spiritually rich and holistic education. He imagines a life-long curriculum of organic food and biodiversity, energy alternatives and respect for all, healing skills incorporating not only the most advanced scientific advances but also the spiritual healing principles, of poetry and story. There would be the study of conflict resolution and how to eliminate the causes of war. And the kids would have fun and play in tree houses.
The Dalai Lama stresses that education ‘constitutes one of our most powerful weapons in our quest to bring about a better, more peaceful, world.’ (1)He emphasizes the need to open children’s eyes to the needs and rights of others, so that their actions have a universal dimension, and they develop their ‘natural feelings of empathy so that they come to have a sense of responsibility towards others.’ He reminds us that traditionally it has been assumed that ethical and human values would be taught through a child’s religious upbringing rather than in mainstream state education. With the declining influence of religion and faith in family life this vital part of a child’s education has become neglected. The Dalai Lama proffers three guidelines for the education of our children. First, he says, we need to awaken their consciousness to basic human values by showing them how these are relevant to their future survival, rather than presenting them as solely an ethical or faith issue. Then we must teach them how to discuss and debate, to understand the value of dialogue rather than violence for resolving conflict. Finally there is the urgent need to teach children that differences of race, faith, culture, while important to preserve, are nevertheless secondary to the equal rights of us all from whatever background to be happy. And of course this is best done in the security of a close loving family unit.
The Global Justice Movement describes the purpose of education as to ‘teach people how to become life-long learners and virtuous human beings, with the capacity to adapt to change, to become masters of technology and builders of civilization through their ‘leisure work,’ and to pursue the highest spiritual values.’
Alastair McIntosh’s wish list is long but the spiritual message is clear. Such an education is about ‘building of community as right relationship between soil, soul and society, powered by the passion of the heart, steered by the reason of the head, and then applied by the skilled technique of the hand.’

Regrettably the purpose of education as seen in most of our traditional schools is to train people for jobs, rather than to be the rounded and spiritually grounded citizens of tomorrow. As a result the system becomes shackled by the needs of exams and syllabuses and league tables. May it come to pass sooner rather than later that many more of our schools come to be judged not only on their position in academic league tables but on how successfully they turn out well rounded, happy, respectful, empathic and spiritual citizens.

(1) His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Ancient Wisdom Modern World: Ethics for the New Millennium (London: Abacus, Time Warner Books UK, 2000), p.192.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Is Civilization losing its meaning of soul? And should we care?

"The problem is no longer simply the philosophic one of understanding history, but the practical one of controlling it.... By sheer numbers the world is ripe for famine and degradation on an undreamt-of scale.... That being so, we must bootstrap ourselves out of our animality in new ways, and quickly, or face better than even odds of becoming an evolutionary casualty…"

This was written by Charles F Fair in 1969, in The Dying Self in which he also warned us that when a civilization loses its meaning of soul it is coming to an end.

I have felt that we lost our sense of soul and sacredness in very many ways quite some time ago and I have written elsewhere in some detail about this malaise and what we might be able to do about it.
Whilst trying to find the source of the Charles Fair quote I also stumbled upon a terrific essay on the internet: The Recovery of the Soul in the Wreckage called Western Culture, by Pat Frantz Kery, and for which she won the prestigious Alexander Imich Award (as far as I know Alex Imich is still alive at 109).

The essay is on the site of the Ashville Magazine, "going beyond green to nourish body, mind and spirit," written from Ashville North Carolina for Cultural Creatives both there and everywhere. 
Do read the essay in full. There's some terrific material in it. 

Friday, 17 February 2012

A Cairn of Hope

A lovely idea seen in Exeter Cathedral

Pick up a stone and feel its texture and weight.
Think of someone you know who is carrying a heavy burden or a situation where people are struggling to cope.
Place your stone on the cairn asking that the person or situation it represents may be carried by the One who knows all our burdens - Jesus Christ, Saviour of the World.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Chicken Farming in Georgia

Please follow the link and watch this video and see how chickens are reared and slaughtered in the State of Georgia and prepare to be distressed and then reflect that this is not just about Georgia - it's about us all thinking more about where our meat and eggs comes from - and then please support Compassion in World Farming.

see also the newly launched 

Or do you prefer it to be 
Out of sight out of mind?

This is not just about animal welfare - although that has to be of major concern - it's about our own health and the health of the environment.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Stonehenge in the Snow

The ancient collection of stones known as Stonehenge - dated as 3100 BC, estimated 30 million hours of labor to construct, reason for construction a mystery - from human sacrifice to astronomical purpose. Lots more information here.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Saving the habitat of the Polar Bear

Whilst many bury their heads in the sand and ignore the effects of global warming, refuse to accept that urgent actions are required, how heartening it is to know that others are actually cracking on and taking positive measures to try to lessen the effects and at the same time preserve some of its most iconic victims.
The World Wildlife Fund and Coca-Cola are in partnership to rescue the Arctic habitat of the Polar Bear. The role of Coca-Cola is to raise awareness and funds for this initiative, in a project called Arctic Home.

This is just one of many conservation projects run by the WWF in partnership with many different corporate organisations, as well as "U.S. government agencies ...such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Oceanic & Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and others."
They need our support. Please follow the links and read more about the work they do on a global basis.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Local currency about to be launched - the Bristol Pound

What splendid news - I read that something I recommended in my book Healing This Wounded Earth, that is, the spread of local currency schemes like LETS, is happening. UK city Bristol is due to launch its own Bristol Pound in May.
Community Currencies flourished in the United States in the Great Depression but did not survive World War II and the post war economic boom. They have been successfully resurrected and now there are thousands of schemes in the United States alone and many more worldwide.
LETS (The Local Exchange Trading System) is probably the most widely available and best-known system and is well established globally. This system trades in Green Dollars, a unit invented and designed by Michael Linton and David Weston in British Colombia Canada in the 1980s.
Money Shot Pictures, Images and PhotosIn the UK this Bristol scheme is thought to be unique as it will also be the first which can be used to pay local business taxes.
A BBC West article by Dave Harvey, their Business Correspondent, 'Bristol Pound' currency to boost independent traders,explains the scheme in detail.
How many more similar schemes are in the pipeline or will start up given the turmoil in the world's economies at the moment.

Well done Bristol! I hope this succeeds.

No Need to Panic about Global Warming

I'm really getting pretty fed up with the people who insist on burying their heads in the sand over the whole issue of global warming and climate change. Now a paper as influential as the Wall Street Journal, that frankly should be more responsible, has published an opinion piece "No Need to Panic About Global Warming There's no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to 'decarbonize' the world's economy."

Now check out the other view, Dismal Science at the Wall Street Journal, from the website of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

How do we convince people that this threat is for real and make them look beyond their own cosy lifestyle to the bigger global picture? I think the Wall Street Journal should now balance that article with the majority view from the science community.

China, Giant Pandas and Living with the Planet

Did you know that you can identify a particular giant panda by the length of the pieces of bamboo shards in its droppings? No, neither did I. It's all to do with the fact that each animal has its own 'bite', peculiar to itself.
I learnt this little known fact reading a gem of a book I found in the shop at St Paul's Cathedral London, down in the crypt. I was really just biding time waiting for someone, but I'm glad I strolled in to browse, because this book is superb.
Catherine von Ruhland is a journalist and writer, with a particular interest in green issues. As she says herself in her Introduction, in this book she wanted to go beyond the "put your bottles in the bottlebank" type of book, with lists of things we should all be doing at local level. Actually quite a few of us are getting quite good at that anyway (although we cannot be complacent- many have a long way to go!).
Von Ruhland wants to help us see our individual actions in a global context, to understand and recognise the way we coexist alongside the people, plants and animals across continents with whom we share this wonderful but groaning planet.
And she does this admirably, in a beautifully illustrated book, Living with the Planet: Making a Difference in a Time of Climate Change. Starting with chapters on the earth's atmosphere, the earth itself, and its oceans, von Ruhland then goes on to look at each of the continents in turn. This is such a refreshingly new and informative way of considering our global environmental issues.
And she starts with Asia, our largest continent, including of course China.
There is a massive misperception in the West that China cares not a jot about environmental issues. 
Add to this the oft- quoted statistic about the proliferation of their fossil fuel guzzling power stations and this is all the excuse that many need to sit back and do nothing in the West. Why should we do anything, we say, when we can't possibly make a difference on our own?
I wrote only the other day about China taking advice from the Daoists on environmental issues - the first time ever, or for 900 years, depending on which source of information you use.
And they also care about their giant pandas. This book tells us that the Chinese government has been concerned about the population of this wonderful iconic creature for over forty years, initiating its First National Panda Survey as long ago as 1974, later involving the World Wildlife Fund in 1980. Essential conservation work, including reforestation, poaching control, establishment of further reserves and taking action to prevent inbreeding, for example, has been successful. Part of the work has involved equipping nature reserve staff with the technology to help them in their conservation work, and this is where the droppings come in! The work of the nature reserves in re-establishing breeding populations of giant pandas has been so successful that after three National Panda Surveys a fourth one may not be even necessary.
So let's think again before we instinctively knock China. And let's revise the way many of us think about environmental issues. Actually in years to come China's problem is going to be our problem as well. Let's go global, one continent at a time. At the end of each chapter, the author includes a list of practical suggestions for how we can take action. There are some simple things we can all do if we really have the heart and mind attuned to helping our global brethren. I shall come back to some of these in later posts.
For a start how about checking out Friends of the Earth and seeing how we can all support their projects.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

China's Power Stations

Over the last few weeks and indeed months it seems that climate change and sustainability issues have been lost under the welter of stories about banks and Occupy demonstrations and tax scandals. So it was refreshing to hear a radio programme the other day about responsible shopping and "green" issues regarding what we eat and wear. But sadly the same old chestnut came out about why should we bother where our tomatoes come from when China commissions a new filthy fossil fuel burning power station every week.
Quite apart from the fact that this does not excuse us from living sustainably and responsibly, (two wrongs after all never made a right), the Chinese Government is listening to the concerns of the world and turning to religion, to its own Daoist followers, for their wisdom and advice. 'No one disputes the astonishing growth of consumerism and wealth in China today and increasingly China is trying to address whether this is sustainable,' said Martin Palmer, Secretary General of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation. 'But maybe deeper than this,' he continues, 'is the question of whether China can also be compassionate, wise and community-focused once again. This is why the Chinese Communist government for the first time ever is meeting with the Daoists of China (China's oldest religion) to see how this ancient wisdom and spirituality might put a heart back into the ever-expanding body of modern China.'

Mr Xu Jia Lu, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, former vice president of the Beijing Normal University, and president of the China Association for Promoting Democracy, is quoted as saying:
“Humankind needs to urgently return to the wisdom of ancient sages. Their words and philosophical thinking are more closely related to the real truth and rules of our world. What kind of inspiration or wisdom can we learn from the Daoist idea that “Dao follows nature”?”

So let's not despair, as the lady phoning into our radio programme seems to be doing. Surely this action on China's part represents a small glimmer of hope?

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Ed Lester and The Student Loans Company

We seem to be on a permanent witch-hunt these days for anyone who we can use as a scapegoat for the ills that may be besetting us, or our country. We seem to pick on anyone who might, in our own view, be doing rather better than we are as we struggle with reduced pensions, threatened jobs, unemployment, illness, whatever. Quite often, and more so as time goes by, I feel that these responses by the public have more to do with envy or greed or malice or revenge or a sense of a general lack of fairness; often whipped up, it has to be said, by the media.
When I was young I well remember a girl in my class saying "but please Miss X, that's not fair".
The response we received gave us an idea of how Oliver and the boys must have felt after he had the temerity to ask for "more."
Miss X, (identity disguised to protect the living!) thumped her fist down hard on her desk on the raised dias at the front of the class (the raised platform gave the teachers a superiority and disciplinary advantage over the class.) "Life," she said, "is never fair. And the sooner you girls all understand this, the happier your lives will be."
I forgot much of the Latin she taught us, but I never forgot that one lesson for life.
I wonder now with hindsight whether life had already dealt her an 'unfair' blow. In an 'all girls' school in the late 1950s only three of our teachers were married, and they were, shall we say, of mature age by then, with families of their own. All the rest were young and single, often sharing accommodation with another members of our staff. We never thought about it at the time, but how many of those young ladies, I wonder now, had lost their "sweethearts" in the war? And we certainly never ever thought that there might be anything else behind these relationships! Gay meant happy in those innocent days!
But let's get to the point:
None of us like paying tax, of course we don't. Although many of us accept, albeit sometimes grudgingly, that we see the returns by way of the public services that we use. We certainly like to feel that we are not the only one paying our fair share of tax - whatever that means.
But we are all entitled to claim every allowance available to us to reduce our tax bill, to arrange our tax affairs in such a way as to legally reduce to a minimum the amount we pay. This is tax avoidance and is perfectly legal. Tax evasion is something else. It is dishonest, against the tax laws, and defrauds the Revenue of its rightful tax income.
But where is the line drawn? Because somewhere between the two is a murky area where the scheme a tax payer may use, usually with the help of expensive accountancy advice, is so complex and artificial that it falls outside the spirit even if it is within the strict letter of the law. Private service companies are a very simple, well- established, and legal tax saving device, but they come with their own anti-avoidance rules attached, drawn up to prevent any perceived abuse of the law.
Granted that the media almost certainly don't know the full facts of the case as yet, where is the use of Mr Ed Lester's service company likely to fall along this scale between avoidance and evasion? Does it make any difference that the user of his services is the Student Loan Company and that if they employed him rather than him being employed by his own service company then he would be a civil servant?
The issues here seem to be partly that he is a top public servant, that he is apparently working full time for the Student Loans Company, that not long ago the Government said they were going to cut down on "Tax Avoidance" and that in the present economic mess, the Government proclaim that "we are all in this together."
And so it's not fair, is it?

Photos are at Studland Bay and environs, Isle of Purbeck, Dorset

It's Time you knew - by Transition Rachel at YouTube

Many reasons to love La Gomera



with vapor trails


Total Pageviews