"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.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Compassion and Empathy part 2

I wrote recently of the need to infuse our lives with compassion and empathy, for a better world. But compassion must not stop with humans. Don't forget the animals!

I am reminded forcefully of this from seeing the latest horrors from Compassion in World Farming  who have a dreadful report on the cruelty pigs are subjected to in Italy  -  don't look if you will be upset by images of pigs that are left in appalling conditions waiting to die, maybe many days or weeks later.

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. Many farm animals are subjected to the most appallingly cruel conditions in factory farms. Would those who love their own family pets be happy for them to be treated to the same kind of cruelty? 
By our inactions we appear to condone miserable birthing cages or farrowing crates for female pigs, where they are held for months and can hardly move let alone turn around or socialize with other pigs; we eat and apparently enjoy the French delicacy pate de foie gras which requires that ducks and geese are force-fed unnaturally large quantities of food through a metal tube that is shoved down their throats and into their stomachs two or three times each day. This barbaric treatment produces a liver that is fatty, diseased and ten times the normal size. It sounds disgusting and it is; goodness knows how those birds must suffer. We prefer not to know about the calves separated from their mothers within the first few days of birth and crammed into individual crates or stalls, tethered by their necks, so they can hardly move, for the duration of their dreadful short lives; and we ignore the plight of the 280 million laying hens in the United States which spend their lives cooped up in tiny cages with no more than the space of an A4 piece of paper that they can (hardly) call their own. 
I'm sorry if you find this shocking. If you don't find it shocking then I am sorry for you - and for the fate of animals that touch your lives in any way.
Let's all make a difference. Let's all help to put an end to suffering - of humans and animals - let's cultivate empathy and compassion in all that we do!!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Compassion and Empathy

It was Percy Bysshe Shelley, in his essay A Defence of Poetry, who wrote that empathy is different from and goes way beyond sympathy or pity, and requires well-developed imagination, “the great instrument of moral good.”

There is an emerging science of empathy that is demonstrating that we are actually wired for empathy and compassion, that empathy exists at a neurophysiological level and that we are not just the outcome of a selfish gene. We all have the natural potential for showing empathy or concern to others, and this can be nurtured or crushed by the circumstances of our upbringing. But we need that affection from birth. The development of our mind depends on interactions face to face. Neuroscience tells us that specific brain areas respond to kindness and compassion and there is a correlation between the size of a child’s brain and the attention or neglect he experiences. Children who have not received sufficient care and compassion can feel unlovable, and can be high in self-criticism. In other words our social and developmental psychology is affected by the way we are brought up. This of course gives us a totally different understanding of human nature and has enormous significance for our societies. While our religion might teach us to be compassionate and loving, our upbringing might very well take us away from the possibility of such behavior coming naturally to us. It then needs to be re-learned, nurtured and encouraged. And it should be the religions that are there to bring us back on track.

“Empathy and compassion
To the shame of all the established religions, it has taken a secular initiative to kick-start what the world desperately needs and what the world’s religions pretty much all teach through the Golden Rule; that we should all be loving our neighbors as ourselves, showing compassion for all.
The religions’ historian Karen Armstrong was frustrated that not enough was seemingly being done by the world’s religions to promote their own moral codes of love and compassion. Perhaps this was a fair indictment. Compassion manifests itself in the world, she says, not by thinking but by doing and she wanted to bring compassion back to the very heart of moral and spiritual life. So with the support of the Fetzer Institute and a multi-faith, multi-national council of thinkers and leaders who helped with the drafting, the Charter for Compassion was launched globally in 2009. It is an idea whose time had definitely come.
Compassion literally means ‘to suffer with or alongside’ someone. We identify with you in your suffering; we can show mercy or sorrow with you in your pain. Empathy goes a little further and is the capacity to experience what it is like to be someone else. We can bare our own souls and walk in your shoes to share your suffering. That is true empathy, although the two words are often used interchangeably. Scientifically empathy should not be possible, but it is!"

The Charter for Compassion recently launched an International Compassionate Cities campaign, endorsed by a US Conference of Mayors including Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville, KY, and the mayors of Columbia, SC; Des Moines, IA; Nashville, TN; Frankfort, KY; Raleigh, NC; and Westland, MI. This initiative, says the Charter, “has the potential to inspire a fundamental shift in our ability to thrive as human beings.” 
Let's go for it. We live in such a beautiful world. Let's all help  infuse it with compassion and empathy in everything that we do. That cannot be bad!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Transition US really taking off

That's such good news - those who know me and have heard me talk to local groups on the Transition movement will know I support it all the way - for more info follow this 

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Mad to Frack!

Just because we can doesn’t mean we should… Just because we havn’t found any downsides yet doesn’t mean there aren’t any!!
Two things come to mind, that have been in the news recently, to which the above statements could be applied; “fracking” and GM foods. First fracking, or hydraulic fraction. This refers to the method used for the mining of natural gas embedded in the shale rocks far underground, (up to 2 miles in fact), by pumping sand, chemicals and water down through the shale layers at high pressure. Millions of gallons of water are used in the process, and the chemicals lubricate the process, designed to fracture the bedrocks and release the natural gas bubbles trapped within them, which can be harvested. Here, the supporters say, we have a cheap and plentiful gas supply, to keep us in energy for many years to come. But at what cost?
The other night I watched a BBC Horizon program on fracking called “Fracking: The New Energy Rush.” In the States the landowner also owns the gas below his feet. In the program we saw how Pennsylvania has produced a new wave of millionaires from this new craze for fracking, simply by farmers selling the drilling rights and taking ongoing royalties on all gas harvested.” As one farmer said, “If we see something we want we buy it.” And we saw his fleet of cars to prove the point!
Is this new found energy source an energy life line, the savior of America, as some have claimed? Yes it apparently provides energy security for many years to come. But at what cost? And what are the risks? The program left many questions unanswered. What about climate change and the continuing exploitation of carbon fuels? What are the chemicals used? This is apparently a closely guarded secret! Are they potentially dangerous? Is there any danger of domestic water supplies being contaminated? Is there an increased risk of earthquakes from the process? Do we really know enough about the possible bad effects to allow us to go ahead on such a large scale across the States? There are communities who claim they have suffered ill health, sometimes serious, from the fracking around them. Doctors appear to be “gagged” in what they are allowed to disclose to patients about the chemicals used. Then of course there is the blighting of rural communities across the country on a massive scale.
The prolific American author Upton Sinclair once said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" 
Let’s not forget that tens of thousands of jobs are being created at thousands of drilling sites in Pennsylvania alone, where $30-50 million capital investment is at stake at each site, so the program told us.
Britain and other countries are looking to follow in the footsteps of the USA in rolling out fracking. The Horizon program was of course intended for the UK market and there is a critical review by Neil Midgley of The Telegraph highlighting how unsatisfactory it was in fulfilling that remit. It left so many questions unanswered.
I also just found a great blog by Martin Lack on the politics and psychology underlying our denial of environmental problems (something I also tackle from a different angle in my own first book, Healing this Wounded Earth). His recent blog tells us much more on the whole issue of fracking – with lots of useful links to more discussion. While we “need” shale gas in the UK, he writes, we probably cannot “afford” it, because, he goes on to explain: 1. it is cumulative CO2 emissions that matter; and 2. the Earth contains five times more fossil fuel than it would be safe to burn; and 3. any further delay in decarbonising our energy generation systems will be a false economy.

It is surely time to take stock and heed Sinclair’s words. Do we really know enough to say with certainty that fracking is harmless or indeed sensible? Of course we don’t!! But all those who benefit financially are bound to disagree!
By the way, I’ll come back to GM foods with another post!

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