Thursday, October 26, 2006

What is Sustainable Development?

I was asked the other day just what is sustainable development, how does it affect me?
What follows is a basic look at what sustainable development is where it came from and why it is important.
The 1987 United Nations Commission on Environment and Development, sometimes referred to as the Bruntland Commission, highlighted the fact that economic development often meant deterioration in the quality of many people's lives, not improvement. The Commission's Report, Our Common Future, states that Sustainable Development is:

development that meets the needs of the present without
compromising the ability of future generations
to meet their own needs.

It is intended to highlight that sustainable development is not about aiming for huge profits, that what we should aim for are higher standards of living for all, not the few. In essence, take what we need without exceeding the natural capacity for renewing the resources we use, and not polluting the planet beyond what nature can absorb.

The Commission's Report prompted the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro where the nations of the World agreed the Global Action Plan for the 21st-century: AGENDA 21.

Agenda 21 recognises that humans depend on the Earth to sustain our lives. This might appear obvious, but human behaviour over the last few centuries seems to indicate that we have forgotten this important fact.
Think Global :: Act Local
Agenda 21 also recognises that environmental stress is linked to human activity and that if we act at a local level to rectify matters collectively local actions will have global impacts.
Another important feature of sustainable development is social inclusion; local people must be involved in local decision making pertaining to the development of their own communities otherwise these developments will not be sustainable. In Scotland, every local authority has, or should have, a Local Agenda 21 officer.

Key Issues
Depleting and degrading natural resources. In time, nature will renew important resources. Using resources more quickly than they can be renewed is unsustainable. Many of the natural resources important to us rely on the planet's biological diversity to aid the natural cycles, therefore a diminishing biodiversity is not conducive to sustainability. Protecting biodiversity is crucial to sustainable development.
There are many key issues pertaining to development that need to be resolved:
  • Use of Energy Resources
  • Water Resources and stress through pollution and mismanagement
  • Land Use and Soil degradation
  • Fisheries, aquatic and marine
  • Minerals and Extraction
  • Forest and Timber issues

Pollution is another key issue; this affects:

  • The Atmosphere
  • Land and Soil
  • Rivers, Lakes and Groundwater Aquifers
  • Oceans.
Pollution has many sources most of which are anthropogenic (man made), and it can have direct health effects on humans too.

There are Social Issues that also need to be addressed such as:
  • Population Growth
  • War and Social Unrest
  • Poverty and Hunger
  • Water Stress
  • Impacts of Globalisation (Free Market Economy)
  • Social Justice
  • Education
  • Urbanisation
  • Disease
These are all huge problems some must be resolved at a global level; many others locally.

There are three main pillars to sustainable development: Environment, Society and Economy. Each of the three is required to serve the other two equally if sustainability is to be achieved and all of us are to live in relative comfort. Too often, however, economy appears to take precedence over the other two. It needs to be reiterated that sustainability and affordability are not the same. Economically, one may not follow the other. The economist, Lester R Brown, puts it quite succinctly in his book, Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth.

Ecological Footprinting (EF) as a sustainability tool uses economic terms of reference such as Capital and Interest. Earth's resources are the natural capital and the renewability of these resources are the interest we get from them. Mathis Wackernagal and William Rees (originators of EF) use the analogy of the water barrel. The full barrel of water being Earth's natural capital which is renewed by natural precipitation – rain. If we put a tap on the barrel to drain off the water for our own use, then where the tap is situated will determine whether or not or use of the water is sustainable. For instance if we put the tap near the bottom of the barrel we will take out more water than nature puts in. However, if we put the tap near the top we would be restricted to use only what nature can replace and therefore get sustainable use of the water – the barrel won't run dry, especially if we maintain and look after it so it doesn't leak.

This is just a simple and basic view of economics, but it does highlight how we approach our use of natural resources. We must re-learn to live off the interest on our capital, not the capital itself.
Sustainability requires us to pass on, at least, the same amount of natural stock we inherited to the next generation. Wherever possible we must seek to enhance this natural capital stock as the next generations will be larger than ours.

Today we are witnessing more and more the effects of being unsustainable: changing climates due to carbon releases, increased frequency and intensity of storms, hurricanes and typhoons, photochemical smogs in cities, land, waterways and seas poisoned by agricultural chemical runoff, desertification of land, soil erosion, famine, water stress in many countries, wars for oil – wars over water rights are not far away; large scale species extinctions and huge reductions in biodiversity; greater urban sprawls, poverty, lack of social and environmental justice; oceans under stress, and the complete collapse of fisheries.
All of the above are caused by humans and our societies. Too often we may say to ourselves: “it’s only me, no-one will notice”. Well, there are six and a half billion “only me’s” on the planet and we are all beginning to notice.

We have many of the answers, we just need to act on what we know and live our lives in a sustainable manner.

Think Global :: Act Local

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Questioning My Reaction to the Naqib

Lately I have been asking some questions of myself about how I feel about some of the recent issues on Islam. 30 years ago I lived in a community with a large Asian population in the west end of Glasgow; it was a vibrant and reasonably integrated place to live, at least that’s how I saw it. I now live in another similar community south of the River Clyde and, unfortunately, the feeling in this community is not the same.

The reason I have had to ask questions of myself and my attitudes to some of these issues is this: I am in my 50s now, and having lived closely with many people from many places (even Edinburgh), I had only seen the naqib on very few occasions. In the last year it is appearing much more in my community, and before Jack Straw intervened I was having a problem with “the veil”.

It made me uncomfortable even when I did not know the person wearing it. Why was this? What is it about the veil that made me uncomfortable? Other religious symbols and clothing have never bothered me. If fact, they highlight welcome changes in our communities. So why was I reacting to the naqib in a negative way?

There are many arguments now about this; barriers between peoples etc. While we westerners may believe there to be a case for that, the people who wear the hijab do not feel that it is a barrier. They see it as a symbol of their religion and culture and so should we; maybe there should be a case for that too in any tolerant society. As someone who believes himself to be open to, and tolerant of others’ cultures I had to think long and hard about this and I can only say now what my feelings are about it.

First of all my reaction to the naqib has nothing to do with religion, this was clear to me from the start. The first thing that occurred to me was that we in the west have a culture of using other people’s facial expressions to establish trust, to “read” the person we are interacting with. It is in our psyche to distrust people who hide their face. It is the same reaction society had to the “hoodie” culture of recent years. People who intentionally hide their face frighten or worry us in the west. Our cultural story-telling has baddies such as bank robbers and the like in gangster and cowboy/westerns movies etc. hiding their faces behind masks. I am not saying, or even insinuating, that Muslim women are untrustworthy; I have not met many who were. However, to bring this to its simplest form I feel that the problem is more about how we of western culture feel about the hidden face – I believe, for the majority of people, it has nothing to do with religion.

That said, I still saw the naqib as a barrier. It seems that Muslim women wear the naqib to hide their faces from men other than their husbands or family members – if so, it is a barrier between sexes. This to me signifies woman as possession – other men must not look at you. Such an attitude is anathema to me in a world where I consider women as equals.

This is not the whole story, however, because many Muslim women born in Britain also rightly consider themselves as equals, but in these recent and troubled times may wish to wear the naqib to signify their Islamic faith. I asked myself why there was a recent upsurge in the wearing of the naqib. It appeared to be quite simple, but again this is only my view.

It may be that due to the actions of a few fundamentalist extremists (not the sole property of Islam), Muslims are under attack in the western media. Muslims, men and women, may be reacting by wishing to make a visible statement their faith. If this is the case then it should be seen as an understandable act. If another country was to belittle and threaten Britain, we would immediately see Union Flags everywhere – on T-shirts, hats, brollies etc. It is an understandable reaction to threat, and I think Muslims have the right to do the same in such circumstances, and this may be the reason why so many Muslim women are suddenly wearing the naqib when they did not do so before. On the other hand, Muslim women may just have decided to wear it for no other reason than they want to. I must respect their right to choose.

I do not know whether I am right or wrong in any of this, but having had to think about it, I understand that I am responsible for how I react to things, that my reaction to the naqib , or anything else for that matter, is my problem – maybe that is why I have begun to feel differently about the naqib. It still makes me feel uncomfortable, but less so every time I see someone wearing one. Hopefully, in a short time, it will cease to bother me at all. I suppose this is how we learn to get along with each other.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Feeding Bread to Birds

Many people think that it is a good thing to feed bread to birds. While it makes folk feel better to do so, it does the birds very little good, in fact in many cases it is bad for the birds.
The reason being is that there is hardly any nutritional value in bread for birds and whilst the bird may feel satisfied at the time, the bread provides no real nutritional benefit.  

If a small bird fills up with bread on a cold winters evening it may not survive till morning as it will not have gained enough energy from the bread to fend of the cold.
It can also be potentially dangerous if too much bread been eaten by a bird as their digestive tracts were not designed to cope with bread, and dry bread in particular can swell up inside a bird and cause blockages preventing them from absorbing much needed nutrients. These blockages can sometimes be fatal. 

Doves and Pigeons produce a milk-like substance in their crops to feed to their young.  Bread may become impacted in their crops and can lead to infection and death. “Crop Stasis” is a condition where the crop in the oesophagus, stops emptying and becomes distended with fermenting food and fluids. This is a serious, and life-threatening condition in birds.

You can buy food for wild birds at pet shops quite cheaply and this is so much safer and better for the birds. 

Why not put a bird feeder in the garden or on nearby trees and feed them with seeds and nuts (absolutely no salted nuts). These will attract all sorts of smaller birds.

Remember also that feeding birds can become a long term job as birds can become dependent on you and may stop their natural foraging. If you suddenly stop feeding them they may have difficulties feeding themselves. That said, birds are more in need of feeders these days as there is a huge decline in natural fruits and seeds in the wild due to intensive farming and the removal of natural green space such as hedgerows etc. So, feeding birds is a good thing if you do it properly, and everyday.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

North Korea and that Explosion!

Why, one would ask, does a country that has most of its people in penury, spend all it's money on arms? Let me think on that. Maybe because they are STILL AT WAR WITH AMERICA?
Contrary to popular belief the Korean War has never ended. The conflict may have ceased and the ceasefire holds, but the USA has steadfastly refused to sign any peace agreement. That agreement, if signed in 1953 would have resulted in elections being held in both the north and the south of Korea with the ultimate aim of reuniting the country after a bitter civil war. Korea, up to the end of WWII, was a colony of Japan, and was split in two along the 38th parallel by the USA and USSR in 1945; a decision oppposed by almost all Koreans.
Since the cessation of the armed conflict (1950-53), North Korea has never made any sign of attacking any other country, but still the USA has had nuclear weapons installed along the North Korean border with the South. No other country has lived under the threat of nuclear attack by the USA longer than North Korea, almost 56 years. That being so and while, technically, still at war with the USA, is it any wonder that a "military first" attitude exists in North Korea?
North Korea has made many requests to bring the USA to the table to resolve the issues, but to no avail. However, after Korea set out to build a graphite nuclear reactor program, the Clinton administration threatened nuclear attack in 1993 as part of the "Team Spirit" military exercises along the border between North and South Korea. North Korea ceased its nuclear programme as under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty countries without nuclear weapons cannot be threatened by those who have them. When Team Spirit ceased the North Koreans rejoined the non-proliferaton treaty and in 1994 Clinton made an "Agreed Framework" with North Korea within which North Korea would abandon their nuclear programme and accept two light water reactors (from which no weapons grade materials can be extracted) to provide much needed power generation. In the meantime, 3.3 million barrels of oil a year would be supplied for energy production. The ultimate move here was to normalise relations between the USA and North Korea, and end the war.
In 1999 the Democrat Clinton left office, the Republican George Bush junior took over. Republicans had always opposed the Agreed Framework, and Bush immediately set about dismantling it. He cut off the oil and left Korea with little ability to generate power. Bush went on to label the country part of an axis of evil, and in March 2002 a leaked memo reviewed it a "potential nuclear target". In November that year James Kelly, assitant Secretary of State, claimed that North Korean "officials" admitted to having reinstated their nuclear programme. Of course at the time North Korea strongly denied this. However, the claim by Kelly led to the collapse of the Framework. No political analyst can come up with a reason why the North Koreans would have made such a claim, even if it were true, given the threat to themselves at that time. It seems beyond doubt that Korea had kept its side of the Framework, but the USA reneged on almost every aspect of it, abandoning any attempt to normalize relations between the two countries.
When it abandoned its nuclear programme North Korea became completely dependant on energy imports. When Bush Embargoed these it was no surprise that this energy starved country would renew its nuclear programme.
Having just watched Iraq (which had no weapons of mass destruction) being pulverised by the USA, is it any wonder that North Korea went on to use that programme to develop a weapon of mass destruction as a bargaining chip against the same treatment? North Korea has lived under numerous threats of nuclear attack for over fifty years. It is well known that it was only the USA's fear of possible nuclear reprisal by the USSR that saved North Korea from that very fate during the Korean War.
Being already a desperately poor country, if enforced isolation and trade and economic sanctions have driven North Korea to develop "the bomb" after it had mothballed its plants and allowed its plutonuim control rods to be locked away under the watch of the IAEA in favour of light water reactors for electricity (which it never received), would not further isolation and sanctions drive them closer to the possibility of using it?
No longer a communist state, North Korea, has become pretty much an cult induced monarchy with Kim Jong Il at its head. No-one is denying that Kim Jong Il is a brutal dictator, but he knows only too well he must open out to the rest of the world. After the death of his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1994 he made attempts to do so . It was a big move for Kim because it created a great difficulty: how to open up the country, but keep a hold on his power.
Why does Bush behave in the way that he does towards North Korea? The Korean problem was created by America, it has been sustained by America, and when a solution was in sight the whole problem was reset to the beginning by America. Why?
Because America needs North Korea to be a problem in South East Asia if it wants to maintain its control of the region. If there was no North Korean threat then South Korea and Japan would no longer require American protection. If that were so there would be no reason for having American bases on their soil; this is not the way to maintain a global miltary hegemony. The cynics among us may see the behaviour of the USA in all of this as a deliberate tactic, forcing North Korea into making itself a legitimate target once more.
What also puzzles me is why intelligent journalists who know all these things do not relate all the facts, instead tell us lies by omission, masking the depravity of the American government, and our own here in Britain? Don't they and their children live in this more dangerous world along with the rest of us?
It is the stuff of 1984 and all that ... some rulers need to rule by keeping us all frightened of boogiemen and the media is their main tool of implementation. That being the case, am I more worried about Bush and Blair and what they do in the world than all the so-called terrorists put together? Well, I am a bit worried about the latter now, but in the same way I would be bothered if someone took a stick to wasp byke in my back garden where my kids were playing!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Paris: a lad in Seine!

Me and Jan went to Paris for the 1st time the other week. Man, what a great city. It was only for a few days, but I really enjoyed myself.
I was a wee bit apprehensive, as we don't speak much french; I heard Parisians are a bit aloof and can be a bit offish if you can't parley the lingo. Nothing could have been further from the truth, Parisians were very helpful and pleasant to me and Jan, and they made the effort to try and understand our poor attempts to communicate. Une café est une croissant se vous plais, and, deux birres por favour madame, were about it for me. Still, they put up with this idiot and set me right (sympathetic looks aside).
We did all the touristy things: the Louvre, Eiffel Tower all that sort of stuff. Eating out is a great passtime of ours (if heaven doesn't have great cafés and restaurants I don't want to go). It seems in Paris eating out can be good but very expensive; poor and very expensive; cheap and skwidgey bottom time or, relatively inexpensive and excellent. We were lucky to find the latter 3 nights in a row.
It turned out that the hotel we booked over the internet was in the red light district of Pigalle where the Moulin Rouge is. It was obvious who was doing what, with which and to whom, so except for the signs on the bars nobody accosted us or was in our faces about it therefore it was quite a lively and interesting place. The red light area seemed to peter out just around where our hotel was situated and walking south away from Place Pigalle towards Trinity things seemed to get better.
As it was when we first arrived at Pigalle Metro there, surrounded by sleazy strip joints (which I have to admit took me a while to notice), was a great looking seafood restuarant called Café Leon, which had a reasonably priced menu. We decided that it was close enough to our hotel for us to come back later and eat and we could work out our plan for that evening and next day.
I had the salmon and vegetables which was pretty good, not brillant, but pretty good. I must say though, the sweet was excellent: fresh pineapple with coconut sorbet and a red fruit coulli the taste of which was out of this world. The service was very good; friendly and quick.
The next evening, still in Pigalle but nearer Montmarte, we went to a sushi restaurant as that was what Jan fancied. To be honest it didn't look much from the outside, not very inviting, and I wasn't looking forward to it. Walking through the door, however, was pleasantly surprising. Outside Pigalle, inside a small piece of Japan. We both had sushi, mine had a really nice mackerel sushi. I was watching Rick Stein the tv seafood chef on telly the other day waxing lyrical about mackerel sushi (discovered it already mate!). Again the service was attentive, friendly and quick. The Maitre D was as attentive when we left as when we came in and she shook our hands thanking us and welcoming us back.
For our last evening we decided we would go somewhere really nice and have a good slap-up meal as it was close to our anniversary. We had spotted the Deux Théatres restaurant down the road from our hotel which had a good menu for 33 euros including wine, but we decided against it as it was in the kind of seedy end of town and we wanted something a bit special.
On the Friday we were looking at the restaurant guide in the Penguin book on Paris to try and pick one when we came across Deux Théatres again and the book gave it a great write-up. Well, it was just two minutes for the hotel so we decided that when we got back to Pigalle we would go along and book a table.
When we arrived at 8pm the restaurant was very busy. We were warmly welcomed and shown to our table. The staff were mostly young, but attentive and friendly without being over bearing.
Apperitifs arrived as soon as we were comfortably seated.
Jan had escargot for starter. "I'm in France for the first time", she said, "so I'm going to try it!"
Way to go Jan! I was so horrified with watching Jan eat snails I've forgotten what I ordered for starter. There was a reasonable choice of wines as part of the menu; we ordered a very nice claret. For the main course Jan had bouillabaisse which she loved, I had cod in a cream sauce, cooked to a turn with garlic and cod champed potatoes with seasonal vegetables. It was wonderful. I had small nougat pieces in ice-cream for dessert and Jan had sorbet. We had coffees to round off what was a very good meal in a very nice restaurant and the bill came to 66 euros. That's equivalent to around £50. I liken the quality of the meal, suroundings and service to the Regano in Glasgow where the bill for the same kind of meal is around £80. At £30 cheaper the French restaurant gives real value.
We rounded off the evening with a short walk along towards Gare St Lazare in the Parisian moonlight and stopped off for a beer for me and a green tea for Jan at the little café I took coffees in each morning.
Stupidly, we left the Musée D'Orsay till the last day as we had a late flight out. I noticed when at the Louvre that people were able to put their bags in while perusing the museum, so we took our bags with us to save going back to the hotel for them. Ooops! Musée D'Orsay does not have a place to store your bags so and they wouldn't let us in with them. There are no left luggage facilities in Paris now due to threats of terrorism so we had to carry our bags around with us for the rest of the day. It was effing roasting, too! So we just bought the ticket for the hop on boat again and drifted along the Seine for the rest of the day, getting off to have beer and see some other stuff.
One thing that strikes you very quickly in this very busy city is the quality of the public transport. It puts Glasgow's to shame. On the first evening while eating at Café Leon I watched buses arrive at the stop outside every 10 minutes on the dot for nearly 2 hours. On the Metro we never waited more than 2 minutes for a train to arrive. You can travel from one end of the city to the other in a very short period of time (that includes changing trains); Metro stations are just slightly less in abundance than street corner cafés in Paris. Paris is a fast town without the freneticism of other places like Milan or even London. Fast, but chilled, that's Paris. We came upon a traffic jam in a narrow side street in the city centre where a van had stopped to deliver blocking the whole street; the driver was no-where to be seen and a woman from the car behind the van was beeping on his van's horn everyone else just seemed resigned to waiting till he came back so there wasn't all the honking and swearing you would expect in a Glasgow street. Walking along the jam we came upon a car with no driver... he was sitting in the sunshine at a café as he had decided he might as well have a coffee while he waited.
All-in-all, Paris is a wonderful place. I will certainly go back and next time, as we've done the touristy things, it's the cafés and restaurants for me. Oh, and the Musée D'orsay, of course!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What a Waste

Way to go the Women’s Institute. They’ve started a campaign to reduce packaging on goods in supermarkets. The amount of rubbish wrapped around a lot of the things we buy is becoming so ridiculous you’d think that the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC) was never brought into force.
This group of women in the past (or even today) were seen as middle class conservatives who were good at baking and making jam. However, in the last few years in particular, they have thrown off their stuffiness and shown that they have a very good social conscience. Their nude photos for charity, and their public berating of Tony Blair have shown they are also a force to be reckoned with.
Let’s hope that their new found notoriety helps bring this important waste problem to wider public notice and more people force the removal of all this useless packaging.
When a waste tax was brought in Germany some years ago and consumers were being charged for disposing of their waste many simply unwrapped their shopping in the store and left the packaging for the supermarket to pay for its disposal. It did not take long for the message to get across.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

So Why don't the Scots Support England in the World Cup?

it is just a little sad to listen to the moanings of the English media, mainly tabloids, at the fact that Scots refuse to support England's bid to win the World Cup.
It does of course force us Scots to ask questions of ourselves:
Q. do Scots really hate the English?
A. No (well some do, but it's usually a sad individual who hates anybody)
Q. Do we really not want them to win anything?
A. if truth be told I think most Scots don't really care that much ... however ...
in 1966, when England did win the World Cup I was a boy of 12, I remember many Scots people watching the game and supporting England; all seemed happy enough when they won. What we did not know at the time was the unrelenting triumphalism within the English media that would ensue from then on, and it has finally removed any feeling of supportiveness many Scots, Irish and Welsh might have previously held for the English at sports.
The main reason Scots football fans want England to go out of any tournament early is so we can watch the rest of that tournament in peace. TV commentaries are usually given by partisan English presenters; that means when we are watching a game between the likes of say Brazil and Italy, commentators very often think that it is okay to spend much of the game discussing the England team.
If England wins at anything, any live tv programme that evening, no matter the subject, will have references made to the win completely disregarding the fact that England is just one of four countries that make up Great Britain. Don't we all remember the day they beat Germany 5-1?
Why does it bother us? The UK is an invention of the English, the way it has been set up has suited England in so many ways. England is the biggest country on these islands and the English can have no idea what it is like to be dominated, and at times even bullied by a larger cousin the way Scots, Irish and Welsh do. When it comes to celebrating good fortune it can all be a bit unfortunate for ordinary English folk. Most other nations would celebrate in the same manner when they win something without annoying their neighbours, but it is difficult for England to do that due to the way the United Kingdom is set up. The other countries in the British Isles have their own national tv, radio and printed media and can go over the top in their celebrations without affecting anyone else. The English media by design is pervasive within the UK and does affect all the other nations, and it may well be they are paying for that now.
I've heard it said that we Scots are a bit jealous that England has actually won the World Cup. What nonsense, we know that winning the World Cup is a bit beyond us. We just love being there and we would be happy to stay there longer by getting to the second round ... boy would we celebrate then. So, roll on 2010.
What is also a bit sad about this little stramash is that it has brought to the fore some real English resentment, especially the feeling that we Scots are ungrateful for all the English have done for us. One writer and historian on tv the other day reminded us that England pays all our bills. He does of course have a very clouded view of how Britain operates politically, but then that's historians for you. One would need to ask why one nation would spend hundreds of years pursuing the domination of another sovereign state just to pay its bills. If that was all they wanted they just had to say and we could have been spared all that blood and gore. As it is, and as Robert Burns quite rightly wrote, the Scots were: "bought and sold for English gold",
and cheaply bought at that.
All that said I, like many other Scots, have relatives such as nephews and nieces, and also friends who are English and whom we love dearly. They will be gutted when England get beaten and we don't want them to feel like that. There are also a few English players who I like and admire as people, as well as for their footballing skills, and I would like to see them get just rewards for their skill and hard work, but the thought of another 40 years of gloating by the English media and football pundits is just too much to bear. So, sorry to my English friends and loved ones, but I hope youse get gubbed!
C'mon Trinidad and Tobago!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Catching Up

It’s been a while since I even thought of the blog. Just sitting here musing and fretting about my thesis. Ground to a halt again. My supervisor is waiting for the last bits so he can take them away on holidy with him … what a strange fellow! Most folk would rather have the latest airport blockbuster to read on their hols. Still, if that’s what he wants I’ll try and provide.
The world cup is upon us and you’d think the fate of the world depended on it. I like football, but Jeeez, and it hasn't even started yet!
Seems the world has just cottoned on the the fact that climate change is for real. Okay so we better just deal with one problem at a time, eh? It seems if you try and put forward two potential problems people’s brains go into stasis.
Sure global warming is crucial, but so is soil erosion, water stress, diminishing biodiversity, abyssmal world politics which lead to conflict, and the human miseries of poverty, inequity, displacement, hunger and starvation.
Much of these things are ignored by most people except when they are confronted with them in the media, but it is all happening in faraway land and most of the folk are alien to us, so they are as easily forgotten when the tv is switched off as the fictional dramas broadcast yesterday –
we see them and we feel guilty, we don’t see them and we forget; I am as guilty as the next guy.
However, we are not powerless in all of this. The Make Poverty History campaigns have showed us that politicians do take notice if enough people speak out. Yes, little changed, but that was because ordinary folk did not keep up the pressure. So politicians are allowed to wriggle off the campaigners’ hook. We should look at it all more positively, like just how quickly they were forced to climb onto that hook in the first place.
A lot of the time it appears that big business think they can do what they like and the cash-fodder (the wider public) will just go along with it and separate themselves from their money. However, these boardroom jockeys are very vulnerable to the vagaries of public perception.
Here’s a novel idea, let’s take as an example the huge transnational company Exxon (Esso) one of the most powerful in the world. Many people around the world take exception to this company. It’s anti-climate change stance has apparently hindered political will, in the USA in particular, to facing up to this challenging task of reducing the environmental impacts of burning fossils fuels (Exxon’s stock in trade). Now, if a few years ago everyone, or even nearly everyone, for just one week of every month bought alternative products to Exxon’s, how many months might it have taken before the board had a change of heart?
There are ongoing campaigns against illegal logging, and palm oil plantations in Indonesia.
There are plenty of alternatives, but these are cheaper. If enough of us cash-fodder let manufacturers know that we won’t buy their products just to save a penny or two they will use the alternatives.
Why do we bemoan the state of the earth and still believe it is politicians' and big business’s problem to fix it when it is obvious that they don’t want to. We have individual responsibility and we have the power to change things without having to do very much except be consistent in saying what we want and in demanding the powerful be held to to account. If a gasfitter made a botch job of your heating system and blew up your house you'd certainly want him/her to be held to account why not politicians and CEOs?
I suppose the main question in all this is: why are we so insistant in handing over our personal responsibility to people, many of whom we would not invite to our house for tea?
Ultimately, those we put in charge only have the power we give to them, or allow them to have –Really. So we must ensure they use that power, first and foremost, for the proper protection of the environment that allows us to live in some degree of comfort on this planet. We all know by now they will only do that if we force them to do so. So join Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth and or join your local community council or forum and make your voice heard. Get involved, it only takes only a few hours a week.

hasta luego (trying to learn Spanish)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Feeding the World or Corporate Bank Balances?

The drive by the North to control the growth and distribution of the world’s food is worrying to say the least. The sovereignty of small farmers and their agricultural systems especially in the South are under constant threat; indeed, far too many have already succumbed.

In his 1974 collection of essays, Small is Beautiful, EF Schumacher intimated that agriculture as an industrial process is flawed and at odds with nature The two are essentially different in that “agriculture deals with living substances … its products the result of processes of life, while industry deals with the elimination of living substances”. Schumacher saw industry as an assault on the unpredictability, unpunctuality, and general waywardness of living nature, including human beings.This modern drive for a global industrial agriculture has enormous social and ecological implications. Devinder Sharma, a food and trade policy analyst who is anti-GE quite rightly says, “the end result can only be two kinds of agricultural systems: the North growing staple foods and shipping them throughout the world, while the South is left to produce only [cash crops]”. This is anathema to all who believe that power and self-determination is essential for all peoples, cultures and nations if we are to eliminate poverty and hunger, and have peace and permanence in our world.

The biotech and grain companies continue their onslaught on agriculture; they continually attempt, with the approval of the US government and the European Union, to patent seeds and cereals that they have no rights to. Their success will ensure that most farmers in the South can no longer save seeds from one crop to another, but have to pay northern owned transnational companies for the means to plant future crops.

While global food production per capita has increased since the 1970s so too has world hunger. In South America the number of people going hungry rose by 19% while at the same time per capita food production rose by 8%; in Asia hunger and food per capita both rose by 9%. Sharma, also says: “If the food currently available were to be evenly and equitably distributed among the 6.4 billion people on the planet, there would still be a surplus left for 800 million.” He points out that “hopeless cases” such as Ethiopia have demonstrated how a combination of people-centred and natural resource based policies can recreate self-sufficiency in food. For biotechnology companies to insist that only they can provide the hungry and malnourished with their “novel and … functional foods,” is to, “mock the inability of the poor to access two square meals a day.” He goes on, “In India, the 12 million malnourished people ... are the people who produce enough food, but cannot buy the food they grow”.

This being so, and if control of the staples are more and more in the hands of northern business people, whose experience in life is no more than an abstract notion of a mathematical concept which we all know as “money”, then control is increasingly being taken away from those who understand the land and what best to grow on it for the greater good of themselves, their families and their neighbours, and can only exacerbate the problems.

There is an inherent conflict of interest here. The farmer understands that a bag of grain will diminish in value the longer he/she holds on to it (natural deterioration or being eaten by other things), it is nature’s way, so it makes sense to realise its worth in the short term. Diminishing value is abhorrent to economists – money, the lifeblood of the financial world can, in theory, grow in value ad infinitum. It is, however, related to nothing in the natural world, and is in fact at odds with it as its value to the system is always greater than the product it is used to buy.

The growth capital economy is a violation of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, and this corrupted value system of the industrialised North has become pervasive in almost all societies through globalisation and the idea of “the free market” that we are told is good for us all.

Noam Chomsky, one of America’s most popular speakers on US foreign policy says of the “free” market: “Nobody in the corporate world or the government takes the doctrines [of free trade] seriously. The parts of the US economy that are able to compete internationally are primarily the state subsidized ones”. Cheap subsidised food exported to the South destroys any idea of competition and bankrupts local farmers. Subsidies need a whole chapter of their own. Vandana Shiva says in GATT, Agriculture and Third World Women, an essay in the 1993 book Eco-Feminism: “Free trade will lead to a 26.2% reduction in human consumption of agricultural produce”. At a time when we are producing more food than ever before, when the world population is increasing, there is a corresponding relative reduction in consumption of food. If Shiva is correct, and there is no reason to doubt her, it can only mean that Sharma is correct also, and equity and distribution are the main problems. When Shiva goes on to say: “the growth of free trade implies the growth of hunger”, it is difficult to disagree.

Also, we in the North have reduced our edible crop diversity to a minimum, with a reduced number of species per crop. This is the agri-culture we have created and it is easy to see why some find it difficult to understand that other cultures find economic benefits in a wider range of crops and species within them, many of which we would call weeds. Shiva points out that what are weeds to companies like Monsanto are food, fodder and medicines for 3rd world women; that in West Bengal 124 “weed” species … have economic importance for farmers … in Mexico, peasants utilise 435 wild plants and animal species of which they eat 229”.

Cover and mixed crop planting, widely used policies in the South, help enrich and preserve soils, but the increased use of Roundup Ready crops eliminates this type of planting and is a recipe for soil erosion. Glyphosate (Roundup) can act similarly to antibiotics and is known to disrupted the symbiotic mycorrhizal process, while antagonists in the soil that normally control soil-based pathogens are destroyed. In effect, these chemicals devastate the natural ecology of the soil.
There is a further problem with this industrialised view of agriculture that is being paid scant attention. Most food grown under northern control would have a huge increase in food miles, at a time when the atmosphere of the planet needs us to reduce such things. Local produce will become a luxury for the very few. One wonders how we can convince our politicians of such things when the leader of the main opposition party in the UK in an attempt to sound environmentally aware says: ‘what we need is another Green Revolution’, his ignorance is frightening.

The green revolution did nothing to alleviate hunger at its source. Too many people could not afford to buy food in the 60s and even more cannot afford to buy food today. The narrow distribution of equity then, is an even narrower distribution of equity now. We can learn to grow as much food as we like – if the starving cannot afford to buy it then they will continue to starve. In the mean time the number of dispossessed and disenfranchised joining the ranks of the chronically hungry is increasing through the "structural adjustment" and "resource retirement" policies of the IMF and the World Bank. Not only are local people removed from their lands, they are removed from any part of the decision making process in their own countries. These policies ensure a flow of resources in favour of the North. People in the South must be free to grow their own food crops in their own way if hunger is truly to be defeated.

Imposing a Northern view of food production on the South is cultural imperialism of the worst kind, it serves only the interests of around 20% of the world’s population while having severe adverse affects on so many of the other 80%. It can only create more suffering and resentment and is not conducive to global sustainability. Even though, at the moment, we are able to grow more food than we actually need, around 2 billion people [30%] of the world’s population are nutritionally stressed with 850 million suffering hunger “every single day”. 30,000 people a day die of hunger, 75% of them under the age of 5 years – that is almost 1,000 every hour. This is unacceptable in a world of plenty!

It is obvious that something is very wrong. Could it be that corporate boardrooms are not the place to decide what should be grown, where it should be grown and by whom; that local community stakeholders, and not remote and invisible private shareholders, should take priority, and that social and environmental justice are more important than corporate bank balances?

The key to it all is the growth capital economy and the delusion that it can be sustainable – that it can continue to grow in a finite world. There are alternatives, but it would probably mean a shift in political power and the notion of wealth to adopt any of these. It takes only the merest of glances into any Sustainable Development project to see the flaw: There may be three pillars of sustainability but the one that take precedent every time is Economy. There is no convincing the operators of anything other than Economy must be served first, Society second and Environmental considerations last. Sustainability in the North is, in effect, based on Affordability. However, without a suitable, life nurturing Environment, could human Society as we know it exist in any degree of comfort? The answer is No. So, if there was no Society what would be the point of an Economy?

Maybe it is time to get our priorities right.
till next time

Friday, March 24, 2006

Another Blog

Well, I was supposed to be writing my thesis today, but blogs and thoughts of blogs got in the way. I look after the artist and writer Alasdair Gray's website and I got an email from him saying:
"Joe, someone has told me about blogs, can you set one up for me here is some stuff to put on it".
An attachment had four pieces to become blogs. The first is a letter to Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer which he sent before the budget. The second was a short one act play, which he had abandoned earlier in the month.
Well, I set up a blog for him and it can be found here:
Setting Alasdair's plays for the web has not been without problems. Mainly because they are pretty long documents with quite a lot of formatting on them.
Anyone who knows Alasdair's work will understand that being an artist, things just have to look the way he wants. I also produce Alasdair's books, so, lot's of debate to get him to understand that publishing to the web is not the same as hard copy publishing. I think he is catching on.
There's a link to Alasdair's website on my side panel for anyone who would like to read more of his work. He's pretty bloody good by the way!
I've been trying to write a chapter on transport issues in the NHS and nothing seems to want to come out. Picked a great time to get a writer's block, eh? There's not a lot I can contribute to the subject anyway as NHS has already created it's transport policy, so even though it will be a short chapter I still can't get my head around it. I am a committed pedestrian anyway so I think we should just close all the car parks down. Joking, honest!
I suppose there are lots of exceptions for NHS as many community health professionals find it difficult to carshare as they travel around the community a lot of the time while they are working, and people visiting hospitals are usually fretting about loved ones so there's not much sense in arsing them about. However, frequent, affordable and comfortable public transport services would help other staff and visitors to leave their cars at home or at park and ride places.
Addenbrooke Hospital in Cambridge has set up it's own regular bus service, not heard how successful it has been, though.
Till next time

Thursday, March 23, 2006


me again. still messing around with this blog thing ... profile etcetera.
I know this blogger thing is an american invention, but why is that internet folk, when they make up those country list things, you know the ones, click the dropdown menu and a list of countries appear, well, why is that Scotland isn't included in these?
Scotland is a sovereign country in it's own right, but is also part of Britain (I'm a republican so I prefer to call the United Kingdom Britain). It may not seem very important, but it does become a bit annoying when folk have no idea where Scotland is. Far too many people around the world have come to think of England as the UK. An American once told me that: "Scotland, that's in England, isn't it?" To which I replied: "America, that's in Canada, isn't it?" D'you know he just thought I didn't know where America was, I couldn't be bothered explaining.
Anyway, it would be good if we could get all three countries in the British Isles: Scotland, England, Wales, and the Province of Northern Ireland included in their own right on these lists. I am even happy to have (UK) after it.
I know what this might sound like, but I do quite like the English, I just prefer to be Scottish especially when we beat England at Rugby. However, since our football team is about number 300 in world ranking these days, there's not much chance of beating them at that!


1st try

This is the first time I have ever used a blog. Blog, what a great name for a great idea.
Anyway, I will probably write a lot of nonsense, as I am just trying this thing out. I hope it works.
My name is Joe, I am a reserach student at Glasgow Caledonian University. I have an honours degree in Environmental Science and Ecology and my PhD is on the environmental impacts of NHSScotland's smaller buildings. I am in the process of writing up my thesis and it is meant to be finished by end of June 2006. Ah well, who knows?
Today, I attended the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment's Scottish Conference in Glasgow City Chambers. It went well and was quite interesting. Unfortunately, the hall had a high vaulted ceiling and the sound system bounced the talks all over the place creating some unintelligible audio at times. That was a bit of a shame because there were some very good talks going on. The workshops were interesting enough, but they weren't really workshops just seminars. Except for the Environmental Impact Assessment workshop which did go through some group practical stuff.
I'm not really sure why I have taken this blog thing out as I have too much else to do. think I am deliberately sidetracking myself so I don't need to write my thesis, but it has to be done.
A friend told me, "Joe, the object of a PhD is to be written, so just bloody write it!" Okay, okay, that's just what I'll do.
Well, if anyone was daft enough to read this to the end, I hope you get better soon.
I'll sign off with my favourite haiku by Basho:

Old pond
frog jumps in—