These days I cannot cycle across London without giant advertizing boards getting up in my grill, hawking Lurpak butter. The posters shamelessly try to link a mass butter product with the complex and rich well-being benefits of cooking. Be happy, buy Lurpak and cook.
The one problem with this cheery narrative is that Lurpak butter is shipped across a sea to get here releasing unnecessary and dangerous green house gasses into our unbalanced atmosphere. Why are we creating this risk when we have great local butter, produced skillfully within these lands? The only butter I will buy is local butter. So Lurpak get your big, dangerous, stupid adverts out of my face and stick to selling your Danish butter to the Danes.
EcoHustler is inspired by Adbusters. Not least for their refusal to allow our shared space and reality to be owned and controlled by corporations who exist solely to sell shit and make money. Much is made of the corporate take over of nature, our lives and our economies but what about the corporate take over of our minds!?
Our sensitive brains are bombarded with negative and unsustainable messaging as soon as we walk out the door. People in cities can be hit with up to 2000 messages a day urging them to buy shit they don’t need. No wonder well-being is declining and the natural world is collapsing. Reality is a mass, shared hallucination and with this relentless onslaught of carefully crafted messaging human behaviour is normalized in a pathological state of endless wanting.
It is not just nature we are paving over but our minds. the practical and proactive response is to ‘culture jam’. That is to compete with an alternative narrative that can help people see that another world is not only possible… it is preferable, imminent and will be co-created by us. To spark a wave of epiphanies that shatter the consumerist worldview. We must all fight against pro-consumerist advertising wherever it rears its ugly head.
Responding online is all well and good…. but there is a danger we just preach to the converted. How do we reach the people out on the street, walking between the invasive advertising hoardings? How can we offer an alternative message?
Not: drink cola to be happy or drive a car to have status or spray this chemical to get laid. But: breathe, exist, create, grow, resist, love and be a part of something bigger than ourselves; something with meaning.
To reach people we have to be brave and head out at night with our faces covered. We have to find the shadows and upload our home-grown messaging to the urban fabric. We need to give the human beehive a repaint.
This is your invitation to get involved. Download an eco-propaganda poster and stick it up in your neighbourhood using the wheat pasting instructions below. Even better, design your own poster and send it in. The best posters submitted will be featured on this site available for others to use.
Valentine’s Day is the culturally appointed moment when we affirm our love and appreciation for our partner. En mass we get amorous and consummate our passion. Naturally capitalism feasts on this kind of mass behaviour. In today’s world Valentine’s Day comes with a price tag and the costs are not just financial.
Many of the things marketed to us come with unpleasant impacts that we may not be aware of. By causing harm elsewhere these gifts dent our karma and unbeknownst to us muffle our mojo. Buying imported Kenyan roses, any kind of disposable tat or, god help us all, a diamond, actually reduces the total amount of love in the world. Is this what you want!? If it isn’t… avoid the dodge and go with the natural, free and sexy alternatives listed below.
When the photographer Alex Hofford first contacted EcoHustler and asked if we would write about shark finning drawing on the images and video from his Man and Shark project we had no idea where it would all lead. I certainly didn’t think we would end up organizing an event in China Town on Chinese New Year! I am not sure how it happened but after a great day raising awareness about sharks I am very glad Alex got in touch and that we all decided to go a step further and take action! Massive thanks to everyone who came down and joined the Shark Side and big props to Global Ocean who are collecting signatures for their important petition.
Initially the idea of making a stand in China Town went down like a proposal for a pay toilet in a diarrhoea ward. Several UK shark organizations we contacted actually told us not to do it. Apparently we were being politically incorrect and culturally insensitive. The trouble is, eating shark fin is a cultural phenomenon so you have two choices: be politically correct and look the other way or strap a pair on and have a conversation with the people who like to eat it. 90% of all the sharks that were in the oceans have been removed… so we decided it was a conversation worth having.
We advertised the direct action publicly on this site. After the Mark Kennedy scandal I joked with friends that the first few emails I received from people wanting to join in would be policemen. It wasn’t a massive surprise therefore when I got to the allocated meeting place to be immediately jumped upon by two undercover police officers. Initially they were confrontational and almost threatening. Pretty soon they seemed to realize that we didn’t want to cause trouble and they became polite and asked us to move up the road which we did. Unfortunately it wasn’t until a bit later that I realized the police offers were skillfully keeping us away from the Chinese Ambassador and all the press. When we walked back up to the throng I was grabbed and actually read my rights. I am fairly sure that I wasn’t breaking any laws but apparently you need a permit to speak your mind in public… or something.
Once the ambassador had gone we fanned out and handed out hundreds of flyers. These are available for download here: 110201_GO_Leaflet_A5_02. We also have hard copies available. If you would like to use some drop us an email and we can post you a good stash.
Although we missed the photographers we did interviews with LBC radio and BBC London. We had a great reception in China Town. People were not offended or angry that we were there, they seemed genuinely concerned about the plight of sharks and keen to find out more. Generally, most people have no idea how endangered sharks are and how serious this is for marine ecology. We had an interesting conversation with a restauranteur who was clearly concerned about the bad PR his place might get still serving sharks fin.
In the pub afterwards we were all very happy to have made the effort and to have taken a stand for sharks. The main thing we learnt is how easy it was for a relatively small number of us to have a big impact. We will certainly be taking further action possibly against specific restaurants. For example, the Royal China chain probably sells the most endangered shark parts in London and their restaurants are not in China Town. (On their website they say they don’t sell shark fin but I have checked in the restaurants and they definitely still do).
Although it is important to rally around iconic species that are in danger such as sharks, rhinos, tigers, whales etc it is clearly also very important to respond to the socio-economic forces driving their demise. Most large, marine animals killed by humans will be caught by large-scale, corporate fishing operations which are currently totally unsustainable. We have to keep the pressure on governments to regulate this industry effectively to allow marine ecosystems to recover. This is especially important now with the up and coming review of the Common Fisheries Policy. Our work is just beginning!
The Shark Side on other sites:
Nations of the world are coming together at COP 10 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, to face up to the fact that our efforts to rein in the current mass extinction crisis have failed. In an attempt to put the issue on the political map, biodiversity is being allocated a monetary value much as the Stern Report’s did with climate change. However, this approach fails to acknowledge a bigger truth. Reducing the diversity of life on earth effectively puts evolution in rewind taking us back to an ecological period when humans didn’t exist. This unraveling of life’s rich tapestry destroys real value that took millions of years to create and shifts ecosystems away from those human’s are adapted to.
Human’s who continue to generate ‘wealth’ by consuming nature are perverted and sinful. This may not be the conventional attitude today but it will be the attitude of our wiser descendants if they survive the coming austerity of a decimated planet. They will look back at our time as an idyllic Eden, so rich in life it was home to panda’s, cheetahs, blue whales and other extraordinary creatures. They will consider the leaders and powerful elite who presided over this ecocide as criminals. To prevent the worst from happening this must become the attitude of us all now. We must wake up to the true value of nature.
Everyone has been talking about climate change and for nefarious reasons the media insists on including climate scepticism in the debate as if it were a sane position. But leaving all that noise to one side, it is still hard to discern how fragile life on earth is and therefore how precarious a situation human civilization is in. On one extreme we have scientists and environmentalists telling us that the human eco-footprint is unsustainable and that many critical ecosystems we depend on are nearing collapse and on the other we have pioneers and prospectors who, appealing to our rugged, masculine urges, tell us that nature is strong and we should concern ourselves with the folks back home not something ‘out there’ called ‘nature’.
How can we examine the world around us to objectively determine where on this scale we actually are and therefore what our course of action should be? Measuring carbon in the atmosphere or the abundance of natural resources is reasonable, but both are debatable and therefore political. For example, the warming effect of CO2 can in theory be reversed by geo-engineering or perhaps captured by a new technology and turned into a fuel. Declining resources can, in theory, be restocked and a complete knowledge of, say, a cod stock, can be disputed.
Human’s turn ‘natural capital’ (forests, fisheries and mountains) into ‘human capital’ (cloths, cars and iphones) and in doing so are pruning the tree of life. The current loss of species is so extreme it is being called the 6th mass extinction event. The last one is the most famous because it caused the extinction of the dinosaurs but several others were far more severe. For example the Permian extinction event led to a 90% die off. It takes at least 10 million years for diversity to begin to recover from such an event.
Mass extinctions are thought to result when a long-term stress is compounded by a short term shock. Remarkably humans appear to be doing both simultaneously with cataclysmic results: “The speed at which species are being lost is much faster than any we’ve seen in the past — including those [extinctions] related to meteor collisions,” said Daniel Simberloff, a University of Tennessee ecologist and prominent expert in biological diversity. If present trends continue one half of all species of life on earth will be extinct in less than 100 years, as a result of habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.
Humans are killing the world that we evolved from. This is far worse than biting the hand that feeds us; it is kicking the vagina that delivered us. This petulant destruction will cost us money; it will limit new opportunities in medicine and cuisine and travel and adventure; but it will also shift the planet’s ecology away from one that can sustain us massively increasing the risk of our extinction. Surely this is the main reality to engage with?
Today, whilst human minds fixate on the financial ‘crisis’ and channel unprecedented resources into keeping pathological markets afloat, the real crisis goes unchecked. It is nature that really needs the bailout.
65 million years ago it wasn’t the impact of the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs. It was the ecological changes that occurred as a result of the long, nuclear winter that followed. Massive plant eating dinosaurs starved after plants withered and soon so too did their predators. The tiny shrew-like early mammals we are descended from probably survived the long darkness by gnawing on the fetid flesh of the multifarious dead behemoths.
If humans do not wake up out of this mass, suicidal hallucination and start apportioning a proportional value to their life support system it may be the cockroaches who survive the dark of our nuclear winter by gnawing on the dead bodies of people laid strewn through the wreckage of civilization. Maybe the roach descendents will learn from our ruins and exist for long enough to seize life’s opportunities and increase exploration of (both internal and external) space?
Although the trends today are apocalyptic, the solutions to the biodiversity crisis are well understood. The way to stop species going extinct is to preserve their habitats. The only effective way of preserving habitats is by creating large nature reserves that are off-limits to human exploitation. We could imagine a future sustainable world in which human cities, towns and farms are nestled within an international network of mega-wildlife corridors which are large enough to allow for terrestrial species migrations. Huge human-free marine zones are also required.
To secure these vital eco-systems the human economy must acknowledge and respect limits to its prospecting of nature’s bounty. Limiting human expansion isn’t even on the table as an option as government’s fall over each other to try and endlessly stimulate new economic growth. When will they see that as Edward Abbey says: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” And that growth that destroys life is actually death.
We must put part of nature beyond the reach of markets. This is entirely logical because, as our cosmic mother, home, nourishment and inspiration nature is, of course, literally priceless. Whilst this may be anathema to free-market apostles who understand their universe only through attaching dollar signs to everything, human species-control is the only practical way to maintain the ecological integrity of the biosphere; which is the way for us to survive.
To make limiting further growth of the human economy politically viable we need people’s values, attitudes and behaviours to change. First up, understanding that it is not just that losing species depletes our planet and undoes value that has taken millions of years to accumulate, value well beyond the puny, vulgar dollars and pounds that rule this brief epoch. It is that we are undoing the ecology that we evolved into. We cannot be certain that whatever follows may not be so hospitable. Whether pioneers, prospectors, religious fundamentalists and other anthropocentrists can stomach it or not, our destiny is utterly and completely bound to the destiny of all the other species of life on earth.
We also need to share widely the understanding that improving the human condition is no longer dependent on extracting more from nature. Collectively, we have all we need. All future progress must be dematerialized; from government policy to business development through to what we do on the weekend, enough with stuff.
We are the smartest species that ever existed but somehow we are not collectively using our brains. We are blessed with a planet brimming with, literally, the most extraordinary richness in the known universe. This phenomenal, unique, living layer which pulses and shimmers against the dead blackness of infinity and drawing on the energy of the nearest star steadily increases in mass and diversity is not just our home. It is our destiny. So it is time to show compassion to the millions of other species who share our world. Let’s follow the golden rule and do unto them as we would have done unto us. Let’s love our fellow creatures as we love ourselves because ultimately any sense of separation is an illusion.
Will we stop mass extinction?
I’ve just signed an urgent global petition supporting a new treaty to prevent mass extinction. The petition will be delivered Friday at UN talks in Japan — check out the email below and sign on here:
Are you tired of the 9-5 grind and stressful commuting? Are you fed up of not having enough time for friends, family and interesting pursuits? How would you like a 3 day weekend? Well the good news is that a less stressful, more pleasurable and more fulfilling lifestyle could be just around the corner. This post outlines a proposal for a new campaign to reduce the working week to 4 days.
The Triple Crunch of an economy in meltdown, declining well being and a collapsing biosphere requires us to work less to slow down and rationalize the economy and to provide space for ourselves and the planet to breathe. As we work less we can make time to nurture our environment, communities and selves back to rude health and orient society away from its current pathological trajectory.
The ‘green movement’ is evolving into a popular mass-movement that is seizing the opportunity presented by the multiple crises of a changing world to co-create the future that we want. This rapidly expanding new agenda presents the opportunity to reinvent how we spend our most precious commodity… our time.
I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s
To succeed a campaign must have at its core a sound argument making the case for change. Fortunately, the brains at the New Economics Foundation have done all the hard work and produced a bulletproof case for why people, planet and the economy all benefit when we collectively agree to work less. The vision section of their report ‘21 Hours’ states:
A ‘normal’ working week of 21 hours could help to address a range of urgent, interlinked problems: overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.
The report also looks at the necessary conditions for shifting to the 21 hour week and how to overcome transitional problems. In a little more detail here are the 3 main:
Planet: moving towards a much shorter working week would help break the habit of living to work, working to earn, and earning to consume. People may become less attached to carbon-intensive consumption and more attached to relationships, pastimes, and places that absorb less money and more time. It would help society to manage without carbon-intensive growth, release time for people to live more sustainably, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
People: a 21-hour ‘normal’ working week could help distribute paid work more evenly across the population, reducing ill-being associated with unemployment, long working hours and too little control over time. It would make it possible for paid and unpaid work to be distributed more equally between women and men; for parents to spend more time with their children – and to spend that time differently; for people to delay retirement if they wanted to, and to have more time to care for others, to participate in local activities and get their groove on.
Economy: shorter working hours could help to adapt the economy to the needs of society and the environment, rather than subjugating society and environment to the needs of the economy. Business would benefit from more women entering the workforce; from men leading more rounded, balanced lives; and from reductions in work-place stress associated with juggling paid employment and home-based responsibilities. It could also help to end credit-fuelled growth, to develop a more resilient and adaptable economy, and to safeguard public resources for investment in a low-carbon future.
A quick word to the ‘traditionalists’ out there, the ‘tradition’ of working a 5 day week is a product of industrial capitalism which is about 200 years old. For millennia preceding this people would not have worked 9-5 (unless they were slaves). People would have spent the majority of their time living in local communities raising families and together ensuring they have enough to live. Also, it has already has several times already:
Europe is the natural place for this campaign to start. This is where the industrial revolution began. At the time it was understood that machines doing man’s labour would provide for more leisure time. John Maynard Keynes, called it ‘technological unemployment’ and Nobel Laureate Economist Wassily Leontief wrote:
“The role of humans as the most important factor of production is bound to diminish in the same way that the role of horses in agricultural production was… diminished…by the introduction of tractors.”
Whilst nationalists, racists and other fools blame unemployment on the natural human phenomenon of immigration the real cause is going unaddressed in the public debate: Technological Unemployment.
But wait a second… isn’t Technological Unemployment a good thing? Unless you think you were born to work; machines doing work frees up our time for other important activities. We don’t have to rigidly fill our lives with work and there is no point sweeping the decks of the Titanic as it heads straight for an iceberg. Better to storm the cockpit and head for open water!
Why are we working 5 days a week? To what end? The puritan work ethic is fundamentally inverted when the work you are doing, by driving economic growth, is actually driving environmental meltdown and pushing our species to extinction. Once we accept that endless growth and wealth accumulation are both impossible and undesirable we can shift our work habits to better suit our needs and values.
The material economy must shrink. To think this need be restrictive for the human experience is the essence of the problem of the modern age. There is far more to life than stuff. Limitless growth is achievable in science, ideas, knowledge, art, music and sport. We already control too great a proportion of the material flows of the planet and so all future growth must be dematerialized. One popular and practical step in the right direction is building into the week a day which is not for work-for-money and not just a ‘day off’. In doing so we create space for other activities of critical importance to society such caring for relatives, growing our food, helping in our communities, keeping fit, having hobbies, being creative, playing sport developing skills and shifting to sustainability and all the other things we like to spend our time on.
Anyone who thinks this change is unrealistic needs to broaden their perspective. The 5 day week was totally arbitrary. It could have been 3 days! Furthermore it is a human invention. This is in stark contrast to the planet, biosphere or atmosphere. All of which we depend on, we cannot create and which our human experiment in endless work, economic growth and waste production is currently destroying. Reinventing the work week is far more practical then reinventing a stable biosphere.
There are many things in our lives we cannot change. Things like the laws of physics, the size of earth and the amount of oil underground. Then there are the things we can change. Culture is the sum total of humanity’s attitudes, opinions and knowledge. This is easily changeable. It can be transformed through stories, art, conversations and by forwarding the link to this blog. Start telling your friends, colleagues and neighbours… we don’t need to work 5 days a week. It is stressing us out and it is destroying our world. So let’s stop.
Community Monday: people contribute some of their day to local community initiatives. This could include caring for the elderly, running projects for local kids or overcoming a local challenge with neighbours.
Eco Monday: it’s time to get together and give nature a helping hand! Teams of switched-on humans can trek out and get: tree planting, litter picking, ecosystem surveying and building: nature reserves, bug houses, bat boxes or green roofs.
Farming Monday: city folk and others travel to local farms to help with food production. Helps people to understand where the food comes from and has the added benefit of reducing the carbon intensity of agriculture.
Lifelong Learning Monday: adults descend on universities, schools and colleges to further their education. Not for professional development… just for the sake of learning. Courses in cooking, pottery, Tantra and Zen can run alongside astro-physics and ecology.
Loving Mondays: love, nurture, care, heal, get jiggy.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
As far back as 2004 with the publication of The Death of Environmentalism the traditional approaches of the green movement have been criticized for its failure to create significant widespread change to the way we live. We have known about species extinctions, toxicity, resource depletion and even climate change for over 50 years… so why aren’t we all living locally in human-scale communities enjoying life and living in harmony with the natural world?
Well it seems some historical trends are hard to argue with. There are 6 billion humans sharing this planet; population is totally unregulated and rapidly expanding and the industrial capitalist juggernaut is relentlessly commodifying every aspect of our world (including time) and with ruthless efficiency, systematically training our children to become ‘normal’ i.e. rabid workers / consumers.
Environmentalists are badly outgunned. The ‘conventional economy’ we are seeking to change is the ceaseless competition of 6 billion individuals seeking resources. This competition, driven by self-interest maintains the cut-throat economy. However, the triple crunch turns everything on its head; as explored in Racing the Red Queen to Oblivion, if humans cannot consciously overcome the genetic urge to compete for resources then civilization will collapse. To rapidly get the message out and create the necessary change to move to a scientifically grounded, resource based, sustainable economy we have to get smart, pick our fights carefully… and learn from past mistakes.
The classic mistake, discussed in Death of Environmentalism, is to be too literal and too narrow in focus allowing the agenda to be pigeon holed as special interest; a bitter irony seeing as nothing in the human domain can exist without the ‘environment’. We need to reframe the argument. Or to put it another way, we should stop talking about the environment altogether.
To succeed we must reframe sustainability as a journey to increased freedom, happiness, more and better quality time and stronger communities. We need to build our campaigns upon values that run deeper then the distorted values (use a different word for values?) that have emerged from the temporary aberration of industrial capitalism and its associated distorted culture. For example, rather than being anti-car lets be pro healthy, local communities where people can live and work without the need to regularly commute long distances.
Aside from the overarching problem of talking as though the environment was special interest or peripheral to the ‘serious reality’ of human affairs. 2 (two) critical mistakes that we keep repeating in campaigns are 1) being negative (or unpopular) and 2) not being ambitious enough.
First up, Nic Marks explains clearly in this very important Ted Talk how describing nightmare scenarios does not motivate people to change. It leads to a fight or flight response. Either: fight the environmentalist, run a mile, or ease yourself gently into the cool, slow waters of denial.
Environmentalists have made the mistake of telling people the world is going to end and then telling them to stop doing something they like. A classic case is the sustained, high profile attack on aviation. Campaigning against flying in general (as opposed to new airports or short haul) alienates people in the middle ground who may be sympathetic to environmental issues but not so much that they are not prepared to stop flying altogether. It allows the media to portray the green agenda as detrimental to the happiness of the masses when societies happiness is actually fundamental. The infamous Plane Stupid video of polar bears falling from planes is a case in point. This isn’t going to stop people flying it will just confuse and upset them and possibly make them angry.
Furthermore, aviation clearly serves an important role for humans above and beyond holiday travel. Ask anyone with a lover or family member on another continent how they feel about aviation being banned and you will see why this is always going to be an unpopular ‘victory’ at best.
Technically the argument is weak too. We can make space for well regulated aviation in a future sustainable world. It just requires we take a global perspective on resource use and ensure that the eco footprint of aviation is an agreed proportion of the total human eco footprint that we have scientifically ascertained the atmosphere / biosphere can tolerate.
In contrast, there are many parts of our bloated, inefficient, unscientific economy that do nothing for human well being but have vast ecological footprints. The most obvious waste of resources resulting in declining well being is war as explored in ‘peace… or die’. Much of our infrastructure is inefficient by design as explored in ‘this is not a chimney’. What about the fact that we import and export the same amount of lamb and apples to New Zealand? This vacuous element of globalization is monstrously dim-witted. Even the free market apostles who relentlessly sell us myths standing on a smoking planetary pyre must have trouble explaining how it in any way makes sense to endlessly ship products around the world when local alternatives exist. Or why we should create something called ‘waste’ which we return to nature by the billions of tonnes?
Looking through this lens we see that the environmentalist obsession with attacking aviation is misguided. Our priority should be stopping behaviours with big eco footprints but low utility. Aviation has immense value and attacking it will make the green agenda unpopular at exactly the time that we need to be igniting a poplar mass movement.
Greens are waking up to the fact that Martin Luther King changed history by saying ‘I have a dream’ (not nightmare) and that rather than beating with a stick we should be luring with a carrot. For example: if you live / work locally you will have healthier communities and more time with you family; if you cycle or walk to work you will be slimmer, healthier and save money; if you have interesting hobbies using your creativity you will be saner and happier than if you spend every weekend in the shopping mall.” These are the hallowed sustainability double dividends explored in more detail on the Green and Happy page; ways in which we can boost well being whilst reducing our eco footprint. Collectively these activities make the happier, healthier world we are trying to move to and should be the first behaviour changes to go for. HRH Prince Charles is ahead of the game (again) with the launch of his new Start Initiative which promotes positive activities.
The next campaign issue to address is low ambition. We have been watching with dismay as the UK 10:10 campaign (which started with such a flourish) seems to have shrunk in ambition so low to a point that it has now morphed into a campaign simply to get the UK government to shift the daylight savings times. Even this small, logical change apparently requires a campaign (with requests for donations and fax-your-mp click-throughs!). Couldn’t this kind of small step be achievable through a well presented argument or report put to the right parliamentarian? There are only so many times we can mobilize people to take an action so when we do we should make sure the outcome is worth it.
So let’s dream big; imagine the future we want; be ambitious and go for big popular issues that will make a significant difference to our world. First up… the Work Less; Live More Campaign.
NB: Before launching any campaign it is highly recommended to check the excellent Campaign Strategy website.
All you really wanted
Which is to say
You only wanted more.
Ram Tzu knows this…
What you now have
Is all you’ll ever have.
All the eyes of the world are turned to the beaches of the most dominant nation of our times. The world is watching closely as this pivotal culture wrestles with this unprecedented environmental catastrophe. Will Obama use this as his movement to make a clean break and fundamentally restructure the energy infrastructure in the same way that 9/11 was used as the catalyst to restructure US foreign policy? Will regulation be changed in such a way that big business can no longer dictate the terms of its own scrutiny? Will BP finally be seen for the serial offender and gross violator of nature that it really is… yada yada.
But wait a second… is this really an unprecedented environmental catastrophe? Or is it really that a far bigger fuss is made when the USA and its sacrosanct way of life is threatened? Just across the Atlantic a far larger spill has been ravaging the coastal ecosystem, poisoning the people and devastating a way of living for over two decades. Nobody is watching and nobody cares. Presumably this is because this is not an aspirational culture. It is not a holiday destination and could it also be because the oil is harder to see on the people’s skin? This is Africa and the people being poisoned are Nigerian.
The companies operating (Shell, Agip, ExxonMobil) may be different but the catastrophe is exactly the same. This is the inanity of Obama rounding on BP and calling it ‘British Petroleum’. It doesn’t matter which company it is or which country it is head office is based in. This is the same dirty shit. This is massive corporations that have grown too big to control doing what they were set up to do. Converting natural capital into cash as fast as humanly possible to satisfy the false god made manifest by the demons at Harvard Business School that have for years spread their sick sermon of shareholder return over people and the planet. These tormented cogs in an ungodly machine have sold their souls along with the planet and now we reap the vengeance as hell is brought down to our earthly paradise.
The Nigerian coastline has had to endure 1.5m tons of oil. More oil is spilled from the delta’s network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico, What isn’t spilt is shipped to… you’ve guessed it! Our favourite Empire… the Niger delta supplies 40% of all the crude the United States imports. The burden of its role as furnace stokers of the bloated, inefficient and distended US machine is almost too much to bear. Life expectancy in its rural communities, half of which have no access to clean water, has fallen to little more than 40 years over the past two generations.
In this unregulated, pioneer land western companies bribe the government and suffocate dissent allowing them to cut endless corners and operate as cheaply as possible. By their sick algebra the most profitable means of extracting the black gold is simply to burn the accompanying gas (a scarce and valuable resource) off in flares (definition below). In Nigeria there are flares that have been burning continuously since 1972. You don’t need a degree in atmospheric or environmental science to know that deep down this is just wrong.
All this goes to show without a shadow of a doubt that we do not face a choice. The questions have already answered and it is a no-brainer. Two roads bifurcate in front of us. One leads to a sustainable future in which we shift rapidly away from fossil fuels; live more locally; work fewer hours; shift our attentions from consumption to creativity; from competition to cooperation and provide space for the natural world to recover and evolve. This way of life is not mysterious. It is not fanciful. It is not utopian. It is practical and people are already doing it. Transition Towns show how to implement an ‘energy decent plan’ and check this new report from the Centre from Alternative Technology and NEF outlines a zero-carbon vision of the UK within 20 years.
The other road leads straight to hell. People of earth… the choice is yours.
Gas flare definition (source: wikipedia)
A gas flare, alternatively known as a flare stack, is an elevated vertical conveyance found accompanying the presence of oil and gas wells, rigs, refineries, chemical plants, natural gas plants, and landfills. They are used to eliminate waste gas which is otherwise not feasible to use or transport. They also act as safety systems for non-waste gas and is released via pressure relief valve when needed to ease the strain on equipment. They protect gas processing equipments from being overpressured. Also in case of an emergency situation, the flare system helps burn out the total reserve gas.
Flaring and venting of natural gas from oil & gas wells is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Its contribution to greenhouse gases has declined by three-quarters in absolute terms since a peak in the 1970s of approximately 110 million metric tons/year and now accounts for 0.5% of all anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. The World Bank estimates that over 150 billion cubic metres of natural gas are flared or vented annually, an amount worth approximately 30.6 billion dollars, equivalent to 25 percent of the United States’ gas consumption or 30 percent of the European Union’s gas consumption per year. This flaring is highly concentrated: 10 countries account for 75% of emissions, and twenty for 90%. The largest flaring operations occur in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The leading contributors to gas flaring are (in declining order): Nigeria, Russia, Iran, Algeria, Mexico, Venezuela, Indonesia, and the United States. In spite of a ruling by the Federal High Court of Nigeria (that forbade flaring) in 2005, 43% of the gas retrieval was still being flared in 2006. It will be prohibited by law as of 2008. Russia has announced it will stop the practice of gas flaring as stated by deputy prime minister Sergei Ivanov on Wednesday September 19, 2007. This step was, at least in part, a response to a recent report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that concluded Russia’s previous numbers may have been underestimated. The report, which used night time light pollution satellite imagery to estimate flaring, put the estimate for Russia at 50 billion cubic meters while the official numbers are 15 or 20 billion cubic meters. The number for Nigeria is 23 billion cubic meters.
More than anything else, the future of civilization depends on the way the two most powerful forces of history, science and religion, settle into relationship with each other.
Alfred North Whitehead
Technology is presented as the solution to environmental problems but wasn’t it technology that got us into this mess in the first place? This won’t sit well with the people trying to sell us green gadgets but we may have to change more than just our light bulbs. The environmental crisis we face is more than just a technological challenge. It is also a moral challenge. Whether it is fashionable or not to bring it up most people on earth still belong to the world’s great religions. Could these huge collections of people hold the key to the widespread behaviour change needed to save civilization?
Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.
The success of science is the foundation of the modern age. Science has enabled us to build new technologies, live longer and accrue unprecedented material wealth. However, the ongoing expansion of human capital is marred by the looming spectre of environmental collapse. Humans are expanding into, and at the expense of, the natural world upon which we depend. Humans also have a track record of using smart technology in stupid ways. Exploding thermonuclear devices above cities, engineering viruses and building gas chambers all demonstrate the immense harm we can do ourselves with technology. Holding up science and technology as the solution to environmental problems passes the buck away from the simple truth that it is what we do with technology that is the problem. To paraphrase Ghandi we need to be the change that we want to see in the world; our behaviours and cultural norms must change in line with our changing ecological context.
A scientific interpretation of religion sees it as a complex adaptive system of beliefs that persists because it instils an advantage on practitioners. For example, the reverence of the holy cow in India effectively prevents the slaughter of cattle. Anthropologist Marvin Harris has shown that cows play a critical role in the Indian economy and the greater good is served by not slaughtering them. The dung is fuel, their traction pulls ploughs and they provide an ongoing supply of milk for children. Thus religion can act as a means of optimizing behaviour.
Religion is culturally ubiquitous and acts as social glue. It provides the common values necessary to make individuals want to do what they must do if social order is to be achieved especially in times of hardship or scarcity. Examples can be found from every religion of peoples’ faith providing a narrative allowing them to make sense of their universe and optimize behaviour in the face of overwhelming unknowns and challenges.
Clearly, religion has its dark side. History is made up of bloody competition between warring tribes. Often it is religious belief that gives a human superorganism its sense of superiority and it readiness to fight and destroy other groups. However, just as modern nations are increasingly multicultural; could not religions coexist with a shared sense of duty towards the planet? An expansion of the religious approach from being tribal or ethnic to planetary could transform modern religions into powerful forces for nature conservation. Just to take Catholicism as an example, if the Pope invested a fraction the energy he spends on sexual morality encouraging sustainable resource use the gains for everyone would be huge.
Voluntary (material) simplicity, revering creation and showing love to fellow humans will be pivotal ethics in the campaign to reduce the total human ecological footprint and are core teachings of many religious leaders including Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha and Ghandi. Yet to date there seems to be little coming together of environmental and religious worldviews. Are religious people so focused on the afterlife they aren’t concerned with progress down here on the earthly plane? Perhaps new and more relevant interpretations of what the religious founders were saying are called for?
The root etymological meaning of religion, the Latin religio, translates as ‘to connect’. A modern interpretation of our religions could connect all humankind to itself and to this planet. By combining with religions a more sophisticated understanding of our mutual interdependencies and the physical limits of our planet a common cause between religions can be identified and a common route into future existence mapped out.
This is in actual fact the completion of a circle. The first religions were invariably based on nature worship. For our ancestors the environment was more immediate and vital. Food, predators and the seasons determined life and death from one day to the next. So it is fitting that as our environmental conditions again become a matter of survival the focus of our religions should pan back and once again incorporate all of the natural world not just human affairs.
It is hard to hear the first voices of dissent opposing never ending economic growth in the face of the deafening roar of development. Indeed environmentalists have been branded radicals and terrorists for opposing the apostles of the free market. Greens with a spiritual dimension to their campaign are derided most: ‘New Agers’. However the ‘idealism’ behind moving to an ecological age is in fact the only rational future for humanity. Prophets or shamans may see outside the consensual reality tunnel and report back and precipitate change.
Alastair McIntosh was one such man. He stood firm in the face of development and preserved his home island. The Isle of Harris was chosen by Redland Aggregates as the prime location for a new massive quarry to supply aggregates for new motorway construction. At 10 million tonnes output per annum, the proposed quarry at Lingerabay would have been 50 times larger than a conventional large British quarry. The area is a designated National Scenic Area. Alastair a Quaker joined forces with Donald Macleod the Calvinist and Chief Stone Eagle Herney a Mi’Kmaq Warrior from Nova Scotia to lead an irresistible campaign preventing construction. They all testified at the public enquiry not by engaging in a scientific debate but by drawing on a sense of profound connection to the land, reverence for God and entering into a “dynamic of service to the natural world”. Their testimonies supported by the pluralistic, democratic campaign proved an unstoppable force.
For these people religious thought is clearly more than just an adaptive behavioural trait. It is an expression of the spirituality available to all people. Life has evolved into ever more complicated forms on this planet for 3.6 billion years. This increasing complexity suggests a direction and purpose. Opposed to the onward march towards entropy of the rest of the universe life is becoming ever more complex and organized. Humans sit atop this apex of development and our conscious minds, composed of atoms created in suns, is the awakening universe knowing itself.
God sleeps in the rock
Dreams in the plant,
Stirs in the animal,
And awakens in man.
The development of human consciousness and the science and religious thought associated with it allowed humans to expand out of our ecological niche and spread over the world. An expansion of this consciousness further will allow us to shift from competition driven on by our so called ‘selfish genes’ to cooperation. Once society becomes sustainable the world is literally our oyster. Technology can be called upon to once again enhance the human condition. We can explore our planet; celebrate and study other life forms; realize the full creative potential of our imaginations and ultimately head for the stars.
The environmental crisis is an outward manifestation of the collective psychological crisis of humans struggling within the existential void of existence that comes from the false belief that we (our egos) are independent entities separate from the rest of the universe. This crisis represents an opportunity. In choosing to move into a sustainable, ecological age we must necessarily open our hearts to our fellow humans and deepen our connection to nature. The ultimate spiritual revelation, as reported back by the great sages independently in disparate religious traditions is called the Perennial Philosophy. It is the “the confidence that we have devolved from a single Source and the process of spiritual development is completed and perfected in our return to that One” It has been stated thus:
“Be still and know that I am God!” Psalm 46:10
“If thou knowest thine own self, thou knowest God.” Ibn-Al-Arabi
This has been re-encapsulated in our time by the environmentalist David Suzuki who said:
“We are the environment.”
Of course this is a scientific truth too. Humans are dissipative structures. Our organizational structure is maintained through the consumption of our environments. We eat other living organisms and the atoms of their bodies become the atoms of ours. There is a flow of energy and matter from the universe around us into the temporary structures that make up our bodies. So ultimately scientific and religious thought converge. The take home lesson is that you should love your environment, your planet and indeed your cosmos as if it was yourself… because it is.
Understanding this not only leads to the conclusion that what we do the environment we do to ourselves and that a species going extinct is like the death of a part of our soul but that everything around us, including ourselves is, for lack of a better word, God. This expansion of consciousness is our next evolutionary step. We have reached what Buckminster Fuller called our “final evolutionary exam”. Choosing existence and starting the shift to an ecological age is an opportunity to reinterpret our existence. At best sustainability will be a triumph of our better nature and shared adventure into spirit. At worst, we will survive.
The process behind altering the earth’s atmosphere and therefore its climate is now well understood. Humans mine from the earth and from the bottom of the oceans the compressed fossils of organisms that lived on the planet eons ago. These beings were sustained by the energy captured from ancient sunlight beamed through space in an epoch before the first mammals had even evolved.
Photosynthetic organisms use the energy of sunlight to turn CO2 from a gas in the atmosphere into the living matter of all the creatures on earth. When these plants, algae and plankton are eaten the matter is passed up the food chain. When living organisms die if they are not consumed by another they may be transformed to soil, sedimentary rock or the infamous, so-called fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas). Thus the total mass of organic matter has been increasing on earth continuously since the dawn of life.
The industrial revolution and subsequent, derived technological expansion reverses this process. Power stations, the boiler in your cupboard and the engine in your car take the fossilized remains of ancient animals and burn them. This combustion releases the energy that was captured back in the day and returns the complex organic carbon matter back to molecular form (CO2 and water). Because we live in a ‘fossil fuel economy’ almost everything we do has a carbon footprint. However, because this is a new science and only recently taught in schools many people struggle to understand what a carbon footprint actually is. A carbon footprint is the carbon released into the atmosphere from whatever you do… but how can we conceptualize this?
People discussing climate change often use the unit of a tonne of co2. We know that on average in the UK we release 11 a year, about 1 a month. In the US it is about double this. Specific activities can be given a carbon footprint. For example, flying to New York releases about 3 tonnes of co2 and flying to Australia about 10.
What is this tonne? Where is this tonne? What is it doing? Even within the low carbon world this practical information is not well understood. Presumably this is because we are discussing an invisible gas. This may get to the heart of the climate challenge. No one can see it happening. The ‘greatest threat humanity has ever faced’ is invisible and gradual (until it goes non-linear that is; if feedback loops amplify change so that it ‘runs away’ change will be fast and irreversible).
Last year I worked with a crack squad of artists, architects, event producers and the world’s leading projection company to construct a sculpture the size of 1 tonne of co2 at COP 15 and project upon it a range of climate themed audio visuals.
Standing in front of the work of art elicited a range of psychological, emotional and physical responses. This mega monolith manifested in downtown Copenhagen was so big (8m x 8m x 8m) it was shocking; but it was the accompanying data that really knocked the wind out of you. In total humans release 80 million of these suckers every day (2006 data). Stacked on top of each other these would go to the moon and back 1.5 times (every day). In a year the figure is 28,431,741,000 tonnes. In other words we have got cubes coming out of the ying yang!
The exhibit culminated with a Kenji Williams performing Bella Gaia in front of the cube with exclusive NASA footage projected in the background.
This staggering scale is even more sobering when it is made relative to the total volume of the atmosphere. From the scale of us humans busy with our daily endeavours on the planet’s surface the atmosphere seems enormous. It dwarfs us. However, at the scale of the planet the atmosphere is almost unnoticeable. The atmosphere and oceans are so small in comparison to the overall earth it is comparable to a film of water on a billiard ball. Even all the mighty oceans only make up 1/4000 of the earth’s total mass. The scale height of the atmosphere is about 8.5 km. Whereas the radius of the earth is 6,371.0km in other words the earth is more than 1000 times bigger than the atmosphere.
The third rock from the sun contains around it a thin layer of water, gases and vapour at a temperature of between −89 °C to 57.7 °C (mean = 14 °C). Within this exists all of the known life in the universe and all that most of us holds dear. For astronauts in space seeing this can be an epiphany. Here are some reactions to seeing our home from space:
Looking outward to the blackness of space, sprinkled with the glory of a universe of lights, I saw majesty – but no welcome. Below was a welcoming planet. There, contained in the thin, moving, incredibly fragile shell of the biosphere is everything that is dear to you, all the human drama and comedy. That’s where life is; that’s were all the good stuff is.
– Loren Acton, USA
For the first time in my life I saw the horizon as a curved line. It was accentuated by a thin seam of dark blue light – our atmosphere. Obviously this was not the ocean of air I had been told it was so many times in my life. I was terrified by its fragile appearance. – Ulf Merbold, Federal Republic of Germany
A Chinese tale tells of some men sent to harm a young girl who, upon seeing her beauty, become her protectors rather than her violators. That’s how I felt seeing the Earth for the first time. I could not help but love and cherish her. – Taylor Wang, China/USA
The total annual emissions of greenhouse gasses from human activity are a not insignificant percentage of the total atmospheric mass. If our atmosphere was the size of an apple, every year we are sticking a pea size amount of poisonous gas into it. We have been doing this since 1750. It is not unbelievable that doing this would create a change to our atmosphere and to our climate. It is unbelievable that we have been doing this for 250 years and we are still around to talk about it. Why aren’t we already extinct!? The resilience of the earth’s atmosphere is largely down to the dynamic nature of the ecological systems that make up the biosphere. At this point it may be worth pointing out that at the same time as pumping vast amounts of gas into the biosphere we are also removing the great forests of the world which draw co2 out of the atmosphere.
Personally I sincerely wish it was true that a group of scientists had invented climate change as an elaborate plot to usher in a world government who will curtail the rights of US gun toters, ban Christianity and create a homosexual communist utopia. The inconvenient truth that just will not go away is that thousands of different scientists in different parts of the world, using different techniques and speaking different languages are measuring and monitoring the same phenomena. We are changing our atmosphere and our climate.
Whatever your ideological stand point you need a healthy atmosphere to breathe. The people who are slowing down and hampering global efforts to preserve our atmosphere fit into 3 different categories. They are either not educated to the level to enable them to understand the science; they are stupid or they work for the fossil fuel industry. If you can’t understand the science for whatever reason, we politely ask you: please step aside; your ignorance is deadly. Those who can understand the science are aware of an enormous imminent threat and are working hard to find solutions. For the other category you are worse than irresponsible. You are traitors to your species, your planet and this grand evolutionary adventure. Your greed is endangering all of the life on this planet. The best thing we could do with you would be to stick you on a planet that doesn’t have an atmosphere and see how you like it when your eyes pop out of your skull rapidly followed by your evil little reptilian brain.