Sunday 31 October 2010

An Open Letter to Johann Hari

Hi Johann,

Over the last 18 months I have 'discovered' your writing in a big way and have got a lot from it. I am very thankful and grateful that you are out there researching and writing these things and that we have a press willing to publish your work.

You played no small part in me attending the protest against Vodafone on Wednesday, it was the first time I have ever taken to the streets in anger to protest against anything (apart from the odd Climate Change march, which I find wholly disillusioning). As you wrote about Obama the other day, good people must 'keep on' at good people, so I am here to ask you why you didn't come down to Oxford Street on Wednesday? Many of my fellow protesters were expecting you and were disappointed you hadn't showed. I am sure you had good reason for not being there, I'd never accuse you of being lazy! I couldn't take further action this Saturday as I am in Wales spending precious time with my family, if you missed Wednesday for similar reasons, I totally understand that. I'm not sure whether you were on the streets on Saturday? Were you?

My personal reason for protesting is a dissatisfaction with the system of governance we live under, for me it wouldn't have made a jot of difference whether we protested against Vodafone or O2 or Orange - I am protesting against the corporatisation of the state and the free market crusade. I hope Thom Costello and friends decide to attack multiple targets to show how this problem is a systemic problem, not the malpractice of one isolated organisation. There are legitimate reasons to protest against almost any multinational corporation, they all have skeletons in their closet from some point in their history. They have created or exacerbated many untold environmental, social and economic problems over the years, why not dig these skeletons out? It is almost irrelevant how recent or not their malpractices are. If you target only one company, it makes them look like the one 'bad egg' in an otherwise fair system - giving the impression to the public that if we route them out then things will be OK again. This won't create change, maximise the diversify the protest to highlight how many companies and people are implicated in this - this then tells the truth to the public about the systemic problems we face.

Keep up the Good Work!


Tuesday 26 October 2010

Re-thinking our approach to Climate Change

I've just responded to a blog post titled: 'Is it time for the Climate Change movement to completely re-think our approach?' on Be That In short, yes it is and it has been for a long time. In the blog Kieren Battles laments the lack of media coverage given to events on 10:10:10 and rightly suggests that: 'Surely we cannot continue to do the same thing and expect different outcomes. As we all know, that’s the definition of madness.' So here is the comment I posted, hopefully it is constructive:

It is nice to read someone honestly admitting that 'events' like 10:10:10 essentially fail to capture public and media attention, you are right they do. On top of this only 74,000 people out of a 60,000,000 population have signed up (and how many of them fulfill their pledge I wonder?) .. You are also right to say that a mass frisbee event (if, and probably only if, heavily sponsored and promoted by a multinational corporation) would have got more attention, it undoubtedly would have. The mainstream media sadly has a habit of ignoring anything that in any way suggests we consume less (of anything) for any reason. The mainstream media is, in the main, run/funded by people stuck in the neo-liberal consumer capitalist paradigm and they are hell-bent on prolonging it as long as they can. I'm not a huge fan of the 10:10 approach and although I think Bill McKibben's 'Deep Economy' is an excellent book,, is also not the best approach to take... they both use the wrong language, ask for a pathetic amount of change, are reductionist and strengthen the trend toward green consumerism, which in the end creates 'less bad' not 'better' behaviour. What always seems to be missing in the design of such initiatives is a realisation that people don't damage the environment because the HATE the environment, or HATE polar bears. They damage it because they care about other things as well, lots of other things - TV, films, music, clothes, playstations, holidays, toys, phones etc etc etc. It is hardly surprising given all the influences that surrounds them. Environmental concern, however strong, is only one of those influences and often it is a minor and easily forgotten one.

Taking the single issue, reductionist approach of only campaigning on Climate Change, is disingenuous when we need systemic change. Campaigns like 10:10 seem to ask only 'how can we go on living like this, but in a low-carbon way?' We need to inspire people, especially young people, to create new ways of doing just about everything: grow food, make clothes, entertain themselves and each other, build houses, travel, socialise, holiday, work, care, etc, etc. We need an education system that teaches science, maths, english, history, geography, languages, sport, economics, politics and philosophy through the language of sustainability... this way we create sustainably literate young adults, who can envisage different (and more commonsensical) ways of doing things and the skills, knowledge and creativity to do them. Sure you can educate about environmental problems, the end of oil, biodiversity loss and so on, the reality check is essential. But also educate in science about biomimicry and permaculture, in PE and drama about the joy of doing it, rather than watching it; in English about The Great Gatsby's painful experience of the material wealth = happiness myth; in philosophy about Aristotle's pursuit of wellbeing through welldoing and Plato's understandings of simplicity; in economics about the truth behind Milton Friedmann's Fundamental free market, The Spirit Level and the Green New Deal; in Art about the romantic's love of nature and fear for it, etc, etc.. The young people of today need to question everything, they need inspirational teachers who can guide them through this and point them towards ideas like Cradle to Cradle and The School of Life.

A lot of money was thrown behind 10:10, has it done anything more than create a load of convenient 'greenwash' for institutions, individuals, organisations and governments? Could the money have been spent better by campaigning for systemic change in formal education, which is clearly, at the moment, completely unfit for the 21st Century? The inconvenient question then of course is whether they would have got so much support? I'd argue they would have; there are a lot of teachers and parents and pupils out there who are deeply dissatisfied with our current education system. Let's stop pissing about at the margins of a broken system, pretending that it can work and, to paraphrase Buckminster Fuller, 'create a new system that makes the old one obsolete'. The Human Race has not evolved to anywhere near its potential yet, this is obvious by looking at the way we measure our wealth as individuals and countries. There are exciting times ahead, we need to create them, Ellen MacArthur recognises this, please check out her foundation.

Sunday 24 October 2010

Greenest Government Ever...

It was reported today in the Telegraph that DEFRA are being forced to sell off thousands of acres of woodland in the UK to cuts their costs.

These are sad times.

If you're better at graphic design for me, please make a better version of this!!

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Collaborative Consumption

Just read a P2P foundation article on 'Collaborative Consumption' and a book by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers. It discusses how we are de-materialising the creation of our identities by using social media websites. They do of course concede that we do still use material things to communicate things about ourselves, comfort ourselves, or simply to make ourselves smile. Wedding rings, shoes, family heirlooms, etc, etc.

The process of de-materialisation must be a good thing for sustainability, but how will markets react to it in an economy based on material consumption? Will they encourage and cash in on the trend, or ignore and steamroller it by upping its sale of status symbols and convenience?

Here is a quote from the book that P2P posted:

Better Than Ownership

From pp. 97-98, chapter five:

The relationship between physical products, individual ownership, and self-identity is undergoing a profound evolution. We don’t want the CD, we want the music it plays; we don’t want the disc, we want the storage it holds; we don’t want the answering machine, we want the messages it saves; we don’t want the DVD, we want the movie it carries. In other words, we don’t want the stuff but the needs or experiences it fulfills. As our possessions “dematerialize” into the intangible, our preconceptions of ownership are changing, creating a dotted line between “what’s mine,” “what’s yours,” and “what’s ours.” This shift is fueling a world where usage trumps possessions, and as Kevin Kelly, a passionate conservationist and founder of Wired magazine, puts it, where “access is better than ownership.”

There are new channels emerging—channels that don’t require you to own anything other than a computer or even just an iPhone—to share what we are doing (Twitter), what we are reading (Shelfari), what we are interested in (Digg), the groups we belong to (LinkedIn), and of course who our friends are (Facebook). As our online “brands” define “who we are” and “what we like,” actual ownership becomes less important than demonstrating use or use by association. We can now show status, group affiliation, and belonging without necessarily having to buy physical objects. Self-expression through objects will, of course, not become obsolete. We will, for instance, always treasure possessions that have high sentimental value, such as our wedding rings, relics from travels, or family heirlooms. But our relationship to satisfying what we want and signaling who we are is far more immaterial than that of any previous generation.”

Read more extracts on P2P

Monday 4 October 2010

Read this... No Pressure.

Independent journalist Johann Hari who has written an article on just about every injustice in the world today. If you want to learn about anything from Pirates to the Pope search for 'Johann Hari, Pope' and you will be taken to somewhere in the archive of the wonderful

Hari has just responded to the now infamous Richard Curtis / 10:10 'No Pressure' short film. He does not mention 10:10 in the article but this was the tweet that led me to it:

@johannhari101 The 10:10 campaign is run by good people, but I never agreed with it - here's why: - and that advert is INSANE

He is far from being the only one to react to the 'green consumerism' approach to environmentalism, Rob Hopkins has also posted an informative blog article in which he defends 10:10 but distances himself from the No Pressure video. As he puts it 'not in my name'

I posted this on Johann Hari's Facebook, thought I'd share it here too:

Re: Independent article this morning
What about encouraging people to engage in deeper systemic change? Starting with education. Our children are taught in horribly reductionist ways, they learn about the world through a very narrow frame and are not encouraged to think holistically, creatively and ethically. If we succeed in lowering our dependence on fossil fuels (or are forced to by Peak oil) we will need a new generation of young designers and doers ready to change the way we do pretty much everything....grow food, keep homes warm, travel, entertain ourselves, keep the Internet alive, generate electricity, etc, etc... That's why 10:10 frustrates me massively, they could have spent thier time and money inspiring young people and celebrating human presence on Earth. They are wasting it in exactly the ways your article describes. In environmental action/campaigning terms it is a colossal waste of funds, energy and media exposure. Mind you 10:10 might not have been blessed with so much 'support' if thier 'supporters' / colluders (I'm looking at you Guardian editor, you Prime Minister, you faceless corporation in need of Green PR) actually thought that a meaningful challenge to the status quo was on its way. You are right Johann, time is too short to pussy foot around in the margins, deep systemic change driven by unprecedented levels of creativity and ecological intelligence is required, if the mainstream green movement does not recognise and call for this what chance the powerful will?

I have a lot of respect for all the energy and commitment of the people behind 10:10 and their hearts seem to be in the right place, I hope they can take on board all the constructive criticism and stay strong in the face of all the mindless vicious criticism that does the rounds on YouTube and the like!