Channelling the Joy

18 06 2015

George Monbiot

George Monbiot

Go George……  I think his latest writings show a deeper understanding of our predicaments than ever, and we need him as a popular ‘voice’ to spread the truth.  Enjoy….

In defending the natural world, we should be honest about our motivations – it’s love that drives us, not money.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 17th June 2015

Who wants to see the living world destroyed? Who wants an end to birdsong, bees and coral reefs, the falcon’s stoop, the salmon’s leap? Who wants to see the soil stripped from the land, the sea rimmed with rubbish?

No one. And yet it happens. Seven billion of us allow fossil fuel companies to push shut the narrow atmospheric door through which humanity stepped. We permit industrial farming to tear away the soil,banish trees from the hills, engineer another silent spring. We let the owners of grouse moors, 1% of the 1%, shoot and poison hen harriers, peregrines and eagles. We watch mutely as a small fleet of monster fishing ships trashes the oceans.

Why are the defenders of the living world so ineffective? It is partly, of course, that everyone is complicit; we have all been swept off our feet by the tide of hyperconsumption, our natural greed excited, corporate propaganda chiming with a will to believe that there is no cost. But perhaps environmentalism is also afflicted by a deeper failure: arising possibly from embarrassment or fear, a failure of emotional honesty.

I have asked meetings of green-minded people to raise their hands if they became defenders of nature because they were worried about the state of their bank accounts. Never has a hand appeared. Yet I see the same people base their appeal to others on the argument that they will lose money if we don’t protect the natural world.

Such claims are factual, but they are also dishonest: we pretend that this is what animates us, when in most cases it does not. The reality is that we care because we love. Nature appealed to our hearts, when we were children, long before it appealed to our heads, let alone our pockets. Yet we seem to believe we can persuade people to change their lives through the cold, mechanical power of reason, supported by statistics.

I see the encyclical by Pope Francis, which will be published on Thursday, as a potential turning point. He will argue that not only the physical survival of the poor, but also our spiritual welfare depends on the protection of the natural world; and in both respects he is right.

I don’t mean to suggest that a belief in God is the answer to our environmental crisis. Among Pope Francis’s opponents is the evangelical Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has written to him arguing that we have a holy duty to keep burning fossil fuel, as “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork”. It also insists that exercising the dominion granted to humankind in Genesis means tilling the whole Earth”, transforming it “from wilderness to garden and ultimately to garden city”.

There are similar tendencies within the Vatican. Cardinal George Pell, its head of finance, currently immersed in a scandal involving paedophile priests in Australia, is a prominent climate change denier. His lecture to the Global Warming Policy Foundation was the usual catalogue of zombie myths (discredited claims that keep resurfacing), nonsequiturs and outright garbage, championing, for example, the groundless claim that undersea volcanoes could be responsible for global warming. There are plenty of senior Catholics seeking to undermine the Pope’s defence of the living world; which could explain why his encyclical was leaked.

What I mean is that Pope Francis, a man with whom I disagree profoundly on matters such as equal marriage and contraceptives, reminds us that the living world provides not only material goods and tangible services, but is also essential to other aspects of our well-being. And you don’t have to believe in God to endorse that view.

In his beautiful book The Moth Snowstorm, Michael McCarthy suggests that a capacity to love the natural world, rather than merely to exist within it, might be a uniquely human trait. When we are close to nature, we sometimes find ourselves, as Christians put it, surprised by joy: “a happiness with an overtone of something more, which we might term an elevated or, indeed, a spiritual quality.”

He believes we are wired to develop a rich emotional relationship with nature. A large body of research suggests that contact with the living world remains essential to our psychological and physiological well-being. (A paper published this week, for example, claims that green spaces around city schools improve children’s mental performance).

This does not mean that all people love nature; what it means, McCarthy proposes, is that there’s a universal propensity to love it, which may be drowned out by the noise that assails our minds. As I’ve found while volunteering with the outdoor education charity Wide Horizons, this love can be provoked almost immediately, even among children who have never visited the countryside before. Nature, McCarthy argues, remains our home, “the true haven for our psyches”, and retains an astonishing capacity to bring peace to troubled minds. Acknowledging our love for the living world does something that a library full of papers on sustainable development and ecosystem services cannot: it engages the imagination as well as the intellect. It inspires belief; and this is essential to the lasting success of any movement.

Is this a version of the religious conviction from which Pope Francis speaks? Or could his religion be a version of a much deeper and older love? Could a belief in God be a way of explaining and channelling the joy, the burst of love that nature sometimes provokes in us? Conversely, could the hyperconsumption that both religious and secular environmentalists lament be a response to ecological boredom: the void that a loss of contact with the natural world leaves in our psyches?

Of course, this doesn’t answer the whole problem. If the acknowledgement of love becomes the means by which we inspire environmentalism in others, how do we translate it into political change? But I believe it’s a better grounding for action than pretending that what really matters to us is the state of the economy. By being honest about our motivation we can inspire in others the passions that inspired us.


23 02 2015

Be prepared to be regaled by truly stunning photography, even when it’s ugly…..  A must watch film.  Anyone who enjoys their cushy lifestyle needs to know at what cost.  Share widely.

We are living in exceptional times. Scientists tell us that we have 10 years to change the way we live, avert the depletion of natural resources and the catastrophic evolution of the Earth’s climate.

The stakes are high for us and our children. Everyone should take part in the effort, and HOME has been conceived to take a message of mobilization out to every human being.

For this purpose, HOME needs to be free. A patron, the PPR Group, made this possible. EuropaCorp, the distributor, also pledged not to make any profit because Home is a non-profit film.

HOME has been made for you : share it! And act for the planet.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand

HOME official website

PPR is proud to support HOME

HOME is a carbon offset movie

More information about the Planet

On taking things for granted……..

1 08 2013

We live in a world that makes most things easy.  And we take this ease for granted.  And I can tell you from first hand experience, that taking things for granted can land you in a whole of trouble….

Glenda and I are going back to the big smoke again this weekend for a friend’s 70th birthday.  I must’ve met Roger forty years ago now, even before Glenda….  how time flies.  Roger, who suffered from polio as a kid and wears leg irons and gets around on crutches, sailed around the world with his wife and kids and is not the type to let mere handicaps like leg irons stop him from doing what he wants to achieve…  He and a group of other friends were a large part of my life once, and it was actually through them that I met Glenda…  and she and I were reminiscing about this long gone part of our lives the other day, when we started talking about the event that could’ve easily taken our lives, involving a trip to the Barrier Reef with Roger and a whole host of other people.  I thought I’d share it with you…

Once upon a time, I used to make regular trips to the barrier reef, SCUBA diving, spear fishing, and taking underwater photos of the brilliant ecosystem that is the reef.  Words cannot describe it.  Photos do a better job…  but really, you have to be there to appreciate the reef.  It is truly a wonder of the world…..

Clownfish on anemone

Clownfish on anemone

I had a long break from the reef after getting married, what with travelling overseas and then starting a photographic studio, and embracing the Matrix mercilessly, then having children… there was no time for such trips.  But we eventually returned, with our kids.  They just had to see it before it disappears because of Climate Change.

To reach these islands some 80km off the coast at Gladstone Harbour, we chartered a large boat big enough to take the twenty of us and all our gear and food and water for two weeks.  Needless to say you have to be well organised, there are no last minute runs to the corner shop in the SUV to get another box of corn flakes….  It’s an eight to ten hour trip, and everything has to be unloaded when you get there, including a couple of small boats with fuel and sails etc.  It’s quite an expedition.

Camping on the island with no TVs and no computers and no mobile phones is blissful.  And it makes you talk to other people too..!  There you can forget the Matrix, and enjoy the important things in life.

One of my favourite pastimes was photographing Clownfish.  These were made famous by Hollywood when they made “Finding Nemo” who was a Clownfish.  They’re really easy to photograph, almost enticing you to.  They are normally so common….  well I just took them for granted.  But on out last trip to Northwest Island, there were none to be seen, not even in the protected zones, which, let me tell you, was very depressing.  Something is definitely awry here, and it’s not down to people eating them.

North West Island

Speaking of eating, another activity I always looked forward to was spearfishing.  In the good old days (when I was twenty one……  sigh) you could dive in the water with a speargun and look around for the best and biggest coral trout or cod.  All it took was one kill for dinner.  I even speared a Venus Tusk Fish once that must’ve weighed twenty kilos and fed the whole camp.  We never killed more than we could eat and never removed fish from the island, though later some less environmentally friendly people started bringing freezers and generators…..  which was about when I stopped going.  That sort of behaviour is now banned thank goodness.

But this last trip, I speared one fish that wasn’t worth eating, and then didn’t catch one other……  where have all the cods and trouts gone…?  In people’s freezers?

One of the men on this last trip was a friend of Roger’s whose name, if I remember rightly, I think was Peter.  He owned an American Indian style canoe fitted with an outrigger and sail, and he and his daughter went out sailing on this thing nearly every day.  Being friends of Roger’s I assumed they were perfectly capable sailors, and on our last day, I decided to go out with them accompanied by Glenda.  The idea was they would drop me off on the edge of the reef with my speargun to see if I could catch one decent fish before leaving.  When we reached the outer reef, Peter’s daughter dunked the anchor, which I took for granted hit the sand at the bottom.  So I didn’t check…  I assumed she would….

As I had been having trouble with my weight belt, I mucked around for maybe ten or fifteen minutes, removing one weight at a time, testing floatation, and again, and again…..  until I was happy.  Back in the water, i started swimming face down with a snorkel towards the island and the reef.  And I swam, and I swam, and……  where was the damn reef?  I turned around only to see the small canoe my wife and the other two were in disappearing towards the horizon…..  I turned the other way to look at the island and thought…..  geez it looks rather small from here…..  which is when I realised we had all been drifting away from the island, the anchor had never hit bottom.  And here I was, in a black wet suit, in the middle of the shark infested and equally black coral sea, where no one would see me.  If they even knew I was missing……!

The current was strong.  It was clearly decision time.  I unclipped and dumped the weight belt, and rolled over onto my back and began using my fins to swim as fast as I could comfortably keep up for I didn’t know how long.  In those days, I could easily cycle for two hours non stop, riding up and down Brisbane’s biggest hills, and I convinced myself all I had to do was get in the groove, and just do it.  I have no idea how long I did this for, I guesstimate maybe two hours.  Encouragingly, I could tell I was making progress.  Slowly but surely, the island was getting bigger…  but how long would I last?  And zero signs of the other three or the bright red sail that was raised above the boat.  Surely that thing could point into the wind against the current…?

Eventually, the charter boat that was going to take us back to Gladstone the following day arrived out of the blue, dropping off another lot of people.  How lucky could I get?  Raising myself up as far out of the water as my poor old legs and fins would allow, I yelled and screamed and waved my speargun in the air, until to my relief, someone on the boat spotted me.  You have no idea how euphoric that felt…..  I was pretty buggered by then, and I really have no idea how much longer I could have kept on swimming.  At least in a wetsuit I could never sink I suppose….

The skipper positioned the boat close to me, and I dragged myself aboard, spluttering about the other three drifting off towards Cairns in a canoe with a red sail…..  I’m not sure they believed me, but they nevertheless motored in the right direction, and yes, we found them…..  and boy was Glenda glad to see me on the deck!

The crew threw a tow rope towards the canoe, but you wouldn’t believe it…….  it got tangled in the propeller (which was thankfully not turning).  Someone had to dive in and fix it…..  and guess who was all rigged up for diving?

Reluctantly, I jumped back in.  I say reluctantly, because by then we were in deep water, and there was a six foot swell, and there’s nothing quite as intimidating as a hundred tonne boat lurching up and down six feet when you have to get under it….  So holding one arm up to make sure the thing didn’t thump me on the head, I took a deep breath and dived under the boat and miraculously untangled the rope that would allow my wife’s rescue……  oh and the other two as well, as incompetent as they were….

Believe me, that was the last time I took anything for granted.  Well, anything this serious at any rate.

And yet, we collectively take this amazing little blue planet for granted too…..  and I can’t help but wonder how much longer before that gets us all in deep trouble……  there is no planet B.

On completely missing the point….

20 07 2013

Dr Richard Oppenlander

I’ve just watched this one and a half hour video discovered on Facebook…….  it is certainly thought provoking, and I encourage you to watch it if you have the bandwidth (we, astonishingly, had ours increased FIFTEEN FOLD by our provider free of charge this month…  and I’m sure making the most of it!)

However, I am not endorsing this as the simple solution Dr Richard Oppenlander (a dentist) obviously seems to think it is.  Because he gobsmackingly omits to mention the real reasons all the depressing stuff in his presentation occur……..

I warn you, you may feel like slashing your wrists on occasion as you watch this……

When his 7 billion/70 billion slide came up, I instantly didn’t think of the 70 billion animals we allegedly keep for our consumption, I immediately focused on the smaller number……  because, obviously, if there were only one billion people here, then there would only be the need for ten billion animals…..  and if the numbers were indeed that small (and I stress, kept that small..) then climate change would not even be an issue (Oppenlander claims that our animal herds are responsible for perhaps as much as 50% of greenhouse emissions…)  At no time does Oppenlander question population growth.  He even says near the end that Americans apparently eat less red meat, but the production has not fallen.  Hello…..  of course if more people individually eat less meat, collectively the amount won’t fall, it may even grow.  Worse, he even mentions a future “nine billion” without batting an eyelid….  like it’s all OK.  All we have to do is change our diet!

For me the most shocking aspect of this long video was the fishing.  What is happening in our oceans is truly frightening, but what I saw and he fails to see (he certainly never mentions them) are the FOSSIL FUELLED fishing boats.

Now he may be right about animals producing more than double the emissions of our use of fossil fuels; BUT, and it is a very very big but, all this fishing, on the monumental scale depicted, is only possible because of fossil fuels.  In fact, fossil fuels are entirely to blame for everything.  Fossil fuels allowed our population to grow beyond one billion, and allowed agriculture to grow fast enough to feed most of us on the planet.  He seems totally unaware that 90% of the calories we all eat (unless we grow our own ‘sustainably’, come from fossil fuels.  Yes, even the vegetarian calories he eats.  Furthermore, sustainable agriculture without animals is pretty well impossible.  Fertilisers have to either come from hydrocarbons, or animals.  Period.

As I write this, I did some more research on Oppenlander and found another interesting video you may also want to watch…

To his credit, he does grow his own food.  And he has several animals there, so hopefully (no mention here) he uses their manures to make his own compost.  Disappointingly, he also has three children, so he has contributed to population growth.  Am I being over critical?  Here we have someone who is himself very critical of the way the world is run, and let’s not beat around the bush, I totally agree with that….  there are not many things on this planet we have not screwed up.  Furthermore, he is obviously well off.  How many people could afford to buy a large farm like his and lock it up away from feeding the hordes outside?  He and his family are just as much part of the problem as me and mine are….  and I would be far more impressed if he actually admitted it.

On top of that, we can’t eat grass (and there’s no shortage of that);  but the animals that can turn it into protein which we can eat…  I thought his attitude to the word protein was a bit childish, especially for someone like him who likes to call a spade a spade!

I hope he gets to see this.  The real problems are not so much what we eat, they are population growth, growth in general, fossil fuel use, and of course the Capitalist system he exists in that utterly relies on the above to grow and grow.  The growth monster is eating the planet.

Even after all that, there is but one solution, and that’s collapse.  Only collapse will end fossil fuel use and fishing, and fish farms, and growing grains to feed cattle, deforestation to grow soy and palm trees for oil and sugar, etc etc…..  but you who read this blog already knew that.