31 October 2006

A new child born

A few days ago, my second child was born – a daughter. What can she expect from life on this planet? I suspect she will be in a privileged position compared to the vast majority of (boys and) girls born on this planet this year.

According to Statistics New Zealand she's got a life-expectancy of over 81 years. The average of the over 2 billion children on the planet can only expect to live for 67 years.

According to UNICEF she'll live in a world

  • where on 58% of the population has access to adequate sanitation facilities,

  • where 21% of the population lives on less than 1 US$ a day

  • where 5% of government expenditure goes to education and 11% to defence

Even in New Zealand, 24% of the population are condemned to live a life characterised as having some level of 'hardship'!

She'll live in a world where she soon will be the prime target of the advertising industry, that will attempt to instill 'brand loyalty' at an age as early as 2 or 3. They'll try to make her feel like a loser if they'll lack an advertised product and cannot indulge in material excess. The average American child is exposed to more than 40,000 television commercials every year. (And incidentally it is generally the American culture that we all strive to emulate!)

I'm not even talking about how many murders and other violent acts she will have witnessed on TV by the time she turns 18.

What to do about this? Besides throwing out the television from my home, I'm concerned how I can help her achieve a level of conscious awareness that will prevent her from being trapped by the artificially created needs and wants of our consumer society. I also hope that she will not ever experience the fear most people share today that prompts them to spend more on armaments and weaponry than on the education of our future generations.

25 October 2006

Eco-Credits and Eco-Debits

Eco-debt and Eco-credit - this looks a little bit like a mutual credit system. Some take more, some take less and in the end it all balances, right? I wish! We look pretty green here in New Zealand and Australia, but that is certainly an illusion. In a true mutual credit system all accounts add up to Zero and to a perfect balance - our use of the environment doesn't. Only recently we celebrated the day when we went into ecological debt for this year.

As the lastest Living Planet Report 2006 points out, the ecological footprint increases and the living planet index decreases steadily. According to the report "Terrestrial species declined by 31 per cent, freshwater species by 28 per cent, and marine species by 27 per cent".

New Zealand is also right up there with the countries that have the largest footprint per capita:
Countries of over a million people with the largest footprint, in global hectares per person, are the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America, Finland, Canada, Kuwait, Australia, Estonia, Sweden, New Zealand and Norway. China comes mid-way in world rankings, at number 69, but its growing economy and rapid development mean it has a key role in keeping the world on the path to sustainability.

How about if we and the politicians running this country (and the planet!) would pay more attention to this kind of indicators, instead of only worshiping a growing GDP!

Read more on BBC Online: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6077798.stm

23 October 2006

What is Abundance?

1 : an ample quantity : PROFUSION

While I was writing the previous post about the display of reckless consumerism in a recent new age film, I was wondering how many people really do understand the concept of 'abundance'? This seems to be one of most difficult concepts to grasp, more so since we live in a civilisation that has at the core of its defining story the concept of scarcity.

Our minds are constantly exposed to the message of there is 'not enough', daily reinforce by mass media, advertising and political propaganda. The definition of economics “is the study of human choice behavior and how it effects the production, distribution, and consumption of scarce resources.” We are trained from a young age that we need to compete, otherwise we lose out in this world. And if you don't believe that there isn't enough, just look at those between 1 and 2 billion people on this planet who are unfortunate enough to be forced to live on 1 Dollar or less a day ...

How would one ever be able to grasp (and trust!) the concept of abundance? How can we get out of our collective trance of 'scarcity'? Bernard Lietaer believes that there are archetypal forces at work: of all the major archetypes at least one is thoroughly suppressed in western thought and culture - the one he calls the 'Great Mother', the unconditional provider of nurturing. Instead we experience it's shadow instead: fear of scarcity and greed.

How can we change our cultural story of prosperity from one of fear of scarcity to one of abundance where everyone is cared for? It is not the carrying capacity of our planet that is in question here. Even today, if all resources were distributed equitably, everyone would have enough. Poverty and deprivation are first of all signs and indicators of failure of a capitalist neo-liberal market economy.

How would we characterise an economic story that provides for all? The biological systems of life work constantly in an abundance mode. For one thing: nothing is wasted, every thing is recycled and of use and value for somebody/something else. Furthermore, abundance is when we have the ability to both share and conserve energy and matter, and when we freely share information in order to grow the potential of the whole.

True abundance depends on frugality, mutuality, and sharing. True abundance is possible if we recognize that we are all part of a community and that healthy communities depend on healthy individuals, and vice versa.

21 October 2006

"The Secret" - New Age Economics of Abundance

"This is 'The Secret' to everything - the secret to unlimited joy, health, money, relationships, love, youth: everything you have ever wanted."

"The Secret" is the latest hit-movie sweeping the New Age-community. It comes hot on the heels of “What the Bleep” which introduced us to what was long known to science, that our universe is not a static construct that works according to the Newtonian laws of cause and effect only. The Secret now takes us into the area of personal success, and how one can achieve it using the universal Law of Attraction.

It is telling that we still see 'success' mostly in terms consumerism and of how much stuff we can buy. Watching that movie, I several times felt I was watching a long and extended commercial for luxury cars or real estate.

I'm all for applying the Law of Attraction and working with Intentions set to achieve personal goals in life: I myself have experienced incredible results with it. However, I wonder: When do we move away from individual desires and reckless consumerism to a planetary family with a concern for a collective welfare that is ecologically sustainable?

I always felt that the new age 'economics of abundance' is a bit one-sided and naive. Just 'attracting' (monetary) wealth to a particular person does nothing to change the much deeper problems of a flawed money system and economic ideology that prevents goods and services to be distributed fairly among the people at the first place.

20 October 2006

The Nobel Prize

Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi banker and economist and founder of the Grameen Bank, won this years Nobel Peace Prize (together with the Grameen Bank) "for their efforts to create economic and social development from below."

Yunus is said to be the developer of the concept of microcredit, giving small loans to entrepreneurs who are too poor to qualify for a conventional bank loan. The Grameen Bank (literally, "Bank of the Villages", was founded in 1976 and has issued more than US$ 5.1 billion to 5.3 million borrowers.

His stated vision is to reduce world poverty by 50 percent by 2015.

“Poverty is not created by poor people,” advocates Yunus. “It is created by the concepts and institutional arrangements under which people live.”

It is interesting that he received the Nobel Peace Prize, and not the Nobel Prize for Economics. Might this be because this person has actually done something concrete and helped real human beings - and not just formulated yet another theory based on some abstract concepts that are totally divorced from most people's reality - as most economic theories and concepts invariably seem to be ....?

17 October 2006

Our current impact on Planet Earth

One way of looking at the devastating effect our civilisation is having on Earth is to look at it in terms of what would happen if we did suddenly disappear from this place.

This timeline gives a visual view of how long it takes for nature to regenerate. Within 3 months the air would be mostly clean again. Within 250 years most buildings collapse. Within 1000 years most buildings are gone.

However, it takes 50,000 years for plastics to degrade, many man-made chemicals will disappear only after about 200,000 years, and nuclear waste will grace our planet for up to two million years. Quite a legacy!

Well, here is the challenge: develop and live a sustainable life-style that doesn't bequest a toxic legacy for the next two million years into the future! One that allows us and our decendants to live here indefinitely!

Read more in the New Scientist!

16 October 2006

Bicycling in the City

The city where I live is flat and really perfect for cycling. However, I'm not doing it. Why? because I haven't found a bicycle that is comfortable to ride. Because what I would like is a city bike for 'utility' cycling. The only bicycles that are available for sale in the city are racing and mountain bikes.

I enjoy slow biking. I'd like to sit upright in the saddle and enjoy the view. I don't need 25 gears, I'm not interested in being an athletic hi-speed cyclist - I like to be able to use a cycle to go to work ... very simple one would think. But all this is really quite outside of our local cultural frame of reference. We seem to be geared towards speed only, and therefore also city council planning for bicycle lanes, etc. is only geared towards speed cycling.

Unfortunately, cycling will never be what it could be: a great, healthy and non-polluting way of moving around in urban areas. What a shame! Unless, we start changing our cultural obsession with speed and start appreciating slow modes of transport ...

There are some great city bicycling cultures, like in the Netherlands or Japan. See a great website on utility cyclism at http://utilitycyclism.blogspot.com/.

14 October 2006

The Day when we started eating into the planet

It was on Monday this week, 9 October, when we human beings started to eat into the capital of this planet. When we started using more resources than than the planet can replenish.

This is a disturbing situation. Who do we borrow this capital from? Who is ultimately going to pay for our over-expenditure? This is not like in finance, where money is mostly credit as a matter of fact. Here we are talking about the world of our children we are consuming, ahead of time! It is going to be our children and their children who will be paying the bill...

As the New Economics Foundation reports
The day that we begin living beyond our environmental means is creeping ever earlier in the year as human consumption grows:
* humanity first went into global ecological debt in 1987, with the first ecological debt day on 19 December that year;
* by 1995 it had jumped a month forward to 21 November;
* now, new estimates based on the latest available data indicate that in 2006, we run out of ecological resources today, Monday 9 October.
It has been called the ‘the biggest issue you’ve never heard of’.

What can one do about it? Become aware of the Ecological Footprint you are producing and readjust your consumption patterns. And, start doing things in ways that are in accordance with the natural patterns of the planet, not against it ...

12 October 2006


The New Zealand Social Report 2006 reports that in 2005 3.7% of the labour force were unemployed and actively seeking work. Sounds really good, eh?

But what does that really mean?

On the next page of the same report it says that in 2005, 74.6% of 15-64 year olds were employed for one hour or more per week. Wouldn't that mean that effectively 25,4% of all 15-64 year olds were unemployed?

Measuring unemployment seems to be a very dodgy thing. It is only indirectly connected with the number of people who are actually not working at all or working without pay. Many people seem to fall through the cracks of this statistic, like:

  • Those who have lost their jobs and have become discouraged over time from actively looking for work.
  • Those who are self-employed or wish to become self-employed, such as tradesmen or building contractors or IT consultants.
  • Those who have retired before the official retirement age but would still like to work.
  • Those on disability pensions who, while not possessing full health, still wish to work in occupations suitable for their medical conditions.
  • Those who work for payment for as little as one hour per week but would like to work full-time. These people are "involuntary part-time" workers.
  • Those who are underemployed, e.g., a computer programmer who is working in a retail store until he can find a permanent job.
And what about those people who do essential community work, like raising children, helping their neighbours and volunteering for a local not-for-profit organisation? This kind of activities are completely igonored by our social and economic reporting methods.

08 October 2006

Solidarity Economics

But what exactly is this "solidarity economy approach"? For some theorists of the movement, it begins with a redefinition of economic space itself. The dominant neoclassical story paints the economy as a singular space in which market actors (firms or individuals) seek to maximize their gain in a context of scarce resources. These actors play out their profit-seeking dramas on a stage wholly defined by the dynamics of the market and the state. Countering this narrow approach, solidarity economics embraces a plural and cultural view of the economy as a complex space of social relationship in which individuals, communities, and organizations generate livelihoods through many different means and with many different motivations and aspirations—not just the maximization of individual gain. The economic activity validated by neoclassical economists represents, in this view, only a tiny fraction of human efforts to meet needs and fulfill desires.

* * *

At its core, solidarity economics rejects one-size-fits-all solutions and singular economic blueprints, embracing instead a view that economic and social development should occur from the bottom up, diversely and creatively crafted by those who are most affected.

* * *

Unlike many alternative economic projects that have come before, solidarity economics does not seek to build a singular model of how the economy should be structured, but rather pursues a dynamic process of economic organizing in which organizations, communities, and social movements work to identify, strengthen, connect, and create democratic and liberatory means of meeting their needs.

* * *

This is, perhaps, the heart of solidarity economics—the process of networking diverse structures that share common values in ways that strengthen each.

* * *

This, to me, sounds like an approach to economics that allows for a natural evolution of a healthy and diverse society, and that allows for happy people!

If you want to read more about this topic, go here:
- http://dollarsandsense.org/archives/2006/0706emiller.html
- http://www.geo.coop/SolidarityEconomicsEthanMiller.htm
- http://www.jesuit.ie/ijnd/SolidarityEconomics.pdf

06 October 2006

Start asking the right question: "What is the economy for, anyway?"

Maybe we need to start learning to ask the right questions! All that is asked nowadays, is "But what will that do to the economy?" - usually putting us into the defense right away - because of course nobody wants to do anything that is bad for the economy!

However, what "economy" are we talking about? It's the one of unlimited exponential growth and stock market speculation. It's one where the only measure of success is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or stock prices.

What about an economy that would give us health, knowledge, kindness, equality for the greatest numbers, access to opportunity, a healthy democracy, a sustainable environment and happy and fulfilled people?

Read this inspiring article by John de Graaf: What's the Economy for, Anyway?

04 October 2006

The Passive House

What is a 'Passive House'?
A Passive house is a building in which indoor air temperatures above the WHO recommend minimum of 18°C are maintained year round without the need for heating appliances.
This makes sense, in a time of cold winters, rising electricity prices and anti-airpollution measures.

How does it work? Insulate the building well (airtight) and maximise passive heat gain. Install double glazed windows and ventilate your building. To gain heat, align it northfacing. Also appliances and the body heat of the occupants will warm it up. Install solar panels for your hotwater needs.

It all sounds simple, and it probably works, too! At a time of climate change, can we afford not to build in this way?

For more and detailed information, visit http://passivehouse.co.nz

03 October 2006

Grow up, America! - Sept. 11th analyzed in Jungian terms

"A collective problem, if not recognized as such, always appears as a personal problem... [T]he cause of disturbance is ... not to be sought in the personal surroundings, but rather in the collective situation." -- Carl Jung

This article, written by Cal Simone, is maybe the most fundamental analysis of 9/11 I've ever come across. It goes beyond trying to figure out if the terrorists where independently operating or if they were government sponsored. It looks at the event as an invitation and opportunity of initiation of the soul of America.

And sadly, today more than ever, we have to recognize that this opportunity was missed and ignored. Maybe that is only normal for a country that has been "regressing from young adulthood, into adolescence, into childhood, America now teeters between an entitled 3-year-old, expecting to get whatever it wants whenever it wants, and a 2-year-old who sees only its own perspective as valid or important, the only one that matters or even exists."

Such a country will face almost insurmountable problems when it is finally forced to face peak oil, global warming and a few other major cataclysms that are likely headed its way. What is needed is taking ownership of the situation and doing the inner work necessary to develop into a mature and conscious nation.

Read the whole article here: http://culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=71&Itemid=2

Venezuela's Oil Wealth Funds Gusher of Anti-Poverty Projects

While the Venezuelan president has caused international controversy with his angry denunciations of the Bush administration, this is where the rubber meets the road for Chavez's radical rhetoric. He is spending billions of dollars on anti-poverty programs, in what experts say may amount to the largest such effort in a developing nation.

Read the whole article at Commondreams.org!

Will be interesting to see how successfully Venezuela will be able to make good use of the oil millions ...

Our pockets just got so much lighter again ...

Our wallets are suddenly so much lighter. Away from the heavy old 'silver' (which hasn't been silver for a long time), to light little coins. A by-product is that the 5c coin was scrapped. Conveniently prices are now rounded up to the next 10c. Also, the 10c coin now looks like the 1c coins used to look - just shows how money keeps losing its value ...