Thursday, 31 December 2009

end of year reading - new horizons

The Prime Minister of Bhutan
December 29th, 2009
December 27, 2009

“Nature cannot continue to absorb the abuses that we are throwing at it,” the Prime Minister told me. “The world is finite, and economic growth cannot continue to take place except with considerable cost to this generation and generations in the future.

“It is time that the world understood that we should talk about growth with a different understanding — growth of the individual, growth of the mind, growth of happiness. What really constitutes wealth? What is prosperity, and what is being rich? I think these have to be understood more in human terms, in terms of relationships and in an ecological sense.”

The speaker was His Excellency Jigme Y. Thinley, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, a Himalayan kingdom smaller and less populous than Nova Scotia. Nearly 40 years ago, Bhutan’s Fourth King declared that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product,” bravely setting his tiny nation on a unique path to development. In 2006 he abdicated in favour of his 27-year-old son. In 2008, ancient Bhutan became the world’s youngest democracy, its commitment to Gross National Happiness intact.

Gross National Happiness sounds like wide-eyed California mind-mush, but it’s as rigorous as most economic measurements — and far more useful. GNH rests on “four pillars” of value that almost everyone accepts. The first pillar is environmental conservation, caring for nature and others. Second is cultural promotion, preserving the wisdom of an ancient and cherished culture. Third is sustainable and equitable development that benefits all citizens, past and future as well as present. Fourth is “good governance,” the inculcation of active and responsible citizenship.

These “pillars” are divided into nine “domains,” which in turn are broken down to 72 measurable variables. One variable reflects Bhutan’s commitment to maintain at least 60% forest cover forever. In actual fact, 72% of Bhutan is forested, 52% is protected, and Bhutan presently absorbs three times as much carbon as it produces. Similarly, between 1984 and 1994, life expectancy rose from 48 to 66 years, while infant mortality was cut in half. The country now has universal health care and universal free education.

That’s solid data. And that’s GNH in action.

Bhutan has serious problems, including the controversial status of Bhutanese refugees of Nepali origin, a relentless rural-urban migration that has created a restless cohort of unemployed urban youth, and the advent of western-style materialism resulting from the introduction of TV and the internet a decade ago — all of which make GNH even more urgent.

To help entrench GNH values in Bhutan’s civic consciousness, Prime Minister Thinley turned to GPI Atlantic of St. Margaret’s Bay, the creators of Nova Scotia’s own Genuine Progress Index. Assembling educators and others from 16 countries, GPI convened a workshop in Thimphu, the capital, in early December, on “Educating for Gross National Happiness.”

So I found myself in Bhutan, listening to a sparkling five-day debate on education attended by both the Prime Minister and the Education Minister. What would the graduate of a GNH-infused education look like? How would you develop and nurture such a student?

After two days, Ron Colman of GPI made an amazing announcement. Overnight — literally — the government had adopted the workshop’s findings as government policies. Now, how should those policies be implemented? Two days later, the government had committed to an immediate GNH workshop within the education department, followed six weeks later by a workshop for all school principals in the country. Within a year, the new policies would reach every schoolroom in Bhutan.

As the workshop ended, I asked the Prime Minister how Bhutan would be different in 10 years, if the GNH education program succeeded.

“I would like to see an educational system quite different from the conventional factory, where children are just turned out to become economic animals, thinking only for themselves,” he said. “I would like to see graduates that are more human beings, with human values, that give importance to relationships, that are eco-literate, contemplative, analytical.

“I would like graduates who know that success in life is a state of being when you can come home at the end of the day satisfied with what you have done, realizing that you are a happy individual not only because you have found happiness for yourself, but because you have given happiness, in this one day’s work, to your spouse, to your family, to your neighbours — and to the world at large.”

Friday, 18 December 2009

Copenhagen farce

22.42pm Nothing on cuts in emissions - well what a surprise.

We are being duped, as ever, by people who have very different interests that drive their agendas for action. Profit drives the climate negotiations. People need to take this into their own hands.

quote of the day

I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.

Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, 5 December 2009

shrink wrap city

HK 4/12/09
guy selling shrink wrap which you can put around your TV channel selector - so...plastic wrap around your plastic TV channel changer... am I missing something here?

Hope - Cope - Copenhagen

So we reach the moment when our leaders gather to establish a plan for climate change. The hope being that the many and varied countries of planet earth will be able to come together and create a clear and workable pathway to a future which cuts carbon emissions to a level that is sustainable. That to me suggests that we are highly likely to have a business as usual solution, because no matter what the agreement looks like the general thrust of our economic model across the world is one of development, and development is defined by consumption and exploitation of planetary resources to ensure that people have the goods and products that they learn that they need to consume in order to be civilised. Political systems dont seem to have much of a grasp on the threats - global warming being but one, others include war, access to food and water, air quality and nuclear threat, a peaceful world seems a long way from today's reality. Our glimmer of hope lies in the fact that people seem to be getting the problem of climate change and the associated challenges much faster than politicians.
Lets just look for a moment at the scene - in India, the Down to Earth magazine is berating Indian government for its dire efforts to deal with environmental collapse, in China, the continuing problems associated with massive motor vehicle purchase and an underregulated chemical industry is making the air quality almost intolerable in the big cities, yes, they make an on the table offer of reduction of 45% emissions, but the catch is that this pledge is based upon emissions that equate to size of economic growth, the more their economy grows, the more emissions grow, it could be the greatest bluff in history, a nil return which looks on paper to be a substantial demonstration of goodwill. In Australia the opposition party reject the climate bill in parliament and elect a person in opposition who denies climate change is happening, in the USA President Obama is preoccupied with sending yet more troops to war in Afghanistan, the list goes on. Our political leaders are simply failing us, ordinary people, in favour of pandering to the myriad of corporations who in their infinite wisdom are lever every possible concession from their national governments to ensure that as much as possible they will not have to pay for their contribution to the destruction of the natural world.
We will see I guess, some remarkable posturing this coming week, by our political leaders as they seek to show just how green they are. Then they will fly back to business as usual.
Just one last thought, it is thought that the cost governments are looking at to respond to climate change is something in the region of 1.7 trillion USD. This is my friends, less than it cost to bail out the banks during the recent economic crisis. But our short-sighted leaders think nationally and not internationally - the financial crisis showed us that we are living beyond our collective financial means, just as the climate crisis shows us we are living beyond our planetary means. We must learn to cope with a new world order, not run by politicians, but one that will be increasingly run by nature, the sooner we connect to that order the better, it costs little more than will power.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

thoughts on the road - radical hope

I have been away from home now travelling and talking about incredible edible to people in China, Hong Kong, and Australia. There is universal interest and connection with the ideas and the practicalities of engaging in activity in a small way to modify and temper the individual lifestyle and nurture community. I am struck as I sit and meet with a whole range of people how many of them are a) clearly disturbed by the way that they are living and b) how they are so keen to begin to do something about it. This has been a powerful impression of my trip. The cultural and political boundaries are quite clearly transcended by the common desire to connect to the natural world, to realign how they live and to look for ways of establishing a level of activity which is both understandable and as the chinese som simply state - more natural.

This has been a theme then, of my thinking during what has at times been quite a disturbing and certainly very challenging set of experiences. I think I want to develop some ideas around a theme I will call 'radical hope' - where we might usefully ask ourselves 'for what might we hope?' - I think the trip has clearly demonstrated to me that there are clear limits to human existence - some of the places in China were the most challenging environments I have ever encountered in terms of day to day living. But this is not to aim a criticism at any one place, one nation, instead it is to suggest that perhaps we need to ask the genral question of our civilisation which in many ways appears to be at the tipping point of complete collapse, for what may we hope?
We need to transcend our present ways and begin to ask what makes future goodness? What will help us to understand a different future? What do we do when we have so few appropriate concepts through which to understand a viable alternative future? This I think is what in part Incredible Edible offers people, but it needs much further reimagination for us to begin to see ourselves as a serious development - we have some of the characteristics of a new direction, we emerge from a challenging situation, we struggle, sometimes against the odds, we are in danger however of people interpreting our efforts through other lenses and I think we are also in danger of providing partial answers. Amidst the ruins of the old ways of living are some of the possibilities of a new vision, carrying with it new ways of living which can provide useful stepping stones for us towards a different future. But as my trip has so strongly reminded me, as people, we are almost universally unanchored in the modern world, as a result we have lost both identity and we are assimilated deeply into the new order of consumerism which is engineered into the core of modern living. To unpack and realign this is a huge challenge, it is something that questions how we exist, how we relate, how we engage with and connect with other people and the world around us, it somehow challenges us to maintain and create a connection from a pre-modern to a post-modern world, a serious consideration if we are to create a new orthodoxy, a new way of being which is more benign. Our hope is therefore radical, it questions and critically rejects the existing order of things, but in doing this it must provide some of the hope through practice and example - some of that hope comes from seeing possible futures and Inc Ed offers a little of that, some comes through sadness and concern which I have touched during this trip, a feeling amongst people of many nations that something is not right - and hope that we, as sentient, loving beings, are capable of doing something about that situation and overcome the destructive force of determinism. Our hope is in the education of our lives, connecting to an as yet undisclosed future.