Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Light Up A Life For A Better Nepal

https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/1334331
https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/1334331


 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

5 Radical Takeaways from the Pope’s Letter on Climate

Pope Francis recognizes that there’s no way to stop climate change without confronting the way the world does business. That’s huge.

Pope Francis just released an "encyclical," a letter meant to serve as a guide to understanding our personal relationship to some of the most complex issues of the day through religious doctrine. This particular encyclical is on climate change and is addressed not just to the globe’s 1.2 billion Catholics, but to everyone of any — or no — faith. In it, Pope Francis boldly challenges us all to take an honest look inside our hearts and question the foundations of a society that’s created wealth for some at the expense of others and "our common home"— the planet earth.

Here are five key quotes from the encyclical that will shake up the global climate debate.

1. Climate change and inequality are inextricably linked.

"We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor." It’s not hard to see how climate change hits people living in poverty first and worst, and inevitably widens the gulf between rich and poor. After extreme weather washes away their homes or drought kills their crops, those living in poverty have a harder time bouncing back than those with savings accounts and sturdier houses. But what’s really radical is how the Pope names inequality itself as an impediment to solving a looming planetary and human rights crisis. The encyclical calls out "masters of power and money" to stop masking the symptoms and address climate change in service of the common good.

Pope Francis boldly challenges us all to take an honest look inside our hearts and question the foundations of a society that’s created wealth for some at the expense of others and "our common home"— the planet earth.

2. The global economy must protect the Earth, our common home.

"The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings." Today’s global economy profits at the environment’s expense. And the pursuit of growth is fueling environmental degradation, natural disasters, and financial crises. Pope Francis envisions a people-and-planet-first economy more in harmony with the environment that would prevent imbalances of wealth and power and foster peace among nations.

3. Everyone must divest from fossil fuels and invest in the future.

"We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels… needs to be progressively replaced without delay." Pope Francis is crystal clear that the current development model based on the intensive use of coal, oil, and even natural gas has to go. In its place we need renewable energy options and new modes of production and consumption that combat global warming. This is precisely what a growing movement of students, faith communities, socially responsible investors and everyday citizens are calling on individuals and private and public institutions to do: Divest their money from fossil fuels and invest it in climate solutions like wind, solar, and energy efficiency.

4. It’s time for powerful nations to pay their fair share.

"A true ‘ecological debt’ exists, particularly between the global north and south. … In different ways, developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future." Countries in the global North have benefitted from fossil fuel-driven industrialization, while developing countries bear the brunt of the related greenhouse gas emissions. So while everyone must act to avoid climate disruption, rich countries have a greater responsibility. For starters, they must make rapid, deep cuts in carbon emissions. And they have to keep their promise to finance the cost for poorer countries to build climate resilience and transition to renewable energy through the Green Climate Fund.

5. There’s no easy way out of this.

"Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation, or blind confidence in technical solutions." There’s only one way to meet the climate challenge: Extinguish the "dig, burn, dump economy." And markets and technology can’t be relied on to do the job. Gimmicks like trading carbon credits as a financial commodity or burning coal in "cleaner" power plants are distractions from the only real solution: Stop digging up and drilling — then burning — oil, gas, and coal.

Pope Francis is calling for solutions to climate change that is rooted in our "deepest convictions about love, justice, and peace." His letter to the world illuminates a radical, compassionate path that shows what it truly means to have faith in humanity. More

 

 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

That Was Easy: In Just 60 Years, Neoliberal Capitalism Has Nearly Broken Planet Earth

A pair of new studies show how various forms of human activity, driven by a flawed economic system and vast consumption, is laying waste to Earth's natural systems

The conclusion that the world's dominant economic model—a globalized form of neoliberal capitalism, largely based on international trade and fueled by extracting and consuming natural resources—is the driving force behind planetary destruction will not come as a shock, but the model's detailed description of how this has worked since the middle of the 20th century makes a more substantial case than many previous attempts. (Photo: NASA)

Humanity's rapacious growth and accelerated energy needs over the last generation—particularly fed by an economic system that demands increasing levels of consumption and inputs of natural resources—are fast driving planetary systems towards their breaking point, according to a new pair of related studies.

"It is difficult to overestimate the scale and speed of change. In a single lifetime humanity has become a geological force at the planetary-scale." —Prof. Will Steffen

Prepared by researchers at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the first study looks specifically at how "four of nine planetary boundaries have now been crossed as a result of human activity." Published in the journal Nature on Thursday, the 18 researchers involved with compiling evidence for the report—titled 'Planetary Boundaries 2.0'—found that when it comes to climate change, species extinction and biodiversity loss, deforestation and other land-system changes, and altered biogeochemical cycles (such as changes to how key organic compounds like phosphorus and nitrogen are operating in the environment), the degradation that has already take place is driving the Earth System, as a whole, into a new state of imbalance.

"Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to a deterioration of human well-being in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries," said Professor Will Steffen, a researcher at the Centre and the Australian National University, Canberra, who was lead author for both studies.

In addition to the four boundaries that have already been crossed, the study looked five other ways in which the planetary systems are under assault by human activity. They include: stratospheric ozone depletion; ocean acidification; freshwater use; atmospheric aerosol loading (microscopic particles in the atmosphere that affect climate and living organisms); and the introduction of novel entities into ecosystems (e.g. organic pollutants, radioactive materials, nanomaterials, and micro-plastics).

"I don't think we've broken the planet but we are creating a much more difficult world," Sarah Cornell, another report author, told Reuters.

In this interview with Wired last year, Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, described the idea about planetary boundaries in details:

Related to the findings of the first study, the second report examines what it calls the "Great Acceleration" and is an assessment of the speed and influence that specific factors have had in damaging the planetary systems described in Planetary Boundaries 2.0. Using a series of indicators, the study compares the relationship, over time, between 12 'socio-economic factors'—including economic growth (GDP); population; foreign direct investment; energy consumption; and water use—on one side with 12 'Earth system trends'—like the carbon cycle; the nitrogen cycle and biodiversity—on the other.

Using what it calls a "planetary dashboard," the research charts the spread and speed of human activity from the start of the industrial revolution in 1750 to 2010, and the subsequent changes in the Earth System – e.g. greenhouse gas levels, ocean acidification, deforestation and biodiversity deterioration. The analysis found that increased human activity—and "predominantly the global economic system"—has unseated all other factors as the primary driver of change in the Earth System, which the report describes as "the sum of our planet's interacting physical, chemical, biological and human processes." The most striking, i.e. "accelerated," changes to that system have occurred in the last sixty years.

"It’s clear the economic system is driving us towards an unsustainable future and people of my daughter’s generation will find it increasingly hard to survive. History has shown that civilisations have risen, stuck to their core values and then collapsed because they didn’t change. That’s where we are today." —Prof. Will Steffen"It is difficult to overestimate the scale and speed of change. In a single lifetime humanity has become a geological force at the planetary-scale," said Steffen, who also led the Acceleration study.

The conclusion that the world's dominant economic model—a globalized form of neoliberal capitalism, largely based on international trade and fueled by extracting and consuming natural resources—is the driving force behind planetary destruction will not come as a shock, but the model's detailed description of how this has worked since the middle of the 20th century makes a more substantial case than many previous attempts.

"When we first aggregated these datasets, we expected to see major changes but what surprised us was the timing. Almost all graphs show the same pattern. The most dramatic shifts have occurred since 1950. We can say that around 1950 was the start of the Great Acceleration," says Steffen. "After 1950 we can see that major Earth System changes became directly linked to changes largely related to the global economic system. This is a new phenomenon and indicates that humanity has a new responsibility at a global level for the planet."

The paper makes a point to acknowledge that consumption patterns and the rise of what has become known as the Anthropocene Era does not fall equally on the human population and its examination of the economic system which is underpinning planetary destruction is one rife with inequality, in which certain populations consume at vastly higher levels than others.

According to the report, "The new study also concludes that the bulk of economic activity, and so too, for now, the lion's share of consumption, remain largely within the OECD countries, which in 2010 accounted for about 74% of global GDP but only 18% of the global population. This points to the profound scale of global inequality, which distorts the distribution of the benefits of the Great Acceleration and confounds international efforts, for example climate agreements, to deal with its impacts on the Earth System."

A worrying trend, notes the paper, is how a growing global middle class—exemplified by those in the BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—is an increasing threat to the planet as the consumer mindset established in the OECD nations, particularly the U.S., spreads.

In an interview with the Guardian, Steffen spoke clearly about the overall impacts of the two new studies as he sounded the alarm over humanity's trajectory. "People say the world is robust and that’s true, there will be life on Earth, but the Earth won’t be robust for us," he said. "Some people say we can adapt due to technology, but that’s a belief system, it’s not based on fact. There is no convincing evidence that a large mammal, with a core body temperature of 37C, will be able to evolve that quickly. Insects can, but humans can’t and that’s a problem."

"It’s clear the economic system is driving us towards an unsustainable future and people of my daughter’s generation will find it increasingly hard to survive. History has shown that civilisations have risen, stuck to their core values and then collapsed because they didn’t change. That’s where we are today."

What increasing amounts of strong evidence shows, he said, is that that there "tipping points" that the human race should simply not "want to cross." More

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Behind the veil of the Islamic State is a war for water

A little known fact of the war in Syria is that it started at the end of the worst drought in Syrian history, a biblical drought which forced over 1 million farmers into the cities.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas L. Friedman interviewed Syrian refugees and farmers in Syria about the link between this drought and the start of the civil war. He comes to the conclusion that the drought certainly played some role and was probably a key tipping point for a bad situation to turn into a full scale war. In the documentary “Years of living dangerously” we see how wiki-leaked diplomatic cables and high level US officials such as Condoleezza Rice acknowledge this link.

But there’s a lot more happening to explain why behind the veil of a quest for an Islamic State (IS), there’s also a war for water in Syria and Iraq. Making the plight of citizens worse is the continued targeting of water supply networks by both regime and opposition forces, which have attacked strategic lifelines, such as water channels, to gain control of territory and to punish and put pressure on their opponents.

Opening the flood gates …

The Islamic State’s quest for hydrological control began in Syria, when it captured the Tabqa Dam in 2013. Rebel-held areas had been systematically denied electricity by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in their effort to turn the population against the insurgency. The Tabqa Dam was built more than 40 years ago with Russian help and aimed to make Syria self-sufficient in energy production. Behind the dam is Lake Assad, which provides millions of Syrians with drinking water and is a vital irrigation source for farms. After the capture of the dam, IS opened the flood-gates to get maximum electricity supply for the areas they control and win favour with the local population. As a result, the lake dropped six metres, to a record low in May, which worsened the plight of millions of already destitute Syrians as severe water cuts began to hit Aleppo province.

Conflict over the water flowing though the Euphrates and Tigris is of course nothing new and predates religious wars. They were the first rivers to be used for large scale irrigation, in the region once known as the Fertile Crescent. Somewhere between 1720 and 1684 BC, a grandson of Hammurabi dammed the Tigris to prevent the retreat of rebels led by Iluma-Ilum, who declared the independence of Babylon. The Euphrates was already used as a weapon somewhere around 2500 BC, in another fight for Babylon, when the king of Umma cut the banks of irrigation canals alongside the Euphrates dug by his neighbor, the king of Girsu.

The Euphrates and Tigris are the two major and longest rivers in the Middle East. They both originate in Turkey. The Euphrates flows through Syria and Iraq to reach the Persian Gulf while the Tigris flows through Kurdish territory, meeting up with the Euphrates in the Southern Mesopotamian Marshes of Iraq. There are currently at least 46 dams in the Tigris-Euphrates basin, with at least 8 more planned or under construction. These dams have become key pieces of geo-political control in the region.

… and shutting down the flows

While one act of war is opening the flood gates, another is closing them. In 1974, Iraq threatened to bomb the same Tabqa Dam in Syria, alleging that the dam had reduced the flow of Euphrates River water to Iraq. But between then and now, Turkey, through its position upstream, has taken over as the most powerful regional commander of water, by completing the giant Ataturk Dam. In 1990 Syria and Iraq protested that Turkey now has a weapon of war: by closing the gates they could leave them dry. They had good reason to protest. In mid-1990 Turkish president Turgut Özal threatened to restrict water flow to Syria to force it to withdraw support for Kurdish rebels operating in southern Turkey.

In April 2014, the Islamic State blamed the low water levels in Lake Assad to Turkey’s closure of the Ataturk Dam. Sources found by Al Jazeera said that these claims are disputed. But even if the allegations are only partly true: they were used by the Islamic State to issue threats to ‘liberate Istanbul’, if that was necessary. So while Turkey, IS and Assad fight over water, millions of ordinary Syrians and Iraqi’s see their water levels drop dramatically. Not just by a new drought, with rainfall down by 50-85 percent since October 2013, but mostly due to a power struggle.

Tensions over water control in the region are set to heat up further if Turkey completes the Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River near the border of Syria. The Ilisu Dam will generate 1,200 MW and is part of the vast and ambitious Southeastern Anatolia Project, known as GAP after its Turkish title (Guneydogu Anadolu Projesi): a network comprising 22 dams and 19 power plants. The Ilisu reservoir will flood 52 villages and 15 towns, including Hasankeyf, a Kurdish town of 5,500 people, which is the only town in Anatolia that has survived since the Middle Ages and is under archaeological protection. It will displace approximately 16,000 people in the troubled Kurdish region.

The World Bank (WB), the British construction company Balfour Beatty and the Italian company Impreglio have all withdrawn from the problematic project. So have international funds and export credit from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. However, the project is currently funded by Turkish banks. Iraq and also Syria will be the most heavily impacted if the dam and others go through, with the most extreme projections holding that, owing to a combination of climate change and upstream dam activity, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers won’t have sufficient flow to reach the sea by as early as 2040.

If you live in Syria or Iraq and the water irrigating your field stops coming you might join the ranks of any army promising to attack those who kept the water for themselves – no matter if they tell you the truth or not. As is often the case in conflicts or epidemics it is not the facts themselves that count most but what people believe to be the facts. Those who can convince it’s the enemies fault that there’s not enough water will have the key to where the hearts and minds of the people will go to – no matter what the facts are.

The US finally finds a Weapon of Mass Destruction in Iraq

The Tabqa Dam is not the only dam attacked by IS. They are also trying to take the Haditha Dam, the second-largest in Iraq, raising the possibility of catastrophic damage and flooding. On Sunday, the US was bombing IS positions close to the dam. The IS militants are also fighting for control of the Euphrates River Dam, about 120 miles northwest of Baghdad and government forces were fighting to halt their advance. Insurgents from IS seized the Falluja Dam in Iraq in February and closed the floodgates to cause upstream flooding and to cut downstream water supply. Some 40.000 people were displaced just to flood the area around the city of Falluja to force government troops to retreat and lift a siege, while cutting water supplies and hydroelectricity generation for other parts of the country. All that was peanuts compared to what IS did next.

On August 7 IS captured the 1GW Mosul Dam on the Tigris – sending shock waves through Bagdad, Kuwait and the US. Whoever controls the Mosul Dam, the largest in Iraq, controls most of the country’s water and power resources. Located on the Tigris River upstream of Mosul, the dam, 3.6 km long and with 320 MW of capacity daily, formerly known as the Saddam dam, was built beginning in 1980 at a cost of 1.5$ billion USD, to bolster the regime during the Iran-Iraq war by a German-Italian consortium that was led by Hochtief Aktiengesellschaft. Its construction submerged many archaeological sites in the region yet more troubling is that because the dam was constructed on a foundation of soluble gypsum, it requires continuous grouting of the dam’s foundation to promote stability. Due to the engineering problems it presents it has been described recently by US engineers as “the most dangerous dam in the world.” And that was before the “most dangerous terror group ever” captured it.

A senior U.S. administration official said that “The failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, threaten U.S. personnel and facilities – including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad – and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace,” (Source: Reuters). A 2006 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report obtained by the Washington Post said the dam, which blocks the Tigris and holds 12 billion cubic meters of water, could flood two cities killing over a half a million people if it were destroyed or collapsed. The tsunami going to Mosul, a city of 1.7 million people, can be 20m high if the dam breaks with a full reservoir.

But even without a catastrophic failure, the dam is already at the epicenter of the war. Soon after the Islamic State captured the Mosul Dam they cut supplies to some villages in the north of the country that have not joined their cause. Recapturing this instrument of war was a sufficient reason for US forced to deploy air power to support Kurdish forces to recapture the dam. Saving the Yazidis from their mountain captured most media attention, but a key reason for the US to bomb Iraqi soil for the first time since 2011 was the fact that IS took the Mosul Dam. After bombing IS positions for several days, freshly re-equipped Kurdish fighters recently regained control of the dam.

Mega Dams & Water Management Practices

The importance of hydro-infrastructure in these battles and how it can be wielded firstly underlines the need for a serious re-appraisal of water management practices. Big dams (with funding from Multilateral agencies such as the WB, national and regional development banks, private equity and pension funds as well as from the Clean Development Mechanism, etc.) cause large scale displacement of populations, are ecologically destructive, wash away any other source of livelihood, and often saddle countries with debt while performing well below planned outputs as regards electricity generation. Moreover, compounded by climate change, contemporary ecological crises are leading to ever more conflict over trans-boundary water rights, such as for example between Ethiopia and Egypt, which are also on the verge of war over the construction of the Grand Renaissance and Gibe 3 dams, which would become Africa’s tallest. The world’s Big Dam Fan Club should take note of what has just happened in Syria and Iraq and realise that once disaster hits, hatred will not go to any God but to those who constructed the weapon of mass destruction. Water, rather than oil, is shaping up to be the key strategic resource in the region. More

 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dystopian Fiction’s Popularity Is a Warning Sign for the Future

Dystopian fiction is hot right now, with countless books and movies featuring decadent oligarchs, brutal police states, ecological collapse, and ordinary citizens biting and clawing just to survive. For bestselling author Naomi Klein, all this gloom is a worrying sign.

“I think what these films tell us is that we’re taking a future of environmental catastrophe for granted,” Klein says in Episode 129 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “And that’s the hardest part of my work, actually convincing people that we’re capable of something other than this brutal response to disaster.”

Her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, argues that only dramatic policy shifts can avert climate catastrophe, and that ordinary people need to speak up and demand emissions caps, public transportation, and a transition to renewable energy. That’s a hard sell politically, which is why dubious measures like geoengineering and cap-and-trade have been proposed instead.

“It seems easier, more realistic, to dim the sun than to put up solar panels on every home in the United States,” says Klein. “And that says a lot about us, and what we think is possible, and what we think is realistic.”

But things are starting to change, with indigenous groups winning lawsuits to block drilling on their land, local communities coming together to ban fracking and establish solar energy grids, and a growing divestment campaign seeking to shame and isolate the fossil fuel industry. Many of these movements are being led by young activists like Anjali Appadurai, who gave a speech in 2010 pointing out that the United Nations has been fruitlessly debating climate change action since before she was born.

“Young people have a critical role to play because they’ll be dealing with the worst impacts of climate change,” says Klein. “And when young people find their moral voice in this crisis, it’s transformative.”

Listen to our complete interview with Naomi Klein in Episode 129 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast (above), and check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Naomi Klein on how the wealthy are preparing for climate change:

“There are a lot of examples of ways that companies are preparing. The most insidious is the way that oil companies—who have been funding climate change denial—are simultaneously exploring all the wonderful extraction opportunities there are because the arctic ice is melting, so they obviously know it’s happening. … After Superstorm Sandy, there was a big uptick in the way that luxury developers in New York and elsewhere started to market themselves as being ‘disaster proof’—having their own generators, having their own ‘moats’ in a way, having their own storm barriers, and basically saying, ‘When the apocalypse comes, you’ll be safe.’ … In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there was a company that was launched in Florida called HelpJet. … HelpJet was a private disaster rescue operation that literally had the slogan, ‘We’ll turn your disaster into a luxury vacation.’”

Naomi Klein on geoengineering:

“In general the geoengineering world is populated by very overconfident, overwhelmingly male figures who don’t make me feel at all reassured that they have learned the lessons of large-scale technological failure. When I went to this one conference that was hosted by the Royal Society in England, the Fukushima disaster had just started, and in fact a photographer I was working with—a videographer—had just come back from Fukushima and was completely shell-shocked. And I was surprised it didn’t come up the whole time we were meeting, because it seemed relevant to me. Yeah, we humans screw up. BP had been two years earlier. I have been profoundly shaped as a journalist by covering the BP disaster, the derivatives failure, seeing what’s happened in Fukushima. I’m sorry, but I think the smartest guys in the room screw up a lot. And the kind of hubris that I’ve seen expressed from the ‘geo-clique,’ as they’ve been called, makes me not want to scale up the risks that we’re taking.”

Naomi Klein on our relationship with nature:

“If you go back and look at the way fossil fuels were marketed in the 1700s, when coal was first commercialized with the Watt steam engine, the great promise of coal was that it liberated humans from nature, that you no longer had to worry about when the wind blew to sail your ship, and you no longer had to build your factory next to a waterfall or rushing rapids in order to power your water wheel. You were in charge, that was the promise of coal. It was the promise of man transcending the natural world. And that was, it turns out, a lie. We never transcended nature, and that I think is what is so challenging about climate change, not just to capitalism but to our core civilizational myth. Because this is nature going, ‘You thought you were in charge? Actually all that coal you’ve been burning all these years has been building up in the atmosphere and trapping heat, and now comes the response.’ … Renewable energy puts us back in dialog with nature. We have to think about when the wind blows, we have to think about where the sun shines, we cannot pretend that place and space don’t matter. We are back in the world.”

Naomi Klein on science fiction:

“This boom in cli-fi literature is exciting, but I think it can become dangerous if it isn’t seen as a warning, but just seen as inevitable. I think Margaret Atwood—not to be too Canadian about it—but I think Margaret Atwood’s In the Year of the Flood and that whole trilogy, that whole climate trilogy, is an example of the kind of narrative that really does serve as clarion warning, as opposed to just sort of hopeless ‘we’re on this road, we can’t get off.’ And it’s hard to define what makes something more of a warning than just affirming that sense of the inevitable. I loved Ursula Le Guin‘s acceptance speech at the Booker awards this year. I’m a huge Ursula Le Guin fan, and I think she’s one of the few science fiction writers that has pulled off utopian fiction well. She’s done both. But when she accepted the award she sort of accepted on behalf of the genre, and talked about how important it is to have and nurture voices from people who can imagine different worlds.”

 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Announcing “Disastersand Ecosystems: Resilience in a Changing Climate”

Announcing “Disastersand Ecosystems: Resilience in a Changing Climate”, a new Massive Open OnlineCourse (MOOC) to be launched on 12 January, 2015

What we all know is that disasters are increasing worldwide. Population growth,environmental degradation and climate change will likely exacerbate disasterimpacts in many regions of the world. What role do ecosystems play in reducingdisaster risks and adapting to climate change? This is the topic of an exciting new Massive Open Online Course thatwill go live in January 2015. It was developedjointly by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Center for NaturalResources and Development (CNRD) and the Cologne University of Applied Sciences(CUAS), Germany. This is UNEP’s first MOOC, developed through its engagement with universities worldwide including the Global Universities Partnership on Environment for Sustainability (GUPES).

The MOOC covers a broad range of topics from disastermanagement, climate change, ecosystem management and community resilience. Howthese issues are linked and how well-managed ecosystems enhance resilience to naturaldisasters and climate change impacts are the core theme of the course.
The MOOC is designed at two levels: the leadership track, with the first 6 units providing generalintroduction to the fundamental concepts, which is suitable for people from allbackgrounds who wish to have a basic undertaking of the topic. The second level, or expert track comprises 15 units with more in depth learning on thevarious tools of ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction and climate changeadaptation.
The course is delivered by both scientists and practitioners.In addition there are guest lectures from global leaders and experts, such as Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Julia Marton-Lefèvre, former Director General of the International Union for the Conservationof Nature (IUCN), Rajendra Pachauri of Teri University and Margareta Wahlströmof the UN International Strategy on Disaster Reduction (UNISDR).

Students will have the opportunity to enhance their knowledgethrough quizzes, real life and fictitious problem-solving exercises, additionalreading materials, videos and a discussion forum. An Expert-of-the-Week will be available torespond to questions and interact with students. Students will receive weeklynewsletters with up-to-date news on ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction andadaptation.
The course is invaluable for universities around the world,where faculty members can use it to update their curriculum and use thelectures and teaching materials for blended learning for their own courses. Atthe same time, the MOOC format also allows those currently outside theuniversity system to learn about the new developments in the area of disastersand climate change, without having to enroll in a university or pay for anonline course. Those who successfully complete the course will be provided witha course certificate.

Visit: www.themooc.net<http://www.themooc.net/>, or enroll directly at:
https://iversity.org/en/courses/disasters-and-ecosystems-resilience-in-a-changing-climate

 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Laying the Foundations of a World Citizens Movement

How can civil society organizations (CSOs) build a broad movement that draws in, represents and mobilises the citizenry, and how can they effect fundamental, systemic transformation, rather than trading in incremental change?

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Has organised civil society, bound up in internal bureaucracy, in slow, tired processes and donor accountability, become simply another layer of a global system that perpetuates injustice and inequality?

How can civil society organizations (CSOs) build a broad movement that draws in, represents and mobilises the citizenry, and how can they effect fundamental, systemic transformation, rather than trading in incremental change?

This kind of introspective reflection was at the heart of a process of engagement among CSOs from around the world that gathered in Johannesburg from Nov. 19 to 21 for the “Toward a World Citizens Movement: Learning from the Grassroots” conference.

Organised by DEEEP, a project within the European civil society umbrella organisation CONCORD which builds capacity among CSOs and carries out advocacy around global citizenship and global citizenship education, the conference brought together 200 participants.

“It is important that people understand the inter-linkages at the global level; that they understand that they are part of the system and can act, based on their rights, to influence the system in order to bring about change and make life better – so it’s no longer someone else deciding things on behalf of the citizens”
– Rilli Lappalainen, Secretary-General of the Finnish NGDO PlatformKey partners were CIVICUS (the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, which is one of the largest and most diverse global civil society networks) and GCAP (Global Call to Action Against Poverty).

The three-day gathering was part of a larger series of conferences and activities that were arranged to coincide during the 2014 International Civil Society Week organised by CIVICUS, which closed Nov. 24.

Global citizenship is a concept that is gaining currency within the United Nations system, to the delight of people like Rilli Lappalainen, Secretary-General of the Finnish NGDO Platform and a key advocate for global citizenship education.

At the heart of this concept is people’s empowerment, explains Lappalainen. “It is important that people understand the inter-linkages at the global level; that they understand that they are part of the system and can act, based on their rights, to influence the system in order to bring about change and make life better – so it’s no longer someone else deciding things on behalf of the citizens.”

The process of introspection around building an effective civil society movement that can lead to such change began a year ago at the first Global Conference, also held in Johannesburg.

The discourse there highlighted the need for new ways of thinking and working – for the humility to linger in the uncomfortable spaces of not knowing, for processes of mutual learning, sharing and questioning.

This new spirit of inquiry and engagement, very much evident in the creative, interactive format of this year’s conference, is encapsulated in an aphorism introduced by thought-leader Bayo Akomolafe from Nigeria: “The time is very urgent – let us slow down”.

Akomolafe’s keynote address explored the need for a shift in process: “We are realising our theories of change need to change,” he said. “We must slow down today because running faster in a dark maze will not help us find our way out.”

“We must slow down today,” he continued, “because if we have to travel far, we must find comfort in each other – in all the glorious ambiguity that being in community brings … We must slow down because that is the only way we will see … the contours of new possibilities urgently seeking to open to us.”

A key opportunity for mutual learning and questioning was provided on the second day by a panel on ‘Challenging World Views’.

Prof Rob O’Donoghue from the Environmental Learning Research Centre at South Africa’s Rhodes University explored the philosophy of ubuntu, Brazilian activist and community organiser Eduardo Rombauer spoke about the principles of horizontal organising, and Hiro Sakurai, representative of the Buddhist network Soka Gakkai International (SGI) to the United Nations in New York, discussed the network’s core philosophy of soka, or value creation.

A female activist from Bhutan who was to join the panel was unable to do so because of difficulties in acquiring a visa – a situation that highlighted a troubling observation made by Danny Sriskandarajah, head of CIVICUS, about the ways in which the space for CSOs to work is being shrunk around the world.

The absence of women on the panel was noted as problematic. How is it possible to effectively question a global system that is so deeply patriarchal without the voices of women, asked a male participant. This prompted the spontaneous inclusion of a female member of the audience.

In the spirit of embracing not-knowing, the panellists were asked to pose the questions they think we should be asking. How do we understand and access our power? How do we foster people’s engagement and break out of our own particular interests to engage in more systems-based thinking? How can multiple worldviews meet and share a moral compass?

Ubuntu philosophy, explained O’Donoghue, can be defined by the statement: “A person is a person through other people.”

The implications of this perspective for the issues at hand are that answers to the problems affecting people on the margins cannot be pre-defined from the outside, but must be worked out through solidarity and through a process of struggle. You cannot come with answers; you can only come into the company of others and share the problems, so that solutions begin to emerge from the margins.

The core perspective of soka philosophy is that each person has the innate ability to create value – to create a positive change – in whatever circumstances they find themselves. Millions of people, Sakurai pointed out, are proving the validity of this idea in their own contexts. This is the essence of the Soka movement.

His point was echoed the following evening in the address of Graca Machel, wife of the late Nelson Mandela, at a CIVICUS reception, in which she spoke of the profound challenges confronting civil society as poverty and inequality deepen and global leaders seem increasingly dismissive of the voices of the people.

Then, toward the end of her speech, she softly recalled “my friend Madiba” (Mandela’s clan name) in the final years of his life, and his consistent message at that time that things are now in our hands.

What he showed us by his example, she said, is that each person has immense resources of good within them. Our task is to draw these out each day and exercise them in the world, wherever we are and in whatever ways we can.

Those listening to Machel saw Mandela’s message as a sign of encouragement in their efforts to create the World Citizens Movement of tomorrow. More


 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Secrets: shining a light on hidden power

The truth can be a slippery thing. We each have a version but it slips and slides about in our minds as we deal with the constant flood of information coming at us from all sides, not to mention trying to balance this expert view against that, between what we know, what we think we know, and what we suspect.

We are all at the mercy of cognitive biases and layers of assumptions and associations built up over our lifetimes. And so we need reference points to help mark the key geographical features of our worldview. And, sometimes, we need some of those reference points visible in our world, amongst our tribes of friends, colleagues, allies and families. It’s very difficult for most of us to make our way in the world and act with the determination we often crave without some acknowledgement that we’re not the only ones seeing the world as we do. The bigger the thought, the less pleasant it is to assimilate, and the further out from the mainstream it lives, the more important that acknowledgment can be.

The 1%-99% Occupy meme was one of those markers. The reason it travelled so far and fast wasn’t because it told people something altogether new, but rather that it capped off and gave voice to thoughts they already had. It didn’t teach as much as it validated and articulated.

At /The Rules, we think its time for a new marker; one that grows very much from the 1%-99% meme, and, hopefully, adds something important. And it’s that we now all live on a One Party Planet.

This is a provocative claim, pregnant with meaning and implication. If it’s true in the way we believe it to be, it means there is an identifiable form of totalitarianism casting a shadow over the entire human race. It means that there is a force so broad, so enmeshed within the logic of modern global power, that the solutions we all work toward in the specific struggles we care most about – be that rampant inequalities in income and opportunity, widespread poverty, or climate change - are all facing it. Not a force that lives in any single person, organization or structure, but that is ephemeral in the way that all ideology is ephemeral. It transcends and thereby unites the leadership of the vast majority of political parties, governments and corporations that have any proximity to global power. But for all this, it is also specific, definable, and visible through the right lenses. Which means it can be challenged.

It’s got many names but we call it Neoliberalism, because that fits it well enough and is very common, recognizable currency. It’s not primarily an economic agenda; it’s a moral philosophy. As Margaret Thatcher, one of its seminal champions herself said, “economics are the method, the object is to change the heart and soul”.

It is defined by a circular and hermetically sealed logic, in three parts. Firstly, that survival of the fittest through eternal competition between self-interested parties is, practically speaking, the only law upon which human society can realistically be ordered; secondly, that, in the moral hierarchy, financial wealth equates with life success which equates with virtue; and thirdly that man [sic] is, if not an island, then, at most, a part of an archipelago of islands of shared interests, answerable only to himself, his peers and, possibly, his God, in that order. To see only the familiar economics – i.e. belief in small government, low taxes, the sanctity of private property and private industries, and 'free' markets, particularly in labor, all of which feed, above all else, the double-headed hydra of profit and economic growth – and not connect it back to the moral philosophy is to miss the point.

To back up this provocative claim, we have released a pamphlet today called, The One Party Planet. We start it by looking inwards, at our cognitive capacities. The world we see around us today is a reflection of human consciousness; we long since passed the point where we could say, "it wasn't us." So whatever challenges we face—climate change, rampant inequality, endless violent conflict or vast impoverishment—are challenges, first and foremost, of and for the human mind. It helps, therefore, to spend a small amount of time reflecting on what we know about its character in a section called, How True is True?

Then we turn to what might be more familiar territory: power theories, processes and players. This breaks into six parts; The Neoliberal Heart and Soul, Fashions in Global Power, Financial Might, Concentration of Corporate Power, Active Political Projects, and In their Own Words. And finally, a few thoughts on the system's internal logic; that alignment of forces that mean none of this was really planned and no one is actually to blame. We conclude with the most human considerations in Facing Ourselves, and Where Hope Lies.

We have written it as a political pamphlet to honor all those that were written against the wishes of the ruling elite in the past, and that played some part in monumental change, from the English Civil War to the Abolition of Slavery. We’d like help spreading it around, translating it, and building on it. If it’s wrong in important ways, we want to know how. If there more that should be said, we want to help people say it. You can comment on our facebook page, or write to pamphlets@therules.org. More

 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’

"Every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable." Thus spoke President Kennedy in a 1961 address to the United Nations.

Naomi Klein

The threat he warned of was not climate chaos — barely a blip on anybody’s radar at the time — but the hydrogen bomb. The nuclear threat had a volatile urgency and visual clarity that the sprawling, hydra-headed menace of today’s climate calamity cannot match. How can we rouse citizens and governments to act for concerted change? Will it take, as Naomi Klein insists, nothing less than a Marshall Plan for Earth?

"This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate" is a book of such ambition and consequence that it is almost unreviewable. Klein’s fans will recognize her method from her prior books, "No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies" (1999) and "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism" (2007), which, with her latest, form an antiglobalization trilogy. Her strategy is to take a scourge — brand-driven hyperconsumption, corporate exploitation of disaster-struck communities, or "the fiction of perpetual growth on a finite planet" — trace its origins, then chart a course of liberation. In each book she arrives at some semihopeful place, where activists are reaffirming embattled civic values.

To call "This Changes Everything" environmental is to limit Klein’s considerable agenda. "There is still time to avoid catastrophic warming," she contends, "but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed. Which is surely the best argument there has ever been for changing those rules." On the green left, many share Klein’s sentiments. George Monbiot, a columnist for The Guardian, recently lamented that even though "the claims of market fundamentalism have been disproven as dramatically as those of state communism, somehow this zombie ideology staggers on." Klein, Monbiot and Bill McKibben all insist that we cannot avert the ecological disaster that confronts us without loosening the grip of that superannuated zombie ideology.

That philosophy — neoliberalism — promotes a high-consumption, carbon-hungry system. Neoliberalism has encouraged mega-mergers, trade agreements hostile to environmental and labor regulations, and global hypermobility, enabling a corporation like Exxon to make, as McKibben has noted, "more money last year than any company in the history of money." Their outsize power mangles the democratic process. Yet the carbon giants continue to reap $600 billion in annual subsidies from public coffers, not to speak of a greater subsidy: the right, in Klein’s words, to treat the atmosphere as a "waste dump."

So much for the invisible hand. As the science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson observed, when it comes to the environment, the invisible hand never picks up the check.

Klein diagnoses impressively what hasn’t worked. No more claptrap about fracked gas as a bridge to renewables. Enough already of the international summit meetings that produce sirocco-quality hot air, and nonbinding agreements that bind us all to more emissions. Klein dismantles the boondoggle that is cap and trade. She skewers grandiose command-and-control schemes to re-engineer the planet’s climate. No point, when a hubristic mind-set has gotten us into this mess, to pile on further hubris. She reserves a special scorn for the partnerships between Big Green organizations and Immense Carbon, peddled as win-win for everyone, but which haven’t slowed emissions. Such partnerships remind us that when the lamb and the lion lie down together, only one of them gets eaten.

In democracies driven by lobbyists, donors and plutocrats, the giant polluters are going to win while the rest of us, in various degrees of passivity and complicity, will watch the planet die. "Any attempt to rise to the climate challenge will be fruitless unless it is understood as part of a much broader battle of worldviews," Klein writes. "Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war."

Klein reminds us that neoliberalism was once an upstart counterrevolution. Through an epic case of bad timing, the Reagan-Thatcher revolution, the rise of the anti-regulatory World Trade Organization, and the cult of privatizing and globalizing everything coincided with the rising public authority of climate science. In 1988, James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute, delivered historic testimony at Congressional hearings, declaring that the science was 99 percent unequivocal: The world was warming and we needed to act collectively to reduce emissions. Just one year earlier, Margaret Thatcher famously declared: "There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families." In the battle since, between a collective strategy for forging an inhabitable long-term future and the antisocial, hyper-corporatized, hyper-carbonized pursuit of short-term growth at any cost, well, there has been only one clear winner.

But counterrevolutions are reversible. Klein devotes much of her book to propitious signs that this can happen — indeed is happening. The global climate justice movement is spreading. Since the mid-1990s, environmental protests have been growing in China at 29 percent per year. Where national leaders have faltered, local governments are forging ahead. Hundreds of German cities and towns have voted to buy back their energy grids from corporations. About two-thirds of Britons favor renationalizing energy and rail.

The divestment movement against Big Carbon is gathering force. While it will never bankrupt the mega-corporations, it can reveal unethical practices while triggering a debate about values that recognizes that such practices are nested in economic systems that encourage, inhibit or even prohibit them.

The voices Klein gathers from across the world achieve a choral force. We hear a Montana goat rancher describe how an improbable alliance against Big Coal between local Native American tribes and settler descendants awakened in the latter a different worldview of time and change and possibility. We hear participants in Idle No More, the First Nations movement that has swept across Canada and beyond, contrast the "extractivist mind-set" with systems "designed to promote more life."

One quibble: What’s with the subtitle? "Capitalism vs. the Climate" sounds like a P.R. person’s idea of a marquee cage fight, but it belies the sophistication and hopefulness of Klein’s argument. As is sometimes said, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. Klein’s adversary is neoliberalism — the extreme capitalism that has birthed our era of extreme extraction. Klein is smart and pragmatic enough to shun the never-never land of capitalism’s global overthrow. What she does, brilliantly, is provide a historically refined exposé of "capitalism’s drift toward monopoly," of "corporate interests intent on capturing and radically shrinking the public sphere," and of "the disaster capitalists who use crises to end-run around democracy."

To change economic norms and ethical perceptions in tandem is even more formidable than the technological battle to adapt to the heavy weather coming down the tubes. Yet "This Changes Everything" is, improbably, Klein’s most optimistic book. She braids together the science, psychology, geopolitics, economics, ethics and activism that shape the climate question. The result is the most momentous and contentious environmental book since "Silent Spring." More

 

 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

'Forest Man’ From Kerala, India

Almost 40 years ago, Abdul Kareem bought five acres of land in what was then a sparsely inhabited area in Kasargod district in Malabar, northern Kerala. As a travel agent his job involved travelling around five days a week. He thought he would use the land as a get-away to relax once in a while when he managed to get time off from his hectic work

Shortly after, he bought some more land, and in just a few years, his 30-odd acres were transformed into a thick, vibrant forest, making Abdul Kareem one of the few people in India to have actually created a forest—and that too almost single-handedly!

Abdul Kareem hadn’t bought the land in order to conserve the environment or do something about global warming, but in a while, as his forest grew, he turned into a passionate Nature lover, with his efforts bringing him numerous awards and much appreciation. ‘Caring for Nature is one major mission of my life,’ this enthusiastic, cheerful 68 year-old man says.

Abdul Kareem was born in a village near the sea. ‘There was no forest there, but you could see hills and jungles far away in the distance. As a child, I would fantasize about forests—they seemed so enchanting! Even then I loved plants, and I planted many saplings around my home.’ he says.

When Abdul Kareem bought the land, much of it was bare. The thick layer of laterite rock that covered much of the area did not allow for much vegetation to survive. But that did not deter this intrepid man. When he planted a hundred saplings, hoping to green the land, and only one survived (the rest wilted away in the heat), he did not give up. ‘I didn’t lose hope. I was inspired by the one sapling that survived!’ he relates. The next year he planted 500 saplings, and they all flourished!

Abdul Kareem lovingly tended to the saplings for a year, and after that they took care of themselves, with no human interference—not even needing to be watered or fertilized by human hands. ‘I let the forest grow naturally,’ he says. In a few years, the land was bursting with greenery, a dense forest hosting almost 300 plant species. Birds attracted by the foliage did their bit to help the forest grow by dropping seeds that they had picked up elsewhere.

Trudging along a mud-path that snakes its way through the forest, for a moment you might think you are in the middle of a wild life sanctuary, so dense is it! Abdul Kareem identifies certain plants as we move ahead. ‘This is an orchid!’ he says with childlike enthusiasm, ‘and that’s a shampoo tree! You can make shampoo out of it! Can you imagine! And that, there, is a medicinal plant!’

The hills around the forest were probably once under thick forest cover and home to numerous wild animals. Now, almost all the land is under cultivation—mainly cash crops like rubber—and the wildlife has probably almost completely disappeared. Abdul Kareem’s forest, however, attracts several species: wild boars, jackals, and, of course, snakes, butterflies, various insects and numerous birds, including peacocks.

We walk up to a little pond, and Abdul Kareem insists that I sample the water. ‘Natural water!’ he says gleefully. When I hesitate, he insists, ‘It’s very, very clean!’ He explains how by allowing the land to regenerate and turn into a forest, the water table in the area, which had sunk very low, has risen considerably. The temperature in and around the forest, he adds, is substantially less than elsewhere in the area. ‘See how even a little forest can make a difference to global warming!’ he exclaims.

As we head to the simple little cottage in the middle of the forest where he and his wife live, I ask Abdul Kareem if he makes any money out of the forest. ‘None at all. Earning from it is not my intention,’ he replies. ‘I don’t sell anything that comes from the forest.’

This large-hearted man allows his neighbours to draw water from the wells and ponds in the forest free of cost. For people who might want to pluck a few leaves or fruits of the medicinal plants that the forest abounds in he doesn’t charge anything.

‘A man from a top hotel chain once approached me. He wanted to buy the land to convert it into a hotel or an ayurvedic resort. He would have offered a huge sum of money, and even said I could remain here, in a small portion of the land, but I declined,’ Abdul Kareem says. ‘Even if you offer to let me stay in the White House, I’d rather stay in my forest! Almost all my children live in the Gulf, and although I occasionally visit them, I can’t get to stay there more than just a few days. After that, I pine to rush back to the forest!’

Land prices in the area have soared in recent years, and the cost of Abdul Kareem’s 32 acres of forest land must run into several crores of rupees now. Yet, the man is happy not earning any money from the forest, living in his simple home and making a living as a small travel agent and managing a petrol pump.

Truly amazing, isn’t it?

After taking me around the forest, Abdul Kareem says, ‘Spend the night here if you like. There’s a room here where you can stay. You can learn even more.’

The offer does seem tempting. For a moment, I imagine sitting in the verandah as the sun goes down, listening to frogs croaking and crickets chirping, and maybe even spotting a jackal on the prowl and then waking up to the plaintive cry of a peacock. But the auto-rickshaw I came in is waiting, and so I give Abdul Kareem a parting hug.

‘Your forest is truly amazing, and so are you!’ I say. More