I think this blog has gone as far as it is able to go. If I thought I was making any real difference to anything by writing it, I would of course continue. Although we all face huge challenges for the future, I know far too few people who have any kind of true understanding of these and, as much as I am happy to talk about them, I see no further point in it.
Under the title of Food, Life and All That, I have attempted to explore any issues that happen to come into focus for me at any given time. Disconcertingly, I have found that, whilst the problems continue to mount up, less and less coherent media coverage is given to them, thereby lulling the public into believing that technology is busy fixing it all for us, so there is no real need to worry. When the major technological fix is nothing more than more-of-the-same, with the Corporatocracy and its sycophantic government representatives hell-bent on finding a way to revive economic growth, which they see as the only viable solution, I know we are never going to solve anything.
So it is time to stop writing about humanity’s descent into self-destruction. It looks as if it going to happen despite the best efforts of an increasing number of prophets who can see us heading for the long drop. So it is goodnight and thank you to all my readers, but I will leave you with this thought: if I can find a more effective way of engaging with people, I will do so.
At a recent meeting about the challenges that face humanity, someone in the audience mentioned carbon trading as part of the solution. Well, at the risk of being cynical (again!), I’d say that such a statement is naïve.
The fact is that billions of dollars in profits are being made from carbon trading. It has turned out to be one of the biggest money-making scams ever – and who do you think benefits the most from these windfall profits? Yes, you’ve guessed it, the biggest, dirtiest corporations.
There are now Wall Street operators and financial consultants out there promoting a market estimated by some to be worth nearly $180 billion annually and showing no signs of slowing down. These ‘advisers’ are offering eye-watering profits of anything up to 80% in 12 months, which is very appealing in a global economic slump. The price of carbon credits are expected to keep on rising, perhaps by ten times or more based on their original value.
Way back in 2009, The Ecologist ran an article about Lakshmi Mittal, the UK’s richest resident and majority owner of mega steel company, ArcelorMittal. It suggested that, under the provisions of the EU’s Emission Trading Scheme, this already fabulously wealthy man could become £1 billion richer simply by netting what is in effect a windfall profit from carbon trading.
As a result of intense lobbying by giant companies like ArcelorMittal, the EU set the emission caps too high, with the result that heavy industries like steel, cement and glass manufacturers have an excess of permits, enabling them to sell their allowances for a profit. The Ecologist article also quotes a report from the Carbon Trust suggesting that airlines too could benefit from an increase in profits of between 20% and 40% as a result of free allocations of emission permits from the EU.
Meanwhile, our carbon emissions in the UK, in the rest of Europe and around the world continue to rise inexorably. We are never going to meet our reduction targets, because a business-as-usual policy operates covertly under its new green cloak. Are we still happy to trust the corporations and their lap-dog governments to do the right thing? We must be crazy to retain any faith at all in these self-serving profit junkies.
I don’t know about you, but I get very irate about the lies and deception that prevails unchallenged in this modern world. Yes, you’ve spotted it – I am talking about the rubbish that is dumped on us by the corporate marketing machine.
In illustrating the extent of the problem, I can’t do better than to draw your attention to an article in the New Internationalist (issue 453) written by Danny Chivers and turning the spotlight on eight of the greatest greenwashers. I am sure he won’t mind my creating a précis of his article here, but feel free to check out the original at www.newint.org
So, in no particular order, here are the eight culprits that Danny Chivers has highlighted as ‘twisting the language of sustainability to suit their own plans.’
- Royal Dutch Shell. How it wants to be seen: ‘We are working to produce cleaner energy, to create social benefits, and to integrate social and environmental concerns into the way we do business.’ How it behaves: Like an exterminator who pledges to solve your infestation problem by cutting down the number of rats that he’s releasing secretly into your house each night. What defines it: Getting oil and gas out of the ground by any means available, including controversial fracking, and anywhere on earth, including environmentally sensitive sites such as Canadian tar sands and the Arctic.
- Monsanto. How it wants to be seen: ‘Producing more. Conserving more. Improving lives. That’s sustainable agriculture. And that’s what Monsanto is all about.’ How it behaves: Like a comic book baddie adding mystery contaminants to your water supply – and then asking you to pay them for the trouble. What defines it: Being the world’s biggest producer of genetically modified seeds on the way to fulfilling its objective of having unassailable control over the world’s food supply.
- International Emissions Trading Association [IETA]. How it wants to be seen: ‘IETA members seek to develop an emissions trading regime that results in real and verifiable greenhouse gas emission reductions, while balancing economic efficiency with environmental integrity and social equity.’ How it behaves: Like a smooth-talking kid who persuades the teacher to let his bullying mates out of detention so that they are free to beat you up again. What defines it: Representing the interests of 155 oil corporations, mining companies, power companies, banks and others that benefit from the money-making opportunities of carbon trading.
- Sasol. How it wants to be seen: ‘Our operations are conducted with a sensitivity towards the economic, social and environmental needs of stakeholders. The business is a healthy mix of financial prosperity, balanced with environmental stewardship and social responsibility.’ How it behaves: Like someone pumping toxic waste in through your window and then claiming a government subsidy because it was slightly less toxic than the sludge they pumped last week. What defines it: Being a petrochemical giant operating in 30 countries and specialising in coal-to-liquid technology, even worse for the climate than tar sand exploitation.
- Vale. How it wants to be seen: ‘Vale is committed to the pursuit of sustainable growth . . . operating with respect for the natural environment and being an ethically and socially responsible company.’ How it behaves: Like someone holding a grand launch event for a daffodil they have planted on your front lawn, to distract you from the fact that they have dug up your back garden and trundled it away in the back of a truck. What defines it: Being the world’s second largest metals and mining company, self-reporting carbon emissions that rose from 15 million tonnes to 20 million tonnes between 2007 and 2010.
- HSBC. How it wants to be seen: ‘Achieving sustainable profits for our shareholders, building long-lasting relationships with customers, valuing our highly committed employees, respecting environmental limits and investing in communities.’ How it behaves: Like a bank. What defines it: The making of money out of money. The second largest public company in the world, it is also one of the least ethical, investing in coalmining, offshore oil extraction, tar sands, destructive mega-dams, tax avoidance, unsustainable logging, repressive regimes and the arms trade.
- Amyris. How it wants to be seen: ‘Amyris is passionately committed to addressing our sustainable energy needs with plant-based feedstocks to enable a smarter generation of renewable technology in the future.’ How it behaves: Like someone promising to reduce your motoring costs by turning all the food in your kitchen into enough petroleum to drive your car for five minutes. What defines it: Using synthetic biology to produce biofuel, fed by giant monoculture plantations of sugar cane that consume valuable food-growing land and wilderness areas, that are fertilised by fossil fuel products and that create abysmal labour standards.
- The Bipartisan Policy Center. How it wants to be seen: ‘The BPC drives principled solutions through rigorous analysis, reasoned negotiation, and respectful dialogue.’ How it behaves: Like someone whispering in the ear of the Titanic’s captain, “Don’t worry. No need to change course. Our hull-mounted underwater iceberg-melting flamethrower is definitely going to be ready soon.” What defines it: Acting as a lobby group for its sponsors, which include oil, drugs and biotech giants, to create a more favourable political climate by influencing public debate and policymaking on ‘technofixes’ for climate change.
So there we have it – a random selection of the worst greenwashers out there. Are they the only ones? No, not by a long way. This world is run on greed and profit, and any organisation, large or small, primarily concerned with profit is likely to conceal its true purpose and its tactics beneath a blanket of greenwashed marketing platitudes. Wherever possible, we should not do business with such crooks. We should turn instead to our local economies and do business face-to-face with people whose success depends on credibility and transparency.
So that’s it then. The Rio+20 Earth Summit is already a week into our past and, for all the good that has come from it, our glorious world leaders may as well have written a few scrappy pledges on the back of some postage stamps. At least with the 1992 Summit, there was the semblance of change, and we were able, for a short time at least, to fool ourselves into believing that a paradigm shift in thinking was possible. Twenty years on, it is quite clear that the dominant 1% are not about to give up business as usual any time soon.
The issues that were tipped for a potentially positive result at Rio+20, such as ending subsidies to global oil companies or establishing ecocide as a formally recognised crime, have been swatted away like irritating flies. Are we surprised? No, of course not. Humanity’s train might be heading for the buffers with no brakes, but the first class passengers are still jostling for the best seats. Is there any hope for us? Well, not from those passengers – they are concerned only with getting the best view from the window. Yet there is hope.
If you look carefully, the seeds of hope are sprouting all around you. Tiny shoots of green are probing through the blackened terrain of our scorched earth. Shoots of common sense, coaxed into being by those who are prepared to stop and think, “What are we doing?”
The American writer, Derrick Jensen, is one of the new breed of thinkers. Though he paints an unflinching and uncompromising picture of our shared madness, he is simply acting with the frankness of a family doctor who knows the truth about the terminal condition of the patient. Faced with the cold truth of our reality, but knowing that the situation might be remedied through some radical lifestyle changes, Jensen’s challenge to us is to ask us what each of us is prepared to do.
He tells the story of the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, Indian braves in the truest sense. These dog soldiers would pledge to defend their villages against attack by creating an immovable front line of resistance. They would form their defensive barrier on the outskirts of the village by tethering themselves to a ‘picket pin’ hammered into the ground. They would stand and fight from there, release coming only through victory, death or being relieved by another dog soldier. Derrick Jensen suggests that those of us who believe in defending what is precious to us should adopt the courage of the Cheyenne, and he asks, “Where will you put your picket pin?” It’s a good question. One that each of us must answer individually.
In two days time, The 2012 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Jeneiro opens its doors to over one hundred heads of state, ostensibly all there to discuss the future of global environmental action. But, clamouring for their attention, will be an estimated 50,000 representatives from business, NGOs, local governments and others. News reports, filled with emotive buzz phrases like ‘green economy’ and ‘sustainable development,’ will flash around the globe, telling us all that great things are being achieved in Rio, but what they won’t tell us is that the conference will be ruthlessly exploited by the usual business bully boys and corporate lobbyists, seeking to subvert everything to their own agenda.
Amongst the delegates will be those, such as the environmental lawyer, Polly Higgins, for whom I have the greatest respect, but I wonder what they can realistically achieve in the face of the dominant corporate powers. It is imperative that Polly Higgins and others like her make their presence felt and do their utmost to plead their cases. The rest of us have to believe that change is possible and it is crucial that we stay positive and support all champions of change. Yet our human struggle continues unrelentingly, and Rio might serve only to highlight once again the clear difference between Old Thinking and new.
Twenty years on from the 1992 Earth Summit, often cited as a key moment in environmental politics, we seem to be no further forward. Out of that conference came the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21. These fragile and mainly voluntary policy ideals have effectively been eroded over two decades of free-market fundamentalism, rabid financial speculation, greedy banks and ever-increasing corporate power. All the ills of the world that we sought to address have increased dramatically, fuelled by a now global economic system obsessed with growth in GDP.
GDP economics means that everything must have a value. Thus a road accident or an oil spill will add to GDP, because of the costs involved in the aftermath. Yet a group of guerrilla gardeners quietly growing their own vegetables for their own pleasure, or to share with their friends, will not even register on the GDP radar. This is precisely the reason why our government never encourages us to become more thrifty, more innovative, abstemious, self-sufficient or careful – it would be a disaster for their book-keeping.
The ogre of Gross Domestic Product will be strutting its stuff at Rio in front of its sycophantic fan club of world leaders. As much as we think the Earth Summit is about coming up with solutions to our environmental challenges, these will only work for the corporate lobby if there is something in it for them, and will be sanctioned by governments only if it is good for GDP. No new ideas will be put forward unless they involve lucrative new technologies such as synthetic biology, genetic tinkering or other ‘green’ technofixes. Environmental disaster is meaningless in a corporate context unless it creates opportunities for profitable investments.
On a more sinister level, a key theme of the UN Environment Programme, in its Green Economy Report launched in 2011, is the placing of financial value on natural systems, cycles and habitats. This of course allows the market to ‘price them properly,’ i.e. to ascertain whether the action of saving them is more profitable than allowing them to be exploited and degraded. Thus clean air, biodiverse ecosystems and unpolluted rivers come with a price tag that includes corporate profit. This kind of insanity will pervade the thinking at Rio+20 like a rolling sea fog, and will inevitably influence the outcome.
So what can we hope for? We can hope that hitherto disparate groups and NGOs, such as the Indigenous Environmental Network, La Via Campesina or Friends of the Earth, recognise this as an opportunity to join forces, build new alliances, work together and present a new united front. There are more people involved globally in these burgeoning groups than there are corporate lobbyists. The issues they deal with are essentially the same – creating a world that is good for all the species that inhabit it, including humans. It seems to me that the solution to our problems is right there in front of us. We are the people we have been waiting for – and the greed, self-interest and wilful exploitation that has defined us up until now is all so twentieth-century.
The global empire is dead on its feet. That’s no bad thing, so let’s leave it to die. Let us no longer look to the architects and proponents of that empire for guidance in the future. They can’t help us. We can only help ourselves, and we can start by focusing on Rio+20 and making individual pledges for change at a personal level: “What can I do that will positively influence someone else and thus contribute to making the world a better place?” Go on, ask yourself. And then do it.
No doubt you are all familiar with this oft-quoted snippet of Cherokee wisdom but, in the true nature of myth and legend, it does no harm to repeat it. In fact, whilst we search for new stories to tell ourselves in this failing world, this one might help to draw us in the right direction.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life, and he says, “A battle goes on within each of us. It is like a fight between two wolves. One wolf is good, and lives in harmony with all around him. He will not take offence when no offence is meant, he lives in peace and will only fight when there is no other option and then only in the right way. The other wolf is bad. He is full of anger and fights all the time for no reason at all. He cannot think straight, because his anger and hate are so great. Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves, because each tries to dominate.”
The grandson thought for a minute, then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
And his grandfather said, “The one we feed.”
Of all the things that the corporate world has done, the most devious was to create the myth of consumer demand. We hear about it all the time, in news reports, in the papers, in documentaries. I heard about it just the other night in a documentary about the Amazon. The narrator was telling us how the Amazon is changing, because of consumer demand for beef, soya and timber. Well, no, that’s simply not true. It is not consumer demand, but the demands of industry and their desire to sell as much as they can – consumers are the lifeblood of their profitability. Moving up a gear and using advertising techniques influenced by people like Edward Bernays, master of marketing, PR and spin, industry created the modern version of the consumer in the early part of the 20th Century, refining the model after World War II. It has been laying out its stall of fancy goods for us ever since.
So now we are told that consumer demand for beef, soya and timber is destroying the Amazon. That is a typical example of clever spin. Stop for a minute and think how ridiculous the idea is. Who do you know that would say, “Well, I think it’s an excellent idea to cut down the rainforest, because it provides us with all that timber and makes way for beef and soya.” And where is all this stuff going? The beef feeds the fast food industry, the soya feeds the food processing industry and the timber is just a lucrative by-product. The reality is that in a world that spins on money, every single thing has a commercial value (even, for some, life itself), and those focused on amassing fortunes will sacrifice anything for a quick buck – and then persuade a gullible public that they are merely ‘satisfying consumer demand.’
Did we demand timber, beef and soya from the Amazon, or anything else, come to that? Did we lobby the food industry to give us farmed salmon, factory chicken and commodity milk, for example? I don’t think so. Clearly the food industry created the ‘demand’ in order to make money. Think what it was like back in the days when no one had heard of soya and when beef, salmon and even chicken were foods either reserved for the rich or enjoyed by the middle classes only on special occasions. Add to the equation corporate greed and the pathological craving for infinite corporate growth. Think of the money to be made if the price of these luxury foods could have been brought within everyone’s reach. To slip into current vernacular, it’s a no-brainer. Consumer demand is thus created by offering consumers something they want at a price they can afford – and then marketing this heavily to tell them that’s what they want, without mentioning any of the externalised costs. The demand is then kept buoyant through a constant drip feed of advertising, lest they all forget.
Thus the ‘consumer’ becomes like a kid in a sweet shop. However, if we could force the food industry to explain to us that the foods we are eating rely for their low selling price on cheap ingredients such as soya, corn or palm oil, and that those ingredients are now grown on land where rainforest (or native prairies) once stood – would we feel differently about those products if we understood the real cost of them? Would we really want to buy cheap chicken if industry was prepared to show us the horror of chicken production at that end of the price scale?
This is not going to happen of course. Why would industry want to jeopardise the golden egg of consumerism by revealing the truth about the monster that lays it? So long as this truth remains hidden, industry can rely on the fact that the consumer is now so used to being told what they should buy and how much it should cost them that they are blind to the dark side of factory food production. Worse than that, for those who instinctively feel as though something might be wrong, self-justification kicks in as a barrier to cognitive dissonance. So inured are we after sixty-odd years of having it all at a price we can afford, most of us are powerless to break the addiction. Perhaps if we understood that what we are looking at is in fact a double-sided chronic societal dysfunction, made up of industry demand and consumer addiction, then we might be able to concentrate on a remedy for this planet-threatening affliction.
Allegedly, Buddha once said, “Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are; it relies solely on what you think.” Or . . . you might say it relies quite simply on two of Enid’s orange-yolked eggs, gently poached and served on Damien’s country sourdough toast.
I’m sure Buddha would be the first to agree. In fact, a weekend stay at Aspen House and Buddha might well have developed an even more inspired philosophy.
On many occasions, Sally and I have been challenged on our views that the complex industrial system which supplies most of our food is malignant. Though we patiently try to explain the workings of this global leviathan, our views are generally dismissed as being at best misplaced and at worst positively conspiratorial.
If we mention a ‘foodstuff’ that carries toxic ingredients, we are likely to be met with a response along the lines of, “If it was harmful, it wouldn’t be on the market.” If we talk about the draconian legislation in place to make it arduous for small farmers to eke out a living in a world dominated by agri-business, we are likely to be told that we know nothing about modern day farming. Both responses suggest a deep level of public unawareness, or at least an unwillingness to face uncomfortable facts.
Underlying the resistance to the idea that industry is self-serving is the fact that it is in our human nature to be trusting. We have essentially evolved from small hunter-gatherer communities in which cooperation was an essential prerequisite to survival, security and peace. In what is effectively a blink of the evolutionary eye, we have moved from this to our modern urbanised society, and that is insufficient time for those fundamental instincts to have been replaced by cynicism. But a good shot of cynicism would be very useful today, as it would help us to work out the detailed implications of a divided unequal society, in which the majority of us are effectively subjugated by a tiny minority.
The iniquities of a system that allows this to happen pervade every Westernised social order, but the true nature of the situation is probably best seen in the United States of America. Here, under the false flag of democracy, we have a hotbed of corporate domination and control of the masses by the corrupt elite. It is only the myth of democracy that prevents the USA from descending into an impenitent police state. An increasing number of gloves-off incidents is illustrating very clearly the scale of the problem, and nowhere is the picture more alarming than in the food industry. In a farcical yet disturbing concoction of erroneous research, laughably specious legislation and frighteningly real intimidation by the authorities, the small farmers ofAmerica are being persecuted into extinction. But I am not going to say any more. I am going to hand you over to someone who understands the situation better than I do, that tireless campaigner, Dr Mercola. Here is an article from his website. I hope it encourages you to sign up for his regular newletters.
Released in 1940, The Great Dictator was Charlie Chaplin’s first true ‘talking picture.’ A humorous film based on the age-old comedic concept of mistaken identity, it nonetheless has serious overtones in its parody of despots like Hitler, making it a welcome addition to the UK/US propaganda machine of the day.
One might suppose that such a film would be well past its sell-by date by now, but not so – the final speech might have been written today, touching as it does the modern zeitgeist and growing universal desire for change on a global scale. I remember seeing the film decades ago, and of course the final speech was no doubt lost on me at the time. So my thanks to Shunkaha Wanagi (@LisaGSD) for reminding me. Despite some of the sentiments being a little ‘of their time,’ this is still a relevant battle-cry for humanity at the edge of the precipice. So, making allowances for some of the rhetoric and odd bit of political or ecological correctness, enjoy the essence of the message that we the people need to wake up. So here is the text, with a link to a good YouTube clip for those who want pictures too . . .
I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible – Jew, Gentile, black man, white . . .
We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone, and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.
Greed has poisoned men’s souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness hard and unkind.
We think too much, and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.
Even now, my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.
To those who can hear me, I say, “Do not despair.”
The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.
Soldiers! Don’t give yourself to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder!
Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate!
Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural.
Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!
In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it is written, “ThekingdomofGodis withinMan.” Not one man, nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power.
Let us all unite.
Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfil their promise. They never will!
Dictators free themselves, but they enslave the people!
Now let us fight to fulfil that promise! Let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance!
Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.
Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!