Hollow Promises of a Better Life: Modern Day Slavery

Despite the fact that slavery has long been abolished it continues to blight our world, destroying the lives of tens of millions of people. The Global Slavery Index (GSI) 2018 estimates there to be 40.3 million slaves in the world; however, given the difficulty of collecting data, the areas that are not included – organ trafficking, child soldiers, or child marriage – and the fact that, as GSI says, there are ‘substantial gaps’ from the Arabs States, where 17.5 million migrants workers live, the actual number will no doubt be a great deal higher.
Of the 40.3 million total, 24.9 million people “were in forced labor and 15.4 people were living in a forced marriage.” Men, women and little children living inhuman lives, imprisoned, abused, crushed. Women and girls make up 71% of the total; a staggering one in four (10 million plus) are children.
Treated and regarded by those that exploit them not as human beings, but as chattel property victims of slavery are traded for money and services throughout the world. The Asia-Pacific region has the largest number of enslaved people – 30.4 million, and, according to Anti-Slavery International 9.1 million people are in slavery in Africa. Repressive regimes, such as North Korea, Burundi, Eritrea, have the highest prevalence of slaves, in North Korea it is said to be as high as one in 10. But no country, no matter how wealthy, liberal and well policed, is immune to this abhorrent practice, it is happening everywhere.
As part of the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSGD) member states committed to eradicating modern slavery by 2030. But, unsurprisingly perhaps, progress towards has been slow and, as GSI puts it, “disgracefully marginal”. Human trafficking is now the second most lucrative criminal activity after drugs and it’s increasing; a large percentage is sex trafficking (of women and girls) and over half of people are trafficked within their own country.
The most common forms of slavery are: domestic servitude – widespread in the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries but also prevalent in western nations; sexual exploitation/forced marriage, and bonded labor (or debt bondage/debt slavery) – when a person works in exchange for a loan or to pay off debt inherited from a family member – particularly common in South-east Asia and the Gulf States.
In India bonded slave labor is widespread, with people, specifically women, from the Dalit (previously labeled the ‘Untouchables’) caste and tribal groups being most affected. Although the caste system is illegal, social classification based on the family of birth dominates, particularly in rural areas. In a detailed report on slavery the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) state that affected Indian “families [can] remain enslaved for generations, working in dangerous conditions without the means to pay for their freedom…the cycle often begins with a loan request made to a landlord or business owner for expenses incurred burying a family member, treating an illness, procuring employment, or staging a wedding.” Once the loan is given threats are made, exploitation begins, often the work done far exceeds the value of the debt. Rice mills, textile factories, farms, brick kilns are some of the prisons of bonded labor.
Lost lives
A large percentage of victims work in the supply chains of multinational corporations in the form of forced or bonded labor, including child labor. They are paid little or nothing, work extended hours often in unsafe conditions and live in appalling accommodation. The more complex the supply chain the greater the risk of slavery, the more difficult to trace. Food and tobacco companies, clothing/textile businesses, mining, construction (migrant workers are particularly at risk of exploitation in this area), seafood and electronics, all are vulnerable to modern day slavery.
While the act of enslavement may occur in the depths of the supply chain, products are imported to developed countries, making these countries and businesses if not wholly complicit, certainly partly responsible; GSI estimate that “G20 countries are collectively importing US$354 billion worth of at-risk products annually.” Hidden in large part from unsuspecting or uninterested consumers; slave labor is cheap, reducing costs, maximizing profits.
Consistent with most, if not all of our social and environmental ills the global socio-economic system of the age, and the attitudes, values and ways of being that it encourages play a significant role in feeding the ground for exploration and abuse. Under the poisonous shadow of Neo-Liberalism everything and everyone is regarded as a potential commodity, something, or someone, to be profited from in some way; it is an inherently unjust system that corrupts action and fuels social divisions.
Competition together with notions of reward and punishment form the foundation of its doctrine. Desire, and with it fear, are relentlessly agitated, contentment and harmony brushed aside in the relentless pursuit of profit.
Within the Ideology of Greed and Selfishness, negative tendencies are emphasized; instead of encouraging expressions of unity human beings are set in opposition to one another, forced to compete to survive. The economically weak and socially vulnerable are manipulated, exploited, enslaved, and when, through ill health, physical deformation, old age, or exhaustion, they can no longer work ceaselessly for a pittance or nothing at all, cast aside. Broken in mind, body and spirit, a life for many is lost.
‘I was looking for a job’
Human traffickers and criminal gangs engage in slavery for one reason: it’s the same reason that drives the business world, large and small, and preoccupies people around the world – to make money. As such, it is, as Kevin Bales, Professor of Contemporary Slavery at the University of Nottingham, says, “an economic crime”. They prey on the poor, the naive and vulnerable, those without work or those working but living in terrible hardship.
While it is estimated that one billion people in the world live in poverty, a great many more exist in economic hardship and insecurity. People living in destitution, desperate to support themselves and their families, are a soft target for criminal brokers with hollow promises of a better life: A restaurant job in the city for the daughter of tea pickers in Assam, India – and the teenager is swiftly trafficked into prostitution; work as a housekeeper in Dubai for a young Ethiopian girl, who ends up in debt bondage and domestic slavery, often sexually abused. Construction work for a Nepalese man in Qatar, trapped into debt by unscrupulous ‘recruitment agents’ and exploited by greedy employers.
Another major factor allowing slavery to flourish is neglect or the total absence of the rule of law, as in countries that have been torn apart by armed conflict, or where corrupt police and government officials exist. In such places – Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen for example, human traffickers operate with impunity.
Over the last 70 years there has been a global population explosion contributing to a range of issues including slavery. In 1950 there were 2.5 billion people on Earth, now it’s 7.5 billion and there are also an unprecedented number of displaced people in the world – 70.8 million according to UNHCR. Without a home and stability, displaced people, including migrants and refugees, are extremely vulnerable. Uprooted and desperate, they can be easily manipulated by criminals seeking to exploit their dire circumstances. CFR relate that migrants and refugees, as well as ethnic and religious minorities, particularly women and children, are at heightened risk of enslavement.
The existence of modern day slavery is a stain on our collective humanity; this appalling practice must end, and, as GSI make clear, “governments around the world need to redouble efforts to identify victims, arrest perpetrators, and address the drivers.” The causes are complex, interrelated, connected to the current inadequate modes of living. If we lived in a world where social justice was central to economic policymaking, where the underlying causes of conflict were addressed and where values rooted in brotherhood and compassion prevailed, slavery would be banished. In the absence of such common sense and desperately needed radical changes, the steps required and advocated by those working in the field are all we have, and need to be acted upon – with urgency.
Like many of the issues facing humanity, modern day slavery demands a coordinated consistent approach, cooperation and commitment, nor just among governments, but between nongovernmental organizations, and multinational corporations. Tougher law enforcement is needed, and greater transparency within global supply chains. Businesses should be forced to investigate their own suppliers, while responsible consumption should also play a part in cleaning up supply chains and helping to drive slavery from our world for good.
https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/11/01/hollow-promises-of-a-better-life-modern-day-slavery/
October 2019
 
 
 

Decimation of the Rainforests and the Money Men

During August thousands of fires ravaged the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and Bolivia. Some are still burning. In the wet ecosystem of the rainforest fires are not a natural phenomenon, they are started by people, mostly well-organized criminal gangs that profit from illegal logging and land clearance.
Brazil’s right-wing President, Jain Bolsanaro, took office in January; since then deforestation in the country has doubled, there have been 87,000 fires in the Amazon, the highest number since 2010. Funding to Brazil’s Environmental Protection Agency, IBAMA, has been cut by 25%, including monies allocated for prevention and control of fires, which was slashed by 23%, he has publicly attacked organizations working to protect the rainforest, like Guardians of the Forest (made up of indigenous people), and turned a blind eye to environmental crimes.
By dismantling “all the state organs that enforce environmental protection,” Alfredo Sirkis, director of the Brazil Climate Center, says Bolsonaro is inciting environmental crimes and facilitating deforestation; through his words and deeds he is complicit in the environmental crimes being perpetrated. A spokesman for Guardians of the Forest told Human Rights Watch, “If we were to wait for the authorities to act there will be nothing left.”
80,000 acres a day
The World’s rainforests are the lungs of the planet. They soak up greenhouse gas emissions, affect wind currents and rainfall patterns and produce the oxygen we need to survive. They provide habitat for hundreds of animals, thousands of birds and tens of thousands of plants: around 25% of modern pharmaceuticals are derived from ingredients found in rainforests.
In 1950 they covered around 15% of the earth’s land surface, now, due to intensive deforestation, it’s down to just 6%. According to Scientific American, “most experts agree that we are losing upwards of 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest daily, and significantly degrading another 80,000 acres every day on top of that. Along with this loss and degradation, 135 plant, animal and insect species are disappearing every day………as the forests fall.”
In 2015 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) claimed that “over the past 25 years the rate of net global deforestation has slowed down by more than 50 percent”. However, according to the World Resources Institute, that trend has reversed; 2018 “was the second-highest on record for tree cover loss, down just slightly from 2016. The tropics lost an area of forest the size of Vietnam in just the last two years.” If this unimaginable level of carnage continues unabated it is feared that in less than 40 years there will be none left.
The consequences of a world bereft of rainforests are too horrific to contemplate, but one thing is clear: it would then be too late to do anything meaningful about climate change and the environmental calamity more broadly. Currently, deforestation and forest degradation rank as the second highest cause of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, producing around 15% of the total. As the children of the world have been rightly demanding, radical action is needed now, not in twenty-five or thirty years’ time, but now.
The causes of deforestation
There are various causes of deforestation; while logging is an issue, particularly in Indonesia where 80 percent of timber exports are illegal, the major cause is animal agriculture. Huge tracts of land are cleared to graze cattle, grow feed for animals and for biofuels. Animal agriculture is a principle cause of greenhouse gas emissions – producing, the UNFAO say, 14.5% of the anthropogenic GHG emissions that are driving climate change. It also uses approximately 70% of all agricultural land, and is the primary cause of biodiversity loss, animal extinction and water pollution. If deforestation and climate change are to be tackled, reducing consumption of animal produce needs to be a priority. This is something we can all do; it just requires commitment and a sense of social/environmental responsibility.
A recent study into the impact of farming on the planet concluded that “a vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication [when a body of water becomes overly enriched with minerals and nutrients which induce excessive growth of algae], land use and water use…it is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” it states, “as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.”
The research, which is the most comprehensive to date, found that “beef cattle raised on deforested land result in 12 times more greenhouse gases and uses 50 times more land than those grazing rich natural pasture,” and states that producing 100g of beef “results in up to 105kg of greenhouse gases, while tofu produces less than 3.5kg.” Without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by 75% (an area equivalent to the US, China, the European Union and Australia combined), the study states, and we could still feed everyone.
In response to this summer’s fires in the Amazon a coalition of environmental groups came together, which included Friends of the Earth, Action Network, Rainforest and Amazon Watch. They called for a Global Day of Action for the Amazon and issued a damning statement to those responsible for the destruction.
Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro is, they made clear, primarily to blame for the fires and the increase in deforestation since he took office, due to his “regressive, and racist policies and his explicit encouragement to ‘open the Amazon for business’.” But, it is multinational companies that have created the “conditions for profiteering at the expense of the lungs of the earth – and these same companies are poised to profit further as today’s fires open up the door for tomorrow’s plantations and ranches.” Behind deforestation is big business and the multinational banks.
Global commodity traders are the “key drivers of deforestation in the Amazon”; companies like Cargill, a US based agriculture corporation, or JBS, an American food processing company, or Marfrig Global Foods, a Brazilian beef producer, and, according to their website, “one of the world leaders in the production of hamburgers, with processing capacity of 232.000 tons per year”.
The products these companies make are sold by large-scale retailers all over the world: E. Lecrerc has over 500 shops in France and 112 outside the country; Stop & Shop (the name says it all), a US supermarket chain with 415 outlets; Costco, another American conglomerate, and US mega corporation, Walmart, which has 11,389 stores. Behind these corporations sit the moneymen. The key players are BlackRock (an American investment management corporation); US investment bank, JPMorgan Chase; Santander (Spanish Bank); BNP Paribas (French Bank); HSBC (UK-based bank) and others. “These financiers not only enable the destruction of our forests – they profit from it.”
The driving force
Behind the banks and corporate traders is the Neo-Liberal socio-economic model; these powerful organizations operate within, and are determined to uphold, the confines of its doctrine, they are driven by the values and motives inherent in the Ideology of Money, and demonstrate no concern for the natural world, or human well-being.
Together with the consumer society that it relentlessly promotes and depends on, Neo-Liberalism, sits at the polluting heart of deforestation and the wider interconnected environmental catastrophe. Under its profit-bound ethos, everything is regarded as a commodity, everyone seen as a consumer. Competition and division are inherent, selfishness and greed, the antithesis to what is needed, are fostered.
Within the present construct and modes of living it is hard to see how the necessary action to curb deforestation could be initiated. In an attempt to halt the carnage in 2008 the UN set up Redd (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation). A mechanism through which developing countries are encouraged to improve forest management and developed nations can contribute to a fund to facilitate and support such schemes. It may contribute to encouraging conservation and places a degree of responsibility, albeit voluntarily accepted, on rich nations, but it will not stop deforestation.
A completely new approach to so-called development as part of far reaching systemic change is urgently needed, together with a shift in public attitudes: away from self-centered activity, competition, and the aggrandizement of the individual and/or the nation state. Humanity is one, individual but united. This essential fact needs to be recognized and acted upon. Not as a vague philosophical or psychological catchphrase, but as a principle of truth from which a new socio-economic model can be created. One that serves the needs of all through sharing, encourages simplicity of living, harmlessness and social/environmental responsibility.
https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/09/27/decimation-of-the-rainforests-and-the-money-men/
September 2019
 
 
 

Climate Change: All Talk No Action

Awareness of climate change and the interconnected environmental crisis is growing throughout the world. Protest movements led by Extinction Rebellion and School Strike for Climate increase in number and scope, demands for action are repeated, louder and louder, anger and anxiety mounts. And yet politicians and corporations, complacent, trapped by outdated ideology and motivated by short term self-interest, respond inadequately if at all.
World leaders, “talk too much and…listen too little” – the UN Secretary General, António Guterres at the Youth Climate Summit in September. In a candid address he related that, “things [concerning climate change] are getting worse. The worst forecasts that were made are being proven wrong, not because they were too dramatic, but because they were not dramatic enough…we are still losing the race … climate change is still running faster than what we are.” Thus resulting in unprecedented heat waves, record-breaking wildfires, declining sea ice and glaciers (parts of the Arctic are warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet), cyclones, floods and drought.
The way of life in rich developed nations – i.e., those that caused the environmental problem in the first place – and (given the development model forced on them by western institutions) to a much smaller but growing degree in developing countries, is based on greed and limitless consumption. It is completely unsustainable, has poisoned the planet and promoted a set of self-supporting negative values that lie at the root of a range of social ills.
If the planet is to be healed and social harmony inculcated it cannot continue. Growing numbers of people around the world recognize this fact, but the Men and Women of Power, whether political or business, and the two are bedmates, fail to accept that it has to end and do all they can to manipulate dying forms and resist change. They fear that if real change were embraced and sustainable, just and healthy modes of living introduced, they would make less profit and lose power. And money and power – two more bedmates – have become all-important in our societies: government policies are dominated by them. Lives, landscapes, oceans, rivers, ecosystems, the air we breathe, all are sacrificed in the pursuit of these hollow totems.
Broken pledges and failing targets
In October 2018 the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published Global Warming 1.5C. The report makes clear that restricting the increase in global ground temperatures to 1.5C (as agreed at the pivotal 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference) would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Resulting in “clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems … ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society.” The years between 2015 and 2019 have been the warmest of any equivalent period on record and have moved global warming towards 1.1C (above pre-industrial levels). Without urgent action it’s widely accepted that we will reach 1.5 °C by 2030. The consequences of which, the IPCC says, are much worse than previously predicted.
The ‘nightmarish tale’ would see “warming of extreme temperatures in many regions, increases in frequency, intensity and/or amount of heavy precipitation in several regions, and an increase in intensity or frequency of droughts in some regions.” Sea levels according to Carbon Brief would rise by a colossal 48cm by 2100, almost 300 million people would be exposed to water scarcity, cyclones would increase, and, among a lot of other chilling impacts, close to 30 million people living in coastal areas flooded by 2055.
This is a sketch of the 1.5C scenario, the agreed global target; if warming is higher the consequences are more severe. It is a target most nations are not on track to meet. At the UN Summit, Secretary General Guterres said that countries (major polluters) need to cut emissions by 45% by 2030, end fossil fuel subsidies, ban new coal plants after 2020 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Since Paris, governments around the world have made various non-binding pledges and established honorable targets to lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE). Most of which are then ignored. As a result the prospect of achieving the targets they themselves have set remain non-existent, and in most cases, the targets themselves are totally inadequate if we want to preserve life and maintain a viable living planet.
Before the Climate Summit in September a report was published by United in Science (backed by the UN Environment Programme and the IPCC), which finds that “commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions must be at least tripled and increased by up to fivefold if the world is to meet the goals” of the Paris Agreement. Coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization the report says that if current plans continue, by 2100 the rise in average global temperatures would be between 2.9C and 3.4C.
One would imagine that such a forecast would make governments, who are very much aware of them, wake up, but immersed in complacency and arrogance most at least simply ignore such information and carry on regardless. The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) is an independent scientific analysis body that monitors the climate action of governments around the world and measures this against the Paris Agreement (holding warming well below 2°C, and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C).
Among other things CAT assesses whether countries are likely to meet their emission targets and estimates likely global temperature increases based on current policies. The observations are truly shocking: Where they exist at all, plans by the USA (Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, weakened environmental legislation and is supporting the fossil fuel industry), Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are described as ‘critically insufficient’ i.e., these countries are doing virtually nothing. Measures taken by China, Japan and a list of other nations are termed ‘highly insufficient’, steps introduced by the EU, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway and five more are ‘insufficient’ (to meet the target of 1.5). Perhaps surprisingly India, which is emerging as a global leader in renewable energy, is among those countries regarded as having taken ‘sufficient’ steps, but ‘sufficient’ towards meeting 2C – not 1.5. According to CAT only Morocco and The Gambia are on track to meet its targets.
If warming is to be limited to 1.5C there needs to be drastic cuts made in the use of fossil fuels. This means withdrawing funding to fossil fuel companies, leaving the oil and coal in the ground and heavily investing in renewable energy sources, which, BP reports, currently amount to a mere 9.3% of global electricity generation.
However, consistent with the Profit At All Costs doctrine, a report (Banking on Climate Change) from a coalition of environmental groups, reveals that since the Paris Agreement, “33 global banks have provided $1.9 trillion to fossil fuel companies [and] the amount of financing has risen in each of the past two years.” The big U.S. banks dominate, JPMorgan Chase coming out as the world’s top fossil fuel funder, “by a wide margin.” Royal Bank of Canada, Barclays in the UK and Bank of China are all funding the polluters.
The IPCC report outlines broad recommendations of what needs to happen in order to meet, or attempt to meet the 1.5 target: “transformative systemic change, integrated with sustainable development,” are two crucial elements that stand out. Operating within the existing structures and ideologies, governments and corporations have consistently shown that they will not act within the required time frame. Some, as the CAT data reveals, appear reluctant to act at all, while others are acting in contradictory, hypocritical ways by making pledges to drastically cut emissions while investing in fossil fuels.
Fundamental changes to the socio-economic system is urgently required; competition, national self-interest and the profit motive have to be curtailed, cooperation and unity cultivated. Man-made climate change observes no borders, it is a global catastrophe, and, as has been repeatedly said but consistently ignored, it demands a unified, coordinated global response.
October 2019
https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/10/11/climate-change-all-talk-no-action/
 

The Need for Unity in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a tribal nation, made up of 80 or so different groups, some large some small, some powerful, some not. Large numbers of people, the majority perhaps, identify themselves with their tribe more powerfully than their country, or their region. Tribal affiliation runs deep among all age groups, loyalty is strong, resentment of tribal others can be fierce.
Social divisions along tribal lines, fear and animosity, particularly between the three largest groups – the Oromo, Amhara and Tigrinian – are acute. People within all three are heavily armed; carrying weapons in rural Ethiopia is commonplace, expected even. Isolated conflicts have occurred in various parts of the country in recent months leading to deaths and displacement of people.
Ethiopia now boasts the largest number of internally displaced persons in the world. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (iDMC) states that, “about 2.9 million new displacements associated with conflict were recorded in 2018.” The total number displaced in the country is estimated to be close to four million.
The new government has not responded effectively to this humanitarian crisis or the incidents of tribal-based violence; it appears weak and indecisive, and when it has reacted it has done so in a heavy-handed, clumsy manner. Many Ethiopians, both inside and outside the country are concerned that matters could spiral out of control; one spark, carelessly thrown, could ignite fury, civil war even. This is not a new fear, but it is becoming more widespread, and with every eruption of ethnic violence unease deepens, tensions grow.
The government, under the leadership of PM Abiy Ahmed Ali, appears unclear how to respond to the frustration that many in the country feel. Maintaining Law and order by the police is essential, the military should not be involved, but, they have been deployed to deal with unrest, and the government has on occasion retreated into the Old Ethiopian Way of Control; arresting troublesome journalists and restricting Internet access – the regime still owns the sole telecommunications company. The Committee to Protect Journalists report that “on June 22, Ethiopia was plunged into an internet blackout following what the government described as a failed attempted coup in the Amhara region.”
In the aftermath at least two journalists were detained under the country’s repressive anti-terror law. The draconian Anti-Terrorist Proclamation was introduced in 2009, was described by Human Rights Watch (HRW) at the time as “a potent instrument to crack down on political dissent, including peaceful political demonstrations…. It would permit long-term imprisonment and even the death penalty for ‘crimes’ that bear no resemblance, under any credible definition, to terrorism.” The government has been discussing reforms to the proclamation, but what is required is not endless debate, but for the law to be scrapped immediately and new legislation brought forward.
From Dictatorship to Democracy
Until PM Abiy took office, the ruling EPRDF coalition was dominated by a group of men from Tigray under the banner of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). For 23 years they imposed their ideology of ‘Revolutionary Democracy’ – a highly centralized authoritarian political and economic system, which the regime was never able to clearly define. Human rights were ignored, corruption was rife, the judiciary politicized, state terrorism commonplace in various parts of the country, and “ethnic federalism”, a system of regional administration based on ethnicity, introduced. Good on paper, it promised to respect cultural diversity and give autonomy to ethnic groups should they wish it. In practice ethnic federalism was a way for the TPLF to control the people, to “Divide and Rule”. Competition among groups for land, government funding, aid and natural resources increased, historic tribal flags hoisted, differences aggravated and national unity impaired, all by design.
The EPRDF is still in office under PM Abiy, but the cabinet is new (50% women), and the approach has radically changed; democracy is, many hope, a real possibility in the country.
Abdi is Oromo and holds the office of chairman of the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP). Although they constitute the largest group (with around 35% of the population), there has never before been an Oromo Prime Minister. As large numbers of Oromo see it, they have been dominated for generations by people from the Amhara and Tigray regions, who have suppressed and abused them. With an Oromo PM and a large number of Oromo ministers in place many Oromo people believe their time has come; their time for what precisely though, is unclear. Revenge perhaps – dangerous, to redress historic injustices, to gain independence or autonomy – something that is geographically impossible; Oromia sits on land in the center of the country and includes the capital, Addis Ababa.
Since the new government took office in April 2018 political prisoners have been released, prisons – in which torture was routine – closed down, peace established with Eritrea, troops withdrawn from the Ogaden region in the south. Ethiopians living abroad, many of who were critical of the previous regime, were welcomed back, and the media unshackled. A new beginning then, and much to be welcomed. But as the old repressive measures are rejected, deep-seated anger has surfaced; some see the disquiet as an opportunity to advance their narrow political agenda, they exploit the situation, agitating, stirring up anger.
The evolution into democracy, something Ethiopia has never before known, needs to be carefully nurtured if the transition away from fear and suppression is to be peacefully realized. The government is new and needs time, they also need support; Ethiopia’s major beneficiaries, Europe, USA and Britain, need to become engaged. As with the world as a whole, the key for Ethiopia is unity: unity enriched by the diverse tribal cultures and traditions that exist in this beautiful country.
There is a great deal to be done in Ethiopia: it remains one of the poorest countries in the world, and finds itself languishing at 173rd on the UN Human development Index, out of 189 countries. Health care is poor as is the standard of education. Civil society is weak, it lacks a comprehensive legal infrastructure, the judiciary is not trusted; the cost of living is high and inequality extreme. It will take time, cooperation, tolerance and goodwill to address these fundamental societal issues. Every effort needs to be made to unite the disparate groups; no matter the tribe, all are Ethiopian and all have a contribution to make in the New Ethiopia.
https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/08/12/the-need-for-unity-in-ethiopia/
August 2019
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Rise and Rise of Green Politics

Alongside the flag-waving surge of right wing and extreme right wing groups, political parties concerned with environmental issues are on the rise.
Public awareness of climate change and associated issues is growing; a recent poll in Britain found that 85% of people are concerned about climate change, 52% ‘very concerned’. As a result of this increased concern we are witnessing a major turning point for green parties, particularly in Europe, and it’s young people that are driving it.
In the May EU elections green parties achieved unprecedented levels of success in northwest Europe, a third of under 30 year olds voting Green, and in Germany (where The Green Party has historically been strongest), a national poll ranked the Greens first in a federal election. Green centered parties, the Financial Times reports, now, and for the first time, have “a strong hand at the European level and in the national politics of more than half the EU’s population.”
At the heart of the Greens’ campaign is a “Green New Deal”, (something that is also animating some on the US left), which requires huge public investment in green infrastructure, and the idea of a ‘Carbon Tax and Dividend’ scheme. The model proposes a levy to be applied on, for example, fuel, airfares, education etc., creating a dividend or rebate to be universally distributed to offset the costs involved in moving to a low carbon economy. The German Green Party has endorsed the scheme, as has Ska Keller, the European Green party leader.
Differences in approach, values, policies and attitudes between Green Politics and the Divisive Ways of the Right could not be starker: Contrary ways of approaching the issues of the day representing broader divisions within the world; divisions that, as we transition from one civilization to another, are becoming increasingly stark.
The present modes of living, values and structures are crystallizing. Based on ideals that promote the individual over the collective, life is defined in a somewhat narrow materialistic way. Ideologies, religious, political and social, exert a powerful influence, creating separation and intolerance, entrapping all who adopt them in dogma. In contrast the Movement of the New, tends towards synthesis, cooperation and understanding.
As the differences become more apparent, the choices clearer, the methods of the right and far right become more extreme, lines of polarization increase, the demands for change intensify.
The principle obstacles to change are the reactionary, conservative forces in the world. They are powerful groups, many of which are actually in power: Trump’s Presidency, the Republican Party in the US more broadly, the Conservatives in Britain, which, under the leadership of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have formed what may constitute the most far right cabinet ever assembled in the country.
Russia, Turkey, Israel, Hungary and Poland all have right wing governments, Japan, under Shinzo Abe has moved the Liberal Democratic party to the right, and, eager to take their share of the populist vote, governments in Australia and Canada are drifting. India has recently re-elected the Hindu nationalist BJP party with Narendra Modi as Prime Minister, and in 2018 Brazil voted in a former army captain and rabid right wing politician Jair Bolsonaro. He has been much in the news of late over the deliberate, government-sanctioned burning of the Amazon rain forest – an act of Environmental Terrorism.
All such governments are inward looking, promote tribal nationalism in varying degrees and seek not only to maintain the unjust status quo, but to intensify it. They represent the past, their methodology and ideals are completely out of sync with the rhythm of the times, and, as The New Narrative becomes increasingly defined, and forms are set in place through which the purifying waters of justice and unity can flow, they will fall into ruin.
The demographics of the divide are complex of course, but are broadly founded not so much on class and occupation as age and education. In 2017 a YouGov survey in the UK found that the Labour Party were 19% ahead (in the polls) when it came to 18-24 year-olds “and the Conservatives [led] by 49% among the over 65s.” Research from the Pew Institute shows that younger people (18-29) in every country cited ‘favor greater [cultural and ethnic] diversity in their country’, and that education levels play a major part in forming attitudes ­– progressive or otherwise; in America e.g., 71% of people with ‘more education’ favored diversity compared to 51% with less education. In Germany it’s 65% – 44%, Brazil, 67% – 38%.
Despite outward signs to the contrary, and the bullying tactics of those that would obstruct change, an unstoppable momentum is being established that will sweep away the old worn out structures. The Green Wave is a sign and expression of this global movement. All that divides and destroys must be laid aside; unity, sharing and tolerance are the values of the time, and, these will increasingly be the principles upon which a new world order will be built.

From Porn to Tweets and Online Bullying; The Age of Abuse

As social divisions deepen, polarities spread, extremists rise, anger and abuse grows, is growing, is being legitimized, excused. Lies are sanctioned, truth dismissed. The abuser armed, flag-waving, ignorant, spewing vitriol and poisoning the collective psychological space, weaving a brittle web of insecurity.
There are multiple forms of abuse, from exploitation as in the case of modern day slavery, to torture and sexual violence including pornography – soft, medium and hard; insults, degradation, online and off. The motive is consistent, inflicting pain, physical or psychological, and in many cases both, one leading to the other, oftentimes laying a lifelong seed of suffering and trauma.
Pain is tied to pleasure, polarities of a time-bound movement of the self. And we live in a culture of pleasure, sensory, tied to desire: see it, want it, have it, discard it. Desire for stimulation, for comfort, for stuff, for prestige, desire to dominate, to control, to be superior. Desire entwined with competition strengthened by tribalism, extreme nationalism and religious ideological dogmatism; my nation is the greatest, my God the most Godly, etc.
The pursuit of pleasure, physiological, but more significantly psychological, in the form of security, status, comfort, and the avoidance of pain, fashions motive, determines action. In the world of pleasure and desire Love is lost, fear inevitable, and with it abuse.
The spread of competition into all areas, like a virus eating away healthy cells, coupled with conformity, act as agents of fear and division, and where these exist there will be conflict and abuse.
In search of group acceptance the individual conforms to The Power and Ignorance of the Pack; ‘Send her back, send her back.’ An atmosphere of abuse once established, its execution is guaranteed. Social, racial, gender and ethnic abuse meted out. Conformity weighs heavily, the division between the fact and the idealized image, leading to self-abuse – self harming, drug/alcohol abuse, sexual abuse; self-loathing based on failure to fulfill expectations or to correspond to the hollow archetypes relentlessly promoted – to adopt the values and habits of The Pack.
A bully’s paradise
The Internet is the Wonder of the Modern Age, a library of unprecedented scope and scale democratizing information, dismantling distance, connecting billions around the world; a tool for creativity, knowledge and communication. In the hands of some, though, it is a weapon of humiliation, intimidation and abuse; a bully’s paradise. Twitter tirades from a racist US president, platforms of misinformation and dishonesty; politicians are intimidated and threatened, particularly women representatives: according to a global survey almost “half of women in politics have faced serious abuse, including threats of murder, rape and assault.” Adults and children are attacked – in Britain an Ofcom report found that “23 per cent of children have been cyber bullied in the last year, while 39 per cent have been subjected to offensive language online,” the picture is similar throughout Europe. And in the US, a Pew Research Center study concluded that “41% of Americans (adults) have been personally subjected to harassing behavior online,” and 66% have “witnessed these behaviors directed at others.”
Terrorists, home grown or foreign based, employ cyberspace to advertise for recruits, connect to others, like minded, promote their ideology, demanding abuse and destruction; partners abuse trust, sharing intimate photographs of their lover, violent attacks are filmed, shared in ‘real time’. The number of websites specializing in child abuse, often disguised, sits at 78,589, up 37% on 2016, according to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). And the level of abuse shown on theses site is becoming more extreme, the content increasingly vile – rape and sexual torture of children has increased from 28% to 33% in three years. IWF’s CEO, “we are now receiving more reports of child sexual abuse content than ever before. This year we’re seeing offenders getting smarter and finding new ways to abuse legitimate Internet services.”
Huge quantities of porn, much of which shows abusive images: around a third of the www is dedicated to pornography. Billions of people every minute search for online pleasure, forming dependency, addiction in some cases, and is not addiction a form of self-abuse?
All this and more, including staggering levels of environmental vandalism, is a reflection of human consciousness, which is itself shaped by adopted values and existing systems, specifically the socio-economic model. Rooted in competition and greed, selfishness and pleasure, the pervasive modes of living aggravate the negative in humanity, are of themselves abusive, and, by encouraging division, foster abuse.
The Crisis of Abuse is being fanned by the actions, rhetoric and behavior of prominent political figures, from Trump to Viktor Orban and all extreme voices in between. It is not their creation though, nor is it the creation of some vague power separate from society, it is society and society with its structures and forms is the representation at any given time of the consciousness of those living within it: society is humanity.
Consciousness, as J. Krishnamurti repeatedly made clear, is its content, and is conditioned thereby. Among large numbers of people there is a substantive shift in consciousness taking place away from divisive ideals to more inclusive, tolerant ways of living. When, however, consciousness is filled with detritus, with the values of the market, of competition, nationalism and narrow ideological constructs, division, conflict – internal and external – and abuse follows.
A point of tension is being reached between the old decaying ways, and The New, between the imperative felt among many for fundamental change, and those backward-looking reactionary voices, that are feeding an atmosphere of abuse and division. Unity, cooperation and tolerance are the pre-eminent values of the time. Together with sharing and understanding these Principles of Goodness need to be, and (striking a cautious note of optimism), will increasingly form the foundations upon which the systems that dominate our lives are rebuilt, allowing the manifestation of the good to flourish.
https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/07/26/from-porn-to-tweets-and-online-bullying-the-age-of-abuse/
July 2019
 
 

From Porn to Tweets and Online Bullying; The Age of Abuse

As social divisions deepen, polarities spread, extremists rise, anger and abuse grows, is growing, is being legitimized, excused. Lies are sanctioned, truth dismissed. The abuser armed, flag-waving, ignorant, spewing vitriol and poisoning the collective psychological space, weaving a brittle web of insecurity.
There are multiple forms of abuse, from exploitation as in the case of modern day slavery, to torture and sexual violence including pornography – soft, medium and hard; insults, degradation, online and off. The motive is consistent, inflicting pain, physical or psychological, and in many cases both, one leading to the other, oftentimes laying a lifelong seed of suffering and trauma.
Pain is tied to pleasure, polarities of a time-bound movement of the self. And we live in a culture of pleasure, sensory, tied to desire: see it, want it, have it, discard it. Desire for stimulation, for comfort, for stuff, for prestige, desire to dominate, to control, to be superior. Desire entwined with competition strengthened by tribalism, extreme nationalism and religious ideological dogmatism; my nation is the greatest, my God the most Godly, etc.
The pursuit of pleasure, physiological, but more significantly psychological, in the form of security, status, comfort, and the avoidance of pain, fashions motive, determines action. In the world of pleasure and desire Love is lost, fear inevitable, and with it abuse.
The spread of competition into all areas, like a virus eating away healthy cells, coupled with conformity, act as agents of fear and division, and where these exist there will be conflict and abuse.
In search of group acceptance the individual conforms to The Power and Ignorance of the Pack; ‘Send her back, send her back.’ An atmosphere of abuse once established, its execution is guaranteed. Social, racial, gender and ethnic abuse meted out. Conformity weighs heavily, the division between the fact and the idealized image, leading to self-abuse – self harming, drug/alcohol abuse, sexual abuse; self-loathing based on failure to fulfill expectations or to correspond to the hollow archetypes relentlessly promoted – to adopt the values and habits of The Pack.
A bully’s paradise
 The Internet is the Wonder of the Modern Age, a library of unprecedented scope and scale democratizing information, dismantling distance, connecting billions around the world; a tool for creativity, knowledge and communication. In the hands of some, though, it is a weapon of humiliation, intimidation and abuse; a bully’s paradise. Twitter tirades from a racist US president, platforms of misinformation and dishonesty; politicians are intimidated and threatened, particularly women representatives: according to a global survey almost “half of women in politics have faced serious abuse, including threats of murder, rape and assault.” Adults and children are attacked – in Britain an Ofcom report found that “23 per cent of children have been cyber bullied in the last year, while 39 per cent have been subjected to offensive language online,” the picture is similar throughout Europe. And in the US, a Pew Research Center study (2017 and its got worse) concluded that “41% of Americans (adults) have been personally subjected to harassing behavior online,” and 66% have “witnessed these behaviors directed at others.” 
Terrorists, home grown or foreign based, employ cyberspace to advertise for recruits, connect to others, like minded, promote their ideology, demanding abuse and destruction; partners abuse trust, sharing intimate photographs of their lover, violent attacks are filmed, shared in ‘real time’. The number of websites specializing in child abuse, often disguised, sits at 78,589, up 37% on 2016, according to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). And the level of abuse shown on theses site is becoming more extreme, the content increasingly vile – rape and sexual torture of children has increased from 28% to 33% in three years. IWF’s CEO, “we are now receiving more reports of child sexual abuse content than ever before. This year we’re seeing offenders getting smarter and finding new ways to abuse legitimate Internet services.”
Huge quantities of porn, much of which shows abusive images: around a third of the www is dedicated to pornography. Billions of people every minute search for online pleasure, forming dependency, addiction in some cases, and is not addiction a form of self-abuse?
All this and more, including staggering levels of environmental vandalism, is a reflection of human consciousness, which is itself shaped by adopted values and existing systems, specifically the socio-economic model. Rooted in competition and greed, selfishness and pleasure, the pervasive modes of living aggravate the negative in humanity, are of themselves abusive, and, by encouraging division, foster abuse.
The Crisis of Abuse is being fanned by the actions, rhetoric and behavior of prominent political figures, from Trump to Viktor Orban and all extreme voices in between. It is not their creation though, nor is it the creation of some vague power separate from society, it is society and society with its structures and forms is the representation at any given time of the consciousness of those living within it: society is humanity.
Consciousness, as J. Krishnamurti repeatedly made clear, is its content, and is conditioned thereby. Among large numbers of people there is a substantive shift in consciousness taking place away from divisive ideals to more inclusive, tolerant ways of living. When, however, consciousness is filled with detritus, with the values of the market, of competition, nationalism and narrow ideological constructs, division, conflict – internal and external – and abuse follows.
A point of tension is being reached between the old decaying ways, and The New, between the imperative felt among many for fundamental change, and those backward-looking reactionary voices, that are feeding an atmosphere of abuse and division. Unity, cooperation and tolerance are the pre-eminent values of the time. Together with sharing and understanding these Principles of Goodness need to be, and (striking a cautious note of optimism), will increasingly form the foundations upon which the systems that dominate our lives are rebuilt, allowing the manifestation of the good to flourish.
https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/07/26/from-porn-to-tweets-and-online-bullying-the-age-of-abuse/
July 2019
 
 

Breaking the Spiral of Hate and Intolerance

Valeria Martinez Ramirez was 23 months old when she drowned in the Rio Grande with her father Oscar in June this year. They had made the long journey from Salvador to the US border with her mother and brother. The image of Valeria, her arm round her father’s neck as they lay face down on the riverbank, shocked and moved all who saw it. They were the latest casualties of the US government’s immigration offensive.
Like the image of three-year-old Alan Kudi from Syria, who drowned (September 2015) off the Greek island of Kos, the photograph of Valeria and her father is an icon of pain; individual tragedy triggering collective sadness.
An unprecedented number
 In the last decade huge numbers of people have been driven from their homes by war, or have migrated in search of a better life. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimate that there are now 70.8 million displaced people in the world, ‘an unprecedented number’. 41.3 million are internally displaced, 25.9 million asylum seekers (over half are under 18) and 3.5 million refugees, i.e. people acknowledged to be fleeing persecution of some kind. Those on the move head for countries that are peaceful (comparatively), economically healthy and offer opportunities for a new beginning.
The decision to leave home is, for the vast majority, taken reluctantly, the journey into a new life undertaken with trepidation; criminal gangs run the migrant routes, exploitation is commonplace and for many of those who successfully traverse the dangers, exclusion, prejudice and hardship often await them.
Immigrants epitomize the notion of the ‘other’, encompassing a number of key areas of difference; the way they look, pray and speak. To those poisoned by hate and the ideology of tribal nationalism, immigrants are the perfect targets of prejudice.
In the last five years or so hate crime in its varied forms, all vile and pernicious, has been increasing in virtually every developed country; migrants are increasingly the victims. In Britain incidents of reported hate crime have doubled in the last five years. It’s a similar story elsewhere in Europe, Italy and Germany for example; in Hungary, which has a far right government and intolerance is policy, hate crime is five times the level it was in 2013. In America, where African-Americans and Jews are the most commonly targeted groups, hate crime has increased year on year for the past five years.
The increase in violent acts against people who are different in some way has occurred in tandem with the rise of right wing and extreme right wing groups, political and non-political and so-called populism of all shades. Politicians, weak and lacking vision, refuse to address the systemic causes, retreat into ideology, construct regressive arguments to curry favor with a disheartened and angry populace.
Dogmatic opinions, judgmental attitudes and an absence of tolerance have created a putrid atmosphere of division. Moving within this Paradigm of Fear policies of division are enacted, further strengthening intolerance, fuelling prejudice. A rabid spiral of hate and distrust is created; palpable, we live within its narrow boundaries and omnipresent threat.
Exclusion as policy
Instead of dealing with the underlying impulses of migration (many of which lie at the door of the countries migrants are seeking entry to), and setting up properly run processing centers, governments have tried to deter people by inhumane policies and methods. Such an approach removes choice and forces people to take risks, sometimes life-threatening risks.
In Europe, where a coordinated, compassionate immigration policy has been shamefully lacking, tens of thousands of desperate people have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea in unseaworthy vessels since 2010. Inhumane immigration policies establish division between the One – the Hallowed State and, the Migrant – the ‘Other’. Once this division has been set up a space is created in which all manner of abuse can take place – by the State and by those conditioned by the poisonous ideology of Tribal Nationalism.
Under the presidency of Donald Trump, immigrants are seen as a threat, thieves who want what Americans have for themselves, enemies of the State. Exclusion and isolationism have become government policy – the Policy of Hate. Into this Crucible of Intolerance walked Valeria Martinez Ramirez and her 25-year-old father Oscar. They drowned in the currents of the Rio Grande; their entwined bodies were discovered on 24th June. So, the proponents of the Policy of Hate will argue, it was an accident, tragic certainly, but nobody’s fault.
Óscar Martínez Ramírez decided to try to enter the US by crossing the river with his family because the US authorities would not deal with their claim for asylum. In his frustration and desperation he waded into the water with his daughter, watched by his wife and son. The interconnected strands of cause and effect are complex, often indirect; certainly they died as a consequence of US government policy.
Such policies are feeding intolerance and agitating hate, polluting the collective atmosphere in which we live. Violence is sanctioned, self-restraint abandoned, fear and hate fermented. To dispel this suffocating fog compassion, tolerance and understanding are called for; as Martin Luther King said, “returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/07/12/breaking-the-spiral-of-hate-and-intolerance/
July 2019
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Hidden Plastics: Glitter Gum and the Air we Breath

The plastic contamination of the natural world flows from three main sources: complacency, apathy and ignorance, a poisonous trinity that is itself the result of a narrow and destructive approach to living. While there are signs of a shift in attitudes among many people, resistance to changing the lifestyle habits that feed the environmental crisis, is strong.
This apathy is partly fueled by a lack of knowledge about what products contain plastic and the impact it has; feeling overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis and ignorance about the interrelated nature of the Environmental Emergency more broadly. Underpinning these is the corrosive core of the issue: deep complacency within governments and businesses.
Reducing plastic use is essential if we are to clean up the seas and rivers, safeguard marine life and sea birds, and start to decontaminate the air we breathe. Unseen by the naked eye, tiny plastic fibers are all around us. According to research carried out by King’s College London and featured in the excellent BBC series, War on Plastic with Hugh and Anita, in the square mile of the City of London home to St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Stock Exchange – the air is filled with an estimated two billion plastic fibers. And that’s just one area, in one city, in one country, and of course, as it’s airborne pollution it cannot be contained, it moves where the wind takes it; there is no such thing as national air pollution or national water pollution.
The King’s College team found eight different types of micro plastic in the air: Acrylic fibers and Polyester were the most common, both of which come from clothing made of synthetic textiles. We are literally shedding plastics into the atmosphere. Tests were also undertaken indoors; special filters were installed in two homes in an average street in Bristol. Here too, micro plastics were collected. Shocking and alarming, frightening to many, a source of anxiety and hopelessness – there is no alternative air to breathe.
It’s not clear what the long term health impacts are of inhaling plastic micro fibers over a life-time; respiratory diseases including wheezing and asthma probably, heart conditions perhaps, and detrimental impacts on mental sharpness – the brain doesn’t’t function well in filth. Studies are underway in various countries to investigate if there is a link between air pollution and dementia.
Concealed Pollutants
Carrier bags, water bottles, supermarket packaging etc., these are obvious sources of plastic, but there are a whole host of products that one may not realize contain plastics, products that do not announce the fact. Hidden plastics.
Globally its estimated that 16 billion disposable coffee cups are used every year, they appear to be made of a sort of paper/card but they are lined with polythene; this strengthens the cup, but makes it difficult to process resulting in a tiny percentage being recycled. In the UK, e.g., Eradicate Plastic states that only 0.25% of the 2.5 billion cups used every year get recycled. A simple solution is for cafes to only offer reusable cups or for customers to supply their own. Teabags are another source of hidden plastic; on average one-third of a bag is heat-resistant polypropylene – plastic. An economic alternative is to buy loose tea in recyclable packaging.
Chewing gum is commonly made from polymer, who knew. A kind of synthetic rubber also used to make car tires. Non-digestible and water insoluble, no matter how long it’s chewed it will never break down. Glitter, gold, silver red, it’s a micro plastic – cosmetic glitter and craft glitter on cards etc., and it can’t be recycled. Cigarette butts also contain plastic – cellulose acetate, same compound used in the manufacture of sunglasses. Cigarette butts are the most common form of rubbish in the world, although somewhat surprisingly, a survey conducted by Keep America Beautiful “found that 77% of Americans do not think of cigarette butts as litter.”
While these and other products with concealed plastics are contributing to plastic pollution, the biggest source of hidden plastics is disposable wipes – wet wipes. In industrialized countries wipes are numerous and commonplace, a ubiquitous symbol of the consumer society; baby wipes, multi-surface wipes, metal wipes, window wipes, hand wipes, toilet wipes – rather than toilet paper, you name it wipes. Convenient, throwaway and for many people indispensable. They are made up of up to 80% plastic and are a significant source of plastic pollution in sewers, rivers and oceans.
First developed in 1958 by Arthur Julius in the US and marketed as ‘moist towelettes’, global usage is now estimated at 450 billion a year, about 14,000 every second. Friends of the Earth state most wet wipes are not flushable or biodegradable, no matter what the labeling claims. Yet huge numbers are flushed down the toilet, presumably by people who imagine they will magically dissolve or just disappear. In fact, they mass together in the sewers of the world together with fat deposits creating ‘Fatbergs’, mountains of filthy waste, which block sewers.
Hundreds of thousands of wet wipes flushed down toilets in London have carved out a new ‘riverbed’ in the Thames. Far from unique, this is happening in rivers around the world. The waste in the rivers flows into the oceans, the plastics slowly become smaller and smaller until, as micro plastics and Nano plastics they become part of the fabric of the sea. Ingested by marine life, some of which enters the food chain, these microscopic plastics are even in the sea salt we cook with.
Simplicity of Living
For years, environmentalists have been calling on governments to ban the sale of wet wipes, but, complacent and duplicitous, none have done so. Rather the ‘non-woven’ industry has been allowed to regulate itself. This cowardly approach is symptomatic of the way governments have up until now responded, by not acting. Why not ban wet wipes? They are certainly not indispensable; they are just another needless ‘thing’ in a world that is literally suffocating under the weight of unnecessary stuff. In the absence of a ban, and such a common-sense step is unlikely, stop buying them! Use a flannel, soap and water to wash with, use recycled toilet paper, make your own multi-surface cleaner. Simplicity of living needs to be the message.
If, and it’s a big ‘if’, we are going to really respond to the environmental crisis, governments must impose regulations on business, substantial regulations not inadequate half-hearted measures within prolonged timeframes. Otherwise they will either not act, or act in a piecemeal fashion. Take plastic production: according to Greenpeace, far from reducing it “corporations have plans to … quadruple production by 2050.” Businesses must be forced to change their practices. If e.g. you want to drastically reduce the use of plastic carrier bags then just tell shops (all shops and market traders) that they cannot any longer provide them, neither free nor for sale.
Last year the European Union announced a range of measures on single-use plastics including wet wipes. By 2025 all wet wipes packaging within EU countries must be labeled as containing plastics; better than nothing certainly, but why wait six years? Measures like this need to be implemented immediately, forcing companies to do what they should be doing anyway – informing the public what is in their products.
In addition to accurate and clear labeling, recyclable packaging and ethical production, manufacturers should be required by law to pay to clean up the environmental mess that their products cause; making the ‘polluter to pay’ should be extended to all areas of waste pollution including investment in state-of-the-art recycling plants. Businesses, large and small are driven by profit and short-term gain, and corporate governments are obsessed with economic growth no matter the impact on the environment. Partners in mass environmental vandalism, they are complacent and blind to the scale of the crisis.
Large scale public protest (like the Extinction Rebellion and the Youth for Climate Change actions), civil disobedience, and coordinated boycotting of products that are contaminating the environment is the only thing that will make government and business act within a timeframe dictated by environmental need, not the blind demands of the market. We cannot go on as we have been and Save Our Planet. It’s an Environmental Emergency, and we need to respond to it as such. Saving Our Planet calls for actions rooted in Love, and the corporate state knows nothing of Love.
June 2019
https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/06/28/hidden-plastics-glitter-gum-and-the-air-we-breath/
 
 
 
 
 

Zero Waste: The Global Plastics Crisis

Plastic pollution is everywhere, it litters beaches, clogs up oceans, chokes marine life, is ingested by seabirds that then starve to death, and has even been discovered embedded in Arctic ice. It’s in the air we breathe, the water we drink (bottled and tap), and last year plastic was found in human stools for the first time. Friends of the Earth report that, “recent studies have revealed marine plastic pollution in 100% of marine turtles, 59% of whales, 36% of seals and 40% of seabird species examined.”
According to the United Nations Environmental Agency the world produces around 300 million tons of plastic each year, half of which is single-use items, food packaging mainly. Of this colossal total a mere 14 per cent is collected for recycling, and only 9 per cent actually gets recycled; 12 per cent is incinerated releasing highly poisonous fumes. The rest – nearly 80 per cent – ends up in landfill, or worse still, is illegally dumped or thrown into the oceans; around eight million tons of plastic finds its way into the oceans annually, and while some of the environmental damage plastics cause is clear the full impact on marine and terrestrial ecosystems is not yet apparent.
Plastic recycling rates are appalling and considerably lower than other industrial materials; recycling of steel aluminum, copper and paper e.g., is estimated to be 50 percent, and plastic doesn’t disappear it just gets smaller and smaller, reducing over hundreds or even thousands of years into tiny micro-plastics and nano plastics.
A Wakeup Call
Levels of plastic waste vary from country to country; based on the 2018 report ‘Plastic Pollution’, daily per capita plastic waste in the United States, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, Kuwait and Guyana is over “ten times higher than across countries such as India, Tanzania, Mozambique and Bangladesh.”
Unsurprisingly, given its huge population (1.3 billion) and large manufacturing sector, China produces the greatest amount of plastic waste in the world, 59.8 million tons per year. However, at just .12 kilograms (4 ounces) per capita per day, this equates to one of the lowest levels of per person plastic waste in the world. The USA (population 327 million – 25% of China) is responsible for 37.83 million tons per year, or .34 kilograms (12 ounces) per person per day, three times that of China. America also produces “more than 275,000 tons of plastic litter at risk of entering rivers and oceans annually.” Germany produces 14.48 million tons per year, which at .46 kilograms (just over a pound) per person per day is one of the highest levels in the world, but unlike the US, Germany has on of the highest recycling rates in the world – recycling an estimated 48% (US 9%) of its plastic waste.
Since the 1980s recycling has been regarded as the environmentally responsible way to deal with the colossal levels of rubbish humanity produces. Throughout developed countries collecting recyclable household waste has become widespread, but for decades the laborious job of actually recycling it has been exported, mainly to China. But on 31st December 2018, China announced it would no longer be the world’s garbage tip, stating, the Financial Times reports, “that large amounts of the waste were ‘dirty’ or ‘hazardous’ and thus a threat to the environment.” The “National Sword” policy introduced by the Chinese government has resulted in China and Hong Kong reducing plastic waste imports from G7 countries, from 60% in the first half of 2017, to less than 10% for the same period in 2018. Overall recovered plastic imports to China have fallen by 99%.
China now only wants waste that does not cause pollution and meets certain cleanliness criteria. It’s a massive change to the recycling model that was long overdue and has caused chaos on many countries in the west, with large amounts of waste that should have been recycled being burnt or stockpiled. Desperate to find an alternative distant dumping ground to China, huge amounts of plastic waste have been shipped to south-east Asia. Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia, where the largest quantity has gone; according to Greenpeace, imports of plastic waste to Malaysia increased from 168,500 tons in 2016 to 456,000 tons in the first six months of 2018, most of the rubbish coming from UK, Germany, Spain, France Australia and US.
The influx of such large quantities of toxic waste into these countries has led to contaminated water, crop death and respiratory illnesses. In May the Philippines forced Canada to take back “69 containers containing 1,500 tons of waste that had been exported in 2013 and 2014,” The Guardian reported. Other countries have responded in a similar way, with outrage: Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam have all introduced legislation to stop contaminated waste arriving in their ports. The Malaysian environment minister, Yeo Bee Yin, said, “Malaysia will not be the dumping ground of the world. We will send back [the waste] to the original countries.” Containers of illegal rubbish from Spain have been returned and a further 3,000 tons of illegally imported plastic waste from US, UK, Australia, France and Canada has also been shipped back.
The steps China has taken and the understandable anger of south-east Asian countries should serve as a wakeup call to western states, whose complacency and arrogance is fueling the environmental crisis. It is time that developed countries stopped exploiting poorer countries and accepted responsibility for their own plastic (and other) waste. In addition to recycling their own rubbish, developed nations, who are largely responsible for the environmental crisis, need to be cooperating with poorer countries, where most mismanagement of waste occurs. Helping them to design efficient waste management systems and financially supporting such schemes.
If plastic pollution is to be reduced and effective recycling systems established, cooperation is essential. Recycling needs to be recognized as an environmental necessity, a social imperative and funded by government accordingly. As a business it is conditioned by business methods and motives; corruption and illegal practices abound, profit becomes the primary considerations and costs as obstacles to environmental sanity; it is a great deal cheaper e.g., to incinerate plastic waste, or dump it in a forest or the oceans, than it is to recycle it, which is labor intensive.
How to shop: Zero waste
The power to bring about fundamental changes through responsible policymaking, investment in green technologies and education rests with governments; they have a duty to act urgently and radically.
Certain fundamental steps need to be taken: drastically reduce plastic use; eliminate single-use plastics altogether; recycle more – 9% is shameful. Invest in high-tech recycling facilities/waste management systems; ensure plastic products can be recycled; introduce national recycling standards (in the UK e.g., what local authorities will/will not accept varies) as well as worldwide agreements, with countries that lead the way on recycling, like Germany and Sweden being widely consulted.
In a positive move last year at the G7 summit, five countries –UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the EU – signed the Ocean Plastics Charter. They pledged “to increase plastic recycling by 50% and work towards 100% reusable, recyclable or recoverable plastics by 2030.” The USA and Japan did not sign. Plastic is the third largest manufacturing industry in America, producing 19.5% of the world’s plastic; President Trump didn’t even attend the G7 climate change and environment talks.
Individuals also have a crucial part to play in dealing with plastic waste and making politicians enact the radical changes required. We can all reduce the amount of waste we produce; aim at Zero waste, embrace simpler, environmentally responsible lifestyles, shop in Zero waste shops, where customers take their own containers and refill them from large dispensers. Western supermarket chains are responsible for colossal amounts of plastic waste and need to radically change the way their products are designed, packaged and sold; in the UK, Waitrose, which has 5% market share, has introduced a pilot scheme in an Oxford branch where food dispensers are being trialed, encouraging customers to use refillable tubs and jars, their own or those freely provided by the shop.
It is a common-sense move that all supermarket chains in western countries need to adopt, it is the environmentally right way to shop and, logically, products not sold in plastic should be less expensive. Zero waste shopping should be the aim, plenty of customers want it, and the environment is demanding it. Plastic pollution is one aspect of the global environmental crisis, a crisis rooted in consumerism and a socio-economic system championed by developed nations, which promotes greed, selfishness and division. Radical systemic changes are required together with changes in lifestyle and values if the environmental vandalism is to come to an end and the planet is to be healed.
June 2019
https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/06/14/zero-waste-the-global-plastics-crisis/