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.”
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.
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.
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.
Amidst deepening global divisions and intolerance ‘Project Maitreya’ plan to build 1,000 statues of Maitreya Buddha around the world, with the aim, they say, of inculcating an atmosphere of ‘loving kindness’; a positive gesture in a cynical world, supported by the Dalai Lama.
The coming of Maitreya Buddha was foretold by Gautama Buddha 2,600 years ago. At this time, He said, will come another great teacher, a Buddha by name Maitreya who will inspire humanity to create a brilliant golden civilization based on righteousness and truth. Both of which are widely lacking.
Who is Maitreya
According to the esoteric literature, Maitreya is not only the coming Buddha, the fifth, He is the One looked for by all the world’s religions; Krishna for the Hindus, Christ for Christians, the Imam Mahdi of Islam, the messiah for the Jews, and Maitreya Buddha. He is the coming One for all humanity, those with faith and those without, and, according to a wealth of information made known by British writer and painter Benjamin Creme (died 2016, aged 94), over the last forty years or so, Maitreya has been in the everyday world since July 19th 1977 and is gradually emerging into full public work.
The story of Maitreya’s presence and relative imminent emergence is of course highly controversial and will no doubt be rejected by many, but given the weight of evidence and the extraordinary times we are living in, it is a story that warrants our open-minded attention, if such a thing is possible. If true, and I have no doubt that it is, it is the single most important event of our age and offers hope in a time of increasing confusion and despair.
Maitreya holds the office of World Teacher within our spiritual hierarchy; He is the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Love, the teacher alike of angels and of men. The spiritual hierarchy consists of a large group of Perfected men – Masters of Wisdom and Lords of Compassion, and their disciples of various grades. It is from this great center that the teacher has emerged throughout the ages. Whether it be Rama, Confucius, Zoroaster, Krishna, Shankaracharya, Gautama Buddha, Jesus or Mohammed.
The existence of the spiritual hierarchy was first made known by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (who lived with senior members of the hierarchy for some years), in 1875 when her seminal work, The Secret Doctrine was first published and The Theosophical Society established. The Agni Yoga teachings (between 1924 and 1938), transcribed by another remarkable Russian woman, Helena Roerich was also a work of hierarchy; then came a highly detailed collection of writings penned by Alice A. Bailey, followed by books and lectures by Benjamin Creme who like Blavatsky, Bailey and Helena Roerich had a close relationship with a senior member of the hierarchy. It’s worth also noting Krishnamurti’s contacts with hierarchy, which are well chronicled in Mary Lutyens’s biography of him. Despite these works knowledge about the existence of the hierarchy remains largely unknown, particularly in the west.
Signs of the time
We live in a cynical world, skepticism and open-minded enquiry is healthy, but cynicism suffocates the truth and denies the wonder of life. In such and atmosphere to talk of the coming of a World Teacher and miraculous unexplained events is to be branded a deluded dreamer, but over the last thirty five years or so a plethora of signs have been seen throughout the world that suggest something amazing is afoot.
All manner of ‘miracles’, huge numbers of sightings of unidentified flying objects, impossible happenings that happen, occurring at this particular time in unprecedented numbers: Mysterious patterns of light wash across the surface of buildings, icons weep, olive oil and blood, Hindu stone deities drink milk across continents, huge crosses of light appear in windows of churches and homes, frescos clean themselves; vast complex crop circles appear in seconds, moving ‘stars’ are seen in the sky, changing color and shape.
The corporate main stream media, acting to perpetuate the commercialization of everything and everyone, has no interest in such things and so they go largely unreported, but they have happened, continue to happen and in numbers never before recorded.
Such extraordinary happenings are signs of Maitreya’s presence in the world; signs that make us think and wonder; impossible happenings quieten and liberate the mind, shattering certainty. They proclaim that there is more to life than material satisfaction, that sitting beneath the noisy surface a world of meaning exists, a world that has been buried beneath material desire and the pursuit of sensory pleasure
Humanity has lost its way, reached false conclusions and built a civilization based upon totally erroneous values. As a result the world is besieged by a series of interconnected crises, some of which – the environmental catastrophe and the threat of nuclear conflict – threaten the survival of all life on Earth. Maitreya comes to work with us to overcome the many difficulties we face, to offer guidance and inspire humanity to create a just world in which, as He says, “no man lacks, where no two days are alike, where the Joy of Brotherhood manifests through all men.”
Collaboration and sharing
Maitreya does not come to establish a new religion or to attract followers, he is concerned with the major issues facing humanity; the creation of peace, safeguarding the environment, banishing poverty and needless starvation, ensuring good quality, secure housing for all, as well as universal health care and education.
His teachings are straightforward and practical. They fall into two overlapping categories, general guidance aimed at humanity as a whole and teachings for the individual. He comes to “teach the art of self-realization, which is neither an ideology nor a religion, but benefits people of all religions and those who have none.” Like others before Him, Maitreya affirms that man/woman is divine; “you are the Self, He says, a divine being; Suffering is caused by identification with anything and everything which is not the Self. Ask yourself, ‘Who am I?’ You will see that you are identified either with matter (the body), or with thought (the mind) or with power (spirit). But you are none of these.”
In a series of 140 astonishing messages given through Benjamin Creme between September 1977 and May 1982, Maitreya outlined His plans and presented fragments of His teachings. In message number 81 He addresses humanity as a whole when He asks, “how can you be content with the modes within which you now live: when millions starve and die in squalor; when the rich parade their wealth before the poor; when each man is his brother’s enemy; no man trusts his brother? For how long must you live thus my friends? For how long can you support this degradation?” It is a question many of us continually ask, a question that arises out of the entrenched social injustice that surrounds all of us.
The answers to many of our problems He says will be found in sharing. In message number 82 He states that, His task is to “show you how to live together peacefully as brothers. This is simpler than you imagine, My friends, for it requires only the acceptance of sharing…sharing He says, ‘underlies all progress for mankind.” Maitreya comes to inspire humanity to make the necessary changes ourselves. Together with the Masters of Wisdom, He will make suggestions only, point out the choices before us, and the opportunities. If there is a world savior it must be humanity itself, if the planet is to be healed, peace and social justice created and a new civilization built, it will be done by humanity; the responsibility is ours.
“The greatest threat to the Earth is thinking someone else will save it.” The responsibility is ours; politicians and governments are complacent, dishonest and buried in the ideology of the past. Despite repeated warnings nothing substantial has been done and time is running out. No one else is going to Save Our Planet; a global movement of civil disobedience is needed to force governments to take the radical action needed.
In 1992 the Union of Concerned Scientists (made up of 1,700 of the world’s leading scientists) issued the ‘World Scientist’ Warning to Humanity’. They stated that, “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.” Their words fell on deaf ears. Decades of inaction and procrastination has allowed the crisis to escalate and escalate, leading to the point where we are now, the very edge of total catastrophe.
Given the enormous scale of the issue, many people feel overwhelmed, hopeless. Eco-anxiety, defined as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”, is on the rise in many countries triggering feelings of rage, grief, despair and shame. Some people are so worried they are taking the extreme decision not to have children until climate change is dealt with. ‘Birth Strike’, The Guardian reports, is ‘a [UK based global] voluntary organization for women and men who have decided not to have children in response to the coming “climate breakdown and civilization collapse.” … It is a “radical acknowledgment” of how the looming existential threat is already “altering the way we imagine our future”.’
The aim of BirthStrike is not to discourage people from having children, but to communicate the urgency of the environmental crisis. Many of its members are also involved with the groundbreaking movement, Extinction Rebellion (XR), a UK-based socio-political group using non-violence resistance to create a sense of urgency about tackling the environmental crisis. XR chapters now exist in dozens of countries including the US, the Solomon Islands, Australia, Spain, South Africa and India.
Extinction Rebellion is calling for an ecological emergency to be declared by governments, the UK to lead the way and reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 – ambitious certainly, but we need such targets, and for citizens assemblies to be established to devise a plan of action to tackle climate breakdown and biodiversity loss. They want to create ‘peaceful planet-wide mobilization of the scale of World War II’, only such a global response they say, ‘will give us a chance to avoid the worst case scenarios and restore a safe climate.’
Consistent with other major social movements such as the Suffragettes, the US Civil Rights movement and the Freedom Movement in India led by Mahatma Gandhi, civil disobedience is at the heart of Extinction Rebellion’s methodology. In April this year the group mounted a major non-violent action in central London. Thousands of people occupied public spaces in the capital, closing bridges, causing disruption and staging a spectacle. ‘Dilemma actions’ were designed in which the authorities were faced with a choice – whether to allow the action to take place or not, to arrest and contain people or not. The demonstrations lasted for ten days and were part of an integrated global action with people in over 33 countries across six continents taking part.
In London more than 1,100 arrests were made as people peacefully asserted their right to demonstrate. The rebellion was substantial and historic. The result was widespread media coverage and a debate in the UK parliament, at the end of which a national ‘climate emergency’ was declared. A positive step, although we are yet to see what it actually means, and what policy action/s will follow.
Together with School Strike for Climate Change and other groups, XR is part of a worldwide movement the like of which has not been seen before; a diverse united group of environmental activists and concerned citizens, men women and children who care deeply about the environment, recognize that their governments are doing little or nothing to tackle the issues and that radical systemic change is urgently needed.
Engagement is one of the most positive ways to overcome eco-anxiety and a feeling of disempowerment; engage and discover there are huge numbers of people who feel the same, who are extremely worried, who don’t really know what to do, but are determined to do something. Engagement around shared issues builds strong bonds, creating solidarity and strengthening commitment.
At the end of the April action Extinction Rebellion said, “we will leave the physical locations but a space for truth-telling has been opened up in the world…in this age of misinformation, there is power in telling the truth.”
Simplicity of living
The environmental crisis is universal, existential and exponential and is made up of a number of interconnected issues: ecological collapse, extinction of species, deforestation, air, water and soil pollution and climate change. Manipulating existing systems and making small changes won’t solve the problems; radical systemic and social change is required and urgently. Governments are weak and compromised by their relationship to business and their obsession with the economy; they are deceitful and refuse to take the necessary actions to save the planet, so they must be forced to listen, and to act in accordance with the need, which is immense.
Unbridled, irresponsible consumerism must be brought to an end; sustainability and simplicity of living must now be the keynote of our lives. Individual and collective commitment is essential, commitment to live in an environmentally responsible way, to be aware of the environmental impact of everything we as individuals do – what we buy, what we eat, how we travel, how we use utilities etc., and commitment to participate and engage; to take part in protests and/or online activism, to pressurize politicians and corporations, and to support radical green movements in any way possible.
All governments, particularly those in western democracies need to be pushed to make the environment their number one priority. The environmental crisis is the greatest emergency of this or any other time; every area of policy making must now be designed to bring about the most positive environmental impact; short (five years), mid (10 years) and long term (25 years) plans, ambitious but with full commitment, attainable, need to be agreed and implemented, the voice of climate scientists and of environmental activists listened to and major public information programs set up.
The work of environmental salvage is not separate from the prevailing crisis of democracy and the need to fundamentally change the destructive, unjust socio-economic order. For ecological harmony to be reestablished and healing of the natural world to occur we need to radically change the systems and ways of life that are fueling the crisis, and inculcate new modes of living based on more humane values.
Consumerism and greed is the poison that is driving ecological collapse, and consumerism is the life-blood of the economic system; endless growth the aim of deluded governments – on a planet with finite resources. It is collective madness, and it must end. Politicians and corporate power however, will not suddenly wake up to the scale of the emergency and act to bring about the required radical changes. Worldwide acts of coordinated civil disobedience by huge numbers of people, designed to bring about the maximum amount of disruption in a peaceful way are required. When people unite all things are possible; now is the time to come together to Save our Planet.
Six-year-old Kate was playing with her younger brother, each had a Frisbee, which they threw as far as they could. After each round of throws Kate declared that she had ‘won’, having thrown the Frisbee further than her three-year-old sibling. She was the ‘winner’, and by extension, Richard was the loser. They were not playing together any longer, they were competing; Kate had been conditioned into the ideology of competition, presumably by school and her peers, perhaps her parents, and her brother, whether he likes it or not, would shortly join her.
Some years ago the Max-Planck Institute in Germany conducted an experiment with a group of toddlers; the children were placed in a room with adults, the adults dropped something and the children were encouraged to pick it up for them. This they happily did, working collectively. Then a reward was introduced and given to the child who handed the item to the adult. The group work immediately broke down, harmony was shattered and the children began fighting over the item to be retrieved. Their behavior had been corrupted – conditioned by motive; the effect was social division and conflict.
We have all been the victims of such sociological/psychological conditioning, some more, some less. Conditioned images of oneself and of others are unconsciously built up, attachment to content made firm. Far from creating the security we yearn for, attachment to the construct ensures fear is maintained. Instead of allowing ourselves to be, we have become something – someone: we belong to a nation, and share in its values; its history and traditions become ours, as do its enemies. We are Brazilian, French, British, American, etc.; successful, middle class, or unsuccessful and poor; white or non-white; a colonizer or the colonized; strong or weak, ideologically inclined – Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, socialist, capitalist, and so on. The image of ‘me’ in contrast to the ‘you’ is formed, the ‘us’ against ‘them’ takes root; my country versus your country, my political party against yours, my God versus your God, my opinions versus yours and so on, and on, and on.
Attachment to the image is strong, defense of its beliefs and ideals fierce. From this narrow, conditioned center thoughts emerge and actions proceed, creating multiple divisions and disharmony, endless wars and violent conflict. The Jew stands in opposition to the Arab, the Hindu to the Muslim, the socialist to the capitalist. Italy competes with Japan, the British with the French, America with everyone, etc., etc. The result is a divided world of fragmented fearful human beings in conflict with themselves.
This is not philosophy, it is the very fabric of our lives, the animating impulses that form the type of society in which we live; a global society that is more divided than ever, and therefore in great conflict, for where there is division there is conflict. Societies within countries are divided, regions are divided, groups within communities, individuals within households/families.
A poll surveying attitudes in 28 countries by Ipsos Mori in 2018 found that 76% of people believe their country is divided (80% in America), and almost 60% percent think it is more divided today than it was a decade ago. Europeans are the most likely to think divisions have grown; “77% of people in Spain say their country is more divided now than 10 years ago, followed by Sweden, Germany, Britain and Italy (all 73%).” The countries that feel the least divided according to the survey are two of the most suppressive regimes in the world, Saudi Arabia and China, so their responses can probably be disregarded.
The President of Ipsos Public Affairs, Cliff Young, says this sense of division is a “symptom of these times…there has been a decline in trust in traditional institutions and a rise in the belief that the system is broken…Citizens in general no longer believe that governments, politicians and other institutions can deliver on their promises.” This is certainly a factor; the current systems are completely inadequate to the needs and nature of the times and are feeders of division. They are inherently unjust, are built on divisive principles and are in a state of terminal decline. Many people recognize this and are calling for fundamental change, but because of entrenched resistance from those that benefit from the system it is being artificially kept afloat. This cannot last.
Tolerance and Unity
The various expressions of division are plain to see, they abound in the economic, political, social and religious spheres and impact on everyone. Political parties of all colors are retreating more deeply into their own ideology; within parties splinter groups are widespread, cooperation between parties rare. Stark economic division manifested as inequality of wealth, income and influence underpins and is a form of unprecedented social injustice. Without fundamental systemic change such economic divisions will deepen – wealth will become even more concentrated and with it political influence – allowing the spiral of injustice and social division to be perpetuated, and with it conflict and a plethora of social ills.
With strengthening divisions and hardening extremes, tolerance is weakened, societies become less compassionate, more judgmental, and mental illness increases. The Ipso Mori poll found that 40% of people believe their particular country has become less tolerant in the last ten years. Divisions occur in parallel with, and are in large part the result of, competition, together with the dual mechanisms of reward and punishment and the attachment to ‘isms’ of all kinds. Divisions create an environment of suspicion and fear, which the survey confirmed, revealing that only 18% of people claimed to trust groups with different political views, a mere 16% trust immigrants and wealthier people. Nobody trusts politicians, no matter what badge they wear.
In order to break down divisions and inculcate ways of living that unify people and build right relationships, a new collective atmosphere needs to be created and different values inculcated. Crucially this requires changing the economic system, which lies at the heart of many of our interrelated problems. As currently designed it is completely divisive; based on competition and endless consumption, nations, regions, cities, businesses and individuals are set in opposition to one another. A kinder more just model needs to be introduced based on the principle of sharing with the aim of meeting the needs of all and saving the planet, which under the present approach is regarded as a storehouse of resources to be exploited by mankind, rather than an integrated living organism to be respected and cared for. The field of institutional education is perhaps the next single most important area in which changes could and should be made. Competition, reward and punishment and conformity characterize the education policies of most governments, policies that are all anathema to real education.
The responsibility to create a unified harmonious world rests with us all, we can all think and act in an inclusive tolerant manner, but it is governments that have the power to make policy changes and introduce systemic reform. Although it is not possible to legislate unity and social harmony into being, it is possible, as the current methodology demonstrates, to exacerbate notions of separation by designing systems based on divisive principles.
Unity is our inherent state; remove those elements that cause division and aggravate intolerance, encourage modes of living that work towards mutual understanding and bring people together, and unity will naturally and spontaneously come into being.
Over the last 20 years extreme right-wing groups have been on the rise throughout the world. They share a belief in white supremacism and conspiracy theories that allege there is a global plot to replace white Christian populations with Muslims and people of color.
As socio-economic inequality has grown and immigration increased the reactionary ideology of tribal nationalism has become more popular and bled into mainstream politics. Far right groups have garnered support and won political power in a number of countries, including Austria, Poland, Hungary, Italy, the US and India.
Rising far-right terror
Within the spectrum of the far right there are varying degrees of bigotry and Neo-Fascist ideals; at the darkest extreme there are the Neo-Nazi’s, a small percentage that holds the most violent views; next are the pro-white, anti-Semitic social conservatives, they form the majority and want a separation of the races; then there is the more moderate wing or Alt Lite, staunchly anti-feminist, anti-political correctness, pro-western chauvinism. All are abhorrent, all are dangerous; a hint of prejudice no matter where it comes from adds to the collective atmosphere of intolerance, fans the flames of division and can incite violence.
While overall terrorism throughout the world is declining, The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) states that, “there has been a real and significant increase in far-right terrorist activity.”
Since 2014, the number of attacks from right-wing extremists has been greater than attacks from Jihadists, and, the Anti-Defamation League report that during 2018 “right-wing extremists were linked to at least 50 murders in the United States [up 35% on 2017].” Globally, between 2013 and 2017 there were 113 attacks “by far-right groups and individuals…. of those 47 attacks took place in 2017.
On 15th March, 50 Muslims were murdered in Christchurch, New Zealand: the indiscriminate attack on two mosques during Friday prayers was carried out by Brenton Tarrent, a 28-year-old Australian white supremacist. Prior to the attack Tarrent published a 78-page document entailed The Great Replacement, online. In it he states that the aim of the Christchurch murders was “to take revenge on the [Muslim] invaders for the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders in European lands throughout history…and the thousands of European lives lost to terror attacks throughout European lands.” The manifesto title and many of the ideas promoted in it come from Le Grand Remplacement by 71-year-old Jean Camus and published in 2012.
Camus claims that the white Christian European population is being ousted by immigrants from the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. His views have become highly influential on right-wing groups, nationalist and identitarian movements across Europe, the US and elsewhere. Although Camus is particularly concerned with France and preserving French culture, he believes that all Western countries are faced with what he calls, “ethnic and civilizational substitution”, in which over the course of a single generation a civilization is transformed by immigration.
As a result of wars in the Middle East and economic insecurity in Sub-Sharan Africa large numbers of migrants have indeed fled to Europe and elsewhere seeking safety and a new life. The influx of migrants/refugee into western countries presents societal challenges and change, but is not a threat or an act of ‘replacement’. The vast majority of migrants do not want to leave their homeland and travel to a country they do not know; people migrate to escape conflict, persecution and economic hardship, much of it caused by the foreign policies of western powers over decades, the exploitation of poor countries over centuries and the concentration of global economic wealth.
Cries of hate; modes of tolerance
Far-right terrorism is a transnational issue; extremists from different countries are more connected than ever and work together. The Centre for Strategic and International Studies relates the example of how in early 2018 members of the Rise Above Movement (RAM, a white supremacist group based in California) “traveled to Germany, Ukraine, and Italy to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday and to meet with members of European white supremacist groups.” They posted photographs on Instagram with the RAM logo and words like “RAPEFUGEES ARE NOT WELCOME HERE”.
In Ukraine RAM members are reported to have met with Azov Battalion, a paramilitary unit of the Ukrainian National Guard believed to be training and radicalizing white supremacist organizations based in the United States.
The internet plays a crucial role in the work of such groups: social media platforms are employed by both Islamist and right-wing extremists to spread propaganda, organize training, make travel arrangements for events/protests, raise funds and recruit members. Extreme right-wing Internet channels spread lies, exaggerate and mislead; when challenged the sacred cow of freedom of speech is invoked to justify the use of inflammatory language. Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right, but when it leads to murderous violence it violates the most basic human right, the right to life; freedom of speech needs to be conditioned by a sense of social responsibility, respect and understanding of others.
Acts of hate and intolerance of all kinds have been increasing exponentially across the western world in recent years. The 2016 election of Donald Trump in the US, the highly divisive EU referendum in Britain the same year and the influx of refugees fleeing wars and economic hardship triggered a wave of crimes against immigrants, particularly Muslims, as well as other minority groups. Liberal politicians, especially women, have also been targeted, many receiving hate mail and violent threats from right-wing extremists.
The current hatred of Muslims was aroused by the 9/11 attacks and inflamed by the ‘War on Terror’ announced by President George W. Bush in 2007; prejudice normalized, the far right flourished. A 2010 poll conducted by Gallup found that almost half of Muslim Americans experienced racial or religious discrimination, which is on par with “Hispanic Americans (48%) and African Americans (45%),” and, according to research by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency a third of Muslims in Europe say they face discrimination effecting employment, access to public services and housing.
Mainstream politicians stir up discrimination and incite hate; President Trump openly expresses hostility to foreign nationals and consistently makes and retweets Islamophobic comments, he has banned people from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, talks of the US being invaded and is building a ‘wall’ on the Mexican/US border. He is not alone in pandering to prejudice, many right and far right leaning politicians in western democracies have been guilty of fanning the fires. A striking example was the recent action by UK Home Secretary, Sajid David when he stripped Shamima Begum of her British citizenship. The 19 year old, who was in the final days of pregnancy when the announcement was made, had made the mistake of going to Syria in 2016 to support ISIS and marry an ISIS fighter. Her baby was born inside a refugee camp in Syria and, due to lack of proper medical care, died three weeks later.
Not only is the action to make her stateless illegal, it panders to the rhetoric of right wing populism and, instead of fostering forgiveness and compassion, adds to the creation of an environment in which judgment, intolerance and retribution flourish.
Unity not division
Protectionist ideals flourish in an atmosphere of fear, of economic instability and an unstable political environment; such insecure conditions strengthen inward-looking insular attitudes allowing the divisive ‘us versus them’ ideology to become the norm. Divisions of all kinds feed the idea of separation, create distrust, suspicion and fear; and fear leads to conflict and hate.
A cornerstone of the economic system and many aspects of contemporary life is competition; competition encourages division. Competition and aggression go together: the sense that we must compete or fight to survive, that others – especially others that are dissimilar – are regarded as opponents, rivals, competitors wanting what we have, which we must defend at all costs. Trust is nowhere in such an unjust world, society fractures along flag waving lines, violence erupts.
One of the consequences of this combative socio-economic system is inequality – of wealth, income, opportunity, influence, access to culture etc., etc. This social poison fuels a range of ills including mistrust, particularly of ‘the other’, someone who looks, talks and prays differently. Societies with the highest levels of inequality have the lowest levels of trust.
Competition, socio-economic inequality and poverty are not the cause of right-wing extremism, neither is the spread of misinformation or the use of inflammatory language, but collectively they form a powerful force in the creation of circumstances in which negative human tendencies like fear and aggression, are inflamed.
Division in any form, including nationalism, and competition go against human nature; if we are to free the world of all forms of extremism and hate they need to be driven out of society and from the systems under which we live. Unity is the keynote of the times, unity with the greatest level of diversity; modes of living that encourage tolerance and unite people must be actively inculcated. This means rejecting competition and embracing cooperation; it means sharing resources, information and wealth equitably; it means building trust and right relationships. Only then will there be peace within our communities and the wider world.
The interconnected environmental catastrophe is the result of a particular lifestyle; a materialistic way of life relentlessly promoted by mass media and governments throughout the industrialized world and beyond. Consuming stuff, most of which is unnecessary, is the key ingredient; excess is championed, sufficiency scoffed at. Far from addressing need, satisfying desire is the driving impulse; the object of desire changes with every new fad of course, discontent is thereby ensured, unlimited consumerism maintained.
This pattern of insatiable shopping is evident within the polluting world of fashion perhaps more than any other sector; when we should be buying less, more clothes are produced and sold year on year. Worldwide, almost 100 billion items of clothing are made annually (400% more than twenty years ago), a third of which end up in landfill, increasing at a rate of 7% a year.
The global fashion industry is a major source of environmental contamination, as well as human exploitation. Every item of clothing that is produced carries with it an environmental cost in terms of energy, water, chemicals and land use. The choice of fabrics – natural or man-made – production methods, transportation, dyeing and printing, customer care, all are areas that cause pollution.
According to the United Nations Climate Change, “around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GGE’s) are churned out by the fashion industry, due to its long supply chains and energy intensive production.” The industry consumes more energy than aviation and shipping combined. In search of greater profits most manufacturing is now undertaken in China and India, where labor costs are lower, coal-fired power plants predominate, GGEs are highest and, in many cases, employee rights are non-existent. By moving production to developing nations, western companies outsourced, jobs, as well as the pollution and environmental impacts, threatening the health of local people.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) relates that textile factories in China, where “over 50%” of the worlds clothing is now made” spew out around three billion tons of soot every year burning coal, contaminating the air leading to respiratory and heart disease. Textile mills are estimated to generate 20% of the world’s industrial water pollution and use 20,000 chemicals, many of them carcinogenic. Textiles are the largest source of synthetic fibers in the oceans, micro-plastics get into the water system every time garments are washed; the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee on fashion reports that “a single 6kg domestic wash has the potential to release as many as 700,000 fibers.”
As well as textile production, the manufacture of leather goods has also largely been shipped to China – where most items are made – and India. Leather production is an intensely cruel and poisonous process. The animal welfare charity, PetaUK, reports that globally more than 1 billion animals are killed every year – cows, calves, water buffalo, horses, lambs, goats and pigs –and, in China, dogs and cats. Huge amounts of water are used in highly polluting tanneries; most wastewater and solid waste (hides and skins etc.) are dumped into rivers, riverbeds or farmland, causing contamination of the water and land. In Kanpur India e.g., everyday 50 million liters of highly toxic water is produced, 80% released untreated; the River Ganges receives most of it: holy it may be, clean it is not. The impact on human health is often fatal; chronic conditions such as heart disease, tuberculosis, asthma, mental disabilities, skin discolouration are widespread among people living near leather factories, which are shipping almost all their production to industrialized countries.
Polluting and poorly made
Different fabrics have different levels and types of environmental impact; synthetic fibers like polyester are made from crude oil (fossil fuel), producing much higher levels of GGEs compared with natural materials: “A single polyester t-shirt has emissions of 5.5 kg CO2, compared with 2.1 kg CO2 for one made from cotton.” But polyester can be recycled, although not indefinitely, is more stain-resistant, can be washed in cold water and dries quickly. Conventional cotton (non-organic), which is used to make almost half of all clothing, has its own environmental consequences; cotton farming uses 3% of the world’s arable land, causing deforestation and loss of biodiversity, and is responsible for 18% of all pesticides, 25% of insecticides. Some of these are highly toxic and dangerous to human health, e.g. Endosulfan, banned in many countries but widely used in India, is linked to several thousand deaths of cotton farmers and their families. Cotton is also a very thirsty crop: the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that 2,700 liters (715 gallons) of water – on average the amount one person drinks in two and a half years – is used to make a single cotton t-shirt.
In regions where water is scarce, cotton production has an intensely damaging effect: in Kazakhstan, the Aral Sea, which was the fourth largest lake in the world, has all but dried up because the rivers which fed the lake, were diverted by irrigation projects to supply cotton farmers. The disappearance of the great lake is a man-made environmental tragedy.
Huge amounts of water are also used in the dyeing process, the World Resources Institute states that globally 5 trillion liters (1.3 trillion gallons) of water are used each year for fabric dyeing, enough they say to “fill 2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.”
The most polluting area of the apparel industry is ‘fast fashion’. Like all businesses, fashion is about profit: more profit is generated when people buy more clothing, more often. In the 1980s, when any remaining constraints on Neo-liberalism were removed, ‘fast fashion’ was introduced as a way of increasing the profits for clothing companies by making people buy more; the practice is now widespread among high street brands and has been picked up by designer labels.
Under the fast fashion umbrella up to 50 ‘cycles’ are produced every year; prices are lower, turnarounds quick, and overproduction common. Items are poorly made and so cheap they are sometimes not even worn before being discarded, at best lasting a matter of weeks before being dumped in landfill. The fast fashion fad has increased consumerism, contributed to a ‘throw away’ mentality, leading to huge amounts of waste; it has done enormous environmental damage and should be stopped as a matter of urgency. If companies will not voluntarily halt fast fashion practices governments should force them to do so. The global need is not for the corporate profit, the behavior to be cultivated is not more consumerism, it is saving the planet and encouraging drastic reductions in consumerism.
The Fashion Industry Charter
Aware of the widespread and varied environmental destruction that fashion is causing voices within the industry and beyond have been calling for action to change destructive practices for some time. Last year a group of organizations came together, and under the umbrella of the United Nations Climate Change, created the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action (FICCA), launched at COP24 in Katowice, Poland, in December.
The FICCA commits signatories to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030 and achieving zero emissions by 2050, to phasing out coal-fired boilers, using ‘climate friendly’, sustainable materials and low carbon transport among other measures. The list of 43 founding companies includes Adidas, Burberry, Esprit, Guess, Gap, H&M, Kering, Levis, Puma, PVH and Target; associated NGOs have also pledged to support the initiative and encourage sustainable practices.
Creating sustainable fashion is a core theme of those working to reduce the catastrophic impact on the environment. This entails looking at production methods and water use, curtailing demand, moving from conventional to organic cotton and from virgin polyester to recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET), collecting and recycling unwanted garments. ‘Sustainable fashion’ needs to be seen as part of sustainable lifestyles, this requires the promotion and adoption of what we might call Sustainable Values, principles that encourage expressions of social/environmental responsibility and cooperation, ideals that promote simpler lifestyles – we must consume less, shop based on need only and, when we do shop or buy services, ensure we do so in an environmentally responsible manner; repair clothes, buy good quality items that last longer and recycle.
Governments need to introduce public information policies aimed at making people aware of the environmental impact of living a certain way and introduce maintenance classes in schools; all product-based companies should be required to make easily accessible the full environmental impact of their products and methods, as well as the human cost, so people can make well-informed choices. Advertising has an important role to play in this, it needs to be closely regulated and reformed so that it gives out facts about products not propaganda.
All aspects of life are interconnected; the environmental catastrophe cannot be faced without the socio-economic mayhem being addressed, social justice created and ways of living inculcated that tend towards unity in all areas of life. Competition and conformity need to be expunged from society, particularly within institutionalized education, the focus on image challenged and rejected, the tendency to imitation curtailed.
If we are to collectively overcome the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, environmental considerations need to be at the forefront of our daily lives. A shift in living is required, a movement away from lives based on desire and the pursuit of pleasure to simpler lives based on meeting need, cultivating right relationships with others and the natural world and living harmlessly. The responsibility rests with all of us to live well and to pressurize our governments to act to halt the environmental catastrophe before it’s too late.
By any measure these are extraordinary times, revolutionary times in which a ‘new normal’ is evolving as existing systems and practices crumble. A clash of values and ideals is increasingly evident throughout the world, as we move deeper into this time of collective, planetary transition: a turning point from one chapter, age or civilization into another in which totally different ways of living are required to accommodate the new and allow healing to take place. As the past fights for survival and The New lights revolutionary fires in the hearts of men and women everywhere, humanity flounders, old certainties fracture, creating confusion and insecurity in how to live, challenging purpose and strongly held ideals.
Such a shift has occurred many times in our history, and if approached rationally, embraced whole-heartedly and not hindered, it could proceed with minimal upheaval. However, while huge numbers see the inadequacy of the existing methods and myths, and sense that something fundamental is taking place around and within, inhibiting habits of the past persist, attachment to the familiar and fear of change is strong, strengthening resistance, creating division and conflict: individually and collectively.
Crises gather apace, the most pressing of which is the interconnected environmental catastrophe; the Living Being upon which all life depends is chronically, some say terminally ill and virtually nothing is being done. It is a global catastrophe, vast and complex, one that demands the best of mankind, but is being met with two of the outstanding characteristics of the past – indifference and complacency. The ingrained tendency is to apply habitual problem solving strategies to the issues we face now; this is evident every day in the political sphere. And every day they not only fail, but, flowing from an outdated methodology and therefore having no relationship with the rhythm of the times, whatever the problem is, it is made more acute.
As the influence of the new increases in potency, contaminating characteristics of the past rise in defiance: tribal nationalism grows, material success and the importance of the individual over the group continue to be emphasized and encouraged. Such ideals have become institutionalized; they are imbedded into the socio-economic fabric, and have a certain innate momentum that keeps them afloat. Competition and commercialization are widely employed and have infiltrated all areas of life including education and health care; selfish patterns of behavior are proclaimed as natural tendencies, desire strengthened, exchanged for love, and pleasure adopted as the aim of life. It is from this perverse, but strongly held position that the demands of the times are being heard by many, particularly those in power – political and corporate – and from this bereft standpoint that response issues. Failure, and an intensification of suffering, then, is guaranteed.
Healing the planet, healing the socio-economic system(s), healing our communities and the individuals within them cannot be accomplished by the old ways – historic, habitual remedies rooted in division, manipulation and control. Not only are they the inflexible means that caused the chaos they are devoid of vitality, functioning as they do on nothing but the residue of the past. In contrast to the current predisposition to divide life up and see issues in isolation, a holistic approach to living and to the issues facing us is needed.
Total healing based upon recognition that the various centers of life and of communal living are interrelated is required. A pragmatic understanding that humanity, human society in all its diversity, man-made systems, the natural environment and the space between these constitute interrelated aspects, or expressions, within One Life. For there to be harmony within the whole, all division needs to come to an end; human exploitation of all aspects of life for profit, including the natural world and people, the desire to dominate and control have fuelled discord throughout all areas of life. Human beings are in a state of conflict within themselves, and by extension are out of synch with the whole; the result is discord, within and without.
Life is one integrated whole, but the patterns of the past, which echo so loudly through the present, are built on and promote division. For there to be harmony within the whole, including human beings, all division needs to come to an end. Ideas of separation have become normal, competition has become normal, selfishness and greed is seen as normal, natural even. Such attitudes and behavior may well be ‘normal’, i.e., commonplace, but they are far from natural: they are in fact completely unnatural, unhealthy, and are at the root of many of our problems. Separation runs contrary to the fact of our shared humanity and our inherent relationship with the Life within which we live. It sits at the poisonous core of our distrust and paranoia of the ‘other’, and has led to ecological vandalism on a global scale.
Separation is the product of a cultivated false way of thinking; life is a whole and humanity is one, we share a consciousness and a home, we are responsible for one another and we are all responsible for the natural world. Unity not division is the natural order of things, and is a thread of ‘the new’. We are part of that unity and if we are to facilitate total healing and act in harmony with purpose we need to design structures and ways of living, education systems, methods of governance, socio-economic models etc., that encourage trust, cultivates goodwill and bring people together.
Unity and sharing, cooperation, tolerance and understanding, these are the hallmarks of the times, the new ‘normal’. It is an approach and understanding that people all around the world share, particularly young people, many of whom quite naturally live in accordance with such principles, principles of goodness that have been carried in the heart of mankind for millennia, and now demand expression. This ‘new normal’ is a vision of life rooted in love, it is consistent with the rhythm of the day, which itself issues from love, and despite the resistance of what we might call the ‘old normal’, it is gathering pace and will become increasingly widespread.
The ‘old normal’ has had its day and is dying, the civilization that it built is collapsing, it cannot be adjusted, manipulated, remodeled to become anything other than what it is. The new will not emerge out of the old: the new is not the opposite of the old, it flows from an altogether different source, and as resistance gradually gives way to resignation, discord will begin to fade and the new will emerge in increasing potency.
This is an extraordinary time in Ethiopia’s history, a time of tremendous opportunity and hope. Long overdue reforms initiated by Prime-Minister Abiy Ahmed, who took office on 2nd April 2018, offer the prospect that democracy and social unity could at last become a reality in the country.
Before PM Ahmed took office Ethiopia was ruled by one of the most violent and repressive regimes in the world; freedom of the media, freedom of expression and assembly, political dissent and the judiciary, were all tightly controlled by the TPLF regime, which had been in power since 1991. Miraculously, all of this has now changed, and within a very short space of time, it offers hope not only for Ethiopia, but for the region and the wider world.
The new governments reform program has three main ‘pillars’ as they are called: 1. A vibrant democracy. 2. Economic vitality. 3. Regional integration and openness to the world. All very general and nothing extraordinary, but positive actions have followed and good will built. If democratic change can occur in Ethiopia it can take place anywhere, but, over and above the obvious elements, such as the observation of human rights, political pluralism, freedom of the media, independent judiciary etc., what should that change look like?
After undertaking a nationwide tour in which he stressed the need for forgiveness and reconciliation, PM Ahmed and his team swiftly began work. All exiled opposition parties were invited to return to Ethiopia and engage in dialogue, thousands of ‘political’ prisoners were released, including all journalists; the torture chamber known as Maekelawi Prison in Addis Ababa was closed, constitutional amendments were announced to limit the length of time anyone could hold the office of prime-minister, and the draconian state of emergency was lifted. The PM met the Eritrean president and began discussions to end the twenty-year conflict, and in a broader sign of how this cooperative approach is impacting on the region, the Djibouti and Somalia authorities have since held peace talks with Eritrea.
A series of historic actions followed: the military occupation of the Ogaden or Somali region has been brought to an end, all prisoners held in the notorious Jail Ogaden released and the prison closed down. A new regional president, Mustapha Omer, who was critical of the region’s authoritarian leadership, was appointed. A new cabinet was announced and gender parity established. Women now hold the two key security positions – defense and the Ministry of Peace, which oversees the police, the intelligence services and the information security agency. All this and more within months of assuming office. Remarkable by any standards. It shows what can be achieved if and when the political will exists.
While the new government attempts to build unity and social harmony, there are others, bitter remnants of the past that continue to work to aggravate ethnic divisions and ferment violence. As a result of inter-communal conflict there are estimated to be over two million internally displaced people in the country. Other than providing some humanitarian aid, the federal government has done nothing to relocate these people, whose homes have been destroyed. This is a national emergency and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
What kind of democracy?
Despite a decade of economic growth averaging 10% per annum, Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world and ranks 173rd out of 186 countries on the UN Human Development Index. Around 26% of the population lives in extreme poverty (less than $2 a day), and a much larger percentage struggle to survive on under $5 a day. While the government claims that 50% of the population has been lifted out of dire poverty in recent years, the principle beneficiaries of growth have been those in high office and the already comfortable few. With growth the cost of living has rocketed, food, accommodation and transport prices have all increased dramatically, impacting on the poorest sections of society.
Whether in Ethiopia or elsewhere in the world, sharing is key to overcoming poverty and establishing social justice; sharing wealth, resources, skills and knowledge based on need. Sharing also cultivates trust, encourages cooperation and helps to build peaceful communities. Participation is a form of sharing and a cornerstone of democracy.
In addition to poverty, within the catalogue of challenges facing the new government, health care and education stand out, as well as environmental issues – Addis Ababa e.g. is the third most polluted city in Africa, after Cairo and Casablanca.
As Ethiopia enters into what Prime-Minister Ahmed describes as a ‘political renaissance’, the opportunity to discuss what kind of nation it wishes to become presents itself; what values and ideals should be pursued, what methods employed? In the demonstrations that brought down the previous regime protesters cried out for democracy, for freedom and justice. In response the government’s first reform ‘pillar’ calls for the creation of a ‘vibrant democracy’. What form should that democracy take?
The corporate state democracy of the west, in which political power is married to economic wealth, is a far cry from true democracy. While a level of freedom exists and, in some countries, civil society is strong, there is no social justice and participation by employees in the workplace, students in education and the general public in politics is weak or non-existent. Western democracy has been conditioned by government’s ideological devotion to an economic system rooted in competition and commercialization. It is a model that has failed the vast majority of people and poisoned the planet. True democratic values such as tolerance, sharing, understanding of others, cooperation and kindness, are incompatible with the ideals of the market – profit at any cost – human or environmental, separation, personal success, greed.
So, what type of democratic country do the people of Ethiopia and their government want to create, and, given the international pressure to conform to the economic stereotype, do they have any choice? Listening to the PM’s speech at the World Economic Forum it would appear not. He made clear his government’s intention to embrace the Neoliberal circus; he sounded more like the CEO of a medium-size electronics company looking for investors, rather than a national leader. Perhaps the audience conditioned his remarks, but there was no real vision, other than the usual economic ambitions; it was all disappointingly familiar.
Like all of sub-Saharan Africa the population of Ethiopia is young, the median age is just 18, around 60% of the country are under 25. More children are attending schools than ever and although Internet connectivity is poor and until recently access was heavily restricted, young people are in touch with the wider world in a way that was not possible for previous generations. Hundreds of thousands of under 25 year olds took part in public protests, which began in November 2015 and led to the collapse of the government. They risked their lives for change, they deserve more than a market led democracy.
This is a truly historic time for Ethiopia, general elections are scheduled to take place in 2020, between now and then the opportunity exists for a national debate to take place. For too long the people were silenced, now their voices must be heard. Platforms within the media – state and independent – in universities, schools and within the church, need to be established that allow the community as a whole and young people in particular, to express their views and share their aspirations for the future of their country and indeed the wider region.