Author: Graham Peebles
UK: Fragmentation and Decline Under Conservative Rule
After 12 bleak years ofvarious Conservative governments, led by inadequate Prime Ministers, the UK is on its knees. Democracy is under attack like never before; the disaster of Brexit, which has resulted in a catalogue of negatives including social polarization, isolationism and rabid tribalism.
Years of grinding austerity, underinvestment in public services, frozen wages and staggering levels of incompetence have culminated in the unmitigated mess we see before us: A country in terminal decline, poverty growing, inequality entrenched, and to cap it all The Wicked Witch of the raving Right, Liz Truss, has now been elected leader of the Conservatives, and, as they are in office, the new Prime Minister. A totally undemocratic electoral process, but hey, ‘that’s the way it’s always been’.
She was voted in, in a country of around 69 million people, by 81,326 (57.4% of the total gaggle) Conservative members. A tiny group, overwhelmingly old, posh, white, male, anti-Europe, anti-immigrant, anti-environment – pro-fossil fuels, backward-looking nationalists. A crazy bunch operating within a dysfunctional system that, like much of the UK parliamentary structure and the primordial electoral model, desperately needs reforming.
The revoltingcampaign rhetoric spouted by Truss, was we hoped, just that, ranting rhetoric aimed solely at the conservative golf club nobs. Alas, in her first pronouncements as PM, surrounded by baying Tory sycophants, it was clear that Truss lives not in the real world at all, but in a crumbling castle for one, built on a foundation of Neo-Liberal doctrine, situated further to the right than any UK Prime-Minister in recent years.
Despite decades of disappointment, whenever a new PM/government takes office, naivety gives rise to a prickle of optimism: surely now things will improve, surely social justice will be prioritized, peace and environmental action imperatives. Well, PM Truss swiftly crushed any such childish hopes with her first speech in parliament and her wooden responses during Prime Minister’s Questions. Arrogance masquerading as certaintyimbued every cruel statement of policy intent, and, as opposition parties shook their heads in disbelief, people around the country, millions of whom are struggling to pay rising energy bills and increased food prices, were again crushed.
Truss, her cabinet, and thanks to a purge of moderate voices undertaken by Boris Johnson to quieten dissent, most, if not all of the parliamentary party, is now firmly wedded to an extreme version of Neo-Liberalism and the failed doctrine of Trickle Down economics. After forty years of most boats being sunk by the rising tide, the Ideology of Injustice has been shown to deepen inequality, intensify poverty and further concentrate wealth in the pockets of The Already Wealthy.
In addition to economic plans designed to benefit corporations and, by her own admission, intensify inequality (‘I’m not interested in re-distribution’ she told the BBC), she plans to increase military spending, allowglobal energy companies to restartgas extraction in the North Sea, end the moratorium on fracking and abolish green levies, which are used to fund energy efficiency and renewable electricity. She despises labor rights and the Trades Union movement, peaceful public protest and immigrants, all of which she is threatening to criminalize or clutter with so much bureaucracy as to make such human rights unenforceable.
Her policies, dogmatism and the doctrine that underpin them are, in many ways, terrifying. And with the suspension of parliament and consequently, any form of scrutiny, resulting from the death of The Queen, there is a danger, or for her, an opportunity, that she attempts to introduce legislation under cover of national mourning. If Truss and her gang get their way, the limited form of democracy that exists in the UK will become a distant memory, rather as ethics and honesty in public office, compassion and honoring international commitments have in recent years.
The list of national crises that the Truss government inherits, most if not all of which she had a grubby hand in causing, is long, and growing. As is public anger. It is a list resulting from ideological obsession, gross incompetence and absenteeism.
The National Health Service (NHS) is in crisis – years of underfunding, lack of training and Brexit, which saw thousands of NHS workers from Europe leave the UK, have led to around 135,000 vacancies, including 40,000 nurses and over 8,000 doctors in England alone. The service has the longest waiting lists for routine treatments on record; if you dial 999 for and ambulance, it could be hours, or in extreme cases days before it arrives. Social care is dysfunctional; there is a housing crisis, property prices are sky high, rents are unaffordable, tenancies offer no security homelessness is increasing – according to Government figures, “between January to March 2022, 74,230 households were assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness,” up 5.4% in the same period in 2021, a further 38,000 were regarded as at “risk of homelessness”.
Inflation is at 10.1% and rising, recession predicted, poverty booming. Thousands of people/families (many of whom are in full-time employment) rely on food banks for basic supplies – over two million people visited a food bank last year, and this doesn’t include independent providers – local charities, churches etc. Ten years ago food banks barely existed in the UK, now there are estimated to be 2,572, and constitute a growth area.
The privatization of utility companies including water in 1989 under Thatcher, has led to energy and water companies making huge profits for shareholders (£72bn in dividends), but neglecting consumers and failing to invest. Since water was privatized no new reservoirs have been commissioned (in 33 years), and, The Guardian reports,“2.4bn liters [of water] a day on current estimates have been allowed to leak away.” Airports including Heathrow, have had to limit the number of flights due to lack of staff; the airport authorities and airlines use the ‘It’s not us it’s Covid’ excuse, so loved by companies and government agencies who laid off too many employees during the pandemic and either haven’t re-hired enough, or employees refused to return unless wages and conditions improved.
The judiciary is in crisis, as is the prison system and the police, particularly in London; childcare and nursery education is shambolic, unaffordable for most, hard to find, limited places, particularly for those on average incomes; again due in part to lack of properly trained staff. It is, it seems an endless list, shameful and intensely depressing, There may however be a glimmer of light within the storm; a positive effect of this cacophony of chaos is a growing movement of resistance to economic injustice, and Trades Union industrial action.
Enough is Enough
Wages for most people in the UK have been effectively frozen for years; and now, with rising inflation income is reducing in value, economic hardship intensifying, fury rising. Unions, which have been greatly weakened in the last thirty years through restrictive legislation have rediscovered their courage and purpose, and in response to members demands have organised strikes in a number of areas. Most notably, railway and Transport for London workers have withdrawn their labor on a number of occasions in disputes over pay and conditions; refuse workers in Scotland have been on strike over pay; postal workers have also been striking; junior barristers are on indefinite strike over pay; workers at the UK’s largest container port, Felixstowe recently withdrew their labour for eight days in another dispute about pay. Nurses and doctors working in the NHS are threatening industrial action, as are teachers.
The leader of the RMT union, Mick Lynch, who has emerged as a leading voice for the people, has suggested that, “unions are on the brink of calling for ‘synchronized’ strikes over widespread anger at how much soaring inflation is outpacing wages.” If such a positive step were taken it would be a powerful act of resistance against years of exploitation and injustice, and may further empower working people, who for years have been silenced.
In parallel with the workers revolt is a social movement of defiance. Initially triggered by high energy bills, rising costs and low wages, the scope of disquiet is expanding to include outrage at huge profits for energy companies and other corporations, increasing payments to shareholders whilst the majority struggle to feed themselves and their families, i.e. its about social injustice, exploitation and greed. Two movements of resistance and change have emerged from the widespread disquiet – ‘Don’t Pay’, which aims to empower people to not pay increased energy bills, and ‘Enough is Enough’, which is a broader social movement founded by union leaders and MPs.
The appearance of these groups is deeply encouraging and could prove to be a pivotal moment. Many people, the majority perhaps, are worn down, ashamed of where the country fins itself, and have had enough. Enough of being ignored and manipulated; of being told to ‘tighten their belts’ and ‘carry on’, whilst corporations, public/private companies including energy firms, pay out huge dividends and government ministers, spineless, unprincipled puppets, who live in the silk-lined pockets of big business, including most notably the media barons, lie and lie and lie again.
In the face of increasing levels of social injustice, government duplicity and economic hardship, eventually the people must unite and revolt. If after the endless pantomime of the Queen’s funeral people do come together, refuse to pay rising energy costs; refuse to work, refuse to be exploited and marginalized; refuse to stand by while the natural world is vandalised; if the unions do take coordinated action, and many of us would support such a progressive act, there is a chance, slim, but real, that years of frustration and anger, can be turned into empowerment and hope.
Renewed TPLF Terror War Against the Ethiopian People
After a fragile ceasefire lasting just five months, the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) have once again initiated violent conflict with federal forces in Northern Ethiopia.
They started the war in November 2020, were forced to retreat just over a year later, but not content with the level of human suffering resulting from their initial barbarism, they are, it seems, determined to kill and kill again; to rape and beat their Ethiopian brethren; to once more destroy property, burn farmland, slaughter livestock, sending fear through communities, deepening the pain of a nation in their frenzied quest for power.
This latest offensive was launched on 24 August, violating the humanitarian truce agreed with the Ethiopian government, and shattering the temporary peace. A Government statement relayed that, “Ignoring all of the peace alternatives presented by the government, the terrorist group TPLF…. continued its recent provocations and launched an attack this morning at 5 am (0200 GMT)”
The TPLF used the months of peace, not to enter unto constructive dialogue with the government, to address the needs of people in Tigray impacted by the war and beg for forgiveness, but to actively re-arm and rebuild its forces. The Crisis Group relate that they have “solid evidence” of at least 10 Antonov planes making deliveries (of arms it is assumed) “to two airports in Tigray,” almost certainly from Sudan. One such aircraft, en route from Sudan and loaded with weapons, was recently shot down by the Ethiopian air force.
The government has known about these arial shipments for some time, but failed to clamp down on them. This lack of decisive action, particularly in relation to law and order issues has been a feature of the Abiy premiership, and is something that needs to change.
Whilst TPLF thugs lit the fuse of renewed conflict in Tigray’s southern border, other misguided fighters, many little more than children, raided a World Food Program (WFP) warehouse in Mekelle (capital of Tigray region). “12 full fuel tankers with 570,000 litres of fuel” were taken, and UN staff detained, reported, Stephane Dujarric, chief spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “These fuel stocks were to be used solely for humanitarian purposes, for the distribution of food, fertilizer and other emergency relief items. This loss of fuel will impact humanitarian operations supporting communities in all of northern Ethiopia.”
Stealing from the UN to enable war is nothing new for the TPLF; From July-September 2021 the WFP state that, “445 contracted non-WFP trucks entered Tigray, but only 38 ….returned,” – 407 were stolen by the TPLF. The lack of vehicles the agency said, was “the primary impediment to ramping up the humanitarian response” within Tigray. The inability of UN agencies to deliver humanitarian aid is of no concern whatsoever to the TPLF leadership, who care not a jot for the people of Tigray, and even less for other ethnic groups throughout Ethiopia.
Alongside the declaration of a humanitarian truce, the March 24 agreement initiated by the Government, allowed for unfettered humanitarian access to Tigray, and created a platform for peace talks. But the TPLF do not want peace, have never wanted peace and have no intention of working for it. They failed to engage with the Main Peace Committee – established to “peacefully resolve the conflict in the northern part of the country”, or the National Dialogue Commission, set up by the government on 29 December 2021, to “facilitate “inclusive dialogue on national issues for the creation of national consensus and establishment of common grounds.” From the beginning of the conflict the government has repeatedly looked for a peaceful resolution, but the TPLF have erected obstacle after excuse after condition to scupper any progress; for its part the government has consistently said it will talk to TPLF representatives anytime, “without precondition, at any venue.”
This accommodating approach however is wasted on the TPLF: their aim is clear, to fracture Ethiopia, inject discord, hopefully overthrow the government (with western nations’ support) – the first government to be democratically elected by the way – and regain power. They will fail totally; they are hated and despised throughout the country (including within Tigray) and by Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia everywhere, and with every Ethiopian that they kill, rape and abuse that hate deepens a little further.
Western support: arms and credibility
The TPLF have been a malignant force in Ethiopia for decades. They dominated the previous EPRDF government (a coalition in name only) for 27 years (1991-2018), stealing election after election. Ruling through fear, enflaming division, agitating ethnic disagreements, violently crushing human rights and committing state terrorism in various parts of Ethiopia. Throughout their time in office and since their overthrow Western powers, to the bewilderment of many, have consistently supported them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their addiction to regional meddling, the main sponsor of TPLF terror is the US government. Successive administrations, together with the UK, and to a lesser degree the European Union, have backed the TPLF, empowering them financially, politically, and throughout their war on the Ethiopian State, it is widely believed, militarily.
With western political support and lasting TPLF influence in Washington, London, New York and Geneva, has come media collusion. CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, New York Times etc, all have been guilty of mis/dis-information; biased or just poorly researched stories ranging from outright lies to nauseating bothsidesism as with Voice of America (VOA) reporting of the recent theft of WFP fuel by TPLF fighters, witnessed by UN staff. VOA state that Tigrayan forces are condemned for “allegedly stealing” the fuel: allegedly!
The extent to which western politicians were, and given the recent attacks, appear to remain, involved in the TPLF’s terror war was revealed by a video that was leaked in November 2021. The footage shows a Zoom meeting between Berhane Gebre-Christos, referred to as “a “chief representative of the TPLF,” and top US, UK and European Union diplomats with long-standing connections to Ethiopia, including US Ambassador to Somalia Donald Yamamoto. The group reportedly celebrated the TPLF’s advance on Addis Ababa (which never actually transpired) and discussed how the TPLF could form a post-Abiy government.
It is geopolitics at its most ugly and menacing; these ex-colonial/imperialist political powers have no interest in seeing Ethiopians or indeed anyone in Sub-Saharan Africa prosper and are still trying to install puppet regimes wherever possible. As long as the TPLF continue to receive support from ‘foreign powers’ the terrorists will continue to wage war on the Ethiopian people. The ‘international community’, which equates in this case primarily to the US, needs to stop feeding the dogs of war and start compelling the TPLF, a cancer within the nation and the wider region, to engage meaningfully in peace talks with the government. https://www.counterpunch.org/2022/09/02/renewed-tplf-terror-war-against-the-ethiopian-people/
Climate Change: Endless Words, Where’s the Action?
There is virtually no time left, many believe we are already too late to do much to arrest climate change and the destruction of the natural world. Even climate scientists are stunned by the pace at which the climatic conditions of planet Earth are being altered, disrupted by the ignorance and deep-rooted selfishness of humanity; well, a relatively small percentage of humanity actually.
Every day, complacency – politically, individually and commercially – greed and political short-termism continue, the environmental crisis intensifies, moving systems closer to tipping points, when nothing can arrest the destruction, nothing can stop the demise. Some of the vandalism inflicted on the planet is already judged by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to be irreversible.
The most recent reports from the IPCC (made up of the world’s leading climate/environmental scientists) are, like many before them, exasperated, infuriated calls for action – radical urgent action. And yet despite the warnings and pleas, made by scientists, activists, concerned citizens, over decades, little of substance is happening and still ‘the environment’ is not the top priority for governments. Yes, awareness is growing and some changes are underway: Dozens of countries have committed to achieving Net-Zero (not actual zero) greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 2050, or 2060 as with China. But there is a gaping chasm between political rhetoric and policies/action to meet their commitments – the ‘Implementation Gap’ is huge. As Antonio Guterres put it, “Government and business leaders are saying one thing, but doing another. Simply put, they are lying.” The US has just passed a major climate change bill – inadequate by most assessments, but better than nothing, so too has Australia’s new government, which seems keen to throw off the country’s reputation as an environmental liability, – also totally inadequate, but like the US step, better than nothing.
Solar panels are booming – China leads the world in installation and manufacture – and hundreds of wind farms are being planted – again China is the vanguard, erecting more than three times those of any other country in 2020. Energy efficiency has advanced, but because of humanity’s insatiable appetite for stimulation of all kinds, energy use keeps rising, and with it GHG emissions; sales of electric vehicles are booming and renewables are now far cheaper than fossil fuels. Despite this fact the percentage of electricity (not total energy) being generated by renewables, is only around 10% of the global total; and ‘Green’ ideas, initiatives and concerns are talked about in a way not seen before.
Positive, but in the face of the challenges, such measures, including hundreds of local community-led schemes, are little more than gestures, a paper fan against a 40°C heat wave. GHG emissions are still growing year on year, investment in fossil fuels continues, rain forests continue to be felled, habitats crushed, waters polluted, air contaminated, soil eroded, and the “long drawn out tragedy of unprecedented scale”, as Extinction rebellion Co-Founder, Claire Ferrers, put it, goes on, as does human brutality – to one another and the natural world.
An atlas of human suffering
Set up in 1986, when climate change was first openly talked about, the IPCC is the United Nations (UN) body that assesses the science around climate change. Free from ideological/political bias or influence, it “provides a framework for governments, scientists and IPCC staff to work together to deliver the world’s most authoritative scientific assessments on climate change.” This year two reports (of three) from the agency have so far been published, AR5 and AR6. They make crystal clear the dire situation the planet, humanity and all other forms of life are in as a result of human behavior. Behavior that has set in motion a series of interconnected environmental catastrophes: Climate change, species extinction, air and water pollution, soil erosion and deforestation. With every major area of impact comes a series of sub-sections, localized issues affecting ecosystems/wildlife/habitat, food production, indigenous peoples, displacement of persons/migration, mental health and so on. These in turn trigger further echoes of destruction and disruption – complex environmental and social problems – destructive ripples expanding and multiplying, revealing unforeseen consequences; unforeseen because corporate decisions, government policies, individual human activity, proceed, in the main from a conditioned foundation of ignorance, of false assumptions and wrong conclusions about ourselves and the nature of life.
We understand little about our nature and the laws that underpin life, but arrogant and self-centred, believe we are planetary custodians; we cannot even live peacefully together in community, let alone be responsible for the planet and the unbelievable abundance of life that exists within its orbit. Humility, the quality most lacking within the race – totally absent within politicians/leaders and big business, is essential if we are to begin to live gracefully as one interconnected family, forming part of a global life, which in truth we are.
The IPCC AR5 is “an atlas of human suffering…..….the facts are undeniable.” And pointing the finger of blame directly at politicians and corporate bosses — “this abdication of leadership is criminal. The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.” Comments made not by Extinction Rebellion or Greenpeace, but the UN Secretary General (who stands tall among the current collection of backward looking inept world ‘leaders’), António Guterres.
We have caused an environmental catastrophe, and by we, I mean the rich developed nations of the world, because it’s the behavior of this relatively small percentage of humanity that is the major culprit. The environmental catastrophe was not, and is not being fueled by over-population, although there are certainly too many people in the world, it is the result of over-consumption by wealthy societies. It is not the hundreds of millions in sub-Saharan Africa, Bangladesh, Pakistan or China who are responsible, or the billion desperately poor Indians that are behind it, nor is it fed by the inhabitants of South-Sea Islands, many of which will probably disappear. It is the western lifestyle of unrestrained irresponsible consumption, including diets centered on animal produce. And within these industrialized wealthy (more or less) societies, that are obsessed with with stuff – most of which is totally unnecessary, it is the richest one percent that are overwhelmingly to blame.
Oxfam’s shocking report, ‘Confronting Carbon Inequality,’ published in 2020, revealed that, “between 1990 and 2015 – 25 years when humanity doubled the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere…..The richest 10 percent accounted for over half (52 percent) of the emissions added to the atmosphere, [and] the richest one percent were responsible for 15 percent of emissions…..more than twice that of the poorest half of humanity.”And as inequality grows the disproportionate impact this tiny group has will increase. By 2030, Oxfam estimate that the GHG emissions of the world’s richest 1% will be 30 times higher than a level compatible with 1.5°C increase in global temperature.
But, while people everywhere are beginning to feel the impact of climate change and environmental degradation, it’s populations in the poorest nations that are being most severely battered; and despite repeated promises from western politicians, they are receiving pennies to assist with so called ‘adaptation’ plans. It is nothing less than an act of war, perpetrated by rich countries against the poorest most vulnerable people on the planet.
The fabled target of 1.5°C (above pre industrial levels) of global warming agreed at COP 21 in Paris in 2015, and held up as tolerable, is a fantasy at the moment. Governments have signed up to Nationally Determined Commitments (NDC’s). But even if these are honored, and there is little or no sign they will be (they are non-binding), warming is still estimated to pass 1.5°C; because the NDC’s do not go far enough, because governments are still placing short term economic gain and the perpetuation of a socio-economic model, which has done enormous harm, both to the planet and humanity, first. Antonio Guterres makes clear that, “Governments and corporations are not just turning a blind eye, they are adding fuel to the flames.They are choking our planet, based on their vested interests and historic investments in fossil fuels, when cheaper, renewable solutions provide green jobs, energy security and greater price stability.” The level of complacency is beyond belief.
Currently the global ground temperature increase is around 1.3°C, and looking at the climatic chaos being experienced, imagine what 1.5 would be like – total disaster, let alone a rise of 3 – 4°C , which is the present trajectory. Oxfam state that if 1.5°C is to be realized, “the per capita emissions of the richest 10 percent will need to be around 10 times lower by 2030 – this is equivalent to cutting global annual emissions by a third.” But even 1.5 °C, described as “a physical threshold or boundary for the planet’s climate” will create an unknown world; a world that, according to a recent study, would be too warm “for the ecosystems on the frontline of climate change,” including coral reefs, many of which are forecast to disappear under such conditions.
A file of shame
China, which is leading the world on renewable energy, energy storage and electric vehicles (in 2019 more electric cars were sold in China than the rest of the world combined) also has the highest total GHG emissions in the world, but the per-capita figure is relatively low, around half those of the US e.g. The high levels of overall GHG emissions are due in large measure to the fact that the country has become the world’s manufacturing hub, producing goods that are sold in the West as well as throughout developing countries.
Rich nations have, in varying degrees, exported their GHG emissions to China and other Asian states. The UK, for example has reduced gross GHG emissions by about 44% since 1990, but that is largely because virtually all large scale manufacturing has closed down, rather than any successful national transition away from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. In fact the UK government continues to invest in fossil fuels, and Liz Truss, who looks likely to become the leader of the Conservatives and therefore the new Prime-Minister (just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse), is glibly talking about freeing up gas from the North Sea and investing in Shale Gas to combat rising fuels prices. Investing in fossil fuels is madness (from 2016 – 2020 countries and banks around the world are estimated to have invested 3.8 USTrillion in fossil fuels), and should be made illegal. At the same time Truss is threatening to essentially outlaw peaceful protest by groups like Extinction Rebellion, who are heroes and should be listened to and admired for their efforts to alert people to the depth of the emergency and the level of government and corporate inaction.
The environmental assault is mass vandalism on a global scale, and despite the calls for action and change, apathy reigns. In his response in April, Antonio Guterres said the IPCC report was “a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unlivable world.” An “unlivable world”: “Major cities under water. Unprecedented heatwaves. Terrifying storms. Widespread water shortages. The extinction of a million species of plants and animals. This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies,” he screamed. Those current policies and the way we are now living, will result, scientists estimate, in at least 3°C warming, possibly higher.
It is impossible to overstate the severity of the situation, or the level of indifference and complacency within governments, most businesses, and among many people, the majority perhaps. Governments must lead the way, but when they don’t and currently they are not, the people must take up the challenge. Some are doing this – Extinction Rebellion, the Schools Strike for Climate, Indigenous People’s groups and many civil society organisations, and they should be given unconditional public support. For the environmental impacts to be limited and planetary healing to begin, fundamental systemic change is needed as well as a major shift in collective attitudes and behavior; a shift away from selfishness and excess to social and environmental responsibility; a move away from lifestyles driven by consumption to lives rooted in awareness and sufficiency.
No gadget is going to save the planet, there is no magical tool on the horizon that will suck GHG emissions out of the atmosphere. Belief in such ‘Unicorn Technology’ as Extinction Rebellion describes it, is simply another convenient excuse by ambitious politicians and greedy corporations to continue with the destructive, unjust Ideology of Greed, that is crucifying the planet and suffocating society.
Globally the switch from fossil fuels to renewables must be intensified, this requires, as Antonio Guterres makes clear, transferring subsidies in fossil fuels to renewables, “Now. It means Governments ending the funding of coal, not just abroad, but at home.” It means working collectively, breaking down national barriers, ‘The World First’, should be our collective slogan/mantra. The key factor, the essential factor in facing the environmental catastrophe is unity; no matter where we happen to be born or live we have but one home, and we all have an equal and total responsibility for its well-being. https://www.counterpunch.org/2022/08/26/climate-change-endless-words-wheres-the-action/
Drought in the Horn of Africa: Worst in 40 Years
The Horn of Africa (HoA) is once again being battered by climate change induced drought, with the UN report, over “20 million people, and at least 10 million children facing severe drought conditions.”
Desperately needed support from UN agencies (World Food Programme (WFP), UNHCR and UNICEF) is limited due to lack of donations from member states. WFP have been forced to halve food rations due to the “lowest levels of funding on record”. Leading to what UNICEF describe as a “humanitarian catastrophe……. Urgent aid is needed to prevent parts of the region sliding into famine.” The disruption caused to supply chains and food production by the war in Ukraine is adding to the crisis, dramatically increasing food prices and limiting availability.
The region’s agriculture has been decimated by year on year rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall. Food insecurity, in a region with some of the poorest people in the world, is intensifying with the threat of famine looming, and food prices have sky rocketed. Livestock has perished – in Ethiopia alone 2.1 million livestock have died and 22 million are at risk, emancipated with little or no milk production – the primary source of nutrition for young children.
Child malnutrition is increasing and huge numbers of people are being displaced. Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea are all impacted by the most severe drought in forty years.
The effect on rural communities, and children specifically, is devastating. UNICEF estimate 2 million children are in need of treatment for “severe acute malnutrition,” particularly in Ethiopia and in the arid lands of Northern Kenya and Somalia, where the drought is most severe.
As well as decimating food production, drought is intensifying the water crisis in the area – with, the UN say, 8.5 million people (including 4.2 million children) facing water shortages. In Ethiopia, where around 60 per cent of the population (roughly 70 million) do not have access to clean drinking water with or without a drought, the situation is dire. Streams, wells and ponds, that people living in remote areas rely on, are either drying up or are completely parched. Such sterile water sources become contaminated by animal and human waste, increasing the risk of water borne diseases, cholera and diarrhea, which are the leading causes of death among children under five in the country; cases of measles have also been increasing at alarming rates in Ethiopia and Somalia, resulting in some case in deaths.
Desperate families are being driven to extreme measures to try to survive, with hundreds of thousands leaving their homes in search of food, water, fresh pasture for animals and assistance. This is creating and intensifying numerous issues: Access to health care, education and protection/reproductive services is made difficult, or impossible. Children are forced out of school – approximately 1.1 million; schools close (in a region overflowing with children where 15 million children are already not in school); girls and women are made more vulnerable to physical coercion, sexual/child labor and forced marriage; displacement of persons explodes. Already a massive problem throughout the region, specifically in Ethiopia, where, according to UNHCR (as of March 2022) “an estimated 5,582,000 persons” were internally displaced due to armed conflict and natural disasters.
“Natural” disaster no longer natural
As the world heats up due to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) pouring into the lower atmosphere, the inevitability of extreme weather patterns including drought increases.
Like forest fires, heat waves and monsoon rains, drought was historically regarded as a “natural disaster”, but the frequency and intensity of such events is no longer “natural” and must now be understood to be man-made. Far from being freak happenings, such catastrophic climate explosions are becoming commonplace, and despite producing virtually none of the poisons that are driving climate change, those most affected are the poorest people in the poorest countries or regions.
The seed of the deadly drought in the HoA was planted and fed by the behavior of people in the US, in Europe, Japan and other rich countries. It is the materialistic lifestyles of wealthy developed nations (and disproportionately the richest people within such countries), rooted in irresponsible consumerism (including diets centered around animal food produce), that has caused and is perpetuating the environmental crisis. But to their utter shame the governments of such nations refuse to honor their debt, their responsibility to clean up the mess. On the contrary, because economic health is dependent on rapacious consumption, they continue to promote modes of living that are deepening the crisis.
Commitments made 12 years ago in 2009 by rich nations to give 100 billion USD a year to developing countries are yet to be fulfilled. In 2019 a high of 79.6 billion USD was reached, 71% of which was in the form of loans. Loans – for some of the poorest nations in the world, to mitigate the impact of climate change that they haven’t caused; loans that enable donor nations political and economic influence, perpetuating post-colonial exploitation and control, and ensuring Sub-Saharan Africa remains impoverished, and, more or less enslaved.
Imperial powers have outsourced the most severe effects of climate change; they either refuse to act at all or offer limited support with strings to countries and regions most at risk. At the V20 Climate Vulnerable Finance Summit in July 2021, heads of state demanded that higher income nations do more to meet their promises and called for grants not loans. UN Secretary General, António Guterres said that in order to “rebuild trust, developed countries must clarify now how they will effectively deliver $100 billion in climate finance annually to the developing world, as was promised over a decade ago.” But four months later at COP 26 in Glasgow, where climate finance was a primary issue under consideration, once again the rich nations failed. Failed to honor their word, failed to act responsibly in the interests of poorer nations, failed to stand for the collective good and the health of the planet. Shameful, but predictable. Politicians cannot be and in fact are not trusted; national and international climate pledges should be legally binding and enforceable.
Climate change and the environmental emergency more broadly is a global crisis; as such, it requires a global approach. This has been said many times, and yet national self-interest and political weakness continue to dominate the policies and priorities of western governments/politicians. If this crisis, which is the greatest issue humanity has ever faced, is to be met, and healing is to begin in earnest, this narrow nationalistic approach must change. As with other major areas of concern – armed conflict, inequality, displacement of persons, poverty – united, coordinated global policies and a powerful United Nations (UN) are urgently needed, but the single most significant change that is required is a fundamental shift in attitudes; a move away from tribalism, competition and division to cooperation and unity. A recognition, not intellectually or theoretically, but actually, that humanity is one, that we form part of a collective life that is the planet.
As the UN has said the men women and children in the Horn of Africa whose lives are being ravaged by drought need “the world’s attention and action, now.” Sustained action rooted in the realization of our individual and collective environmental responsibility. This requires governments to honor commitments: the $100m billion mitigation fund (as grants not loans), and making up the cumulative shortfall; it means funding the UN properly so emergency humanitarian aid can be supplied to those currently affected by drought in the HoA, it means supporting countries most at risk of man-made climate change in drawing up plans and initiating short and long term projects to minimize where possible the social and economic impact of extreme weather events; and individually, it means living thoughtful, conscious lives, in which the effect on the natural world is at the forefront of daily decisions, including diet, shopping and travel. It is our world, the people displaced by drought in Ethiopia and Somalia are our brethren, and we are all responsible for them.
Killing Palestinian Journalists and The Silence of Israeli Apartheid
Within the cacophony of the Middle East and war in Ukraine, Israel’s brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza had drifted into the shadows. But the assassination of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh served as a vicious reminder of Israel’s criminality.
Abu Akleh was murdered on 11 May in Jenin on the West Bank, as she stood (wearing a Press vest) alongside colleagues, while covering Israeli army raids. Her funeral took place two days later in East Jerusalem and was attended by thousands of Palestinians. In chaotic unprovoked scenes, Israeli police, who said mourners were “disrupting public order”, attacked the funeral procession, indiscriminately kicking and hitting people with batons, causing pall bearers to drop the coffin.
In a crass attempt to shift the blame, the Israeli army claimed that Abu Akleh was killed by Palestinian fire, during clashes with Israeli soldiers. This is completely untrue; other journalists at the scene confirmed that there had been no shooting by Palestinian gunmen. Trade Unions around the world have united to demand an independent investigation into her death “and that the perpetrator be brought to justice.” CNN unsurprisingly adopted Israel’s false narrative, BBC coverage was ambiguous, neutral they would say – spineless.
The Israeli foreign minister, Yair Lapid said that Tel Aviv was offering a “joint pathological investigation”, and, failing to see the vile hypocrisy, added that, “journalists must be protected in conflict zones”. Human Rights Watch (HRW) is investigating and has decried Israeli investigations of such incidents “as whitewashed mechanisms ……the reality is there is no accountability for those sorts of abuses when it comes to actions by the Israeli authorities.”
Journalists and media workers have been targeted by Israel for years: murdered and intimidated by uniformed thugs in order to silence them, to stop them telling the truth and bear witness to the criminality and violence of the Israeli regime inside Palestine.
The killing of Abu Akleh is but the most recent. At least 46 journalists have been killed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) since 2000, and no one has yet been held to account. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has recently submitted a case to the International Criminal Court (ICC) alleging that Israel’s systematic “targeting of journalists working in Palestine and its failure to properly investigate killings of media workers amount to war crimes.” Lawyers presenting the cases said they “are emblematic of the ongoing, systematic attacks and use of lethal force against journalists and media organizations in Palestine by the Israeli security services.”
It’s not just media workers/journalists who are targeted by Israel, it’s virtually all Palestinians living in the OPT, including children. Since 2000 “at least 10,349 Palestinians” have been killed by Israel, (1,304 Israeli’s killed), including 2,349 children, and (up to 2018) over 100,000 Palestinians have been injured, according to information gathered by the Israel-Palestine Timeline.
Apartheid writ large
The Israeli Machine of Brutality and Control is relentless and merciless. Palestinians within the Occupied Territories live under a shadow of suffocating violence, which manifests in a variety of forms: Targeted and indiscriminate killings and maiming; destroying farms/olive groves and stealing land; the de-humanizing ordeal of passing through Israeli checkpoints, which makes moving around the country long-winded and stressful; limiting fishing off the Gaza coast; building illegal Israeli settlements (which is a war crime) inside the West Bank; banning Palestinian civil society groups – by labelling them terrorist organizations – in October 2021 Israel shut down three Palestinian human rights groups, detained and prosecuted their employees under completely false counterterrorism claims. And evicting Palestinians and demolishing their homes – in the first eight months of 2021, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israel demolished “666 Palestinian homes and other structures in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, displacing 958 people, a 38 percent increase compared to the same period in 2020.”
All of this and what Michael Lynk, the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in the OPT describes as “a deeply discriminatory dual legal and political system, that privileges the 700,000 Israeli Jewish settlers living in the 300 illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank,” is the collective daily lot of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and amounts to Apartheid (segregation, political/social/economic discrimination).
Conditions in the Gaza Strip, where around 2.4 million Palestinians live, are even worse than those found in the West Bank. The population have inadequate access to power, water and health services, and the UN states, are threatened by a “collapsing economy and [have] no ability to freely travel to the rest of Palestine [West Bank] or the outside world.” Widely spoken of as the largest prison in the world, the sense of imprisonment was intensified during Covid when Israel used the pandemic to justify tightening what where already suffocating restrictions.
Across both territories – Gaza and the West Bank, Israel is imposing, what Amnesty International describe as, “a system of oppression and domination against Palestinians…….in order to benefit Jewish Israelis. This amounts to apartheid as prohibited in international law.” Propped up by the US, militarily and politically, the Israeli State machine ignores such facts and does as it pleases. Blind support from successive American administrations and their mealy-mouthed allies gives rise to Israeli Impunity and Bristling Arrogance.
Israel has been crushing Palestinians since it was established in 1948: Palestinians have always been seen as a threat to the Jewish State and consequently were expelled, segregated, controlled; thrown off their land and deprived of economic, social and human rights. The expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages post-1948 constitutes ethnic cleansing, which has morphed into a highly organized form of Apartheid. As Michael Lynk has said, “Israel’s military rule in the occupied Palestinian territory has been deliberately built ……to demographically engineer a permanent, and illegal, Israeli sovereign claim over occupied territory, while confining Palestinians in smaller and more confined reserves of disconnected land.” As part of this containment, Palestinian refugees living outside Israel and the OPT are legally denied the right to return, another flagrant violation of international law.
The UN, HRW and Amnesty International describe the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli State as Apartheid. In its 2021 report Human Rights Watch confirm what has been the case for decades, that, “repression against Palestinians living in the OPT (West Bank and Gaza Strip), amounts to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.” In its report, ‘Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians’, Amnesty confirm that Israel operates a system of “suppression and oppression”, one “which operates with varying levels of intensity and repression based on Palestinians’ status in the separate enclaves where Palestinians live today, and violates their rights in different ways, ultimately seeks to establish and maintain Jewish hegemony wherever Israel exercises effective control.”
Amnesty describes the suppressive methodology of Israel as systemized and highly organized. Laws, policies and practices are designed and enforced to prevent Palestinians from claiming equal rights to Jewish Israelis within Israel and the OPT, and are thus “intended to oppress and dominate the Palestinian people.”
Apartheid is not just systemized suppression and wholesale control, it’s a mental attitude of extreme prejudice that leads to and enables inhumane acts of violence, exploitation and humiliation. It allows the killing of civilians, the assassination of a prominent journalist, destruction of family homes and the litany of horrors that Israel is carrying out against the Palestinian people; atrocities that are visible to all who care to look.
For decades Palestinians have been crying out, pointing to Israel’s apartheid rule, but western nations, submissive to the US, have ignored them, turning a blind eye to Israels violence and criminality. Amnesty found that, “almost all of Israel’s civilian administration and military authorities, as well as governmental and quasi- governmental institutions, are involved in the enforcement of the system of apartheid against Palestinians across Israel and the OPT and against Palestinian refugees and their descendants outside the territory.”
Israel has no intention of allowing the fabled two state solution to become a reality, what it wants is clear – total domination. As Michael Lynk puts it, Israel’s military rule confines “Palestinians in smaller and more confined reserves.” It is allowed to do this because of US support and the power of the Israeli lobby in America – a highly organised Zionist group, The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is comparable to the NRA in influence and destructive impact.
Over the last 40 years or so there have been hundreds of UN resolutions underlining that Israel’s annexation of the OPT, the construction of Jewish settlements and denial of Palestinian self-determination, is illegal. Such resolutions are routinely ignored, and so Apartheid continues, the killings, destruction and injustices continue. It’s time the West, with or without the US, woke up, found some backbone and collectively acted against Israel, and for the oppressed, victimized people of Palestine.
Discontent By Design
Everyone, everywhere wants to be happy; how to find this jewel however is not easy and many people, most perhaps, spend their lives battling misery, whilst searching in increasingly narrow circles for happiness, or relief from unhappiness, until weary and despondent they give up and await the inevitable.
Conditioned from birth to expect happiness to be found externally, in the sensory world and the turbulent realm of romance, this is where, understandably, most conduct their search. Reductive stereotypes of what constitutes a ‘happy life’ are thrust into the minds of everyone virtually from birth. Stereotypes constructed by corporate entities, supported by duplicitous governments that actively engage in designing and perpetuating systems (socio-economic-political) that, far from creating happiness, feed discontent, agitate internal conflict and create dependency on material sensory stimulation. Stereotypes that have evolved from a false set of conclusions about the nature of life, in which ‘the body’, with its endless desires, and pleasure have taken center stage. ‘Success’, usually determined by financial wealth and power, has been presented as the highest goal of life; ambition is promoted, admired even, ownership of stuff, and dominion over others seen as laudable.
Such false values, which are rooted in a narrow materialistic view of life, have largely come from Western developed nations led by the US, together with powerful multi national corporations. But thanks to globalisation and the dogmatic belief that there is no alternative to the Neo-Liberal economic model, nations and peoples around the world have now, more or less, adopted what is a corrosive, poisonous approach to living; one that vandalizes the planet, feeds mental illness and stokes social/income/wealth inequality.
It is no accident that the most unequal countries suffer from some of the highest levels of mental health illness; conversely countries that are more equal are routinely ranked as the happiest in the world – Finland (top for the fifth year running), followed by Denmark, Iceland, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden.
A measure of happiness?
Within this all pervasive, cynical construct, an equivalence between happiness and economic/material success/status is drawn, promoted and to a degree believed in. It is a measure applied not only to individuals, but is the principal benchmark for gauging national development. To challenge this narrative and to speak of happiness itself (or indeed love, and the two arise from the same source) as a primary aim of life and the most important criteria for assessing growth – be it an individual or a country, in opposition to, for example, wealth, career success, political influence, a large house, fast car etc, is to be dismissed as naive; out of step with the fast moving competitive world in which we live.
But there are tentative signs that this lopsided rather crude view is beginning to be challenged, albeit quietly. Together with a growing feeling of disillusionment with the existing systems and values among many people, and thanks in large measure to the nation of Bhutan. This small country, wedged between Bangladesh and China has long embraced an alternative way of assessing the country’s status based on collective well-being rather than GDP levels, and in July 2011 sponsored a United Nations resolution (65/309), in which nations were invited to “give more importance to happiness and well-being in determining how to achieve and measure social and economic development.”
In response, the following year the World Happiness Report was set up; an annual look at levels of happiness throughout the world, a breakdown of various countries and an overview of where we, as a global society, are and may be heading. “The true measure of progress is the happiness of the people,” the report states. “That happiness can be measured; and that we know a lot about what causes it. Given this knowledge, it is now possible for policy-makers to make people’s happiness the goal of their policies.” And, let us add, not simply the continued enrichment of a few wealthy people/corporations.
The 2022 report, published in March states that over the ten years since its first publication, “There has, on average, been a long-term moderate upward trend in stress, worry, and sadness in most countries and a slight long-term decline in the enjoyment of life.”
This is an unsurprising, damning assessment of the dominant global values. But, given the current materialistically obsessed way of life, the social divisions, pressures to become something, to conform to an image that matches the cultural stereotype and to accept the dominant doctrine, as well as the growing sense of environmental anxiety (recognized as a mental health condition by the World Health Organisation (WHO)), increasing and persistent levels of dissatisfaction, anxiety and unhappiness are inevitable.
And from the perspective of The Architects – the politicians, corporations and Devotees of the Doctrine — this is good. The last thing they want is happy contented communities in harmony with themselves and their environment; its hard to feel content in a violent world at war with itself; where the environment is being mutilated, distrust of ‘the other’ is encouraged, and where economic insecurity is the norm for most people.
Insecurity, intolerance and perpetual longing are cornerstones of the Ideology of Greed and Division, which rests upon a foundation of continual, irresponsible consumerism and separation; a longing maintained by advertising/marketing, triggering discontent that, they say, will be satiated by buying their products. But as the great Indian sage Ramana Maharshi explained, “There is no happiness in any object of the world. We imagine through our ignorance that we derive happiness from objects. When the mind goes out, it experiences misery.” And the mind is constantly encouraged to ‘go out’: To shop, to seek entertainment, to follow and engage in desire of all kinds in the hunt for happiness.
Whilst the temporary fulfillment of desire does not creating lasting happiness, it does bring about momentary relief from longing and misery. It is not the object of desire however that creates such happiness; desire briefly satisfied is quietened, allowing the happiness that is always present to shine, before the next desire, and the next and so on. Desire is insatiable: As the Buddha taught, it is the root of all (psychological) suffering; with desire comes anxiety, disappointment and division — and where there is division, within or without, there will be conflict.
Among the list of global crises confronting humanity is an epidemic in mental-health illness (depression and anxiety are the most common conditions), leading in some cases to addiction (as escape from unhappiness is sought) and suicide — seen as the ultimate escape. The actual numbers of people suffering is unknown, its estimated to be around one billion (15% of the world’s population), but no doubt it is a lot more. And while the causes may vary, and the circumstances of our lives differ, the human condition does not. Over and above whatever cultural/ethnic differences exist, (and these are fast being destroyed by The Globalisation and Uniformity Project) we are all the same, and we all want to be happy, no matter where in the world we are, whether, black, brown or white, rich poor or somewhere in between.
Neither things, nor other people, position or success can fulfil this innate longing for happiness. As Ramana Maharshi explained if objects (including beliefs) brought happiness “it would be reasonable to conclude that, “Happiness would increase with the increase of possessions and diminish in proportion to their diminution. Therefore if he [someone] is devoid of possessions, his happiness should be nil. What is the real experience of man [woman]? Does it conform to this view? In deep sleep [e.g.] the man is devoid of possessions, including [conscious awareness of] his own body. Instead of being unhappy [though] he is quite happy.”
Like peace and love, such happiness rests within, it is the birthright of everyone, and yet, lost in the hollow world of consumption, competition and uncertainty many, if not most people, experience this inherent state fleetingly at best. This can change, indeed if we are to create healthy harmonious societies in which social and environmental responsibility are central it must. Systemic change is urgently needed, so too changes in values and behavior, and a lifting of the colossal pressure that characterises the lives of people throughout the world. Changes that inculcate social justice, trust and simpler quieter ways of living; changes that cultivate human kindness, compassion and unity. Changes that people everywhere are longing for: Reject the cries of the market, weaken The Monster and create a space in which contentment and natural happiness can flower.
Karma Yoga: Spontaneous Action Free from Attachment and Desire
“Nothing matters but the soul. Nothing counts in the long run but service.” Alice A Bailey/Master DK
All the world’s religions emphasise the importance and value of Karma Yoga or service – to others, the community, the world. In The New Testament (which is littered with such references), Mark recounts Christ teaching: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all;” and in Philippians 2:4: “not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Satya Sai Baba extolls us to “love all, serve all”, and the great Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita has a whole chapter (3) dedicated to The Yoga of Action: “In this world there is a two-fold path taught by me long ago: [the path of] knowledge…and [the path of] action, the yoga of the yogis. Of these two ways, Krishna maintains that “he who by the mind controls the senses, and yet is unattached while engaging action’s organs in action [Karma Yoga], is superior.”
This “action” that Krishna describes is action of a particular, rarified type and tone, it is what Krishnamurti called “correct action”. But what is this action or service, what does it mean “to serve all” as Sai Baba puts it, or anyone for that matter and why is it so important in the quest for liberation and self-knowledge?
The dynamic will of the soul
Service cannot be limited to any specific type of activity and it has nothing to do with occupation, role or position; simply because one happens to work in an area of social need e.g. does not necessarily equate to a life of service. Nor is service based on good intentions, which are widespread, or being thoughtful or kind. Positive as these human qualities are, acts of kindness are not necessarily demonstrations of service or karma yoga; neither is service determined by motive (the desire to “do good” e.g.).
The desire to serve itself comes from the source of all goodness in man – the soul, anchored in the heart; the effectiveness or otherwise of any type of service is directly related to and dependent upon the degree to which the soul is directing and infusing the activity. If, after responding to the soul’s initial call to act along a certain line, action is dominated by the personality or ego (we are using the term “ego” according to Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi’s definition: ego he says, “is nothing other than the false sense of “I”), the effectiveness and impact of the work will be limited.
Service or Karma Yoga is action consistent with the dynamic will of the soul. A necessary factor in any such action is therefore self-sacrifice; sacrificing the lower self (ego/personality) for the so-called higher (the soul); becoming consciously aware of and laying aside self centred/ego-centred wishes, ideals, images and constructed objectives of, e.g., the result or aim of action along any particular line.
Ego (self) is conditioned and deeply attached, attached to that which it finds pleasurable or comforting; to a belief system, a person, or persons, a place, a book or series of books, anything in fact that is familiar. Actions undertaken from such a limited source are polluted from the outset, and, rooted in ignorance, will inevitably add to the prevailing discord, no matter the area of activity, the motive, hope or intention – however noble.
Despite its protestations and assertions to the contrary, ego, being conditioned, does not know what “correct or right” action is, as Krishnamurti called it, and as such it cannot truly engage in service/karma yoga, or claim to serve. Although ideals, such as brotherhood, unity, peace, tolerance etc, which emanate from the soul and are consistent with “divine intent”, are fondly spoken of, due to the dominance of the ego, they remain unrealised and instead of harmony destructive self-centred patterns are repeatedly set in motion – karmic streams of force, in which we flounder again and again. As Bhagavan Ramana states “The fruit of karma passes. But action [by the ego] leaves behind the seed of further action [and therefore karma] leading to an endless ocean of action and not at all to moksha (liberation/freedom).”
“Correct action” is action free from the production of karmic seeds; incorrect or self-centred action, rooted as it inevitably is in conditioning, attachment and desire, will by contrast always lay “the seeds of further action”, and often leads to chaos.
We see the fruit of this pattern in the world around us. In all areas of life, individually and collectively, separation and conflict, selfishness and greed characterize modes of living and systems of governance. From economic, social and political inequality to religious intolerance, poverty and environmental injustices to terrorism and war, the world, as devised by mankind, is deeply divided, and in many ways, dysfunctional. The external forms within which our daily life takes place are expressions of the collective consciousness of humanity – the root or initiating impulse from which activity and forms take shape and advance.
“Give and ask naught”
The personality/ego may believe in the ideal of service (mind loves an ideal – peace, brotherhood, love) and see the goodness of selfless action; it may form an image of service and seek to live up to that image, and indeed some good may be achieved, but like all images it will be a conditioned limited view and to some degree will form an obstacle to correct action. Freedom from the inclinations, the desires, fears and attachments inherent in the life of the ego, will allow such restrictive tendencies to be overcome, right action to take place allowing a true server to be born.
As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, He, “who controlling the senses by the mind, O Arjuna, with the organs of action without attachment, performeth the yoga by action, he is worthy.” Non-attachment is essential; the great Indian sage, Nirsargadatta Maharaja taught that, “Discrimination will lead to detachment; detachment will ensure right action; right action will build the inner bridge to your real being [the Self].”
Such “right” action is the action of the soul – action free from choice and the time-bound rumination of thought. The soul does not choose and act, there is no “weighing things up” and eventually deciding; from a position of vision, unconditioned knowledge and pure love, the soul simply acts. as the Master DK (writing through Alice A. Bailey), puts it in a letter to a disciple, “you need to acquire that divine indifference which leaves the soul free to serve – untrammelled by personality reactions.” This is truly right or correct action, karma yoga or service; rare indeed in the world.
Action that precipitates unhindered from this holy source will always be harmonious, even if disruptive to, for example, the existing socio-economic system, or destructive of a civilization that has run its course. Such clean (unpolluted) action is the hallmark of a true human being; someone who does not identify with the ego and knows beyond doubt that he/she is part of a united whole. As the great Indian avatar Anandamayi Ma, revered as an incarnation of the feminine principle, and known to millions simply as Mother, put it; in service, “you will come to know by direct perception that the person served, the one who serves, and the act of service are separate only in appearance.”
The handicap to ‘correct’ action or service then, is the identification of the “I” with the personality/ego, from this identification grows the idea of individual doer-ship. This is a powerful factor in the obstruction of soul action, and is inevitable as long as the notion of an individual “I” or ego persists. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains: “the one who perceives that all works are done by the powers of material Nature truly understands and thus does not consider oneself as the doer.” Furthermore, “Surrendering all actions to Me [Krishna or soul], with thy thoughts resting on the supreme Self, from hope and egoism freed, and of mental fever cured, engage in battle [action].”
Freedom from this idea of individual doer-ship and the inflated image it creates is not accomplished through abstaining from activity, but through the negation of ego, through non-attachment and the overcoming of desire/fear. The Master DK points to the sustaining action of the sun as an illustration of the attitude required: “Lord of my life, how can I do the duty of this day yet seek detachment? Meet every need yet free myself from ties and bonds? God said: the Sun draws near and vivifies the Earth. Naught can it take from out the Earth. Live likewise. Give and ask naught.”
Such action, which is free from reward of any kind allows for spontaneous or effortless action (something Krishnamurti repeatedly spoke of) to occur. Spontaneous action is the opposite of conditioned, reward-based action, and is a central element within Taoism and Zen. The idea of “non-doing” is central in Taoism. This does not mean absence of action, but the negation of doer-ship and imposition, not trying to assert one’s own will on the natural movement of life but “going with the flow”. Lao Tzu (founder of Taoism) taught the importance of being quiet and watchful, tuning within to become aware of what Helena Blavatsky called the Voice of the Silence.
Zen also teaches what we might call The Art of Action; moving from forceful action to spontaneous action, which is a form of unrestrained freedom experienced through the application of intense discipline as awareness or choiceless observation, as Krishnamurti called it. Not freedom to do as we want irrespective of consequences, but freedom from attachment, from desire and fear. Such is the pure action of the soul in which no sense of separation is experienced; as the Master DK says, “To stand really free is to stand in the clear unimpeded light of the soul, which is basically and intrinsically group consciousness,” that is, without any sense of individual doer-ship or separation.
In order for the soul to act free from limitation, the mind needs to be still, quiet, uncluttered, detached. As Nisargadatta Maharaj said, “A quiet mind is all you need. All else will happen rightly [correctly], once your mind is quiet.” Stillness and therefore purification of the mind – the “root cause” – is essential for actions to be wholly “correct”; and it is only “correct” action that can create the forms, structures and modes of living required to bring about peace and usher in a civilisation rooted in goodness.
This is why Krishnamurti and other great teachers have emphasized that lasting fundamental change in society is dependent upon the individuals within society changing: “to change it [society/the world] you have to change yourself. When you begin to change yourself, you begin to change the society.” Because, as is clear “You [we] are the world, and the world is you [us]. Therefore you [we] have a tremendous responsibility.” A “responsibility” to the world, a responsibility to serve the needs of the time as we understand them, and at the same time a responsibility to free oneself from the obstacles to “correct action”; as the Master DK states, “the outer life of service will become arid and full of personality unless it is paralleled by a growing sensitivity to the impulses of the soul.” The primary responsibility is to stand aside, to negate totally any sense of doer-ship, all else will follow naturally and spontaneously.
“Nothing matters but the soul. Nothing counts in the long run but service.” (MasterDK DNA Vol1)
All the world’s religions emphasise the importance and value of service (to others, the community, the world) or Karma Yoga. In The New Testament (which is littered with such references), Mark recounts Christ teaching: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all;” and in Philippians 2:4: “not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Satya Sai Baba says something similar, extolling us to “love all, serve all”, and the great Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita has a whole chapter (3) dedicated to The Yoga of Action: “In this world there is a two-fold path taught by me long ago: [the path of] knowledge, the yoga of the Sankhyas, and [the path of] action, the yoga of the yogis. Of these two ways, Krishna maintains that “he who by the mind controls the senses, and yet is unattached while engaging action’s organs in action [Karma Yoga], is superior.”
This “action” that Krishna describes is action of a particular, rarified type and tone, it is what Krishnamurti called “correct action”; and is also known as sevā in Sanskrit, or service. But what is this action or service, what does it mean “to serve all” as Sai Baba puts it, or anyone for that matter? How does it manifest and why is it so important in the quest for liberation and self-knowledge?
The dynamic will of the soul
Service cannot be limited to any specific type of activity and it has nothing to do with occupation, role or position; simply because one happens to work in an area of social need e.g. such as a medical professional, a carer or social worker, a teacher or aid worker, an artist, musician or writer, does not necessarily equate to a life of service. Nor is service based on good intentions, which are widespread, or being thoughtful or kind. Positive as these human qualities are, acts of kindness are not inherently demonstrations of service or karma yoga; neither is service determined by motive (the desire to “do good” for example), or the level of benefit any action may or may not bring to another/others.
The desire to serve itself comes from the source of goodness in man – the soul (or jiva), anchored in the heart; the effectiveness or otherwise of an action of service is directly related to and dependent upon the degree to which the soul is directing and infusing the work, or not. If, as is common, after responding to the soul’s initial call to act along a certain line, action is dominated by the personality or ego (we are using the term “ego” according to Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi’s definition: ego he says, “is nothing other than the false sense of “I”), then the quality of service will be poor, the impact weak and largely ineffective.
Service or Karma Yoga then is action consistent with the dynamic will of the soul. A necessary factor in any such action is therefore self-sacrifice; sacrificing the so-called lower self (ego/personality) for the so-called higher (the soul); becoming consciously aware of and laying aside petty self centred/ego-centred wishes, ideals, images and constructed objectives of the result or aim of action along any particular line.
Ego (self) knows nothing outside the inhibiting patterns of thought it has been subjected to, has accumulated and now believes in. It is deeply attached, attached to that which it finds pleasurable or comforting; to a belief system, a person, or persons, a place, a book or series of books, anything in fact that is familiar. As Bhagavan Ramana explained, ego relies on attachment to forms (including thought forms) for its existence:“Holding onto [grasping and attaching] form it [ego] rises; holding form it remains; holding and feeding on form it thrives. Leaving one form, it takes hold of another. When sought, it takes flight. Such is the ego ghost [phantom self] with no form of its own.”
Actions undertaken from such a conditioned, and therefore limited source (as the overwhelming majority of actions are), are polluted from the outset, and, rooted in ignorance, will inevitably add to the prevailing discord, no matter the area of activity, the motive, hope or intention – however noble.
Despite its protestations and assertions to the contrary, ego does not know what “correct or right” action is, as Krishnamurti called it, and as such it cannot truly engage in service/karma yoga, or claim to serve – to be the one that serves.
Although ideals, such as brotherhood, unity, peace, tolerance etc, which may well emanate from the soul and be consistent therefore with “divine intent”, are fondly spoken of, due to the dominance of the ego, destructive self-centred patterns are repeatedly set in motion – karmic streams of force, in which we flounder again and again. As Bhagavan Ramana states “The fruit of karma passes. But action [by the ego] leaves behind the seed of further action [and therefore karma] leading to an endless ocean of action and not at all to moksha (liberation/freedom).” “Correct action” is action free from the production of all karmic seeds.
Incorrect or self-centred action, rooted as it must be in conditioning, attachment and desire, will always lay “the seeds of further action”, and often leads to chaos, because that is the nature of the source from which it springs. We see the fruit of this pattern in the world around us. In all areas of life, individually and collectively, separation and conflict, selfishness and greed characterize modes of living and systems of governance. From economic, social and political inequality to religious intolerance, poverty and environmental injustices to terrorism and war, the world, as devised by mankind, is deeply divided, and in many ways, dysfunctional. The external forms (socio-economic-political structures) within which daily life takes place are merely an expression or reflection of the interior world of humanity, the collective ego or consciousness; the root from which activity and forms take shape and advance; this is the source, the initiating cause.
The illusion of security
In its purest form, service or karma yoga is not possible within the limitations of the ego’s constructed sense of self. It may aspire to serve, it may believe in the ideal of service (mind loves an ideal – peace, brotherhood, love) and see the goodness of selfless action; it may form an image of service and seek to live up to that image, but like all images it will be a conditioned limited view and, instead of facilitating service it will add to the obstacles or illusion of correct action.
As long as identification of the “I” with the body (physical, mental, emotional) remains, the focus – more or less – will be the satisfaction of desire (including the desire to serve if such a desire exists), the avoidance of pain and establishing security, which is impossible but unacknowledged; as Krishnamurti said, “there is no such thing as security, this restless demand for security is part of the observer, the centre [ego], the monkey….[but] it can never find it [security]….the desire for thought to be secure is the way of uncertainty, is the way of insecurity.” In the recognition of this fact, he concludes, lies security. In other words, give up desire and the attachment to that which creates the illusion of security (all forms), turn within and the certainty one yearns for will be known. It is the desire for security and the habitual tendency of looking for it (and happiness) externally (in “the world”) that creates fear and perpetual discontent, because like all desires it moves the mind outwards away from the inner centre where peace, and the source of correct action lies, and into the world of fluctuating forms and empty images.
Desire, fear and attachment form the Trinity of Entrapment and Inhibition; a crushing force that either poisons totally or limits in varying degrees the quality and tone of action. It is only when there is freedom from these stifling tendencies that the ego will fall negative to the positive influx of energy from the soul, and in all radiance a true server will be born.
As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, He, “who controlling the senses by the mind, O Arjuna, with the organs of action without attachment, performeth the yoga by action, he is worthy.” For service to be, non-attachment is essential; the great Indian sage, Nirsargadatta Maharaja taught that, “Discrimination will lead to detachment; detachment will ensure right action; right action will build the inner bridge to your real being [the Self].”
Such “right” action is the action of the soul – or the action of the man/woman free from ego, free from all attachment; action free from choice and the time-bound rumination of thought. The soul does not choose and act, there is no “weighing things up”, looking at pros and cons and eventually deciding; from a position of vision, unconditioned knowledge and pure love, the soul simply acts. This is truly right or correct action, karma yoga or service; rare indeed in the world.
Service or Karma Yoga, then, is the soul in action; the very act of taking incarnation by the soul is itself an act of service, one that involves a specific sacrifice. Not “self-sacrifice”, in the sense of the ego giving up its desires and habitual inclinations – something it will never willingly do – but soul sacrifice: the sacrifice of what we might call the eternal peace of “the higher”, the realm of soul consciousness (Manasic plane), for involvement in “the lower”, the physical plane.
Free from attachment, fear and desire, soul action proceeds, not from the conditioned mind, but from the heart/mind. As the Master DK puts it in a letter to a disciple, “you need to acquire that divine indifference which leaves the soul free to serve – untrammelled by personality reactions.”
Action that precipitates unhindered from this holy source will always be harmonious, even if disruptive to, for example, the existing socio-economic system, or destructive of a civilization that has run its course. Such clean (unpolluted) action is the hallmark of a true human being; someone who does not identify with the ego and knows beyond doubt that he/she is part of a united whole. As the great Indian avatar Anandamayi Ma, revered as an incarnation of the feminine aspect of deity and known to millions simply as Mother, put it; in service, “you will come to know by direct perception that the person served, the one who serves, and the act of service are separate only in appearance.”
“Give and ask naught”
The handicap to ‘correct’ action or service then, is the identification of the “I” with the personality/ego; with the mind, which is constantly filling and re-filling itself, moving outwards into the sensory world, into agitation and away from the Silence of the Real; and attachment to the contents of the mind – which, from the standpoint of the personality, is consciousness. From this identification grows the idea of individual doer-ship. This is a powerful factor in the obstruction of soul action, and is inevitable as long as the notion of an individual “I” or ego persists, whereas, Karma Yoga or service is action free from any sense of (individual) doer-ship.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains: “the one who perceives that all works are done by the powers of material Nature truly understands and thus does not consider oneself as the doer.” Furthermore, “Surrendering all actions to Me [Krishna or soul], with thy thoughts resting on the supreme Self, from hope and egoism freed, and of mental fever cured, engage in battle [action].”
Freedom from the ego and this idea of individual doer-ship and the inflated image it creates is not accomplished through abstaining from activity. As Krishna makes clear. “Man winneth not freedom from action [karma] by abstaining from activity, nor by mere renunciation does he rise to perfection [freedom from ego]. Nor can anyone, even for an instant, remain really actionless; for helplessly is everyone driven to action by the qualities [gunas] of nature.” Here He is also pointing to the impersonal, impelling source of activity. The sustaining action of the Sun is perhaps the model of such an ideal, as the Master DK says writing through Alice A. Bailey, “Lord of my life, how can I do the duty of this day yet see detachment? Meet every need yet free myself from ties and bonds? God said: the Sun draws near and vivifies the Earth. Naught can it take from out the Earth. Live likewise. Give and ask naught.”
Action purified, freed from the limitations of the self, rests upon awareness; becoming aware through observation, of who it is that is acting at any given moment. Observation with honesty of mind, sincerity of spirit and crucially, detachment, as indicated by Maitreya the World Teacher and head of the spiritual hierarchy.
The source from which actions flow constitutes the means of action, and as Krishnamurti explained, the nature or quality of the ‘end’ is contained within the means; there is in fact only the means. Cause and effect are tightly interwoven – effect is tied to, conditional upon its cause. Hence the need to “perform thou right action,” as Krishna stated; “right” or correct action, “correct under all circumstances”, is something Krishnamurti repeatedly talked about.
The world in which we live is not an expression of “correct” action; its forms, structures and modes of living have been constructed by fragmented acts flowing from conditioned mind/s, corrupted by attachment and desire. And Krishnamurti made clear that, if the mind is attached to “an idea, to a concept, to some value, or to a person. Action springing from that [point] must always be corrupt.” He further explains that our (self-centred) actions are based on the past [conditioning], on our accumulated ideas, beliefs and hopes, and as such there is “no spontaneous action.”
Spontaneous or effortless action (something else Krishnamurti repeatedly spoke of) is the opposite of conditioned, reward-based action, with its fear-inducing inhibitions. Spontaneous thought/action is also a central element within Taoism and Zen.
The idea of “non-doing” is central in Taoism. This does not mean absence of action, but the negation of doer-ship and imposition, not trying to assert one’s own will on the natural movement of life but “going with the flow”. Lao Tzu (founder of Taoism) taught the importance of being quiet and watchful, tuning within to become aware of what Helena Blavatsky called the Voice of the Silence.
Zen also teaches what we might call The Art of Action; moving from forceful action to spontaneous action, which is a form of unrestrained freedom experienced through the application of intense discipline as awareness or choiceless observation, as Krishnamurti called it. Not freedom to do as we want irrespective of consequences, but freedom from attachment, from desire and fear. Such is the pure action of the soul in which no sense of separation is experienced; as the Master DK says, “To stand really free is to stand in the clear unimpeded light of the soul, which is basically and intrinsically group consciousness,” that is, without any sense of individual doer-ship or separation.
Pure or “correct” action will naturally take place when that which obstructs and distorts is overcome; that troublesome entity is the ego, or false “I”. A construct of the mind, which is determined to assert its own separate will, and is, as Krishnamurti makes plain, the “root cause”, the “creator” of all the chaos in the world. So, “Having found the root cause” he asks, is the mind “capable of dissolving the cause and therefore bringing about a different action in life;” action that is correct “under all circumstances.” Mind is described in the Ageless Wisdom teachings as an intermediary sitting between the soul and the brain, in the same way that, on a higher turn of the wheel, the soul is described as the “divine intermediary”, between the mind and the Monad/Atman or Self.
In order for the soul to act unimpededly, the mind, which as we now know it, is nothing other than a bundle of thoughts, needs to be still, quiet, uncluttered, detached. As Nisargadatta Maharaj said, “A quiet mind is all you need. All else will happen rightly [correctly], once your mind is quiet.” Stillness and therefore purification of the mind – the “root cause” – is essential for actions to be wholly “correct”; and it is only “correct” action that can make manifest the forms, structures and modes of living required to bring about peace and usher in a civilisation rooted in goodness.
This is why Krishnamurti and other great teachers have emphasized that change in society is dependent upon the individuals within society changing: “to change it [society/the world] you have to change yourself. When you begin to change yourself, you begin to change the society.” Because, as is clear “You [we] are the world, and the world is you [us]. Therefore you [we] have a tremendous responsibility.” “Responsibility” to act correctly, to purify the “root cause” of action; to free oneself from the constraints of conditioning, from all forms of attachment and the false identification of the “I”; to get out of the way. All else will follow naturally and spontaneously.
Multiplying Hatred and Division: Humanity at War With Itself
Whatever our differences, beliefs and prejudices we can all agree that peace is a good thing, can’t we, don’t we? All rational decent human beings would, I’m sure, nod enthusiastically, and who among us would admit to not being rational or decent…..even the despots believe they are – rational, just misunderstood. So why are human beings in constant conflict, why are there wars and the like at all, whether it’s in Ukraine, Ethiopia, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan etc., etc.?
Fighting, violent conflict, heated arguments, all bad, harmony and peace good; it’s simple, obvious, right? Up to the point when someone somewhere attacks the rational decent men/women, in some way. Insults their family, belittles their religion or political ideology, criticizes or denigrates their country, burns their flag. At that moment, while peace is, theoretically at least, still cherished, it is forgotten, laid asunder, trampled underfoot. Heads locked, anger and rage unleashed, escalation is swift, intransigence immediate, forgiveness unthinkable. And, in a world of quick judgements and rabid tribalism, to not fight implies cowardice, moral weakness, leaving one open to abuse and exploitation.
Humanity is at war, not just with rival groups or nations, but within relationships, with the planet and with ourselves. Conditioned: psychologically and sociological conditioned, into war, into nationalism, into isms of all kinds, into competition and selfishness. And from this conditioned center action proceeds, action that is fragmented, ridden with desire and self-serving motives. The inevitable result is the world around us, chaos, violence, destruction and division. A harmonious peaceful world rests upon humankind being in harmony with itself;
Some will argue that human beings are innately violent (in the same way they say that man is born to compete); we’d like to be peaceful and kind, but, they claim, we just can’t help ourselves. By this fatalistic and false logic the men of war – the politicians, generals, terrorists, criminals and lovers of violence everywhere (including Putin) – could propose that some uncontrollable instinct forces them to fight, torture and kill; an ancient instinct rooted in tribalism, self-protection and fear, a dark shadow of man’s ancient past when right and wrong were unknown and survival was all.
Well, laying aside such spurious, albeit convenient nonsense, we can all agree that war is forever wrong, abhorrent and ugly on all levels, including the attack on Ukraine (ditto US attack on Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam etc); a brutal act of aggression taking place within a historical and geo-political context, which, whilst not in any way justifying the attack, is relevant. Repeatedly laid out by commentators and analysts in recent weeks, including John Mearsheimer in his interview with The New Yorker, this context includes NATO expansionism, in spite of US commitments to Russia that no such expansion would take place; the US/West arming Ukraine and supporting the overthrow of the government in 2014, and in the months leading up to Russia invading, agitating, virtually demanding a war. Constantly prodding The Russian Bear, egging him on, daring him to attack with various threats – ‘there will be serious consequences’ and so on. Mainstream/corporate media functioned as the megaphone of political agitation and aggression.
Putin would probably have attacked anyway, but the constant screaming from the touchline certainly wasn’t designed to deter an invasion and foster peace, tolerance and understanding.
Western leaders, particularly the bumbling fumbling Johnson (desperate to be seen to be relevant), and bewildered Biden, repeatedly praise Ukrainian heroism and armed resistance. President Zelenskiy echoed Churchill in his address to the UK parliament, declaring that the people of Ukraine would battle on relentlessly, “We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets.” For this fighting spirit and steadfast ‘leadership’, which the media lap up, Zelenskiy is praised, hailed as a hero. It’s an approach that suits The West well, particularly the (US-dominated) arms industry; but by encouraging people to fight he is condemning more Ukrainians to death, because, having committed himself and his troops this far, Putin will not withdraw, on the contrary the bombardments will only intensify, causing more suffering and destruction until a deal is agreed.
Stop fighting and reduce the carnage; never surrender, resist fiercely and consistently, but stop fighting and allow the Russians to do the same. The Stop Fighting Keep Resisting approach, is not pacifism or weakness and does not imply giving up, acquiescing; non-violent resistance is a powerful force against aggression and injustice of all kinds. It is also the method recommended by enlightened teachers throughout the ages. Christ, for example, in His inspired Sermon on the Mount, said: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28), and taught that if “someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well” (Luke 6:29). He, Christ, is not suggesting a passive, weak-kneed response to a cruel bully, but a resolute one – defiantly standing one’s ground with pride, but not reverting to violence and hate.
This compassionate non-violent response was also taught by the Buddha 600 years prior to Christ; in fact Buddhism, like Jainism, rejects any type of violence to all forms of life. And within the Upanishad (the oldest philosophical text known, and basis of Hinduism) a similar approach is found: ‘Non-injury’ as the Hindu might term it.
Not responding to violence with violence weakens the forces of hate and fear that impels and empowers the aggressor; as Dr. 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.” In this materialistic cynical world such statements, and they are statements of truth, are totally disregarded, laughed at.
Love, whilst superficially cherished, has been reduced to crass sentimentality, to a warm comforting ‘feeling’; replaced by desire, distorted and corrupted. To even suggest that the demonstration of love, which is a dynamic creative energy inspiring all that is good, might be a solution to conflict, a requirement and facilitator of peace, is to be dismissed as a deluded dreamer. As, then, is Christ, whilst still being worshipped (something He never wanted or asked for incidentally), ditto the Buddha, the Ancient Rishis of India and others. It matters not it seems what the source of such wise advice and guidance is: no matter how enlightened, humanity ignores and laughs at it; labels the speaker as naive, someone ‘not living in the real world’.
But, in order to live peacefully together, love and the qualities of goodness that flow from it are essential. Not romantic love, weak idealism or religious rhetoric, but love as a living force animating our actions, influencing the design of socio-economic-political systems and institutions, inspiring social justice; love shaping values and behavior and purifying, quietening thought, unifying communities and peoples, allowing peace to naturally come about.
Although there are (decent) people living ‘good’ wholesome lives in every corner of the globe, this common-sense image, which I’m guessing all would applaud and many long for, is a long way from the current world in which we live, a utopian fantasy almost. Competition, nationalism and selfishness dominate world affairs and many personal relationships, and form the structure of the socio-economic Ideology of Greed and Division; conformity, noise and intolerance abound; short-term pleasure sold in place of lasting happiness.
These are the methodologies and values underpinning an approach to life that has poisoned the planet, created societies of unhealthy men and women and fed an atmosphere of conflict and violence. It is an ugly cynical way of living based on false conclusions and ignorance that has denied all wonder and mystery while strengthening reductive self-centred constructs (rooted in a belief in separation) about who and what we are. It is an approach to life that, if we are to save the planet and create peaceful societies made up of contented, heathy men and women, indeed if we are to survive at all, must be rejected totally.
“Open Your Hearts and Act”: African Youth Activists on Climate Apathy
It’s November 2021 and hordes of dignitaries from around the world are assembled in Glasgow, Scotland for the annual Conference of the Parties (COP), number 26. Billed as the last chance to do something to slow down climate change and reduce the vandalism being inflicted on the natural world by mankind, it proved to be yet another opportunity lost.
The catastrophic impact of climate change is detailed in the latest IPCC report, described as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership”, by António Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations. The report once again asserts that human induced “Climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting billions of lives all over the world….with people and ecosystems least able to cope being hardest hit.”
Its the second of three reports to be published by the IPCC since Glasgow (the first was descried as a “code red for humanity), and constitutes another impassioned plea for urgent action. Almost half the worlds population (3.5 billion) are currently living in countries vulnerable to climate impacts – mostly the poorest people in the poorest nations, the report says. If the impact of climate change is to be limited it is imperative that global warming does not go above 1.5°C (over pre-industrial levels), which requires global emissions to be cut by 45% by 2030 and net zero by 2050. But based on current commitments, António Guterres says,“global emissions are set to increase almost 14 per cent over the current decade. That spells catastrophe.”
One of the key aims of COP26 was to encourage countries to “come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century.” But, although some baby steps were taken little of real substance was achieved by the men and women in suits. They talked a lot, to one another, in the plenary, at various side shows, but, curtailed by self-interest, a political-economic ideology rooted in limitless consumption, and overtly influenced by corporate power, did, have done and will no doubt continue to do nowhere near enough: Cowards all, our political leaders are cowards, unprincipled, dogma-ridden, duplicitous cowards; and mainly white.
Inspiration and Hope however was present in Glasgow. On the streets The Young and not so young, but lots of The Young, assembled, and in the hall, where delegates sat laptops whirling, mobile phones dinging, young climate change activists from Africa and elsewhere pleaded with the powerful to act.
Elizabeth Wathuti, from Kenya, made a powerful, deeply moving speech, which summed up the feelings of many of us:
“I have done a lot of soul searching about what to say here today….My truth will only land if you have the grace to fully listen. My story will only move you if you can open up your heart….your will to act must come from deep within. Over 2 million of my fellow Kenyans are facing climate related starvation. In this past year, both of our rainy seasons have failed….our rivers are running dry, our harvests are failing; our store houses stand empty; our animals and people are dying. Please open your hearts.
This is not only happening in Kenya. Over the past few months, there have been deadly heatwaves and wildfires in Algeria and devastating floods in Uganda and Nigeria. By 2025, in just four years time, half of the world’s population will be facing water scarcity. And by the time I’m 50, the climate crisis will have displaced 86 million people in Sub Saharan Africa alone.
Please open your hearts. If you allow yourself to feel it, the heartbreak and the injustice is hard to bear….it is our responsibility to ensure that the children have food and water……The decisions you make here will help determine whether children will have food and water. I believe in our human capacity to care deeply and to act collectively. I believe in our ability to do what is right if we let ourselves feel it in our hearts. So for these next two weeks, let us feel it in our hearts. The children cannot live on words and empty promises. They are waiting for you to act. Please open your hearts and then act.”
The seed of hope
We all need to “open our hearts and act”, especially those of us in the rich developed nations.
Those most at risk from corporate greed and western apathy are the developing nations of the world. They have done virtually nothing to cause the environmental emergency, but are feeling the impact most acutely and receiving barely any support. As Elizabeth Wahuti said, “Sub Saharan Africans are responsible for just half a percent of historical emissions. The children are responsible for none but they are bearing the brunt.”
It’s totally wrong, unjust, unfair, immoral; climate change injustice is one more shameful, violent example of The West’s indifference, arrogance and racism — it is no coincidence that most of those being sacrificed to climate change are black or brown: in this divided corrupt world, some lives are demonstrably of less value than others.
The rich industrialized nations of the world have caused the mess, and have what is routinely referred to as a ‘historic responsibility’ – (in 1900, more than 90% of emissions were produced in Europe or the US; by 1950, they accounted for more than 85%). What is not so often mentioned is that they, particularly the US, also have a massive contemporary responsibility; for, while it’s true that China produces more greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) in total than any other country, America tops the chart of GGE’s per capita.
In addition, it is western values of materialism and relentless consumption, that have now been aggressively exported throughout the world, that, with every shopping spree and irresponsible lifestyle choice (eating animal produce e.g.) are deepening the crisis day after day.
Climate change anxiety, and outrage over racial capitalism and Colonial Exploitation (and all are connected), including Covid vaccine injustice, has inspired an army of environmental activists across Africa.
Oladosu Adenike, 27, started the Nigerian “Fridays for Future” campaign. She was in Glasgow and made the point that environmental degradation and social instability are closely linked, telling VOA, “the peace and stability in this region (the Lake Chad region, the Sahel) depends on when we are able to restore the lake [so that] people can get sustainable livelihoods, [and] for them not to be….vulnerable to join armed groups of people. And this will likewise improve democracy in the region.” The Lake Chad Basin, which covers almost 8% of the continent has shrunk by 90% since the 1960s because of drought; the resulting competition for resources has caused poverty (10 million people are now dependent on humanitarian assistance) and conflict.
Another young African voice stirring the Glasgow malaise was Kaluki Paul Mutuku from Kenya; “We are constantly in the fear of losing our family members, losing our communities because the climate is dry — it is worsening by the day — there are droughts, there is extreme rainfall, and communities cannot bear it.” Some of the poorest communities in the world “cannot bear it”; communities that have done nothing to cause the problem — this fact cannot be stated too often. It is the greed, complacency and arrogance of the wealthy nations, in particular the richest members within those nations, that are overwhelmingly responsible. But, insulated somewhat from the most intense impacts of climate change, they care not and refuse to alter their lifestyle of excessive, irresponsible and largely unnecessary consumption.
After the weakness of COP 26, and the selfish short-term indifference of governments, including the ultra nationalist Modi regime of India, which is simply the latest in a line of such tragedies, it is hard to be hopeful (hope based on action not sentimental wish making), particularly for those living in Africa and other developing regions. But these powerful voices and the many other young activists in Africa and across there world offer a ray of sunlight in the grey; as Kaluki Mutuku said, “We cannot afford to lose hope. And as long as young people, grassroots, and our front-line communities are leading the decade of change, then we are in the right trajectory.”