November 09, 2016

Trumpet Blower: 'Exactly What We Deserve'

On this historic occasion, re-posting (without permission) Mr. Fish's incisive caricature of Mr. Trump from six months ago with George Monbiot's equally accurate portrayal along the same lines.

The Man in the Mirror
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 26th October 2016

Donald Trump is not an outlier, but the distillation of our dominant values

What is the worst thing about Donald Trump? The lies? The racist stereotypes? The misogyny? The alleged gropings? The apparent refusal to accept democratic outcomes? All these are bad enough. But they’re not the worst. The worst thing about Donald Trump is that he’s the man in the mirror.

We love to horrify ourselves with his excesses, and to see him as a monstrous outlier, the polar opposite of everything a modern, civilised society represents. But he is nothing of the kind. He is the distillation of all that we have been induced to desire and admire. Trump is so repulsive not because he offends our civilisation’s most basic values, but because he embodies them.

Trump personifies the traits promoted by the media and corporate worlds he affects to revile; the worlds that created him. He is a bundle of extrinsic values – the fetishisation of wealth, power and image – in a nation where extrinsic values are championed throughout public discourse. His conspicuous consumption, self-amplification and towering (if fragile) ego are in tune with the dominant narratives of our age.

As the recipient of vast inherited wealth who markets himself as solely responsible for his good fortune, he is the man of our times. The Apprentice tells the story of everything he is not: the little guy dragging himself up from the bottom through enterprise and skill. None of this distinguishes him from the majority of the very rich, whose entrepreneurial image, loyally projected by the media, clashes with their histories of huge bequests, government assistance, monopolies and rent-seeking.


Read rest of Monbiot's piece

July 14, 2016

Charles Eisenstein on Brexit

The most brilliant piece of analysis on Brexit and how to respond to it comes from one of my favourite people. A slightly abridged version of the long piece is included below.
The Fertile Ground of Bewilderment
Charles Eisenstein | Jul 7, 2016

[...] When I was growing up, a responsible citizen was one who read the newspapers, held positions on the political issues in currency, and fully participated in the dominant modes of civic and political life. Today (although it may have been true then too) the choices we are offered take the rules and premises of the game for granted, and it is these, about which we are never offered a choice, that are driving the fatal decline of our society.

Beneath the frenzy, many of us sense a vacuousness in the choice of Stay or Remain, the same one that sucks the meaning out of electoral politics as well. Democrat or Republican, Christian Democrat or Socialist, even Marxist parties like Syriza – when they take office they enact the same policies as before. Their differences, while not entirely inconsequential, are mostly minute compared to the range of what is possible. Moreover, public referendum votes against establishment policies are often ignored anyway, as was the case in Greece and as may well happen in Britain too.

So it is with Brexit – almost. Something is different this time. It is significant, although not for the reasons some people (though not my festival audience) think it is.

On the left, Brexit has been framed either as a blow against neoliberalism or a victory for xenophobic right-wing nationalism. Both framings are problematic: the first is over-optimistic, and the second is invidious.

On a practical level, Brexit needn’t be more than a minor hiccup on the onward march of neoliberal globalism. Even if Britain abides by the vote and does leave the EU, perhaps after much delay, the political and financial authorities will probably cobble together a plan that preserves the freedom of capital while continuing the erosion of wages, social services, and the public sphere. Perhaps they will ride the wave of right-wing populism to enact pro-business policies and further dismantle the social welfare system by associating it with the coddling of immigrants, turning the working class against itself. Alternatively or additionally, they can ride the counter-reaction to the vote, associating opposition to free trade policies with xenophobia and racism. They can also exploit the chaos resulting from Brexit as an object-lesson in the consequences of disobeying the elites. The vote will be called “irresponsible,” and responsibility will be associated with complying with the program of the technocrats and functionaries who administer the present system.

As for the xenophobic nationalism frame, to attribute Brexit to xenophobia is to disregard the deep economic and social stressors that fuel both anti-EU sentiment and resentment toward immigrants. If you buy into that narrative, you have to believe that Britain is home to 17 million bigots, ignoramuses, and nutjobs who foolishly sabotage their own economic wellbeing for the sake of exercising their bigoted opinions. (The same, of course, applies to the X million Trump supporters, about whom the same narrative is applied.) Please take note of the tone of this narrative: patronizing and contemptuous, embodying the same rage, dehumanization, and hatred that it attributes to its enemies.

There are in fact very sound reasons to be hostile to the EU [...]

In other words, the middle-aged white Brexit or Trump supporter has legitimate grievances that cannot be dismissed as white entitlement just because things are even worse for people of color. If they feel betrayed by the system, it is because they have been. Look around at the world. We can do much better than this. Everybody knows it. We don’t agree on what to do, but more and more of us have lost faith in the system and its stewards. When right-wing populists blame our problems on dark-skinned people or immigrants, the response they arouse draws its power from real and justifiable dissatisfaction. Racism is its symptom, not its cause.

The Brexit vote was an expression of anti-elitism, pure and simple. Leaders of the mainstream parties, business leaders, entertainment figures, J.K. Rowling, President Obama, rock stars and literati… everyone urged the public to vote Remain, to uphold the status quo. Does defiance of authority mean the defiant need to be reprimanded and put in their place, or does it mean that authority has abused its position?

The Brexit vote was supposed to be one of those inconsequential exercises that legitimize the system by lending it the appearance of real democracy. Something went wrong though – the public voted no when they were supposed to vote yes. While not quite as unexpected as a victory for Donald Trump would be, it still came as a shock to the elites, not because the damage to neoliberalism can’t be easily fixed on a technical level, but because it shows the fragility of their legitimacy. As such, it evokes a panic far beyond what technical considerations would justify.

It is not only the legitimacy of the elites that is fragile, nor just Britain’s economy; it is also the entire financial system: an overleveraged agglomeration of bubbles that will all pop when one pops. Maybe the Brexit vote induces panic because it reminds the financial markets and their administrators that they cannot hold it together much longer. They can’t even buy public allegiance in one of the world’s richest countries. Who knows, perhaps Brexit will start the bubbles popping.

The Brexit vote marks a rare moment of discontinuity, when the usual normalizing narratives falter and a society experiences a fertile and frightening moment of bewilderment. Brexit, though, is a mere foreshadowing of the vertigo that will ensue with the next economic crisis, which will dwarf that of 2008.

To prepare for it, we have to operate on a level much deeper than current politics offers. It is the tacitly assumed narratives lurking beneath conventional political discourse that need our attention. By this I do not mean merely addressing the neoliberal and imperial motives cloaked in the pro-EU language of internationalism, tolerance, and cosmopolitanism.

To illustrate, let me return to the observation I made above: that the blaming of the Leave vote (and Trump, and all the xenophobic know-nothing parties) on ignorance and unenlightened attitudes is “patronizing and contemptuous, embodying the same rage, dehumanization, and hatred that it attributes to its enemies.” Next time you read the news, especially articles enjoining us to take a conventional political position, pay attention for the subtext of “Here is whom you should hate.” The right-wing populists incite hatred and anger at the blacks, the immigrants, the Muslims, the gays, the transgender, the “libtards,” etc. The mainstream liberals stir up outrage against the bigots, the nationalists, the contemptible narrow-minded over-entitled “crazy” (a common adjective) climate-change-denying Bible-thumpers. Further left, the critics of neoliberal imperialism follow the same formula by invoking images of heartless corporate executives, greedy bankers, cowardly political elites, and drone-like bureaucrats and technocrats who should surely know better.

Herein lies a near-universal political formula: identify the enemy, arouse anger and hatred against that enemy, and then defeat the enemy. It is based on this analysis: Cause: bad people. Solution: defeat the bad people. Problem solved. The media, whether news or entertainment, has immersed us in that outlook, which informs everything from action films to the War on Terror. But I am afraid we cannot blame the media either, because it is part of a mindset that is integral to modernity and has roots going back to the first mass societies. It is fundamentally the mindset of war, in which progress consists in defeating the enemy: weeds or locusts, barbarians or communists; germs or cholesterol; gun nuts or traitors. And that mindset rests on a foundation more basic still: the Story of Separation that holds us as discrete, separate individuals in a world of other, in opposition to random forces and arbitrary events of nature, and in competition with the rest of life. Well-being comes, in this story, through domination and control: glyphosate, antibiotics, GMOs, SSRIs, surveillance systems, border fences, kill lists, prisons, curfews…

It is from this story too that neoliberal capitalism sources its power. It depends on the idealization of competition, encoded in “free markets,” as a law of nature and primary driver of progress; on the sanctity of private property (which is a primal form of domination) and, most of all, on exercising control over others through the creation and enforcement of debt. It finds a natural home within the Story of Separation; it is, perhaps, Separation’s culminating expression, threatening as it does the ecological basis of human existence. We cannot change it without letting go of that story in all its dimensions. Part of that is to let go of war mentality in politics, and replace it with compassion.

This doesn’t mean sitting in a room thinking nice thoughts about race-baiters and vulture fund managers, retreating from political engagement into a safe realm of inner work. It is to enact politics from a different place. Our political reflexes are conditioned by a story that is deeper than politics. If we want to produce something other than endless variations of the same result, we have to transcend the customary terms of discourse and examine the false truisms that become transparent only when things fall apart. I am not sure what strategies, tactics, and narratives will come from a compassion-oriented worldview, from a story that holds us as interdependent, interconnected, even inter-existent with all. Various forms of nonviolent direct action, narrative change, and solidarity movements foretell what they might look like, but I think future politics is largely unknowable at the present time when most of us are still deeply conditioned by the Story of Separation. Whatever it is, it will spring from a basic inquiry – the essence of compassion – that must be sincere: “What is it like to be you?”

The bewildering glitch in the matrix that is Brexit has prompted many in Britain to ask, perhaps with some anguish, “Who are we?” It is time to ask that in earnest, which requires stepping outside the usual polarizing discourses in which both sides play the game of find-the-enemy. To my English friends, I would ask, “What kind of England do you want?” Is it one where the forces of racism are suppressed and politically defeated? Or is it one in which the source of racism has been healed? If we want the latter, we have to recognize the conditions that cause it. What is it like to be a racist?

Ordinarily in politics, everyone pretends that they know what to do. Politicians pretend that to voters, who then inhabit and perpetuate that pretense by voting. When do you ever hear a politician, when asked about an issue, say, “I have no idea what to do about it”? Well, I don’t have any idea what to do about Brexit either, but if I have any advice to Brits (and this will apply to all of us even more when the next normal-destroying crisis hits) it would be not to rush too quickly to a position. Instead, abide for a while in a state of openness and curiosity, pursuing the question, “What is it like to be you?” The kind of socioeconomic analysis (neoliberalism etc.) I offered above might help answer that question in a general, theoretical way, but it is no substitute for actually listening to one another’s stories, temporarily free of the pressure of having to find a solution. If the Prime Minister asked my opinion (I’m still waiting for the phone call), I’d say to declare a national month of listening, in which the immigrants, the angry rural pensioners, the bureaucrats, the financial industry workers, listen to each other in small forums, and in which media publications print unslanted stories of the people they have demonized. The goal of that month would not be to figure out what to do. It would be to understand each other better. The goal of the storytelling would not be to make a point. It would be to be heard and to be known. To hear another’s story is to expand oneself. It is an act of intimacy, of connection, and it subverts the ideology that holds us separate. When we take in new stories, we change and grow.

Of course it is unrealistic to expect people to drop their hidden agendas and listen with open ears. Normally our ears are shut, because we think we know. That is why Brexit and the bigger breakdowns it foreshadows are so potent. It shows us that maybe we don’t know, after all. That moment of stumbling, of humility, is precious. It may be that the Brexit vote isn’t a big enough shock to interrupt the onrush of normative political discourse that seeks to make sense of things in familiar terms. Rest assured: bigger shocks are coming.

May 17, 2016

The Epitome of Sustainability

Found this little gem of info on "the epitome of sustainability" - multistrata agroforestry.
Multistrata agroforestry systems go by many names – food forests, edible forest gardens, tropical homegardens, and more. What they have in common is their structure – multiple layers of vegetation, typically one or more layers of trees, with further layers of shrubs, vines, herbaceous species, and often fungi and/or livestock.

These “agroforests” can be at a tiny backyard scale or big enough to cover 50-70% of entire islands. Contemporary commercial examples include coffee and cacao under nitrogen-fixing shade trees. Multistrata systems go back 13,000 years in Java, and today are practiced on an estimated 100 million hectares globally (247 million acres), mostly in the humid tropics. Home-scale systems appear quite viable in cold climates, but models of commercial cold-climate hard to find – in deed development of such systems is one of our goals.

Scientists have called tropical homegardens “the epitome of sustainability” and have identified many benefits of these systems:
  • Multistrata agroforestry systems sequester outstanding amounts of carbon – some as high as 40 tons per hectare per year (t/ha/yr). This compares extremely favorably with often-recommended carbon farming strategies like no-till (0.3 t/ha), “regenerative organic” annual crops (2.3), and managed grazing (0.3). Some even sequester carbon at faster rates than adjacent natural forest!
  • Tropical homegardens have the highest levels of biodiversity of any human land management technique. For example, Mesoamerican homegardens average 348 species per hectares (149/acre).
  • In some cases these systems produce more food than monocultures – sometimes much more! For example, in Brazilian oil palm monocultures, oil yields average 5 t/ha. Polycultures of oil palm, with the addition of fruiting vines, nitrogen-fixing trees, and other elements, produce 8.7 t/ha of oil, plus the additional products!

The source of this quote and the image mashup above are Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates of Paradise Lot blog. They are the guys who have done it. They have years of experience having created or helped create several permaculture food forests. See their 2013 book, for example: Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City

Eric Toensmeier's next book is about carbon sequestration potential of multistrata agroforestry systems.

UPDATE: The new book is already out in March. It's called "The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security". Paul Hawken says the book "describes the foundation of the future of civilization."

March 31, 2016

Where Did Environmentalism [and I] Go Wrong?

I really like the following piece by Atulya K Bingham and I thought I should share. Atulya is a small-time, independently published writer raised in the UK but settled in Turkey. She lives at a remote place on a hill next to the forest in a mud hut she built on her own and a garden she tends herself.

The second half of her article touched a raw nerve inside me and made the tears well up and fall. I felt I could have written it myself. I could not have written it two years ago though, when it was originally published. At that time I had begun to question my path but had not yet experienced the joy that Atulya speaks of in the piece.

The joy of being in a natural space that you have (co)created yourself with conscious awareness. "The space of love", as The Ringing Cedars books call it. I have only just begun to glimpse these moments of wonder and ecstasy that the space offers. Moments such as when I breathed in pollen standing amidst yellow flowers of mustard plants as tall as myself. When I witnessed stalks of wheat begin to swing joyously in the wind as I approached them. When flowers bloomed unexpectedly and the vegetables did well despite the odds. When I felt a sense of oneness with the land and felt like embracing it. When my intuition began to serve me in ways that left me surprised.

Cultivating land, even a small plot, is not always so romantic. But these fleeting moments are worth the hardship. And they are far more meaningful than anything else you could imagine yourself doing. As Atulya says, "you will witness miracles and sorcery and beauty." All it takes is to open yourself up and allow yourself to feel.

Where Did Environmentalism Go Wrong?
by Atulya K Bingham | May 2014

There’s an atmosphere of despair pervading the environmental movement at the moment. And if it's stats you go by, then it’s no wonder. According to National Geographic, more than 80% of Earth’s natural forests have already been destroyed, EIGHTY PERCENT, most of it very recently. 38% of the world’s surface is under threat of desertification and in a recent in-depth NASA study measuring drastic changes to population, climate, water, agriculture, and energy in the 21st century, some sort of collapse in about 15 years is likely. Well, yes, it really doesn't take an environmental scientist to see that if the population continues to explode at its current rate and we have no trees left, we won’t be breathing. No doubt a corporation will produce oxygen and sell it on to the masses at an exorbitant rate. Those that can afford it will have it pumped into their homes, those that can’t will slowly die off. What’s new? That’s the way it already is with drinking water in large parts of the world.

Feeling desperate? Join the club. I’ve been feeling more than a little despair myself, despair mixed with contempt, to be honest. How is it that so much of the world still refuses to even face the issue at hand, I’ve been wondering, never mind act on it? How can people possibly still be bleating about cellulite or the price of petrol or who George Clooney will marry, when their entire existence is in the balance? Is this a type of mass lunacy?

Yet, if I can set my anger aside, the truth is not a question of intelligence. It’s obvious. Humanity is in denial. And that is, in fact, quite normal. In fact, despite living in a mudhut, I'm probably just as much involved in it. Anyone who has lost someone close knows, the first reaction to a terminal prognosis is to pretend it just isn’t happening, because the truth is simply too devastating to contemplate. Everyone simply focuses on the hope that there will be a miracle, or some sudden technological innovation, or perhaps the doctors were wrong. Unfortunately, as I myself have witnessed, denial doesn’t prevent truth from dawning. Terminal patients still die, as we all do, be it today, tomorrow, or in 15 years.

And it is here that I’d like to pause. Because, although this is all true, it is also, as I see it, one of the gravest strategic errors the environmental movement has made since the beginning. With an unwavering fascination in the end of the world, environmentalism has attempted to scare humanity into acting, and we are now seeing just how spectacularly scare tactics have failed. Not that the scare isn’t based on solid foundations, it's more that apparently, scared people are not particularly effective at mobilising. Humanity has been plunged into despair, and so it has buried its head even deeper in the sand of any one of our expanding deserts.

I’ve often thought that environmentalism, for all its railing against consumerism and the materialism that fuels it, is in fact over-obsessed with the material and under-obsessed with the soul, and that the fate of our planet simply cannot be altered without a deeper understanding of why we are sabotaging it. Environmentalism should have taken a leaf out of the book of its far more successful sibling in the ‘ism’ family, capitalism. How did capitalism beat environmentalism? It perused a bit of Freud and worked out what made us tick. It offered a carrot, where the environmentalists, who’ve been all hellfire and brimstone, have offered none. Either we fight off the forces of massive earth-devouring corporations with nothing more than a yaks wool jumper and a couple of placards, or we face certain death. Well thanks for that inspiring choice. Don’t mind me if I ship in a case of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and drink myself into oblivion.

I have blabbered before on the two drives that the human mind finds itself caught between; desire and fear (prodded by the carrot or stick mentioned above). The mind, despite its façade of sophistication, is a primitive, largely reptilian beast. When desire seems easier to attain than fear is to dispel, then the mind weighs up the odds. “What I fear is coming regardless, I may as well grab some of what I want,” it bargains. Environmentalism and its use of the media has unwittingly created a bottomless pit of angst within the human spirit, and I’m sorry, but you can’t save the world on that. To really be able to achieve a miracle (and seeing as I’ve witnessed a few, I view them as entirely possible, though not inevitable) the mind needs to be in a very different place. It needs to feel confident. It needs to be saturated in realistic rather than foundationless hope. And it helps one hell of a lot, if somewhere along the line a nice fat desire is fulfilled. If people will slave away for weeks in miserable jobs merely to possess an iphone, the satisfaction of which lasts less than a month, what might they do for a greater prize? But if there is no prize? Then what are they striving for?

Environmentalism has offered a prize of sorts, but it’s been fairly puritanical about it. The prize is an abstract salvation, which to the average human feels as remote as the Delta Quadrant and as likely as Eldorado. Environmentalism is just like any religion in its complete inability to curb the desires of humanity with a heaven and hell scenario, merely producing a state of guilt among its followers instead.

Now, this isn’t supposed to be a diatribe on the ills of environmentalism, because without the environmental movement our awareness of the issue at hand would be zilch. It is the brave and devoted ecologists in the green movement who have collected the data. It is their protests that have protected the remaining 20% of old natural forests we’re still breathing thanks to. It’s just that if anything at all is to be done, we have to recognise the old way of blame and protest isn’t working.

If this blog has a purpose or a hope or a vision at all, it’s this. I’d like to paint an alternative, and to show the real carrot that capitalism has usurped, the carrot that environmentalism ought to be grabbing back and waving in front of us for all its worth. For me, abandoning consumerism and loving the Earth has nothing to do with virtue.There is no moral highground to be attained, and no point in burdening oneself with guilt for buying a plastic bag or leaving a light on. Every human being, just like every living thing on the planet uses resources, and if humanity can sense the connection it has with the Earth, then the using of resources can be a beautiful exchange.

Truthfully, I didn’t build a mudhut and grow my own beans to save the world, I did it to save myself. Certainly, living simply and in harmony with nature benefits everyone, but no one more than me. And my prize hasn’t been some vague whiff of planetary survival eons from today, it is immediate gratification, something I wasn't actually expecting. If you allow it, the wilderness will grant you the deepest sense of happiness you are ever likely to experience. It's even better than sex, actually. Ah, now I’ve got your attention, haven’t I? Well, it certainly makes your toes tingle, your heart flutter, and lasts significantly longer. And there’s no awkward conversation at breakfast the next day, either. Yes. I will say it again. And again. And again. I have lived here with no partner, no car, no road, at times no power and no water, and they were the most exquisite days of my life. Nothing has bettered it. Not drink, not drugs, not the hallowed ‘relationship’. Job titles, possessions and bank balances are just trash by comparison. The magic that pours out of the dirt can heal anything. The smell of the grass, the winking of any variety of flowers, the chatter of the leaves, the secrets the animals tell, the protection your special space bestows upon you and the peace of mind it brings you, are incomparable. You will witness miracles and sorcery and beauty. You will feel valuable and safe. Anxiety recedes. Confidence grows. Without the petty distractions of the media and retail, your soul blooms into something magnificent and indestructible. You begin to manifest exactly what you want and need, because your mind becomes a vessel of clarity rather than a cloudy swamp of befuddlement. You are alive and you are life. Every single thing that a corporation is trying to sell you is nothing but a fake version of what is out here in the forest, and it’s free. Absolutely free. You need never do a job you hate again.

So if I were you, I’d waste no time. Because if you haven’t felt this, you haven’t lived. Forget the Top Ten places you have to visit and the Top Ten films you have to watch, there’s one thing you should do before you die, and that’s sense the wonder of our planet. Sense who you really are. Sense where you came from and what you are truly capable of. Find the wildman or woman within. Go and camp for a night under the stars. Grow endangered plants on your balcony. Ride your bike through the forest and inhale a little unpolluted air. Because you might die tomorrow. Or maybe in 15 years. And until enough people experience this, there can be no environmentalism, and no one can save anything, because the truth is, most of us have no idea what we’re saving.


February 16, 2016

Subhash Palekar: Farmer to National Treasure

Subhash Palekar (right) listens to natural farming practitioner Samarpal of Bijnor.

Last month I was delighted to learn that Subhash Palekar has been bestowed with a Padma Shri, one of India's highest civilian honours. The award may not be always well deserved but in this case, it is hard to think of a more deserving candidate. Palekar is a farmer-scientist and natural farming crusader. He is also someone who has done the most to mitigate India's greenhouse gas emissions and is least recognised for it.

The news was personally gratifying as I have known him for last five years and follow the practices he developed. From farmer to national treasure, he has had an interesting journey.

Dedication and Propagation

Until three decades ago, Subhash Palekar was no different from any other farmer. He worried about declining productivity of his land despite his following recommendations of agricultural scientists. Rather than feeling helpless like any other farmer would, Palekar devoted the entire next decade to research to figure out on his own a solution to his problem.

For years he studied forests and carried out experiments in his farm to replicate and accelerate the natural processes that take place in a forest. By the end of the decade, he perfected a simple, no-expense method of cultivation that did not require any chemicals. In fact, just as in a forest, his techniques required no external inputs whatsoever. All inputs could be supplied from the land itself or found around it. Still, this 'Zero Budget' method gave tremendous results.

All farmers try to improve upon their practice but few conduct research projects in their farm, formally and rigorously. Fewer still would do what Palekar did next. Over the two decades that followed (1996-2016), he made it his life's mission to share his techniques with fellow farmers around the country without expecting anything in return.

Palekar first tried to propagate his methods through a regional agricultural magazine. Many accepted them wholeheartedly but Palekar was not satisfied with the pace of change. He then took to writing books himself, in several regional languages, describing his techniques. Travelling across Maharashtra and other states, he started training farmers in his methods for free at workshops that lasted from two days to several. The only income sustaining him was earned through the sale of his books, nominally priced so that everyone could afford. Today millions of farmers practice his techniques.

Palekar's methods have gained widespread acceptance because they are easy to adopt and his training sessions include detailed instructions (he actually dictates them word by word!). Other organic / natural farming practices that may be equally effective or even more so have been relatively less successful in gaining widespread acceptance because they often place a lot of demands on the farmer. Some require him to drastically change cultivation practices, others require extensive labour or externally derived inputs. Zero Budget Natural Farming on the other hand has relatively lower barriers to entry.


One thing one quickly comes across after meeting Subhash Palekar or listening to his talks is his passion for the topic despite a mild mannered way of speaking. This also reflects in his writings. At the same time he is not very articulate when speaking in a language (usually English or Hindi) other than his native tongue (Marathi). This is an unfortunate combination and sometimes leads to misunderstandings.

The English language version of the books and his website contain atrocious editing quality. Palekar acknowledges this in the books and refuses to yield to the editor's pen. He argues that the books are meant for farmers and not as literature. One unfortunate outcome is that many in the English speaking world are quick to reject his ideas without understanding them. Therefore little mention exists about his work in the English language media even though vernacular media in South India, especially the TV channels have covered him extensively.

Palekar tends to be a polarising figure even among those who promote organic farming in the country. The Organic Farming Association of India (OFAI) - a leading body of organic movement does not acknowledge his work directly anywhere on its website except in the news feed. Even the list of organic farmers in the state of Maharashtra in the website's 'resources' section finds no mention of his work.

This, again in my view arises out of a misunderstanding of Palekar's ideas. In his talks he comes down heavily against agricultural universities for promoting chemical farming. This is understandable. What is less clear to most people is that while promoting his own version of "natural farming" Palekar even criticises promoters of "organic" farming equally strongly. He actually abhors the term organic.

This has to be understood in a context. In the early days of the movement, agricultural universities and government literature on organic farming used to encourage extensive inputs that must be purchased from the market. What Palekar is actually against is this reliance of the farmer on the market. He argues that the corporates and the government are out to conspire to keep exploiting the innocent farmer like they did during the so-called green revolution by promoting chemical fertilisers and hybrid seeds.

This view although far-fetched is not without merit. Palekar is a student of Gandhi and his ideology is strongly rooted in Gandhi's idea of village self-reliance. A core idea in his ideology therefore is that farmer should not rely on any external inputs but create his own. It is his poor articulation abilities that his talks come across as if he is against all organic farming proponents.


There is no patent in Subhash Palekar's name and no company where he serves as chief executive. He did not form an NGO with lofty aims that sought international funding. He never charged high fees for his workshops. There were no protest rallies led by him which demanded end of fertiliser subsidies. No on line petitions were filed either to stop application of harmful pesticides. He did not form a people's movement. Nor did he plead with the government to popularise his natural farming method. He did not spend hours on social media criticising and ridiculing the government, corporates, or the entire human race.

This is not to imply that all of those ways to serve a cause are meaningless. Palekar took a more direct route instead. He reached out to the farmers. Met them in person and trained them in his cultivation practices. Hundreds of thousands of farmers have been trained by him and he continues to spread awareness and hold workshops.

Shared Outcome

Millions today have access to food that is free from chemical contamination. Hundreds of thousands of acre of land has been renewed with organic carbon being returned back into the soil. Soil that was being depleted year after year with chemical inputs is now thriving with untold amount of microbial life - bacteria, fungi, protozoa`and nematodes - that is raising its fertility. India today stands at a privileged position where organic food market is witnessing the highest rate of growth in the world - an astounding 20-22%. Subhash Palekar has a notable role in this.

Climate Crusader

One less well understood benefit of organic farming is its role as carbon sink. When a farmer cultivates land organically the organic content of soil rises. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. The amount of carbon that can be sequestered this way is so high that according to The Rodale Institute, "we could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices."

If that is true then by helping convert several hundred thousand farmers across the country to organic farming, Subhash Palekar has done the most to mitigate India's greenhouse gas emissions. That he is least recognised for it is reflective of the state of our media and its role as reporter of science.

Born a Sovereign

There's a lesson in Palekar's story more significant than the national award he won. Palekar hails from drought-prone Vidarbha region in Maharastra which holds 21% of the state's population but is responsible for 70% of farmer suicides. Yet he transcended the conditions that were given to him. He achieved this because he focussed on creation rather than criticism, on what is possible rather than what is not.

In this lies a lesson for those who spend their lives in negativism. In feeling helpless and dejected. In hate-mongering on social media and elsewhere. The Ringing Cedars books say that each man is born a sovereign. We have been provided with all the answers inside us. That regardless of our inheritance, our upbringing, the politics, climate, and social circumstance in which we find ourselves, we have been provided with the capacity to transcend them and create a world in which we wish to live. Subhash Palekar is a living embodiment of this idea.

January 12, 2016

Economic Collapse: How to Face it Without Fear

In which I suggest you face collapse not with fear but with understanding. Even reverence. And eventually hope.

Three years ago I gave a talk on collapse. September last year I began telling my friends that we were just weeks or months away from either a single large crash in the world financial markets or a staggered one. Today there's good reason to believe that it is just a matter of days.

For most people collapse is not an easy idea to grasp. They have absolutely no frame of reference and are usually too caught up in everyday struggles to pay attention. I rarely talk about it. When I do bring it up to people who have absolutely no understanding, I usually get two kinds of reactions:
    1. The first kind of people nod agreement about its inevitability but seem completely disinterested. You might as well be talking about a veterinary disease like Bovine Babesiosis. "It may concern someone (I can't imagine who) but certainly does not concern me," their body language seems to imply.
    2. The second category reject the idea outright. "Not possible, not likely to happen," they say. They are not interested in seeing the evidence and have none to offer on their own. They know "for a fact" that the status quo will prevail till eternity just because everybody thinks so too. You are labelled a doom sayer (but they never call themselves sheep).
Sometimes it's a combination of the two. Very rarely, a third category makes an appearance.
    3. Such a person comes to an agreement when faced with the evidence but jumps directly into panic or despair without taking out the time to pause to really understand.
All this is about to change very soon. Collapse is well under way. As the markets, big banks, currencies, institutions, an oil company or two, etc. begin to crash one by one, more people will join category three. That is, they will get into panic mode without pausing to understand why it is happening.

I am writing to reassure you that it is indeed possible to wrap your head around the new emerging reality. It does not take a financial maverick to foresee collapse and it is by no means my discovery. I just saw the patterns emerging before most people simply because I was paying attention to facts and trends - all in public domain, some for decades - which are otherwise ignored by those who dominate the mainstream narrative. It also helps to have an independent mind.

Three years ago (20th Feb 2013) I gave a talk at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi with the title "Unlimited Growth, Climate Change and Notions of Pralaya" (dissolution). One section of my presentation (out of five) was devoted to an analysis that showed the possibility of beginning of collapse in 2015. The slides showed graphs modelling, in just a few short years thereafter, dramatic decline in industrial output, services, food, and population along with an increase in death rates around the same time.

Yes, we are right on track. And yes, I repeat, there's no reason to panic. It's probably too late now to begin to prepare to be in the ideal situation, yet the humble and the wise can still take action that will allow them to face the end of the economy without fear.

The very first and the most important step is to try to understand. And remain patient while you do so. It will take time. Prepare to devote time if you wish to secure your future.

How can one possibly make sense out of behaviour never seen before such as markets crashing like a house of cards, you say? Well, the key guideline when you're trying to understand is to ignore the transient and the detail. Zoom out a bit. Focus on the big picture instead, the fundamentals, the underlying patterns, the unchanging, and the inter-connectedness of the various factors.

I cannot lay out the big picture here. This is not the space to summarise several different concepts for which multiple books have been written. There are numerous ways of framing our current predicament and I do not consider any single one as the most definitive of all.

But there are some ways of framing that are easier to understand and relate. And there are people who have the gift to convey the complex in simple ways. I suggest the following resources.

The Predicament
    Resources-economics frame

      Small is Beautiful by E. F. Schumacher
      Limits to Growth by Meadows et al.
      The Party's Over by Richard Heinberg
      The Third Curve by Mansoor Khan
      The Enemy of Nature by Joel Kovel
      The Enigma of Capital by David Harvey
      The Crash Course by (video series)

    Environmental frame

      The Ringing Cedars of Russia by Vladimir Megre (book series - all nine books)
      Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
      Endgame by Derrick Jensen
      The Collapse of Western Civilization by Naomi Oreskes
      Storms of My Grandchildren by James Hansen

      Historical-cultural frame

        Collapse by Jared Diamond
        Reinventing Collapse by Dimitry Orlov
        The Ringing Cedars of Russia by Vladimir Megre (book series - all nine books)
        Ancient Futures by Helena Norberg-Hodge
        The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris

        Moral frame

          The Encyclical by Pope Francis

        The Way Forward
          A guide to living

            The Ringing Cedars of Russia by Vladimir Megre (book series - all nine books)
            The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible by Charles Eisenstein

          Practical advice

            Prosper! by Chris Martenson
            How to Be Alive by Colin Beavan
            The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins
            The Ringing Cedars of Russia by Vladimir Megre (book series - all nine books)


        Yes, that's a lot of books. You do not have read them all. I haven't. In some cases I have read other works by the same author and am familiar with their premise. Choose any you would like to read. Each one is hand picked out of hundreds of books now on collapse (most of them written with Resources-economics frame under 'peak oil' banner).

        If I had to pick one resource out of the above to start on the path of understanding, it would be The Crash Course at I've admired Chris Martenson's insights and prolific output over the years first on his website and recently on The Crash Course is a series of videos over 4 hr. in duration that will likely take you an entire day to watch as you research the concepts presented. There is a shorter condensed version too which you can watch afterwards to revise.

        Once again, when you're trying to understand factors through the economics frame, you are not expected to become a financial expert. It is not important to understand the nuances of every single factor involved that is taking us towards collapse. The most immediate ones include but are not limited to oil production, its supply and demand dynamics and the accumulated financial stresses - credit bubbles, national debt, global currencies etc. What's more important is to recognise the fundamentals and the patterns.

        After you begin to understand the crisis by viewing it from more than one frame, you can start reading about the way forward. If financial security is your prime concern, you will find the answers in Prosper! by Chris Martenson. A note of caution is not to jump directly to way forward resources without first understanding the predicament.

        Read Charles Eisenstein and you instantly know he is way ahead of his times. When Eisenstein is looking at something you get the sense that he's not looking at it but through it. Through the patterns and gears underlying that system, thing, event, person whatever it may be. I was fortunate to meet him in Bangalore last year two years ago. I recounted him a story from Hindu Puranas that conveys the notion of unlimited growth leading to climate change and collapse including his own narrative of separation - all through symbols, as such stories do. He told me of similar tales he had heard in other parts of Asia.

        If you would like to read someone closer home pick up Mansoor Khan's book. The veteran film maker is a terrific story teller. He has his own unique lens through which he frames the financial mess we have gotten into for the lay person. He is also a prolific speaker (you will find his talk schedule on his site). Mansoor has been an inspiration and a friend not just through his words but his life choices as well.

        From Fear to Hope

        The Ringing Cedars of Russia book series contain much more than 'a guide to living'. It's hard to describe these books. They are most unusual of all in the list. In fact, one could argue that they are more than mere books as they have inspired a transition movement in their county of origin and beyond.

        The books have several aspects to them that are unique. One of them is that in contrast to the books with resources-economics frame, The Ringing Cedars books fill you with immense joy and hope for the future of humanity. And if you're able to grasp its essence, you gain a reverence for the order of things. Reverence even for collapse.

        If I had known they had sold 12 millions copies I may not have picked them up as I tend to be biased against all things super popular. But I did not know. It's best to approach these books without preconceived notions, even ones I described above. Needless to say I cannot recommend them highly.

        January 01, 2016

        What I did during the Paris Climate Conference...

        All photographs shot on 06-Dec-2015

        Each seed and sapling carries within it the possibility of hundreds more. In less than two months the plants will begin delivering fresh produce free from chemical inputs while restoring carbon back into the soil. Meanwhile you get to witness the greatest miracle of creation.

        Anyone can do this.

        September 29, 2015

        Nature remains

        After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on - have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear - what remains? Nature remains.

        - Walt Whitman

        June 19, 2015

        The Encyclical - Selected Excerpts

        The Encyclical by Pope Francis is being hailed by environmentalists as the second coming. It's hardly that, in my view. Nonetheless, having read the entire length of it, I was struck within minutes of starting it, about how incisive and accurate commentary it offers on our true predicament.

        Apart from sections I disagreed with or with which I couldn't connect, there were several passages that completely resonated with me and some that I found highly insightful. I list them below in the order in which they appear in the Encyclical with headings of my own.

        Sacrifice and sharing
        Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion”.

        Failure of ecological movement
        The worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges. Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions.

        Structure of the Encyclical (included for reference)
        I will begin by briefly reviewing several aspects of the present ecological crisis, with the aim of drawing on the results of the best scientific research available today, letting them touch us deeply and provide a concrete foundation for the ethical and spiritual itinerary that follows. I will then consider some principles drawn from the Judaeo-Christian tradition which can render our commitment to the environment more coherent. I will then attempt to get to the roots of the present situation, so as to consider not only its symptoms but also its deepest causes. This will help to provide an approach to ecology which respects our unique place as human beings in this world and our relationship to our surroundings. In light of this reflection, I will advance some broader proposals for dialogue and action which would involve each of us as individuals, and also affect international policy. Finally, convinced as I am that change is impossible without motivation and a process of education, I will offer some inspired guidelines for human development to be found in the treasure of Christian spiritual experience.

        Repeating themes (included for reference)
        [...] a number of themes which will reappear as the Encyclical unfolds. As examples, I will point to the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet, the conviction that everything in the world is connected, the critique of new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology, the call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress, the value proper to each creature, the human meaning of ecology, the need for forthright and honest debate, the serious responsibility of international and local policy, the throwaway culture and the proposal of a new lifestyle.

        Decline in quality of life
        Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise. Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.

        Media noise obfuscating deep truths
        Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload.

        Facebook culture and relationships
        Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences.

        The wide gap between the elite and the poor
        These days, [concerns of the poor] are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought, a question which gets added almost out of duty or in a tangential way, if not treated merely as collateral damage. Indeed, when all is said and done, they frequently remain at the bottom of the pile. This is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems.

        Population vs. consumption
        To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.

        Weak responses
        It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.

        Incisive summation of outcomes of climate conferences
        The alliance between the economy and technology ends up sidelining anything unrelated to its immediate interests. Consequently the most one can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment, whereas any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.

        The Pope denounces air conditioning!
        People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more. A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning. The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand. An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behaviour, which at times appears self-destructive.

        Financial gain as the new God
        In the meantime, economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment. Here we see how environmental deterioration and human and ethical degradation are closely linked. Many people will deny doing anything wrong because distractions constantly dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is.

        How future society will look back on today's leadership
        What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?

        Possibility of change
        In some countries, there are positive examples of environmental improvement: rivers, polluted for decades, have been cleaned up; native woodlands have been restored; [...] These achievements do not solve global problems, but they do show that men and women are still capable of intervening positively. For all our limitations, gestures of generosity, solidarity and care cannot but well up within us, since we were made for love.

        Denial due to cognitive dissonance
        As often occurs in periods of deep crisis which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear. Superficially, apart from a few obvious signs of pollution and deterioration, things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as a licence to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.

        Still, we can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point, due to the rapid pace of change and degradation; these are evident in large-scale natural disasters as well as social and even financial crises, for the world’s problems cannot be analyzed or explained in isolation. There are regions now at high risk and, aside from all doomsday predictions, the present world system is certainly unsustainable from a number of points of view, for we have stopped thinking about the goals of human activity.

        Coming together of faith and reason
        I am well aware that in the areas of politics and philosophy there are those who firmly reject the idea of a Creator, or consider it irrelevant, and consequently dismiss as irrational the rich contribution which religions can make towards an integral ecology and the full development of humanity. Others view religions simply as a subculture to be tolerated. Nonetheless, science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both.

        There being no single way of perceiving reality
        Given the complexity of the ecological crisis and its multiple causes, we need to realize that the solutions will not emerge from just one way of interpreting and transforming reality.

        Whether man has "dominion" over earth
        We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. This allows us to respond to the charge that Judaeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants man “dominion” over the earth, has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church. Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world. “Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. “The earth is the Lord’s”; to him belongs “the earth with all that is within it”.

        Human dignity
        The Bible teaches that every man and woman is created out of love and made in God’s image and likeness. This shows us the immense dignity of each person, “who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons”. Saint John Paul II stated that the special love of the Creator for each human being “confers upon him or her an infinite dignity”. Those who are committed to defending human dignity can find in the Christian faith the deepest reasons for this commitment. How wonderful is the certainty that each human life is not adrift in the midst of hopeless chaos, in a world ruled by pure chance or endlessly recurring cycles! The Creator can say to each one of us: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”. We were conceived in the heart of God, and for this reason “each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary”.

        The charge of anthropocentrism
        “You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and withhold your help… If you chance to come upon a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting upon the young or upon the eggs; you shall not take the mother with the young”. Along these same lines, rest on the seventh day is meant not only for human beings, but also so “that your ox and your donkey may have rest”. Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.

        The message of each creature
        The bishops of Japan, for their part, made a thought-provoking observation: “To sense each creature singing the hymn of its existence is to live joyfully in God’s love and hope”. This contemplation of creation allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us, since “for the believer, to contemplate creation is to hear a message, to listen to a paradoxical and silent voice”. [...] Paying attention to this manifestation, we learn to see ourselves in relation to all other creatures: “I express myself in expressing the world; in my effort to decipher the sacredness of the world, I explore my own”.

        But we should be particularly indignant at the enormous inequalities in our midst, whereby we continue to tolerate some considering themselves more worthy than others. We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet.

        Private property
        The principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods, and thus the right of everyone to their use, is a golden rule of social conduct and “the first principle of the whole ethical and social order”. The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property. Saint John Paul II forcefully reaffirmed this teaching, stating that “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone”.

        Deriving joy through contemplation of nature
        The Lord was able to invite others to be attentive to the beauty that there is in the world because he himself was in constant touch with nature, lending it an attention full of fondness and wonder. As he made his way throughout the land, he often stopped to contemplate the beauty sown by his Father, and invited his disciples to perceive a divine message in things: “Lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest”

        Power and its deployment
        Yet it must also be recognized that nuclear energy, biotechnology, information technology, knowledge of our DNA, and many other abilities which we have acquired, have given us tremendous power. More precisely, they have given those with the knowledge, and especially the economic resources to use them, an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the entire world. Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely, particularly when we consider how it is currently being used. We need but think of the nuclear bombs dropped in the middle of the twentieth century, or the array of technology which Nazism, Communism and other totalitarian regimes have employed to kill millions of people, to say nothing of the increasingly deadly arsenal of weapons available for modern warfare. In whose hands does all this power lie, or will it eventually end up? It is extremely risky for a small part of humanity to have it.

        Power and progress
        There is a tendency to believe that every increase in power means “an increase of ‘progress’ itself”, an advance in “security, usefulness, welfare and vigour; …an assimilation of new values into the stream of culture”, as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such. The fact is that “contemporary man has not been trained to use power well”, because our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience.

        The technocratic paradigm
        The basic problem goes even deeper: it is the way that humanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm. This paradigm exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object. This subject makes every effort to establish the scientific and experimental method, which in itself is already a technique of possession, mastery and transformation. It is as if the subject were to find itself in the presence of something formless, completely open to manipulation.

        Unlimited growth, resource depletion and peak oil
        [Earlier] it was a matter of receiving what nature itself allowed, as if from its own hand. Now, by contrast, we are the ones to lay our hands on things, attempting to extract everything possible from them while frequently ignoring or forgetting the reality in front of us. Human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational. This has made it easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit. It is the false notion that “an infinite quantity of energy and resources are available, that it is possible to renew them quickly, and that the negative effects of the exploitation of the natural order can be easily absorbed”.

        The fallacy of neutrality of technology
        We have to accept that technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups. Decisions which may seem purely instrumental are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build.

        Technology as a dominant force over society
        The idea of promoting a different cultural paradigm and employing technology as a mere instrument is nowadays inconceivable. The technological paradigm has become so dominant that it would be difficult to do without its resources and even more difficult to utilize them without being dominated by their internal logic. It has become countercultural to choose a lifestyle whose goals are even partly independent of technology, of its costs and its power to globalize and make us all the same. Technology tends to absorb everything into its ironclad logic, and those who are surrounded with technology “know full well that it moves forward in the final analysis neither for profit nor for the well-being of the human race”, that “in the most radical sense of the term power is its motive – a lordship over all”.

        The deepest roots of present failure
        We fail to see the deepest roots of our present failures, which have to do with the direction, goals, meaning and social implications of technological and economic growth.

        The specialization which belongs to technology makes it difficult to see the larger picture. The fragmentation of knowledge proves helpful for concrete applications, and yet it often leads to a loss of appreciation for the whole, for the relationships between things, and for the broader horizon, which then becomes irrelevant. This very fact makes it hard to find adequate ways of solving the more complex problems of today’s world, particularly those regarding the environment and the poor; these problems cannot be dealt with from a single perspective or from a single set of interests.

        Partial responses
        Ecological culture cannot be reduced to a series of urgent and partial responses to the immediate problems of pollution, environmental decay and the depletion of natural resources. There needs to be a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm. Otherwise, even the best ecological initiatives can find themselves caught up in the same globalized logic. To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system.

        Call for a revolution
        All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. Science and technology are not neutral; from the beginning to the end of a process, various intentions and possibilities are in play and can take on distinct shapes. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.

        Choosing technology over reality
        Modern anthropocentrism has paradoxically ended up prizing technical thought over reality, since “the technological mind sees nature as an insensate order, as a cold body of facts, as a mere ‘given’, as an object of utility, as raw material to be hammered into useful shape; it views the cosmos similarly as a mere ‘space’ into which objects can be thrown with complete indifference”. The intrinsic dignity of the world is thus compromised. When human beings fail to find their true place in this world, they misunderstand themselves and end up acting against themselves.

        Consequences of separation from reality
        Once the human being declares independence from reality and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundations of our life begin to crumble, for “instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature”.

        Restoring inter-personal relationships
        If the present ecological crisis is one small sign of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity, we cannot presume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relationships.

        Abortion and protection of nature
        Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? “If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away”.

        Practical relativism
        When human beings place themselves at the centre, they give absolute priority to immediate convenience and all else becomes relative. Hence we should not be surprised to find, in conjunction with the omnipresent technocratic paradigm and the cult of unlimited human power, the rise of a relativism which sees everything as irrelevant unless it serves one’s own immediate interests.

        Use-and-throw logic
        In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs, what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species? Is it not the same relativistic logic which justifies buying the organs of the poor for resale or use in experimentation, or eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted? This same “use and throw away” logic generates so much waste, because of the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary.

        An economy that favours small businesses
        [...] it is imperative to promote an economy which favours productive diversity and business creativity. For example, there is a great variety of small-scale food production systems which feed the greater part of the world’s peoples, using a modest amount of land and producing less waste, be it in small agricultural parcels, in orchards and gardens, hunting and wild harvesting or local fishing. Economies of scale, especially in the agricultural sector, end up forcing smallholders to sell their land or to abandon their traditional crops. Their attempts to move to other, more diversified, means of production prove fruitless because of the difficulty of linkage with regional and global markets, or because the infrastructure for sales and transport is geared to larger businesses. Civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production. To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power.

        Integral ecology
        When we speak of the “environment”, what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it. Recognizing the reasons why a given area is polluted requires a study of the workings of society, its economy, its behaviour patterns, and the ways it grasps reality. Given the scale of change, it is no longer possible to find a specific, discrete answer for each part of the problem. It is essential to seek comprehensive solutions which consider the interactions within natural systems themselves and with social systems. We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.

        How ecosystems interact
        Each organism, as a creature of God, is good and admirable in itself; the same is true of the harmonious ensemble of organisms existing in a defined space and functioning as a system. Although we are often not aware of it, we depend on these larger systems for our own existence. We need only recall how ecosystems interact in dispersing carbon dioxide, purifying water, controlling illnesses and epidemics, forming soil, breaking down waste, and in many other ways which we overlook or simply do not know about. Once they become conscious of this, many people realize that we live and act on the basis of a reality which has previously been given to us, which precedes our existence and our abilities.

        Homogenisation of cultures
        A consumerist vision of human beings, encouraged by the mechanisms of today’s globalized economy, has a levelling effect on cultures, diminishing the immense variety which is the heritage of all humanity. [...] There is a need to respect the rights of peoples and cultures, and to appreciate that the development of a social group presupposes an historical process which takes place within a cultural context and demands the constant and active involvement of local people from within their proper culture. Nor can the notion of the quality of life be imposed from without, for quality of life must be understood within the world of symbols and customs proper to each human group.

        Death of a culture
        Many intensive forms of environmental exploitation and degradation not only exhaust the resources which provide local communities with their livelihood, but also undo the social structures which, for a long time, shaped cultural identity and their sense of the meaning of life and community. The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal. The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems.

        How native people view land
        For [indigenous communities] land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values. When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best. Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture.

        Lack of housing
        Lack of housing is a grave problem in many parts of the world, both in rural areas and in large cities, since state budgets usually cover only a small portion of the demand. Not only the poor, but many other members of society as well, find it difficult to own a home. Having a home has much to do with a sense of personal dignity and the growth of families. This is a major issue for human ecology.

        Slum relocation
        When the poor live in unsanitary slums or in dangerous tenements, “in cases where it is necessary to relocate them, in order not to heap suffering upon suffering, adequate information needs to be given beforehand, with choices of decent housing offered, and the people directly involved must be part of the process”.

        Improved public transportation instead of cars
        The quality of life in cities has much to do with systems of transport, which are often a source of much suffering for those who use them. Many cars, used by one or more people, circulate in cities, causing traffic congestion, raising the level of pollution, and consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy. This makes it necessary to build more roads and parking areas which spoil the urban landscape. Many specialists agree on the need to give priority to public transportation. Yet some measures needed will not prove easily acceptable to society unless substantial improvements are made in the [transport] systems themselves, which in many cities force people to put up with undignified conditions due to crowding, inconvenience, infrequent service and lack of safety.

        Our physical body as an allegory of nature
        The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology.

        Intergenerational justice
        What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up? This question not only concerns the environment in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal. When we ask ourselves what kind of world we want to leave behind, we think in the first place of its general direction, its meaning and its values. Unless we struggle with these deeper issues, I do not believe that our concern for ecology will produce significant results. But if these issues are courageously faced, we are led inexorably to ask other pointed questions: What is the purpose of our life in this world? Why are we here? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us? It is no longer enough, then, simply to state that we should be concerned for future generations. We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity.

        Irresponsible to view doomsday predictions with disdain
        Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world.

        Cultural decline is part of the context
        Our difficulty in taking up this challenge seriously has much to do with an ethical and cultural decline which has accompanied the deterioration of the environment. Men and women of our postmodern world run the risk of rampant individualism, and many problems of society are connected with today’s self-centred culture of instant gratification. We see this in the crisis of family and social ties and the difficulties of recognizing the other. Parents can be prone to impulsive and wasteful consumption, which then affects their children who find it increasingly difficult to acquire a home of their own and build a family.

        Failure of climate summits
        Worldwide, the ecological movement has made significant advances, thanks also to the efforts of many organizations of civil society. [...] This notwithstanding, recent World Summits on the environment have not lived up to expectations because, due to lack of political will, they were unable to reach truly meaningful and effective global agreements on the environment.
        The Conference of the United Nations on Sustainable Development, “Rio+20” (Rio de Janeiro 2012), issued a wide-ranging but ineffectual outcome document. International negotiations cannot make significant progress due to positions taken by countries which place their national interests above the global common good. Those who will have to suffer the consequences of what we are trying to hide will not forget this failure of conscience and responsibility.

        Decentralised community solutions
        In some places, cooperatives are being developed to exploit renewable sources of energy which ensure local self-sufficiency and even the sale of surplus energy. This simple example shows that, while the existing world order proves powerless to assume its responsibilities, local individuals and groups can make a real difference. They are able to instil a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land. They are also concerned about what they will eventually leave to their children and grandchildren.

        Limitations of governance centric solutions
        Results take time and demand immediate outlays which may not produce tangible effects within any one government’s term. That is why, in the absence of pressure from the public and from civic institutions, political authorities will always be reluctant to intervene, all the more when urgent needs must be met. To take up these responsibilities and the costs they entail, politicians will inevitably clash with the mindset of short-term gain and results which dominates present-day economics and politics.

        The precautionary principle
        The Rio Declaration of 1992 states that “where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a pretext for postponing cost-effective measures” which prevent environmental degradation. This precautionary principle makes it possible to protect those who are most vulnerable and whose ability to defend their interests and to assemble incontrovertible evidence is limited. If objective information suggests that serious and irreversible damage may result, a project should be halted or modified, even in the absence of indisputable proof. Here the burden of proof is effectively reversed, since in such cases objective and conclusive demonstrations will have to be brought forward to demonstrate that the proposed activity will not cause serious harm to the environment or to those who inhabit it.

        Opportunity lost
        The financial crisis of 2007-08 provided an opportunity to develop a new economy, more attentive to ethical principles, and new ways of regulating speculative financial practices and virtual wealth. But the response to the crisis did not include rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world. Production is not always rational, and is usually tied to economic variables which assign to products a value that does not necessarily correspond to their real worth. This frequently leads to an overproduction of some commodities, with unnecessary impact on the environment and with negative results on regional economies.

        Market no panacea
        Once more, we need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals. Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations? Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention. Moreover, biodiversity is considered at most a deposit of economic resources available for exploitation, with no serious thought for the real value of things, their significance for persons and cultures, or the concerns and needs of the poor.

        Openness to different possibilities
        ... we need to grow in the conviction that a decrease in the pace of production and consumption can at times give rise to another form of progress and development. Efforts to promote a sustainable use of natural resources are not a waste of money, but rather an investment capable of providing other economic benefits in the medium term. If we look at the larger picture, we can see that more diversified and innovative forms of production which impact less on the environment can prove very profitable.

        New definition of progress
        For new models of progress to arise, there is a need to change “models of global development”; this will entail a responsible reflection on “the meaning of the economy and its goals with an eye to correcting its malfunctions and misapplications”. It is not enough to balance, in the medium term, the protection of nature with financial gain, or the preservation of the environment with progress. Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster. Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress. A technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress. Frequently, in fact, people’s quality of life actually diminishes – by the deterioration of the environment, the low quality of food or the depletion of resources – in the midst of economic growth. In this context, talk of sustainable growth usually becomes a way of distracting attention and offering excuses. It absorbs the language and values of ecology into the categories of finance and technocracy, and the social and environmental responsibility of businesses often gets reduced to a series of marketing and image-enhancing measures.

        True costs of production
        The principle of the maximization of profits, frequently isolated from other considerations, reflects a misunderstanding of the very concept of the economy. As long as production is increased, little concern is given to whether it is at the cost of future resources or the health of the environment; as long as the clearing of a forest increases production, no one calculates the losses entailed in the desertification of the land, the harm done to biodiversity or the increased pollution. In a word, businesses profit by calculating and paying only a fraction of the costs involved. Yet only when “the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations”, can those actions be considered ethical.

        Sense of connectedness
        Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.

        The illusion of freedom
        Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm affects individuals. Romano Guardini had already foreseen this: “The gadgets and technics forced upon him by the patterns of machine production and of abstract planning mass man accepts quite simply; they are the forms of life itself. To either a greater or lesser degree mass man is convinced that his conformity is both reasonable and just”. This paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume.

        Collective selfishness and social unrest
        The current global situation engenders a feeling of instability and uncertainty, which in turn becomes “a seedbed for collective selfishness”. When people become self-centred and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. In this horizon, a genuine sense of the common good also disappears. As these attitudes become more widespread, social norms are respected only to the extent that they do not clash with personal needs. So our concern cannot be limited merely to the threat of extreme weather events, but must also extend to the catastrophic consequences of social unrest. Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction.

        Call to overcome individualism
        [...] we are unconcerned about caring for things for the sake of others; we fail to set limits on ourselves in order to avoid the suffering of others or the deterioration of our surroundings. Disinterested concern for others, and the rejection of every form of self-centeredness and self-absorption, are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment. These attitudes also attune us to the moral imperative of assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the world around us. If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society.

        Educational challenge
        Many people know that our current progress and the mere amassing of things and pleasures are not enough to give meaning and joy to the human heart, yet they feel unable to give up what the market sets before them. In those countries which should be making the greatest changes in consumer habits, young people have a new ecological sensitivity and a generous spirit, and some of them are making admirable efforts to protect the environment. At the same time, they have grown up in a milieu of extreme consumerism and affluence which makes it difficult to develop other habits. We are faced with an educational challenge.

        Family as the heart of culture of life
        I would stress the great importance of the family, which is “the place in which life – the gift of God – can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth. In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life”. In the family we first learn how to show love and respect for life; we are taught the proper use of things, order and cleanliness, respect for the local ecosystem and care for all creatures. In the family we receive an integral education, which enables us to grow harmoniously in personal maturity. In the family we learn to ask without demanding, to say “thank you” as an expression of genuine gratitude for what we have been given, to control our aggressivity and greed, and to ask forgiveness when we have caused harm. These simple gestures of heartfelt courtesy help to create a culture of shared life and respect for our surroundings.

        Aesthetics and environment
        In this regard, “the relationship between a good aesthetic education and the maintenance of a healthy environment cannot be overlooked”. By learning to see and appreciate beauty, we learn to reject self-interested pragmatism. If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple. If we want to bring about deep change, we need to realize that certain mindsets really do influence our behaviour.

        Self conversion
        The Australian bishops spoke of the importance of such conversion for achieving reconciliation with creation: “To achieve such reconciliation, we must examine our lives and acknowledge the ways in which we have harmed God’s creation through our actions and our failure to act. We need to experience a conversion, or change of heart”.

        Less is more
        Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption. We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more”. A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfilment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures.

        Life of sobriety
        Such sobriety, when lived freely and consciously, is liberating. It is not a lesser life or one lived with less intensity. On the contrary, it is a way of living life to the full. In reality, those who enjoy more and live better each moment are those who have given up dipping here and there, always on the look-out for what they do not have. They experience what it means to appreciate each person and each thing, learning familiarity with the simplest things and how to enjoy them. So they are able to shed unsatisfied needs, reducing their obsessiveness and weariness. Even living on little, they can live a lot, above all when they cultivate other pleasures and find satisfaction in fraternal encounters, in service, in developing their gifts, in music and art, in contact with nature, in prayer. Happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer.

        Inner peace and ecology
        Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good because, lived out authentically, it is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life. Nature is filled with words of love, but how can we listen to them amid constant noise, interminable and nerve-wracking distractions, or the cult of appearances? Many people today sense a profound imbalance which drives them to frenetic activity and makes them feel busy, in a constant hurry which in turn leads them to ride rough-shod over everything around them. This too affects how they treat the environment.
        We are speaking of an attitude of the heart, one which approaches life with serene attentiveness, which is capable of being fully present to someone without thinking of what comes next, which accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full.

        Abandoning superficiality
        We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it. We have had enough of immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty. It is time to acknowledge that light-hearted superficiality has done us no good. When the foundations of social life are corroded, what ensues are battles over conflicting interests, new forms of violence and brutality, and obstacles to the growth of a genuine culture of care for the environment.

        Love in social life
        Love, overflowing with small gestures of mutual care, is also civic and political, and it makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world. Love for society and commitment to the common good are outstanding expressions of a charity which affects not only relationships between individuals but also “macro-relationships, social, economic and political ones”. That is why the Church set before the world the ideal of a “civilization of love”. Social love is the key to authentic development: “In order to make society more human, more worthy of the human person, love in social life – political, economic and cultural – must be given renewed value, becoming the constant and highest norm for all activity”.

        Community actions
        Not everyone is called to engage directly in political life. Society is also enriched by a countless array of organizations which work to promote the common good and to defend the environment, whether natural or urban. Some, for example, show concern for a public place (a building, a fountain, an abandoned monument, a landscape, a square), and strive to protect, restore, improve or beautify it as something belonging to everyone. Around these community actions, relationships develop or are recovered and a new social fabric emerges. Thus, a community can break out of the indifference induced by consumerism.

        Discovering God's grace
        The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things. Saint Bonaventure teaches us that “contemplation deepens the more we feel the working of God’s grace within our hearts, and the better we learn to encounter God in creatures outside ourselves”.
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