Monthly Archives: August 2017

Shaping a Living World: Part 10

“Racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism & Islamophobia are poisoning our societies. We must stand up against them. Every time. Everywhere.”
— United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

Hello again folks! You will notice that I skipped a few parts to this piece. This is because I think it is pertinent to talk about these issues now, as opposed to waiting until later.

Why talk about this now? The answer is short and simple; Charlottesville. If you are not familiar with what happened there (you live under a rock?) I suggest using the fine power that is Google. I will not be going into a detailed analysis of the events that took place. The specifics of this particular case are beyond the scopes of this piece, but it does give me a good opportunity to talk about the issues raised by the event.

In case I have been in any way vague or unclear on this blog; I condemn bigotry in all its forms. My animism says that the world is full of people, and that those people deserve dignity and respect. All people.

As the quote I used above; I condemn racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and Islamaphobia. I also condemn discrimination in all its forms, whether directed towards People of Color, Native American Peoples, or the LGBT+ community. I stand with these peoples in their struggles for equality and against oppression.

In the event that is unclear in any way, let me put it this way. Fuck Nazis and all they stand for. This world has no place for white nationalists, white supremacists, or any other form of bigotry. I happen to think that these ideologies are toxic, a poison to our minds and spirits. We need to fight them anywhere and everywhere we can; we need to inoculate ourselves, and do everything in our power to prevent these social toxins from spreading.

“We hold it as an inviolable principle that racism must be opposed by all the means that humanity has at its disposal. Wherever it occurs it has the potential to result in a systematic and comprehensive denial of human rights to those who are discriminated against.” – Nelson Mandela, in an address to the UN.

Charlottesville throws that in stark relief, and we must do everything we can to stand against these ideas. Such ideas are responsible for the countless injuries, and the death of Heather Heyer when a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters. In recent memory, too many lives have already been claimed by toxic ideologies. We literally buried millions in the last World War to tell Nazi fucks to go to hell.

Yet, it must be admitted that this is a really complicated set of issues. There is no single, simple answer to any of this, and it must be considered at best a work in progress. There is no way I have the space or the time to detail all of that nuance here.

With that in mind, let’s talk about the Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainable Development Goals;

It should be noted that Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities, is broadly focused on everything from income inequalities to social inequalities. As I feel I have covered my thoughts on income inequalities in other posts, and with Charlottesville as our focus, we are going to be putting those aside. For purposes of this blog, I will focus more on the social aspects of this goal. Here are three specifics goals that address these issues;

“By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status

Ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action in this regard

Adopt policies, especially fiscal, wage and social protection policies, and progressively achieve greater equality.”- UN Sustainable Development Goals

The first goal in my mind is nothing short of the liberation and empowerment of minority populations, and anyone that is subject to discrimination. People of Color, Women, Native Americans, Immigrants, LGBT+ folks, Muslims, all of them. Inclusion is a big deal, because these populations have historical and in many way intentionally been left “out”, of politics, of the economy, and in our society.

I really like how the second goal above addresses both opportunity as well as outcome, because this is a significant distinction to be made. It is not enough that minority and marginalized populations have equal opportunities, as in that the have “access” to things such as good schools and good healthcare. Equality in outcome literally means if they have the opportunity for something, then they have the ability to make it happen.

In addition, the second goal also speaks to the need to eliminate discriminatory laws and policies. I don’t want to mince words here; the US is absolutely steeped and was even founded on such ideas as white supremacy. Women were at one time not given the right to vote, nor African-Americans. We can still see these policies at work in our city planning, in our politics, and even in our rhetoric. We need to destroy those old policies, and put in place better ones. That is a long discussion that needs to happen.

With all that in mind, I think it can be stated that in many ways events such as what happened in Charlottesville are uniquely US problems. Many other countries tackle these issues differently than we do, and some in ways that make it nearly impossible for something like Charlottesville to happen. In other parts of the world, the “Unite the Right” protestors would have been arrested long before they had the chance to rally.

As exploring the Nordic countries, and wider Europe in general, is a part of this series; let’s now turn to explore some of those policies.

Social Democracy

The first thing we need to do is talk about hate speech, because many countries in the world make a distinction between free speech, and hate speech;

Hate speech is speech which attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, or gender… “ – Wikipedia “Hate Speech”

So let’s look a little closer at how the Nordic countries treat this issue, with Denmark up first;

Denmark prohibits hate speech, and defines it as publicly making statements by which a group is threatened (trues), insulted (forhånes) or degraded (nedværdiges) due to race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, faith or sexual orientation.” – Wikipedia “Hate Speech”

Or more specifically in Denmark;

Whoever publicly, or with intention to disseminating in a larger circle makes statements or other pronouncement, by which a group of persons is threatened, derided or degraded because of their race, colour of skin, national or ethnic background, faith or sexual orientation, will be punished by fine or imprisonment for up to 2 years. Sec. 2. When meting out the punishment it shall be considered an especially aggravating circumstance, if the count has the character of propaganda.”

— § 266b of the Danish penal code

That’s right, you either get fined or go to prison in Denmark for the kind of thing we saw in Charlottesville. What about Norway?

Norway prohibits hate speech, and defines it as publicly making statements that threaten or ridicule someone or that incite hatred, persecution or contempt for someone due to their skin colour, ethnic origin, homosexual orientation, religion or philosophy of life. At the same time, the Norwegian Constitution guarantees the right to free speech, and there has been an ongoing public and judicial debate over where the right balance between the ban against hate speech and the right to free speech lies.” Wikipedia “Hate Speech”

Norway’s response is a little more nuanced than that of Denmark, but has very strong protections and a straightforward definition of what distinguishes hate speech from free speech. However, because Norway seeks to strike a balance, whether or not something qualifies is usually left up to the courts.

However, the alt-right pukes in Charlottesville would definitely fall under hate speech in Norway. On to Sweden;

Sweden prohibits hate speech, and defines it as publicly making statements that threaten or express disrespect for an ethnic group or similar group regarding their race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, faith, or sexual orientation. The crime does not prohibit a pertinent and responsible debate (en saklig och vederhäftig diskussion), nor statements made in a completely private sphere. There are constitutional restrictions pertaining to which acts are criminalized, as well limits set by the European Convention on Human Rights. The crime is called “Hets mot folkgrupp” in Swedish which directly translated can be translated to Incitement (of hatred/violence) towards population groups.” Wikipedia “Hate Speech”

Sweden’s law is pretty nuanced as well, and is also governed by the ECHR and the Swedish constitution. As such, this is the kind of thing that, like Norway, is often decided in the courts. However, because the Swedes make a particular distinction for “incitement” I think that showing up with helmets, shields, and in the presence of heavily armed militia constitutes incitement in the case of Charlottesville.

Generally, this series has been limited to the Nordic countries. But since we are talking about literal fucking Nazis (no hyperbole), perhaps it’s fair to bring Germany into the conversation as well.

In Germany, Volksverhetzung (“incitement of popular hatred”) is a punishable offense under Section 130 of the Strafgesetzbuch(Germany’s criminal code) and can lead to up to five years imprisonment. Section 130 makes it a crime to publicly incite hatred against parts of the population or to call for violent or arbitrary measures against them or to insult, maliciously slur or defame them in a manner violating their (constitutionally protected) human dignity.”

As with the examples above; incitement counts, violence counts, as well as insults against human dignity. Germany isn’t even playing around here folks, with up to five years in prison for the kind of shit we saw in Charlottesville.

Plus it might get you punched and then arrested

But America is different folks, and in this case I am not sure “different” is such a great thing. It is written into our very constitution;

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” First Amendment of US Constitution.

Now, I’m generally a big support of free speech and the first amendment. I think we should be free to write and talk about most ideas and topics. But like Norway, I also think there is a balance to this. I think there is a limit to the kinds of speech we tolerate. You are familiar with the paradox of tolerance correct?

“Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. “ – Karl Popper

This is the kind of crisis we face. Do we tolerate open threats of genocide in our streets? Do we tolerate literal fucking Nazis, and let them get away with it?

Speaking legally, the answer is yes. Because of the First Amendment, we cannot enact any laws at any level to tease out the nuance on this kind of thing. The USA does not make the distinction between hate speech and free speech; the direct result is events like Charlottesville. This is one of the few countries in the world this kind of toxin can fester.

There is no legal recourse, unless another law is broken in the process. Such as assault, or murder… Oh wait… (And in the case of many assaults, the police failed to act.)

In short;

Effectively, the Supreme Court unanimously reaffirms that there is no ‘hate speech’ exception to the First Amendment.” – Washington Post

So where does that leave us? If you ask my opinion, it is time we have a real serious talk about what hate speech means in this country. However, as our hands are tied on the legislative side of things; we are left with cultural, social and spiritual avenues of fighting this social disease. In the words of the UN Secretary-General…

We fight it everytime. Everywhere.

Thanks for reading!

P.S. As this goal and topic is primarily focused on social issues (as opposed to environmental ones); there was really nothing from Drawdown to be included here.

Sources/References;

http://www.un.org/en/letsfightracism/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hate_speech

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/06/19/supreme-court-unanimously-reaffirms-there-is-no-hate-speech-exception-to-the-first-amendment/?utm_term=.34b6d2ab2ef1

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/08/13/an-american-tourist-gave-the-nazi-salute-in-germany-so-a-stranger-beat-him-up-police-say/?utm_term=.f9f8aa9a10c1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_speech_and_freedom_of_the_press_in_Denmark

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_of_tolerance

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Shaping a Living World: Part 2

We must be clear about our agenda, which includes promoting sustainable, local economies, reforming our food systems, distributing resources in a more just and humane fashion, and ensuring that our human populations are below the carrying capacity of our planet through access to voluntary birth control, and equal access to education and work for women. “ Pagan Statement on the Environment (http://ecopagan.com/) (Emphasis mine)

Today I want to talk about the second Sustainable Development Goal, as put forward by the UN: Zero Hunger. There is quite a bit to discuss here, and inevitably I am not going to be able to cover every aspect that goes into this. There is so much data and information, and so much to say on this topic. Many others have said it way better than I can. There are some great resources out there in internet land, and I encourage you to seek those out. This is a collective effort after all.

Before I get into the real meat of this post, there are a few notes I want to put out there before we go deeper. As is pointed out in the quote at the beginning of this post, these issues are all intertwined. Sometimes it is hard to separate all these different topics and discuss them discretely. These are holistic topics, and one often informs all the others. I think that is a good thing in the long run. It just means we have a lot of work to do.

Just as an example, you will notice that both population and food systems are mentioned in the opening quote, as well as women’s rights. Population and agriculture especially are very much intertwined, especially since the industrial revolution. Agriculture alone gave us the option to reliably sustain a stable population. But even so, the total population of the world has exploded since the industrial revolution.

One of the biggest things we can do is to help is stabilize our population growth, in addition to ensuring everyone has enough to eat. While these issues will be discussed more in future posts, one example covered above is providing access to universal voluntary birth control.

This alone has all kinds of issues with it, because more people means more mouths to feed and more resource use. But, population  alone doesn’t tell the whole story. As the article linked points outs;

Citizens of more affluent nations leave a much greater footprint on our planet than people living in poorer countries – although there are exceptions. Copenhagen is the capital of a high-income nation – Denmark “ – BBC

That means those of us in the US. We have a huge footprint compared to many other people across the globe. That will have to change, but that is a topic for another time. As the UN has pointed out, we could be pushing 10 billion people on the planet by mid century, and that means we are going to have to face the challenges created by that.

There are a lot of facets to this, which I will cover in later parts of this series. For the purpose of this post, we have to figure out how to feed our current population with sustainable food system, as well as plan for the future as well. With guidance from the Sustainable Development Goals, social democracy, and Drawdown, we can start to see how we might handle these challenges.

Sustainable Development Goals;

I encourage you to visit the UN site about these goals linked below. There is much more there than I have the space to cover here. But as a brief selection, the SDG’s provide this general outline on how to shape a world that does not have to worry about hunger.

– By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round

– By 2030, end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons

– By 2030, double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment

– By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality”

The SDG’s are often considered to be very ambitious, and it certainly is a possibility that we may not be able to reach these goals. But having a goal to shoot towards I think is just as important as whether or not we succeed or fail. It means we are trying, and that counts in my book.

Most of these goals speak for themselves, and will require a great variety of local, regional and global policy to meet. They will require a hard look at ourselves, and a lot of global cooperation. The first two goals are pretty straight forward, make sure all people are fed; especially marginalized or impoverished people as well as children. Malnutrition is a huge problem, because it stunts growth, and also is a big problem for pregnant women as well.

The third and fourth goals are more relevant to our purpose here, and more directly applicable through the solutions proposed by Drawdown. Under current projections our population is expected to grow, and we will need to be able to feed that population across the globe. While I think it is just as important that we stabilize our population growth, we also have provide for the needs of the people. The third goal really centers the importance of small-scale producers, which are often women and indigenous people. Their skills and knowledge in sustainable agriculture are necessary and important for a sustainable food system.

The fourth goal above is an important one, and can be addressed with some of the solutions from both social democracy as well as Drawdown. Let’s explore those ideas in a little more depth shall we.

Social Democracy;

Combined, the Nordic countries were the 6th largest donor to WFP in 2014 and among WFP’s top multilateral donors. “ – UN World Food Program 

The Nordic countries are doing their part to alleviate world hunger, but this is not the whole story to be sure. Just as an example , the USA is the single largest donor. This kind of funding goes into feeding people across the world, especially in low-income countries in the global South. It is also noteworthy that the World Food Program has a office in Copenhagen, which has been ranked as one of the greenest  cities in the world. That is surely a model worth exploring.

Such efforts are important and should be encouraged, but there is a lot more work to be done. Just as an example, overall the USA lags well behind the Nordic countries and Europe.

Based on the data available, though, the report finds that Scandinavian countries — Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland — win the honors. Sweden was already “84.5 percent of the way to the best possible outcome across the 17 [Sustainable Development Goals],” the report found, ranking number one in the world – and receiving a corresponding score of 84.5. The other three Scandinavian nations then filled out the top four slots, followed by many European nations. “ (Washington Post )

The Nordic countries in particular, and Europe more generally are well ahead of the curve on building a less hungry and more sustainable world. How did the US fair?

The United States, in contrast, ranked 25th, with a score of 72.7. It fared considerably worse than a comparable neighbor, Canada, which ranked 13th, with a score of 76.8. “ (Washington Post )

The logical follow up question is why?

These poor rankings were doled out because (among other things) the U.S. has too many people below the poverty line, too much adult obesity, too little renewable energy, too many homicides and people in prison, and so on and so on

the poor score of the United States underscores that while we’ve done exceedingly well economically, we’ve neglected the social and the environmental dimensions of progress — issues ranging from equality to ecosystem preservation.” (Washington Post )

Right there gets at the real heart of the matter. While the USA is a powerhouse of an economy, and the largest military in the world, we are behind the ball in many important measures. We are not doing nearly enough as a country to take care of our poor, our hungry, and to provide access to nutritional food either. We have not had a great record so far on social or environmental issues, and there is certainly a lot of room for improvement.

Let’s look at some specific solutions that not only help to alleviate hunger, but also go a long way to fighting climate change and create sustainable food systems.

Drawdown;

The applications for Drawdown here are immense, because we need a radical change in our food systems, not only to combat hunger, but also to live sustainably. Pretty much the entire “Food” sector could apply here. As such, I am limiting myself to the some of the most impactful solutions.

Food ;

Reduced Food Waste

#3 Solution 70.53 gigatons CO2 reduction by 2050

A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage—including methane when organic matter lands in the global rubbish bin. The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions… Beyond addressing emissions, these efforts can also help to meet future food demand.”

Especially in the US, we throw out a ridiculous amount of food. As the above quote points out, this is a waste in a whole lot of ways, of time as well as energy. Plus, in many cases, perfectly good food is thrown out, food that could just benefit some of our most vulnerable. In addition to contributing to climate change, reduction of food waste could go a long way into combating hunger as well. As the page on Drawdown points out, there is a lot of nuance in why food goes to waste. We need to take a hard look at these aspects and see where we can do better.

Plant Rich Diets 

#4 Solution 66.11 gigatons C02 reduction by 2050

Shifting to a diet rich in plants is a demand-side solution to global warming that runs counter to the meat-centric Western diet on the rise globally. That diet comes with a steep climate price tag: one-fifth of global emissions. If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.”

There is no real getting around this one. How we raise and tend our livestock in industrial factory farms is absurd, from just about every level you can think of. CAFOs are often inhumane, and contribute huge amounts of emissions and pollution. I can’t go into all that here, but suffice to say there is a quite a bit of work to be done.

I’m not advocating veganism or vegetarianism here, though these are noble goals to be sure. I’ll confess straight out that I’m a happy little omnivore. That being said, my family is doing all we can to eat less meat, and that is a start.

Regenerative Agriculture

#11 Solution 23.15 gigatons C02 Reduction by 2050

Conventional wisdom has long held that the world cannot be fed without chemicals and synthetic fertilizers. Evidence points to a new wisdom: The world cannot be fed unless the soil is fed. Regenerative agriculture enhances and sustains the health of the soil by restoring its carbon content, which in turn improves productivity—just the opposite of conventional agriculture. “

There is so much that could be said here, and alas I don’t have the space to detail all of it here. There are so many ideas and options out there that we seriously need to explore, of which Regenerative Agriculture is just one. It is vitally important to our environment and our water ways that we reduce synthetic chemical and fertilizer use. Such chemicals often leads to toxic algae blooms, and the declining health of our water systems.

Conservation Agriculture

#16 Solution 17.35 Gigatons of C02 reduction by 2050

Plows are absent on farms practicing conservation agriculture, and for good reason. When farmers till their fields to destroy weeds and fold in fertilizer, water in the freshly turned soil evaporates. Soil itself can be blown or washed away and carbon held within it released into the atmosphere. Tilling can make a field nutrient poor and less life-giving.”

Large mechanized industrial farm systems have really done their fair share of damage, and it is well past time we start rethinking those methods. So much harm to our environment can be prevented if we change how we do so many things, agriculture is just one. Conservation Agriculture spares the plow, and in that way protects the health of both the soil as well as increasing resiliency.

Tree Intercropping

#17 Solution 17.2 gigatons of C02 reduction by 2050

Plowed under during the twentieth century to make room for industrialized methods of farming, tree intercropping is one of dozens of techniques that can create an agricultural renaissance—a transformation of food-growing practices that bring people, regeneration, and abundance back to the land. “

It should go without saying that planting and growing more trees will help in the work ahead. Trees are often removed on farmland, and agriculture since it’s invention is responsible for mass deforestation. Bringing back some of those trees can help by creating carbon sinks, wind breaks, and overall benefits to the health of the soil.

There is so much more I could talk about; composting, permaculture, urban forests, urban gardens, the whole works. Sadly, this piece is already longer than I had expected. As such I will wrap this up and I hope you join me next time when we explore the third goal; Good Health & Well-Being.

As always, thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://ecopagan.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_democracy

http://www.drawdown.org/

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

http://un.dk/un-in-denmark/wfp

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/07/21/a-new-report-rated-countries-on-sustainable-development-and-the-u-s-did-horribly/?utm_term=.d33e3e80a675

http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160311-how-many-people-can-our-planet-really-support

http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

https://www.ecowatch.com/top-10-greenest-cities-in-the-world-1881963132.html

https://www.wfp.org/funding/year/2016