31 December 2005

Growth vs development

By Rupert Read

Often, we think of growth as a positive thing. But picture the following:

A child who grows to be 1m tall. Then 2m Then 4m Then 8m… That's growth!

A child who becomes better and better at maths, at running, or at understanding other people. That's development.

A cancer or parasite that spreads - until it overwhelms the organism which it inhabits. That's growth!

A cancer that is treated; and an organism that finds ways of living which make it is less likely to contract cancer again. That's development.

As 2005 comes to an end, humanity is burning fossil fuels like there's no tomorrow. We are told that this is essential for economic growth.

Surely everyone agrees that economic growth is a good thing?

But, when you stop to think about it, what's really so great about (economic) growth? The burning of fossil fuels in record quantities is producing pollution (especially, greenhouse gases such as CO2) in record quantities. As our economy grows, the remaining capacity of our environment to absorb these wastes shrinks.

Something to think about, as you watch those Christmas light-displays burning.

Meanwhile, 'Peak Oil' is fast approaching. What's 'Peak Oil'? It's the year in which the amount of oil produced worldwide reaches its peak – and starts, inevitably, to decline. Because resources are, of course, finite. Their use cannot keep growing forever.

The Peak Oil year may well turn out to be 2006. In fact, it may well turn out to have been 2005. Once oil production starts to decline, get ready for some real 'oil shocks'. Fuel prices will go through the roof, making the price increases of recent years look insignificantly small, by comparison.

Another reason why we should remember the old wartime slogan, "Is your journey really necessary?" We need to think of the onset of 'Peak Oil', and the increasing risk of catastrophic climate change also consequent upon the burning of so much oil etc, as putting us on a kind of war-footing. No-one questioned the need for rationing, in the Second World War, nor the need for voluntary blackouts. Likewise: we need a system of rationing of fossil fuel use. 'Carbon rationing', it's called. It's the only fair way to deal with the long energy-and-pollution crisis for humankind which is commencing.

And perhaps we should voluntarily black out some of those light-shows! Ask the supermarket, the motel, the ice-rink: are all those lights really necessary? Can we afford them, if we start thinking long-term? If we think like there's always – or should be, always – a tomorrow, for us and our children?

The holiday period and the New Year is a chance to slow down, and to reflect on whether the growth in our economy, which has brought us to the onset of this crisis-situation, is really what we want. Have the changes in our lives over the last generation improved things? Are families closer? Are you less stressed, and sleeping better? Do you feel more fulfilled, relaxed and confident, in your job? Is the local community stronger? Do you have a stronger sense of your life having a point? Are you less worried about the future?

My own answers to these questions are decidedly mixed. And that brings home to me that growth just ain't necessarily a good thing. It's a means to an end, at best. The real goal is the satisfaction of needs, and a worthwhile existence. So: when growth doesn't lead to needs being satisfied, and doesn't contribute to a meaningful life for all, it should be stopped. We should stop growth that is not helping us be happier, not merely because such growth can't go on indefinitely, but because it is pointless.

Whereas development, in its true sense, is always a good thing. We are all, I hope, part of the developing world, in this sense.

An economy in which ever more people are rushing around ever faster clocking up ever higher wages (and debts!)and not feeling any more happy at the end of the day. That's growth.

A society in which people are doing less, slower, but what they are doing is increasingly satisfying to them; a society in which people's real needs are satisfied. That's development.

A world in which our use of resources (and our wasting them) spreads until it finally overwhelms the life-supporting capacity of our planet.

That's growth – to the point of collapse.

A world whose limited capacities to provide us with resources and to absorb our pollution we recognise, and live within.

Such recognition, such 'living lightly on the Earth', would show that the human race had really learned, really developed, really made progress.

24 December 2005

The silent stars go by

By Marguerite Finn

O Little town of Bethlehem
how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep,
the silent stars go by.

Tomorrow we gladly sing, knowing full well that Bethlehem today is a very turbulent place. Philip Brooks' poem depicts the ancient city of David as it was 2000 years ago, on the night Jesus was born.

For centuries, Bethlehem has been the destination of Christian pilgrims from all over the world. Deep below the Church of the Nativity is a small cavern with a manger cut into the rock wall. St Helena claimed this is the place where Jesus was born, 10 kilometres from the hill where later He died. In between, Jesus walked the length of the land preaching peace.

This Christmas, Bethlehem is enclosed by an 8-metre high concrete wall, erected by Israel on Palestinian land. Cutting right through the city, it destroys homes, businesses and lives. Bethlehem has lost most of its farmland and olive groves. The number of tourists has dropped from 92,000 in 2000 to a mere 7,249 in 2004. Restaurants, shops and commercial outlets have closed. In the last five years 9.3 percent of the Christian population of Bethlehem has emigrated.

Pilgrims entering or leaving Bethlehem must line up to be checked individually. Even the Dean of the Anglican cathedral in Jerusalem was forced to leave his car and walk some forty yards through a culvert hidden from the road, to emerge, shaken, on to the concrete beyond the checkpoint. Armed guards monitor everyone entering the Church of the Nativity through the side doors - built low to prevent horsemen invading the church. The main doors are barred and bolted as a security measure. The ancient walls are pockmarked with bullet holes where Israeli soldiers once laid siege to the church, sanctuary for some alleged terrorists.

But who is terrorising whom?

Mary, the mother of Jesus, found refuge in a stable where her Son was born. Centuries later, Palestinian women, pregnant, terrified and desperate to reach the safety of a hospital to give birth to their children, endure hours of degrading treatments at Israeli checkpoints. Many die from lack of proper medical care. The Israeli army issued "birthing kits" to soldiers controlling the checkpoints. These kits are to help Palestinian women who "choose" to give birth while being held up at checkpoints. A growing number of Palestinian infants carry the name Hajez (Arabic for 'checkpoint') as a bitter reminder of their birthplace.

Canon Aves, the late priest of St Giles-on-the-Hill in Norwich, spent the last three months of his life working with others in a refugee camp near Bethlehem. They hoped their presence would deter Israeli harassment of West Bank people. His diary describes how, one cold November night, he saw young Israeli conscripts drinking coffee at the checkpoint on the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. They had detained 40 young Bethlehem men, their faces against a wall, hands held high. They were kept there all night for "illegally" entering Jerusalem looking for work. Bethlehem has 70 percent unemployment due to the partition wall, the roadblocks and the dearth of tourists.

These harsh Israeli security measures stem from their understandable worries over suicide bombers. However, in 1948, Israel was founded in part on expulsion of former residents. More than 750,000 Christians and Muslims were forced from their homes to live in refugee camps. Many are still there, 50 years on, just a 40-minute drive away from land they once owned. Israel proclaims the 'right of return' and citizenship to all Jews worldwide but denies this to expelled Palestinians, despite repeated United Nations resolutions.

This makes grim Christmas reading but it also provides an opportunity. At Christmas, our attention focuses on Bethlehem more than at any other time of the year. We can prevent the life being squeezed out of this holy place. Citizen's freedom may be under threat, but Bethlehem is doing its best to open up to the international community.

The international campaign, "Open Bethlehem" launched in London on 9 November, announced that Bethlehem Passports (honorary citizenship) would be available to all people of the world who "uphold the values of a just and open society and remain a true friend of Bethlehem throughout its imprisonment". With headquarters inside Bethlehem University and offices in London and Washington, 'Open Bethlehem' is well placed to keep that city at the forefront of world attention.

Details from the London office, Tel: +44 (0) 207 222 7820 or www.openbethlehem.org/contacts.asp. Thanks to David Roberts from Norwich United Nations Association for his help with this column.

17 December 2005

The hand that rocks the cradle

By Marguerite Finn

Christmas shoppers in Norwich yesterday may have been intrigued by the notice over the Charity Market Stall on Hay Hill: it read simply: 'WILPF'.

Those venturing closer would have discovered that the stall was in aid of an organisation that celebrated its 90th birthday this year - the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

WILPF is the oldest women's peace organisation in the world. It was established in 1915 when more than 1000 women from all over the world met at an International Congress at The Hague to protest against the First World War, to suggest ways to end it and how to prevent future wars. Back in 1558, John Knox might have railed against such a "Monstrous Regiment of Women" - as he did against the most powerful women of his day. Happily, by 1915 attitudes were beginning to change, albeit slowly !

Many of the organisers of the Women's Congress at The Hague were also prominent in the International Suffrage Alliance and saw the connection between their struggle for equal rights and the wider struggle for peace. So this feisty crew issued resolutions, sent delegations to 14 countries and met with President Wilson, who apparently said that their resolutions were by far the best for peace and promptly borrowed some of them for his own subsequent proposals !

This was the birth of WILPF. There are now branches in 37countries across the world. There may be one in Norwich in 2006. Why do we need a 'women only' organisation? Well, I am sure that it will have been obvious to readers, sitting around the meal table in each and every Norfolk home, that there definitely is a male and a female way of looking at things. If both points of view are taken into account when tackling a problem a more equitable solution is likely to be achieved.
Unfortunately, women are too often excluded from the decision-making process in many societies. It was ever thus. But in 2000, Dr Theo-Ben Gurirab, Namibia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, said, "Women are half of every community - are they therefore, not also half of every solution?" It is a question that needs answering for, despite all their peacebuilding efforts, women are rarely present at the peace table.

Gender parity is at the core of WILPF's work, which aims to:
  • Bring together women worldwide to study, make known and help abolish the causes and legitimisation of war.
  • To work toward world peace; total and universal disarmament; the abolition of violence;
  • To strengthen the United Nations (UN) system and the implementation of international law;
  • To establish political and social equity, economic equity and co-operation among all people;
  • To promote environmentally sustainable development.
WILPF has been successful on many fronts. It has achieved consultative status with several UN agencies. It played a leading role in drafting UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which was adopted in 2000 and which emphasises the need to consult women at all decision-making levels in conflict resolution and post-conflict peace processes. It also highlights the need to protect women and girls in armed conflict from gender-based violence including rape.

WILPF recognises that there is a gender dimension to trade issues too. Last month, in New York, the United Nations envoy dealing with the world's poorest countries called for solutions to the problems faced by women who increasingly bear the burden of what he called "the feminisation of poverty". These women have little representation in negotiations and, as small farmers and traders, they are the first to be driven out of business. The breakdown of family life and social structures forces them to become migrant workers or prostitutes in order to provide for their families.

WILPF rejects the idea that "the free market", whose rules are largely determined by multinational corporations, is the only model of economic globalisation. WILPF calls instead for an approach to trade and development that better serves the needs of all social and cultural groups while respecting their fundamental rights as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Women's leadership role is most visible within their communities; it is here that they organise to end conflict and build the skills necessary for peacebuilding and reconstruction. Visualise half a dozen purposeful women trudging on foot from embassy to embassy in London in May, disarming diplomats with their arguments for nuclear non-proliferation. Twelve visits - twelve presentations of irrefutable feminine logic !

WILPF's great strength is that it addresses a broad range of contemporary human rights issues with both practical and policy-directed approaches, at local, national and international levels of decision making.

10 December 2005

Self esteem will beat crime

By Jacqui McCarney

"Let us reform our education and we will have little need to reform our prisons" so wrote John Ruskin. If Ruskin were right surely New Labour would have emptied our prisons by now.

From SATS to league tables, religious schools to new academies, time energy and money has been lavished on educational reform during this government's time in office. Increasing numbers of children have jumped A level hurdles and gained places at university.

So why has all this effort failed to produce a more civilised society? Why are our prisons increasingly overcrowded, violent crimes growing and horrifically violent acts of bullying at schools becoming all too common?

The relationship between education and crime is borne out - in reality the vast majority of people who end up in prison have failed at school - many reach adulthood illiterate, and large numbers will have been labelled as having learning difficulties. Yet, the real reason for failure is overwhelmingly linked to bias in the current system against their poorer deprived backgrounds.

Despite the media obsession with fractional changes in A level results, the real measure of a school's success has to be the number of optimistic, self confident, caring young people it produces - pupils who feel that they are of value to themselves and to the world, now and in the future. This is the holistic education vision that Ruskin, and many others, advocate.

Whether their talent is in making a cabinet, building a wall, gaining A levels, growing vegetables or caring for others; all these skills are equally valuable to society and deserve to be valued equally.

The damage to society from alienated young men that have experienced nothing but failure and are turned onto our streets with little self-esteem and even less hope is incalculable. We have only to open our newspapers to be bombarded by the results of their anger. Paul Taylor and Michael Barton the young racist murders of Anthony Walker are all too familiar; no-hopers with a history of failure at school and then at work.

Extremist and racist views are more a reflection of a personal sense of deprivation and powerlessness, which can be just as easily turned on homosexuals and women.

What if these people had been given the opportunity to study philosophy from a young age as had the fortunate children at Tuckswood First School, a Community First School, here in Norwich. Feeling valued must start early - children as young as four are learning about "Peaceful Disagreement" and the opportunity to discuss issues freely. Their teachers notice that leads to "increased self-esteem" and "respect for others". It is hardly surprising that these open, non-judgmental sessions have a "profound effect" on the children. The excellent work in this school could be lost if it is not continued when the children move on to their next school.

School should be the start of a lifelong education - children need such opportunities to explore their ideas and develop the skills for independent thinking early if they are to become fully participating members of a democratic society - involved in the community and politics, and becoming voters.

We must begin to produce a win win situation for all children in our schools. And it is only by doing this and enabling every child to feel valued will we begin to decrease the prison population. We need people with a wide range of qualities and talents, and these needs to be reflected and valued by schools. Schools need to have academic success as just one strand in a broad and inclusive education. To limit intelligence to academic intelligence is unrealistic surely in life emotional intelligence, practical abilities, physical skills, entrepreneurial talent, creativity are all of equal value. Children with these wonderful and useful talents are made to feel like failures in our school system instead of using these to boost their self esteem and help them too enter the adult world with a sense of pride.

Both David Cameron and Tony Blair have lost the plot in their apparently close educational views which provide for more competition and choice for a few. They continue to regard schools like factories with quotas and targets, and assuming, that if we put children on the national curriculum conveyor belt, then success is guaranteed.

The achievements of dedicated teachers in enriching the lives of young people are usually achieved despite successive governments' policies and interventions in education, not because of them. It is essential that present and future Governments of all political colours should start by listening to teachers, and their needs for smaller classes. Education bringing on all talents will only flourish in less stressful environments.

3 December 2005

Nelson's nuclear blind eye

By Andrew Boswell

Today is International Day of Climate Protest. Worldwide from Athens to New Zealand, people are demonstrating for stronger binding targets for carbon emissions reduction after 2012 (post-Kyoto) based on the 'Contraction and Convergence' scheme - as supported by Norwich City Council in Tuesday night's vote.

Thousands of UK citizens will march in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast - Norwich 'Campaign against Climate Change' is hosting a march, too, from the Forum to St John's Catholic Cathedral, starting at 9.15am.

Urgent action is needed to put the UK back on track to meeting in its emissions targets - they are going up, and are only 4% below the level of 1990 whilst the government target is to be 20% below by 2010.

The UK must agree tough new targets for after 2012. Tony Blair deeply worries many people, including MPs of all parties, when he is no longer sure that we need emissions targets, and may turn his back on 15 years of British climate policy to please his friend George Bush again.

The government's climate policy is in disarray, and they have failed to act on their own 2003 Energy White Paper which promoted localised and renewable energy sources, whilst Germany and Spain, amongst other countries, have made much greater progress in implementing similar policies.

This week Tony Blair announced a new energy review - effectively admitting this failure to deliver the White Paper. Time has been wasted in securing our energy, and now that Mr Blair is desperate to be seen doing something, he is spinning nuclear energy as a route to a "carbon free" future.

In fact, a new nuclear industry will be expensive in emissions - actually increasing emissions compared to other options.

Anyone thinking that nuclear is carbon neutral (ie has no emissions) has taken a telescope, conveniently provided by the nuclear industry, with a fixed line of sight to one very small part of the nuclear process - the physics of the energy generating process itself. In Nelson's blind-eye tradition, they claim "nuclear fission … E equals M C squared … can't see much carbon in there … no, that C isn't carbon, its the speed of light … no, absolutely no carbon".

Let's take away the deceptive telescope and look clearly with both eyes at the whole nuclear lifecycle. The industry depends on a rare metal, Uranium, which has to be extracted from weak ores, often in inaccessible parts of the globe. Huge amounts of carbon dioxide are required to mine and extract Uranium, transport it around the world, and process it into high concentrated fuel rods. The carbon emissions from this are estimated to be at least one third of the emissions from a gas fired electricity station.

Over time, the quality and accessibility of available ore will decrease, and both the economic and carbon costs of nuclear fuel will increase drastically. The ore may run out completely before Blair's new power stations would complete their life.

There are further huge energy / emissions costs in building the elephantine power station, and later decommissioning it, processing the waste and disposing of it. The energy required to deal with the waste will continue effectively forever - we cannot be sure of current waste management strategies working for even 100 years. And 10000 generations will need to reprocess and find new solutions to the nuclear waste from just our 2 or 3 generations.

A new nuclear industry will haemorrhage funding into this single (non-)solution. Of course, Blair says his new nuclear industry will be "private" and have to "compete" in the neo-liberal marketplace, but, like with PFI, you can bet the consumer will fund it in the long run with special levies.

This huge expense will directly damage our ability to reduce carbon emissions as nuclear will take vital funding from energy sources which really are renewable - wind, wave, tidal, solar. The miniscule funding that these energies have now would disappear, and so would the political will to fully develop them.

Blair said once he couldn't put an environmental tax on cheap flights, a fast growing source of carbon emissions, because it would be "unpopular" with people, yet he is prepared to back the deeply unpopular nuclear option. The truth is that in both cases he places loyalty to business and the free market before people.

He would fiscally restrict the aviation industry tomorrow if he wasn't scared of upsetting a large and powerful industry. He would fast track renewables, the next day, if it wasn't for the aggressive PR campaign of the nuclear "big boys".

The Norwich march ends at the Green Fair at St John's Cathedral on Earlham Road. Do come and talk to myself and other marchers about Climate Change.