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My policy wishlist for Australia’s response to climate change


As of 2020, scientists estimate a remaining cumulative emissions budget of 400 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases measured in carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) to keep global average surface temperature within 1.5°C of preindustrial levels (Rogelj et al. 2019).[1]

Business-as-usual adds 40 GtCO2 to the atmosphere each year, using up our 1.5°C budget in 10 years. The budget estimated to correspond with a 2°C temperature rise is 1000 GtCO2, which is likely to have far more devastating consequences than already experienced at 1°C warming and at the 1.5°C warming we are hoping to keep within (IPCC (2018).

Annual emissions must reach net zero for the global climate to stop warming. If human activity can emulate natural carbon systems, removing more emissions from the atmosphere than we emit, we can begin to reverse this climate chaos. It takes time to reduce emissions. The UNEP Emissions Gap Report (2019) estimates that emissions reductions of at least 7.3% per year are required to keep warming within 1.5°C.

Comprehensive modelling of climate solutions indicates the diversity avenues for emissions reduction—from technological to behavioural—that are already available for implementation and are economically viable. Models show that climate solutions save more money than they cost (Hawken 2017).[2] Yet these solutions are not going to be implemented fast enough by market forces—they need to be facilitated and incentivised by the world’s leaders and governments.

These twelve proposals comprise my climate policy wishlist for Australia:

  1. Set targets to halve annual emissions by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2040
  2. Re-focus the economy on improving human and planetary wellbeing rather than GDP growth
  3. Transition to net zero emissions energy sources
  4. Transition to net zero emissions construction and buildings
  5. Transition to net zero emissions manufacturing and consumption
  6. Transition to net zero emissions transport
  7. Protect, restore and manage of bushlands, forests, wildlife, biodiversity and ecosystems
  8. Transition to sustainable agriculture and farming
  9. Family planning programmes, empowerment of women and reduce inequality
  10. Incentivise the market toward net zero- emission production and consumption e.g. carbon tax
  11. Use Government contracts to incentivise shifts by giving preference to businesses committed to net zero emissions targets
  12. Education, research and implementation of the above and other climate solutions.

The overarching vision is of a transition to zero emission energy sources and electricity, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, consumption and land use.

To secure a sustainable future, decision-making at multiple levels must put the long-term wellbeing of people and the planet, before short-term monetary gains. It is pivotal that Government initiate, support and fund these changes.

Download Word file here for adaptation and submission to MPs.

1. Set targets to halve annual emissions by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2040

Australia is a wealthy nation that can help lead the way to net zero emissions over the next three decades. We want our Government to commit to at least 7.3% annual emissions reductions across Australia’s production of direct emissions and consumption of indirect emissions. This could see us halve Australia’s annual emissions from 2020 levels by 2030, and riding on this success reach net zero emissions by 2040. The Government can facilitate and incentivise these changes in our production and consumption via the below suggestions.

2. Re-focus the economy on improving human and planetary wellbeing rather than GDP growth

GDP is a measure of income and spending. The inadequacies of GDP have been acknowledged since its initial design. GDP counts the bad as good (such as money spent on wars, oil spills and treating illnesses); it ignores many goods (such as parents caring for their own children and growing one’s own food); and assumes that GDP increases are shared by the entire population (while not distinguishing to whom the income and spending is distributed).[3] Economic growth is not intrinsically good. GDP growth is good growth if improves the wellbeing of people and the planet, and it is bad growth if it does not. Following New Zealand and Bhutan’s example, we want our Government to focus on a Happiness Index or Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) rather than GDP. We want national, state and local policies to be directed at the latter, aiming to maximise wellbeing at minimal economic and environmental costs.

3. Transition to net zero emissions energy sources

One key to a net zero emissions economy is the transition of energy sources from fossil fuels to renewable, net zero emissions energy sources. We want our Government to:

  • transfer fossil fuel subsidies to renewable energy subsidies
  • enable distributed “smart” power grids, such as networks of rooftop solar energy sharing where possible
  • fund publicly-owned solar and wind farms, onshore or offshore, methane digesters, and energy storage
  • cease putting public funding into outdated infrastructures such as building new coal plants
  • fund the re-training of fossil fuel workers to attain jobs in net zero emissions energy and other jobs in the net zero emissions economy
  • leave fossil fuel reserves left in the ground, prohibit the building of new coal mines.

If existing fossil fuel reserves are mined, sold and burned, it will put 2,500 GtCO2e into the atmosphere (Berners-Lee 2011: 175), increasing temperatures to such an extent that it would render all life on earth extinct. Therefore, countries and companies must be content to leave their reserves in the ground. There may be a demand overseas right now and continuing this export market may boost Australian tax income, but this demand is short-lived as renewable energy becomes cheaper than fossil fuels. We must put the long-term health of people and the planet before these short-term profits. Australia is a decade behind other countries yet with our sunshine and our ingenuity we can still be leaders in the new market for solar energy and battery storage.

4. Transition to net zero emissions construction and buildings

We want our Government to encourage the retrofitting of old buildings and to work with construction companies and researchers so that new buildings can be net zero emission both in the way they function and in the materials, technologies and processes used in their construction and maintenance. This includes through insulation, green roofs, smart glass, smart thermostats, alternative cement, recycling, etc.

5. Transition to net zero emissions manufacturing and consumption

While Australia does far less manufacturing than they used to (e.g. of white goods, fashion, cars, toys, etc.), we want our Government to encourage zero emission manufacturing (onshore and offshore) and reductions and changes in consumption, promoting what some call “sustainable materialism.” This means considering the full lifecycle of products, from the raw materials extracted from earth, to the electricity used to manufacture and transport products, to emissions involved in use and the after-life of the product (directing this toward re-use rather than landfill). Possible policies include:

  • outlaw built-in-obsolescence, incentivise the creation of long-lasting products that can be repaired rather than ending up in landfill (which wastes the emissions involved in the whole product lifecycle)
  • fund new jobs and businesses in product parts and repair, and innovations that reuse and repurpose goods
  • encourage thinking about and reporting on the whole product lifecycle from extraction of raw materials through the production process, use and after-life
  • support innovations in recycling of plastic and metals
  • support a shift to ecologically sustainable, long-lasting fashion, outlaw “fast fashion” and fabrics that put microplastic into the ocean when washed
  • provide infrastructure and training comprehensive recycling and composting
  • incentivise massive reductions in food waste at all stages of food production and consumption, including farms, households, restaurants and supermarkets
  • support the cultural shift to plant-rich diets
  • ban air-freighted food imports,[4] encourage locally-grown and self-grown produce
  • work with waste management and landfill companies, as well as building demolition and citizens to educate, fund and incentivise proper handling of refrigerants especially after use, the problems with leakage etc.
  • consider setting up an Ethical Manufacturing Agency of sorts that would fund guidelines, review and reporting of products imported to or made in Australia. This includes ensuring not only that organisations abide by the Modern Slavery Act but also that they meet basic sustainability requirements such as no built-in-obsolescence, design for repair (making parts readily available), and that they are working to align with net-zero emissions targets.

6. Transition to net zero emissions transport

We want our Government to support a transformation of transport such that:

  • encourage the availability of low-cost, net zero emission vehicles, e.g. by reducing import taxes, providing subsidies, etc.
  • build the infrastructure for electric vehicles, with solar- and wind-powered recharge stations
  • facilitate affordable, clean and easily-accessible mass transport, from improving the time and reducing prices of buses and trains to investing in electric high-speed rail (like in the Netherlands)
  • facilitate innovations in net zero emission fuel for airplanes
  • until this is achieved, encourage the reduction of carbon-intensive flights via a large flight tax, using this money to restore forests and fund other climate solutions.

7. Protect, restore and manage of bushlands, forests, wildlife, biodiversity and ecosystems

We want our Government to fund jobs that protect, restore and manage Australia’s bushlands, forests, wildlife, biodiversity and ecosystems. Australia’s Indigenous peoples have managed these lands for millennia, and the Government could seek their advice and employment in land management roles.

8. Transition to sustainable agriculture and farming

We want our Government to collaborate with livestock and agricultural farmers in developing net zero emissions agriculture. This includes:

  • increasing use of trees including encouraging use of silvopastures (forest pastures), growing tropical stables rather than normal staples (for example, more bananas, avocados, breadfruit, and legumes, over wheat, corn, rice and pulses) and tree intercropping
  • moving from extractive agrochemical industrial farming to regenerative agricultural practices, creating robust, complex communities of plants that have a higher carbon intake and healthier soil, reducing the need for pesticides and chemical fertilizers

This involves education, investment, changing business practice and changing cultures and food practices.

9. Family planning programmes, empowerment of women and reduce inequality

Stabilising humanity’s population growth is a pivotal element in reducing annual emissions. We can help by supporting programmes that empower women, educate girls, and alleviate poverty. This includes:

  • community-led family planning programmes
  • community-led education programmes
  • structural changes that enable greater equality within and between countries (e.g. relieve debt burdens, encourage self-sufficiency over cash cropping, etc.)
  • fund businesses working in local contexts with low-income people to improve cookstoves and support women smallholders.

10. Incentivise the market toward zero- emission production and consumption e.g. carbon tax

We want our Government to help mobilise a sustainable economy through market mechanisms such as a carbon tax, anti-trust laws and reducing inequality for a better functioning democracy. A carbon tax of US$70/tCO2 can reduce emissions by 10-40% in different countries (UNEP 2018: xxii). Leading scholars recommend a carbon tax of US$50/tCO2, with a plan to steadily increase it to US$400/tCO2 (Rockström et al. 2017). The business community welcomes the market predictability this would provide. Anti-trust law prevents monopolies, such as those we have allowed in our media. It is the role of Government to prevent monopolies as a basic condition for market economies to function. Inequality feeds a cycle of wealth-power-wealth and erodes democracy. Reducing inequality and seeking “complex equality” is one way to enable your own democratically-led decision-making.

11. Use Government contracts to incentivise shifts by giving preference to businesses committed to net zero emissions targets

We want our Government to use their contracts to shift the focus of businesses to long-term human and nonhuman wellbeing over short-term monetary gains.

12. Education, research and implementation of the above and other climate solutions.

We want our Government to increase funding for research and implementation of climate solutions. This includes:

  1. carbon sequestration that works with natural processes (e.g. biochar)
  2. careful and holistic approaches to geoengineering
  3. education programs for citizen and businesses on high impact avenues for emissions reductions (from LED lighting to water saving, household recycling, buying less, ridesharing, insulating houses, reducing use of heating/cooling, taking less flights, driving less or living car-free, using recycled paper at home and work, investing in rooftop solar, etc.)
  4. all other climate solutions.


References:

Berners-Lee, Mike, How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything, Vancouver, Greystone Books, 2011.

Chancel, Lucas and Thomas Piketty. Carbon and Inequality: from Kyoto to Paris. Paris: Paris School of Economics, 2015.

Hawken, Paul, Drawdown: the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming, New York, Penguin, 2017.

IPCC. Global Warming of 1.5 °C: An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty. United Nations International Panel on Climate Change, 2018.

Kubiszewski, Ida, Robert Costanza, Carol Franco, Philip Lawn, John Talberth, Tim Jackson and Camille Aylmer, “Beyond GDP: Measuring and achieving global genuine progress”, Ecological Economics, 93, (2013), 57-68.

Raworth, Kate, Doughnut economics: seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist, London, Random House Business Books, 2017.

Rockström, Johan, Owen Gaffney, Joeri Rogelj, Malte Meinshausen, Nebojsa Nakicenovic and Hans Schellnhuber, “A Roadmap for Rapid Decarbonization”, Science, 355, 6331, (2017), 1269-71.

Rogelj, Joeri, Piers M. Forster, Elmar Kriegler, Christopher J. Smith and Roland Séférian, “Estimating and tracking the remaining carbon budget for stringent climate targets”, Nature, 571, (2019), 335-42.

UNEP. The Emissions Gap Report 2018. Nairobi: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 2018.

——. Emissions Gap Report 2019. Nairobi: United Nations Environment Programme, 2019.


[1] These estimates, are in the 50-66% probability range, are adjusted for 2018 and 2019, and they include a provision of 100 GtCO2 projected to be released by melting permafrost.

[2] The total spending involved in implementing the top 80 solutions is estimated at $29,609 billion, while the total savings are $74,362 billion—this is to say, these solutions incur a net saving of $44,753 billion over the period 2020-30. Also see Project Drawdown’s website: https://www.drawdown.org

[3] For more on this see Kubiszewski et al. 2013; Raworth 2017.

[4] Shipping is 100 times more carbon efficient than air-freight, yet locally-grown, seasonal foods are even better (Berners-Lee 2011: 83).

Business leadership in climate change

I am consistently surprised by the initiative and leadership taken by businesses to address the climate crisis. Not all businesses obviously (e.g. ExxonMobil, the Koch brothers and the other vested interest that have funded climate denial movement and created vast climate confusion), but MANY businesses and business analysts, scholars and consultants are doing a extraordinarily better job than many governments have when it comes to taking the science seriously and responding accordingly.

As the urgent action to slow and reverse global warming became increasingly clear to me, and to so many others, my focus has turned to the ACTIONS in multiples spheres – individual, community, national, global; cultural, structural, lifestyle, psychological – to make vision an integrative path to sustainable futures (or, as process philosophers among others call it, a path from industrial civilisation into “ecological civilisation”). More on this later.

Today I just wish to share an accessible summary of climate change and its implications, a summary I wish I had many years ago. It has a business focus, a report published by Harvard Business School, and an appendix of graphs and references.

Climate Change in 2018: Implications for Business

Harvard Business School report by Rebecca M. Henderson, Sophus A. Reinert, Polina Dekhtyar and Amram Migdal

Abstract: “This note provides general information about climate change and its implications for business. Included is an overview of climate change science and a number of its impacts, including rising sea levels, changing weather patterns and extreme weather, pressure on water and food, political and security risks, human health risks, and impact on wildlife and ecosystems. Next, responses to climate change are outlined, including improvements in energy efficiency, moving away from fossil fuels, changes in land use and agriculture practices, and geoengineering. The note concludes with the debate over how much should be spent to mitigate and adapt to climate change, who should pay, and the implications for the private sector.”

Link to PDF: http://www.hbs.edu/environment/Documents/climate-change-2018.pdf

A story of (mis)fortune: the farmer and his son

I have been trying to remember where I read or heard this story, perhaps Eckhart Tolle or Deepak Chopra. After a big of Googling (key words like “farmer”, “horse”, “neighbour”, “son”), I discovered this story is claimed by various sources as Zen Buddhist, Chinese Proverb, Taoist and Sufi.

The story goes something like this:

There once lived a farmer and his son. One day their horse ran away. Their neighbours came by and said “Oh, that’s terrible news.” The farmer said, “maybe”.

A few weeks later the horse returned with seven wild horses. And the neighbours came by and said “Wow, you must be thrilled.” The farmer said, “maybe”.

The next day the son was riding one of the wild horses and was thrown off and broke his leg. The neighbours came by and said, “Oh, what bad luck.” The farmer said, “maybe”.

The next day a conscription was announced and the military officers through the village. Due to his broken leg the farmer’s son did not have to go to war. The neighbours came by and said, “Oh what good fortune.” The farmer said, “maybe.”

We cannot know what good fortunes may come out of misfortunes. 

After a bit more research I discovered this story has been re-told by Tolle, Chopra, Paulo Coelho and, of course, Alan Watts! I often think of this story, and I’m happy to now see there is a reason it has stuck with me and many others as well.

Paulo Coelho also has a longer telling of the story on his blog:

A traditional Sufi story

What is life really about?

What is life really about? Walking on the beach this morning I had a sort-of epiphany, an experience of what I interpreted to be the two worlds created by the left and right brain. I realised there really are two distinctly different ways I can be in the world:

One way I could be in the world, as I walked along the beach, was to let my mind think  about various things in my life: the targets to be met with my thesis, my plans to get to the end of the beach and tick off my day’s exercise checkbox. I walked enjoying the background beauty of the ocean, feeling happy about how good the fresh salty air is for my lungs, with a view to feeling healthy and being able to better achieve the next thing on my list.

Another way I could be in the world was to walk with a less-purposive, open focus on beauty of my surroundings. As I switched into this mode, I found myself pondering some deep questions: What does it really mean for human beings to be the “universe getting to know itself”? How does thinking of ourselves in this way change the way we, as a species, live? I felt a tear in my eye, I wasn’t sure why.

I looked at the apartments with views of the magnificent ocean, do the people that live there appreciate their privilege? Do they experience it in the kind of way that I had been walking, enjoying the beautiful background as they work to fulfil life’s requirements, ticking off checkboxes needed to maintain that life, to pay the mortgage, to feed their family, be successful at their jobs, and so on? How would a more balanced-brain affect that experience? I think it would be a subtle difference – it would be in moments like the one I was starting to have.

I began to really take in the beauty of the beach, smiling at the sea gulls pecking at bluebottles. I thought about the idea that I, myself, was expressed in the gulls, in the sand, in the stormy clouds that were appearing.

I decided to stop walking, and sit on the sandbank instead. I gazed out toward the horizon.

I closed my eyes and let an orange haze overcome by being. I felt the boundaries of my body’s skin fade into the background and a sense of unity come to the forefront. I am at once separate and connected—to everything around me, everything before me, and everything after me.

I felt myself observe and be in “the moment”—not as a singular thing—but as a flow, the continuous moment in the movement of time.

Time flows like the sea, a sustained present, inseparable from the past and future. Like the ocean’s mighty waves, time has no beginning and no end, it does not pause, it moves in and out, an expression of its own depths, of the atmosphere, and what lies beyond.

These two different ways that I could “be” as I walked along the beach correlated with the processes that Iain McGilchrist discusses in terms of our left and right brain hemispheres.

As I walked along the beach with my left hemisphere in charge, I was abstracted from the real world, using my time to tick boxes, calculate income, expenses, and the costs vs benefits of possible decisions, trade-offs between walking, eating brownies, working on my thesis, looking after my son, spending time with friends and family, renting vs trying to buy an apartment in one of the most expensive cities in the world. All these things that are important to our lives, but which are not actually real—they are not what life is actually about.

As I walked along the beach with my right hemisphere dominating, I had a sense of broad openness, allowing a spontaneity of thoughts and actions, letting the world’s true beauty touch my innermost essence of being. This is real, it is what life is all about.

I almost skipped the walk and went straight to the library, to make the most out of the few hours I had baby-free. If I had done so I’d have missed out on this experience of earth’s beauty, missed out on this epiphany, and I wouldn’t have known what I’d missed. I could have done the walk with a view to getting my day’s exercise, and again I wouldn’t have known what I’d missed in this experience and reflection upon what I see to be the real significance of life.

Letting myself walk without purpose had provided a space for development and understanding of myself, the world, and even my thesis and McGilchrist’s work, in a whole new and much deeper way.

The right hemisphere presents the world that is real and the left hemisphere represents abstracted parts of that world, the right hemisphere open and the left focuses on achievement within predefined bounds.

We need both hemispheres. We need our left hemisphere to help us organise, to give us things like the checkboxes that we use to hold ourselves accountable and achieve aims that we set out to achieve. Even more importantly, we need our right hemisphere to provide the context for these aims and actions, and to allow us to experience the joys that life offers us. 

I suppose what I learned in this epiphany was how to switch into a more right brain mode of being, and the value of doing this.

If we spend our life letting our left brain tick boxes then we will keep ticking until the last checkbox “death” is ticked. Complete!

Instead if we switch into right brain mode we can cultivate the art of living, sensing, experiencing, being conscious, reflexive, truly appreciating the beauty, valuing the connections, and being the flow of the continuous present.

Perhaps in a balanced brain mode, the work of our left brain can be in the service of the right brain, the abstract working for the real, parts working for the whole, instead of the other way around. For that is what life is really about.

Why the right (brain) is right…

Are you a right-brain or left-brain type of person? Is there such a thing? Are there differences between our left and right brain hemispheres? Does it matter?

Research into the left and right brain hemispheres was popularised in the 1970s, it exaggerated and reified the two sides of the brain as if some people were “right-brain” dominant: creative, image-based, intuitive, emotional; and other people were “left-brain” dominant: mathematical, language-based, logical.

Research has since found both sides of the brain are involved in creativity, both involved in language, logic, and mathematics – only that they are involved in different ways.

This said, it remains that our cortical hemispheres are asymmetrical; they not only look different, but they act and see the world in very different ways.

The left-brain puts its focus on the parts, narrows its vision in order to understand details, and use tools and objects for a predefined purpose.

The right-brain focuses on the whole, widening its vision to understand contexts, and keeping an open focus so to act without “an end in view”.

Recent work in neuroscience, for example on stroke survivors and using new technologies that light up when different parts of the brain are being used, are illuminating this in exciting ways.

The seminal work of Dr Iain McGilchrist in his book The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World explores this new research and links it to the impact that different brain lateralisation functions, which are influenced by culture, impact the evolution of that culture. This has revolutionary implications both our personal experience of the world, and the way that we collectively impact the world.

I was honoured to meet Iain McGilchrist about a year ago, and I even got to have dinner sitting directly opposite from him and next to the brilliant Australian philosopher Arran Gare – whose work on process thought and the global ecological crisis my PhD is directly based on. (Another one of my nerdy-versions of sitting with the celebrities!)

McGilchrist posits uses recent findings of neuroscience to explore the differences between the hemispheres. He illuminates how the current relationship between the hemispheres has led to some of the most deeply-entrenched problems humanity is currently facing.

First it is important to make clear, as McGilchrist does again and again that the idea that the left hemisphere gives us reason and language, while the right hemisphere gives us images and emotion is false: we need both hemispheres in order to deal with these things, from reason and emotions to interpreting language and images. McGilchrist writes: ‘every identifiable human activity is actually served at some level by both hemispheres’ (1).

The question is not what each hemisphere does, but in what way does it do it? The hemispheres do things in very different ways.

The primary difference is that the left hemisphere (LH) has a narrow focus, and the right hemisphere (RH) a broad focus.

The LH sees the parts, focuses on them, explores their details, operates in a targeted manner. We need our LH to coordinate our bodies, operate tools, and complete almost much any action. In order to do this, the LH carefully removes things from their contexts, dealing with ‘pieces of information in isolation.’ The RH on the other hand, ‘sees things in their context’ and deals with entities as a ‘whole, the so-called Gestalt’ (4).

Humans are not the only ones to have different brain lateralisation operations. McG uses the example of a bird who uses its LH to focus on a seed and operate its beak to open it. At the same time the bird uses its RH to be vigilant of predators, to engage in social interactions and so on.

In this RSA 21st Century Enlightenment animation to McG’s TED Talk you can get a good introduction to these ideas:

The key differences can be summarised as:

Right Hemisphere (RH) Left Hemisphere (LH)
Broad focus – emphasis on the interconnected whole Narrow focus – emphasis on the separate parts
Big picture long-term view Local short-term view
Parts are understood in context of their whole De-contextualises parts, focus on specifics
Sees all as interconnected processes, always in flux Sees all as comprised of separate static entities
Presents experience Re-presents experience
Understands the whole first, believes the parts may only be understood in the context of the whole Understands the parts, adding up this understanding to understand the whole
Builds provisional understandings, sees truth as a process, an ongoing quest without an end Builds its understanding from a place of certainty
Interested what is new Interested in what is known
Is boundless, open to potentiality and possibility Works within boundaries, grasps within what has already been prioritised
Affinity with what is living, with what actually is Affinity for the mechanical and artificial
Responsible for intersubjective processes such as self-awareness and empathy Responsible for discriminating, making the separate parts clear and precise
Sees a net of interdependencies with deep connections Sees fragmented separable entities grouped into classes
More responsibility for implicit reasoning such as problem solving More responsibility for explicit reasoning such as logic
Understands indirect meanings such as metaphors, humour, sarcasm, etc Relies on more direct and literal meanings and use of language
Favours individuality and uniqueness, works with specific examples, hence is more personal Favours an anonymity, works with abstract categories and types – hence is more impersonal
Both/and approach – sees the cohesion between the LH and RH, integrates LH contributions Either/or approach – sees LH and RH as in competition, and the RH to be unnecessary
Concerned with the “howness” of the process Concerned with the “whatness” of things
Principally concerned with the intrinsic value of life Principally concerned with utility / instrumental value of others
Integrates the self and body – sees the body as a living whole that is inseparable from our mind Disconnects the self and body – sense of being the body’s “owner” and the body reducible to its parts
Sees the self as intrinsically inseparable from the world, in continuous relationship in space and time Objectifies the self, sees the self as a separate entity, an expression of will
Accepts uncertainty and change, holds several possible truths together as tentative Strives for certainty, needs to be right and interprets itself as right even when clearly wrong
Appreciates time as ongoing, an undivided flow, something lived through with past, present and future that is the context of all meaning in life Breaks up time into units, measurable, as if a sequence of static points, separate momentary events
More realistic about how it stands in relation to the world at large, less grandiose, more self-aware Ever optimistic, but unrealistic about its short-comings
Considers the whole as more than sum of its parts Considers the whole to be the sum of its parts

Note: this table contains near literal formulations from chapter 2 and 4 of McGilchrist (2009).

The Right Hemisphere as the Unifying Hemisphere

An important point that McG makes is that the RH sees the complementary nature of what the LH does, it enables it to do so and integrates LH knowledge into its big picture perspective. On the other hand, the LH sees the RH as a competitor, as a threat and as unnecessary to its more targeted and abstracted perspective.

McG extrapolates this from physical examples of the RH and LH interactions. For example he points out that the RH makes both eyes move together. Another example is that in split-brain patients the RH attends to the entire visual field while the LH attends only to the right visual field. Following a RH stroke, and is reliant only on the LH, they will see only the right side of their visual field – something called “hemi-neglect”. Drawings of such patients show that they fail to see the left side of a clock, a house, a cat, etc.

If on the other hand one has a LH stroke, and is reliant on only their RH, they will still see the full visual field and draw a full picture. For example these three figures were drawn by the same person – the first with both hemispheres, the second with only the LH (the RH was inactivated) and the third with only the RH (with the LH inactivated):

Why is this important?

We change the world by changing the way that we attend to it, by changing the type of attention we give it.

If we let our LH dominate over our RH, we may find ourselves narrowly-focused on abstracted aspects of our lives such as money, the future, the past, economic theories, technical details, and representations of experience, rather than the actual experience of life in each present moment. As a result we may feel alone, alienated from other people and from nature, anxious over what other people think about us and about our own mortality. Furthermore, under the rule of the LH we would act out of narrowly-defined  self-interests, as our global economic framework assumes. This enables the perpetuation of structural forms of violence such as poverty and environmental destruction, for example as it leads people to purchase products based on price, creating demand for corporations to make profit regardless of the working conditions of offshore factory workers and environmental impact of both the production and consumption of these goods.

If we were to develop a more balanced-brain approach to using our LH and RH, we may find our lives change quite significantly for the better. With the LH and RH working together, we would use our RH’s conception of the world as a whole, integrating the detailed insights of the LH into that bigger picture.

Perhaps if we did this we might find ways of integrating the long-term, global happenings  (for example, environmental destruction, perpetuation of inequality, and so on) with our individual actions. Maybe then we can support policy changes that regulate corporations, prices, and so on such that they prioritise people over profits

Want to read more?

Read more in this short free PDF: Divided Brain, Divided World Or get the book, it’s no light read but it’s certainly rewarding!

Some time ago I wrote these two blog entries on similar issues:

“Three Fork”: conversation beyond the norm

 

Left, Right, and Identity

 

New life: reflections on being a new mum

Every year I seem to have less and less time for blogging. This year has the record for the least number of entries, but for a very good reason: motherhood!

Oh. My. Gosh. What a new appreciation I have for all the mothers of the world.

Maternity leave is not a holiday by any stretch of the imagination. There is no time for reading. I certainly did not get ahead on my PhD…

Motherhood is joy-filled work. Joy-filled, sleep-deprived, under-acknowledged, completely-exhausting work. Coffee with a friend and an hour or two of sleep is the closest to a break that (some) early mothers get. For me the focus was survival. Adrenaline, love-drug hormones, coffee and chocolate got me through.

Amazingly these little creatures have so much more to teach us than I could have imagined. Most surprising has been the level of love I feel for the little guy – I didn’t even know this feeling existed. And it grows and grows.

For the most part the last five months are a blur of beautiful moments.

Right in front of our eyes he has developed from this curious little three-day old gazing out at the world:
To this happy cheeky two-month old:

And to now at five-months, rolling, sitting, playing, and on the move:

There is so much that I’d like to reflect on and share, but time is rare for blogging on the magic of seeing this transformation. The moment I pick up my laptop is the moment he wakes up. All I can say is that the cliche every parent seems to say is true: “it’s hard work, but it’s worth it.”

What makes it so worth it?

The smiles, the laughter, the hugs, the perfectly soft skin, the innocence and essential goodness of a burgeoning being. The deep truth and kindness in his eyes. And most of all the love.

I feel joy every time I look at him. I treasure every moment I spend with him. I find every new things does endlessly fascinating: the first smile, the time he could focus on an object (my friend’s set of keys), the first time he rolled over, the first time he pulled himself forward. And all these firsts weren’t really firsts – each developed subtly, little by little, day by day, doing something by accident and in time learning to do it with intention.

He’s like the best toy ever. The cutest and most adorable little person I have ever known. Words can’t express how grateful I feel to have such a healthy and happy son, and a supportive and caring partner, in my life.

That’s it from me for now. I am glad to have posted at least one entry about the most significant and wonder-filled event of my life.

Wishing everyone a relaxing holiday, and a healthy and happy year for 2017!

……

P.S. For any readers soon to have a baby, and as a “note to self” should I decide to have another one, I have listed my 2 cents on getting through some of the initial challenges of motherhood below.

IF YOU ARE OUTSIDE THE WORLD OF BABIES THEN THIS IS NOT FOR YOU..

  1. Birth ends with the most incredible moment of one’s life. Before that it is insanely intense and can take a ridiculous number of hours, especially for your first as your body doesn’t know what to do. Pre-natal belly dancing and Calm Birth courses can help – my partner helped me breath “calmly” through every contraction. If your baby is not in the right position then Western medicine and epidurals can save your (and your baby’s) life. Just get through it.
  2. Bring your own food to hospital. Homemade fish broth is filled with the kinds of nutrients that your body will thank you for in the couple of days after giving birth. My partner brought me slow-cooked lamb shanks with roasted potatoes from a pub nearby. Without a doubt this was the best meal of my life.
  3. The first week is the hardest. The “feeding frenzy” will end. Nap and eat at any moment you can. Lie down when your baby is asleep, even lying horizontal for 5 minutes will help. Breastfeeding can take more than an hour, and you can have less time than that between feeds. Let someone else do the dishes and organise your dinners.
  4. You may want visitors, you may not. Visitors: you can give no better gift than a home-cooked meal. Please wash the cups before you leave – even if they insist there’s no need to, just do it! New mums don’t need any extra work.
  5. Do not attempt to work on anything outside your baby in the first three months. Sometimes called the “fourth trimester”. They say to demand feed to build the milk supply and it can be intense. It’s ok to let your baby sleep on you – keep a book handy. Carriers are great for letting baby sleep on the go. Surrender. Do whatever gets you through.
  6. Get to know your baby’s signs.  Baby Language by DBL is interesting. This list of signs of tiredness helped me. Crying may mean baby is tired (or over-tired), NOT hungry!
  7. ASK: ask for what you need. Be specific, people cannot read your mind. Unless they are a mother they are unlikely to have any idea what you need. E.g. If you would like someone to get you a glass of water every time you breast feed then ask!
  8. Join a community or two. For me Ryoho yoga therapy women’s health lunchtime classes (bring your baby), and my vibrant and fun mother’s group (plus one father) have been a great support throughout.
  9. Breastfeeding takes an unexpected amount of time and takes a lot of energy with so many of your nutrients going to your baby, but your baby gets all that goodness, and it’s convenient when compared to bottles – worth the effort! Drink lots of water.
  10. Potty/toilet training need not wait until one or two (or three) year’s old. You can start in the first few months. At the first sign of straining, you can help baby get comfortable with the potty, and (maybe, I’m yet to see) they can be trained or at least half-trained right from the beginning.
  11. Sleep is key. Babies need to learn how to go to sleep and connect their sleep cycles without your help. Being attentive to every little waking noise can be counter-productive, and you yourself can turn your presence (or your breasts) into a sleep aid. At five months I was waking to feed or calm Charlie every hour and the sleep deprivation was driving me crazy! I needed help. My sister’s friend shared the Sleep Sense program by Dana Obleman – it’s a series of simple videos that met me exactly where I was and stepped me through the training. Much better than books when one is lacking time and mental stamina to read… It helped us within one night, with only about 20 minutes of tears.
  12. Getting to rhythm of sleep, eat, play (rather than play, eat, sleep) helps a lot.
  13. Every baby, every mother, and every experience of motherhood is different. So these tips probably won’t help you, or even me if I do it again. Follow your instinct. Try not to let the challenges take away from the magic experienced each day. And always ask for help if you need it.

Orwellian Australia: the “[Un]Fairer Parental Leave Bill 2015”

On 15 April 2016 the so-called “Fairer Parental Leave Bill 2015″ was “Lapsed at prorogation” and the current status on the bill is (thankfully, at this stage) “Not proceeding”. I’m not sure whether this is a permanent status, or whether they just ran out of time and will return to the bill later… 2f0cb4c7d47e3a96e31c5a2dc19352c0

When I see the word “fairer” associated with this bill I can’t help worry about the extent that we are living in an Orwellian Australia in which “discrimination is fair“, “slavery is freedom“, and “lies are truth“.

We seem to be stepping closer and closer to the world of 1984, a world in which “war is peace” and “ignorance is strength”…

I mean, in what sense is this bill “fair”??

The bill proposed to withdraw the current paid parental leave for women whose employers also pay parental leave – meaning that mothers can afford to spend less time with their newborn.

This has been proposed by the same Government that, at the time of their election, pledged to extend government-paid parental leave to 6-months.

When releasing the bill back in 2015 the Government had the hide to call mothers “double dippers” for claiming parental leave from both the Government and employers (hence spending longer with their newborn) – as per the current parental leave policy that Labor set up to incentivise employers to offer extended parental leave for mothers.

Granted I have a personal interest in this particular bill not going ahead… I’m due to give birth (!) soon before the proposed bill would begin. If my baby is a week late and the bill has been passed I will lose spending an additional 3-4 months with my newborn…

Perhaps the Government’s new leader Malcolm Turnbull cares more about true fairness to let this bill go through. I cannot find any coverage of the “not proceeding” status in the media. I’m not sure is a sign that it will pop up in the next couple of weeks and be passed or whether they hope that they see the bill as a big mistake and are hoping to forget about it in the lead up to their election…

Language like this – calling something that blatantly furthers gender injustice “fair” – reflects an Orwellian trend that is pervasively working its way through Western culture.

“Liberty” used to mean freedom of people from slavery, but now seems to mean freedom for corporations to exploit people without interference from governments.

The freedom of speech our democracy prides itself on is slipping away as journalists are fired for expressing their personal opinions outside of work (e.g. Scott Macintyre over Anzac tweets), academics are ostracised for speaking truth against power (be it a PhD student questioning the safety and efficacy of vaccinations, an academic standing up against the demolition of Palestinian homes and schools in the West Bank, or fighting to host His Holiness the Dalai Lama when money from China is against it), and citizens face Draconian laws (up to $10,000 or two years in prison for “obstructing” business operations) for peacefully protesting to protect the environment?

Rather than protecting citizen privacy, the Governments and corporations are allowed privacy while citizens are stripped of it. At what point does a society say: no more?

Politicians seem to get away with saying one thing, and doing another. At what point does a society stand up against their short-minded knee-jerk policies that have led to 40km school zones on major highways, curfews and prohibitions on selling shots at small bars and pubs (and yet allows major casinos 24 hour licences, thanks to the big money behind it), and that increases police power on peaceful protestors?

As Hugh de Kretser, executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre, puts it: “We need to call out regression like the NSW anti-protest legislation for what it is. We need to recognise the cumulative democratic harm being inflicted by particular environment, counter-terrorism or refugee policies. Ultimately, if we truly care about protecting our democratic rights and freedoms, we need to guarantee them in an enforceable national Human Rights Charter.” 

What does a society have to do to secure a Government that puts the common good of its citizens before the profit of corporations?

Is it about time that Australia had a Bill of Rights?

Alan Watts’ ‘dramatic model’ and the pursuit of peace

untitledMy latest academic publication – on the work of my favourite philosopher of all time: Alan Watts, and how his “dramatic model of the universe” can contribute to peace 🙂

Abstract

This article explores the contribution of Alan Watts’ ‘dramatic model of the universe’ to the pursuit of peace. It locates Watts’ critique of dominant Western worldviews alongside process philosophers, ecologists and peace theorists who have made similar claims. It focuses on Watts’ proposition that understanding the ‘self’ to be a ‘skin-encapsulated ego’ is a root cause of many of humanity’s biggest problems, not least the destruction of the environment. According to Watts, a more satisfying worldview understands the self to be a process, inseparable from the cosmological, evolutionary and ecological processes out of which it has emerged. Watts refers to this as a ‘dramatic’ model of the universe. He contrasts this with the ‘ceramic’ and ‘fully-automatic’ models, which he posits underlie most Western worldviews. The impact of these models is discussed in terms of social, ecological and inner peace.

Keywords: Alan Watts; dramatic model; worldviews; panentheism; positive peace; inner peace; social justice; ecological harmony

Link to article: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03060497.2016.1142257

To cite this article: Juliet Bennett (2015) “Alan Watts’ ‘dramatic model’ and the pursuit of peace”, Self & Society, 43:4, 335-344, DOI: 10.1080/03060497.2016.1142257

PS. I can give a special link to 50 people to download for free so please contact me if you’d like it…

A new lens to view the world: the world as process

My PhD is essentially an exercise in communicating and examining the potential for an  alternative worldview to the mechanistic materialism offered by process philosophy to contribute to addressing structural forms of violence and working toward peace.

Process philosophy is too rarely taught in university philosophy as the current fashion there is divided between analytical or postmodern navel gazing. Yet process philosophy contains deeply enlightening ideas for anyone’s search for wisdom – which is what philosophy is supposed to be about.

Process philosophy offers a new lens through which you can see the world not as comprised of many separate “things” that impose cause and effect on each other (this is the materialist worldview). Instead process philosophy provides a way of seeing the world as comprised of “events” or “processes”.

In my research I’m trying to map out where this worldview sits in the real world, and what kind of impact it can have in bringing about a more peaceful and ecologically harmonious world system.

What is this process worldview? Further to replacing things with events, which sounds terribly abstract, what does it mean to see the world as process?

This short introduction by Jonathan Cobb (grandson of famous process philosopher John Cobb Jr), who I met at the Seizing an Alternative: Towards Ecological Civilization conference mid-2015, may be a good place to start:

How would seeing your “self” not as separate from other people and your environment, but as a web of relationships in ever-changing process, impact on your experience of being a self?

How can seeing other people as changing processes to whom you are in relationship with, impact your attitude toward that person?

How can seeing social, religious, political and economic institutions, as processes that are forever changing, impact your experience of these institutions?

So long as these questions are in words they will feel abstract. The big challenge that I (and other process thinkers face) is how to communicate these ideas in a world in which they seem so foreign?

How do you challenge the deep assumptions of the dominant mechanistic materialist worldview, when no one even realises that they see the world in this way?

When it seems so blatantly obvious that a table is a “thing” that is separate from me, how does one come to see that this view is tied up in language and in a view of the world that has arisen historically and is not the only way one can see the table? Is it really possible to see the table as an event? Yes!

The table has a life – it was formed out of materials that were once produced by nature, it exists for some time in its current form, and it will one day transform into something else, decompose, or be buried as waste. As the table exists in front of you it exists in relationship with you, and in relationship with everything else in the room in which it is placed. At a quantum level the table is a pattern of vibrations existing as a series of events in relationship with to the vibrations of the book or glass, the light waves, the air, the floor and so on. All of this exists in a geographical space, and within a period of time. All of this is being experienced by you in a united moment of experience—as a whole. So, one can see a table as a relational event, rather than a thing.

Is this just a matter of abstract academic wordplay, or is there a deeper significance in the difference between substance and process perspectives? Personally I see something important in this distinction, and like process thinkers I believe this is fundamental to some of the problems in the world today.

Whitehead sees all temporal objects as comprised of series of moments, “occasions of experience”. These occasions of experience combine to make YOU – as a process, in relationship with everything and everyone around you, for a certain period of time and in a series of geological places. The point that Whitehead makes is that the things that look like things, can only temporarily be called things, they are primarily events.

Such a view makes sense of the latest in physical sciences that show that matter is energy, essentially comprised of vibrations, and those vibrations are essentially relationships to other vibrations.

I do not know that I exist because I can think, as Descartes posed, but I exist because I am in relationship with other events that exist. I comprehend these relationships in a series of experiences.

What difference does this make, to see the world as comprised of events rather than things? It may sound abstract and meaningless but in fact this shift in lens CHANGES EVERYTHING!

You see, our Western culture is based on things. Our economy is based on money and the exchange of commodities. Our legal system is based on entities that are separate, the policies of governments assume a separation of people from their environments, our social practices assume that we are unchanging static entities, our universities and education teach in subjects and disciplines as if they are all separate from each other.

We prioritise what we can put numbers on, what we can quantify, measure, weigh. A process lens still counts and measures, but it does so in the context of a broader framework of real life processes: emotions, environments, relationships, happiness… A process lens evaluates and constructs laws, policies, institutions and practices in their context, evaluates them in connection to each other, with a big picture and long-term perspective in mind.

For example, the transport authority in Sydney might consider restricting the 40km school zones to suburban streets, rather than including them on busy highways (this really exists!) that adds to the time people spend in cars rather than with their families, with the traffic adding to anxieties.

Legal and political systems would seek to address the root causes of problems not just the superficial solutions, e.g. by putting in place rules that force:

  • fossil fuel corporations to invest their profits in the development of green energy solutions (it might piss a few shareholders off, but it is in their own long-term interests as a human being who wishes to live with clean air, water, food, and with environmental systems that sustain life)
  • all corporations to develop their products and services to be 100% renewable and recyclable, leaving the planet better off for human consumption (like ants leave their environment better off for their being there)
  • governments to implement a universal minimum income (even if this increased costs of production the long-term, it would help to stabilise population and keep the economy within environmental limits in the long-term)
  • encourage a return to small rather than industrial farming, animals would be given space to roam and cruelty to animals ceased (as they are approached with empathy, as fellow living beings in this world), and people would adjust their diets to consume the servings of animal meat they need rather than the cultural norm in the West of daily meat
  • agriculture would no longer be allowed to mono-crop with the sole aim of short-term profit, but would be required to plant variety of seeds to maintain the richness and long-term health of the soil, and the nutrition and diversity of our foods (e.g. a variety of decent apples would return to the shelves)
  • governments would no longer be able to accept donations (from corporations, lobby groups or private interests) but would be provided a set budget out of the tax income for sharing their policy plans
  • provisions would be put in place to ensure a free media, not owned and manipulated by the interests of the most wealthy people on the planet

A process lens is to see the world as alive (rather than dead), comprised of organisms with purpose (as opposed to purposeless matter), and a world in which we are participants in the creating of the future (as opposed to tiny pre-determined cogs in a giant machine).

As I study Whitehead and other process philosophers I will try to expand on Cobb’s enlightening cartoon and this introduction to further explain what the world looks like through this lens, how this can benefit your personal experience of the world, and how the shift in decision-making that may result can contribute to bringing about a better world.

Want know more without waiting for my next ad hoc blog entry? Here are some fantastic sites from professional process philosophers and the process philosophical community: