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The Earth Charter

“We must find ways to harmonize diversity with unity, the exercise of freedom with the common good, short-term objectives with long-term goals.” During my time in Costa Rica, I saw the construction of an institute dedicated to research and implementation of The Earth Charter, which is being built next to the University for Peace. The Earth Charter was developed over the last decade by an independent Earth Charter Commission, following the 1992 Earth Summit. The objective was “to produce a global consensus statement of values and principles for a sustainable future.” The document is the result of contributions from over five thousand people, and has been “formally endorsed by thousands of organizations, including UNESCO and the IUCN (World Conservation Union).”

The Earth Charter

Here it is, with blue being the parts I highlighted for my own reference as I consider them in relation to my own research. If you want to download the full version, in one of a great number of languages, click here.


“We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.

Earth, Our Home

Humanity is part of a vast evolving universe. Earth, our home, is alive with a unique community of life. The forces of nature make existence a demanding and uncertain adventure, but Earth has provided the conditions essential to life’s evolution. The resilience of the community of life and the well-being of humanity depend upon preserving a healthy biosphere with all its ecological systems, a rich variety of plants and animals, fertile soils, pure waters, and clean air. The global environment with its finite resources is a common concern of all peoples. The protection of Earth’s vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust.

The Global Situation

The dominant patterns of production and consumption are causing environmental devastation, the depletion of resources, and a massive extinction of species. Communities are being undermined. The benefits of development are not shared equitably and the gap between rich and poor is widening. Injustice, poverty, ignorance, and violent conflict are widespread and the cause of great suffering. An unprecedented rise in human population has overburdened ecological and social systems. The foundations of global security are threatened. These trends are perilous—but not inevitable.

The Challenges Ahead

The choice is ours: form a global partnership to care for Earth and one another or risk the destruction of ourselves and the diversity of life. Fundamental changes are needed in our values, institutions, and ways of living. We must realize that when basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not having more. We have the knowledge and technology to provide for all and to reduce our impacts on the environment. The emergence of a global civil society is creating new opportunities to build a democratic and humane world. Our environmental, economic, political, social, and spiritual challenges are interconnected, and together we can forge inclusive solutions.

Universal Responsibility

To realize these aspirations, we must decide to live with a sense of universal responsibility, identifying ourselves with the whole Earth community as well as our local communities. We are at once citizens of different nations and of one world in which the local and global are linked. Everyone shares responsibility for the present and future well-being of the human family and the larger living world. The spirit of human solidarity and kinship with all life is strengthened when we live with reverence for the mystery of being, gratitude for the gift of life, and humility regarding the human place in nature.

We urgently need a shared vision of basic values to provide an ethical foundation for the emerging world community. Therefore, together in hope we affirm the following interdependent principles for a sustainable way of life as a common standard by which the conduct of all individuals, organizations, businesses, governments, and transnational institutions is to be guided and assessed.



1. Respect Earth and life in all its diversity.
a. Recognize that all beings are interdependent and every form of life has value regardless of its worth to human beings.
b. Affirm faith in the inherent dignity of all human beings and in the intellectual, artistic, ethical, and spiritual potential of humanity.

2. Care for the community of life with understanding, compassion, and love.
a. Accept that with the right to own, manage, and use natural resources comes the duty to prevent environmental harm and to protect the rights of people.
b. Affirm that with increased freedom, knowledge, and power comes increased responsibility to promote the common good.

3. Build democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful.
a. Ensure that communities at all levels guarantee human rights and fundamental freedoms and provide everyone an opportunity to realize his or her full potential.
b. Promote social and economic justice, enabling all to achieve a secure and meaningful livelihood that is ecologically responsible.

4. Secure Earth’s bounty and beauty for present and future generations.
a. Recognize that the freedom of action of each generation is qualified by the needs of future generations.
b. Transmit to future generations values, traditions, and institutions that support the long-term flourishing of Earth’s human and ecological communities.

In order to fulfill these four broad commitments, it is necessary to:


5. Protect and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems, with special concern for biological diversity and the natural processes that sustain life.

a. Adopt at all levels sustainable development plans and regulations that make environmental conservation and rehabilitation integral to all development initiatives.
b. Establish and safeguard viable nature and biosphere reserves, including wild lands and marine areas, to protect Earth’s life support systems, maintain biodiversity, and preserve our natural heritage.
c. Promote the recovery of endangered species and ecosystems.
d. Control and eradicate non-native or genetically modified organisms harmful to native species and the environment, and prevent introduction of such harmful organisms.
e. Manage the use of renewable resources such as water, soil, forest products, and marine life in ways that do not exceed rates of regeneration and that protect the health of ecosystems.
f. Manage the extraction and use of non-renewable resources such as minerals and fossil fuels in ways that minimize depletion and cause no serious environmental damage.

6. Prevent harm as the best method of environmental protection and, when knowledge is limited, apply a precautionary approach.
a. Take action to avoid the possibility of serious or irreversible environmental harm even when scientific knowledge is incomplete or inconclusive.
b. Place the burden of proof on those who argue that a proposed activity will not cause significant harm, and make the responsible parties liable for environmental harm.
c. Ensure that decision making addresses the cumulative, long-term, indirect, long distance, and global consequences of human activities.
d. Prevent pollution of any part of the environment and allow no build-up of radioactive, toxic, or other hazardous substances.
e. Avoid military activities damaging to the environment.

7. Adopt patterns of production, consumption, and reproduction that safeguard Earth’s regenerative capacities, human rights, and community well-being.
a. Reduce, reuse, and recycle the materials used in production and consumption systems, and ensure that residual waste can be assimilated by ecological systems.
b. Act with restraint and efficiency when using energy, and rely increasingly on renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
c. Promote the development, adoption, and equitable transfer of environmentally sound technologies.
d. Internalize the full environmental and social costs of goods and services in the selling price, and enable consumers to identify products that meet the highest social and environmental standards.
e. Ensure universal access to health care that fosters reproductive health and responsible reproduction.
f. Adopt lifestyles that emphasize the quality of life and material sufficiency in a finite world.

8. Advance the study of ecological sustainability and promote the open exchange and wide application of the knowledge acquired.
a. Support international scientific and technical cooperation on sustainability, with special attention to the needs of developing nations.
b. Recognize and preserve the traditional knowledge and spiritual wisdom in all cultures that contribute to environmental protection and human well-being.
c. Ensure that information of vital importance to human health and environmental protection, including genetic information, remains available in the public domain.



9. Eradicate poverty as an ethical, social, and environmental imperative.
a. Guarantee the right to potable water, clean air, food security, uncontaminated soil, shelter, and safe sanitation, allocating the national and international resources required.
b. Empower every human being with the education and resources to secure a sustainable livelihood, and provide social security and safety nets for those who are unable to support themselves.
c. Recognize the ignored, protect the vulnerable, serve those who suffer, and enable them to develop their capacities and to pursue their aspirations.

10. Ensure that economic activities and institutions at all levels promote human development in an equitable and sustainable manner.
a. Promote the equitable distribution of wealth within nations and among nations.
b. Enhance the intellectual, financial, technical, and social resources of developing nations, and relieve them of onerous international debt.
c. Ensure that all trade supports sustainable resource use, environmental protection, and progressive labor standards.
d. Require multinational corporations and international financial organizations to act transparently in the public good, and hold them accountable for the consequences of their activities.

11. Affirm gender equality and equity as prerequisites to sustainable development and ensure universal access to education, health care, and economic opportunity.
a. Secure the human rights of women and girls and end all violence against them.
b. Promote the active participation of women in all aspects of economic, political, civil, social, and cultural life as full and equal partners, decision makers, leaders, and beneficiaries.
c. Strengthen families and ensure the safety and loving nurture of all family members.

12. Uphold the right of all, without discrimination, to a natural and social environment supportive of human dignity, bodily health, and spiritual well-being, with special attention to the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities.
a. Eliminate discrimination in all its forms, such as that based on race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, language, and national, ethnic or social origin.
b. Affirm the right of indigenous peoples to their spirituality, knowledge, lands and resources and to their related practice of sustainable livelihoods.
c. Honor and support the young people of our communities, enabling them to fulfill their essential role in creating sustainable societies.
d. Protect and restore outstanding places of cultural and spiritual significance.



13. Strengthen democratic institutions at all levels, and provide transparency and accountability in governance, inclusive participation in decision making, and access to justice.
a. Uphold the right of everyone to receive clear and timely information on environmental matters and all development plans and activities which are likely to affect them or in which they have an interest.
b. Support local, regional and global civil society, and promote the meaningful participation of all interested individuals and organizations in decision making.
c. Protect the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly, association, and dissent.
d. Institute effective and efficient access to administrative and independent judicial procedures, including remedies and redress for environmental harm and the threat of such harm.
e. Eliminate corruption in all public and private institutions.
f. Strengthen local communities, enabling them to care for their environments, and assign environmental responsibilities to the levels of government where they can be carried out most effectively.

14. Integrate into formal education and life-long learning the knowledge, values, and skills needed for a sustainable way of life.
a. Provide all, especially children and youth, with educational opportunities that empower them to contribute actively to sustainable development.
b. Promote the contribution of the arts and humanities as well as the sciences in sustainability education.
c. Enhance the role of the mass media in raising awareness of ecological and social challenges.
d. Recognize the importance of moral and spiritual education for sustainable living.

15. Treat all living beings with respect and consideration.
a. Prevent cruelty to animals kept in human societies and protect them from suffering.
b. Protect wild animals from methods of hunting, trapping, and fishing that cause extreme, prolonged, or avoidable suffering.
c. Avoid or eliminate to the full extent possible the taking or destruction of non-targeted species.

16. Promote a culture of tolerance, nonviolence, and peace.
a. Encourage and support mutual understanding, solidarity, and cooperation among all peoples and within and among nations.
b. Implement comprehensive strategies to prevent violent conflict and use collaborative problem solving to manage and resolve environmental conflicts and other disputes.
c. Demilitarize national security systems to the level of a non-provocative defense posture, and convert military resources to peaceful purposes, including ecological restoration.
d. Eliminate nuclear, biological, and toxic weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
e. Ensure that the use of orbital and outer space supports environmental protection and peace.
f. Recognize that peace is the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part.

The Way Forward

As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning. Such renewal is the promise of these Earth Charter principles. To fulfill this promise, we must commit ourselves to adopt and promote the values and objectives of the Charter.

This requires a change of mind and heart. It requires a new sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility. We must imaginatively develop and apply the vision of a sustainable way of life locally, nationally, regionally, and globally. Our cultural diversity is a precious heritage and different cultures will find their own distinctive ways to realize the vision. We must deepen and expand the global dialogue that generated the Earth Charter, for we have much to learn from the ongoing collaborative search for truth and wisdom.

Life often involves tensions between important values. This can mean difficult choices. However, we must find ways to harmonize diversity with unity, the exercise of freedom with the common good, short-term objectives with long-term goals. Every individual, family, organization, and community has a vital role to play. The arts, sciences, religions, educational institutions, media, businesses, nongovernmental organizations, and governments are all called to offer creative leadership. The partnership of government, civil society, and business is essential for effective governance.

In order to build a sustainable global community, the nations of the world must renew their commitment to the United Nations, fulfill their obligations under existing international agreements, and support the implementation of Earth Charter principles with an international legally binding instrument on environment and development.

Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.”

Searching for Unity in Diversity — at the University for Peace.


What Difference Does It Actually Make? Attempting to Compare Individual, Corporate & Military Emissions

Books on climate change tend to finish with a list of things we can do to help: buy a green bag, ride instead of drive, hang up your washing rather than using the dryer, turn off the lights, decrease consumption … The thing is, when it comes to the big scheme of things, comparing our individual actions to the actions of corporations, government and military: what difference does it actually make?

I want to know where I should be putting my effort: is more effective for me to cut my personal emissions, or write letters to encourage governments or corporations to cut theirs? Does the carbon emissions from the military trump that of residential, or the other way around? What is more important? What difference can I actually make? And how?

I’ve spent days searching websites, carbon footprint calculators, emailing data providers, for some kind of comparison. I found some great tools, but failed to find any real answer to my question. It’s made all the more complicated my mixture of measurements. This is my first attempt to pull together what I’ve found, and start some kind of comparison for myself…

Apologies in advance for the mixture of Aussie/British/American spelling & measurement systems. Who is to blame for complicating that process –  someone’s idea of a funny joke around 2-300 years ago? Measurements index: 2000 pounds = one tonne; 1kg =0.001 tonnes; 1kg = 2.2 pounds; I’ll mainly use tonnes, kg & grams where I can.

Let me start on a positive note. According to The Guardian, our efforts to reduce carbon dioxide are actually reducing our world emissions (down arrows & percentages per country show the already-industrialised countries are decreasing their emissions, while the industrialising countries are increasing, which makes sense…):

Download PDF here:

What China and the Middle East do is pretty hard to change (— and anyway you hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:5)).

I will try to starting locally… what part of these emissions relates to me? Where are these emissions coming from? In the UK the sources are broken down into:


Again I ask: what of this relates to me?

Whether or not I am happy with the situation, I must recognise the fact that Australia rides on the back of America’s defense and security expenses, and shares the same queen as Britain. Countries in the industrialised world are pretty similar and completely interconnected, and have a similar(ish) breakdown of emissions sources. In a round-about way the government, corporate, agriculture emissions of most of the “western world” relate to me – providing products, services and safety to me and others like me.

But, which of these emissions can I actually control?

How much CO2 is created by…? This really awesome visual image interactive page tells you the CO2 created by lots of little things from flying London to Tokyo (1056kg) to your average car (5.1 tonnes) to an apple (80g)

Using this simplified calculator: we can estimate our footprint for: home, driving, food, and flying. We can see that the worldwide average person uses 4.4 tonnes of carbon, while the typical American (or Australian, including myself) uses approx 17 tonnes.

But, what does 17 tonnes actually mean???? This might be useful for more info on CO2- Frequently Asked Global Change Questions (from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center): I’m still left woefully confused.

What is the relative impact of my actions, compared to with the actions that I have no power over? This pie chart is based on Manchester, but let’s imagine my breakdown is probably similar.


So let’s assume that when the defense & governmental services are spread out, we are each responsible for around 7%. How much is that when totaled for the population of the US & countries with tight military relations to them?

Ben from Ben & Jerry icecream uses Oreos to show the possibilities not directly related to carbon/climate change, but related to the budget and all round movement toward a better world (given the need to reduce poverty in order to stabilize population):


I do think some of this military budget can help. Surely the USA doesn’t need weapons to blow up the world 7-times over. Surely the power to do it once is enough…

I have searched and searched for the “military ecological footprint” without much success, other than noting that the US Military accounts for 80% of the US government’s energy consumption, most which is fossil fuel (reported the Pew Research think tank’s Project on National Security, Energy and Climate). And that (apparently) the Department of Defense is “going green” … trying to reduce their “eco bootprint”: hm.

I found someone else frustrated by the lack of information:

Karbuz notes that “The Kyoto Protocol (December 1997) exempts the emissions associated with U.S. military activities outside USA.” He also notes that “These emissions are not counted in the national inventory either. In fact, they are not counted in anyone’s inventory.” It is argued that “of the petroleum purchased by the military in 2008, the Pentagon’s Defense Energy Support Center says more than a third—47.4 million barrels—was burned overseas. According to EPA, that translates into 20.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent, more than the total emissions of 129 individual countries. And that figure does not take into account the greenhouse gas emissions associated with other aspects of international military activity—like the dropping of bombs and destruction of buildings—on which there is little scientific literature and even less desire on the part of political leaders to address.” Humph. I don’t really know where to start on checking Karbuz’ sources, though what he says makes a lot of sense. His estimate is for a total “bootprint” of 75 million tonnes.

There’s quite a difference from an estimated 20 tonne footprint per person, and 75 million tonne bootprint for the military.

Stepping back to see even this 75 million in perspective, I may have found the answer to my question:

20 tonnes x 20 million people = 400,000,000 (400-million) tonnes for the collective footprint of Australians. Or in the case of total number of Americans, 20×300 million people = 6,000,000,000 (ie 6 billion tonnes).

So the collective impact of our individual consumption far outweighs the military. (ie 6 billion tonnes for Americans is far greater than 75 million tonnes for the US Military).

Unless the military expenditure is already included in this 20 tonnes each.. but then that would be probably only around 7% (per the Manchester pie chart) and hence only a small part of our individual costs.

I’m not sure exactly where this analysis is going. My mind needs time to process the above analysis, and figure out where it’s at in solving my original question. If anyone has any links that might help such a comparison, please share it with me!



Getting real: promising population stats & pending challenges

Hans Rosling gives an illuminating TedTalks presentation on one of my greatest ecological concerns: over-population.


Let each box = 1 billion people.

In 1960 it was relatively accurate to divide the world into the “First World” and “Third World”, the “rich” and the “poor”, the “developed world” and “developing world” or the Centre and Periphery.

In 1960 we were 3 billion people. The blue was the 1 billion at the top of the pyramid, dreaming of buying a car and a dishwasher. The green were the 2 billion at the bottom of the pyramid, saving for a pair of shoes and trying to feed their families.

In 50 years much has changed. 3 billion has turned into 7 billion. 4 more boxes have been added to the table.

Brazil, Russia, India, China, (the BRIC nations), are rising up. While the 1 billion blue affluent people now take planes to remote destinations for holidays, another green box of 1 billion people are buying cars, and 3 green boxes equating to 3 billion people are buying bicycles. We still have the 2 billion at the bottom looking for food, and saving for a pair of Havaianas. So an extra 4 billion in the middle mean a wider “gap” but that is filled in with a massive middle-class majority. Maybe we’d think of them as “Second World” or “semi-periphery” nations, or nations within nations seeing as the spread of income within nations also varies greatly.

So comes our familiar (and what I consider to be quite a horrifying) graph:

Now unless we want the whole world to look like the suburbs of Mumbai (no offense to my Indian friends who live there, but it really is a horribly over-populated loud dirty chaotic city), we can’t grow at this exponential rate forever…

Rosling gives a realistic picture:

Only 2 more boxes, 2 billion more people, bringing us up to a grand total of 9 billion. And I guess ideally, eventually, all those boxes are stacked on top of one another at the far right, enjoying their holidays all around the world.

Ho hum, and how is this, pray tell, going to come about?

Many, including Rosling, predict that the formula for a stabilizing population is to decrease poverty. A little family education for women and contraception availability (along with motivating men to wear it and Catholics to allow it) also helps. Apparently this is what the statistics say, loud and clear, so let’s go with it.

With poverty as it stands in 2010, with 2 billion at the bottom, by 2050 this 2 billion will be 4 – hence the 4 boxes on top of one another.

In order to stabilize population at 9 billion, these 4 billion people NEED to be out of absolute poverty – they need to be able to afford food and shoes, and be dreaming of bicycles and cars. If not by 2070 they’ll turn into 8 billion, bringing us up to 17 billion.

Following this line of thinking I see two questions that are imperative for anyone who doesn’t want to share the planet with another 16,999,999,999 people. These are:

  1. How are we going to ensure those 4 billion are in shoes and getting on bicycles by 2050?
  2. What can be done so that the 5 billion humans driving cars and flying planes don’t pollute the planet & exploit the non-renewables so much that all 9 billion don’t end up back at square one, scavenging off the left-overs from today’s greed?

Hm, tough questions, did I hear someone mention mining the moon and moving to Mars?


Why did the Global Financial Crisis actually happen? The best explanation I have come across was when about this time last year Canadian professor Jim Stanford came to speak at my uni – he tries to demystify the economy by explaining the concepts and jargon in a simple, easily understandable way.

What is the economy? It is WORK. ‘The total sum of work we do to meet our needs and wants.’ The economy is about meeting human needs.

Jim separates the economy into:

1. the “real economy” – that is, jobs that create physical value.

2. the “paper economy” -that is, jobs that trade paper. These jobs are based on speculating on the real economy, and make money from others’ debt.

In our present system, the paper traders are getting richer as the physical traders get poorer. For every $1 of real economy, $100 of paper economy is traded. That means $100 is circulated by people speculating on that $1, and essentially getting paid to do nothing of real value – just buying and selling financial assets.

It makes sense when you think about it. What jobs pay the most in our society? Stock traders. Finance. Bankers. Business. That’s why Dads like mine want me to study Business and work my way up the ladder of a big corporation – it equals money and security. But what else does it mean? What value am I adding to society if I do this?

Where do our foods, clothes, housing materials come from? Who gets paid the least down the chain of production? The people picking the raw ingredients that make these things, and the people that put the goods together. People getting paid almost nothing (if not completely nothing) for their work.

When you get a big profit from trading on the stock market – where is that money coming from? I’m not pointing fingers at those who trade or own shares, saying, “ooooo you’re such a bad person.” I have shares too. Actually any of us who have bank accounts or superannuation funds, have shares on the stock market. Our shares contribute to the problem but I am part of the 85% of the population of developed capitalist countries who is paid for my employment, more or less economic slaves to the system as I need to earn money to pay my rent, my credit card bill, and  pay for my next holiday. It is logical that when we invest in shares, or play with shares on the stock market, we hope that we will gain the greatest possible profit from our investment of time and/or money. These are the rules of the game we presently play.

These rules also define the responsibilities of CEOs to make the most profit they can, without regard for people and our planet, and pay these big boys very big bucks to do so. The main problem with this system lies with the 2% of the population of developed capitalist countries who own large majorities of the paper wealth in the world, with banks at the top given their license to print money and lend it out in debt. (Side noting that the other 13% work as farmers or in their own small businesses).

Jim says it isn’t fair that the workers suffer every time the system collapses as we didn’t cause the problem. It was the rules of the system that caused it, and unless we change the rules, it will continue to happen again and again. Jim says we need to ‘hold the banking system accountable to meeting society’s need for steady credit, or step in and do it ourselves’ (we can print money too).

Solutions include:

1. Demystify economics – explain where the crisis came from and understand why something needs to change.

2. Redeem the value and legitimacy of real work and production – based on a new model of growth / stability.

3. Don’t let the bank make us pay for their mistakes:

– re-regulate finance

socialise credit creation (ie learn to do it ourselves through public banks and credit unions)

– look for comprehensible credible alternatives that also address global problems of poverty and pollution

– get rid of useless industries

stop making shit

Jim explains it far better than these rough notes I took from his lecture.


There are more of his lectures on youtube – well worth a watch. Or his book:

Also, although this wasn’t from my notes from Jim’s lecture, I think surely we need to do something about the tax havens. Did you know that half of all world trade currently passes through tax havens? Apparently they ‘allow rich people and corporations to stash trillions in assets that could provide governments with at least $250 billion a year in tax revenues.’[1]

Look, I don’t like paying tax, I believe I still own a few shares (while they’re probably not worth much any more) and I can’t complain that my job is based on processing information (I’m not really sure if universities count as paper economy or real economy…) but I do not like the fact that the richest pay the least tax and the poorest pay the most…

According to the book called Conspiracy of the Rich I’m listening to at the moment by Robert Kiyosaki (author of Rich Dad Poor Dad) if you can’t change the system, you can still opt out of playing their game.

“Is the love of money the root of all evil? Or, is it the ignorance of money? What did you learn about money in school? Have you ever wondered why our school systems do not teach us much—if anything—about money? Is the lack of financial education in our schools simply an oversight by our educational leaders? Or is it part of a larger conspiracy? Regardless, whether we are rich or poor, educated or uneducated, child or adult, retired or working, we all use money. Like it or not, money has a tremendous impact on our lives in today’s world.” [2]


Preserving The Pyramid: why things are the way they are

Some great YouTube clips explaining our economic and political system

Where are we now, where are we going, and how?

Rethinking the Pyramid



[1] Susan George, ‘We Must Think Big’, New Scientist (18 Oct 2008). p. 51.

[2] Robert Kiyosaki,

Photo: Graffiti in the back streets of Sydney.

Human rights or a collective future? The problem with definitions.

If the pursuit of peace is an attempt to rid the world of violence, we must ask ourselves – “violence” through the eyes of who? Defining violence from the perception of a collective-humanity, is very different form defining it from the perception of each individual:

– If we define violence from the perception of all-humans-together, then are we not opening the doors for evil dictator, idealistic warfare and other devastating forms of violence to be committed on individuals?

– But, if we define violence as purely from an individual perspective, eg broaching on a woman’s right to have as many children as she pleases, then are we not lending ourselves to neglect the big-picture?

If we prioritise individual human rights over the rights of all life collectively, might we not cause the greatest violence of all – the destruction of our planet – a violence against all humans and life of today and the future???

Oh woe woe: what confusion, what a predicament, what a trade off…

Does this mean peace is a vain pursuit? An idealist impossibility? An unattainable objective? Maybe.

But is, like the quest for Truth and Balance, the process of pursuing peace still a valuable one?

The last couple of years I have studied “Peace And Conflict Studies”, and while this has influenced many of my entries, I think it might be useful to outline some of the key terms and concepts. I guess where the idea of peace gets airy fairy is in it’s definition… what exactly are we talking about when we talk of “peace”?

First I wish to clarify that peace is NOT the absence of conflict.

Life is defined by dualisms, by the dynamic relationships between opposing forces, by conflict. Conflict leads to evolution, to growth, innovation and improvement. Conflict is good. Violence, however, is not. And violence need not be a part or a result of conflict.

Professor Galtung defines two categories of peace:

Negative Peace the elimination of war; and

Positive Peace the elimination of poverty and other forms of violence including Direct Violence (eg stop me from hitting you) and Indirect Violence (eg stop me from constraining your freedoms) and Structural Violence (a form of indirect violence that is concealed by a system structure).

Peace involves the resolution of conflict through non-violent means – something I think our schools could do better providing us the skills to put into practice. For example, the learning conflict resolution skills such as how to map out a conflict :

  • how to define the central issue (in a blame-free language)
  • identify the manifest and un-manifest pressures
  • distinguish transitory interests from cultural values and unchanging needs
  • as well as identifying the fears and concerns of the parties involved,

This framework allows common visions and strategies to be designed in a far more efficient and effective way. (See Burton (1990) and Tillet (1999) if you are interested in learning more.

Positive Peace is about JUSTICE

Which brings me back to the problem with words and definition.

Whose justice are we talking about?

My idea of justice, or yours? What kind of justice? Economic? Social? Intellectual? All of the above? The problem with a definition like this is that my idea of justice might very well be your idea of oppression. Our means of evaluating is relative to our culture, education, and experience.

And I start to wonder: is the predicament between human rights and planetary rights, anything like the difference between capitalist mentalities and communist ones? How is can it be I feel I empathise with both?


What do YOU think?

Should we prioritise human rights at the expense of planetary ones?

What is more important, our individual present or our collective future?

Give me a shorter more fulfilling life over a long drawn out crappy one – in my mind quality trumps quantity, and planetary rights trump human ones – but maybe that’s just me.


Barash, D.P. (1991) “The Meaning of Peace” & “The Debate Over Peace Studies” in Introduction to Peace Studies. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing.

Burton, J. (1990a). Human Needs Theory. Conflict: Resolution and Prevention. Macmillan. London, UK.

Galtung, J. (2000). TRANSCEND: 40 Years, 40 Conflicts. Searching for Peace: The Road to TRANSCEND. J. J. Galtung, C G. London, Pluto Press.

Tillett, G. and B. French (2006). Conflict and its Resolution. Resolving Conflict: A Practical Approach Melbourne, Oxford University Press. 3rd edn.


A pile of rubbish in Kathmandu, Nepal. While the west buries their rubbish in the ground or out at sea, to me this site (and even more so the wretched smell) was a stark reminder of humanity’s impact. It was seriously grotesque, and if it’s avoidable I think it should be avoided.

Population Vs. luxury… QUALITY OR QUANTITY?

“On the technical side there is no limit to population,” said a scholar after talking about solving world hunger. “We just need more efficient systems, and for the rich to eat less.” This may be true, BUT the greater question (in my opinion) is: Do we want more people living “simply” in a crowded place, or less people living lives of luxury?

“The population of the poor isn’t the problem,” so the idealists (like I used to be) say… “We actually need less white people.”

Given the ecological footprint of the one billion in rich industrialised countries compared to the six billion in non-industrial countries, this statement speaks some truth. But I’m not so sure that decreasing the population of white people will solve our ecological predicament.

I realise the basic solution is suggested to be the connection between income, education and birthrates. The more money people have, the more educated people get, the less children women want… and this will (somehow magically) stop the population at around 10 billion… but will it?

Just because a majority of white people have chosen to have less children as they get richer, largely because we have fallen for consumerist ideals and the economic slave system that supports this, does not mean that people in other cultures are going to respond to wealth in the same way. I’m not an anthropologist but it seems rather presumptuous to think we can understand people of other cultures, and predict how these people will react to education and money.

In the last two hundred years we have allowed one billion people to be become almost seven billion, and almost six of those billion have not been educated or had money. What will they do when they are educated or have money? In China as they get more money, they build more, buy more cars and have more children, not less of them.

“Human rights are meaningless without ecological rights,” said another one of the speakers. This seems to be getting closer to the real issue. Surely there are limits??? EVENTUALLY, when the planet has 5 billion, or 50 billion, there’s going to have to be some sort of population controls implemented – so why not be proactive and do it NOW, before there are even more ridiculous numbers of us?

How? I don’t know… I guess through some kind of recognition of collective responsibility and gaining momentum in a collective desire to make the world the place we want it to be. Should that involve some legalities that compromise individualistic human rights? In my opinion, yes. I think the future of life-on-earth as a whole is more important than us as individual humans having a right to choose the number of children we are going to have.

What do you think?

What’s more important: quality of life, or quantity of lives?

Greed: the JOY of having more than you need… Taoism and more about that frickin elephant.

I used to think we could all be less greedy – that if we wanted less “stuff” we would be happier, and some of that wealth would be shared with the poor. Apparently this simple shift has the power to end world hunger – the rich do with less, so the poor can have more. More recently I have realised that when I contemplate greed I have been wondering if it is actually a human problem that we have the ability to change? Or is greed simple a part of all life’s struggle to survive?

In a universe that (at least at present) is constantly expanding, getting more and more complex, and consuming more and more space, could greed be a universal constant? Is greed embedded in our DNA?

Check out this greedy monkey!


Maybe greed is so deep in our nature, it’s not something that can be fought? Maybe we humans are just greedy monkeys, so we just have to accept ourselves and allow greed to be?

If we accept greed, and hence accept that humans will always want more and better, should we give up on dealing with this elephant? While reading a book on religions in Nepal, I noted a Taoist teaching: “DO NOT QUIT”. So let us take their advice, and continue.

Also in Nepal, I met some travelers who were happily living a nomadic non-attached way of life.

“Money will come when, and if, I need it,” the cool collected hippy explained. She had been traveling for over 15 years or more, living on nothing yet living in abundance. “When you are traveling cheap you really don’t need much.” At $3 a roof over your head, and $2 for a massive meal, you are talking $1500 a year, so if you spent a few years working to save up $100,000 you could retire for life. We really don’t need much to survive. Especially if, like this hippy’s neighbor, you paraglide from place to place! Now that’s seriously  “following the wind”. And no footprint whatsoever.

“Desire nothing, enjoy everything.I think there is something in this Buddhist-approach to life – I definitely prefer life when I’m not fussing over money.

But how about non-attachment to other things? Do we really want to give up our desires?

Isn’t some attachment is what life is all about? Isn’t it the desire for something we don’t have, what keeps us going?

Be it attachment to people you love, attachment to a job you enjoy, attachment to a computer that carries hours upon hours worth of writing on it, or attachment to life itself, I’m not so sure I want to let that part of life go… There is something to be said for life’s dynamism – for the highs and lows, for the enjoyment that comes from pain and fear that adjoins attachment – it keeps things interesting. A life lived completely without attachment may contain no suffering, but it also (in my opinion) doesn’t contain much joy.

Of this book on religion the Taoist philosophies really resonated with me, mainly because Taoism values the opposites, the ups and downs, the yin and yang, rather than wishing them away. Taoists describe“Ziran” – state of “self-so” which means living in a state of being that ‘allows things and circumstances to unfold’. I really like this idea – connecting to everything, and allowing the most desirable scenarios manifest in reality.

Taoists describe the universe as our body, and the universe our nature; and they recommend we ‘keep in mind both the manifested and the unrevealed sides of the ultimate reality’ – I like these ideas too. We know the many things we know, but we must never forget there is SO SO SOOOO MUCH THAT WE DO NOT, AND CANNOT KNOW.

According to the Taoists, ‘The Way” is found in balance, in knowing what is enough – and they say that learning to say “enough” is achieved through an ‘intuitive observation of oneself and the universe’.

Coming back to my question from yesterday: can Buddha help us deal with the elephant in the room? Can finding inner peace help us do something about the population problem? I guess feeling peaceful inside ourselves can open the channels to creative solutions (like that magic biodegradable bag they put my underwear in), so I wonder, if we combine this with the idea of learning how to say “enough”, can we start to shrink the elephant?


References on Taoism:

Bede Bidlock, Why I Am A Believer: Personal Reflections On Nine World Religions – edited by Arvind Sharma (2007) p.200.

Capitalistic karma: reinterpreting reincarnation

Walking up in the mountains outside Kathmandu I contemplated the connection between the world’s inequalities today, the actions of one’s ancestors, and the idea of karma and reincarnation that I had been reading about in some books on the Eastern Religions.

Be they the ancestors who split from the group to discover new worlds fifty thousand years ago, or be they the innovators of new technologies that won them last century’s battles, the connection is pretty clear… and I wondered, is this what the yogis are talking about when they talk about karma? Are the people of today the reincarnations of ancestors, manifested through the processes of material, genetic and education inheritance? The closer we get to a person, the more the other embodies our ideas. If we, say, write a book and disperse our ideas, are we, on some level, reincarnating ourselves through the people that these ideas influence? Are our children simply more direct reincarnations of ourselves as they gain more of our energy through our genes and through the time we spend with them?

At the end of the day we are all responsible for the consequences of our own actions, be they consequences experienced our own lifetime, or in that of our children and childrens’ childrens’ childrens’ lifetimes. If we do bad to another person, animal, or to our environment, be it in our lifetime or in sometime in the distant future, the universe eventually balances itself out… Is this, in a wider sense, our “karma”? Could the cycle of birth-death-rebirth that the yogis talk about be less about a separate soul reincarnating (for example, that if you kill a bee in this life you will come back as an bee in your next life), and actually be describing the process of evolution (for example, if many people kill many bees, humanity will have to adapt to a world with less flowers and foods)?

When the caste system tells people that they have been born into their caste as a consequence of their actions in a past life I typically respond (in my head) with “what a load of bullocks!” But, when viewed from this understanding of karma and reincarnation, this idea starts to make sense… Could poverty actually be the karmic result of the decisions of one’s ancestors?

When I compare the capitalist system to the caste system I can’t help but appreciate the open opportunities capitalism provides. Sure it’s not a perfect system with the opportunities it provides not exactly equal (for example, children in wealthy families are sure to have more opportunities than less wealthy families) but on the other side I also think that if a person dedicates their life to provide such opportunities for their children, isn’t it fair that this child benefits from their parent’s hard work? Is such their good fortune, their parent or grandparent’s karma?


Or is maybe this just my wishful thinking, in hope of justifying the unjustifiable, I’m not quite sure. Karma and reincarnation aside, as I consider the advantages and disadvantages of capitalism and I wonder: if you take away the ability to transfer wealth to your children, will people still be motivated to innovate and work hard? At least in this system, children in the less wealthy family still get a decent education and decent amount of opportunity. While life may not be as easy as it is for the child born in the wealthy family, the challenges this presents can actually an opportunity for even more growth for that individual, and at least no one is completely left out of the system and being condemned to be an untouchable for all their future generations.

It is starting to seem to me that as we reincarnate ourselves, from generation to generation of cell to plant to animal to self-aware human, our creativity is growing, our sense of morality and ethics is deepening, and our capability to consider the future of the whole planet is expanding. And so I wonder, if we continue collective learn from each other and from the past, what incredible species will the reincarnates of humanity be like in the future?

Picture notes

Photographer: Edwina Hughes.

Taken at my sister’s wedding at Craigiburn in Bowral on the weekend, this photo doesn’t really have anything to do with this blog entry although I guess in a way it represents the passing on of traditions and possibly the beginning of a new generation of Bennetts. And it’s nice to share considering it was such an incredible wedding, very fun, my sister looked GORGEOUS, and my new brother-in-law spunky… Congratulations guys!

Coming to grips with the elephant in the room

I knew I would leave India with a new perspective of life – but the upturning of my worldview has happened in a far different way than I expected. I thought I would arrive home more passionate about social justice, more inspired to make a difference to the lives of “poor” people. Instead I am leaving India with a hardened heart, more humility, and an increased concern for the future of humanity as a whole. Why? Because the population problem, the elephant in the room, is far too big a problem to ignore. And I simply cannot see a solution to this problem.

Before I went to India, as those of you who have read older blog entries would know, I quite idealistically analysed the global inequalities and blamed war and poverty on western greed.

I looked at these graphs of population growth by economy and region, and blamed the population growth on western development.

population by incomeWhy does the population of poor and developing countries suddenly increase in 1940s, and high income countries only increase a little?

population by region

What is going on in Asia???

In my mind, the population had increased so much since WW2 simply because of the design of the global capitalist system. Post-development scholars criticise the global system for being miperialistically geared to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor, with the raw materials bought for nothing and sold for billions and so making the rich richer and the poor poorer. I went a step further. It made sense to me that a larger population in developing countries equates to cheap labour, which means cheaper computers, phones, TVs, clothes, cars, chocolate etc. For a government subject at uni I analysed the power-distribution of the system, observing that it is the rich and powerful capitalists who pull the strings behind governments, the World Trade Organisation, the IMF, and other peak bodies. The rich and powerful capitalists I equated to anyone whose lives are not run by debt – those who have shares in companies, money in the bank, superannuation funds, own property without mortgages, own their own business etc. In particular it was the wealthiest of the wealthy – the people who own the banks themselves.

I thought education was the solution. Not education of the poor people, but education of the rich. I thought that if each of us understood the connection between our shopping habits and the mass workers, the connection between our consumption and our future environment, and that the roots of these to problems lay in the capitalist dream: to accumulate more money, then we would begin to move toward a more socially just and environmentally sustainable system.

I thought that the motivation to change our systems would come from a “new dream” that started with rediscovering the connection with our planet, so that we each come to prioritise the whole ecosystem that we are a part of, over and above our individual selfish desires. I thought that this would come from an understanding of Big History, coming to identify ourselves as part of the process of our Universe expanding and increasing in complexity (or what many, including myself, personify as “God”) .

Now, well, now I realize that the answers to the world’s problems are not that simple. There are far deeper roots to this systematic problem than western greed. It seems to me, in this moment in time, that the global system is NOT a simple cause and effect situation with western greed causing global poverty.

For one, inequality is not just a problem in today’s global system, it has always been a problem. Secondly, inequality’s root problem – greed – is not a western problem but is a human problem, a life problem. Thirdly, poverty has cultural, religious and historical roots that have nothing to do with the global system. The caste system existed in India before the British arrived. The caste system is thousands of years old and while Gandhi may have officially abolished it, culture is stronger than law. In India this caste system keeps poor poor and the rich rich, and this has nothing whatsoever to do with global capitalism.

Capitalists may benefit from the fact that China and India are over-populated, and hence human labour is cheap, but capitalists are not standing over these people telling them to have more babies.

Sure there’s the tiny motivational factor of more children equals more money, but talking to Indians at different income levels it seemed to be the cultural aspects (tradition, the values placed on family, lack of entertainment etc) that are behind the population explosion over and above their desire to make money from them. If women get married at 10 and have babies the rest of their life, for cultural reasons over and above any monetary motivation, how can poverty ever be addressed? It is their own actions which perpetuate their poverty and cause the inequalities of the global system to continue.

Should capitalists stop benefiting from cheap labour? That would only mean these people have less job opportunities… that’s not going to help. What if they pay them a little extra, that is, change to a “fair trade” system? This may help a few lives but when people are willing to work for less, because working for less is better than working for nothing, how can such a “fair” system be sustained? How is it “fair” if some people have jobs paying fair wages, while the rest of the billions have no job at all?

Fair trade or free trade, escaping poverty is a choice that people in the situation will collectively have to make for themselves. And unfortunately eradicating poverty requires doing something about that frickin big elephant staring everyone in the face. What? I have NO IDEA. Could this be why so many yogis and religious leaders advise to withdraw from the world and look for peace inside?

And so my worldview crisis…

As a result of the fear that comes from this lack of solutions, the altruistic side that used to dominate my mind is becoming more self-centered: what future do I want for the future generations that spring from the people I love? My previous almost disdain for wealth, thinking all money was intrinsically connected to a corrupt system, is turning into an appreciation of it. Work hard, work smart, then share and enjoy your earnings with your family and friends… what’s so bad about that?

Let’s face it, animal, plant, or human; black, white or in between; this is ultimately life’s instinctive purpose: to live as long as we can, and create offspring to continue our work when we die. That’s why we choose the partners we choose to mate with. That’s why we fight the wars we fight. That’s why we work so hard to buy a house and establish systems of governance, education and business. SELF-PRESERVATION and PROCREATION.

India has given me a new appreciation for the work my ancestors – for their efforts to create a world so good for us, their children. Maybe their methods weren’t so peaceful, with inquisitions, colonialism and imperialism, but let’s face it: it’s not only our ancestors who have done this and if it wasn’t them, it would have been someone else. Before the British invaded India, it was the Moghuls, and before that it was other nations from Central Asia. The British were far from the first, and it is highly unlikely they will be the last.

My experiences in India have left me thinking that if the wealthy of the world did suddenly decide to spread their wealth, to educate the billions in poverty and create a socially-just system; the peace it would create would probably be short-lived and soon all the densely populated places like India would spread to populate the rest of the world. My favourite city would become just like my least favourite, and so would every other city in the world.

I realise my perspective is becoming incredibly selfish, but I do not want people sleeping and dying on our streets; I do not want people trying to rip me off on street corners; I do not want to be living in a dirty, polluted, noisy, over-populated place. In short, I do not want to see Sydney turn into Mumbai. 

According to if we continue at our present rates, our population will be over 11 billion by 2035!!! And what then, will Australia still be sitting there with it’s 21 million people? I don’t think so. With Australia’s rivers drying up there just ain’t enough water for everyone. Nor infrastructure, or systems for food, housing, anything…

And so I worry, might my passionate pursuits  to make a more socially just world bring the extinction of my own culture, my country’s wealth and the life style, and all the opportunities our ancestors dedicated their lives to deliver?

While our own culture is no where near perfect, with its insatiable desires and materialistic emptiness, western culture has A LOT to offer: freedom; the scientific quest for knowledge; the creativity that comes from competition; the opportunities for individualistic pursuits. It would be a big shame to lose it in place of an overpopulated communistic uncreative mess.

Think about it, if income was distributed evenly, will the 2 billion women of child-bearing age suddenly decide not to have babies? And, if the wealthy were to even out the income, my new lack-of-faith-in-humanity makes it seem realistic to assume that another group of people would rise up and the same cycles of violence would begin just with a new group of rich and powerful. And, even if this didn’t happen, how long would it take before we would run out of resources (seeing as ecological economists say 10 planets would be required for all people of the world to live an American lifestyle)? Does this mean, simply in attempt to better the lives of people with less money today, all of humanity will die out? I’m sorry, but I don’t think this would be good for anyone involved.

Okay, okay, calm down Juliet, calm down. As you can see there is a lot going through my head. Out of fear I’m becoming defensive. I’m guess I’m still culture-shocked, and struggling to comprehend the reality of our global situation. It’s one thing to see population in a graph but it’s a different kettle of fish to see it with your own eyes. When one’s mind connects such a mess to projections of possible futures for earth and humanity it’s really quite a confusing and scary topic.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t:

  • If you consider population control then what about human rights?
  • If you don’t control the population then what do you do about the billions living in poverty?
  • If you bring people out of poverty then you destroy the planet for everyone.

Now I understand why overpopulation has been the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.

My conclusion: “Elephant? What elephant??? I don’t see it either!”

Follow up thoughts six years later… February 2016

I received a comment that drew my attention back to this post and I thought I should revisit the “elephant in the room” in light of some things that I have learned since 2010, and some things that have changed in the world during this time.

I deleted a paragraph that a commenter interpreted as bordering on racism. It’s difficult: one’s views can be taken out of context and considered unchanging, so what if someone looks at that and starts thinking I’m racist? That being said I think everyone is “a little bit racist”, in some ways, and we go overboard trying to be politically correct – sometimes at the cost of honesty, and being able to speak one’s mind.

I value difference – I value different cultures and peoples, and I think it is important to avoid imperialism, and other forces, taking away from our beautiful diversity – unless in the opportunity for self-determination people choose to change and evolve in ways they want to change, integrating parts of other cultures. It is just as dangerous to romanticise a culture and group of people, and want them to stay the same, as it is to attempt to interfere and change them. A people should be able to choose for themselves how their culture evolves.

Australia has and is committing devastating human rights abuses against people seeking help from and refuge in our country, and I do not in any way condone this. Hence my deleting a paragraph that may have been interpreted as supporting Australia’s immigration policies. I don’t. I think the White Australia Policy was shocking, as has been every  In the context of someone in their twenties having a rant it was not racist, but as something that might be attributed to me later in life, not so good.

In my mind at that time, battling with the confronting nature of my own experiences in the chaotic suburbs of Mumbai in contrast to the affluent bubble of Sydney, I saw some of the need for a strict immigration policy. My current opinion is that it is important to have a smart and humane immigration policy – one that sees the value in each person’s life, and works creatively to find space for them in the many parts of our country that are crying out for higher populations. And one that is linked ot foreign aid and international relations policies, helping to remedy past and current wrongs of Western civilisation that are at root of many wars and problems in the countries people have fled.

There are three messages that I want to add on to this blog entry:

  1. With regard to insights into India’s population – I learned a great deal on this from Vandana Shiva on her visit to Sydney in 2014. It had continued to puzzle me why India’s population increased so dramatically when it did. Dr Shiva attributes this to colonialism and the removing of peasants from land, which created uncertainty and instability, which led to people having more children.
  2. Furthermore Dr Shiva taught me that the caste system was not in the same negative form that one might interpret it today – Dr Shiva believes this has been reinterpreted by the West in a negative light, where it used to be more about division of roles and labour than hierarchy. It was a structure for society that worked, made sense.
  3. Possibilities for stabilising global population, lifting everyone out of poverty and living in harmony with our planet do exist, and all three must go together. We, especially those with the money and positions to do so, need to invest and support investment by our governments into çradle-to-cradle design and renewable energy technologies that offer ways in which humanity can live without destroying the planet. We also need to build support for various structural changes and restrictions e.g. on how much corporations can pollute, who pays for pollution and wastes, etc. If we can learn to live in ways that do not destroy the earth, then perhaps a large human population isn’t such a problem.

I’d like to add a final note about the changing nature of opinions. My views are constantly changing, and I hope that anything read on this blog can be understood in context that it was written by a person growing up, learning, and wanting to discuss different views and perspectives – all which I see as constantly changing through such a dialogical process.

I see the world in a very different way to what I did six years ago, particularly at this point in time where I’d found India so confronting. I leave this blog entry up here as I believe the process of changing our views, of thinking through the hard questions, of having a rant about contending ideas, is a valuable part of conversations necessary for addressing such problems and moving toward more ecological and peaceful futures.

So please do not judge me by the post above, but please use it as food for thought, for better understanding your own positions, which are too also likely to be developing and changing through time as the context for your ideas and expanding sphere of learning and influence also changes. Thank you!

Picture credits:

The Elephant in the Room – my own attempt at photoshopping a photo of an elephant from Taronga Zoo into my Opa’s sunroom.

Population graphs – wiki-commons

Good links found here –