Tag: George Monbiot

Just say “No!”

We have to keep banging this drum on behalf of our wildlife!

OK! This new essay from George Monbiot applies specifically to the United Kingdom. But there’s no question in my mind that awareness of what is going in the U.K. will be important for readers in many other countries.

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Incompetence By Design

As state bodies are dismantled, corporations are freed to rip the living world apart

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 4th July 2018

It feels like the collapse of the administrative state – and this is before Brexit. One government agency after another is losing its budget, its power and its expertise. The result, for corporations and the very rich, is freedom from the restraint of law, freedom from the decencies they owe to other people, freedom from democracy. The public protections that constrain their behaviour are being dismantled.

An example is the cascading decline in the protection of wildlife and environmental quality. The bodies charged with defending the living world have been so enfeebled that they now scarcely exist as independent entities. Natural England, for example, has been reduced to a nodding dog in the government’s rear window.

Its collapse as an autonomous agency is illuminated by the case that will be heard next week in the High Court, where two ecologists, Tom Langton and Dominic Woodfield, are challenging its facilitation of the badger cull. That the cull is a senseless waste of life and money is well established, but this is only one of the issues being tested. Another is that Natural England, which is supposed to assess whether the shooting of badgers causes wider environmental harm, appears incapable of discharging its duties.

As badger killing spreads across England, it intrudes upon ever more wildlife sites, some of which protect animals that are highly sensitive to disturbance. Natural England is supposed to determine whether allowing hunters to move through these places at night and fire their guns has a detrimental effect on other wildlife, and what the impact of removing badgers from these ecosystems might be. The claimants allege that it has approved the shooting without meaningful assessments.

Some of its decisions, they maintain, are farcical. In Dorset, for example, Natural England assumed that overwintering hen harriers and merlins use only one out of all the sites that have been designated for their protection, and never stray from it. It makes the same assumption about the Bewick’s swans that winter around the Severn estuary. That birds fly, enabling them to move from one site to another, appears to have been overlooked.

Part of the problem, the claimants argue, is that staff with specialist knowledge have been prevented from making decisions. The location of the badger cull zones is such a closely guarded secret that Natural England’s local staff are not allowed to see the boundaries. As a result, they can make no meaningful assessment of what the impact might be. Instead, the decisions are made in distant offices by people who have not visited the sites.

I wanted to ask Natural England about this, but its external communications have been shut down by the government: any questions now have to be addressed to Michael Gove’s environment department, Defra. Defra told me “staff carrying out this work have all the necessary information. It would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing legal matter.” How can Natural England be an independent body when the government it is supposed to monitor speaks on its behalf?

Another example of how far Natural England has fallen is the set of deals it has struck with grouse moor owners, allowing them to burn protected habitats, kill protected species and build roads across sites that are supposed to be set aside for wildlife. For several years, the redoubtable conservationist Mark Avery has been fighting these decisions. This May, Natural England conceded, in effect, that he was right. The agency that is meant to protect our wild places has been colluding in their destruction.

A correspondent from within Natural England tells me its staff are so demoralised that it has almost ceased to function. “Enforcement, for example, is close to non-existent … Gove seems to have somehow both raised the profile of environmental issues whilst simultaneously stripping the resources … it has never been as bad as this.”

In March, the House of Lords reported that Natural England’s budget has been cut by 44% since it was founded in 2006. The cuts have crippled both its independence and its ability to discharge its duties. It has failed to arrest the catastrophic decline in our wildlife, failed to resist the housebuilders trashing rare habitats and abandoned its regulatory powers in favour of useless voluntary agreements. As if in response, the government cut the agency’s budget by a further 14%.

Dominic Woodfield, one of the claimants in the court case next week, argues that Natural England has been “on death row” since it applied the law at Lodge Hill in Kent, where the Ministry of Defence was hoping to sell Britain’s best nightingale habitat to a housing developer. Natural England had no legal choice but to designate this land as a site of scientific interest, hampering the government’s plans. As the government slashed its budget and curtailed its independence, the agency’s disastrous response has been to try to save itself through appeasement. But all this has done is to alienate its defenders, reduce its relevance and hasten its decline. “There are still good people in Natural England. But they’re broken. They talk very slowly because they’re thinking very carefully about everything they say.”

If this is happening before we leave the European Union, I can only imagine where we will stand without the protection of European law. The environmental watchdog that, according to Michael Gove, will fill the role now played by the European Commission, will know, like Natural England, that its budget is provided by the government and can be cut at the government’s discretion. What is to prevent it from being nobbled as other agencies have been?

Already, the deliberate mutilating of the administrative state, delivering incompetence by design, has released landowners, housebuilders and assorted polluters from regulatory restraint. Only through European law have government agencies been forced to discharge their duties. Brexit strips away this defence. And if, as some propose, it paves the way for One Nation Under Gove, we should, the evidence so far suggests, be even more alarmed.

But some of us are now mobilising to turn the great enthusiasm for wildlife and natural beauty in this country into political action, and to fight the dismantling of the laws that protect our precious wild places. Watch this space.

http://www.monbiot.com

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On George Monbiot’s blog home page is this quote:

“I love not man the less, but Nature more.”

We must all love Nature more!

Defending the world we love!

Mr. George Monbiot offers a deeply personal, deeply powerful reason to change!

I have long followed George Monbiot’s writings. Both for his writing skills and the many times he really spells it out. As in spelling out the madness of our present ways! Frequently I find him very inspiring. However, his latest essay In Memoriam is one of the best ones that I have read. It is a plea from George Monbiot to see what we are doing to our wildlife and our ecosystems.

It is republished here with George Monbiot’s very kind permission. I have taken the liberty of including a few recent photographs of the wildlife that graces our acres here in Oregon.

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In Memoriam

As our wildlife and ecosystems collapse, remembering is a radical act.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 29th June 2018

It felt as disorientating as forgetting my pin number. I stared at the caterpillar, unable to attach a name to it. I don’t think my mental powers are fading: I still possess an eerie capacity to recall facts and figures and memorise long screeds of text. This is a specific loss. As a child and young adult, I delighted in being able to identify almost any wild plant or animal. And now it has gone. This ability has shrivelled from disuse: I can no longer identify them because I can no longer find them.

Perhaps this forgetfulness is protective. I have been averting my eyes. Because I cannot bear to see what we have done to nature, I no longer see nature itself. Otherwise, the speed of loss would be unendurable. The collapse can be witnessed from one year to the next. The swift decline of the swift (down 25% in five years) is marked by the loss of the wild screams that, until very recently, filled the skies above my house. My ambition to see the seabird colonies of the Shetlands and St Kilda has been replaced by the intention never to visit those islands during the breeding season: I could not bear to see the empty cliffs, whose populations have crashed by some 90% this century.

I have lived long enough to witness the vanishing of wild mammals, butterflies, mayflies, songbirds and fish that I once feared my grandchildren would experience: it has all happened faster than even the pessimists predicted. Walking in the countryside or snorkelling in the sea is now as painful to me as an art lover would find her visits to a gallery, if on every occasion another Old Master had been cut from its frame.

The cause of this acceleration is no mystery. The United Nations reports that our use of natural resources has tripled in 40 years. The great expansion of mining, logging, meat production and industrial fishing is cleansing the planet of its wild places and natural wonders. What economists proclaim as progress, ecologists recognise as ruin.

This is what has driven the quadrupling of oceanic dead zones since 1950; the “biological annihilation” represented by the astonishing collapse of vertebrate populations; the rush to carve up the last intact forests; the vanishing of coral reefs, glaciers and sea ice; the shrinkage of lakes, the drainage of wetlands. The living world is dying of consumption.

We have a fatal weakness: a failure to perceive incremental change. As natural systems shift from one state to another, we almost immediately forget what we have lost. I have to make a determined effort to remember what I saw in my youth. Could it really be true that every patch of nettles, at this time of year, was reamed with caterpillar holes? That flycatchers were so common I scarcely gave them a second glance? That the rivers, around the autumn equinox, were almost black with eels?

Others seem oblivious. When I have criticised current practice, farmers have sent me images of verdant monocultures of perennial rye grass, with the message “look at this and try telling me we don’t look after nature”. It’s green, but it’s about as ecologically rich as an airport runway. One of my readers, Michael Groves, records the shift he has seen in the field beside his house, where the grass, that used to be cut for hay, is now cut for silage. Watching the cutters being driven at great speed across the field, he realised that any remaining wildlife would be shredded. Soon afterwards, he saw a roe deer standing in the mown grass. She stayed throughout the day and the following night. When he went to investigate, he found her fawn, its legs amputated. “I felt sickened, angry and powerless … how long had it taken to die?”. That “grass-fed meat” the magazines and restaurants fetishise? This is the reality.

When our memories are wiped as clean as the land, we fail to demand its restoration. Our forgetting is a gift to industrial lobby groups and the governments that serve them. Over the past few months, I have been told repeatedly that the environment secretary, Michael Gove, gets it. I have said so myself: he genuinely seems to understand what the problems are and what needs to be done. Unfortunately, he doesn’t do it.

He cannot be blamed for all of the fiascos to which he has put his name. The 25-year plan for nature was, it seems, gutted by the Prime Minister’s office. The environmental watchdog he proposed was defanged by the Treasury (it has subsequently been lent some dentures by Parliament). Other failures are all his own work. In response to lobbying from sheep farmers, he has allowed ravens, a highly intelligent and long-lived species just beginning to recover from centuries of persecution, to be killed once more. There are 24 million sheep in this country and 7400 pairs of ravens. Why must all other species give way to the white plague?

Responding to complaints that most of our national parks are wildlife deserts, Gove set up a commission to review them. But governments choose their conclusions in advance, through the appointments they make. A more dismal, backward-looking and uninspiring panel would be hard to find: not one of its members, as far as I can tell, has expressed a desire for significant change in our national parks, and most of them, if their past statements are anything to go by, are determined to keep them in their sheepwrecked and grouse-trashed state.

Now the lobbyists demand a New Zealand settlement for farming after Brexit: deregulated, upscaled, hostile to both wildlife and the human eye. If they get their way, no landscape, however treasured, will be safe from broiler sheds and mega-dairy units, no river protected from run-off and pollution, no songbird saved from local extinction. The merger between Bayer and Monsanto brings together the manufacturer of the world’s most lethal pesticides with the manufacturer of the world’s most lethal herbicides. Already the concentrated power of these behemoths is a hazard to democracy; together they threaten both political and ecological disaster. Labour’s environment team have scarcely a word to say about any of it. Similarly, the big conservation groups, as usual, have gone missing in inaction.

We forget even our own histories. We fail to recall, for example, that the Dower report, published in 1945, envisaged wilder national parks than we now possess, and that the conservation white paper the government issued in 1947 called for the kind of large-scale protection that is considered edgy and innovative today. Remembering is a radical act.

That caterpillar, by the way, was a six spot burnet: the larva of a stunning iridescent black and pink moth that once populated my neighbourhood and my mind. I will not allow myself to forget again: I will work to recover the knowledge I have lost. For I now see that without the power of memory, we cannot hope to defend the world we love.

http://www.monbiot.com

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“… the world we love.”

No better illustrated each morning as my world reaches out to me with love and trust.

Thank you, George, for speaking out so powerfully!

Going Vegan!

More evidence that supports the sense, the very great sense, in going vegan!

Some three weeks ago, on June 15th to be exact, I published a post called On Veganism. Jean and I had just watched a film What The Health and what it presented in terms of eating chicken and fish convinced us to immediately go the final step, as in going from being vegetarians to vegans.

Many of you offered kind words and encouragement. Colette Bytes included a link to a blog post that she published in April, 2017. It is called Vegan Future and with her kind permission that post is republished today.

It is chock full of information and videos so do settle down and let all the information provided by Colette ‘speak’ to you! This is really worthy of an evening spent watching all the videos!

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Vegan Future

by Colette Bytes, April 21st 2017

Seventeen percent of human caused greenhouse gases,  come from meat and dairy production. It is actually a greater figure than all CO2 produced by global transportation!

Posted by The Daily Conversation

But is it enough, just to reduce our animal consumption, or should we look at the compelling evidence that we need a Vegan future!

Animal and Environmental Ethics

On a previous blog, I mention the documentary ‘Earthlings’ narrated by Hollywood actor, and lifelong Vegan, Joachim Phoenix. ‘Earthlings’ is the definitive Vegan film on exposing the meat and dairy industry in the US. And while other countries may not have factory farming on such a broad scale, many of the same procedures occur on a smaller scale. No member of the general public is allowed into the kill sections of slaughter houses for a very good reason. It is horrendous to watch a fear-ridden animal that wants to live, face its painful death.

This filmed reaction of a viewer watching ‘Earthlings’ is an average reaction. It is a moving experience for anyone with compassion. Posted by Raw Vegan, Fruitarian, Michael Lanfield, it is worth watching if you cannot bring yourself to actually watch the devastating, but common images of the meat, dairy and egg industry.

Switching your food intake to a plant-based Vegan diet, (eliminating all meat, dairy, egg and seafood), is the biggest change with the most impact that you can possibly make to reduce climate warming, land and water degradation, extinction rates, deforestation, pollution, human and animal suffering, and war (often over lack of food and water resources). And It is the number one thing you can do to improve your own health. It can also cut the cost of your food bill while you continue to eat a healthy diet.

There is no downside to this change if you keep your diet healthy and balanced. You can even eat processed plant-based, meat-like products if you want, but they may cost a similar amount to having meat in your diet.

The United Nations has already stated that we need to switch to a plant based diet if we are to survive.

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=53984

So what is holding you back?

Australian, James Aspey, a survivor of thyroid cancer, has become a Vegan Speaker (on ending animal cruelty) with his own Youtube channel, but he is also one of an exponentially growing number of people who have improved their own health through a plant based diet switch.

James Aspey interview posted by Plant Based News

Find out more about James Aspey on his YouTube channel, Facebook, and on his website:
http://www.jamesaspey.com.au/

Healthy Eating

AllPlants interview on Plant Based News

Lots of new Ethical, Healthy Vegan Ready Made meals like this brand are appearing now on Super market shelves. So even if you don’t ‘do cooking’ you can still find nutritious Vegan options. And Vegan restaurants, holidays and lifestyles are all available now.

And new research is beginning to show that meat and dairy are actually toxic to our body.

Meat is a neurotoxin, Posted by 8/10/10 in London

And for when you have time, do listen to this amazing and life changing Cardiologist’s 1:20:00 hrs talk…on your likelihood of developing heart disease, diabetes, and other life threatening diseases on a meat based diet…and also look at doctor Greger’s work and videos too (links below)

Robert Ostfeld, Cardiologist and Director of a US Cardiology Centre. Posted by Jeanne Schumacher, ‘Plant Power’ YouTube channel

More on Dr Ostfeld is available on The Forks over Knives (film) website https://www.forksoverknives.com/contributors/robert-ostfeld/

Elite Athletes and Hollywood Icons
You’d be surprised how many top athletes eat a vegan diet just to be at the top of their sport…Names like Serena and Venus Williams, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray, are all Vegans. Winner of the world Strongman competition is Vegan. Many top boxers eat vegan. Look at PlantBased News on YouTube for lots of informative videos on who is Vegan. And see their 100 countdown of awesome Vegan celebrities.

Top 2017 Vegans posted by PlantBased News

Making the change to Vegan

Eating junk plant-based foods is not advisable as it will lead to nutrient deficiencies…and ultimately a disease state, so you can’t survive on potato crisps, popcorn, and bread….there is a responsibility to eat a balanced fresh food diet to be healthy.

You do need to eat proteins (nuts, legumes, grains, beans, some veggies). You will need to supplement with Vitamin B12, a soil- based, active nutrient essential for our brain & nervous system which we do not get in our diet as we no longer forage and eat unwashed food like our ape ancestors. And you may need to supplement Vit D3 for bone health as we no longer spend enough time outside in the sunshine. Essential oil, Omega 3 can be obtained from flax and hemp seeds. The rest, you should be able to get from a ‘good’ Vegan diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, legumes, beans, grains and nuts. Just 15 grams of nuts per day will give you enough protein to be healthy. Eating Kale and other dark leafy plants, beans, whole grain rice, legumes and some nuts, sweet potatoes are all sources of Calcium. The key to health is to have a full, varied selection of whole plant-based food!

Meat and Dairy Industry  Scare Tactics

The Meat and Dairy industry packers are worried that they will lose their industry and are fighting back with their political power and disinformation campaigns designed to scare us, but the smart companies will begin to think about how they can profit from exponential growth in the Vegan food industry.

Corporate Panick, posted by PlantBased News
Research

There are so many online sources to help you buy, and cook a healthy plant-based diet. Just type ‘Vegan Recipies’ into a search engine and you will find fantastic yummy recipes. You will love the variety and the taste of your new diet. And if you are not into cooking,  mainstream supermarkets are now starting to stock a growing variety of vegan ready made meals, and starting to label Vegan choices.

https://plantbasednews.org/

An all round informative website on Vegan trends, news headlines, and increasing popularity of healthy lifestyles including a plant- based diet.
Medical based RESOURCES on how to stay healthy on a Vegan diet

https://nutritionfacts.org/

Dr Michael Greger, MD, author of Best Seller, ‘How Not to Die’ and distributer of free videos and research on how plant based diets affect us. I have followed his work for years and he backs it all up with science based studies…his short videos and reports are packed with hundreds of supportive reports for a plant based diet.

https://www.drmcdougall.com/

Dr McDougal, Author of ‘A Starch Based Diet’ and follower of Nathan Pritikin, one of the forerunners promoting plant based nutrition.

http://www.theveganjunction.com/top-20-plant-based-health-professionals-to-follow/

Vegan Junction list of Plant-Based Diet health professionals
More Videos

Open Your Eyes – Toronto Pig Save posted by Bite-Size-Vegan

How not To Die – plant based diet by Dr Michael Greger
Latest documentaries to look up

Carnage (only on BBC iPlayer)

The Game Changers

Eating our way to Extinction

What the Health!

Plant Pure Nutrition

And there are so many more resources out there ! Join the growing trend to make this a better world for everyone, by making the biggest difference you can when you shop for food. Pick whole, plant-based, foods and kick the ‘animal eating’ habit to be healthy, stop animal cruelty, and save the environment and reduce global greenhouse gases. What could be a more worthy goal?

Why not check out my blog here on ‘Why do We Hurt Animals?

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This is so much more than just a blog post from Colette. It is a fantastic source of information, from a variety of sources, about why it makes such good sense to become a vegan.

I shall include it as a link from the home page of Learning from Dogs so it may serve as a reference long after it was republished today.

Then what about dogs eating a vegan diet? Sounds a bit strange? Maybe not! I shall be exploring that option with Halo, a company based in Florida, who claim:

Can dogs be vegan? Unlike cats, who are obligate carnivores, dogs can be fed a vegan diet as long as it’s high quality and nutritionally balanced like Halo® Garden of Vegan® dog food.

More on this next week.

In the meantime, I’m taking a day off tomorrow but please do read George Monbiot’s latest post, being republished here on Friday, 6th July.

On plant-based diets!

Serendipity!

Last Friday I published a post under the title of On Veganism. Earlier that same day I opened up an email promoting the latest essay from George Monbiot. It had been published in The Guardian newspaper two days previously.

I am delighted to republish it here with George Monbiot’s kind permission.

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Butchery of the Planet

Defending the living world and its people requires a shift from meat to a plant-based diet

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 8th June 2018

Whether human beings survive this century and the next, whether other lifeforms can live alongside us: above all this depends on the way we eat. We can cut our consumption of everything else close to zero and still drive living systems to collapse, unless we change our diets.

All the evidence now points in one direction: the crucial shift is from an animal to a plant-based diet. A paper published last week in Science reveals that while some kinds of meat and dairy production are more damaging than others, all are more harmful to the living world than growing plant protein. It shows that animal farming takes up 83% of the world’s agricultural land, but delivers only 18% of our calories. A plant-based diet cuts the use of land by 76% and halves the greenhouse gases and other pollution caused by food production.

Part of the reason is the extreme inefficiency of feeding livestock on grain: most of its nutritional value is lost in conversion from plant protein to animal protein. This reinforces my contention that if you want to eat less soya, you should eat soya: most of the world’s production of this crop, and the accompanying destruction of forest, savannah and marshland, is driven by the wasteful practice of feeding animals on food that humans can eat.

More damaging still is free range meat: the environmental impacts of converting grass into flesh, the paper remarks, “are immense under any production method practiced today”. This is because so much land is required to produce every grass-fed steak or lamb chop. Though roughly twice as much land is used for grazing worldwide than for crop production, it provides just 1.2% of the protein we eat. While much of this pastureland cannot be used to grow crops, it can be used for rewilding: allowing the many rich ecosystems destroyed by livestock farming to recover, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, protecting watersheds and halting the sixth great extinction in its tracks. The land that should be devoted to the preservation of human life and the rest of the living world is used instead to produce a tiny amount of meat.

Whenever I raise the crucial issue of yield per hectare, I receive a barrage of vituperation and abuse. But I’m not having a go at farmers, just pointing out that the figures don’t add up. We can neither feed the world’s growing population nor protect its living systems through animal farming. Meat and dairy are an extravagance we can no longer afford.

There is no way out of this. Those who claim that “regenerative” or “holistic” ranching mimics nature deceive themselves. It relies on fencing, while in nature wild herbivores roam freely, often across vast distances. It excludes or eradicates predators, crucial to the healthy functioning of all living systems. It tends to eliminate tree seedlings, ensuring that the complex mosaics of woody vegetation found in many natural systems – essential to support a wide range of wildlife – are absent.

The animal industry demands ever greater assaults on the living world. Witness the badger slaughter in the UK, now spreading across the country in response to the misguided requests of dairy farmers. People ask how I would justify the return of wolves, knowing that they will kill some sheep. I ask how they justify the eradication of wolves and a vast range of other wildlife to make way for sheep. The most important environmental action we can take is to reduce the amount of land used by farming.

Unless you can cook well – and many people have neither the skills nor the space – a plant-based diet can be either boring or expensive. We need better and cheaper vegan ready meals and quick and easy meat substitutes. The big shift will come with the mass production of cultured meat. There are three main objections. The first is that the idea of artificial meat is disgusting. If you feel this way, I invite you to look at how your sausages, burgers and chicken nuggets are currently raised, slaughtered and processed. Having worked on an intensive pig farm, I’m more aware than most of what disgusting looks like.

The second objection is that cultured meat undermines local food production. Perhaps those who make this claim are unaware of where animal feed comes from. Passing Argentinian soya through a nearby pig before it reaches you does not make it any more local than turning it directly into food for humans. The third objection has greater merit: cultured meat lends itself to corporate concentration. Again, the animal feed industry (and, increasingly, livestock production) has been captured by giant conglomerates. But we should fight to ensure that cultured meat does not go the same way: in this sector as in all others, we need strong anti-trust laws.

This could also be a chance to break our complete dependence on artificial nitrogen. Traditionally, animal and plant farming were integrated through the use of manure. Losses from this system led to a gradual decline in soil fertility. The development of industrial fertilisers saved us from starvation, but at a high environmental cost. Today, the link between livestock and crops has mostly been broken: crops are grown with industrial chemicals while animal slurry stacks up, unused, in stinking lagoons, wipes out rivers and creates dead zones at sea. When it is applied to the land, it threatens to accelerate antibiotic resistance.

In switching to a plant-based diet, we could make use of a neat synergy. Most protein crops – peas and beans – capture nitrogen from the air, fertilising themselves and raising nitrate levels in the soil that subsequent crops, such as cereals and oilseeds, can use. While the transition to plant protein is unlikely to eliminate the global system’s need for artificial fertiliser, the pioneering work of vegan organic growers, using only plant-based composts and importing as little fertility as possible from elsewhere, should be supported by research, that governments have so far conspicuously failed to fund.

Understandably, the livestock industry will resist all this, using the bucolic images and pastoral fantasies that have beguiled us for so long. But they can’t force us to eat meat. The shift is ours to make. It becomes easier every year.

http://www.monbiot.com

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Thus, along with the argument presented last Friday that a vegan diet is critically important for one’s health and long-term fitness, Mr. Monbiot presents another argument: “Whether human beings survive this century and the next, whether other lifeforms can live alongside us: above all this depends on the way we eat.

On veganism!

Just in case this reaches out to others concerned about their diet!

The one thing we know for sure about our fabulous dogs is that they are meat-eaters!

As the The Natural Doggie website offers (my italics):

Dogs have always been a part of our families, so much so that many dog owners even save a seat on their dining tables for their furry friends. While this is all good and well that we shower the canine members of our family with as much love and affection as we do the other members of our family, it’s important for us to remember that their digestive systems and dietary requirements differ from ours.

However, for us humans with our distinctly human dietary requirements, meat is far, far from being an essential food ingredient!

When I met Jeannie back in 2007 it quickly became clear that she was, and had been since the age of 14, a vegetarian. As soon as were living together I joined ‘the club’!

Then a few days ago we both watched a documentary that we saw on Netflix. The film was called What The Health! and, boy oh boy, did it open our eyes. Not just to the very real dangers of eating meat but also fish and chicken. We resolved to become vegans immediately.

There is a website for the film, as in What The Health Film. While the film is only available for Netflix subscribers or may be purchased in other forms, as that website explains, there is a trailer available on YouTube. (The text that follows that trailer is from the Vimeo website.)

What the Health is the groundbreaking follow-up film from the creators of the award winning documentary Cowspiracy. The film follows intrepid filmmaker Kip Andersen as he uncovers the secret to preventing and even reversing chronic diseases – and investigates why the nation’s leading health organizations don’t want us to know about it. With heart disease and cancer the leading causes of death in America, and diabetes at an all-time high, the film reveals possibly the largest health cover-up of our time.

With the help of medical doctors, researchers, and consumer advocates, What the Health exposes the collusion and corruption in government and big business that is costing us trillions of healthcare dollars, and keeping us sick.

Join Kip as he tracks down the leading and most trusted American health nonprofits to find out why these groups are staying silent, despite a growing body of evidence. Audiences will be shocked to learn the insidious roles played by pharmaceutical companies, agribusiness, and processed animal food companies in the nation’s health, especially in the most vulnerable communities, and will cheer at the transformation and recovery of those who took their lives into their own hands.

What The Health is a surprising, and at times hilarious, investigative documentary that will be an eye-opener for everyone concerned about our nation’s health and how big business influences it.

However, in fairness a quick web search comes up with other perspectives. Try this 27-minute interview with Dr. Neal Barnard.

You really should watch it even before you decide to watch What The Health. Please!

Or you may want to read the review that was published by TIME Magazine in August, 2017.

The recent pro-vegan Netflix documentary, What the Health, is under fire from nutrition experts. The film, which is co-directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn—the creators of another Netflix documentary, Cowspiracy—and co-produced by actor Joaquin Phoenix, is being criticized by some health professionals for exaggerating weak data and misrepresenting science to promote a diet that avoids all animal foods.

TIME fact-checked the film. Here are four things that What the Health got wrong—and what it got right.

Ultimately, it all comes down to personal choices.

But for those that want to explore the pros and cons try the information on the American Vegan Society website. Or call into Vegsource.com.

Plus, on Monday I shall be republishing a recent article from George Monbiot that addresses the issue.

But I started with a reference to dogs and I shall close by doing the same thing. How many saw the item on the BBC News website about how “A dog that transformed a 104-year-old’s life“?

Image copyright Dona Tracy

Milt Lessner has “always had dogs” throughout his life – and he’s 104 years old, he tells writer Jen Reeder. So are dogs the secret to longevity?

“I’d like to think so,” he says.

“I enjoy the familiarity with them, and the pleasantness, and the bonding – especially the bonding.”

Do read the full news story here.

Have a great weekend all of you!

Shit Happens!

A very inspirational essay from George Monbiot.

It is said that there are only two certainties in life: Death and Taxes.

I think that is one short: The Unexpected. As in Death, Taxes and The Unexpected!

As evidence of The Unexpected, one could put falling off one’s bike or being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Or the many other ‘hiccups’ that are an attribute of the real world that we humans live in. Put in the words of the street: Shit Happens!

Now read this very inspirational essay from George Monbiot. Republished here with Mr. Monbiot’s very kind permission.

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Unprostrated

16th March 2018

I have prostate cancer, but I’m happy. Here’s how.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 14th March 2018

It came, as these things often do, like a gunshot on a quiet street: shocking and disorienting. In early December, my urine turned brown. The following day I felt feverish and found it hard to pee. I soon realised I had a urinary tract infection. It was unpleasant, but seemed to be no big deal. Now I know that it might have saved my life.

The doctor told me this infection was unusual in a man of my age, and hinted at an underlying condition. So I had a blood test, which revealed that my prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels were off the scale. An MRI scan and a mortifying biopsy confirmed my suspicions. Prostate cancer: all the smart young men have it this season.

On Monday, I go into surgery. The prostate gland is buried deep in the body, so removing it is a major operation: there are six entry points and it takes four hours. The procedure will hack at the roots of my manhood. Because of the damage that will be caused to the surrounding nerves, there’s a high risk of permanent erectile dysfunction. Because the urethra needs to be cut and reattached to the bladder, I will almost certainly suffer urinary incontinence for a few months, and possibly permanently. Because the removal of part of the urethra retracts the penis, it appears to shrink, at least until it can be stretched back into shape.

I was offered a choice: radical surgery or brachytherapy. This means implanting radioactive seeds in the parts of the prostrate affected by cancer. Brachytherapy has fewer side effects, and recovery is much faster. But there’s a catch. If it fails to eliminate the cancer, there’s nothing more that can be done. This treatment sticks the prostate gland to the bowel and bladder, making surgery extremely difficult. Once you’ve had one dose of radiation, they won’t give you another. I was told that the chances of brachytherapy working in my case were between 70 and 80%. The odds were worse, in other words, than playing Russian roulette (which, with one bullet in a six-chambered revolver, gives you 83%). Though I have a tendency to embrace risk, this was not an attractive option.

It would be easy to curse my luck and start to ask “why me?”. I have never smoked and hardly drink; I have a ridiculously healthy diet and follow a severe fitness regime. I’m 20 or 30 years younger than most of the men I see in the waiting rooms. In other words, I would have had a lower risk of prostate cancer only if I had been female. And yet … I am happy. In fact, I’m happier than I was before my diagnosis. How can this be?

The reason is that I’ve sought to apply the three principles which, I believe, sit at the heart of a good life. The first is the most important: imagine how much worse it could be, rather than how much better.

When you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, your condition is ranked on the Gleason Score, which measures its level of aggression. Mine is graded at 7 out of 10. But this doesn’t tell me where I stand in general. I needed another index to assess the severity of my condition, so I invented one: the Shitstorm Scale. How does my situation compare to those of people I know, who contend with other medical problems or family tragedies? How does it compare to what might have been, had the cancer had not been caught while it is still – apparently – confined to the prostate gland? How does it compare to innumerable other disasters that could have befallen me?

When I completed the exercise, I realised that this bad luck, far from being a cause of woe, is a reminder of how lucky I am. I have the love of my family and friends. I have the support of those with whom I work. I have the NHS. My Shitstorm Score is a mere 2 out of 10.

The tragedy of our times is that, rather than apply the most useful of English proverbs – “cheer up, it could be worse” – we are constantly induced to imagine how much better things could be. The rich lists and power lists with which the newspapers are filled, our wall-to-wall celebrity culture, the invidious billions spent on marketing and advertising, create an infrastructure of comparison that ensures we see ourselves as deprived of what others possess. It is a formula for misery.

The second principle is this: change what you can change, accept what you can’t. This is not a formula for passivity. I’ve spent my working life trying to alter outcomes that might have seemed immovable to other people. The theme of my latest book is that political failure is, at heart, a failure of imagination. But sometimes we simply have to accept an obstacle as insuperable. Fatalism in these circumstances is protective. I accept that my lap is in the lap of the gods.

So I will not rage against the morbidity this surgery might cause. I won’t find myself following Groucho Marx who, at the age of 81, magnificently lamented, “I’m going to Iowa to collect an award. Then I’m appearing at Carnegie Hall, it’s sold out. Then I’m sailing to France to pick up an honour from the French government. I’d give it all up for one erection.” And today there’s viagra.

The third principle is this: do not let fear rule your life. Fear hems us in, stops us from thinking clearly and prevents us from either challenging oppression or engaging calmly with the impersonal fates. When I was told that this operation has an 80% chance of success, my first thought was “that’s roughly the same as one of my kayaking trips. And about twice as good as the chance of emerging from those investigations in West Papua and the Amazon”.

There are, I believe, three steps to overcoming fear: name it, normalise it, socialise it. For too long, cancer has been locked in the drawer labelled Things We Don’t Talk About. When we call it the Big C, it becomes, as the term suggests, not smaller, but larger in our minds. He Who Must Not Be Named is diminished by being identified, and diminished further when he becomes a topic of daily conversation.

The super-volunteer Jeanne Chattoe, whom I interviewed recently for another column, reminded me that, just 25 years ago, breast cancer was a taboo subject. Thanks to the amazing advocacy of its victims, this is almost impossible to imagine today. Now we need to do the same for other cancers. Let there be no more terrible secrets.

So I have sought to discuss my prostate cancer as I would discuss any other issue. I make no apologies for subjecting you to the grisly details: the more familiar they become, the less horrifying. In doing so, I socialise my condition. Last month, I discussed the remarkable evidence suggesting that a caring community enhances recovery and reduces mortality. In talking about my cancer with family and friends, I feel the love that I know will get me through this. The old strategy of suffering in silence could not have been more misguided.

I had intended to use this column to urge men to get themselves tested. But since my diagnosis, we’ve discovered two things. The first is that prostate cancer has overtaken breast cancer to become the third biggest cancer killer in the UK. The second is that the standard assessment (the PSA blood test) is of limited use. As prostate cancer in its early stages is likely to produce no symptoms, it’s hard to see what men can do to protect themselves. That urinary tract infection was a remarkably lucky break.

Instead, I urge you to support the efforts led by Prostate Cancer UK to develop a better test. Breast cancer has attracted twice as much money and research as prostate cancer, not because (as the Daily Mail suggests) men are the victims of injustice, but because women’s advocacy has been so effective. Campaigns such as Men United and the Movember Foundation have sought to bridge this gap, but there’s a long way to go. Prostate cancer is discriminatory: for reasons unknown, black men are twice as likely to suffer it as white men. Finding better tests and treatments is a matter of both urgency and equity.

I will ride this out. I will own this disease but I won’t be defined by it: I will not be prostrated by my prostate. I will be gone for a few weeks but when I return, I do solemnly swear I will still be the argumentative old git with whom you are familiar.

http://www.monbiot.com

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It appears to be a unique aspect of the human mind. I am referring to our ability to worry about the future, to struggle to break away from ‘habitual’ responses to unanticipated crap coming along, to see the glass as half full as opposed to half empty, and so on, and so on.

Oh, to be like our dear, sweet, wise dogs.

Just let the world roll by!

Consuming the living planet.

The eating habits of us humans have to change!

Funny how things go!

For just two days ago I published a post under the heading of Meat is Heat. It featured an essay by Michael Greger. He of the website NutritionFacts.org. That essay promoted the message:

What we eat may have more of an impact on global warming than what we drive.

Just cutting out animal protein intake one day of the week could have a powerful effect. Meatless Mondays alone could beat out a whole week of working from home and not commuting.

Many of you read that post.

On the same day that I published that post, George Monbiot published an article in The Guardian newspaper that offered the same message, albeit coming at it from a different place but nonetheless just as critically important.

Here it is republished with Mr. Monbiot’s very kind permission.

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We Can’t Keep Eating Like This

This is the question everyone should be attending to – where is the food going to come from?

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 11th December 2017

Brexit; the crushing of democracy by billionaires; the next financial crash; a rogue US president: none of them keeps me awake at night. This is not because I don’t care – I care very much. It’s only because I have a bigger question on my mind. Where is the food going to come from?

By mid-century there will be two or three billion more people on Earth. Any one of the issues I am about to list could help precipitate mass starvation. And this is before you consider how they might interact.

The trouble begins where everything begins: with soil. The UN’s famous projection that, at current rates of soil loss, the world has 60 years of harvests left, appears to be supported by a new set of figures. Partly as a result of soil degradation, yields are already declining on 20% of the world’s croplands.

Now consider water loss. In places such as the North China Plain, the central United States, California and north-western India – among the world’s critical growing regions – levels of the groundwater used to irrigate crops are already reaching crisis point. Water in the Upper Ganges aquifer, for example, is being withdrawn at 50 times its recharge rate. But, to keep pace with food demand, farmers in South Asia expect to use between 80 and 200% more water by 2050. Where will it come from?

The next constraint is temperature. One study suggests that, all else being equal, with each degree Celsius of warming the global yield of rice drops by 3%, wheat by 6% and maize by 7%. This could be optimistic. Research published in the journal Agricultural & Environmental Letters finds that 4°C of warming in the US Corn Belt could reduce maize yields by between 84 and 100%.

The reason is that high temperatures at night disrupt the pollination process. But this describes just one component of the likely pollination crisis. Insectageddon, caused by the global deployment of scarcely-tested pesticides, will account for the rest. Already, in some parts of the world, workers are now pollinating plants by hand. But that’s viable only for the most expensive crops.

Then there are the structural factors. Because they tend to use more labour, grow a wider range of crops and work the land more carefully, small farmers, as a rule, grow more food per hectare than large ones. In the poorer regions of the world, people with less than 5 hectares own 30% of the farmland but produce 70% of the food. Since 2000, an area of fertile ground roughly twice the size of the United Kingdom has been seized by land grabbers and consolidated into large farms, generally growing crops for export rather than the food needed by the poor.

While these multiple disasters unfold on land, the seas are being sieved of everything but plastic. Despite a massive increase in effort (bigger boats, bigger engines, more gear), the worldwide fish catch is declining by roughly 1% a year, as populations collapse. The global land grab is mirrored by a global seagrab: small fishers are displaced by big corporations, exporting fish to those who need it less but pay more. Around 3 billion people depend to a large extent on fish and shellfish protein. Where will it come from?

All this would be hard enough. But as people’s incomes increase, their diet tends to shift from plant protein to animal protein. World meat production has quadrupled in 50 years, but global average consumption is still only half that of the UK – where we eat roughly our bodyweight in meat every year – and just over a third of the US level. Because of the way we eat, the UK’s farmland footprint (the land required to meet our demand) is 2.4 times the size of its agricultural area. If everyone aspires to this diet, how do we accommodate it?

The profligacy of livestock farming is astonishing. Already, 36% of the calories grown in the form of grain and pulses – and 53% of the protein – are used to feed farm animals. Two-thirds of this food is lost in conversion from plant to animal. A graph produced last week by Our World in Data suggests that, on average, you need 0.01m2 of land to produce a gram of protein from beans or peas, but 1m2 to produce it from beef cattle or sheep: a difference of 100-fold.

It’s true that much of the grazing land occupied by cattle and sheep cannot be used to grow crops. But it would otherwise have sustained wildlife and ecosystems. Instead, marshes are drained, trees are felled and their seedlings grazed out, predators are exterminated, wild herbivores fenced out and other lifeforms gradually erased as grazing systems intensify. Astonishing places – such as the rainforests of Madagascar and Brazil – are laid waste to make room for yet more cattle.

Because there is not enough land to meet both need and greed, a global transition to eating animals means snatching food from the mouths of the poor. It also means the ecological cleansing of almost every corner of the planet.

The shift in diets would be impossible to sustain even if there were no growth in the human population. But the greater the number of people, the greater the hunger meat eating will cause. From a baseline of 2010, the UN expects meat consumption to rise by 70% by 2030 (this is three times the rate of human population growth). Partly as a result, the global demand for crops could double (from the 2005 baseline) by 2050. The land required to grow them does not exist.

When I say this keeps me up at night, I mean it. I am plagued by visions of starving people seeking to escape from grey wastes, being beaten back by armed police. I see the last rich ecosystems snuffed out, the last of the global megafauna – lions, elephants, whales and tuna – vanishing. And when I wake, I cannot assure myself that it was just a nightmare.

Other people have different dreams: the fantasy of a feeding frenzy that need never end, the fairytale of reconciling continued economic growth with a living world. If humankind spirals into societal collapse, these dreams will be the cause.

There are no easy answers, but the crucial change is a shift from an animal to a plant-based diet. All else being equal, stopping both meat production and the use of farmland to grow biofuels could provide enough calories for another 4 billion people and double the protein available for human consumption. Artificial meat will help: one paper suggests it reduces water use by at least 82% and land use by 99%.

The next Green Revolution will not be like the last one. It will rely not on flogging the land to death, but on reconsidering how we use it and why. Can we do this, or do we – the richer people now consuming the living planet – find mass death easier to contemplate than changing our diet?

http://www.monbiot.com

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As many of you know Jeannie and I changed our diet to a vegan diet some four weeks ago. It was done more for personal health reasons than from an awareness of the difference that it made to the future of the planet. But over the last few weeks we have had our eyes opened to the broader benefits of not eating meat. George Monbiot spells out the urgency of change for all of us, especially the richer people in the richer countries.

Am I hopeful that there will be a mass awareness of the need to change? I truly just don’t know. I will close be repeating Mr. Monbiot’s closing sentence.

Can we do this, or do we – the richer people now consuming the living planet – find mass death easier to contemplate than changing our diet?

Interesting times!

Are we awake!

Returning to Earth with a bang!

My posts of the last few days have been in the ‘cuddly, cosy’ vein of life and, as many would say, a long way from the reality of this 21st century.

The reality is tough and scary and many, including me, favour running away from scary places. I’m sure that the urge to flee and hide is a survival behaviour from long time ago. BUT!! But the only hope for us humans is to face the facts full on.

Take, for example, the Ganges River. We have all heard of this famous river (my emphasis below):

The Ganges  is a trans-boundary river of Asia which flows through the nations of India and Bangladesh. The 2,525 km (1,569 mi) river rises in the eastern Himalayas in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, and flows south and east through the Gangetic Plain of North India into Bangladesh, where it empties into the Bay of Bengal. It is the third largest river in the world by discharge.

The source of the Ganges is the Gangotri glacier. Here it is:

Gaumukh, snout of the Gangotri glacier,surrounded by the Bhagirathi peaks of Garhwal Himalayas, at an altitude of over 4,000 metres. Photo: Vidya Venkat.

The photograph was taken from this article; from which I offer:

Scientists say dwindling snowfall affects volume of water fed to the Bhagirathi, the main source of the Ganga

After a four-hour-long trek from Bhojwasa, the final camping spot in Gangotri, when a brown, fractured pile of rocks finally came into view it was hard to believe that this was the mouth of the glacier from which the ‘holy’ Ganga emerged.

Gaumukh, the snout of the Gangotri glacier, named after its shape like the mouth of a cow, has retreated by over 3 kilometres since 1817, says glaciologist Milap Chand Sharma of Jawaharlal Nehru University.

It was nearly two centuries ago that the retreat of the glacier was first documented by John Hodgson, a Survey of India geologist.

With 10 Indian States reeling under drought and the country facing a severe water crisis after two weak monsoons, the story of retreating freshwater sources such as the Himalayan glaciers is worrying. And though a three-kilometre retreat over a period of two centuries might seem insignificant at first glance, data shows that the rate of retreat has increased sharply since 1971. The rate of retreat is 22 metres per year.

Twenty-two metres or seventy-two feet a year!

Wringing our hands is no good. All of us who care for our Living Planet have to shout out just what is going on. As George Monbiot continues to do. Take his latest essay, for example, that is republished here in full with GM’s very kind permission.

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Insectageddon

The scale and speed of environmental collapse is beyond imagination.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 20th October 2017

Which of these would you name as the world’s most pressing environmental issue? Climate breakdown, air pollution, water loss, plastic waste or urban expansion? My answer is none of the above. Almost incredibly, I believe that climate breakdown takes third place, behind two issues that receive only a fraction of the attention.

This is not to downgrade the danger presented by global heating – on the contrary, it presents an existential threat. It is simply that I have come to realise that two other issues have such huge and immediate impacts that they push even this great predicament into third place.

One is industrial fishing, which, all over the blue planet, is now causing systemic ecological collapse. The other is the erasure of non-human life from the land by farming.

And perhaps not only non-human life. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, at current rates of soil loss, driven largely by poor farming practice, we have just 60 years of harvests left. And this is before the Global Land Outlook report, published in September, found that productivity is already declining on 20% of the world’s cropland.

The impact on wildlife of changes in farming practice (and the expansion of the farmed area) is so rapid and severe that it is hard to get your head round the scale of what is happening. A study published this week in the journal Plos One reveals that flying insects surveyed on nature reserves in Germany have declined by 76% in 27 years. The most likely cause of this Insectageddon is that the land surrounding those reserves has become hostile to them: the volume of pesticides and the destruction of habitat have turned farmland into a wildlife desert.

It is remarkable that we need to rely on a study in Germany to see what is likely to have been happening worldwide: long-term surveys of this kind simply do not exist elsewhere. This failure reflects distorted priorities in the funding of science. There is no end of grants for research on how to kill insects, but hardly any money for discovering what the impacts of this killing might be. Instead, the work has been left – as in the German case – to recordings by amateur naturalists.

But anyone of my generation (ie in the second bloom of youth) can see and feel the change. We remember the “moth snowstorm” that filled the headlight beams of our parents’ cars on summer nights (memorialised in Michael McCarthy’s lovely book of that name). Every year I collected dozens of species of caterpillars and watched them grow and pupate and hatch. This year I tried to find some caterpillars for my children to raise. I spent the whole summer looking and, aside from the cabbage whites on our broccoli plants, found nothing in the wild but one garden tiger larva. Yes, one caterpillar in one year. I could scarcely believe what I was seeing – or rather, not seeing.

Insects, of course, are critical to the survival of the rest of the living world. Knowing what we now know, there is nothing surprising about the calamitous decline of insect-eating birds. Those flying insects – not just bees and hoverflies but species of many different families – are the pollinators without which a vast tract of the plant kingdom, both wild and cultivated, cannot survive. The wonders of the living planet are vanishing before our eyes.

Well, I hear you say, we have to feed the world. Yes, but not this way. As a UN report published in March explained, the notion that pesticide use is essential for feeding a growing population is a myth. A recent study in Nature Plants reveals that most farms would increase production if they cut their use of pesticides. A study in the journal Arthropod-Plant Interactions shows that the more neonicotinoid pesticides were used to treat rapeseed crops, the more their yield declines. Why? Because the pesticides harm or kill the pollinators on which the crop depends.

Farmers and governments have been comprehensively conned by the global pesticide industry. It has ensured its products should not be properly regulated or even, in real-world conditions, properly assessed. A massive media onslaught by this industry has bamboozled us all about its utility and its impacts on the health of both human beings and the natural world.

The profits of these companies depend on ecocide. Do we allow them to hold the world to ransom, or do we acknowledge that the survival of the living world is more important than returns to their shareholders? At the moment, shareholder value comes first. And it will count for nothing when we have lost the living systems on which our survival depends.

To save ourselves and the rest of the living world, here’s what we need to do:

  1. We need a global treaty to regulate pesticides, and put the manufacturers back in their box.
  2. We need environmental impact assessments for the farming and fishing industries. It is amazing that, while these sectors present the greatest threats to the living world, they are, uniquely in many nations, not subject to such oversight.
  3. We need firm rules based on the outcomes of these assessments, obliging those who use the land to protect and restore the ecosystems on which we all depend.
  4. We need to reduce the amount of land used by farming, while sustaining the production of food. The most obvious way is greatly to reduce our use of livestock: many of the crops we grow and all of the grazing land we use are deployed to feed them. One study in Britain suggests that, if we stopped using animal products, everyone in Britain could be fed on just 3m of our 18.5m hectares of current farmland (or on 7m hectares if all our farming were organic). This would allow us to create huge wildlife and soil refuges: an investment against a terrifying future.
  5. We should stop using land that should be growing food for people to grow maize for biogas and fuel for cars.

Then, at least, nature and people would have some respite from the global onslaught. And, I hope, a chance of getting through the century.

http://www.monbiot.com

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Please do share this as widely as you can. Please do inform others. Please do make whatever changes, however small, you can within your own lives.

Bhagirathi Peaks from the Gangotri Glacier

And, please, please, listen to our Living Planet that is screaming out to us that this cannot go on!

A life on the commons.

The message of common land.

I am far from certain but I have this notion in my head that ‘Common Land’ is an English thing. Here’s a Wikipedia extract:

Common land is land owned collectively by a number of persons, or by one person, but over which other people have certain traditional rights, such as to allow their livestock to graze upon it, to collect firewood, or to cut turf for fuel.[1]

A person who has a right in, or over, common land jointly with another or others is called a commoner.[2]

This article deals mainly with common land in England, Wales and Scotland. Although the extent is much reduced due to enclosure of common land from the millions of acres that existed until the 17th century, a considerable amount of common land still exists, particularly in upland areas, and there are over 7,000 registered commons in England alone.[3][4]

Common land or former common land is usually referred to as a common; for instance, Clapham Common or Mungrisdale Common.

Despite the idea of common land having an English ‘ring’ to it common land is also found in the USA. Back to that Wikipedia reference:

Common land, an English development, was used in many former British colonies, for example in Ireland and the United States. The North American colonies adopted the English laws in establishing their own commons. A famous example is the New Haven Green in New Haven, Connecticut.

When I was living in Devon it was not unusual to take a walk with Pharaoh on some very famous open access land: Dartmoor.

Dartmoor: English countryside at its best.

So where the devil am I going with today’s post?

Last Thursday week, the 12th, I published my review of George Monbiot’s valuable book Out Of The Wreckage.

This book struck me as the most important book I have ever read in my lifetime. Why? Because it gets to the heart of what is happening today. But it offers even more than that. For instead of a shrug of the shoulders or eyes turned skywards from a friend when one mutters about the fact that we are living in ‘interesting times’, George Monbiot offers hope and guidance.

The day after I published my review George Monbiot published an article in The Guardian newspaper that threw more light on the commons philosophy and why, as in his book, he “offers hope and guidance”.

It is republished here with Mr. Monbiot’s generous permission. Yes, the focus is on British politics but GM’s core message applies equally to the USA and other countries.

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Labouratory

13th October 2017

We should use the political space being opened by the Labour resurgence to develop a new, participatory economy

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 11th October 2017

We are still living in the long 20th Century. We are stuck with its redundant technologies: the internal combustion engine; thermal power plants; factory farms. We are stuck with its redundant politics: unfair electoral systems; their capture by funders and lobbyists; the failure to temper representation with real participation.

And we are stuck with its redundant economics: neoliberalism, and the Keynesianism still proposed by its opponents. While the latter system worked very well for 30 years or more, it is hard to see how it can take us through this century, not least because the growth it seeks to sustain smacks headlong into the environmental crisis.

Sustained economic growth on a planet that is not growing means crashing through environmental limits: this is what we are witnessing, worldwide, today. A recent paper in Nature puts our current chances of keeping global heating to less than 1.5°C of at just 1%, and less than 2° at only 5%. Why? Because while the carbon intensity of economic activity is expected to decline by 1.9% a year, global per capita GDP is expected to grow by 1.8%. Almost all investment in renewables and efficiency is cancelled out. GDP, the index that was supposed to measure our prosperity, instead measures our progress towards ruin.

But the great rupture that began in 2008 offers a chance to change all this. The challenge now is to ensure that the new political movements threatening established power in Britain and elsewhere create the space not for old ideas (such as 20th Century Keynesianism) but for a new politics, built on new economic and social foundations.

There may be a case for one last hurrah for the old model: a technological shift that resembles the Second World War’s military Keynesianism. In 1941, the US turned the entire civilian economy around on a dime: within months, car manufacturers were producing planes, tanks and ammunition. A determined government could do something similar in response to climate breakdown: a sudden transformation, replacing our fossil economy. But having effected such a conversion, it should, I believe, then begin the switch to a different economic model.

The new approach could start with the idea of private sufficiency and public luxury. There is not enough physical or environmental space for everyone to enjoy private luxury: if everyone in London acquired a tennis court, a swimming pool, a garden and a private art collection, the city would cover England. Private luxury shuts down space, creating deprivation. But magnificent public amenities – wonderful parks and playgrounds, public sports centres and swimming pools, galleries, allotments and public transport networks – create more space for everyone, at a fraction of the cost.

Wherever possible, I believe such assets should be owned and managed by neither state nor market, but by communities, in the form of commons. A commons in its true form is a non-capitalist system, in which a resource is controlled in perpetuity by a community, for the shared and equal benefit of its members. A possible model is the commons transition plan commissioned by the Flemish city of Ghent.

Land value taxation also has transformative potential. It can keep the income currently siphoned out of our pockets in the form of rent – then out of the country and into tax havens – within our hands. It can reduce land values, bringing down house prices. While local and national government should use some of the money to fund public services, the residue can be returned to communities.

Couple this with a community right to buy, enabling communities to use this money to acquire their own land, with local commons trusts that possess powers to assemble building sites, and with a new right for prospective buyers and tenants to plan their own estates, and exciting things begin to happen. This could be a formula for meeting housing need, delivering public luxury and greatly enhancing the sense of community, self-reliance and taking back control. It helps to create what I call the Politics of Belonging.

But it doesn’t stop there. The rents accruing to commons trusts could be used to create a local version of the citizens’ wealth funds (modelled on the sovereign wealth funds in Alaska and Norway) proposed by Angela Cummine and Stewart Lansley. The gain from such funds could be distributed in the form of a local basic income.

And the money the government still invests? To the greatest extent possible, I believe it should be controlled by participatory budgeting. In the Brazilian city of Porto Allegre, the infrastructure budget is allocated by the people: around 50,000 citizens typically participate. The results – better water, sanitation, health, schools and nurseries – have been so spectacular that large numbers of people now lobby the city council to raise their taxes. When you control the budget, you can see the point of public investment.

In countries like the UK, we could not only adopt this model, but extend it beyond the local infrastructure budget to other forms of local and even national spending. The principle of subsidiarity – devolving powers to the smallest political unit that can reasonably discharge them – makes such wider democratic control more feasible.

All this would be framed within a system such as Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics which, instead of seeking to maximise growth, sets a lower bound of wellbeing below which no one should fall, and an upper bound of environmental limits, that economic life should not transgress. A participatory economics could be accompanied by participatory politics, involving radical devolution and a fine-grained democratic control over the decisions affecting our lives – but I will leave that for another column.

Who could lead this global shift? It could be the UK Labour Party. It is actively seeking new ideas. It knows that the bigger the change it offers, the greater the commitment of the volunteers on which its insurgency relies: the Big Organising model that transformed Labour’s fortunes at the last election requires a big political offer. (This is why Ed Miliband’s attempts to create a grassroots uprising failed).

Could Labour be the party that brings the long 20th Century to an end? I believe, despite its Keynesian heritage, it could. Now, more than at any other time in the past few decades, it has a chance to change the world.

http://www.monbiot.com

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Muddy rambles by Dartmoor Cross on Dartmoor.

The above photo was first seen on the South Downs Walking website.

All of you and all of your dogs have a wonderful weekend.

Out Of The Wreckage: A Review

This is one powerful book!

(Please note that I am letting this post run until Sunday, 15th Oct.)

For many years I have both read George Monbiot’s writings, especially those published by The Guardian newspaper, and deeply respected his insight, intelligence and analysis of the world in which we now live.

So when I heard of his latest book, published by Verso Books both sides of the ‘pond’, it was ordered immediately. It was a book I badly wanted to read. I was not disappointed.

So what is Mr. Monbiot’s message?

To answer that question let me lean on a forthcoming talk being given by him in Edinburgh in eight days time. For he is speaking at a Scottish Green Party event on October 20th.
Here’s the thrust of what is to be covered at that meeting:

What does the good life—and the good society—look like in the twenty-first century?

A toxic ideology rules the world – of extreme competition and individualism. It misrepresents human nature, destroying hope and common purpose. Only a positive vision can replace it, a new story that re-engages people in politics and lights a path to a better world.

Join us for an evening of discussion with George Monbiot as he talks about his new book: ‘Out of the wreckage: a new politics in an age of crisis‘. New findings in psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology cast human nature in a radically different light: as the supreme altruists and cooperators. George argues that we can build on these findings to create a new politics: a ‘politics of belonging’.

So what does this mean for social and environmental justice campaigning in Edinburgh? How do we create a politics of belongings here in Scotland? There will be plenty of opportunity for George Monbiot and the audience to share their insights.

Doors open: 6pm

George Monbiot will speak from 7-7.30pm and there will then be a Q&A, plus a chance buy books, mingle and browse stalls.

This event is jointly hosted by Global Justice Now and the Scottish Green party.

To my mind, this book not only addresses, full on, the madness (my word) of these present times but also offers strong, positive recommendations as to how we, as in the societies of all the major nations, can turn it around and offer a decent future for future generations. That’s why I am so strongly recommending it.

Take this extract from the review of George Monbiot’s book published by the Guardian newspaper on the 14th September this year:

For George Monbiot, neoliberalism should best be understood as a “story”, one that was conveniently on offer at precisely the moment when the previous “story” – namely Keynesianism – fell to pieces in the mid-1970s. The power of stories is overwhelming, as they are “the means by which we navigate the world. They allow us to interpret its complex and contradictory signals”. The particular story of neoliberalism “defines us as competitors, guided above all other impulses by the urge to get ahead of our fellows”.

Or this extract from the review published by The New Statesman:

It should be said at once that we are desperately in need of new ideas for a society and a democracy where trust in all established institutions is at a record low and even a Tory prime minister admits the country doesn’t work for everyone. Monbiot’s ideas are clear, well-reasoned and sometimes compelling. Many will mock his attempt at a “story of hope and restoration”; even some of his Guardian colleagues call him “George Moonshine”. Human beings, his critics will say, are inherently selfish and self-maximising. Give them the opportunity to freeload off others’ efforts and they will take it.

Such objections are easily dismissed. Yes, there’s a self-interested streak in all of us but, as Monbiot observes, we also have instincts for co-operation and sensitivity to others’ needs. Think of the hundreds who volunteer to run food banks and of the thousands more who donate to them. Think of those Europeans who, at great risk to themselves, sheltered Jews from the Nazis during the Second World War. The altruistic instinct can be kindled in almost anybody. It is suppressed, however, in a society that rewards the selfish but penalises – and brands as “mugs” – those who are more mindful of our needs, and the planet’s. That society has led to loneliness, high levels of mental illness and increasingly discordant political discourse. Shouldn’t we at least try developing a society that does more to nurture the better angels of our nature?

Better still, settle down with a cup of tea, put your feet up for fifteen minutes and listen to this:

This book struck me as the most important book I have ever read in my lifetime. Why? Because it gets to the heart of what is happening today. But it offers even more than that. For instead of a shrug of the shoulders or eyes turned skywards from a friend when one mutters about the fact that we are living in ‘interesting times’, George Monbiot offers hope and guidance.

Take the very last two paragraphs from the final chapter of his book.

Coming Home to Ourselves

Through restoring community, renewing civic life and claiming our place in the world, we build a society in which our extraordinary nature – our altruism, empathy and deep connection – is released.

When we emerge from the age of loneliness and alienation, from an obsession with competition and extreme individualism, from the worship of image and celebrity and power and wealth, we will find a person waiting for us. It is a person better than we might have imagined, whose real character has been suppressed. It is one who lives inside us, who has been there all along.

“- our altruism, empathy and deep connection -”

I see these persons every day of my life. Via the pages of this blog.

Yes, I am referring to all of you who wander in and out of this place, who demonstrate your compassion, your love and your dedication to the dogs and all the other animals of this world.

Read this book!