Think before acting

Before making a decision we should start with observing what’s before us as clearly and objectively as possible (as clear as possible because pure objectivity doesn’t exist, though we can try) before allowing our mind to jump to any analysis, or worse yet, actions.

First, let’s just see what is going on. If I were looking at a garden, I might be looking for where the sun rises and sets, not just right now, but what about at the height of winter, or summer? Where does the prevailing wind come from? What’s the soil like? Is it clay-based? Sandy? What species of animal can I observe? Are there any parts of the garden that are prone to flooding? Or perhaps it could be the human element of the garden. What does the owner want from it? What are the budgetary and time constraints? And so on the list goes (this pdf gives a good overview of the SADIMET framework for decision making).

Before we even think about making a decision (yes the mind will do it, but try your best to ignore it), we must first see clearly what is before us. This period of obvservation in an ideal world would take place for many months before we even begin to analyse, and start to think about why these things are happening, and how we may address them.

Why is the soil always soggy in the corner? Is it because it slopes down to that wall? Why is there little top soil left? What is it we want to achieve with this garden? Do we want to grow herbs? Salad crops? Do we want to provide a relaxing space? How are we going to achieve all this within the budget and timeframe? How are we going to shield the wind? Etc.

Once we’ve explored the why and how, then we can move on to designing or planning solutions, bearing in mind the whole system. There are many ways of making a site less soggy under foot, but what if the proposed solution just contributes to more flooding further down stream (as is often the case when people put in ‘drainage’)? Then we’re not considering the whole system, because with permaculture-thinking you can’t just make a decision that makes it ‘better’ for yourself without considering your impact on others in the wider eco-system. It forces us to think beyond merely what we may want for ourselves. It forces us to think beyond that which is immediately in front of us. It forces to think about the future and others.

Once you’ve designed a system to meet the needs of the site and owner, without jeopardising the needs of the wider eco-system, both now and in the future, only then we can move on to action. Then we can look to implement our proposals. Yet they are still only proposals, they mustn’t be completely fixed, as we must listen to the feedback we get when we start implementing our ideas and adapt accordingly.

In our culture, that is obssessed with doing, we love to skip straight to the implemetntation stage, but without clear and detailed observation, in-depth analysis, and comprehensive, whole-system planning, the actions we take fall into the serious danger of making things worse than they were in the beginning. Or perhaps worse we initiate a cascading of events that lead to worse situations somewhere else, either right now, or in the future.

Myopic thinking has put our world in many very serious situations right now. Evidenced by climate change, precarious economic systems, the chaotic geopolitics of the Middle East, or the fact that we have a global food system that is inextricably linked to the destruction of vital, fragile eco-systems, and uses vast amounts of dwindling oil reserves.

These things didn’t happen overnight. They’re the consequence of over a century of short-term, narrow-minded thinking. We all merely considered ourselves, and not the consequences of our actions. And now all the chickens are coming home to roost at once.

Permaculture is a way of forcing us to think differently. Or perhaps one could argue to even think in the first place.

This article has been inspired by the discussion around the recent atrocious attacks in Paris. Many people in the mainstream media, and online are baiting for blood. I think I understand why. They’re fearful. They’re scared that it’s going to happen here, but not only that, that we are going to be invaded by extremists like IS.

Our leaders in turn think that they must respond with violence. As François Hollande put it, ‘France will be merciless.’ But is that what we really ask of our leaders? And more importantly is this the right action? Since when was being ‘merciless’ desirable?

In my opinion IS is baiting us to fight with them. They are pleading with us to engage in war. The more chaos in the Middle East, the more extremism thrives. Extremism doesn’t thrive in stable, prosperous states. The degradation of the Middle East of the last few decades has left the region in turmoil and chaos. Consequences of which we are now facing.

It seems abundantly clear to me, based on the evidence, that airstrikes don’t work . They’re just a way of making us feel better about ourselves, of making us feel that we are doing ‘something.’ I was tempted to right ‘positive’ but actually, we aren’t that worried about that in modern, Western society. We’ve fallen in love with the idea that we must do something, anything. Inaction is worse than bad action, in the so-called logic of our society.

The idea of waiting, observing, and really seeing what is happening. And then discussing why and what can be done. Then making detailed plans and designs for achieving what it is we all really want (the conservation not even going beyond discussing the eradication of IS – we haven’t even discussed what it is we want, we’re still discussing what we don’t want – never mind whether it’s possible or not, which is another conversation). And only then taking action – and remember that action is still open to continual, constant feedback and adaptation, in accordance with what happens when we take that action.

That’s an idea isn’t it? To engage in a rational, logical thought process before discussing actions.

Instead Cameron and Hollande have both come out saying that we must bomb Syria. Because that’s been working hasn’t it?!

The French cockerel had hardly crowed in the matin before we were discussing military action and airstrikes.

Why do we always assume that we must meet violence with violence? It hasn’t been working, so why not try another strategy? (Indeed do we even have a strategy?).

Instead our leaders – our because collectively as a nation we elected them – engage in childish posturing. Almost revelling in the lack of rationale. We have come to pride ourselves on acting on our emotions, rather than using calm, collected logic guided by compassion.

Compassion. Humanity. Peace. Three concepts that must inform the intellect and our decision making if we are not to just create even more suffering.

How do we ever expect ourselves to find a peaceful solution when we act like children?

The decisions we make now will have lasting consequences. It bequeaths us to act rationally and sensibly in response to the attacks in Paris. History (read: our grandchildren) will judge us. Do we really want to act recklessly?

Let’s pause, think, and let the emotions die down. Let’s consider the whole system and all of the consequences of our actions. That is demanded of us – but will we listen?


Our fossil-fuelled ignorance

You might have read my post a few weeks back, about newspaper claims that Sweden will soon be going fossil fuel free. We should all of course be jumping around celebrating a victory against all odds. But only if we’re naive enough to buy into the collective amnesia. Just because a country is aiming to generate its electricity free from fossil fuels (not technically true, but let’s run with it for a second, because even if it were true it still isn’t the emphatic victory we’re looking for) doesn’t mean it’s going ‘fossil fuel free’ as the headlines proclaimed.

This isn’t a small point. Electricity generation is just one small fraction of the total usage of fossil fuels we currently gorge on. Transportation, agriculture and manufacturing are just three other areas that use vast amounts of fossil fuel. Fossil fuels that are rapidly depleting, never mind contributing significantly to anthropogenic climate change.

Yet once again this week I read another eager journalist discussing how technology is once again coming to save us. And don’t worry chaps, none of us have to worry about doing anything ourselves. Just carry on mindlessly consuming. Do your bit for your country and all that. I mean, how else are we going to get ourselves out of this economic mess other than to consume, consume, and bloody well consume some more? I digress…

Is it too much to ask that instead of trying to continue our unsustainable, destructive use of energy that we actually discuss energy conservation? And is it too much to ask that we understand our full usage of fossil fuels extends beyond electricity generation.

The article states with its final emphatic paragraph, “Technology takes no prisoners. Nor does politics. World leaders have repeatedly stated that they would defend the line of a ‘two degree planet’, and now they are taking the concrete steps to do so. Fossil investors have been warned.”

Where do I even start? This rhetoric is straight out of the ministry of propaganda. We are nowhere near averting a ‘2 degree planet’ and we are a long way from taking the concrete steps necessary. Does the journalist even know what he’s writing about? And where did he find such platitudes such as politics and technology taking no prisoners. I’m almost speechless, and just want to put my head in my hands. Where does one start, when trying to respond to such crass naivety?

World leaders indeed have repeatedly said that they would take the necessary steps. But as we all know with the planned tax credit cuts in the UK, what a politician says, and what a politician does, are usually two diametrically opposed actions. So yes repeatedly they have said they will yet still no real action gets taken – instead the situation gets worse.

There are many flaws in this article, like where are countries going to get the $90 trillion from to fund this ‘energy revolution’ it discusses? In case the author’s missed it, most country’s economies are in dire straits.

It also overstates the importance of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) which whilst it will become an important technology, still will only be a small part of the picture. Further, we’re still waiting for it to be rolled out, and the clock is ticking steadily.

Once again we understate how difficult it will be remove ourselves from fossil fuel, and avert dangerous climate change, without addressing the main underlying problem that our economic system is inextricably linked to fossil fuels. We can either have economic growth or a liveable environment, we can’t have both, and the sooner we recognise that the better. People need hope, and need something to believe in, but false hope, and Disney-like fairy tales aren’t what we need. We need something we can believe in that will actually make a difference. We need to be told the truth.

The future’s bleak, but there’s much we can all do to make it less bleak, and even in bleak times, humans can find much to be cheerful about, such is our resilient nature.

But it seems our current propensity to buy into grandiose self-delusions about the power of human ingenuity will once again prove to be our achilles’ heel. We watch so many stories about superheroes that we actually believe that one will come flying past our window any moment now to save us all.

So when politicians tell us that they will ‘defend the two degree planet’ we will of course believe them. Because to not believe them would be to burst our bubble of delusion and to leave us with the sober reality of having to do something about it.

So yes, let’s all continue with business as usual. Let’s all buy into the fantasy that “The old energy order is living on borrowed time.” And that we’re on the cusp of an energy revolution.

No harm ever came from believing in fantasies, did it?

What I’m reading and watching…

In case you’re interested these are the books and videos I’m currently reading/watching at the moment.

The End of Growth – Richard Heinberg – A great comprehensive book that discusses the three big issues facing us and how they’re inter-linked – Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Crisis. Essential reading to get a handle on what’s ahead for us all.

Future Scenarios – David Holmgren – The co-creater of Permaculture discusses his four main visions for the future. A short book, and I’m actually working (though not reading…) backwards having read his most latest works on this topic first. Sobering, though helps to focus the mind.

Kevin Anderson – Professor of Climate Change and Energy at Manchester University – I’ve watched two very informative, no-nonsense and stark presentations on climate change. Clear look at the evidence and what we need to do. The Ostrich or The Phoenix and Delivering on 2C: Evolution or Revolution.

The History of Oil – Robert Newman – A funny 45 min show about the history of oil from a British comedian. Very interesting and entertaining.

Oh and I’ve just finished the third season of House of Cards too…

Our fossil fuelled dependence

The Independent hailed yesterday that Sweden was poised to become the first fossil fuel free nation in Europe. Intrigued though slightly suspicious, I clicked on the link. The article discusses Sweden going fossil fuel free. Though it means in regard to electricity generation only. Clearly a very positive step, and the least all countries should be achieving. Indeed, all industrialised nations should’ve achieved that already in order to help avoid drastic climate change. But better late than never.

The article lauds Sweden for managing to go fossil fuel free in the next few decades. Yet worryingly the article has overlooked the very basic fact that electricity generation only provides a fraction of total fossil fuel usage. A large fraction, but by estimates still less than half. So why doesn’t the article discuss this? Or does it buy into the notion that Sweden is going fossil fuel free? Perhaps it’s a sign of our societal lack of understanding of energy and fossil fuels.

As a culture I don’t think we realise the true extent of our addiction to fossil fuels, and of course in particular oil. A comment under the article, in response to someone who tried to highlight this in the case of plastics, said that we can produce plastics from plant based oils and recycle rather than burn plastic to keep carbon out of the atmosphere. Highlighting once again how perhaps many of us buy into the notion that all we need to do, to avoid catastrophe, is swap our current materials for something new and recycle. It’s a pervasive belief. Essentially this belief boils down to the belief that business will continue more or less as usual. We can just substitute processes and materials and increase efficiency, just like neoliberal economics teaches us to.

How are we going to manufacture let alone run cars without fossil fuels and precious resources? How are going to maintain the infrastructure required? What about our agricultural dependence on fossil fuels from pesticides and fertilisers, to transportation and packaging? What about the embodied energy (all of the energy required to develop, manufacture and transport a product – from mining, to delivery and sale) of all the ‘consumer’ products that we import.

These are just a few examples of our dependence on fossil fuels.

So unless Sweden is going to address all of these and more there is no way it is going fossil fuel free. Granted electricity generation is an important contributing factor to climate change and resource depletion, so reducing their need for fossil fuel there is a very important step, but it leaves them far short of being fossil fuel free as The Independent article discusses.

You could go further too, as there is an embodied energy in the renewable energy technologies themselves that will have come from fossil fuels. Plus you then have the maintenance of the renewable energy infrastructure – which will undoubtedly be dependent on fossil fuels.

Some may comment saying that we can drive electric cars, farm organically, cycle more, buy local food and so on. Great I’m all for those. But each of those has their own set of problems to be overcome. And we’re a long way from being able to feed the world not only organically, but also without the aid of fossil fuels. Permaculture provides a potential solution for this, but we’re decades, at best, away from a food system revolution on the scale needed.

Equally so, many like to think that because they’ve bought an electric car (often brand new, there’s still not that many available second-hand) they’re doing their bit for the environment. In reality, they may not be, it’s more complicated than that. Depending on the car previously used and the car being bought, they may have been better keeping their older oil-powered car. The key again lies in the concept of Embodied Energy (sometimes called Emergy). A large amount of energy (and thus CO2 emissions) is used in the manufacturing of the car. This article explores this question in more detail.

The point of this post is not to denigrate the importance of Sweden making that pledge but to highlight what I believe is our collective misunderstanding of energy and fossil fuels. Until six months ago I knew very little, and I propose that most don’t. But this is what we need to be teaching in schools, and be seeing in the media and on TV. It’s not an overstatement to say that our future survival as a species depends on us changing our relationship with fossil fuels. We’re already committed to a certain level of dangerous climate change, as Professor of Energy and Climate Change at Manchester University Kevin Anderson shows us in this excellent, yet daunting presentation, although it can get far far worse if we do too little. So there is plenty of motivation to do more.

And an important first step is getting clear on all of the ways we’re dependent on fossil fuels, so we know what we need to change, to transition to a world no longer dependent on them. So let’s stop telling ourselves nice, but ultimately naive stories about the future, and get real. Huge change lies ahead.


The Sale of The NHS – The Typical Tory Template of Privatisation

Round up, round up, round up!
The NHS is for sale!
Come on, we’ve got a bargain!
Bargain prices and mega gains!

Britain is for sale
On an unprecedented scale
So bring your billions and your private jet
And push our country further into debt
And in the process jeopardise our lives
All in the honour of yet more Tory lies

When it comes to the privatisation of important assets Tory governments are experts. They have a very simple formula that has been honed since Thatcher. First, they start making statements about the difficulty the service is under (whilst simultaneously causing it) and instruct their friends in the media to run some scare stories about the poor service being offered,  and how it’s costing the taxpayer’s (usually along with the words ‘hard earned’) money.

They build up a sense of crisis. A sense of something’s broken. In the meantime the Tories work behind the scenes to make it even more difficult for that service. They introduce cuts (The Tories are always making cuts to public services whilst giving tax breaks to the super wealthy), putting more pressure on the perceived-to-be pressured public service. GP, Youssef El Gingihy, lays out a brief summary of the ten steps the Tories have taken to break up the NHS.

Whilst this is happening the capitalist, parasitic vultures (a special breed) are waiting ready for their feeding frenzy. They role out their usual figureheads (Richard Branson being a favourite) who say that the service would be better under private care. Only the ‘free’ market can save it. They preach about the government being stretched and how they could do it much better. If you’re watching this on the news they usually cut to some photos of some ‘perfect’ looking service in another country. They have it better than us, is the not-so-subtle message, and they have it private. Oh please, rich city boys, come and save us.

Now they’ve successfully hijacked the public consciousness. Perhaps only a growing minority agree with the privatisation but the snowballing has started. The usual right wing rags come out with sensational headlines. Public opinion is starting to sway. And yet not once, are we really exposed to the facts. Only a stylised version of the Tory’s portrayal.

This change in public mood has an effect on the price however. The perceived value of that public entity is driven down. Making it even cheaper for the capitalistic, parasitic vultures. The neoliberals’ mouths are drooling. Not only can they gain access to a huge new market, but they can get it cheap.

Then the sell off commences. They may have had to introduce a new law or two to help get the process started. Perhaps by this point they’ve already sold off a small portion. This may take a year or two or perhaps longer for larger organisations like the NHS. They will gradually sell off more shares or contracts, whilst keeping the public unawares. A selling off by stealth.

And of course you get the pattern by now, in the background the Tory government will drive the asset in question further into crisis by making more and more cuts, all the while blaming the ineffectiveness of public services, continuing to espouse their neoliberal lies. Of course they omit to tell us that the private companies now partly controlling the asset start taking their cut of the profits, thus putting even more pressure on the service.They have to do the same job, with less available money (they have to pay extortion fees to the private pedlars.)

Yes extortion that rings a bell. Isn’t that when you have to pay rough gangsters ‘protection’ money? From a threat that they probably instigated in the first place. Parallels abound.

Before you know it they’ve driven the public asset into the ground and the sell off has started. Now the sharks are circling waiting for the final kill.

This isn’t the first privatisation the Tory government has overseen. A famous sell-off in the late 80s was the sale of the nation’s energy supply into an oligopoly, which despite rising costs, they tout as a success. With tens of thousands of elderly people dying because they can’t afford to turn the heating on, can we really consider that a success? Meanwhile the corporate elite who run the company use their profits to jet off to one of their islands to get some Winter sun. It’s a disgrace that we allow this to continue.

During the same era (Thatcher of course) we also sold off British Airways, British Petroleum, British Steel and our water supply amongst others. Companies that the British Taxpayer could’ve been profiting from, instead of subsidising. And who could forget the privatisation of our rail? Are you happy with the extortionate prices that we all pay? Oh and the billions we give Branson in taxpayer subsidies, just for the privilege of handing him more of our profits? (The same man who’s buying up more and more of our NHS.)

To quote The Guardian on the largest privatisation deal of the NHS so far “Not only is this the first billion-pound NHS privatisation, it is the first time that it has been deemed acceptable to put care designed to meet the needs of our most vulnerable patients on sale…Uniquely for a privatisation on anything of this scale, there has been no public consultation.”

Oh, I forgot to mention, that along the way their best friends, cronies and donors pocket their ‘fair share’ of the deals (including the MPs themselves). For example, with the sale of the Royal Mail, Osborne’s Best Man, pocketed millions for himself. But I’m sure that didn’t persuade Osborne at all…

The NHS is the biggest opportunity in the worldwide health ‘market’. It’s the world fifth largest employer, to give you some idea of the scale of the organisation.

But we live in a democracy I hear you say?

If that was true how can they sell off our most-prized possession? The one British citizens hold most dear. Without any real public consultation. All done behind closed doors, hush, hush.

Why is it when we sold off The Royal Mail, we did so at such a cheap price? We’re being told that the sale of the Royal Mail is to help pay for the debt we’re in. But how can it make sense to sell off your profit-making assets to pay off debts that far exceed the sale?

The final sell off of the Royal Mail raised an extra £3 billion pounds – supposedly to help cut the deficit/debt. But the Government’s debt alone stands at a little over a trillion pounds. You’d have to sell the Royal Mail 100 times over to come close. You can’t mine a country of its profit-making assets to bail it out of a debt crisis! (The fact that we will never see economic growth again – particularly when you factor in resource depletion and climate change, something the neoliberalists frequently overlook – will be the subject of another blog.) Concerns are already mounting about the bubble growing due to the ‘investment’ in the NHS. Yet another bubble for a heavily inflated economy that has run out of room to grow any longer. As with our entire economy, we’re prepared to sell ourselves into yet more debt. A debt time-bomb that is waiting to explode.

We did it with RBS too – where the government sold off the remaining shares for a £1 billion loss. George Osborne’s hedge fund friends will be happy enough though. Wherever you look there are plenty of examples of how Tory government’s sell off the vital public services of this country.

If you haven’t even heard of TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – an Orwellian use of double-speak if ever there was.) you’re forgiven because it’s been kept fairly quiet. The name alone is enough to put you off. Just sounds like some boring trade agreement, of which we have many. And that’s where their cunning lies. By making it sound so obtuse and perhaps so benign, they can push it through without worrying the electorate.

Thankfully, campaigns by groups such as 38 Degrees are helping to raise awareness of the disastrous consequences of this ‘agreement.’ One of the scariest parts of TTIP is the power it gives corporations to sue Governments if it finds the Government’s laws impede their ability to make more profit. Oh, and we’ll foot the bill for that privilege. Worried about fracking? (You should be! It provides very little oil, costs a fortune and poses huge environmental risks) Well TTIP could allow oil companies to sue our government if we block drilling. Never mind the environmental damage and costs we will all incur (but neoliberal economists have a handy term for this – it’s called an ‘externality’ – basically the damage we cause isn’t our problem to clean up, it’s yours.).


TTIP undermines our government’s ability to govern. Yet our government is pushing it through. Baffling.

But back to the NHS.

The dying of the NHS.

I can’t do justice to the privatisation of the NHS in this article. What I wanted to lay out was the rough template the Tories use. To show the overall pattern of their privatisation plans. They’ve done it repeatedly every single time we vote them into power. To read further into it, go on the National Health Action Party’s website. They have covered the privatisation of the NHS comprehensively.

I usually like to end my articles with some positive actions we can all take because I believe strongly in the power of the individual to make change. On this occasion I’m stuck. The National Health Action Party and 38 Degrees may be able to help you. They’re the ones campaigning against it. But the first step is that we all need to become aware of the situation. And not just about the NHS, but about the privatisation of the country. And don’t just sign a petition. It’s next to pointless. We all have to get involved in real campaigning and taking real action. Just like our ancestors before us always have.

There is a pattern here. A story that gets repeated across society. If nothing else, we must learn to spot it sooner, so that we can take action sooner. Public pressure may be enough to stop TTIP and the privatisation of the NHS, but even if it isn’t we must try. We can’t just stand aside and let them take it without a battle, and you never know, if enough of us do it, we might just win.

In the words of Aneurin Bevan, the founding father of the NHS:

“The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with faith to fight for it.”

So let’s bloody fight for it.

Poem: Sunken shoulders

This is a poem I wrote after a recent experience. This and the last poem certainly have a dark outlook, which is not how I always feel, but these two occasions served to remind me of the times we’re living in.

I feel abject sadness thinking of these days
These days where men are merely counting their days
These days where meaning has been sold off
Sold out to the highest bidder to live more well off
People with no passion with nothing they stand for
A group of young men with nothing they long for
Empty towns, empty places, empty spaces and empty faces
Lust replaced by tamed exchanges
Love letters written with empty pages
Hope has become a familiar stranger
Hollow houses, hollow un-homes
Flat-box living rooms and flat-box lives
Is it any wonder we have no care who survives
Distant glances, antiseptic handshakes
There’s nothing here, it’s all empty and fake
Private number plate, tattooed sleeve
Meanwhile the world around us reels and grieves
All I need is a new car and the latest fashion
Passion, what passion? What is passion?
Meaning, what meaning? What is meaning?

Poem: The Death Of Civilisation

This is a poem I wrote recently after my first visit back to London after 6 months away.

The cars push past

The city streets choked

Workers puff away worries

People push people passed

Phones are perpetually printed

Headphones block the sweet sounds of the singing starling

Food sellers huff and puff

Serving food with a pinch of disgust

Sad songs can be heard, if one but listened

Above the wailing death of civilisation.