A state of shock

I feel rather uncertain about posting anything today, given the events in Norway. I feel a profound sense of shock, I have lost all sense of feeling about what I should be feeling. Is it a deep need to rationalise it away?

Do I want to walk from all news and just let it pass? Just another incident in an evil world, see it as having no real consequence except of course for everyone in Norway who will be in deep pain.

Do I want to get every tiny piece of news? Seize on some small element which puts it all a long way away from me, find some one to blame, find some way of thinking which I can blame.

Do I see it as something that should make me more aware of my own security? Is it a trigger to much deeper shifts in how people can and will behave in the future?

Do I respond as a Psychologist? Do I just throw some thoughts into the pot and hope some may help, me and others?

The word that will not go away for me is madness. But how is this madness made up? Maybe we should explore madness.

Let’s compare it to some pretty decent rules of life:

1. For everything we do and say, we should always understand it is within a context of other people, other people’s feelings, other people’s rights. When we travel the world we naturally understand the need to behave in relation to the norms of where we are, the ‘When in Rome’ principle. No matter how global we become, no matter how universal the issues are, our rights are always limited, by virtue, and I use that word deliberately, of our being fellow citizens with others.

2. Ends do not justify means, this applies to individuals, groups, behaviour at work, our politics and our religion. We should not ‘Trash the place’ for profit, we should not Enslave, we should not demand people listen, whether it is an ad for a mobile phone or an ad for a political viewpoint, we should always, ‘What are the implications for how I am doing this?’ and some other benefit should not matter much.

One of the toughest questions we ever ask ourselves is:

‘Is this right or is it wrong?’

In a world of complexity where one thing is confounded with another, this question sometimes seems too difficult to answer. But I think it has always been a difficult question, and it has always been very important to ask it, even if we struggle with the answer.

What happened in Norway was evil. Not just wrong, it was evil. Evil is when the two rules of decent behaviour above are put aside totally. The original idea was evil, the planning was evil, the execution was evil. There is no moral uncertainty about such acts of evil.

I hope whatever analysis is put on events, and it will be there in abundance, we don’t lose hold of the simple fact that what happened was evil. Whatever might be wrong with society,  with politics, with religion, it excuses nothing. The act was evil.  Of that I am sure.



C0057684 may seem an odd title for a post but I think you may be hearing more of this chemical, especially if they find a more sexy name for it. Sierra Sciences found it when they were looking for ways to relengthen your telomeres (for those who seek some hard science on this click here). And of course, you know that means you might live forever!

Or not.

While the average lifespan in Africa for some countries is under 50, this company is looking to get people beyond the current expected limit of about 125. Yes, some children born today will most probably live to 125, and may well live to much more. If you think getting your pension will stick at 68 or even 70 you will have to think again, it has to go to 100 or more, if pensions mean anything by then.

The implications of extremely extending life spans are many. Some may say that there are moral implications, our sense of gradually changing purpose as we age will change. It won’t be a debate about women having children at 50  it will be a debate about women having children at 100 years of age, or fathers at 150 years of age. A 7 generation family will have over 200 members even if they only have 2 children each.

There are population change implications. The current projects maximum for the planet is 9 to 10 billion people (3 times what it was 50 years ago), that will be reached somewhere around 2050, and if Sierra succeed some children born today would live to 2150 and beyond. So the projections of population may go way wrong?

There are big economic considerations. At present the aim for many is to own a house within one 30 year economic period, if you get to live to 150 you could easily be owning 4 just by buying them, but in reality you would reinvest rental income and end up with 10, or maybe 20, who knows? How many houses make sense if most people are topping 120?

On the bright side, (and it seems strange that living longer seems to present a lot of dark side stuff) a breakthrough in normal ageing would surely trigger a profound sense of the need for sustainable futures, it would trigger an immense humbling of spirit as we would all face that final question, ‘what is life for?’


La Hambruna

The word in Spanish for hunger is el hambre, and for famine la hambruna. I think famine sounds far too technical, far too removed from what it must be like not just to be hungry but to be with tens or hundreds of thousands of others who are deeply, deeply hungry. Starving, dying.

Here on the south coast if we wander along the lanes we can find berries growing on bushes, plums falling off trees, and soon fields of apple trees will be dropping fruit because there is not enough demand in the markets at a price that makes them worth picking.

As the fruit wastes away on the ground we eat processed foods which make us fat and now it seems massively increase the chance that it will be cancer that takes us out.

I find it hard to support an economic system which does not readily move what is in excess in one place to where there is nothing. It is left to Charity, to the UK Government to donate £50 million on our behalf, and for us to donate as well, clearly there is a need, clearly we should help those in need, it was not their fault the rains failed again. But it seems Charity only occurs when the dying children reach our television screens, at other times we respond to 2 for 1 Pizza offers, with free delivery.

And of course, which Charity? Do we pick the one with the best adverts? Do we pick the one that shows us more pain than another, or one with smiling faces? Do we pick one that offers long term solutions rather than quick fixes? Or do we pick one our parents used to pick out when you went shopping as a child??

OK, so let’s review, who is out there saying what?

Oxfam  – £5 a month for helping to ‘fix the global food System’

Save the Children  – ‘Start saving lives from as little as £3 a month’

Unicef  – many options, it is like choosing a pension, donate for  the future or for now, you wil get a personalised service for large donations

 World Vision – Sponsor a child and see what difference you make

BBC Children in Need – OK, UK children, but every penny counts as costs are covered by investments

Disasters Emergency Committee – Committee doesn’t sound very sexy but they represent a number of charities and donations are directed where they are most needed

Aid for Africa – for projects not emergencies

Breadline Africa –  The ‘Charity with a heart’ – helping small projects in Africa

Develop Africa – It does what it ‘says on the tin’

And, of course, there are many more.

I am sure all these charities are doing everything they can for those in great need. And I am sure we need to continue to support them, but wouldn’t it be better if there was no need for so many charities trying to plug so many holes in a system which means so many people are poor, malnourished, and on occasions, in their millions, are part of La Hambruna?

Around the world groups of people are trying to engage in Transition, Towns, Cities, Streets, and as Individuals, and surely it is Transition that is desperately called for in areas which are so far from being sustainable that from tie to time, and seemingly ever more frequently, the system collapses.

Damage limitation

I remember a long time ago talking to someone who had been the personal assistant (now called a PA which I think sounds rather vulgar) to Rab Butler, the Education Minister responsible for the 1944 Education Act. She was obviously very fond of Rab, but I took her point very seriously when she said that he had been clear that the legislation was enabling rather than dictating.

Anyone who has had a part in bringing up children, which of course includes children, will know that setting limits is enabling a child, because it sets boundaries within which the child is safe to explore.

In the same way, setting limits to communities in whatever they are doing is enabling, it provides guidance within which it is safe to explore. Let’s see how this applies to housing.

For some time Governments of all colours have been keen to call for a minimum number of houses to be built, or have demanded that certain areas be prescribed to be where new housing should be provided and how many. They have more recently sought a more open policy of allowing local councils to develop Local Development Frameworks,  for example, here is the one for Brighton and Hove. With stagnant houses prices and soaring rents I was wondering if this is the right kind of approach, maybe it has been far too dictatorial instead of enabling, a natural evolution has been stultified.

But of course we don’t want houses everywhere, we need to preserve the beauty of the countryside. So it occurred to me that one simple policy might solve a lot of the problems we have. That policy would be to state that the current land area in use for housing as of, say, January 2011 is FOREVER the maximum land area which will be allowed for housing.

One small extra is required to prevent land swapping, to avoid derelict states being left abandoned while green fields are being developed. That extra would be to state that any land taken out of the housing land quota would have to be restored to the same status and value as the land being swapped to build new housing on. So a derelict estate would have to be turned into a majestic park with a river if the river and park were being developed for housing.

I think making a cap on land for housing, FOREVER. would have the positive effect of making that land truly valuable, it would be like Gold, a commodity in limited supply and therefore worth preserving. It would also be the start of providing general limits on all things which can lead to an unsustainable environment.

The same absolute limits could be applied to office/business land ‘footprint’

Maybe the same limit could be stated for how many miles of road there are, and how many passenger take off and landings there are?

The rationale for these kinds of damage limitation policies is to allow maximum room for creativity while maintaining permanent limits to the most harmful impacts on our environment.

The trouble with Government trying to control too many steps in the process is that the steps become more important than the end goal.

So, what might the problems be?

Well, one might be hoarding. So there would need to be a use it or lose it policy. And by lose it I don’t mean get paid for it, I mean it goes without compensation.

Another problem might be price escalation, so lots of people have assets of increasing value while others can’t have them, cars or houses. This does seem to be a rising problem now, but I think have a damage  limitation policy will lead to more creative solutions, so if the number of cars is limited then car sharing schemes would work better, and house sharing schemes. We have a lot of empty houses now, they would come back into use. And vacant land would be put to use.

So, maybe this would not work, but I think one big thing this land limit policy would do pretty quickly is to give a kick to the economy, suddenly people would start to reinvest in UK housing, which has to be where the economy will have to recover first.

Do you agree? Let me know.

Solar energy, a review

As I was walking along the road the other day I was looking up at the roofs of houses and wondering why so few have solar panels. They seem to be in fashion, more and more companies are sitting on stools waiting for you to exist some big store and sell you the idea of a free visit, to assess how much money you can save, and here in the UK there are probably quite a lot of people who could save money quite quickly, with Feed In Tariffs and lovely things like that.

I don’t want to do a who does what best kind of review, things are changing so rapidly that you need to keep in touch with what is going on on a week by week basis. What I want to do is list the kind of things that I think you should be thinking about, and then maybe one or two people who do the job can answer or reply. Gently of course.

Point by point, a review:

1. Will you save money? Well, you need to count the cost of the money itself, if you are paying interest on the money (and not paying off the mortgage is also, in a way, paying interest) then that cost needs to be included. People are generally terrible at making these kinds of calculations. I read somewhere that if people have 3 small loans at low interest and one at higher interest they will pay off the 3 small loans first to ‘get them out of the way’, which is not sensible of course. but I know how they feel. If you are paying high interest on a loan for buying your car, that is also what you could do instead of buying solar panels (though better still, sell the car!).

While interest rates are low in the UK then using savings is not losing you money, but if interest rates get hiked up this will change.

But as long as the money is not costing you too much, then solar panels will probably have good payback, if you get Feed in Tariff and you have good panels in the right place.

2. Is your roof right? The roof is the chosen place because  stealing energy from the sun is not OK if it would otherwise help grow green things in the garden, or your neighbour’s garden. But a lot of roofs can not be so good.

They obviously should face the sun, which means south facing is best and anything less not so good.

They need to be at a good angle, too steep is no good and too shallow or flat is no good.

There is no absolute about the angle because it depends where north or south you live. The further south you are the shallower the angle should be, by shallow I mean lying flat.

It depends on the trees in the way. It is funny how people plants trees as if they are never going to grow too tall. It seems a shame to cut down a tree (and you probably need permission) but if you were to make furniture from the wood at least you have stored the carbon it captured.

3. Is your lifestyle right? You might want to do 2 calculations, one in which all the electricity the panels produces is sold back to the Grid (Feed in) and one in which all the electricity is used by you. Take careful note that when you buy electricity you pay most for the first few units and less for the rest. If the panels mean you only buy a small number of expensive units this should be considered in the equation. You are only saving the cheap units not the expensive ones.

If your lifestyle is such that you use very little electricity then you may be saving the expensive ones, so that would be good. but then you would be selling the rest back to the Grid, which may be not so good.

Be honest about your lifestyle. A lifestyle switch could save you more than a solar panel or two. But of course you could plan to do both.

4. Are the panels good?

Like buying a car, buying the best panels takes some research. When you do that research you maybe want to check how people’s comments are relevant to you. Someone from Iceland or the Sahara is obviously not relevant for the UK, but what about Scotland, or simply inland or on the coast? And what about lifestyle, someone working from home with 5 kids is not the same as a working couple who go out every night.

Some panels will work better than other in lower light conditions, others will work better with strong sunlight. If your house is by the harbour and most mornings it is 11 a.m. before you see the sun, but then gets really hot, that is not the same as someone who lives up the hill inland who gets clear morning skies and later the sky clouds over.

There are some sophisticated things to consider, like tracking (but only if you have a big garden) and comparison with other kinds of green energy like heat pumps, ground heat, and maybe even wind (but not for most). But you are probably thinking this is all too much to consider anyway?

So what would I do? well, I would actually knock on the door of people who have solar panels, especially if you saw them installed about a year ago, and ask to see their electricity bills and returns from the panels. They can also tell you if the installers were good as well.

Finally, I don’t see any panels for the vertical walls on houses, the walls of East/West houses which have a south facing vertical wall. If anyone knows they are out there, please let us all know. It would add a lot of houses to the solar panel enthusiasts. OK, I know you can fit them to a pole to make the right angle, but why can’t they be segmented like a curtain blind? Get the idea?

When we finally get to be off the Grid altogether, here is a possible solution to the energy storage problem.

The sooner we lose the Grid the better.

Overweight – we learn what we eat, and more

I was struck by this report on how early learning of food flavours triggers long term changes in dietary preferences.

There is even the suggestion that when babies are thirsty it is good to get them to like drinking simply water, which sounds pretty good to me, no sugars added please.

I have a deep conflict about not wanting a nanny state but also wanting people to understand what we are doing to our children, in relation to all kinds of behaviours. Whether it is war, sex, or just indulging in some kind of excess of speed or binging on food or drink, the 9 p.m. watershed for TV seems to have disappeared on most things that I would have thought we wanted our children to avoid later in life, a bit if not entirely, or at least some form of self control?

I have for a long time said to people I met who were having a new baby, please play tapes of foreign singers, any language, many languages, because then your child will continue to hear those sounds when they grow up. If they don’t hear the sounds up to 6 to 9 months they will lose the ability to hear them.

It seems fairly clear that what children experience in every way becomes normalised for later in life, whether it is food stuffs, sounds, sights or things like anger.

So let’s have a bit more ‘not in front of the children’ shall we?


Flying cars and Sunday Humour 7

When I got the link to flying cars I was dropped back into my schoolboy comic days. This will be funny, I thought. The great thing about humour is it is humbling in both directions. After laughing I realised this is the most serious attempt at flying cars I have seen, and may well start a new trend. I love the safety parachute, for the plane, and it uses unleaded petrol not aviation fuel, so not as environmentally unfriendly as you may assume. And essentially, it may be possible for the plane to have lower fuel use than cars, gliders do! And planes don’t have to journey around too many bends and don’t usually get stuck in traffic jams, so watch this space.

More directly humorous, David West’s Sunday Humour post has its usual mixture of on the edge and humbling comedy, I have not tried the scorpion trick and if you do and it doesn’t work don’t blame me please!

I had thought that planting Apple trees for food was pretty good, but if this is true then maybe not?:

29. Celery has negative calories! It takes more calories to eat a
piece of celery than the celery has in it to begin with. It’s the same with apples!

(I can understand celery, but apples?). Check here.

In David’s post there is a lovely homily on The Jar of Mayonnaise and Two Beers, which is a must to read, and includes this as part of the message:

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you

will never have room for the things that are important to you.

That message matches the slide show on page 2, The Wisdom of Hot Chocolate. As Europe heads for meltdown we need to laugh and then live humbly, and maybe more happily!

If you now need cheering up then this video will bring out smiles in everyone!

Humming birds

It is also in the Sunday Humour post as well, thanks David.

On a completely different note, if the Future of Universities is of interest then you may be interested in this event, which I am kind of helping to organise.


Have a great and funny day!

Observing Cactus

I have just finished reading a great book, a lovely book, with a HORRID title, but you cannot have everything. You will understand why I have put certain phrases in Italics if you read the book, or read the bit at the end of this Blog.

I will tell a story from the book: “One of Erickson’s clients was an alcoholic. Erickson told this man a bit about the humble cactus, how the plant conserves water and can survive for up to three years in the desert without rainfall. He then told the man to go to the local botanical gardens to observe cacti.

Erickson never heard from this man again. Many year’s later, after this client had died, the man’s daughter visited Erickson to tell him that her father had been sober since the day he went to the botanical gardens.”

I was chatting to a friend from Transition Chichester yesterday and we were talking about how you get the message across, how tough it is to change how people see things, and then change their behaviour. Of course I should have known I would then find an example of how easy it is to change behaviour, one’s own or other people’s, it is easy if we only knew how to do it.

It seems to me that if we imagine that changing people’s behaviour is difficult then everything we do will be confirming how difficult it is. But if we imagine that changing people’s behaviour is easy, if only we knew how to do it, then we would be constantly looking out for the easy way and every now and then find it, and then everything would be easy.

The book I have just finished is about Metaphor. The author, James Geary, is saying we live our lives through metaphor, and by changing the metaphor we change who we are and therefore what we do.

Looking back, I remember how easy it was for me to stop smoking when I read Allen Carr‘s The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. My metaphor changed. Actually, the book has a few metaphor changes and the more you change the easier it gets to stop. One metaphor he changes is that related to addiction, because you are invited to believe that the addiction is nothing, it is insignificant. I adopted this and found I had almost no withdrawal symptoms. But I think the biggest change in metaphor was seeing smoking as just ugly and smelly.

I think one big metaphor I would like to change is feeling we are still at school. That there are right ways of doing things, things we must do and things we mustn’t do, and by when and how. At work there are things that seem as if they ‘have to be done’, instead of things we want to do. Maybe we are so far away from the natural way of living that we forget that we can just be who we are, that we can just be with people and not do much. That we can just go for a walk, even without a dog. That we can get up at 4 in the morning just to see the sunrise.

I would be more convinced of the need for the school/factory metaphor if I felt that at least now things do get done, get done well and on time, but they don’t. The one metaphor that I learned from my time with some aboriginal people in Australia was that it is possible to live without the sense of owning everything, or even anything.

I think that is the biggest metaphor change the planet needs, it is an orchestra and we are only one small group of players, who all think they are conductors.

The book I referred to is called I is an Other. I think James Geary offered that title to be one of the most challenging he could find for the life as a Metaphor. But to make it a bit easier for us his subtitle is ‘The secret life of metaphor and how it shapes the way we see the world.’

Does parenting work?

I was sent a copy of a submission to the House of Lords on Foreign Aid, did it work or not. In my head I immediately wondered, does parenting work? The submission answer was yes and no, it depends, which I suppose is understandable, there is unlikely to be a simple answer.

But parenting, surely that works, yes? Well, let’s see what is recommended for foreign aid and see if we can make any comparisons.

1. Make it multilateral – Get many others involved – Oh yes, parenting often only works if everyone else backs you up, friends, family, neighbours, teachers, growing up is a community thing.

2. Make it predictable – Be consistent – well, Supernanny would back that one, do this get that, do the other get the other, consistently.

3. Make aid transparent, accountable and traceable. Oh yes, parenting is like that. Underhand dealings with no comeback don’t work for parents, so don’t try those tricks.

4. Build in accountability to Governments – the interpretation with parenting would be to hand over power to your children, let them make decisions about how to do what you want them to do. Otherwise, when no-one is watching they are off on their own game.

5. Focus on results and simplify – oh yes, ‘Is your room clean? Have you tidied up? Is your homework done?’ None of this have you been a good boy. What does that mean?

6. Invest in global public goods – simply said, this means if the kids have the job of raking the grass then buy them a decent rake! Your kids do need you to invest in things for them which are not rubbish, which do not easily break, which have long term value.

7. Focus on women and girls and chronic poverty – OK, that one is specific to Aid! Though for teachers it might mean, don’t allow the most vociferous to run your class?

8. Leverage the private sector – I think this means get them a paper round! Yes, the basic message as they get older is that all the treats are not going to come from you alone.

9. Use innovative financing – yes, learning to save for bigger and better things is a good lesson, so supporting a savings policy has got to be a good thing, it teaches long term as well as medium and short term.

10. Learn more and fail safely – parenting works when you are in there learning with them. If you come across as making all the rules and having all the answers it does not work.

OK, so a good number of parallels there, but what has that to do with Transition?

10 rules of Transition:

1. Get many others involved – which is other groups not just other individuals

2. Be consistent – I guess this means don’t be pro-technology when it suits and anti-technology when it doesn’t – voluntary groups can often seem all over the place, trying to please everyone. It doesn’t work.

3. Make it transparent, accountable and traceable – whatever you are doing, make the review public, even when things do not go well. Build trust.

4. Hand over power  – don’t parent too much, if people have projects let them get on with it, subject to the 10 rules here.

5. Focus on results and simplify – don’t try to be Sustainability and Resilience Gurus, Have a vision, a mission and some objectives, and keep them simple.

6. Invest in global public goods – investing in things which bring long term goals must be good. For example, some groups are creating their own energy companies.

7. Don’t allow the most vociferous to run your Transition Group. Listen to the quiet ones at the back of the room.

8. Leverage the private sector – a little time on that may bring bigger gains than forever trying to raise the odd pound or two.

9. Use innovative financing – this could mean bingo and it could mean writing your own books and selling them on Amazon/Kindle. It could mean starting your own local green business, food, energy and consultancy even.

10. Learn more and fail safely – sustainability and resilience has got to be about learning safely.

So it looks like Parenting, Foreign Aid and Transition have a lot in common. Maybe that is because these 10 rules are like rules for life?

OK, so what do you think? – Authors are needed for this site so I am not the only one writing, so please get in touch if you want to contribute on a regular basis.

Updates on Permaculture and the Fuero

Today I want to update on a couple of things, Permaculture and the Fuero.

On Permaculture, I must confess I have never liked the name. It sounds too much like what Alexander Fleming did, growing things in Petri Dishes.

But reading this piece on the origins of Permaculture makes me pretty sympathetic to the ideas of Bill Mollison. I lve the idea that we should be planting mongongo trees in our sand dunes, and that we don’t dig, it is a waste of energy, let worms do the digging! Grow your own with good design is not such a  hard idea surely? Want to get others involved, then send them this link!

Permaculture Principles
1 Observe and interact
2 Capture and store energy
3 Obtain a yield
4 Accept Feedback
5 Be renewable
6 Waste is an illusion
7 Design for patterns and details
8 Integrate
9 Start small
10 Value diversity
11 Value the edges and boundaries
12 Be creative with change

They wouldn’t be too bad as Principles for running an ethical and sustainable business. Maybe News Inc could take them on?

Now, about the Fuero.

Alternative methods of payment are around and I thank Paul P in Italy for letting me know about these links. And on Facebook  Credits in particular. Alternative Currencies do exist in a variety of Transition towns, so there is the TChi in Chichester, the Totnes Pound, and others. Certainly the whole new world of 2nd Life, if you have not been there, is a new experience in money. But my suggestion of the Fuero involves a few innovations not in the other systems. First, it has no connection to other monetary systems. So you are not buying any Fueros, you are given some and you earn more.

Second, it includes an opportunity to take taxes and donations which have some level of  personal control in them.

Third, I have started it off by giving away 100,000,000,000,000 of them.

I hope this difference makes the difference.