Mindful Living Center

Talks and tools to live mindfully. Meditation and Yoga studio in Thornhill. more details at: http://meditation.meetup.com/304/

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Change begins with you and me

A sweltering summer comes to a close, nearly. Toronto is an interesting place, in the fact that as much insanity, inequality and strife that seems to slap the worlds majority in the back, its business as usual in Toronto’s diverse yet sheltered city. When I talk to friends about the impacts our way of life have on the soil, air, water, forests and all animal and plant species in between, they counter with rhetoric about how economic globalization is looking out for the world’s poor “One thing is clear: contrary to what leaders of western governments may say, globalization is failing the world’s poor. The argument that globalization is working for the poor does not deserve to be taken seriously, says Kevin Watkins of Oxfam.”(A Peoples World) The principles of this Globalization are anti-democratic by means of centralizing power in the hands of few, making small rural communities grow monocultures of cash crops for export causing droughts, deaths and dependency on transnational corporations genetically modified seeds. Because of our current stability in the Western world and poor understanding of the interconnection of the world, my friends act satisfied with their existence; they see themselves as happy free individuals. Although they also think any attempt for individual changes is hopeless. I am aware of my delusional happiness and I think highly of friends and strangers alike but as a people we are missing out on some key intrinsic connections with the natural world that supports us. We look at basic resources around us as God given. We use them with little care or awareness of their sacredness. Marketing stripes any inherent value out of nature’s creation and transferred it into a brand which is tied to some sort of nonsensical identity. I give my friend’s credit for the fact that they can use logic and often find some sort of linear error in my argument. But it kills any further development, openness or analysis on their part to continue and develop a solution. “It shows a lack of education to try to prove everything, because you have to have a starting point. You can’t prove the methodology of science; you can’t prove logic, because logic presupposes fundamental premises.”
People seem to think I am trying to insult their beliefs, way of life or desires. That is the furthest from the truth. I am looking for viable and sustainable solutions for humans as a whole as well as all other life forms who we share this wonderful planet with. The fact is Canadians consume, travel, eat, and waste far too much. If the world’s population lived like a typical Canadian did we would need two more worlds worth of resources. Where’s the logic in that.
Toronto is my home, I think I have learned through reading about ecology, spirituality and traveling that survival of any life form or community is strongest with a high diversity. That goes for all ecosystems and agriculture plans. That’s one reason why I love Toronto, but at the same time; especially in younger generations who have subcultures they buy into and not traditional philosophy and religious ideologies. Ethics, precepts, commandments are worthless unless you live by them or strive to. I’m a marketing student and I have problems with most multi-national companies because of their root goals, unregulated practices and centralized power. Then you look at native peoples such as the Kung people of the Kalahari desert, who have been living off natural resources in the same place for 11,000 years. For today’s economists that’s unthinkable. “Most native societies around the world have three common characteristics; they had an intimate, conscious relationship with their place; they were stable “sustainable” cultures, often lasting for thousands of years; and they had a rich ceremonial and ritual life. They saw these three as intimately connected.” –Dolores LaChapelle
If we could live the way we live, without destroying the planet at the pace we are and not turning a majority of the world’s population into poor voiceless individuals then I would be content. But that is not the case. Life is like a scale when all is in balance all life has enough to survive and can enjoy nature’s blessing and tread with a light ecological footprint. But when a portion of the population consumes more then necessary, then natures resources are not being equally shared, that’s why globalization works in our favor, because we extract endless natural resources tax free from third world countries so we can keep up with our over-consumption. We our to blame and must take responsibility if we want the future generations and current majority of the world’s population to have a chance at life. True self-realized happiness comes from a simple material existence and deep concern and energy put into helping others. “Whenever you are in doubt, apply the following test: recall the face of the poorest and weakest person you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use of them.” –Mahatma Gandhi
In the months to come I will look at steps that we can all take to deal with global issues in our daily activities, locally.

Luke madonia

Peak Oil Preview: North Korea & Cuba ByL Dale Jianjun Wen

Peak oil preview: North Korea & CubaArticle By Dale Jiajun Wen - May 31 2006

After the collapse of their oil supplies North Korea experienced a series of famines, but Cuba made the transition to sustainable agriculture. What made the difference?
That peak oil is coming is no longer a question. It’s only a matter of when. The global food system we are familiar with depends crucially on cheap energy and long-distance transportation—food consumed in the United States travels an average of 1,400 miles. Does peak oil mean inevitable starvation? Two countries providea preview. Their divergent stories, one of famine, one of sufficiency, stand as a warning and a model. North Korea and Cuba experienced the peak-oilscenario prematurely and abruptly due to the collapse of the former Soviet bloc and the intensified trade embargo against Cuba. The quite different outcomes are partly due to luck: the Cuban climate allows people to survive on food rations that would be fatal in North Korea’s harsh winters. But the more fundamental reason is policy. North Korea tried to carry on business as usual as long as possible, while Cuba implemented a proactive policy to move toward sustainable agriculture and self-sufficiency. The 1990s famine in North Korea is one of the least-understood disasters in recent years. It is generally attributed to the failure of Kim Il Jung’s regime. The argument is simple: if the government controls everything, it must be responsible for crop failure. But this ideological blame game hides a more fundamental problem: the failure of industrial chemical farming. With the coming of peak oil, many other countries may experience similar disasters. North Korea developed its agriculture on the Green Revolution model, with its dependence on technology,imported machines, petroleum, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides. There were signs of soil compaction and degradation, but the industrial farming model provided enough food for the population. Then came the sudden collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989. Supplies of oil, farming equipment, fertilizers, and pesticides dropped significantly, and this greatly contributed to the famine that followed. As a November 1998 report from the joint UN Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program observed: The highly mechanized DPR North Korean agriculture faces a serious constraint as about four-fifths of motorized farm machinery and equipment is out of use due to obsolescence and lack of spare parts and fuel. … In fact, because of non-availability of trucks, harvested paddy has been seen left on the fields in piles for long periods. North Korea failed to change in response to the crisis. Devotion to the status quo precipitated the foodshortages that continue to this day. Cuba faced similar problems. In some respects, the challenge was even bigger in Cuba. Before 1989, North Korea was self-sufficient in grain production, while Cuba imported an estimated 57 percent of its food1, because its agriculture, especially the state farm sector, was geared towards production of sugar for export. After the Soviet collapse and the tightening of the U.S.embargo, Cuba lost 85 percent of its trade, and its fossil fuel-based agricultural inputs were reduced by more than 50 percent. At the height of the resulting food crisis, the daily ration was one banana and two slices of bread per person in some places. Cuba responded with a national effort to restructure agriculture. Cuban agriculture now consists of a diverse combination of organic farming, permaculture, urban gardens, animal power, and biological fertilizing and pest control. On a national level, Cuba now has probably the most ecological and socially sensitive agriculture in the world. In 1999, the Swedish Parliament awardedthe Right Livelihood Award, known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” to Cuba for these advances. Even before the 1990 crisis, primarily in response to the negative effects of intensive chemical use as well as the 1970s energy crisis, Cuban scientists began to develop biopesticides and biofertilizers to substitute for chemical inputs. They designed a two-phase program based on early experiments with biological agents. The first stage developed small-scale, localized productiontechnologies; the second stage was aimed at developing semi-industrial and industrial technologies. This groundwork allowed Cuba to roll out substitutes for agricultural chemicals rapidly in the wake of the 1990 crisis. Since 1991, 280 centers have been established toproduce biological agents using techniques and supplies specific to each locality.2 Though some alternative technologies were initially developed solely to replace chemical inputs, they are now part of a more holistic agroecology. Scientists and farmers recognized the imbalances in high-input monoculture, and are transforming the whole system. In contrast to the one-size-fits-all solution of the Green Revolution, agroecology tailors farming to local conditions. It designs complex agroecosystems that use mutually beneficial crops and locally adapted seeds, take advantage of topography and soil conditions, and maintain rather than deplete the soil.3 Agroecology takes a systemic approach, blurringtraditional distinctions between disciplines and using knowledge from environmental science, economics, agronomy, ethics, sociology, and anthopology. It emphasizes learning by doing, with training programs allocating 50 percent of their time to hands-on work.The wide use of participatory methods greatly helps to disseminate, generate, and extend agroecological knowledge. In short, the agricultural research and education process has become more organic as well.4 Important institutional changes have eased the transition. Big state farms have been reorganized into much smaller farmer collectives to take advantage of the new labor-intensive, localized methods. The change from farm-laborer to skilled farmer is not an overnight process—many newly established collectives lag behind established co-ops in terms of sustainable management, but programs are in place to help them catch up. Cuba’s research and education system played a pivotal role in the greening of the country. The focus on human development has practically eradicated illiteracy. Cuban workers have the highest percentage of post-secondary education in Latin America. Thishighly educated population prepared Cuba well for the transition to the more knowledge-intensive model ofsustainable agriculture. In the 1970s and 1980s, most agricultural education was based on Green Revolution technology. The 1990 crisis rendered many agro-professionals powerless without chemical inputs, machinery, and petroleum. In response, agricultural universities initiated courses in agroecological training. A national center was created to support new research and the educational needs of the agricultural community. Now, courses, meetings,workshops, field days, talks, and experiential exchanges are organized for farmers. As some traditional methods of organic farming have survived among small farmers or in co-ops, farmer-to-farmer communication is widely utilized to facilitate mutual learning. The coming of peak oil will shake the very foundation of the global food system. The hardship Cuba and North Korea experienced in the 1990s may very well be the future we all face, both already ailingrural sectors in many Third-World countries, and highly subsidized agriculture in the North. Cuban agriculture shows that there is an alternative—increasing output and growing better food while reducing chemical inputs is possible with proper restructuring of agriculture and food systems. It is unlikely that we will have an abrupt peak-oil scenario where half the fossil-fuel agricultural inputs disappear overnight; more likely we will have gradually yet steadily rising oil prices, makingconventional chemical inputs increasingly unaffordable. This is the advantage we have over Cuba and NorthKorea — while virtually nobody predicted the sudden collapse of the Soviet bloc, we know peak oil is coming and have time to prepare. We have disadvantages as well: peak oil will be a global crisis, probably made worse by global warming, so there will not likely be any international aid to bail people out in the face of a major food crisis—either we deal with the problem now, or nature will deal with us. Not only politicians, but also ordinary people need to consider the question: should we try to shore up the system and carry on business as usual for as long as possible, or should we take preemptive measures to avoid disaster? This choice may determine whether weend up with a more sustainable agriculture like Cuba, or with disastrous famine like North Korea.
Dale Wen is a visiting scholar with the International Forum on Globalization. A native of China, she specializes in China andglobalization issues. FOOTNOTES: Peter Rosset, “Alternative Agriculture Works: The Case of Cuba,” Monthly Review 50:3, July/August 1998. Nilda Pérez & Luis L. Vázquez, “Ecological Pest Management,” in Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming FoodProduction in Cuba, Fernando Funes, et al., eds. Food First Books: Oakland, 2002. Miguel A. Altieri, “The Principles and Strategies of Agroecology in Cuba,” in ibid. Luis Garcia, “Agroecological Education and Training,” in ibid.