The Slaves of the World

A recent Guardian article about the lives of  migrant workers in  Qatar highlights the issues of forced labour and slavery in  middle eastern and some European countries.

As the Guardian article notes; Qatra has the highest ratio  of migrant workers to  the domestic population in the world; more than 90%.  Aidan McQaude of Anti-Slavery International has no hesitation in calling many of these migrants not just  forced labour, but true slaves;   people who  are treated as objects.

Craig Murray,  ex British ambassador to  Uzbekistan  and long time campaigner against   child labour/slavery in their cotton  fields, notes that  both the tolerance and the exploitation of slavery or cheap  labour inevitably goes right to  the top. In Uzbekistan’s case,  to its  torture loving  President Karimov and his daughter (who  are such good friends with Tony Blair!) .  Anti Slavery  International  describes the working conditions for children  in the cotton  fields thus:  Cotton production in Uzbekistan is a state orchestrated forced-labour system. The Government of Uzbekistan forces over a million children, teachers, public servants and private sector employees to pick cotton under appalling conditions each year. Those who refuse are expelled from school, fired from their jobs, and denied public benefits or worse. The Government harasses and detains citizens seeking to monitor the situation.

In  Qatar’s case, the official responses to  the accusations  of slavery  are so  far at odds with the reality on  the ground ,  that it would be very  surprising that  the government authorities and companies involved did not have full cognisance of the systemic  exploitation occurring.

Asia News notes that  the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)  highlighted “contradictions with Qatari law” that fail “to give workers any real rights or protection from slavery conditions.”

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said the visa sponsorship system in Qatar allows the exaction of forced labour. “Under Qatari law, employers have near total control over workers. They alone choose if a worker can change jobs, leave the country or stay in Qatar,” she said.

In 2012, the Labour Relations Department in Qatar’s Labour Ministry received 6,000 worker complaints. The top concerns facing workers included exploitation, delays in paying wages, violence and work-related safety issues and fatalities.

In one of those most malignant of ironies, Qatar is one of the richest  countries in  the world for its Qatari  citizenship  population of 300,000 (total  population of 1.9  million)

Similarly, across the border in  Saudi  Arabia, the Guardian  in January  2013, noted that  45 foreign maids faced beheading  by  the State executioner . The International  Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Committee of Experts on the Application of (Labour Rights) Conventions  noted in  2012 that in Saudi  Arabia the   vulnerable situation of migrant workers, particularly domestic workers who are excluded from the provisions of the Labour Code, who are often confronted with employment policies such as the visa “sponsorship” system and subjected to abusive employer practices such as the retention of passports, non-payment of wages, deprivation of liberty and physical and sexual abuse which cause their employment to be transformed into situations that could amount to forced labour.

The Himalayan Times in July 2012  stated that up  to  3,000   migrant workers  from Nepal alone  had died in Saudi  Arabia since  2000.

The GypsyHowever as Migrant Rights notes, the abuse of workers is not limited to Qatar or Saudi Arabia, abuse is epidemic and systemic  in  the middle east and beyond.

As I have noted in  a previous blog , “We are all Immigrants”,  none of us have any rights to  this piece of land we currently  plant our feet on. We are simply travelers, as were our ancestors before us. And to  be fully human ,  we must  welcome those new travelers amongst  us too. And yet we continue to  play  this foolish and deadly game of  “us’  and the “others”.

French  attitudes towards  the Roma are also  indicative of the mindless attitude of those in  power towards those who believe that  simply because they  and their ancestors happen to have lived in  a geographically bounded state territory  for some time, they  are entitled to certain  privileges, and those who  are recent comers are not. The brutal   and barbarous attitude by  many in Australia towards  the “boat people” from  Asian countries, is a supreme example of this  vicious mind-set.

The concept of “citizenship” is a useful mirage,  a fiction created by states to  marginalize some populations.

In  reality any person  who lives under the jurisdiction of a state geographic entity needs to be protected by  its laws;  whether they be  occupiers of the lands for many generations,  recent  migrants,  asylum seekers, or migrant workers.

As  As’ad AbuKhalil,  aka the Angry Arab states, it is the ignorance of racsim that  drives these  brutal policies and systems of exploitation and terror.

Sustainable Agriculture: It is possible

Over the years, there have been many discussions about the  potential to  create large-scale organic  farming enterprises to  replace the disastrous  impacts of chemical farming.

A lovely article by  Tom Philpott of Mother Jones outlines  one  attempt by  some US farmers to break  the  dead-end cycle of spraying,  tilling and loss of environment caused by commercial  farming, using no-plough methods and winter “cover crops”. While this method does not completely eliminate  the toxic impacts of spraying ;  it does go  a long way  to  develop  large-scale sustainable  farming practice.

Another “new” farming concept is  is the use of charcoal  in  soil.  Native american indians used Terra preta in pre-Columbian times to  create long term sustainable gardens in  environments where high  rainfall  leaching should have made sustainable agriculture impossible.

The ShortcutGiven  that  at  least  a third of commercially produced food is wasted, it would seen perfectly feasible to  create food sources closer to  food  consumers, allowing less wastage in  transit,  and better targeting of food production to  need.

We dont need the environmental  destruction that is touted as necessary  by  agribusiness to  create sustainable  global food production. We don’t need to  keep  killing our essential  insects   with  insecticides, spraying weedicides to  control  the plants we dont want,   constantly digging up  the soil to  destroy  its structure and life, and  destroying more and more natural  environments  and the plants and animals that live there, for short-term gain. We can live a  wonderful  sustainable and more joyful life through  living instead of buying.

 

Living on the Planet “Stupid”

A recent sobering article in the Guardian notes that as of May  2013 we have now reached the new exciting record of having 400  parts per million of Co2 in our atmosphere!

The Guardian  states that:

The last time so much greenhouse gas was in the air was several million years ago, when the Arctic was ice-free, savannah spread across the Sahara desert and sea level was up to 40 metres higher than today.

These conditions are expected to return in time, with devastating consequences for civilisation, unless emissions of CO2 from the burning of coal, gas and oil are rapidly curtailed. But despite increasingly severe warnings from scientists and a major economic recession, global emissions have continued to soar unchecked.

Hockeystick

The CO2 “Hockeystick” graph (courtesy of http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/interactive/2013/may/10/climate-warming-gas-carbon-dioxide-levels-interactive )

However what is most sobering, is that last slide in  this Guardian narrative, which shows the likely scenario of reaching 1000  parts of carbon  dioxide per million by  2100 if industrialization continues as it has for the past 200 years; which is everybody’s best guess at  this point.

Not one government in  the world is committed to real  carbon  dioxide emission reductions  at  this point. Most governments talk about reducing carbon  emissions, but in  reality pedal  “progress’  and ‘economic growth ” as the panacea to their  little national  problems of recession or poverty…  However  “growth” and  “progress” are the true causes of our death-wish.

By the time  real decisions are made to  reduce industrialization and consumption  globally, we will be well  and truly past  the point of ensuring our  survivability as a species  with any significant numbers on the planet,  along with  thousands of other species. In  reality,  right now, we are  long-gone.

What  the impacts of living on  a planet with 1000 parts per million of carbon  dioxide will be; no-one knows. Nor do  we know what the short to medium term impacts of this totally  never-before-witnessed  sudden change in our atmospheric composition will have on  this planet.

Nor does anyone know, even if we stop producing CO2 right now, how long it will  take before  CO2 levels start to  decline,  and consequently the world’s  climate begin to return to”normal ” conditions. Quite possibly it may take  thousands of years for climate conditions to return to the levels of the 1960s; if they ever do  at  all.

What  we do  know is that we have  entered an unfamiliar world-there is no  going back.

Be prepared for the unexpected!

 

 

Peddling Over the Cliff

George Monbiot in  his blog “The Great  Unmentionable” once again  powerfully articulates the insanity of consumerism -the relentless drive by  governments, media and corporates to encourage us all  to not only maintain  our spending on  foolish things, but to increase it.

Monbiot points out that it is not  heating lighting and transport which  are the predominant carbon  emission culprits-it is the “stuff’  we buy – which  increasingly is produced for “us’  Westerners by  ‘those’ people over there.

In its quest  for economic   growth  and more wealth  for the wealthy, corporates attempt to  even commodify nature; where would we be for instance without our little sticky labels on  our fruit and veges, not knowing  which  international  conglomerate had marketed that piece of produce?

But by far the most insidious aspect  of consumption of  “stuff” is the central part it plays in the relentless destruction of  the natural world- the loss of natural habitat, the annihilation of species after species, for  more pieces of short-lived pieces of ‘stuff ‘ that no human will want in  a  year  or so.

The environment may be able to be resurrected  after the factories have been pulled down, as some artificial and dumbed-down version of true nature -but without the ever-growing list  of  extinct  species that  can never return to us.

SAM_2053
Maple Trees in Autumn

 

As our species becomes more and more urbanised, we lose our  awareness of our indelible link  with nature; our capacity to just  watch  and listen  and wonder at  the glorious  real world around us ;  our heads  down  watching  ‘smartphone” screens or  plugged in  to our latest preference for noise on our mp3 player. We become  immune to the beauty  and randomness and unexpectedness of nature of which  we are an integral  member-and  have blinded ourselves to that reality.

Instead of being open  and alive to  new and unexpected events and situations, we increasingly self-select our perception of the world from  an ever-narrowing mechanical IT menu driven by  our past experience.

We lose our connectedness to  the world around us-our inherent knowledge that we are transient fragile beings like all  other sentient things on this planet: that  we are different-but no better-  than all  the other species we live with.

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Postscript:

A great little article on  international  debt and how it fuels the crazy  cycle of “growth”  by Dinyar Godrej at the New Internationalist

Debt – a global scam

The standard response to the current financial crisis has been to punish the presumed debtors. Are the creditors blameless, then? asks Dinyar Godrej.

It’s almost a reflex. Think about debt and we think first about something owed. Then come secondary considerations of whether it ‘should’, ‘ought’ or ‘must’ be paid back, how this should happen, and whether possible.

Large outstanding personal debts – say a mortgage taken out during a housing bubble – can turn even the stoutest of us into ‘quivering insomniac jellies of hopeless indebtedness’ (as Margaret Atwood so accurately puts it). Debt is, we feel, whatever the rights or wrongs, ‘our own fault’.

We can’t help it, we are socialized to take such a moral view of debt.

 

“Not with a Bang” or “Peak Capitalism”

T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men alludes to the end of the world coming “not with a bang, but with a whimper..” However the end of capitalism  will not be the end of the world; far from it.  It will be a glorious new beginning for humans and the other species on this planet.

In  a  blink  of evolution’s eye, capitalism  has done more damage to  the planet we co-habitate, than any meteorite strike or cataclysmic galactic event. The destruction of species is occurring at  phenomenal  speed, the  changes to  our climate through  gaseous emissions, the poisoning  of much  of our planet for millenium… and for what?- a bank balance with lots of numbers?, some pretty things that  self-destruct in  your hands after a year or two?, the capacity to  tell  your friends about  all the places you have seen?; merely “Dust in the Wind”  as the band Kansas would say..

To change the direction of  this juggernaut of self-destruction requires more than political  will,  a mass movement or  a United Nations declaration; we are all of on board this juggernaut -whether we are up there in  the driving seat, or hanging on for dear  life on the roof desperately  trying  to  claw our way inside to the easy seats while it hurtles towards oblivion.  We all  have an investment in  ensuring  that this insane model  of “progress” continues;  we are “locked in”  for the ride. .. (the university degree that  you  spent all  those  years sweating over  so you could get the job of your dreams,  the expensive house you spent years slaving away  at a  horrible job to afford, or simply the years you spent at the factory so  your kids could get  an education…)

However some have a greater investment in it than others.

John Peterson from the Arlington Institute  argues it this way:

It’s almost as though there is a “coefficient of adaptation” associated with human societies that varies with the relative level of “development” (whatever that means) which describes the amount of change that a social system can effectively assimilate without becoming unstable. It’s not just quantitative, but also qualitative, having clear hot-button issues (often related to women and the role of government) that, if pushed too hard, accelerate the movement toward state change.

What also happens, of course, is that the powers that be, regardless of the particular discipline or sector, see the abrupt change as a threat and, like white corpuscles rushing to staunch a wound, leap forward in defense of the status quo – regardless of the relative merit of the new proposal. This is where I get hung up. It’s as though the “system” embraces the status quo, even though things are clearly not working very well and treats thoughtful new proposals as mortal threats, even as people die and suffer because of the present policies. And it’s not just that they defend the status quo, but that they leap to attack the new ideas in very non-rational and sometimes inhumane terms

Does all  this imply we should all be living as medieval peasants in  some country idyll?

Kelp
Kelp seaweed

 

No ,  but we can, if we have time,  start to turn the wheel, take the foot off the accelerator and truly experience the scenery-instead of watching it whipping past in  a blur. Imagine if the money  and hype that is now put into selling this or that useless product,  was instead put into showing you how to  work alongside your neighbour,  how to create living spaces around us instead of neat  and tidy  ones, how to co-exist with the other species we live alongside, how to avoid conflict  and promote peace, how to  stop and just  enjoy these brief moments we all have in  this life.

Yes, we surely need good sanitation,  clean water, cheap healthy  food and good shelter. There is plenty to  go  around  for all  the billions of humans on  this planet right now. Yes we  will need to  learn how to  consume less and enjoy more; there are plenty of tools out there to do that right now if one cares to look.

We cannot afford to have  people  control  this world and its resources whose only interest is the production of power and money  for themselves and to hell  with everything and everyone else. Those fools are dragging us  to oblivion , the point at  which literally this planet  becomes a hell-hole. Poisoning  the world and its living things, paving over the  living earth, killing our  fellow species, for a few cheap  baubles -that is truly insane. Sadly we are all  “locked-in”: -we cannot see the madness.

But, there is a saving grace to this. While Lovelock has reneged on   his  view of the Earth  as a living entity “Gaia”- this planet has not!  We are rapidly reaching the point as humans where we are opening our eyes to  the damage we have caused;  where the cost  of “improving’  or maintaining our standard of living becomes too great-we have reached “peak  capitalism”.

And just  as with “peak oil”,  the point of optimum utilization of a particular process  is invisible to the onlooker;  the  forces change and adapt. The price of oil rises inexorably year by year  but we only notice the ebbs and falls; the capacity to  pump  oil crude out of the ground wanes, but production stays with demand  as we develop  more costly and more environmentally damaging  processes  like shale oil… and  consequently economies begin  their progressive  wilt under  the ongoing pressure….

The fundamental flaws in  the capitalist  system become ever-widening abysses into the unknown; and we have the opportunity now to create something wonderful for ourselves as human beings and for  our fellow species on  this planet.

That opportunity is neither capitalism or communism  or any other “ism” created to  capture or -redistribute the “wealth” of this planet. It is an understanding that we are not the guardians of this planet, (we have made the most appalling job of trying to do that!);  we are simply co-habitators whose guidance will  come from listening and valuing everything around us.

 

 

Valueing Sentient Beings

In recent days we have seen vast Western media publicity on the Boston Marathon bombings: the dead, the wounded and the  likely perpetrators. At the same time, more than 140 people have been killed in multiple bombings in  Iraq with almost no  Western publicity.  And no  doubt,   many more “invisible” killings in  other countries have occurred  over that period, including at  least  5 people killed by  US drone attacks,  ‘collateral damage’  killings  in  Afghanistan,  not to mention  the mercenary wars going on in Mali  and other regions in  Africa, and  the Burmese civil  wars.

In my world view, every being killed is worthy  of equal  respect  and value as another. I  believe it is important if we are to be  truly compassionate human beings; (and is it not compassion that marks us as  being fully human?), that  we pay our  respects to those who have been  killed and wounded  in Boston, but that  we also  also  pay our  respects to all  those who  have died  elsewhere. I will also mourn all  those multitudes of beings from other species who  we as humans have killed in  our war  against our own environment; whether it be  through   our “need’  to  eat other fellow mammals or fish, or simply the collateral damage from  agri-business, mining,  logging, chemical spills, or our relentless need to seal the ground over for roads, carparks and buildings…..

Why  are we so  selective in  our valuing some humans over other humans,  and why  are humans so highly prized over other species on  this planet?

In my understanding, we value those who  are most like us, and de-value those who  are not like us-the other”.  That  “otherness” is encompassed in  our judgements about everything about our world; from people with other skin  colours not our own,  to  living beings who are not ‘cuddly’ and warm (and furry?) like us mammals. In  addition, from birth we are fed a diet of  reminders of what  a savage world it is outside , and only “we”, the familial clan,  can protect  you.  Upbringing, fear, ignorance and  a small  smattering of genes, all combine to give us permission to  brutalize all  those who  are “other”.

Without these selective filters on our senses, we would be able to see that  “we”  are no better  than “them” , we are fundamentally and unequivocally equal ;  we co-habit this little blue ball  together, and for own  collective wellbeing we must  nourish  and protect our fellow travellers on  this journey through the universe.

Are we really that simpleminded and judgemental  and superficial to do otherwise?- it would sadly appear so.

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Postscript:

Harmony – the ultimate goal between humans and nature by  Yuan Tze

 

 

THE BEES BAD KNEES

In  the last few years, New Zealand has seen  a massive decline in  honey bees. In my little garden  in  summer a few years ago, when all the flowers would be at  their peak, there would be many more honey bees than bumblebees and german wasps; but no longer. This year  the number of honey bees I sighted all summer, I could  count on  two hands.

“Uncontaminated ” research- ie not funded by  chemical  companies, has established clear correlations between  CCD  (Colony Collapse Disorder) and  pesticides  called neonicotinoids; chemically similar to  nicotine . The most common of these is a pesticide called imidacloprid. Two others are clothianidin and thiamethoxam.

However the correlations are not precise;  it appears to  require  cumulative poisoning over months and perhaps years for the effects of the neonicotinoids to  wreak  their havoc on bees. And as with other poisoning effects ,  the impacts on  the bees may lead to   a lack  of resistance to other diseases which  can not be directly attributable to the neonicotinoids. The EU has recommended a two year ban  on  the use of neonicotinoids in  specific circumstances, but that may go nowhere to  identify or address the issues of CCD. Nature is by  definition messy  and complex,  while man’s actions are linear and relatively unsophisticated. We may not be absolutely sure of the correlations-yet the results are very very clear and disastrous for us all.

As Jill  Richardson, in her How We Could Prevent Massive Bee Deaths and Save Our Food article notes at  Alternet, Although there’s little private citizens can do, beyond submitting comments to the EPA about these pesticides, contacting your representatives, and perhaps even getting your own beehive, you might be surprised to find out that these toxic pesticides are widely available for home use. Bayer sells imidacloprid in products sold for use on roses, flowers, shrubs, trees (even fruit and nut trees!), and lawns. Even the flea treatment Advantage sold for your pet contains it!

Once again  we see the power of corporates to distort  research, government  agency decision-making,  and the  truth; even while knowing that the results of their actions are environmentally disastrous for us all.

 

Cicada
cicada

 

Repeatedly, throughout the 20th  and 21st  centuries, we have seen the power of money over-ride the  intrinsic  value and beauty of this world’s environment,.  our co-habiting species and even homo sapiens’  wellbeing.  Like the cumulative   destructive power of neonicotinoids,  we are seeing the cumulative destruction of our planet  for corporate greed beginning to descend on us at ever-increasing speed.

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Postscript:

Read a further article on Activist Post by Heather Callaghan entitled, ‘Noid Rage & Angry Birds: EPA Sued over Declining Bees, Called on to Stop Bird Deaths

 

A coalition of interest groups, activists and beekeepers took the issue into their own hands on Thursday to slash the use of bee-killing pesticides in an effort to protect them and the future of food. Pesticide Action Network (PAN), Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides and four beekeepers are among the team who want bees safe from the chemicals that include clothianidin and thiamethoxam. Even if it takes suing the government. How are they able to bring a case against the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) for this problem?

Postscript:

A further article on  this issue by  By Rebecca Morelle Science reporter, BBC World Service entitled Neonicotinoid pesticides ‘damage brains of bees’  or http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21958547 ,which beautifully articulates the hypocrisy and deliberate attempts to obfuscate by  the chemical sellers.

5 Astonishing Facts About Bee-killing Systemic Pesticides