Friday, May 20, 2011

On Palestine, a Green and Sustainable Peace

Yesterday, US President Barak Obama delivered a speech calling for a renewal of peace talks between Israel and Palestine, and the establishment of a sovereign Palestine. “The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace…The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.”

Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, part of an international effort to secure an Israeli-Palestinian peace, said security assurances, provisions for lasting peace cannot be resolved without addressing issues of territory.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement that “without a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem outside the borders of Israel, no territorial concession will bring peace.”

Around the globe marginal populations and refugees are at risk from looming crises of hunger, water access, environmental deprivation, poverty, urban and rural infrastructure failures continues in many sectors. The need for access, redress and inclusion of foundational populations, those with whom the stability of the entire pyramid of society rests, has been accelerated through the benefits of internet communication, information sharing, even video-chat. And the so-called Arab Spring, beginning most notably with the tragedy of the fruit seller in Tunisia, is resonating throughout communities around the world.

The challenges of the at-risk, foundational, refugee and disenfranchised groups are global, and include many races, circumstances and centuries of struggle. The challenges of the at-risk, foundational, refugee and disenfranchised citizens of Palestine can also be traced for decades and centuries of a struggle-- to live, raise families, and find the futures which fellow citizens around the world also seek. The people of the region are strong, enduring, and able to see a present and a future which can move beyond the traps, and the missed opportunities for peace, of the past. We can face these struggles together; we can attain a sustainable foothold along the pathway to life, in Palestine, in the region, in the world—common ground can be found. Through small steps towards sustainability, large steps in finding and celebrating our coexistent lives can be taken.

Part of what makes partner nations in the UN great is the strength of our shared, and ‘Universal,’ human rights, our freedoms. The enrichment of our cultures and communities stems from the contributions of all members of our societies. A walk through the “Main Streets” of any community will show people, families and neighbors who want to live their lives, and achieve better lives for their children.

We, the peoples of the partner nations, can see the similarities in our lives. We are governed within national frameworks which uphold sovereign rights, and complicated balances of trade, finance, resources, environmental responsibility.

Yet we, each, and all, are party to the decisions of the governments which pilot the paths to our futures. We, each and all, share the terrible costs of war, pollution, depletion and exclusion. We, each and all, share and are responsible for securing and achieving the global potential for peace,  security and sustainability for all our peoples, our environments, our economies and societies—for our survival.

What if we could take steps to bridge our differences, to walk together towards a more peaceful and sustainable world with expanded understanding, enriched cultures, improved environments? What if, in the case of Palestine, we could walk together, work together, to help the ordinary people of Palestine build a green, sustainable, sovereign state? What if scholars, scientists, experts and citizens, could work together to enable the people of Palestine sustainable access to work, education, medical care, adequate food, water, energy and resources? And, since projects based in reason, sustainable infrastructure and environmental practices, and community-based/nationally-supported responsibility are replicable, what if a green-solution for Palestine could become a blueprint for bringing security and sustainability to peoples around the world?

There are so many educated young people, in Egypt, in Lebanon, in Libya, in nations around the world, caught between a vision of a future filled with joblessness, disenfranchisement, fear and violence—or a future filled with possibilities, where time could be spent in service to benefit their home communities, their neighbor’s communities—while they learn to utilize their skills and trades to find solutions to deprivation and depletion. There are many young people, and parent generations, in Palestine, in the region, around the globe, who could work together, supported with internet technologies, sharing experiences, preserving indigenous and cultural heritages. We can work and walk together, to learn skills, trades, arts which can enrich lives and, finally, to achieve a goal of generations and attain adequate resources, peace, and a hopeful future. In Palestine, right now, there is a chance to attain a safe, secure, and sustainable future that could be, should be, shared— with families, neighbors, and society at large.

The root causes of terrorism, disenfranchisement, refugee status, of impoverishment and exclusion could and should be addressed. The root causes of environmental depletions, inadequate supply and sourcing of water, food, energy and resources could and should be addressed. The root causes of fear between the precariously balanced peoples of Palestine and Israel could and should be addressed.

What if we, ordinary citizens, scholars, experts, could harness the knowledge necessary, recruit the corps of business, scientific and educational partners required, and forge service projects which could bridge gaps between an impoverished and endangered present and a stable and resilient future? There is no single straight line between our concerns, conflicts, and crises today, and the potential for the realization of human rights, peace, stability, security and sustainability tomorrow. But what if we could agree on a place to start? Or what if we, simply, decided to begin to build a green and resilient future?

What if Palestine could become a shining cornerstone of our shared development, utilizing renewable technologies, sustainable food and water and resourcing, universal concepts of rights and balance between peoples and species on our interdependent planet? Would then the relationship between neighbors, and neighbor-nations see a cessation of the reasons for conflict? Our shared cultural intelligence should promote the concept that our progress as a species, our peace and sustainability, must be attained in concert with the development of all ‘others’—the foundational peoples of our shared existence.

The service projects, in Palestine, and wherever else needed, could and should foster collaboration between specialists, scholars, and the young people of many nations, to mitigate the threats to shared borders between Palestine and Israel, the regions of the Middle East, and the world at large. To mitigate the threats to our human development, to contribute to the development of sustainable practices—creating green jobs, arable soil, secure water supplies, renewable energies, developing medical solutions to health crises, digitizing the huge compendium of human knowledge and records, of Palestinian culture, of regional culture, expanding partnerships among Palestinians and the commerce of the peoples of the globe—now is the time to work, in Palestine, in all endangered, foundational communities, to create healthier environments, better lives, secure futures.

Experts, scholars, elders from each nation, from each community could guide the selection and development of those projects most needed to improve the sustainability of life in each community, in each segment of the sovereign societies of Palestine, and, by extension, the region, the world. Based in community, founded in individual strengths and responsibility; working together, these vital contributions could build, each upon the other, the quality of life for those in the communities. The young people from host and neighboring nations and communities, working without the baggage of prejudice and years of national/international distrust, could realize their similarities, serve together to achieve common goals, improve and enrich the condition of life for all.

Palestine cannot survive as it is. The world cannot stand by and let Palestine perish. The recognition of shared responsibility, of shared effort and shared achievements could transcend misunderstandings and divisions between sects and locales, habits and beliefs, between poverty and potential, between crisis and stability.
Over the centuries of our shared history, many people have grappled with the problems facing the world’s peoples, challenging their religions, their governments, testing their shared responsibilities and their perceived differences. The knowledge of the ages rests in the writings and speeches, is seen in the choices and actions of these visionaries, scholars, and leaders. In our shared march toward the future, can we undertake to support a partnership of service which could form a corps of young people, and the generational foundations of all peoples, and through investing in the futures of these young people, invest in the future of humankind?

In his “On a New Beginning” speech in Egypt, 2009, US President Barak Obama spoke of forging new levels of trust based “on the sharing of common principles of justice and progress, tolerance and dignity of all human beings.” And, as he concluded, “It won’t always be easy, but if we make an effort to bridge our differences rather than resigning ourselves to animosity, we can move forward toward a more peaceful world over time.”

Palestine can find a place for a sustainable future, and the security of Israel, the region, and all our shared planet will be more assured, our peace, economic, and environmental frameworks more sustainable, through building a resilient green corridor, which can extend from Palestine, to Israel, through the region of the Middle East, Northern and all of Africa, and the world. We have but to begin, to take a step, together.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Forests: Nature at Your Service

You don’t have to be a tree-hugger to value trees, forests, and the life-systems that our green canopies sustain ( ). With the approach of World Environment Day, the UNEP is eager to increase awareness of the importance of forests for all of earth's inhabitants. Embodying “Nature at your Service,” as the UNEP declares, forests are as varied, multi-populated, and multi-purposed as nature itself. I am neither scientist, nor naturalist, but, having lived near many forests around the world, I hope to share some of my experiences and love of the life forests sustain.

Anyone departing the impermeable surfaces of inter-city connectors for shaded suburban forests can immediately feel the refreshing fragrance of green-forested spaces. Oak woods in Maryland and Virginia offer welcome relief from the heat and hustle of Washington, DC. Running through the pine forests of the Carolinas, the aspen groves of the Rockies, or through the pine, birch and maple forests of the northern states (8 gallons of maple sap boil down to 1 gallon of syrup in sugar houses that smell like distilled summer in the snowy, leafless brilliance of a north-country winter’s day), seeing the passage of seasons in the flaming foliage of fall, people can glimpse the brilliance and simplicity of nature’s renewable forest systems. Old trees drop, decay, support animals and ground-life while the seeds or root systems of vibrant trees spread new life for the canopies of future years.

In the sequoia forests of the America’s west coast, trees hundreds of years old stretch towards skies so distant the tree tops are obscured. And the bases bear marks of burrowing creatures, forgotten humans who hollowed out tunnels, fires which raged in years long past. In Japan, too, stand ancient pines. Many temples are bounded by towering gates constructed of trunks of trees so immense it takes the arms of many people to ring their base. Seeing huge sakura (cherry trees), rainbow-colored azalea, and grape-scented wisteria cascading down the rugged mountains and hills is surpassed only by walking along the forest floors, hearing and seeing the birds and other wildlife living within and below the shaded branches.

In Thailand, forests vary in character from north to south-- fruit, palm, rubber, ancient species all mingling and supporting orchids, mosses, humans, occasional elephants, and other wildlife among trees new and old. On Goh Samui, there are wonderful trees with roots tall and thin as walls forming mystical houses for forest denizens, and adventurous hikers alike. The biodiversity of Malaysia, of Indonesia, of islands small and large, ancient, stable lands or evolving volcanic formations, from sea coast to mountains, living in tree canopy and in grasslands, is amazing as well.The bamboos stretching from China across many countries in hundreds of varieties, provide food, shelter, building and art materials for our world. And in Senegal, where the Sahel leads to the vast Sahara, massive baobab trees stand vigils in an arid land, forming mini-forests themselves when their leaves sprout and spread, and still giving shelter when their dry branches shade the earth below. And forests of prickly pear cactus form life-zones for smaller creatures, finding water, rich soil, and habitation where they can.

The argan groves, palm-oases, cork woods and grasslands of Morocco, are home to many prized aromatic and medicinal plants, flowering and food plants, and numerous animals.  It is interesting to view food-forests which have survived for hundreds, even thousands of years--aspen groves in Colorado, archa (juniper) groves in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, palm stands and bamboos... naturally-occurring seeming mono-cultures which are actually thriving food forests rich with biodiversity. Yet when, in the interests of  convenience, expansion, or commercial growth of one kind or another, actual mono-cultures are planted, they become, all too often, vulnerable to myriad parasites, and vast acres of trees or other plantings can be lost. And when, for example, in the guise of providing farmland or housing tracts, forests are destroyed, whole eco-systems can falter, interdependent species cascading, sometimes to the point of extinction, as levels of water, food, shelter, even soil health fall prey to the backhoes and bulldozers of "progress."

The medicines, the valued plants and animal species that inhabit the forests, rainforests and jungles of the world, even the sea-weed forests of the ocean floor, are unique and irreplaceable. Join with the UNEP in celebrating World Environment Day ( ). Find a way to partner with local communities, with a global effort; help preserve our Environment, so we can all share the benefits and beauties of our forests on our interdependent planet.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Nationalization and the Perfect Storm

As Danish Physicist Niels Bohr (1885 – 1962) noted, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”  Bohr himself often attributed the saying to Danish artist and writer Robert Storm Petersen,  (1882 – 1949), also known as Storm P, who was said to have borrowed the quotation from another source.
Human societies are close to creating a nearly perfect storm of government, educational, economic and environmental redefinition. Increasingly dense populations, consuming ever-greater quantities of hard and soft goods, natural resources, and services have pushed the boundaries of supply/demand market concepts. As with air and water, in cases where the laws established by the governed do not prohibit or otherwise discourage pollution, assets are at risk of being squandered.
Although there is no absence of price signals that most resources are valuable, given the rising costs of fuels, precious metals and other mined/extracted commodities, people as a whole, represented by the UN, by larger, allied-government interests, are coming to view extractives as finite resources. Some, like fuel, wear out, or are wholly-consumed with use. Some, like precious metals, do degrade, but can be re-fined and re-used. Some, like minerals and energy catalysts, fall within a murky territory of degradation and/or depletion through consumption, while also often producing pollutants and by-products which further degrade or damage the environment as a whole.
Because of these characteristics, extractives are becoming public goods, consumables intermediated by the market, therefore theoretically beyond price. Normally, when human societies produce goods of this kind, they may not be sold. Private companies have no incentive to produce goods which cannot be sold. Logically, then, production/use/reclamation of mined, finite resources must be conducted through government intervention.
But, as the U.S. baseball-playing philosopher Yogi Berra said, “it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” 
No market can cling to the past. Everyone is affected by something apparently as changeable as the weather-- the future. Is there a perfect storm looming? Let’s look at some of the factors involved.
Widely available internet connectivity; a wired-in economy with radically-shifting concepts of value costs, and processes of production; contrasts between private (goods that can be used by only one economic entity/consumer at a time, and which wear out with use) and public (goods which contribute to our wellbeing, and which, through non-rivalry in consumption, may increase in utility or value with use) goods/products .  Efficiency of distribution is increased because access is so widespread and mobility practically unlimited; efficiency of procurement is increased because with increased knowledge and access come increased confidence in consumption; yet efficiency of market controls, self-selection mechanisms of price, availability, and responsibility have reached a point where accountability is avoided at almost all costs, and so the terrible costs of mis-appropriation or unrivaled assimilation/consumption are being passed on to all individuals, whether they have consumed or profited from use of the resources, or not.
And these costs, of un-limited commercial exploitation, are borne and felt most severely by the public on the periphery of economic well-being, by the subsistence-consumers, by those least able to afford alternatives, and least able to claim the protection of their leaders and governments to prohibit this exploitation.
On our shared planet, we are coming to understand that water and air are valued commodities—yet still “public” resources—characterized by non-exclusivity in access, non-rivalry in consumption. We would perish without water and air. Yet people pay a premium for goods claiming a low “carbon footprint,” pay a premium for “pure water,” pay king’s ransoms for vacations or living spaces with crystal-clear air, sparkling water, nature untrammeled by the noises of an industrial, clamoring public, intent on earning a living, achieving some measure of leisure and entertainment, attaining some security for an increasingly unstable future.
In tinsel-town, on the silver screen, disasters only last as long as the film is running.  In the looming perfect storm of our globally-wired-in, socio-economic biosphere, our lives increasingly resemble a big-screen disaster film: almost predictable in the unprecedented number of shortages, instabilities, black-swan events, and natural disasters. Movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn, credited with his own version of “never make predictions—especially about the future,” might have loved this real-life “script.” Except that this digitally-powered revolution of the market is likely to last long after the excitement disappears, and attendance for most of us is neither voluntary nor painless. Many of our old economic and consumption habits appear to be walking with us on a path toward extinction.
 We do not need every generation to reinvent concepts of social, environmental, and economic responsibility. We can stand on the shoulders of the giants of the past, and dedicate our energies and collective intelligence to moving forward.
Aristotle (384 – 322 BC), wrote in his Politics that: Civilization is a group of good people working together to do good things. While legislation proposing the abolishment of private property and the holding of all things in common appears attractive and might be thought humane [philanthropos], the opposite will prove true. Every state is a sort of partnership [koinonian], and every partnership is formed with a view to accomplishing some good [agathou]… the partnership entitled to the state [polis] and political association [koinoia he politike] would include all the others, work the most of all, and aim at the most supreme of all goods and good things.
Aristotle placed a low value on political innovation, and highly valued balance and stability. He warned against recourse to civil war as a means of correcting political imbalance, because through revolution “the bonds of civil society [politiken koinonian] are loosened.”
If confidence measures the level of trust needed for the economic health of individuals and nations, and monetary systems consist of mixed values, such as: precious metals; resources; production, trade and service assets; trust (confidence)-based paper money, loans, debts, and credit-- then reciprocated-confidence/mutual-trust is a cornerstone of continued economic balance. When work, savings, and investment have been remunerated with favorable returns, then confidence in the soundness of economic behavior, and trust in the continuation of increased wealth grow.
When elements beyond the reasonable expectations of those individuals and nations to maintain their wealth jeopardize or efface economic well-being, individuals are reluctant to abandon their trust in their monetary systems and the politicians and agencies appointed to oversee and run them. Nations are often slow to protect the cornerstones of the credit and economic systems, and in times of economic turmoil, politicians, economists and media pundits offer a confusing and often contradictory barrage of accusations, opinions, and possible solutions. Leaders and businesses are  called upon to rectify bad decisions and economic losses, in exhortations based largely, again, upon “trust” that our collective, national, regional, and community bonds of “civilization” will empower, impel, even compel all the “good people” involved to do “the right thing.”
Possibly because the alternatives, acknowledging the loss of life-savings, fiscal balance or even national economic sovereignty are too frightening to masses of financially-untrained people accustomed to comfortable sustenance or even moderate affluence, confidence in the power of a charismatic voice to re-establish economic order raises even further.
Panic ensues when undermined economic systems, returns for work, trade and investment, insurance against calamity, collapse. Confidence gives way to increasing distrust, in leaders, media, banking and business systems. Unlimited distrust threatens the cessation of services, production, provision, and protection. Local and national economic system failures spiral toward infrastructure crisis, and provide opportunity for a new cadre of leaders to gain the confidence, sway the loyalty, and seize the reins of economic, political, and often, resources/production and military control, either through rebellion/impeachment, coup, or revolution. And the old order is replaced with a new order.
Rules enforcing transparency, financial accountability, and shared responsibility have some role in whether or not safeguards against ensuing insufficiencies of replacement, continuing depletion, corruption and repeated collapse are established and implemented. However, if no citizen-wide, community-to-nation enacted agreement exists to recognize the assessment, arbitration and authority of these rules or powers of enforcement, the fragile re-establishment of economic health and sovereignty remains in jeopardy.
So where does this leave us?
Libya is currently in turmoil; assets frozen, current leadership and a “Libyan Opposition” fighting for their concepts of economic freedom, political sovereignty, individual human rights. A treasure trove of natural resources are at stake. Similar scenes in Egypt find crowds revolting against years of established rule and practices, oil pipelines exploding, futures uncertain. The uneasy peace in resource-rich Sierra Leone, blessed with deep-water ports, a wealth of resources, and struggling to develop a recently-war-wrought, newly-empowered population. Consider also the contrasts in Namibia: poverty and promise, resources, deep-water ports, established elites and emergent populations. And increasingly visible is the unrest in Uganda—with private corporations of foreign nations involved in drilling and mining for oil and resources, profits widening gaps between elite classes, urban dwellers, and some of the most isolated peoples on earth, straddling the horizonless sands of the desert, the endangered waters at the sources of the the Victoria and African Great Lakes, the Nile and other great rivers of the region, experiencing load-shedding and power outages, water pollution, and apparent government clamp-downs on information/internet/communications access and public gatherings.
What of South Africa? Seen as a middle-income, emerging market, South Africa enjoys an abundant supply of natural resources (value estimated in the billions of dollars), well-developed financial, legal, communications, energy and transport sectors; a profit-oriented infrastructure which supports the distribution of goods and services to major urban centers throughout the region.
In 2007, South Africa began to experience an electricity crisis. The 18th largest stock exchange in the world, trade and trust began to be disrupted. Confidence had blossomed between 2004-2007, as South Africans enjoyed macroeconomic stability, a global commodities boom, and increasing microeconomic development and security among its formerly-excluded, least-advantaged citizens.
Legacies of problems from the apartheid era: poverty, lack of economic empowerment for most of the disadvantaged groups, a shortage of public transportation and services for most of the disadvantaged groups, aged power plants, lack of economic mobility and opportunity for most of the disadvantaged groups, and lack of education and communication, which has largely kept isolated and allowed the exploitation of the disadvantaged groups.
At an economic panel at the World Bank on Thursday, 14 April, 2011, Jay Naidoo, founding General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the former Minister of Communications for President Nelson Mandela’s cabinet said, “Global governance cannot be determined by elites… civil society cannot simply be relegated to side forums… “ Reiterating the fact that the core of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa was the struggle against a labor system that exploited black workers, Naidoo continued: “Of course there will be attempts to co-opt these movements but I am confident that the leaders know what they want.”
On Monday, April 18, 2011, Minerals Minister Susan Shabangu announced that South Africa has found widespread violations during an audit of miners and other mineral rights holders in the country.  Over 400 notices were issued for prospecting violations, and over 700 for environmental violations. The notices include intentions to cancel previously awarded prospecting and related rights licenses. Shabangu was speaking at the official launch of a new online mineral application system that aims to ensure transparency and end administrative blunders. The eastern province of Mpumalanga, which is rich in coal and other minerals, has caused particular concern on the environmental front.
But Minister Shabangu also said that she was disappointed that, “despite our genuine effort to engage them…  BEE (Black Economic Empowerment—a policy in South Africa to expand economic ownership to historically disadvantaged blacks) partners did not even honor this call. “  South African mining companies must be 26 percent black-owned by 2014, and many are scrambling to meet that target—and “fronting”—where black investors are named beneficial owners, but the company is really owned and run by white miners—remains a problem.
The process of grafting transparency, economic parity, environmental security and political stability can be very painful. While skill, union or other affiliation, racial or linguistic background, education and access formerly excluded some, and assured others of secure places in the economy, transitions to modern, wired-in systems of education, communication, and exchange have virtually ensured that an entire new ecosystem of public and private goods, holdings and distribution must be developed.
While transition in a few areas may not pose excessive problems to stability, if a large number of economic sectors are challenged, stressed, and fail simultaneously, that perfect storm of instability, crisis, and revolt could ensue. With the price of industrial products becoming, in the digital age, intangible: patents, design, branding, marketing, the price of limited resources, and finite resources is even more intangible.
Who can gauge the cost of depletion or extinction? There is no replication, there are no grafts or infusions or quick fixes to the eradication of something that had been plentiful, which no longer exists.
The competition of the market, for goods so precariously balanced, is fierce. The message is clear. The high profits and privacy margins of industry are in danger, threatened by open source technologies, communication, and accountability. People are able to “unbreak” the misguided misappropriations of resources, access, and distribution of the past. No sector can truly hold itself separate from the perfect storm of information sharing, of digital access, of nearly instant application and accountability.
If the brokers of information are trustworthy, the authorities elected to represent the citizens, to stand in the governments and infrastructures which uphold public values, public and private interests and freedoms, human rights and biosphere-sustainability will be well able to at least guide our progress to the future. The rules of physics have yet to be transformed; Niels Bohr is still correct—“it is very difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”
But when governments can integrate the advances which internet-enabled collaboration and verification have commenced, states can also use the internet, the coordination of wired-in systems of infrastructure, to safeguard the markets, the possible nationalization of finite resources, the re-assessment of resources and products as private goods produced in coordination with the public good… Individuals can, in a wired-in world, pursue their specific interests, maximize their abilities, and still have time and the knowledge to affirm that the states and officials whom they elect and support are safeguarding the interdependent systems which connect us all.
Should South Africa nationalize its mining and extractive industries? We all share the problems of scarcity, depletion, pollution, human rights access/violations, bio-security, which face all humanity. We are not necessarily burdened with the task of deciding who should benefit and profit from extracting and using the minerals and resources buried in the earth of South Africa, any more than global citizens are responsible for deciding the sovereign affairs of the unsettled situations in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Uganda, and elsewhere. Where there can be a black market of goods traded over the internet, as well as a reconfigured open market accountable through access to the internet, the economy will be challenged, will require reconfiguring from old models of ownership and profit through exclusivity, to more equitable, open, sustainable systems.
We may not have the advantage of being able to forecast the future, but we can protect our futures, requiring those handling the goods, services, resources, and profits of our individual efforts to maintain transparent, equitable, accountable and responsible practices