Monthly Archives: February 2006

Environment and Sustainability Humour

Here is a list of ten of my favourite environment and sustainability jokes (not in any order). It is not so much that I find them funny but that because they have some truth in them. Enjoy.

  1. We need science to solve all the problems we wouldn’t have if there were no science.
  2. “If sunbeams were weapons of war, we would have had solar energy long ago.” Sir George Porter
  3. Gravity is a myth – the Earth sucks.
  4. Whenever he thought about the environment he felt absolutely terrible. So he came to a fateful decision. He decided not to think about it.
  5. The modern electric toothbrushes are having an effect on tooth care. In fact, my dentist was telling me that in Great Britain today, the major cause of tooth decay is weak batteries.
  6. Progress: the continuing effort to make things to be as good as they used to be.
  7. Have you ever noticed how modern developers operate? They bulldoze the trees and then name the streets after them!
  8. Most people in the city have come up from the country to make enough money to leave the city and live in the country.
  9. The government is finally doing something about energy conservation. They are asking motorists to remember to turn off their wind-screen wipers whenever they drive under a bridge.
  10. How wonderful it is to wake up in the middle of London every morning to the sounds of the birds coughing.

Know of any good sustainability humour? I would love to hear it.

See also Mara’s Dictionary

The “Value” of Money

Think about “money” for a moment – a $1 dollar note cost about the same amount of money to make as a $100 dollar note. Yet we think one is worth $1 and the other $100, even though they cost the same to make. Today governments, businesses, society and culture has pushed us to think in terms of money and not allow for a possibility of any other kind of value system.

This kind of “artificial” measurement has somehow warped our values replacing them with a dollar sign, where even our children or our wives can be priced. Not surprizing really when innocent words like “priceless” can be enlisted by literally anyone to (mis)represent values and be made to lose any real meaning.

But language has been used to deceive us for a long time. They used to call it rhetoric. Politicians, in general, speak this way, as do business. One reason is because speech is not seen as deceitful like action. But it should be, because speech is in itself an action.

I am sure you have your own list of speech/acts which you have seen though as being designed to be deceitful. I am particularly cautious about discourses by politicians and entrepreneurs, because they are really looking out for themselves and not for us.

But it is possible to have other values, values other than those that others want you to have. And it is easier to hold these values once you see through the discourse for what it is.

Three Kinds of Lies

Earlier I wrote about the Gross National Product – an indicator which measures the total amount of good and services produced at home and overseas in a given period by a nation. And the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) takes into account only what is happening at home regardless of who is producing the goods and services.

Governments and economists want the GDP to indicate growth, because it would mean the nation’s economy is healthy. But do the figures really mean just that?

This is what David Suzuki had to say about the GDP recently:

There is a good rationale for [growth], in that economic growth is tied to jobs and income, which are indeed to a certain extent tied to well-being. But the GDP also includes things like cleaning up oil spills, clearing car accidents and treating asthma attacks brought on by smog. And it includes things like strengthening process efficiencies to “improve the bottom line” – which actually means laying off workers so shareholders make more money. Is that really good for well being?

One of the only things that my psychology taught me that I still remember (and that is still useful) is that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. No more is this true than in the way governments use numbers.

The Reasoning of Reason

In a recent article about deciding whether to teach intelligent design in American schools one (science?) teacher had this to say:

“I think if we look at where the empirical scientific evidence leads us, it leads us towards intelligent design.

“[Intelligent design] ultimately takes us back to why we’re here and the value of life… if an individual doesn’t have a reason for being, they might carry themselves in a way that is ultimately destructive for society.”

All italics are mine. This of course is an old argument and one that I have always felt is flawed but haven’t been able to say why… until now.

Firstly, the why are we here really isn’t a question here but an answer. So naturally his reason for being here will ultimately taint his idea of the value of life. The assumption is that the reader will all agree or sympathize with his reason for being here. But that is not always the case.

As a Chinese and a Buddhist I was never taught or told that there needed to be a reason for living. As matter of fact it has never been a point of contention or a cause for distress. It is only when I speak in English that I have to even worry or think about this. In other words, it is a culturally influenced idea and possibly a linguistic one also.

Generally one can be expected to be offended by his statement of belittlement (he basically dismissed all of non-Chiristian thought in one sentence). But getting upset would be unnecessary and futile. And it would solve nothing.

On closer inspection, here is an example of a man who wants his cake and eat it too. Because unless he convinces himself of intelligent design he would either have to give up his vocation as a science teacher or his faith in Christianity. In short, his argument is flawed so that he wouldn’t have to make that decision. And that is all I need to say about him.

Bottom Trawling in New Zealand

It was announced this week that New Zealand will ban bottom trawling in one-third of its off-shore waters.

While this might have seemed like good news environmental groups were less ready to rejoice. They said the deal which was struck with the fisheries happened all too suddenly and that it constituted to be nothing more than a PR exercise. They also said the areas which were being declare off-limits have either already been overtrawled or are too deep for bottom trawling.

Such deals are of course always being struck at conferences behind closed doors with environmental groups neither being present nor represented. And by the time we realize the duplicity the fisheries and politicians have already got what they want and the damage to the environment is already done. It is an all too familiar a scenario.

What we seem to have lost is our sense of respect. Where as once a upon a time we would nurture and care for the environment that provided for us, today we more like its masters. And that is not far off the mark. For it wasn’t long ago that slavery was openly and unashamedly practiced. While slavery is still practiced today it has “gone into hiding”.

If you think about it the mentality of fishing and slavery are very similar – they both treat the living like non-living commodity, to be brought and sold by its owner. Where as once we saw a fish as a beautiful and wonderous creation of nature we now see it as nothing more than a supermarket product. It is as David Suzuki said the most urgent problem that needs to be tackled is our attitude. We need to regain a sense of respect for all things including respect for ourselves.

The US and the Kyoto Protocol

In a recent review of the present state of the Kyoto Protocol US President George W Bush is quoted as saying he decided to pull out of the agreement (in 2001) because he believed implementing it would gravely damage the US economy.

And until we change the way politicians think we will continue to be told that figures like the GNP are actually meaningful.

A “Healthy” Economy?

Sometimes we can be using the wrong yardstick all along and not know it. Take this anecdote which was originally published in the Adbuster Magazine and requoted by David Suzuki in A David Suzuki Collection: A Lifetime of Ideas:

Joe and Mary own a small farm. They are self-reliant, growing as much of their food as possible, and providing for most of their own needs. Their two children chip in and the family has a rich home life. Their family contributes to the health of their community and the nation … but they are not good for the nation’s business because they consume so little.

Joe and Mary can’t make ends meet, so Joe finds a job in the city. He borrows $13,000 to buy a Toyota and drives 50 miles to work every day. The $13,000 and his yearly gas bill are added to the nation’s Gross National Product (GNP).

Then Mary divorces Joe because she can’t handle his bad city moods anymore. The $11,000 lawyer’s fee for dividing up the farm and assets is added to the nation’s GNP. The people who buy the farm develop it into townhouses at $200,000 a pop. This results in a spectacular jump in the GNP.

A year later Joe and Mary accidentally meet in a pub and decide to give it another go. They give up their city apartments, sell one of their cars and renovate a barn in the back of Mary’s father’s farm. They live frugally; watch their pennies and grow together as a family again. Guess what? The nation’s GNP registers a fall and the economists tell us we are worse off.

So what does a healthy and growing “economy” really mean? It means – I am told by the experts – that for the same food to get to my table the more people involved in the process the “healthier” the economy. How wrong can they get. So next time you see the GNP in the news don’t be fooled.