New work life: performance trumps presence

This report and podcast talks about how performance is becoming more important than presence in our more and more globalized world. It is however mainly looking at the risks and possible problems of virtual work and not at the potentials.

Wenn Leistung mehr zählt als Präsenz – Schöne neue Arbeitswelt Von Heimarbeit bis zur | Hintergrund | Deutschlandfunk (in German)

We are not alone in the world: Lessons from traveling through Brazil

It is incredibly hard to get back to blogging after all this time, but for much of the time I did not update this blog, I have had a great excuse: I was traveling through the Northeast of Brazil and blogged about it elsewhere (that is Nanda – my wife – did most of the writing and I gave comments, helped translate to English and took photos).

In brief, the trip had a dual purpose: The main goal of Suficiente (enough in Portuguese) was to decide how we want to live our lives and to find inspiration for possible life projects. The second was to find a place where we would invest in setting this project up. I do not want to do a big summary here – our ideas and stories can all be seen and read at full length at http://suficiente.org/ – but rather share some things I learned during the trip:

Unfortunately, nature is a luxury good in many places either because too little is left or because you have to be rich to afford experiencing it.

Most coastal communities in Northeast Brazil seem to take one of two paths to tourist development. Either they go for mass tourism with lots of concrete, preferably directly on the beach, or they are going for the upper class tourists, in which case they take very good care of scenery and surroundings.

The mass model is not just plain ugly, but too small investments in waste management and water sanitation systems of these tourist towns pollute the water and soil, mangroves and forests have to give way to gated communities, resorts and high-rise buildings, and thousands of tourists trample on coral reefs and other attractions nature has to offer… in short many coastal ecosystems end up degraded or even destroyed.

The luxury model on the other hand seems to be very effective in protecting the environment, yet at another price: “Normal” tourists, who cannot afford the high price tags are effectively excluded. In other words nature’s riches are maintained for the benefit of rich tourists and the companies that enclosed the natural resources, earn a lot of money.

Both models see the local population as resources or as a disturbance, and in not too few tourist towns you will find fairly large shanty towns right next to 5-star resorts.

Yet, we have also seen attempts to build a different kind of tourism, a third way so to speak.

North of Maceió in the state of Alagoas a few small pousadas (guesthouses) offer high level services, but do so with an eye on environmental and social development of the region. They actively reach out to the local population, offer education, and participate in local environmental and social projects. With this, the group aims to develop the region as a tourist destination for all types of tourists and to give the local population economic opportunities without compromising the resources they all depend upon: the beaches and the beautiful surroundings.

In São Miguel do Gostoso (Rio Grande do Norte), local folks in their twenties and thirties are leading several NGOs to ensure that the touristic boom turns into better lives for them, their parents and children, and does not end in more poverty and drug abuse as in so many other tourist destinations.

These initiatives also show that environmental projects do not lead to any change if they are not taking into account the social context and vice versa.

Another such example is the work done in Tamandaré in Pernambuco on coral reefs. After several years of protection and research, it has become more and more difficult to convince local fishermen to stay out of the protected area, as fish stocks have recovered and promise much higher fishing returns than anywhere else (or many other activities). Recently the project team together with a few members of the local fishers’ association have created a new organization which helps fishers to exploit the riches of the marine reserve by guiding tours with boat and snorkel as well as acting as the guards for the reserve, instead of fishing. Of course this process is not without conflict and many discussions, but both parties have realized that they can only guarantee the reefs and fish stock if they deal with both protecting nature and guaranteeing the fishers’ livelihoods.

All of the people we talked to had stories to tell of how working with others has made the difference. Natureza Bela, an environmental NGO in the South of Bahia had a rather bad start but turned into a very successful and innovative organization when they established a consortium with various organizations, who are now applying for projects and funds together instead of competing. This consortium managed to set up the first certified carbon sequestration project via reforestation in Latin America.

That working together motivates, inspires and simply works better than fighting alone and against each other was also evident from all the other discussions we have had.

The biggest lesson of all is that change starts in each of us. Big projects, rules and policies may help, but ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what we need to lead a happy and fulfilled life. And maybe what we need is not the latest cellphone or a big car, but watching the moon rise or sitting together with friends.

Just as we had the chance to step back, watch and reflect on our trip through Brazil, I challenge you to do the same – not necessarily traveling, but maybe just in a bar around the corner over a beer with some friends.

Way out of Climate Change? Us

Monbiot just published his take on the outcome of the Copenhagen Summit, comparing this and future climate negotiations to the orchestra on the Titanic. As the reason for failure of the summit, he singles out the non-inclusive negotiation approach of the biggest emitters (notably China and the US) used to satisfy their domestic goals and audiences.

One hundred and two poor nations called for the maximum global temperature rise to be limited not to two degrees but to 1.5. The chief negotiator for the G77 bloc complained that Africa was being asked “to sign a suicide pact, an incineration pact, in order to maintain the economic dominance of a few countries”.

His conclusion? What happens now

… depends on the other non-player at Copenhagen: you. For the past few years good, liberal, compassionate people […] have shaken their heads and tutted and wondered why someone doesn’t do something. Yet the number taking action has been pathetic. Demonstrations which should have brought millions onto the streets have struggled to mobilise a few thousand. As a result the political cost of the failure at Copenhagen is zero.

Is this music not to your taste sir, or madam? Perhaps you would like our little orchestra to play something louder, to drown out that horrible grinding noise.

It is up to us to take matters into or hands and start reducing our impact on our planet.

Update: a very interesting take from the closed debate on China‘s role.

cross-published on Suficiente

Sign the Charter for Compassion

Great initiative to combat violence in whatever form (verbal, physical, emotional) it may appear, and a reminder that change starts with ourselves:

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves.

via Charter for Compassion.

Here is the whole charter as a video:

And a link to the speech, in which Karen Armstrong explains the idea for this charter.

Change the paradigm

A couple of days ago I went to a seminar by Leonardo Boff, a leading figure in the liberation theology movement and recipient of the Alternative Nobel “Right Livelihood Award” in 2001. He now thinks and writes about ecology and spirituality and calls for a paradigm shift for humanity to find back to living with nature instead of just using it.

His talk was very inspiring and underlined the need for an approach that is not just rebuilding our economic system, but that changes some fundamental characteristics of it. Given the extractive logic of the “maximize profit” model, an interesting comparison he made stuck in my head:

[Economic] growth behaves like cancer cells. They grow and grow until they have destroyed the whole body.

Efficiency is good, conservation is better

In the article Why alternative energy sources such as biofuels, solar, and nuclear are not the magic ticket, Michael Grunwald from Time Magazine challenges the notion that if we invest enough in alternative energies we can reduce emissions enough to reverse climate change. His main argument is that the cheapest and most effective way to reduce emissions is to improve efficiency of our tools and gadgets. And how about simply using them less?

It wouldn’t kill you to turn down the heat and put on a sweater. Efficiency is a miracle drug, but conservation is even better; a Prius saves gas, but a Prius sitting in the driveway while you ride your bike uses no gas. Even energy-efficient dryers use more power than clotheslines.

Michael Grunwald | Foreign Policy

I believe we have stop thinking that we are not looking at small changes. Especially, if we want to offer a decent future to billions of poor people, we have to start accepting that drastic changes to our lifestyles are needed.

Food and sustainability discussion going mainstream?

Boing Boing picked up on an article in TIME magazine about food and sustainability.

The article essentially retells Michal Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma story about the hidden costs for workers, health, and environment of mass-produced cheap food and cites some companies that are starting to look for healthier and more sustainably produced ingredients.

Does this mean that the food and sustainability discussion finally goes mainstream?

How willing are consumers to rethink the way they shop for — and eat — food? For most people, price will remain the biggest obstacle.

What is good about collapse of our civilizations?

Interesting, yet glooming discussion about our future and whether it is worth saving industrial civilization between George Montbiot and Paul Kingsnorth.

While I generally agree with George that we have to face the issues and act, I also found myself agreeing with Paul on one point: We humans do take ourselves too serious thinking that we have the power to make or break life on earth. Rather, what we are doing is to destroy the basis for our own survival.

Civilisations live and die by their founding myths. Our myths tell us that humanity is separate from something called ‘nature’, which is a ‘resource’ for our use. They tell us there are no limits to human abilities, and that technology, science and our ineffable wisdom can fix everything. Above all, they tell us that we are in control.

I disagree with his conclusion that we should not even try to do something and can only prepare for the inevitable. Rather, I think above quote suggests that we have to find our way back into nature fast, and work with it instead of using it… and I have hope that we can before it’s too late!