The current global resource depletion crisis, the inability to distribute resources equally is only some of the main problems emerging today. As the world struggles with global starvation, we somehow fail to understand that there is enough for everyone. But it needs to be managed properly. At the moment, one of the system’s major flaws is unnecessary food waste. This is a massive issue, which affects people globally. However, even in the UK, one of the most developed places in the world where food is seemingly abundant and widely accessible on the shop shelves, it is still not managed properly, with more and more food being thrown away on a daily basis. At the same time, the figures describing the amount of people living in poverty, are becoming worryingly high. Some experts blame the supermarkets and advertising incentives, others, people’s ignorance, lack of empathy and their tenuous grasp of how much damage the throw-away culture really does to our planet and people living on it. It’s hard to estimate which opinion is more accurate. The only thing that’s clear is the fact that when it comes to food waste, we have a serious problem…
Currently, it is very hard to walk down the high street and not be hit by adverts in shop windows luring their customers with attrractive incentives: the most popular “Buy one, get one free” or the “3 for the price of 1”. What a bargain! They encourage us to buy certain products and to buy more by creating an illusion of saving money in people’s minds. Come on, let’s face it. No matter how strong your resilliance to advertising might be, most of us has at least once been tempted by the in-store offers on food and other products. This is where the “Might as well” phrase emerges in our brains. You fall victim to the simple advertising trick, you buy more (and usually more than you actually need) and guess what: the trick’s on you! You think you’re saving some money but actually end up wasting the product you bought just because you have been lured by the tempting incentive or cheap price. And truth to be told, often the food goes bad and ends up in the bin. And with it goes the money you think you’ve saved.
Meanwhile, over 10 billion pounds worth of food is thrown away in the UK each year, not just by the “BOGOF” victims, but by food businesses and supermarkets which practice the throw-away culture by getting rid of perfetly fresh and edible food at the end of the trading day. Supermarkets’ skips are literally filled with fruits and vegetables which show no signs of spoilage. Now why on earth would someone throw away something that is still fit to eat?
One possible answer is: because we live in a culture of commercial practices and mindless advertising. According to Dr. Tim Fox, the head of energy and environment at the UK’s Institute of Mechanical Engineers, we, consumers are bombarded by pictures of mouthwatering shiny, perfect shaped fruit and vegetables fuelling the demand for aesthetically pleasing products. Often, the products which don’t look appetising enough (the ‘wonky’ apples or carrots), don’t even make it to the shops and end up in landfills, even though they’re fresh and will most likely taste exactly the same as the other ones. Sadly, we have been brought up within a culture which says that it is ok to throw food in the bin, while somehow ignoring the uncomfortable truth: there’s other people starving. According to Oxfam, over 13 million people in the UK alone struggle to put food on their table. And for some silly reason, we became so accustomed to throwing away food, that not many people perceive is as something wrong, something that needs to be fixed.
How do we fix it then? The easiest way seems through changing the law. And yes, the laws and regulations are ridiculous. Working in food industry has long time ago taught me that most of the “health and hygiene” practices have very little to do with the concern about people’s health or food hygiene. What is more, most companies and corporations do not allow to give away the food that hasn’t been sold for one simple reason: the utter fear of getting sued. Oh, and of course, there are little stories floating around about a small local bakery owner who decided to give all the products he didn’t manage to sell to the local charity and in the end…the tax he had to pay for his generosity resulted in closure of the business. Yes, the system is faulty, it is rotten to the core. This is a system which doesn’t care about people’s wellbeing, which ignores generosity and the will to help one another. This is the system which only cares about making profit and sure, it has to be changed. The first and most important step, however, lies with…us, the consumers. We decide what goes, we hold the responsibility of what is displayed on shop shelves through our buying choices. And if we don’t change our ways for better, nobody is going to do it for us.
I am by no means trying to encourage anyone to go through your local supermarket’s bin because, let’s face it, that is just disgusting. Instead, I am trying to encourage people to THINK about what you are buying and, more importantly whether you really need it. I am trying to convince you to resist retailers’ mind tricks and silly “buy one, get one free” incentives that will encourage you to buy excessive amounts of food, which will then end up in the bin anyway.
Maybe it’s the the crippling hangover talking or maybe I’m just sad and have nothing better to do on a Saunday afternoon, rather then sit and rant about a few carrots thrown down the bin. But you know what? Try to grasp the utter nonsense of what we do with our food: we trash the planet for resources, add chemicals to the soil to accelerate food growth in order to feed the growing number of people on this planet. And then we waste one third of it because it doesn’t look good enough or we simply do not need it. At the same time we forget that other people can’t even afford the wonky, unwanted food that we thoughtlessly throw away. This idea is even more disgusting than going through the bin: it’s our consent for the widespread turpitude and inequality that is spoilt, even more than the food we, so comfortably throw away.
Call me a fool and a hopeless optimist but I always seemed to think that despite the horrible things that happen in the world on a daily basis, there is hope. I believe in people. I always have. Yes, there are terrible and atrocious things happening everywhere. The modern world is savaged by inequality, crime, corruption, collusion, war, natural disasters, violation of human rights. But somehow, I thought that the world seems to be waking itself up from the slumber of ignorance and more people are becoming more aware of what is going on around them. We are getting more and more educated, the current technology allows quicker communication, information access at a rate that was unimaginable just years ago. Our schools provide our children with enough information that will allow them one day to tackle the issues the world is struggling with now. And then I grab the recent issue of “The Guardian” and read this:
“Debate about climate change has been cut out of the national curriculum for children under 14”
Oh, how spiffing! I had to read the headline twice because I just simply could not believe that such an important issue has been just randomly dropped from geography curriculum. It’s almost as if the government suddenly decided that it was not important enough or the younger kids are too stupid to understand how our climate is changing. The article then goes on to explain that the recent draft says that “there is no mention of climate change under geography teaching and a single reference to how carbon dioxide produced by humans impacts on the climate in the chemistry section. There is also no reference to sustainable development, only to the efficiency of recycling, again as a chemistry subject”. The experts said that they want schools to teach in a way that supports the greatest needs of their pupils. Well, surely, the greatest need is to live in a world abundant of resources that will support and sustain our existance on this planet, provide us and our future generations with long and healthy lives, I presume. Well, evidently it is not.Sheldon’s mother was right…Hell is real…
Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating. Maybe my anger is completely groundless and I’m acting like a bunch of environmental hippies whining about how the Mother Earth is poisoned by man-made activity on a daily basis. We’ve got the resources, why shouldn’t we use them? Economic growth is not necessarily bad, it gives us prosperity, it enables us to live comfortably and develop in many ways: technology, healthcare, agriculture, communication. Still, whether you like it or not, our climate is changing. And not for good. It’s changing for the worse, putting in danger all the progress that we’ve been developing for years. We can be arguing about how long it will take until we run out of fossil fuels. We can speculate by how many more degrees the planet needs to warm up, to cause inevitable natural disasters around the globe. We can blinker ourselves from climate change, as long as the cosequences do not affect us. The sad part is…they will. Sooner or later, the resource extensive model of prosperity in which we have so comfortably drowned will come to an end. The finite resources will continue to deplete and finally disappear, the planet will warm up even more and the consequences of our own ignorance and silliness will one day affect us all.
The time is running out, just as quickly as the resources are but the good news is that it is still not too late. There are ways, there are solutions, Unfortunately, the average person is completely oblivious to most of these issues. Even though the issue of climate change is extremely important these days, I would even dare to say, crucial to our survival on this planet, most people still haven’t got a clue about what to do to change it. “I recycle!” is the most popular answer. Well yes, recycling helps. We should all recycle, no doubt about that. But that is not the solution. Sorry, I’d hate to be a bubble-burster but throwning some cardboard in one bin and plastic in another is nowhere near stopping the disasterous consequences of climate change we are facing. Unfortunately, these days our way of living is mostly based on contradictory approaches to ecological living. Most people have heard of some good practices linked with sustainability, energy efficiency and green lifestyle. They recycle or use the funny shaped energy efficient light bulbs but at the same time they fall victims to energy-sucking flatscreen TVs and cheap fossil fuels and, because of the need to go on holiday to warm places and thanks to cheap flights, we fly more often and to more distant places, which is the biggest cause of releasing CO2 into the atmosphere these days.
As we speak, the figures are getting worse. The obligations of the Kyoto Protocol (an international treaty to set limitations to greenhouse gas emitions) set limitations to the developed countries but didn’t take into account the still developing countries, desperately trying to catch up with our prosperous way of living. And that means: more manufacturing, more production and more CO2 burning. A climate target set by the protocol was to reduce global temperature rise by 2°C. And? Surprise, surprise! In the last 10 years the emissions as well as the global temperatures have risen, which means the target is now unachievable. The warming up of the planet only by 0.8 has lead to cosequences that even the greatest climate scientists did not expect: one third of the ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans contain 30% more acid, the atmosphere over the oceans is wetter, causing devastating floods. Meanwhile, the effect that climate change has on ocean currents results with a different set of disasters in the other parts of the globe: wildfires in Colorado, tropical storms in Florida, water depletion and loss of biodiversity in Latin America, increased draughts in Africa and floods in Europe, combined with colder weather and increased rain (which is something most of you started complaining about already). The list goes on…
We cannot rely on the politicians to change the world either. Last year’s Rio+20 - The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, turned out to be a fiasco. Politicians either don’t care or don’t know how to solve the problem, pretend the problem doesn’t exist and are more foucused on continuing economical growth, forgetting that continuous growth is impossible on a planet with finite resources. They are trying too hard to come up with a way to eat the cake and have it. How to maintain economic growth without affecting the planet? So far they came up with nothing and the clock is ticking. There are some ideas but it will need time to implement them. Unfortunately, time is something we’re running out of too.
We’re losing the battle, not because we haven’t got the means, the right tools and solutions but because we are in denial about the greatest threat out civilisation faces. Apart from the technological advancement, human mind and curiosity is the greatest asset we possess. At this stage, we need green solutions and sustainable living. They are, believe it or not, the only feasible solutions necessary to change the disasterous trajectory towards climate chaos our planet is facing. But in order to improve the existing technologies and come up with new ones, we need knowledge and proper education. Therefore, children at school need to be taught not only about the facts about this world and the way it functions, but also about the implications of our existance on this planet and the solutions we need to come up with. They need to be taught that the world is in danger and yes, we all contibute to creating the danger in the first place but still, WE ARE THE SOLUTION. There are people brilliant enough to come up with new technologies, suggestions and uses. There’s this brilliant kid, a 15 year old Jack Andraka, who invented a new method of diagnosing cancer, a method 168 times faster, 26,000 cheaper, 400 times more sensitive and 90% more successful than the conventional ones. Only yesterday, I found out that scientists have developed the new nanomaterial which can produce energy, clean water and generate hydrogen. There’s the “Solar Roadways” project which aims to install solar panels underneath the surface of the road, to generate electricity, provide lighting and defrosting elements, which would contribute to more energy efficient and safer roads.
Laws, legislations and bans created by treaties and policies will not change anything. People will always find ways to break them. Our only weapon is kowledge. By taking away the opportunity for kids to learn about how this planet works, what the implications of human activity are and what we can do to help reduce the impact we have on the world, we are indeed heading for a disaster. An educated human mind, capable of reasoning, creating and figuring out solutions is the only salvation. Denying the chance for the young minds to find out about the threats they are facing is irresponsible, to say the least. Climate change and the implications will be the main problem the future generations will be facing. The issues of environmental damage and the ways we can change it should be crucial to the curriculum and taught at an early age. There’s no point talking to five year olds about climate science, that’s for sure. But even young kids are able to understand that fumes coming out of chimneys are damaging the planet At this stage, we are not in a position to hope people will find out about the climate change by themselves. They need to be told about the issues and the quicker they realise that what we do causes danger to the planet, the better for all of us.
The lack of proper education on the issue of climate change will undoubtedly equip the future generations with the most dangerous weapon mankind has ever possessed: ignorance. We need a civilisation that will learn to think for themselves, that will allow people to think, to create and develop current technologies to improve our lives. We cannot do this by creating a generation of morons who blindly believes that all the natural disasters happening in the world are simply the Lord’s whim and when it comes to green lifestyle, we can always recycle and that itself will provide a sufficient solution to the world’s greatest ecological evils. We need to take responsibility for what is put into our children’s heads and accept the fact that our lives can only be improved through knowledge and a deep understanding of what forces rule this planet. At the moment, our schools are educating our future leaders, scientists and philosophers and we cannot limit their access to that knowledge, only because it’s a thorn in the side of our current economic system. As a brilliant astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson once said “The day we stop exploring is the day we commit ourselves to live in a stagnant world, devoid of curiosity, empty of dreams”. We need to work towards developing human interest and curiosity related to pollution, deforestation and other human activities, the way they are affecting the ecosystems and the things we can do to change that. Climate change is a serious threat to our lives, even more serious than economic collapse or crime because it involves our health and our survival on this planet. Is there really anything more important than that?
I know that sometimes the whole “make peace, not war” notion can seem incredibly cheesy and eye-rolling to some. But being nice to people and using positivity and sense of humour as our weapon, sometimes seems to be most effective when confronting violence. John Lennon once said: “When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you: pull your beard, flick your face, to make you fight. Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humour.”
And I believe that these words might have a significant influence on how we tackle the issue of violence these days. I am not trying to imply that a few hippies with their arms stretched out can take down the whole military force in an armed conflict. However, if you look at us, human beings from a scientific point of view, you might well be surprised. Recent studies published in the “Nature Journal” idicate that human beings are naturally non-violent. How can it be? Human history is filled with episodes (some longer than others) of conflicts because of reasons like territory, religion or resource acquisition. These days, all it takes is to switch the TV on or even simpler…just walk out of the door on a Saturday night, to see people involved in brawls, fights or in softer cases coming up with the most vicious kinds of names and throwing them at each other. Can a behaviour that we got so accustomed to, that we even tend to ignore it or turn a blind eye to be indeed unnatural to us?
I remember, not so long ago, I found myself eavesdropping on some customers’ conversation in the place I work (purely unintentionally, I swear :D ). This was the time when the bombings in the town of Homs, Syria emerged. A guy was browsing through the daily “The Sun” newspaper when his friend asked him “What’s in the newspaper today?”, to which he indifferently replied “Oh, nothing new, they’re killing each other again in the Middle East”. Deary me, I couldn’t believe what I heard. I was mostly staggered by the fact that human violence can become so typical and common these days, that some people perceive is as an intrinsic part of human society. Like this is something we were born with, like this is who we are, like it’s natural of us to destroy, instead of create. So many people got so accustomed to the view of people fighting one another, countries bombing another countries, blood being spilled in whoever’s name, that we just simply do not care anymore. Probably an even more controversial example is Prince Harry’s recent statement of how supposedly “thrilled” he was to kill Talibans in Afghanistan. To me, it doesn’t matter who he is, his statement was arrogant and insensitive but to many, he came across as a hero. And why? Because he shot “bad people”.
Now, we have seen more wars than non-violent ways of resolving conflicts in the history of mankind. There were however ones who did prove that conflicts can be resolved without a major bloodshed. Mahatma Gandhi’s civil resistance which helped to win India’s independence from the British rule is till this day the prime example of a non-violent change. There were others who followed: Martin Luther King in his struggle to win rights for African Americans or Lech Wałęsa who helped abolish communism in Poland in 1989. This is all getting a bit too political though. What about an average, ordinary person like you and me?
Well, researches conducted by some social scientists and psychologists, involving ten different experiments proved that people make quicker and more successful decisions when they’re based on cooperation and generosity, which then suggest that friendly and non-violent behaviour is human “automatic reaction”. In 1986, the scientific community released the so-called “Seville Statement” which says:
1. “It is scientifically incorrect to say that we have inherited a tendency to make war from our animal ancestors.”
2. “It is scientifically incorrect to say that war or any other violent behavior is genetically programmed into our human nature.”
3. “It is scientifically incorrect to say that in the course of human evolution there has been a selection for aggressive behavior more than for other kinds of behavior.”
4. “It is scientifically incorrect to say that humans have a ‘violent brain’.”
5. “It is scientifically incorrect to say that war is caused by ‘instinct’ or any single motivation.”
Many animal studies, especially one conducted by a biologist Frans de Waal have shown that they are also more prone to cooperation rather than conflict. Why on earth is our life filled with often unnecessary violent acts then? If it’s not in our nature to fight, which clearly isn’t, why do we see so much blood spilled every day, why do we hear stories of people pulling guns and knives at each other or punching each other in the face on a Saturday night? Why then have we become so accustomed to violence that we treat it with indifference or sometimes even laughter and appreciation, labelling people who kill other people as national heroes? Maybe it’s because it’s easier to brush the issue under a carpet, blame it on human nature and refuse to admit that there is a problem. Maybe it’s because we were brought up to believe that war and bloodshed are written in our genes and there’s just nothing that can be done about it. Or maybe it’s a manipulation of our goverments that convince us that there are some “bad guys” out there who deserve to be punished in the name of freedom, while they send the armed forces to foreign lands to fight their wars of affluence. And finally, maybe it’s our bad choice of role models, that makes us believe that skill in killing other people is what deserves respect and celebration. I believe that it is unacceptable to perceive such atrocity, which is violent behaviour as something that should be not only tolerated but positively reinforced. One of my greatest heroes that ever lived, a philosopher named Bertrand Russell once said:
“What is called ‘human nature’ is in the main the result of custom and tradition and education, and, in civilised men, only a very tiny fraction is due to primitive instinct […] Great States have, at present the privilege of killing members of other states, whenever they feel so disposed, though this liberty is disguised as the heroic privilege of dying in defence of what is right and just. Patriots always talk of dying for their country and never for killing for their country”.
Maybe you will look at the people in the picture above and just snort with derision, labelling them as hippies who think that a hug can change the world. But maybe it will force you to think a little bit. We have a scientific proof that we, human beings are not naturally violent creatures. There is, however, a very sad and very painful tendency in our society to justify wars and violence instead of doing things right. I think the students in Colombia deserve a round of applause for showing condemnation for violence, for proving that in this world you can make a point without putting a gun against someone’s head. Violence is not a result of human nature, we are not born with it, nor is hatred coded in our genes. It’s a result of a common belief that the only way to maintain peace and order is through war, fighting, domination and supression. And sadly, if we live our lives with a distorted moral sense, where an image of bombing a town in the Middle East or the Police booting protesters in the street is something “normal”, then we will conform to living with a burden of fear that only our own silliness has caused.
Bertrand Russell “Has Man a Future?”, (1961)
Couldn’t agree more Mr Newton.
Such a humble creature :)
“This is a lava lake which appears in the summit crater of Nyiragongo volcano. It is the biggest lava lake on the planet with an estimated 282 million cubic feet of lava. It is one of the most active volcanoes in Africa and is located inside the Virunga Nation Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. When it last erupted in 2002, 400,000 people had to be evacuated as the lava can flow at up to 6