Sunday, November 22, 2009

All Systems Thinking

I love, and often think about that old story to explain systems-thinking - that a butterfly languidly flaps its wings in a hot, tropical Rainforest of South America, setting in motion an energy that ripples across the world and, amongst other things, results in the hat flying sharply off the head of a man on a cold, blustery Oxford Street, London.

Every time, it makes me think about my own smile. If I smile now, and send out a ripple of smiling energy, might a husband in Malawi hug his wife? Might a child in Ethiopia eat a meal? Might a grandmother in India enjoy a belly laugh? Might a girl in Cambodia get a scholarship to finish school?

Who knows the power of my smile?

I remember that every time I love Life - every time I admire a flower, delight at a stick insect, save a worm, plant a tree, stop and acknowledge a squirrel, regard a mushroom as special, feel lucky and excited because I saw a whale - I am sending out a ripple that encourages more Life somewhere on this extraordinary planet, in some extraordinary way.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Love Tiger

I close my eyes and sink into a green world. Dark and light greens, untouchable greens and the furry greens of mosses under my fingertips. Across my entertainment of leaves and grasses, of vegetable, meteor and verdant seaweed, flashes a powerful amber light – on and off, so that I conjure up a tiger.

As I receive this tiger, my heart starts to hurt instantly, my head rolls images of hunting and desiccated skins, hunger and deforestation, desparate claws and cruel traps. Decimated populations hit like bullets. Disappearing sub-species puncture the lining of my stomach.


I want to stop this roll. I do not want to share in the extinction of the Tiger I love.

I am so weary of thinking of great tigers with despair. What I really want is to be unequivocably thrilled to my bone marrow by Tiger. What I really want is for wild tigers to recover, restore and thrive again. What I really want to do is fill each and every wild tiger still holding onto to Life with my great love for them. I want them to feel my gratitude for their against-all-odds existence in their own cells, in their precious DNA.

I want to be a light for the long future of wild tigers.

Now. I just thought that thought. I just filled wild tigers with all my love. Love Tiger.

Maybe a mother tiger just slipped away past a poacher; maybe a conservation officer just won a small battle against urgent villagers, maybe a logging company just turned away from a big, bad deal.

I love the black and amber with its white flashes rippling through the green of my mind. I am grateful. I am love. I am hope. I am Tiger.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Family Nature

In his U.S.A best-selling book, "Last Child in the Woods", Richard Louv coined the term 'Nature Deficit Disorder' (NDD) and inspired an international movement to reconnect children with Nature. Mr Louv highlighted concerns that resonated intuitively with multitudes of today's parents - that children disconnected from the Natural World are children at risk. The consumerist society takes their children for walks in shopping malls instead of the mountains. It provides passive entertainment with children sitting still, indoors, absorbed on screens - instead of running, climbing, swimming, slipping and sliding outside in woods, streams, meadows and trees. It substitutes 'Animal Planet' for real-life encounters with wild-living birds and beetles, porcupines and caracals. In crucial ways, the child of this consumerist world is a child raised in a special kind of poverty who manifests real and long-lasting symptoms of its disadvantage.

There's an abundance of research that tells us what we know anyway - Nature is good for human beings. We understand and connect to the wild and wordless essence of ourselves when we deeply and truly experience the greater wild and wordless context of our World. There is no possible virtual, technological solution to meet this need. To provide our children with opportunities for this essential part of whole human development, we have to get them outside into the Natural World - often.

It is arguable, that this generation of children needs this more than any other - they are facing unprecedented environmental challenges in their lifetimes. We cannot expect them to grow into adults responsible for sustainable living and sustainable human development if we are raising them in conditions conducive to Nature Deficit Disorder.

It is this realisation that is motivating mothers, fathers, grandparents, neighbours, environmental educationalists, non profit organisations, businesses and governments to organise and support formal and informal groups, clubs, networks and programmes that involve families in Nature walks, hikes, camps, adventures and holidays. Being in Nature, experiencing wild places, observing and connecting with all aspects of the Life around us is increasingly recognised as a vital part of family well-being. It is not something that parents can leave up to schools. As role models, as the nurturers of our children's development, we need to be actively fostering their connection to Nature on a daily basis.

Big picture ideas, support and connections can be found at: Children and Nature Network -

More about Richard Louv and "Last Child in the Woods" at:

I love this stunning Cape Town-based initiative:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Earth Charter

I am immersed in The Earth Charter this week - busy conceptualising and writing educational resources, for teachers of ten-year olds, with the Earth Charter as a theme for enhancing sustainability education.

I think that The Earth Charter is an extremely valuable initiative. It is wise, helpful and hopeful. It provides a sound and inspiring ethical framework to guide the transition to sustainable living and sustainable human development. The Charter's great strength is that it both recognises and accommodates the irrevocably interconnected aspects of Life on Earth in its 16 succinct principles. It serves to remind us that social justice, peace and the end of poverty are intertwined with the protection, respect and care of the wilderness, biodiversity and other species that we make use of.

The Earth Charter began as a United Nations project, but was then driven and fully implemented some years later by an independent global civil society initiative - at the urgings of the likes of Mikhail Gorbachev. A decade-long process of the most inclusive and participatory consultation has helped The Earth Charter to gain legitimacy and further its goal of becoming an international 'soft law document' - morally, if not legally binding on its signatories. It has been endorsed by more than 4500 organizations, including governments and international bodies. Because of its status as a 'people's charter', you can as an individual, a family, a school or a community also endorse the Earth Charter, take action and use it as a wise guide to 21st Century living.

The mission of the Earth Charter is:
"... to promote the transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework that includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace."

Read the principles, take them to heart, sign The Earth Charter and be inspired to take action at:
For kids, teachers and parents, there's the Little Earth Charter - the 16 Principles synthesized into 8 communicated through beautiful animations and songs:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sweetening The Place Where You Live

Many of us feel a huge and hopeless heart wrench at the prospect of wild tigers, polar bears and orang-u-tans disappearing forever - and these are just the "poster-species" for the massive amount of biodiversity we stand to lose in the next 30 to 50 years. It may seem like there is nothing we can do to stop the downward slide to mass extinction - but there is something that every one of us can do.

Nature writer and Biomimicry expert, Janine Benyus calls it "sweetening the place where we live"- what a great line. It reminds us that Nature relentlessly keeps on creating more and more conditions conducive for more and more Life. It's not simply great numbers that sustain Life, but also a wealth of diversity - multitudes of different forms of Life.

Disconnection from the Natural world fosters behaviours such as eradicating the creatures that live around us instead of celebrating them. We grow alien plants instead of indigenous ones. We poison the places where we live instead of sweetening them. We can change this, and when we do, we abandon an artificially imposed sterility and embrace the abundance that is utterly natural.

Love the Life around you. Know it's name. Be proud to foster as much biodversity as you can. It does make a difference. If you live in a city, even in a high-rise apartment, you can still do something to sweeten the place where you live. I recently read about a project encouraging urban-dwellers on the North American butterfly migration route to grow indigenous butterfly food plants not just in their suburban gardens, but on city rooftops, window-sills and balconies with the aim of providing a continuous source of food for the travellers. If you know your place, you can sweeten it so well. It's the kind of small action in the big picture that feels really good.

Anyone can be a champion of biodiversity:

  • Regard the place where you live as an ecosystem and foster its health and robustness
  • Grow native plants and trees that can support other native Life
  • Avoid poisons - if necessary, use only natural pest control strategies until you achieve a self-regulating ecological balance
  • Strive for your environment to provide as much opportunity as possible for as many different living organisms
  • Enjoy your abundance

Monday, October 19, 2009

All Species

No one knows how many species live on Earth. Despite more than 250 years of scientific discovery, identification and classification, no one knows. Estimates range from 10 to 50 million species - but some scientists who study insects propose that there could be 100 million species of insects alone. We have classified less than 2 million species of Life on Earth so far - just the prologue of an extraordinary set of encylopedias - just our toes in the water grasping a ribbon of the extent of the only Life we can be sure of...

This life on Earth represents our only proven companions in the entire Universe...

We are currently living in such a way that half of what lives now, a massive amount of what we don't even know, will be extinct in the next 30 to 50 years. The kind of mass extinction Planet Earth last experienced about 65 million years ago - and this time, our species may well go along for the ride...

The kingpin of the robustness of Life is diversity. Lots and lots of Life forms keep Life happening. Another essential is the size of populations - 3000 tigers on the Planet are not enough, 20 000 Lions are not enough, Honey Bees in Costa Rica but not one in Idaho is not enough...

From the slum-dweller in Mumbai to the CEO in SIlicon Valley - and just about everyone in between, we live our lives as if other Life forms do not matter. It's a terrible, heart-wrenching and absurd way of seeing the world. We are not exempt from Nature. We cannot be. We are Nature, and we depend on everything else that is also Nature.

We depend on clean air, clean water, arable soil, safe food and a temperate climate. For 65 million years, possibly 10 to 50 million species have been providing this stabilty that sustains human lives. No, it hasn't actually been oil, coal or uranium; nor gold or paper money; nor cement or highways or shopping malls; nor celebrities or fluffy toys made in China - none of that makes the world go round for us.

We live because there are eco-systems bursting with biodiversity. We live because there are rainforests and tundras; we live because there are arctic ice sheets and billions of antarctic krill; we live because there are old whales and old elephants and old walruses and old trees. We live because there is an abundance of Life we don't have names for. When half of these species disappear and eco-systems collapse because they are not there - we are in peril, and even more importantly, our precious children are doomed.

We've got to change.

The Encyclopedia of Life:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cooling Down the Planet


Yesterday I found a book in my postbox. 'The Fire Dogs of Climate Change - An Inspirational Call to Action' by Sally Andrew, published by Findhorn Press. I had been thinking about what I might write today, Blog Action Day, so when this gift about Climate Change arrived, I read it immediately.

Sally Andrew has written a very personal account of our deep universal concerns, pains and fears - and it is a powerful, intimate, global book. Interweaving autobiographical sketches and fact sheets, Ms Andrew achieves what few writers about Climate Change manage - the meeting of human hearts and minds in the face of the catastrophic end of all Life.

Fire Dogs are all of us across the globe working in myraids of ways to mitigate and adapt to Climate Change, and we are lucky to have Ms Andrew read stories to us. Her courage to open her heart to the pain of the Earth; her succinct offering of practical ways that we can contribute to the caretaking of the ailing Planet; and her insistence that we must be well-educated about the facts makes for a wise and inspiring teaching.

She also does not shy away from the possibility that all the many efforts to restore the Earth may well not be enough. While our intentions are to save, protect, heal and renew, the forces of destruction are massive and we may not be successful. Time might reveal that instead of doing the work of restoration, we are the forerunners committed to the palliative care of an elderly, terminally-ill Earth.

In the face of this devastating prospect, Sally Andrew reminds us why we should persevere:
" it should be with the Earth. However, strong or weak she is. However much hope there is or isn't. I can love her, heal her, celebrate and appreciate her. I need to do this not from despair, fear nor shame; but because by doing so I experience my own integrity. Integrity is being true to myself and others, whether I live in a web of damage, or a climate of joy."

The Fire Dogs of Climate Change - Sally Andrew

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Summer Story
Clivia Miniata

Monday, October 5, 2009

On the Other Side

On the other side of our despair at the state of Life on Earth is empowerment.

In the Work That Reconnects, Joanna Macy teaches that to get there, we have to first acknowledge the truth of the pain we feel for the world.

That pain manifests most commonly as grief, anger, fear, guilt, emptiness and feeling overwhelmed.

We mourn the immense amount of Life lost - individuals, species, ecosystems.
We are outraged by the ideologies and systems, institutions and individuals, actions and motives that have caused all the death and all the waste.
We are terrified for ourselves and for our children as we face the uncertainty that Life itself may not go on.
We experience emptiness all the times when we are numb, witless, collusive and immobile in the face of all the destruction.

Macy calls this "Pain for the World", and she makes 3 important points about it:
1. It is Universal - we all feel it at some or other level of our consciousness. It doesn't matter if we are a peace activist or an arms dealer, each of us is an 'open-system' embedded in Life, utterly interconnected, and so we all feel pain for the world.
2. It is Unprecendented - while our predecessors experienced many hardships and trials of life, they lived with a certainty that Life would always go on. That certainty is lost, and this is the pivotal psychological framework of the times.
3. It is deeply suppressed - as if we fear getting lost in this huge anguish, we tune out our pain for the world, which is a problem because it is this very suppression that renders us powerless and passive.

Finding the ways to truthfully acknowledge and express our pain for the world, preferrably in community with others, is an empowerment process. In our deep sorrow, we reconnect to our great love of the world. In facing our terrors, we find our courage and our capacity to trust. In giving voice to our anger, we allow our passion for justice to bloom. In acknowledging our emptiness, we make space for the new to arise.

In her book, Coming Back To Life, Joanna Macy offers a wise, inspiring and practical guide to understanding our angst, safely owning our pain for the world and moving out of apathy into compassionate action.

In this state, we can be useful, positive contributors to today's all-encompassing revolution - A Great Turning from the doomed global Industrial Growth Society to a Life Sustaining one.

You can learn more at:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Planetary Boundaries

It's a stressful time on Planet Earth. Uncertain. Challenging. Threatening...

It is also, still, a very beautiful time in a wondrous place...

This week I went to see the BBC feature film, Earth, on the big screen. Incredible cinematography, I am so glad I had the chance to see it in a theatre. In a loose kind of way, the film interweaves three main mother and offspring stories - a polar bear and her twins waking up after the winter hibernation to melting summer ice-sheets; an African Elephant and her calf on their annual Kalahari march to the Okavango in the hope of the flood that may or may not come; and a Humpback Whale and her calf trekking 4000 miles to the southern Ocean where increasing acidity is diminishing the blooming plankton that the whales and many other sea creatures depend on.

In this film, Earth landscapes, waterscapes and creatures are so rich, so alive, and seemingly, so plentiful, that you get caught up in a visual celebration of Natural splendour and abundance that is at odds with the warning narrative.

It is a reminder of today's connundrum - we are well-aware that we live on One Planet with finite "resources" that humans can tap for their growth and development. But, how finite is Earth? How limited are those "resources"?

Interestingly, these quantifying questions have been avoided by scientists and environmentalists, by journalists and politicians until very recently, when Johan Rockström and his colleagues from The Stockholm Resilience Centre ventured to define 9 Planetary Boundaries, and to present actual thresholds for 7 of them. (We have already long over-stepped 3 of these boundaries - which is critical because every boundary, of course, impacts on all the others. So even the 6 boundaries not yet breached, are significantly threatened and weakened.)

The authors offer the 9 Planetary Boundaries because quantifiable limits may well help us to be faster and firmer about finding the ways to carry on the business of being human in a safer space. But, of course, it is going to take a lot to get everyone to agree to what the limits actually are, or should be.

One of Nature's great life-enhancing principles is that it optimises the power of limits. One of human beings' great life-depleting attitudes is that we seem to regard limits as some kind of challenge to overcome so we can carry on doing whatever we like. We'll have to change our minds in order to find our prosperity and well-being within Planetary Boundaries. It means we need to harvest within the carrying capacity of soils and seas; we have to maintain an energy balance - we cannot use more than we add; we must function within a specific and strict range of temperatures conducive to Life.

The 9 Planetary Boundaries are:
  • climate change
  • rate of biodiversity loss (terrestrial and marine)
  • interference with the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles
  • stratospheric ozone depletion
  • ocean acidification
  • global freshwater use
  • change in land use
  • chemical pollution
  • and atmospheric aerosol loading
A debate we don't really have time for is just begining. Thoughtful consideration about Planetary Boundaries could shift us into an appreciation of the real power of limits - that is, using them as devices for focus. has a great set of articles including the authors' exposition and expert comments, go to:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sustainable Food Gardening - Surviving and Thriving

There's an ever-increasing realisation that growing our own food in the places where we live, using natural systems farming is a core strategy to survive, and possibly, thrive in the face of challenges such as peak oil and climate change.

The effectiveness of community-based and small-scale sustainable food gardening is probably best demonstrated by Cuba who inadvertently provided the world with a valuable model in the aftermath of its economic collapse in the early 90's. This has been well-documented in the film, "The Power of Community - How Cuba survived Peak Oil".

When the Soviet Union fell apart, proud and resilient Cuba was almost brought to its knees. The economy collapsed - GDP crashed, oil imports halved and 80% of Cuban import and export markets were lost. Across the country, citizens experienced frequent and enduring black-outs; cars, transportation and farm machinery ground to a halt; factories and industrialised farms shut down; basic services, work, school and universities were constantly disrupted. The greatest threat was looming famine. The people of Cuba were experiencing a politically-induced "Peak Oil Crisis" and the country's response is something we can all learn from.

In the face of chronic food shortages, the Cuban government rapidly implemented a supply programme based on providing the minimum daily calories set by the United Nations. It kept widespread famine at bay for a time, but the programme, under increasing strain due to intensified USA sanctions, was not sufficient or sustainable. Cuba's exemplarly record of child care was now blighted by incidents of malnutrition in children under 5 years old and the births of underweight babies. Cut off from global institutions under USA-influence, there was no one "out there" to turn to for help, drastic action needed to be taken by the Cubans themselves.

One might ask, why a country with such a strong agricultural sector faced such a deep food crisis?
The answer is, that Cuba had long embraced large-scale, mechanised agriculture - it practiced the most industrialised farming in all of Latin America and used more chemical fertilisers than the USA. Industrialised agriculture is the major consumer of the world's fossil fuels. Cuba was highly dependent on chemical fertilisers derived from natural gas, oil-based pesticides and diesel fuel to power farm machinery. Without these costly, and now rare inputs, industrial farming faltered, leaving ghosts in the machines and dead soil.

Another contributing factor is that Cuban industrialised farms focused on growing monocultures of tobacco, sugar cane and citrus, mainly for export. Cuba had never met its own food production needs. More than half of staple foods, such as rice and vegetable oils for cooking had always had to be imported.

Cubans had no option but to look to the antithesis of industrial farming - sustainable, natural-systems, organic methods of food production. In high-density Havana, there was an ad hoc citizen response inspired by desperation. Lawyers and doctors, engineers and artists, students and the elderly were suddenly food gardening by trial and error. Neighbours got together to clean up disused lots, to plant and tend vegetables. Families planted pot, patio and roof food gardens. Kiosks selling fresh produce started to spring up on the city streets. People who produced food had more disposable income. Soon, all this effort was a recognisable urban food gardening movement.

Permaculture experts arrived in Cuba and began to train-the-trainer. Similar to its roll-out of a successful literacy programme right after the 1950's revolution, Cuban trainers spread out through urban and rural communities teaching Permaculture principles and skills. Cuban scientists turned their attention to bio-pesticides and bio-fertilisers.

While it did take 3 to 5 years to rebuild soil fertility in many places, the food gardening programme was a stunning success, and still quick enough to avert famine.

The results in Havana alone are impressive - by 2006:

  • 50% of the city's fresh produce was grown right in the city at the cost of zero food miles
  • 140 000 people were making their living from food production - food gardening became a growing sector of the economy
  • fresh, organically-grown "neighbourhood food" was available in 169 municipalities

In smaller Cuban towns, community food gardening was supplying 80 to 90% of food needs.

The next step was to reclaim land from the industrial farms and transform it into the small-scale, labour-intensive, community-based concerns that are conducive to sustainability. By 2006, 80% of Cuba's agricultural land was farmed organically using soil fertility, crop rotation, green fertilisers, inter-cropping, inter-planting and natural pest control techniques.

Cuba had successfully transformed its agriculture from a dependent, unsustainable, industrialised model to a gloriously independent, sustainable, life-promoting alternative.

Out of hardship and adversity, came important lessons, that:

  • People who grow food are very important in the community and to their country - they deserve to earn a good living and to enjoy dignity
  • At any time, but most especially when the going is tough - co-operation is far more advantageous than competition
  • Growing food in harmony with Nature works
  • Soil is a living system
  • Being active in your community can be the difference between abundance and poverty, between life and death
  • Everyone can make a difference

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why Ecoliteracy is a Life Skill

Nowadays, there’s an abundance of information about sustainable living solutions. At every turn there is more news about 'green' products and technologies, ‘green’ homes and holidays, communities and cities… It is great to see so much human ingenuity and energy committed to creating a better world.

However, our transformation from wasteful societies voraciously eating into the Earth’s Natural Capital, to sustainable societies living harmoniously within the bounds of Nature is going to fundamentally depend on our collective mindset.

A sustainable world demands of us different values, different ideas, attitudes, priorities and ways of being. We’re also going to need to have different knowledge and different skills.

One of the most striking shortcomings of modern, consumerist life is the profound and widespread ignorance about how Life really works. 'Ecoliteracy' is a word coined by physicist Fritjof Capra, and it means knowing and acting according to the basic facts of Life.

Way back in the 70’s and 80’s, Dr Capra was urging us away from a damaging mechanistic view of the world by presenting erudite and compelling teachings on holistic systems-thinking. In essential, best-selling books such as “The Tao of Physics”, “The Turning Point” and “The Web Of Life”, Dr Capra made the need for the paradigm shift beautifully clear – we cannot understand the world wisely and intelligently by studying and explaining components.

Life is encapsulated by eco-systems – dynamic sets and networks of relationships, nesting within each other and connecting with everything else – Everything. To understand how the world really works we need to understand relationships, connections, contexts, systems – and we cannot shy away from their complexity. In essence, this is a long-heralded call for the human mind to stretch beyond the rational, intellectual cleverness that it takes to understand a tangible component, and to invoke all our intelligences to comprehend the intangible Web of Life that sustains all the different components in a system. This kind of thinking and knowing underpins sustainable living.

While this may seem daunting, Dr Capra has this succinct reminder:

"We do not need to invent sustainable human communities. We can learn from societies that have lived sustainably for centuries. We can also model communities after nature's ecosystems, which are sustainable communities of plants, animals, and microorganisms. Since the outstanding characteristic of the biosphere is its inherent ability to sustain life, a sustainable human community must be designed in such a manner that its technologies and social institutions honor, support, and cooperate with nature's inherent ability to sustain life."

Dr Capra went on to found the Center For Ecoliteracy - - dedicated to sustainable living education aimed at school children. It advocates four guiding principles as an anchor for all sustainability education:

  • Nature is our teacher
  • Sustainability is a community practice
  • The real world is the optimal learning environment
  • Sustainable living is rooted in a deep knowledge of place

Monday, September 21, 2009

Climate Change Wake-Up Call

Tomorrow, in New York City, the United Nations convenes the highest level talks ever to be held on Global Climate Change. It's a tense occasion. 100 world leaders will be brought together and urged by the UN to make real progress on the Climate Change agenda, ahead of the December Copenhagen Summit.

The current state of the negotiations is frightening. So far, there isn't a country in the world with a government that has significantly stood up to the issues. Negotiators are ineffectively floundering around, gripping on to the concerns of their rich and powerful backers with white knuckles, or pointing fingers demanding that other countries make changes before they will. The UN is desperately trying to get them to step up and act like Global Leaders making critical decisions for future generations, for the future of all Life on Earth.

It's easy to feel pretty depressed and hopeless at the extreme narrowmindedness, lack of foresight and lack of courage of those we have put in charge to do the best they can for us and our children.

However, rather than being immobilised, there is action that each of us can take today to demand that our leaders reach wise and proper consensus with all other nations on Global Climate Change. All around the world people are gathering together at Global Wake-Up Call events, and we are also making phone calls to our governments to tell them that we want them to attend Global Climate change talks and negotiate a fair, ambitious and binding - 'FAB' climate deal.

Today, I called the South African President's Office and asked them to register my call. After being swiftly transferred twice, I was told by an assistant, Moira, that my details are now added to a long list that will be handed onto to the President. It took just a few minutes and it was quite exciting

If you are South African, you can call President Jacob Zuma on (+27) 012-300 5200 (+27) 021 - 464 2100.

You can find out more about the Global Wake-Up Call campaign at

Sunday, September 20, 2009


I am privileged to live in a city that still has real Nature. These are African Penguins that formed a small colony on Boulders Beach, outside of Simonstown in the 80's, a place just a 30-minute drive from my home. African Penguins are listed as a vulnerable species in the Red Data Book.

Like all ocean-living species, threats to African Penguins have been escalating.

In the early 1900's, egg and guano collecting decimated the southern island colonies of these birds. It is estimated that maybe 10% of the population survived. Since then, we've had a lot of oil spills and a lot of fishing. Today, we know the problems at sea are even worse.

Once I visited Boulders Beach and photographed a pair of penguins lying together in their sunny burrow with old-wing-flippers across each others backs. Penguins form deep monogamous bonds.

Today, I felt grateful that these penguins were there - toddling around boulders, burrowing under wild olives, braying on the beach and standing still in their moult, waiting for the next Ocean.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Is your "Now" short or long?

The present has a flighty reputation. Ephemeral, too surreal to hold any substance, hard for us to "be" in. It's not heavy like the past we trawl through, understanding at our leisure. It's not tense like the future we fearfully and excitedly anticipate. It's "Now" - a phenomenon almost too quick for us to grasp it's bridge and it's duality. Now, this moment that isn't just a moment, is a tantalising space, irrevocably shaped by the past and profoundly pregnant with the future.

In one of his best expressions, the essay: "The Big Here and The Long Now", Brian Eno proposed that we have the choice of engaging with a "Long Now" or "Short Nows".

He wrote:
"The longer your sense of Now, the more past and future it includes. It’s ironic that, at a time when humankind is at a peak of its technical powers, able to create huge global changes that will echo down the centuries, most of our social systems seem geared to increasingly short nows. Huge industries feel pressure to plan for the bottom line and the next shareholders’ meeting. Politicians feel forced to perform for the next election or opinion poll. The media attract bigger audiences by spurring instant and heated reactions to ‘human interest’ stories while overlooking longer-term issues – the real human interest."

This essay was first published by the Long Now Foundation,, of which Eno is a Board Member and contributor to the iconic "Clock of the Long Now" project.

You can read the full essay at:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Life thoughts about Life

Early this morning, in a soft, silver rain, a friend and I talked about ways to respond to the Earth crisis. She's inundated with messages to stop the shooting of wolves, save 20 000 dolphins from slaughter, rescue starving bears... Many of these types of messages arrive in our inboxes and on our social networking interfaces complete with violent, traumatic imagery. It is a pornography of Earth despair - and most of us, don't want to look at it.

At a deep level, it brings us down. Even if we take action and sign the petitions, it doesn't feel satisfying when we press 'send' because in the process we have read or seen horrors, now imprinted on our psyches, now infusing our being with grief and anger, fear and despair. A powerful cocktail of negative energy - now emanating from ourselves...

At a 'Law of Attraction' level, what this means is that woven into our positive actions and efforts at protection, is despair at the ravaging of the Natural World. My friend said: "I think it's better not to know." And she got a valid point. What we really want to be doing is engaging with a life-giving, restorative, graceful FORCE...

But I still disagree that the way to do that is not to know. We must know what is going on in the world. We must understand the state of the Planet and we must act on what we know to be very wrong. The big challenge is to find the ways to deal with our painful emotions so that we can know, and still feed the good with our powerful positive energies. We must pay attention to Life, not extinction. We must celebrate every resilience and every new growth. But we cannot afford to be ignorant about what is under threat and what must be changed.

So what do we do?

In his video presentation for the 'Hands That Shape Humanity' project, novelist/wit/wild man, Tom Robbins shined up one of his loveliest gems - I can't find it on the web, so I am paraphrasing here:

When asked to give humanity one piece of wisdom, Mr Robbins said a few great things including something like this:

You've got to look out at the world with one eye and see everything that is wrong and suffering. You must vow to live your life in a way that changes that. Then you look at the world with your other eye and see beautiful fields spreading out to glorious mountains with the extraordinary sky above - and you know that all is well, just as it is. Then you hold those two contradictory thoughts in your mind simultaneously, in an ongoing dance of dynamic balance and understand that this is consciousness. It is in this state of acceptance of duality that we can be most useful - for if you act on the view of just one eye, you will either be so negative that you become part of the problem; or you will be so idealistic, you will fail to engage appropriately with reality.

As challenging as this way of seeing the world might seem, the message is that 'in the world of 10 000 things' nothing is 'either-or', but always 'both' - and we need to achieve this kind of individual consciousness.

Beyond our grief is a place of empowerment, and we really need to get there.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Adventures in Sustainability

There's a good case to make that the 21st Century human quest for sustainable living, may well be the real "Mother Of All Adventures", at least to date.

It seems that the urge to leave home to find something new, to be irrevocably changed, is hard-wired into the human soul, psyche and ego. From the daughters of Africa's Eve to the wayfaring Westerners, human beings are always restlessly journeying - entranced, pressed, intrigued, hell-bent on survival, full of hope that there is something better 'out there', downright curious to know what it might be.

So here's an exciting journey that started on this auspicious date of 09.09.09 - it's a project of the non-profit organisation, 'The Lifeline Global Initiative' called The Lifeline -

Three film-making teams left New York, London and Sydney today - each to journey around 6000 miles to arrive some 13 months later - on 10.10.10 - in Buenos Aires, Cape Town and Tokyo. Their collective mission is to find and record sustainable living projects along their paths in order to create a digital ark of inspiration and guidance that will help us to transform our lives for the better, and for the long future of our children.

Over the next 13 months, stories will unfold in team member blogs and vlogs as they meet people and contribute to growing organic food, conserving wildlife, educating others, implementing renewable energy and design solutions to address our current global crisis. After 10.10.10, there should be a unique treasure trove that can sweep the inveterate armchair traveller along for the ride.

It's very cool idea. Bon Voyage, The Lifeline...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

It's Time

09.09.09 is the occasion of the launch of the citizen call-to-action campaign - 999 It's Time. While the initiative is powered by high-profile UK campaign ambassadors; the events, UK-based and the marketing 'hook' 999, UK-relevant - the big message and the model is global.

If you're a UK citizen, 999 is what you dial in an emergency. What 999 It's Time has to say is that it is time to make the call that sustainable living is an emergency.

Who around the world can really argue with: "Socially, economically and ecologically, we're in a State of Emergency" or "If not us then who? If not now then when?"

Making the call, declaring the emergency, comes down to individual responsibility. In taking action, we each make an expression of our personal power.

We do make a difference - even one simple action has phenomenal ripple-effects: When we refuse to buy products containing palm oil at our local supermarket, we resist the cutting down of forests in Indonesia and Malaysia which destroys the habitat of endangered creatures such as Orang-U-Tangs and Sumatran TIgers. We become extraordinary powerful protectors when we choose to be aware and active about what we buy on an ordinary day, in an ordinary shopping aisle.

999 It's Time is one of many current, great efforts to emphasise that to get to the point where human beings live within the bounds of Nature is not some place that governments or corporations are going to miraculously transport us to. In fact, all signs are showing that it's going to happen despite governments and corporations.

It's about you and me and the day to day choices that we make. To paraphrase the great Mahatma Ghandi, we are the change we want to see in the world. Don't expect anyone or anything else to do it for you. It's time to step up and make those individual day to day choices that protect, foster, restore, renew, recreate, renew...

There is such a wealth of information on how to do this on the Internet. If you're new to this, start with - it's an intelligent and heart-warming adventure, and it's readily available. Make a change for the better, take an action that makes a real difference and give generously to the long future. As you bless, you will be blessed.


I'm proud of this photo today - this is a close-up of the first spring bloom of Clivia miniata in my garden. I'm proud of South Africa when I note that it is indigenious. How beautiful! My baby looked at the real thing and she said, "Wow!"

Saturday, September 5, 2009


This afternoon we took a walk down our lane. It is a paved track on the narrow valley floor that ends in a close. There's a wood opposite the homes, with a stream running down from the mountains and lots of big, old trees - though they are all exotic to our land - Oaks, Cypresses, Pines, Bluegums. Most of the undergrowth too, is exotic.

While it's not at all ecologically sound, our little stretch of Nature still supports abundant Life. We have resident breeding Forest Buzzard, Gymnogene, Wood Owl and African Goshawk as well as Hadeda Ibis, Eygptian Goose, Cape Francolin and Guinea Fowl, and many smaller delightful birds. Every now and then some night traveller sees a Porcupine; and one dusky evening our landlady glimpsed a Caracal. In our Winter rainy season, black River Crabs cross the Lane.

There's an effort now amongst the residents to take better care of the Nature around us. Some young indigenous trees have been planted and neighbours are better informed about invasive species. People are keeping an eye on others to discourage the dumping of garden waste along the stream as this is what leads to much of the taking over of exotic species.

Today, at the end of the Lane, I noticed a clump of Bugweed - I don't know it's scientific name, where it originates from or how it came to be in South Africa. But I know it is very invasive and needs to be pulled. I stopped and grabbed hold of a plant, and then noticed this beautiful little chameleon on a twig right next to my hand. It's a Cape Dwarf Chameleon, the only chameleon on the Peninsula.

My parents' generation remember gardens full of chameleons when they were children. All that changed by the time of my childhood, mostly thanks to gardeners using pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilisers. Chameleons were uncommon when I was a child, and in my adulthood, a sighting causes major excitement.

I am so grateful my baby saw this particular Chameleon today. From now on, a Chameleon is no longer a picture in a book or a wood sculpture on the windowsill. It is an exquisite, alive, leaf-green, pink-and-blue, unbelievably delicate and extraordinary creature.

I am so grateful for Nature's resilience. We need to be determined to save this Earth. Life will meet us halfway.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Crazed Glass

Crazed Glass

Turtle life
paddling the Deep Sea
and Reef

Only it’s hotter than it should be
Only there’s a long line around my flipper
and a trawler scooping
my body out of shell

Wolf life
trotting through the Great Woods
and Plain

Only it’s hotter than it should be
Only there’s rifle-scope trained on me
and a trap pulling
my paw right off my leg

Elephant life
swaying along the Old Paths
and Riverbeds

Only it’s hotter than it should be
Only there’s fence around our history
and a conservation officer selling
our offspring

Vulture life
soaring the Blue Thermals
and Cliffs

Only it’s hotter than it should be
Only there’s no wild land left to scavenge
and I'm feeding crazed glass
to my baby

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Transition Towns - Doing It For Ourselves

Here's a story about how something good grows. Around 2005, Permaculture teacher and designer, Rob Hopkins gave his students at the Kinsale FET college in Ireland an assignment to come up with a community 'energy descent action plan' that took into account local response to peak oil and climate change.

So compelling was the project that the Kinsale Town Council adopted the plan of one of the students. Hopkins then devised an evolving Transitions Town model which has now spread through Ireland, England, Wales, the U.S.A., New Zealand, Australia, Italy and Chile. Transition Towns communities now include villages, towns, boroughs, districts and cities.

The main aims of the project are to foster local hubs of self-reliant sustainable living and build community resilience in the face of peak oil and climate change. People like you and me are mobilising, reinvigorating the concept of community to address food production and transportation concerns, waste reduction, energy alternatives, alternative commercial exchange systems and a new and better way of being in the world.

The central idea underpinning Transitions Towns is that sustainable living, that is living within the bounds of Nature, is actually richer and more fulfilling living than what we experience now. That it offers us all wise ways to be truly thriving, resilient and abundant. Transitions Towns is a relief from the lonely, depressed world of consumerism, waste, greed and war-mongering - freedom from the myth that there is such a thing as unchecked, unlimited 'growth' on a finite Planet.

There are various global hubs now supporting more than 200 Transition Towns, you can find them by starting with

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Mother's Tears

Today I watched the documentary, The Story of the Weeping Camel - released 2004, a film festival darling and Oscar-nominated. It is a beautiful, deserving film. Set in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, the story takes a slice out of the life of a nomadic shepherd family who face a particular challenge one Spring when a new mother Bactrian Camel rejects her white colt after a difficult birth.

Sparse dialogue and harsh landscape provide the perfect backdrop for the gentleness and consumate efficiency of the human family to shine through onscreen. These are people 'in their element' - great grandfather, grandparents, parents, tween, child and baby intermingle with the animals they herd, with neighbours and visitors, with the landscape, with the wind storms - at ease, with a companionable generosity and a traditional order that is peaceful and productive. There is no violence in this film. No depression. Nothing neurotic.

The efforts to coax and press the recalcitrant camel mother into accepting her ailing colt include a sacred ceremony where the shaman speaks of so much damage done to the Earth by humans that the Spirits which have always protected the herders from adverse weather and circumstances have withdrawn. He leads them in a prayer of asking for forgiveness, and they pray sincerely even though they are not the people doing the damage. They are not victims blaming someone or something else, they are active participants in the healing of the world.
However, the prayers are not enough for this camel Mum. She continues to refuse her colt milk and tenderness.

The family then send their two young sons on a journey to find a musician in the nearest permanent settlement. The youngest boy encounters television and market-place selling - all enthralling to him in comparison to the organic life he knows.
The boys return with a Morin Khuur player willing to perform the Hoos ritual. As the story goes, if the camel Mother weeps in response to the music she will accept her baby.

This camel weeps.

But it's not at all a story about whether or not the creature will weep. We knew it would from the film's title. It is a story about people who are exquisitely tuned to Life, for whom doing all one can, practically and mystically, is unquestioningly just what one does to the save the life of one vulnerable animal. The Story of the Weeping Camel offers a pertinent and pressing theme for the wasteful and war-mongering modern 21st Century dwellers - that there is innate worth in every life. Not financial worth. But Worth. The wondrous human Mum notes that the beleaguered colt is beautiful.

Beautiful Life.

That's worth a lot.

The movie was directed and written by Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni when they were film students.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Blessed Unrest

Blessed Unrest - How the Largest Social Movement in History is Restoring Grace, Justice and Beauty to the World - by Paul Hawken, is one of those treasured books that expand the mind, quicken the pulse and open the heart. It changes you, and you are grateful to be changed.

Hawken, founder of the Natural Capital Institute and, author of a number of best-selling books, must be one of the brightest and most knowlegable of the Earth's spokespeople.

In Blessed Unrest, he skillfully draws together a minimum of 130 000, that is actually more likely well over 1 million organisations - consisting of 10s of millions of people from all over the world who are actively engaged in environmental, social and indigenous culture protections. Hawken proposes that this disparate, 'under the media radar' movement that holds no guns, is not only the greatest Civil Rights movement in human history but also a response that is akin to a Planetary immune system arising all over the ailing Earth to counteract the rampant greed, pollution and waste inherent in free market fundamentalism.

Contrary to the corporate media depiction of a raggle-taggle bunch of ineffective, mis-guided do-gooders, hippies, activists and radicals, Hawkens argues that this global movement is rich - full of grandmothers, students, poets, professors, businesspeople, designers, tribe members, teachers, artists, friends, mothers and fathers, ordinary and extraordinary people.

It is a movement without leadership, without a single ideology. It is organic, coherent, informed, increasingly connected and self-organising - qualities of a living system, qualities that are highly conducive to Life.

Viewing it with an eagle-eye, Hawkens comments that when asked whether he is optimistic or pessimistic about the future, he responds: "When you look at the science that describes what is happening on earth today and aren't pessimistic, you don't have the correct data. If you meet the people in this unnamed movement and aren't optimistic, you haven't got a heart."

For sure, Blessed Unrest is happening in your neighbourhood, right now. If there's a group cleaning up a local stream, a person taking kids out on Nature walks, a human rights organisation intervening in a low-cost housing scheme, a CEO funding a women's shelter, a volunteer bird-watcher protecting a pair of Black Eagles, a school planting a Permaculture food garden - it's all part of Blessed Unrest.

In the entire history of humanity, there has never been so much energy, skills and creativity committed to the restoration of grace, justice and beauty in the world.

It is an immense time.


Read: Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken

Thursday, August 27, 2009

In the Mirror: One Species

Before I was a Mum, I could read a book in a day. Things change. I am currently enthralled by Peter Heller's book "The Whale Warriors" - his account of the 2005 expedition of the controversial Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's campaign to save whales from hunters in Antartica. Despite being gripped by this rollicking and wrenching eco-escapade, I feel like I am actually limping through the chapters, grabbing at the time it takes to absorb the words on the page inbetween my other loves and responsibilities.

What is echoing in my mind though, in the spaces between the absorption of a great story and living life, is Heller's quote of Sea Shepherd leader, Captain Dave Watson that: "To the Earth Warrior, a redwood is more sacred than a religious icon, a species of bird or butterfly is of more value than the crown jewels of a nation, and the survival of a species of cacti more important than the survival of monuments to human conceit like the pyramids." Heller adds that Watson reitierates that all of our human arts - music, poetry, architecture "were as dust when compared with the survival of a single species of bird or insect."

I have a great love for human arts - but I still agree wholeheartedly with Watson.

Our greatest, most meaningful love is a fundamental love of Life. Irascrible pirate that he is, Watson's call is a call for Reverance. I believe this is so vital to human beings today. Without reverance for Life we are so very vulnerable to follies. Unacceptable follies that cost other species their existence, impoverish our present world and degrade the places our own children will inherit.

To be of any real good use, our capacities to respect and care need to extend throughout the Web of Life that sustains us now, into the long future. Every species counts. Whaling and logging, polluting and mining, burning and treating with chemicals must stop. Why are we still doing this? Let's use all that human ingenuity and energy to renew, restore, re-create and re-build. It's not just time, it's overdue...

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Species is Important

A couple of years back I was at a social gathering with a father-of-four who is a keen ocean windsurfer. He was bemoaning the fact that our Atlantic coastline is so polluted that is dreadful for sportspeople to be in the water, and that our Indian Ocean bay is now so riddled with big Great White Sharks because of the hunting ban, that is it perilious. He advocated the hunting of adult sharks in the East so that his sport could be safer and cleaner. (Not that we clean up the West.)

I took him to task as a father, rather than a sportsperson, and I did so, insensitively. I have always regretted that I was adverserial rather than constructive in that moment. But still, I did have a point that is even more critical now. We do need to care for existence of all species. Whether or not we like them. Whether or not we know and understand them. Whether or not they inconvience us. For the sake of our children.

Whoever we are - parents, sportspeople, urbanites, searchers, researchers, investment bankers, singers, professors, presenters etc. - we need to be aware of our connections in the Web of Life that supports us and our offspring.

The odd thing about us humans with our gigantic intellect and our arrogance is that we don't even know what there is on Earth. We destroy without knowing the names - to our own detrimint.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


How different everything would be
in a world without enemies
without the need to define anyone else as 'other'
without the need to make anyone else 'wrong'
without the need to call anyone else 'freak'
to understand, truly understand
that We are One
to love, to support and encourage
to hold, to uphold and protect
to delight, to rejoice and give thanks
that We are One

Friday, August 21, 2009


Let Beauty Be Enough

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Keen on Kindness

If I were a boy at a Dance
- which I am not -
I would seek out the kindest girls
and ask them to move the Earth with me

If I were a vigilante in my Community
- which I am not -
I would seek out the kindest families
and do my utmost to protect them

If I were a whale in a Pod
- which I am not -
I would seek out the softest souls
and stay very close to them for a very long time

If I were a speaker in a Corner
- which I am not -
I would stand on my box and talk about kindness
Fierce Kindness

Fierce Random Acts of Kindness
Bring them on
I Am...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The difference between knowing and empathy

I am really interested in the gaps, the spaces, the chasms and canyons between hearts and minds.

Intellectually, we all well know we are part of Nature, deeply invested in the Web of Life, and yet somehow many of us are emotionally aloof - affording the Living little respect, nevermind love, kindness and empathy.

How is it that with our great minds we know, and with our great hearts we fail to feel?

Is the mirror simply reflecting our failure at self-love? That is, if we were more adept at caring well for ourselves, being truly friendly to ourselves - would we find it easier to care well for the places where we live? - The places that include many other life forms.

I guess the Big Question is what will it take to make Life sacrosanct? My life, your life, the CEO's life and his company workers' lives, the Humpback Whale's life and the Purple Bacterium's life...

Many of the effective change agents today are saying that issues of social justice, environmental justice and spiritual consciousness are indivisible...