Writing memos won’t help the bees: cultural change might

In 2014 President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum setting up a task force to create a strategy to promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators.  The strategy was launched a year later in May 2015. https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/Pollinator%20Health%20Strategy%202015.pdf

As part of this effort the White House instructed embassies abroad to do their bit and make pollinator friendly gardens.

In contrast to the benevolent intent of President Obama, I recently heard that in the US ambassador’s garden in Budapest, a 100 year old tree was cut down in order to remove a colony of bees which had settled there. Such was the US of A’s Hungarian representative’s blind fear of these little pollinators that they would have a tree cut down to remove them.

I was struck by the similarity of another situation encountered in a recent discussion with a friend who is a director of an energy company in post-communist Central Europe. Following privatisation some twenty years ago, after the fall of the Wall, the company has tried to introduce a culture of helpfulness, customer-friendliness and efficiency, cutting back on officiousness and red-tape. Sadly, despite the best intentions of enlightened management, egregious inefficiencies still prevail, employees with attitudes continue to insult customers like it is appropriate behaviour, and information channels remain constipated.

In both situations the people at the top know what should be done, but the operatives still don’t get it.

There’s a funny thing going on here. Sometimes we think that leaders of organisations “don’t get it” because they are so wrapped up in their ways, blinded by power, too far from the coal-face to be effective. If only they could leave it to the people on the ground, who really know what it going on. Then things would get sorted.

These two cases show something different. The people at the top do know the right thing to do, and they try their best to get the people in the ranks to do it. But the underlings in the ranks are ignorant or badly socialised or conflicted or don’t get it or have their minds clogged up with Ego paste and so forth.

We are not talking about trying to get people to acquire very specific skills or attitudes. We are talking about pretty general things: how to treat the living world with respect; how to treat other people you deal with civilly.

I suspect that neither of these can be easily taught and certainly cannot be arranged through the sending of a presidential memo. These are the products of cultural attitudes which are imbued by people in the formative years of their life.

Again and again we must seek the solution for our problems not in the school or the workplace but in the first few years of people’s lives : the first five to ten years of nurturing by their parents. Society needs to spend immensely more attention to getting those first few years right. If it did, we wouldn’t need to worry so much about schooling and higher education and all the other stuff on which billions are fruitlessly spent.

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Boosting GDP through better protection of animals

It is estimated that some 50,000 hedgehogs are killed on British roads every year. The population has fallen by a third in the last ten years or so. http://www.hedgehogstreet.org/pages/how-many-are-left-.html

I have devised a simple legal mechanism to protect the hedgehog which would boost GDP dramatically. Much as the UK government loathes the natural world, it does love things that boost GDP, so I expect this will find favour with them.

The mechanism would be an amendment to the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. Under this act animals are given different forms of protection: various schedules list different species and specify what you are not allowed to do with them. Hedgehogs, for example, are given feeble protection: you are not allowed to use a “trap, snare or net, electrical device for killing or stunning, poisonous, poisoned or stupefying substances or any other gas or smoke, automatic or semi-automatic weapon, device for illuminating a target or sighting device for night shooting, artificial light, mirror or other dazzling device, sound recording, and mechanically propelled vehicle in immediate pursuit.”

However, despite the dazzling effect of headlights, we are not seeing prosecutions of people who run over hedgehogs with a car, and this needs to be addressed. (Does a Nissan Leaf count as an electrical device – could the switch to electric cars save the hedgehog?)

A new term of Road Kill or Road Killing needs to be introduced and a new schedule would be added to the Act listing Species Protected from Road Killing. Road Killing (deliberate or accidental) of species listed under the new schedule would be punishable by a substantial fine.

This would create an economic incentive for technological innovation, which means one thing for politicians: smart jobs!!

First, engineers would develop sensors to warn drivers of imminent risk of a road kill event. These would be built into cars or placed on the dashboard and connected by blue tooth to your iphone. Assuming around 30 million vehicles in the UK, and a cost of around £100 for a Road Kill Sensor, you are looking at a boost to consumption of some £3 billion; an amount not to be sniffed at by the Treasury.

Second, the police would begin to install devices to track Road Kill events to support the large number of prosecutions expected. Once these devices are made compulsory in every car, you can expect another £3 billion spend. Add to that a National Integrated Road Kill Monitoring System (NIRKMS) – and they’d spend a billion with Siemens before scrapping that one and spending another billion with KPMG. Still, money wasted is money spent, and from the point of view of GDP it matters not.

Third, online communities would emerge, spawning consultancies, training and coaching, therapists for treating Road Kill anxiety and Road Kill guilt (RKA/RKG). There’s a few hundred million pounds of spend here.

Finally, we will lobby other countries to adopt similar laws and thereby create additional markets for all the knowhow and technology we have developed in the fight against Road Kill.

All in all we are talking about a boost to the economy of at least £5-10 billion, something sorely needed shortly after Brexit.

Let’s add some spine to the UK economy and give the hedgehog the protection it deserves.

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Applying the evil genius of Finkelstein for the common good

In October Hungary will hold a referendum on the EU’s plan to force member states to receive immigrants / migrants / refugees. To ensure victory in the referendum, the Hungarian government has already started a large scale bill-board campaign: Budapest is wallpapered with large, blue, xenophobic posters. You drive from the airport into the city and can count dozens and dozens of these.

The posters tell us:

-          Since the start of the migrant crisis over 300 people have died in terror attacks in Europe

-          Since the start of the migrant crisis the number of attacks against women has grown dramatically in Europe

-          Brussels wants to move a towns-worth of illegal immigrants to Hungary

-          The Paris attacks were committed by immigrants

and so forth.

Here are some examples:

Guided by uber-nasty PR guru Arthur Finkelstein (http://budapestbeacon.com/politics/arpad-habony-partners-with-arthur-j-finkelstein/22981) – the irony of a Jew driving a xenophobic and racist PR campaign is so delicious you almost want to bathe in it – the Hungarian government is not leaving a stone unturned to shape the minds of the people and to win the referendum.

Not even the Olympics safe. Government-funded anti-immigration advertisements punctuate the TV coverage. Loyal TV commentator Jenő Knézy pointedly ignored the Syrian refugee’s victory in the 100m butterfly. https://muosz.hu/hirek/2016/08/07/miert-hallgatott-knezy-a-menekult-uszorol/ (linguistic paywall; i.e. it’s in Hungarian).

Without doubt, on 2 October the Christian nation of Hungary will vote overwhelmingly to reject the welcome of their less fortunate neighbours. [To be fair, I agree that the EU should not forcibly send migrants to Hungary. At the same time I think that Hungary should willingly take in some families, say, after screening to be sure that they are not extremists.] But this is not the point. The point is that it is all fantastic news for the climate and the natural world.

It is good news because it shows that through advertising the minds of the people can be controlled, with a high level of predictability. You need to use the right techniques (just ask Mr Finkelstein), figure out how to access the reptile brain of the masses, and you can get them to do what you want.

Based on this, I envisage a number of other campaigns which the Hungarian government could try out once the referendum is over:

-          Promotion of wildlife gardening: posters would exhort people to make hedgehog holes in their fences; to stop applying pesticides in their gardens; to uproot those ecologically dull rows of evergreens so beloved of the nouveau riche and their aspirants; to plant wildflowers and orchards; to mix up their emerald lawns with daisies and wild carrot and clover and buttercups

-          Promotion of transport modesty: posters would ridicule the profligacy and vanity of Ferraris and Porsches; they would surely mock peroxide yuppie wives and their vain attempts to reverse park 4x4s single handed while on their mobile to their masseur; they would celebrate the benefits of public transport; they would remind us of the joys of walking or of pottering around at home

-          Celebration of insulation: another poster campaign timed for winter would expose the evil of insufficient insulation; it would turn into social outcasts those who skimp on wadding out up their walls or lofts; just like the migrant campaign, it would be cruel and socially divisive, yet ruthlessly effective

-          Veganism: using the horror show of factory farming (try http://www.nationearth.com/earthlings-1/) to full effect, the veganism campaign, expertly choreographed by Finkelstein, would slash meat and dairy consumption across Hungary by half within a few months, substantially cutting the country’s greenhouse gas emissions

I think that this approach would be far economically effective than battling with major investment in technology and infrastructure and having to deal with unhelpful lobbying from oil, cement, steel and energy companies.

Finkelstein and the Hungarian government understand how to engineer the behaviour and beliefs of the people. If it saves the world, perhaps climate policy makers might want to take a leaf out of their book.

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Naming trees

At Danube Kids, a start-up charity aimed at helping children who live on the Danube Delta and along the Danube to develop a connection with nature, we have learned that children have a simplistic and utilitarian view of the natural world. There are four kinds of animal: dogs for chasing away strangers, cats for eating mice, mice for being eaten by cats, and pigs for eating. There are two kinds of bird: chickens for eating, and everything else. This is an exaggeration, but broadly it is true that their knowledge of living species is very limited.

We take children out into nature and open their eyes to that rich diversity – sparking their awareness of hundreds of different kinds of insect, spider, worm, duck, goose, woodpecker, lark, falcon, hawk, eagle, stork, gull, tern … The thinking is that when things are lumped into too few classes or groups, then we do not care for them. When things start to be identified into finer and finer groups, when they take on colour, sounds and behaviour, they take on identity and we begin to care for them. Once they have names that care become stronger. Class names yields one level of care, individual names yield a higher level of care.

A ferry sinks in Bangladesh and 250 people die and we don’t really care that much. Fred gets knocked over in the street and we do care.

Getting children to name trees and animals will make environmental policy far more effective than it is today. Policy measures for nature naming should be relatively simple to devise and implement.

Illustration from an earlier post –  Ten policies to increase demand for low carbon living and policies, November 2013 - http://www.thebustard.com/?p=1190



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To make capitalism work: change the utility function (an extract from Waterford)

I thought I would publish some extracts from Waterford. Not the grizzly gory bits but the serious stuff.  Here is a description of how the people’s utility function changed so that they could still run on capitalism but without it doing the same damage as before.

From Chapter 4, Manxy’s Peace, p70.

What was it, then, that gave people purpose, deprived as they were of the need to seek celebrity, status or wealth? That purpose was the well-being of society and of the natural world; the purpose was this: the reduction of suffering of all creatures, human or non-human; to help those that randomness had made less fortunate; to celebrate in common the wonder of creation; to restore lost worlds and species; to preserve all that was beautiful or ugly, all that was fragrant or that stank, all that had life; to relish every smell or sensation that nature provided; to resist mediocrity and selfish gain; to take from the land gently; to give, to be kind; to love. Most of all, to engage in many and varied acts of kindness.

J. N. Stone categorised seven pursuits which took up most of our lives.

The greatest was the pursuit of truth: reading, conversing, attending school, researching alone or in groups, exploring, investigating and challenging assumptions. We increased our understanding of the mechanics of the universe, including the natural world and the minds of men and women and their society.

Next came the pursuit of justice. This meant to prevent the suffering of animals, birds, insects and humans – of anything living. The route to justice was kindness. We learnt to make acts of kindness and, since we understood the connection between things, we were sure that our acts of kindness actually led to justice.

To pursue justice, we had to learn the skills of justice: life-long study of wisdom and compassion. We also needed abilities in communication, mediation, meditation, negotiation and clear thinking, as well as medicinal and veterinary expertise, learning how to preserve and restore habitats, and duller activities such as programming computers or driving the few vehicles which still required a human touch, or manufacturing weaponry. All this was required only to pursue justice effectively.

Fourth came beauty. Discovering and appreciating the world’s beauty was a slowly acquired art, not to mention the creation of more beauty for all our senses, in music, art, theatre, sculpture, food and drink, alone or in groups. There were some with a crude or stunted appreciation of beauty – some liked gaudy, clashing colours; others forgot about colour completely, while some did not treasure harmony. It would often be those previously trained in architecture who still felt that beauty was an extension of their own brilliance, and they would need many years of quiet reflection and humbling before they began to create objects which met the very high standards of our culture.

At this point in J. N. Stone’s speech at the Royal Society of Compassion in England, someone interrupted:

‘All right for you, mate. What about the diggers? What about the pickers?’

‘Yeah,’ said another. ‘Call a fifty-hour week justice?’

‘No bloody time for justice in Hartlepool,’ said a third.

Stone blushed and stammered. ‘Oh … you don’t realise how lucky you are.’

Amid whistles, Stone continued his lecture.

The fifth discipline was physical health. We would take vigorous exercise and, occasionally, competitive sports (taking manly pleasure in outwitting our sparring partners, but always remembering that it was only a game). Usually exercise was built into one of the other pursuits, not as an art form for its own sake. This saved precious energy.

The sixth pursuit was love. Little needs to be said of this, except that as people became more and more healthy and their cheeks were flushed with the meaningfulness of life, the choice of mate became more difficult as there were simply so many beautiful people! This meant that more time was needed for love – to taste and savour the cornucopia of sensual variety as well as to learn the arts of seduction.

A heckler whistled lusciously.

Finally came the passing of these skills of living to our children. We maintain our wholesome culture by devotedly schooling our children. Schooling has become more varied than in earlier times, since parents have more time and suffer less from the stress that distanced them from those they loved or should love. Sometimes children learn at home, sometimes in classes, like in the schools of long-gone generations. Sometimes they travel long distances and meet children from other countries, embarking on adventures lasting several weeks or months in wild and uninhabited terrains and places.

It was discovered that children were as creative as adults, and in many areas of learning it was hard to tell who was teacher and who was pupil. It was as if learning was an effort in common, from which all benefited by an increase in knowledge, understanding, skills and love.

The purposes, then, were old-fashioned: truth, justice, beauty, love and good health, and these were sustained through acts of kindness, learning and teaching. The sense of gain which had previously been obtained from wealth and social advancement was now won by seeing the results of one’s own labours – the dawning of understanding, a forest restored, the thankfulness of strangers and the joy of a child’s discovery. By the good fortune of the laws of physics and the fine work of the technologists, the pursuit of these purposes could be done with rather limited use of energy and encroachment on the space of other species.

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