Thursday, 26 November 2009

Amanda and Nigel - Free and on their way home!

While absolutely delighted with the news that friend and former colleague Amanda Lindhout has been released from 15-months of captivity in Somalia, I would like to take a very brief moment to clarify some of the misconceptions regarding my role in the affair that have been creeping into the Canadian media – in particular the print media and transcript excerpts from radio and television interviews.

It is true, that in the first couple of months of the abduction I was quite engaged – through contacts with Somali journalist Ahmed Mohammed and with the Canadian and Australian authorities.

However, my part was quite minor. Essentially I was a messenger or perhaps even an international telephone operator – trying to keep the line of communications open between the negotiators in Nairobi and Ahmed who was on the ground in Mogadishu.

He was doing all the work, and at times the situation for Ahmed was extremely challenging. He took significant risks in his efforts to bring the hostage crisis to an early end – and he often felt isolated.

Any and all credit should go to him. A family man living in exceptionally trying circumstances; he was seeking no reward other than that of being a good human being.

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Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Climate Couch Potatoes

After a busy month or so at our regular jobs, and weekends working on media projects for non-profits, my wife and I were overdue for a little quality time.

A movie, a bite to eat, and a beer or two.

We went to see ‘2012’ - and while the story line was interesting enough - albeit a bit predictable - the special effects were amazing. Well worth a few bucks for a couple of hours of escapism. In fact, highly recommended!

Of course the movie figured largely in our conversation over dinner. Where did the real science end and the science fiction begin? Hollywood always manages to throw in a few tantalizing tidbits of fact to spice up disaster movies like this. It gives the story that special element of mystery that has filmgoers rushing off to ‘Google’ the topic the second they get home.

We got to talking about time-lines, and despite the fact that the leading scientist in the story accurately predicted what was going to happen - he obviously had no prior knowledge of the now famous Mayan hieroglyphs that pointed to December 21, 2012 as being a significant date in the history of the world. Well, the end, in fact.

In his considered opinion there was still sufficient time to make necessary preparations for the final cataclysm. As a consequence of his miscalculation, the scale of the human disaster was much worse.

In contrast to the secrecy surrounding the impending apocalypse in the movie, scientists in the real world have been warning us for years about greenhouse gases and climate change. Changing weather patterns, rising sea levels, desertification, land degradation, disappearing species, and a loss of biodiversity, these are all consequences of a fossil fuel based industrial revolution, unsustainable consumerism and waste.

But the question everyone asks: “How much time do we have?” is usually answered with a cryptic, “We’re not sure exactly when the tipping point will be, but time is running out.”

I always hate that answer. It suggests there is still time to prevaricate and dither. Still time, perhaps, to negotiate who should be held responsible, and who should shoulder the burden of paying for change. Still time, basically, to do nothing substantive.

Frankly, the evidence suggests that time has already run out. For the millions of ‘climate refugees’ who have been forced to leave their homes as a result of climate change, the ‘time’ came and went years ago. For millions of other island and coastal dwellers, the clock is ticking - measured by the surf that is breaking ever closer to their homes and livelihoods.

According to the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security, by 2010 there will be 50 million ‘environmentally displaced people’ worldwide.

But how can we get over this question of believing there is still ‘time’? How to explain it in simple terms that even a politician might understand? I like to think of it in terms of weight gain - and the dreadful pain and effort needed to take off those extra pounds!

Put it this way. A reasonably fit person with an existing exercise program can afford to eat that extra piece of pie; a little gain here or there isn’t going to make much difference. Getting back down to fighting weight won’t be any real problem.

But if they let their exercise regime slip, and put on a couple of pounds, or several - obviously the effort needed to shed the extra weight is going to be so much harder and take so much longer.

They way I look at things through this odd little analogy is that the Earth has now become dangerously overweight, and it has no cohesive or comprehensive training regime in place to begin losing those perilous pounds.

In fact, the negative and pessimistic comments we are now hearing on an almost daily basis about the dismal - or virtually non-existent prospects for a breakthrough at the Copenhagen Climate Summit - suggest that with the pain and effort needed to begin the process, nobody has much enthusiasm to even look at the stair-master, let alone actually get on it.

And the weight will just keep piling up. The longer you wait, the harder it gets.

So when do we reach the point where we are simply too fat to make a difference whatever we do? For the answer, don’t ask a scientist or a climate negotiator; ask any one of the 50 million environmentally displaced people.

Climate change and its impact on this and future generations isn't a Hollywood movie. Incredibly, however, it does sometimes seem that couch potatoes watching the latest weather disaster unfold on their television screens are treating the phenomenon as if it were just that – a movie.

And Copenhagen? It’s beginning to look like nothing more than a couch potato convention.

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Sunday, 15 November 2009

God's Grace Garden

Despite the bitter cold, we had an amazing Sunday out at an organic farm about an hour’s drive southwest of Beijing.

God’s Grace Garden, or GGG, is one of the first totally organic farms in China. Established in 2001 by Terese Zhang, GGG covers 150mu (about 25 acres or 10 hectares) – and not an inch is wasted!

And not an ounce of artificial fertilizer or pesticide intrudes through the walled farm that is home to a dozen cows, numerous dogs, and countless geese, chickens and ducks.

Most conventional farms are mono-culture – devoted to just one crop. At GGG, the space between rows of fruit trees is alternatively sown with corn, winter wheat, peas, cabbage and any number of other crops.

Apart from avoiding the depletion of the soil’s natural properties, the variety of crops also confuses traditional pests!

Bothersome they may be at times, Terese has a certain respect for the insects and other bugs that conventional farmers attempt to eradicate with sometimes toxic levels of pesticide.

“They are nature’s messengers,” she says, “and here at God’s Grace Garden we open their letters and read them. We try to understand what they are telling us about the environment.”

The full interview with Terese will be posted soon on our audio & video page at Ridealist.

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Sunday, 8 November 2009

The Ridealist

After long thought, Shirley and I decided that our website needed a name. The simple and straightforward ‘’ didn’t quite express the message of what we wanted to say or do.

We were discussing the journal entry from last week, 'Impossible is just a word' and the fact that idealists need a fair amount of realism if they are going to survive and be effective – and the word we were looking for just came.

Ridealist [raɪˈdiəlɪst] - an idealist with a realistic view of how to make positive things happen in this severely flawed and damaged world in which we live.

We then thought it deserved its own domain, so (and .org) was registered. Initially, at least, will simply be a mirror site for, but we are working to develop both domains into separate entities.

The original will eventually begin to look more like a more commercial website, designed specifically to attract paid commissions. Ridealist, on the other hand, will continue to promote our volunteer activities.

While Shirley and I have no intention of changing our approach to voluntary services, we have to be realistic. Ultimately, the cash for repair or replacement of camera and computer hardware, for example, has to come from somewhere. In short, while we advocate sustainability, we also have to practice it.

So, if you are a for-profit or commercial enterprise – will be the site for you.

For non-profits and NGOs, reset your RSS feeds or favorites tab to – and let us help you find realistic media solutions!

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